Lightning in a Jar: Wounded Prey


I was raised on romance. Songs like, “Fly Me to the Moon” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and countless memories of sitting in a darkened theater watching the larger-than-life romances of Doris Day and Rock Hudson, Louis Jordan and Leslie Caron, not to mention Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and their respective princes.

Grace Kelly and Cary Grant.

Romance on the Silver Screen: Grace Kelly and Cary Grant.

At home, I was hooked on late night movies. Two o’clock in the morning and you could find me watching Fred Astaire blithely dancing across a ballroom, in his top hat and coattails, whisking Ginger Rogers into his arms as they danced cheek to cheek. Or, a debonair Cary Grant gazing passionately into Grace Kelly’s eyes. Ditto, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who suggestively asked Bogie to pucker up his lips and blow.

As a little girl, I imagined one day meeting my own knight-in-shining armor. I even had a dream about this mysterious someone. He was on the battlefields of World War II (don’t ask), injured in combat and I was a nurse who had to nurture him back to health. We fell passionately in love and when I awoke, I had the faint memory of something that never happened. At least, not to me.

But then Jake swept me off my feet. There had been other crushes, as far back as first grade, but none amounted to anything but a passing fancy. With Jake, it was different. For six months we spent every possible moment together—in school, after school, on the weekends, and it seemed, whenever we couldn’t be together, we were on the phone. Kismet.

Maybe I would’ve been better off growing up on the set of a movie. I could have gone to the school sock hop with Andy Hardy. I would’ve treated Clark Gable a whole lot better than Scarlet O’Hara ever did. I could’ve danced in the rain with Gene Kelly, forever living my happily ever after on a Hollywood sound stage.

But instead, I grew up in reality and real life doesn’t promise the same happy endings. It’s filled with twists and turns, jealousy, misunderstandings and ultimatums. There’s love, yes, but there’s also love gone wrong, growing apart, moving on, and that’s all she wrote.

So, when Jake unceremoniously dumped me for another—a senior with soft brown curls, upturned nose and a smattering of freckles—I was devastated and downright miserable. Nothing and no one could console me.

James had said I was bubbly, which is why he called me Bubbles. But after Jake dropped me cold, it was hard to believe I had ever been upbeat or could be so again. Laughing and joking seemed pointless. Crying came naturally.

The shock of the breakup paralyzed me. After crying on my mother’s shoulder for two and a half hours, I took to bed, and stared at the ceiling, wondering how I would ever be able to return to school and show my face. The humiliation of it all. I had neglected many of my friends while I was dating Jake. Would they welcome be back into the fold or would I need to find new ones?

My best friend, Liza, had never liked Jake in the first place. “You could do better,” had been her refrain. I could do better, but it scared the bejezus out of me. I thought I had done better with Jake, but now Jake had a new girlfriend and they were in love. I wondered if Liza would say the same about her. That she could do better.

I couldn’t sleep that night or the next. I had no appetite, not even when my father offered to take us all to Sizzler’s for charbroiled burgers. I was mad at him. I blamed him for forcing us to go to D.C., certain as I was that the trip was the source of my problems. After all, had I not been gone a week, Jake and I might still be together.

I briefly thought about James. Last time I saw James, I was angry and said things I now regretted. I wondered what it would be like when I saw him again come Monday. How could I face him? Ugh. I wasn’t looking forward to going back or seeing him. And, I wasn’t sure which would be worst.

I heard the phone ring. Three times. My parents had a rule that the phone had to ring three times before you could pick it up. No more, no less. Go figure. There was a persistent knock on my bedroom door.

“Mónica, teléfono,” said my mother in Spanish.

Exhausted, defeated I dragged myself into my parents’ bedroom to take the call, carefully shutting the door behind me so as not to be overheard. A thought crossed my mind. Maybe Jake was calling to apologize, to beg me to take him back.

Picking up the receiver, I said, expectantly, “Hello?”

“Hey, heard what happened. You up for some company? Say the word and I can make it in 10.”

It was George, one of Jake’s good friends. I recognized his distinct nasal voice. George, who was just a tad taller than me, had jet black hair and swarthy looks. He also had no discernible personality to speak of, told dull jokes, and had a few whiskers that appeared to be growing willy-nilly on one side of his chin, which he said he kept to impress “the ladies.” George and I had never hung out on our own. I barely knew him and I found him rather annoying the few times he tagged along on my dates with Jake. And, now suddenly he wanted to pay me a visit. Someone must’ve told the hyenas that the prey was wounded and it was time to come in for the kill.

