Excerpts from Diary of a Slut

“Mom,” my daughter says, “What age were you when you lost your virginity?”

            Do I want to tell her? No. I was a year older than she is; I was fourteen. Do I tell her? Yes.

            “It was not a happy thing,” I say. “I wouldn’t wish it for you.”

            She wants to know everything then and there, but she doesn’t get to.

            A week later we fight because I won’t let Cara go to a new friend’s house for an overnight. The parents aren’t going to be home from work until 4 am, and the eighteen-year-old brother will be in charge.  It all sounds pretty sketchy, but I know Cara is frantic for new friends since she was exiled from the quasi-popular pack over Christmas break.

             “You need to get her mother’s phone number,” I say.

            “Becky doesn’t know it.”

            “She doesn’t know her own mother’s phone number?”

            “Her mother got a new cell phone.”

            “Then the answer is no. If there is not an adult in the house, you don’t stay the night. I can pick you up at ten.”

            “Mom,” she says, sticking her chin out to let me know she is a badass hip-hop biotch, in case I don’t know what I’m in for. “You are the only parent who cares about this kind of stuff. The other kids say to me, ‘Oh, you have a parent like tha-at.’ They feel sorry for me.”

            She’s a foot from my left ear, and I’m making us oatmeal before work and school. “I guess that makes me the one parent with good judgment,” I say.

             “What do you think? Mom.” she shouts at the side of my face,  “That I’m going to act like some slut, like you?”

            I snap the burner off in time to see her turn tail and light out for her room. She knows she’s done it now. I shove the pan to the back of the stove. No one’s hungry anymore.

            After Cara has left for school, I go to the garage to have a look at my old journals.—whole composition books full of bad sex. I have to steel myself.  It was a different era. How am I to convey that to my daughter who already has no patience with me? She calls me an old hippie and tells me what clothes I should throw away. But I’m not an old hippie, only a child who came of age on the West Coast in the wake that the 60s left behind.

            I was twelve years old in 1972, the year the Supreme Court legalized birth control regardless of marital status. The doctor who put me on the pill when I was fourteen asked three questions: how old are you? (I lied), how much do you weigh? (I lied), are you sexually active? (no, but I was not going to lose my boyfriend, which was what the older girls assured me would happen).

            At fourteen, I attended an alternative school on an island off the West Coast, a 1970s equivalent of the democratically run Summerhill School in England, except that drugs, sex, and absolute chaos forced its the closure in less than two years.

            As students of Salbatora Island School, we knew the canyons and coves with our feet, and slipped out of our dormitories like the lithe shadows we were when the evening dorm check had passed; then we congregated in the canyons to revel, drinking tequila sunrises in tennis ball cans. We kayaked to town on booze runs. We sailed to remote coves to enact our own version of Lina Wurtmueler’s “Swept Away.” The remoteness of the island untamed us all—if teenagers are ever really domesticated. When the rains came and washed out the roads, the faculty became lovers with their students, the students had shower parties in the dormitories, and wild boar roamed the halls.

Excerpts from The Baby Lottery

“In the unopened pile of mail she keeps in a tarnished toast holder, Jean Brovak finds a letter from her ex-husband, addressed in that balanced architect’s script of his. The letters kneel shoulder to shoulder the way gymnasts do to create a pyramid.”

“Her neighbor and mother would call and say ‘Sweetie, you just need to relax and forget about it. Then you’ll conceive.” Ever notice that relax is a very unrelaxing word. It has the word AX in it, which is what she wanted to do to all of them. RELAX AX AX AX. Instead she did what she could: Toffee peanuts, rocky road ice cream, frozen burritos, gallons of Chablis.”

“The woman has a cervix like a Goodrich tire. Half a day to dilate a few centimeters, then booming contractions for the last two hours.”

“Her friends say it’s a dead-end relationship. They’re absolutely right, only it doesn’t lead her to the same conclusions. She keeps telling them: Who needs

Mr. Right when you’ve got Mr. Vacation?”

“Her ex-husband was a money addict. He couldn’t get enough of everyone else’s money.”

“Virginia’s creative writing course meets in Franzen Hall, an industrial age, cement box built with pipes exposed on purpose so that you feel at all times as though you were in a toilet tank.”

“His sweetness is like the candy she used to make with her mother, dribbled in designs on the snow, breaking the minute it is lifted from the cold.”

“She knew she would love her baby no matter what, if his brain were an open bloom, or his heart had three chambers. She knew she would love him even if she had to watch him die.”

“Now her mom’s had a stroke. She can’t tell the difference between a diaper hamper and a mailbox. Half the time, she doesn’t know who Tasi is, but she always knows who her husband is, and in the olive-drab den when no one’s visiting, she tries to brain him with the porcelain figurine he gave her on their fiftieth wedding anniversary, you know the one, Big Girl in the Dirndl.”

“She isn’t shopping like that anymore—with the instinct of an ant pulling and pushing a whole wasp’s body in to the mound. Now she is in Costco buying a quantity of Kotex that will last till menopause; that’s her mood.”

Excerpts from The Sperm Donor’s Daughter

“In those days, women were inseminated with fresh sperm so the procedure had to have taken place within two hours of ejaculation. All we had to do was find the closest medical school and call up the alumni association for the year books.”

“Like Monique’s father, my father would have shelled out ten or twenty grand to give me a wedding, but the college money was reserved for the boys, who could bring the improvement in themselves home. Girls were the ones who really left home, pitted by rice and baby pearls.”

“On the bus ride out here, I thought about how it’s possible to set out on a journey in America not to discover oneself and succeed. From on-ramp to off-ramp, from Burger King to Burger King, Motel Six to Super Eight, Arby’s, Bob’s, Wendy’s, Denny’s, every place the same place. Why not be a chain-outlet person? Go home with the first person to mistake me for somebody they know.”

“Nigel once asked me if my mother and I were close. We are and we aren’t. Every statement I make about her has to be like that.”

“One morning as she was putting away my laundry, my mother found the crumpled tube of Ortho-Gynol nesting in my underwear. I watched from the bed. She picked it up between her fingers the way you would a dead moth, by its wings.”

“Gust of wind travel up the cliff and fold over the headland, mixing the stench of the cormorant rookeries with the sweetness of new grass. Acid and salt, that which has passed into the gullet alive and died on the way down, the smell is sharp and merciless as first desire.”

“My daughter thinks I am incapable of loving a man when the truth is I love ceaselessly. I am like one of those ghosts that haunt highways because I don’t know I’ve died and no one can tell me.”

“This is a story that doesn’t tell. It rewinds and it plays, but it doesn’t tell.”

“What did I want my father to be anyway? It was like hearing Mr. Roger’s sing ‘You’re Special to Me’ and fantasizing that he was only broadcast to my house.”