The smell of fried plantains wafted through the closed bedroom door. My mother was making dinner, and probably also cooking up her fritters made with white rice and bananas. My favorite. Her way of trying to make me feel better, and normally it would do the trick. Normally.

Normally, I’d be racing down to the kitchen to steal a bite before dinner. But I no longer knew what normal felt like. I had no appetite, nothing. Just a bland feeling creeping over my heart, cut by the pain of losing Jake.

“So, would you like me to come over or not?” The hyenas were getting restless.

Summing up all the enthusiasm I could muster, I said, “Sure. But make it in 30.”

I needed time for the swelling in my eyes to subside. Too much crying, I suppose.

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the High School Years page.

And I Quote, Part 2

A few weeks ago, I confessed to you my love for quotes. When I see one that strikes a chord and makes me connect with it, I will write it down. This all began during my divorce, when I began collecting quotes that captured the gamut of emotions I was feeling at the time. Gradually, I started collecting other types of quotes as well. Herewith, are a random sampling of my non-divorce quotes.


When I captured this first quote, I didn’t know who Colm Meaney was, but his words resonated with me:

“Creativity. It’s the ability to look at a situation with a unique—sometimes tortured, sometimes demented, sometimes humorous—vision.” – Actor Colm Meaney

“One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family.” – Pat Conroy, author of Prince of Tides.

“Dreams are extremely important. You can’t do it unless you imagine it.” – George Lucas

“Marriage was Lucy and Ricky.”

Ode to an American Baby Boomer Childhood

“We were, after all, a generation raised on happy endings. War was Bob Hope entertaining the troops. Marriage was Lucy and Ricky. Old age was Jimmy Durante—‘Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.’ Disease, death, disaster, happened on the news to foreign people in foreign clothes speaking foreign languages.” –Author Marly Swick, from the book, Paper Wings

“The smell of paraffin bombards me. The olfactory system engages. The hypothalamus clicks on. Look out! Here they come—childhood memories!” – From article about Crayola crayons in Smithsonian magazine, November 1999


Whenever my mother baked, she used Venezuelan vanilla, which, unlike the kind you find in the states, which smells a bit of alcohol, has the scent of pure, sweet vanilla:

“Vanilla was always there for you—in your ice cream, in your rice pudding, in your sugar cookies, in your birthday cakes.” – Patricia Rains, The Vanilla Cookbook

Pop Culture

This one was written more than 10 years ago and, if you ask me, not much has changed. In fact, it’s gotten worse.

“Each of the four decades preceding the 90’s has found its identity in some crystallizing event or upheaval, some moment that gave the times their meaning. For the conformist 50’s, it was the House of Un-American Activities Committee hearings; for the revolutionary countercultural 60’s, it was JFK’s assassination; for the jaded, cynical 70’s (also known as the Me Decade), it was Nixon’s resignation; for the go-go 80’s, it was the economic boom that followed the ’83 recession; and for the 90’s, God help us, it was the O.J. saga, a prolonged Hollywood Babylon spectacle that confirmed the prevailing national interest in sex, death, celebrity and televised car chases.”  –   From “The Tabloid Decade,” an article written by David Kamp for Vanity Fair magazine, February 1999.

“They say you can’t live in the past, but of course you can; that’s practically all pop culture does now, is live in the past. The past is a permanent tape loop, constantly being sampled and updated to create a new montage. Through the miracle of editing, Fred Astaire now dances with a vacuum cleaner, John Wayne sells beer. We’re all Zeligs now. ‘Let me sing forevermore,’ Sinatra sings in ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’ For better or worse, you got your wish, daddy-o.”  – From “When They Were Kings,” article about the Rat Pack, by James Wolcott for Vanity Fair magazine, circa 1999.

American Tragedy

Toward the end of the 90’s, one of the most horrific crimes on school grounds, rocked this country to its core, resulting in the town’s name to forever be associated with this tragedy: Columbine. At the time, many asked, where were the parents? How did they not know? Here’s one writer’s take:

“Every parent knows that raising children requires bicycle helmets, Beanie Babies, notebook paper, prayers, skill, the grace of God and plain dumb luck. But what many of us don’t ever come to grips with is this: we must take responsibility for the world our children inhabit. We make the world for them. We give it to them. And if we fail them, they will break our hearts ten different ways.”  — From “Where Were the Parents?” an article written by Amy Dickinson for Time magazine, in reference to Columbine High School tragedy. May 3, 1999.

Freedom of the Press

I’m not sure if this next one is talking about journalists or paparazzi. Maybe both.

“Let me tell you about our profession. We are the meanest, nastiest bunch of jealous, petty people who ever lived.” – Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist


You’re probably familiar with this one, but it never hurts to be reminded:

“We are all part of a complex web of life and whatsoever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” – Chief Seattle

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

“If equal love there cannot be, let the more loving one be me.” – W.H. Auden

“There are times when I feel a little suffocated by it. There are parts of me that still want to push that affection away. I’ve always been used to being the caretaker; everything’s been done on my terms. Now everything has to be 50-50 and it’s hard. I’m learning to accept love…but I still want to be calling the shots all the time.” – Elton John, 2000

And one more…

“Joe, if what you’re saying is true, then I still don’t care.”  — Dave Foley’s character, Dave Nelson on an episode of News Radio.

Happy Daylight Savings Day!

Hooray! It’s that time of year again. Time to wish you and yours a Happy Daylight Savings Day. Here’s to our annual tradition of falling back one hour, and thus catapulting us into the beginning of the holiday season. (At least it used to be the start, when it fell before Halloween.) So let the spending begin!

This cavalier channels Fred Astaire when he walks across the parquet floors. (photo by J. Aquino)

To be precise, today is the end of Daylight Savings Day. Which gives me pause. Another year already? Where did the time go?

And, by the way, have you thought about what you’re going to do with that extra hour, now that it’s been given back to you?

Frankly, we don’t respect this important occasion enough.  If you ask me, the end of Daylight Savings should be considered a national holiday.  Why? Because it’s not everyday you’re handed an additional hour on a silver platter. Not good enough a reason? Then do it for the farmers, the folks whom we started daylight savings for in the first place. Don’t ask me why, but it’s something to do with the harvest or, so they can wake up in time to milk the cows.

Still not good enough a reason? Then do it for me. Because, when all is said and done, I could sure do a lot with an extra hour.

Yet, why stop at falling back only one hour?  Once—just once—would it be too much to ask if we could fall back an entire day instead? I mean, think about what all of us could do if we got an extra day!  Because I’m nice, I thought I’d share with you a few suggestions:

  • Get an extra 15 minutes sleep before your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (I’m not mentioning any names) awakens you.
  • Finish reading Chapter Three of that book you’ve been reading for two months now.
  • Bake chocolate chip cookies and use up the bag of semi-sweet chips you bought three years ago (swearing you’d bake more but never actually did).
  • Replace the fluorescent light in the kitchen that went out last summer, so that you can see what you’re doing when baking the cookies.
  • Put away all your Fourth of July decorations and start getting out the ones for Halloween.  (Sure, Halloween is over but you need to get your money’s worth with these decorations. I’m just saying.)
  • Submit the last of your tax forms for 2010—no more excuses!
  • Remember what the repairman said back in August, about needing a new furnace, and call to have it replaced before the cold weather hits. (Oh, wait, the first cold weather snap was yesterday. Yikes.)
  • Clip the dog’s nails so he doesn’t sound like Fred Astaire, tap dancing away every time he walks across the parquet.
  • Hem your black work slacks so they don’t look like a wedding gown train when you walk through the office, and so you don’t keep tripping over them when taking the stairs.
  • Use this day to start regularly attending Zumba class, so that the instructor doesn’t ask you each time you do show up, “Oh, first time?”
  • Organize the bedroom closet so that you don’t pull a Dagwood and a Blondie, by having everything tumble out of it each time you go to open the closet door.
  • Get rid of the rat traps that you set around the garage in September, as it’s probably safe now, given that, the rat has finally hightailed it out of dodge.
  • Catch up on your magazine reading, including all the issues of Vanity Fair—from 2009 and 2010, and ask yourself, why do you keep renewing your subscription?
  • Make an appointment for your annual physical, which is now two years overdue.
  • Watch some of the 40 hours of programming taking up space on your DVR. If you ask me, it’s time to watch or just delete the news you recorded in July.
  • Take this opportunity to stop being a slacker mom and send your daughter a care package. After all, she’s been away at college for two months now and you’ve sent her nothing. Zippo.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more we can all do with an extra day.  So how about it? Are you willing to sign my petition to fall back an extra day and to make it a national holiday? If so, what would you do with the additional 24 hours?  Don’t think too long about it. After all, the clock is ticking and as my pal, Jack, would say: Time is money!

The Road Taken: Flying the Coop

Chapter 8:  On the night of our fourth anniversary of dating, G and I spooned.  Which made me reflect on the day, four years earlier, when it happened. When I was hit with a two by four. Smacked, really. Some might say, struck by Cupid’s arrow. Here I was, out in left field, and falling for a guy who had no fingernails—completely and unquestionably over the moon. We’re talking as infatuated as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were when they danced cheek-to-cheek. Only without the dancing. G couldn’t do a glide and step to save his life.

But here we were, side by side, four years later. It struck me how perfect this could be now, if not for the housemates.  After all, we were finally together, having made it through living in different cities and a one-year breakup.  For the sake of our love, I had left home and flown 3,000 miles west to begin our future.  I should have been ecstatic. Beyond joyful.  And perhaps I would have, if not for the housemates determined to make my life with G, hell.

“It’s us against the world,” G was fond of saying.

I agreed, though part of me couldn’t help but feel that, when push came to shove, it was me—and me alone—putting up with the demons of this house. But G explained that, as much as he loved me, it wouldn’t be right for him to get in the middle of the milieu. He didn’t want to risk antagonizing the housemates any further, despite knowing that the way they treated me just wasn’t right.

I tried to understand, as what he said seemed logical. Yet, somewhere inside me, I was feeling frustrated and a tad resentful.  Sure, it would be in G’s best interest to stay on the sidelines. But how was that good for me—or for us?  And how were we ever going to make a go of it, with the housemates in tow?

Things did start to change after the night of the dinner party, the one that never happened. I had baked a dessert in a ceramic pie dish that Stan had purchased at a crafts fair. It was blue and had a red checkerboard pattern around its rim, with a scalloped edge. Stan was fond of that dish, which, not surprisingly, smashed into bits when I flung it on the kitchen floor. Bits too small to try to glue back together. Much like Humpty Dumpty, though in this case, the king’s men didn’t even try.

After that episode, Stan and I reached an unstated agreement to refrain from any conversation whatsoever.  Which meant that, whatever Stan was thinking about me, he now kept to himself.  Meanwhile, Marigold, in an unexpected move, chose to stop her own vendetta against me, albeit, reluctantly. It was as if by destroying the pie, I had turned into a force that she could no longer defeat.

As I lay in bed with G, I thought about the moment I’d discovered I was smitten. It was autumn, and G had just returned from a long weekend in the Catskills with his family. Ever since school had started in early September, he’d been begging me to go out with him on a date. I had stubbornly refused. Though, we did hang out a lot and laugh, driving each other into tizzies of madness and mirth. But I just didn’t feel an attraction.  That is, until he left for the Catskills, and I found myself longing for him, counting the minutes to his return.

I couldn’t bear the gamut of emotions I was feeling. The reckless kiss from the first time we met was now long forgotten. So was the lack of fingernails. Instead, I found myself unable to concentrate on anything else but G, and was chomping at the bit to tell him so.

That evening, I met him at the train stop at the foot of campus, and as we walked across an open field back to the dorms, I felt a rush of nerves overtake me. Why was I feeling this way? This was the man who’d been asking me out for the last five weeks! The very guy who, that past summer, had driven up to Boston to look for me, but had turned up empty-handed.

Luckily, G wasn’t noticing the frenetic conversations I was having in my head, and instead, talked about his trip. I started to relax and found myself smiling goofily at him as we walked. We’d traversed halfway across the field and I still hadn’t made my feelings known. It was now or never, I decided. So I took G’s hand and squeezed. Pressing it so tight, I’m sure I heard a vein pop. He yelled in alarm and stared at me, perplexed. Then, noticing my inane grin, a smile spread across his face. He knew. Pulling me close, he kissed me. Again and again.  Alone, in the middle of that cold, dark field, the world was ours.

Four years had gone by. Laying next to him now, I thought about all that had transpired, and how far we’d come since that first night in the chapel fields.  Which is when I knew, that if we were really going to make a go of this, we would have to get out of Stan’s house and we’d have to get out now. We couldn’t let the housemates come between us and ruin what had just begun.

“Let’s not wait anymore,” I whispered.  “Let’s take the money we’ve saved so far and get a place of our own.” I hoped the urgency in my voice conveyed my new resolve.

“You know? I was thinking the same thing. We should get out of here.”  Kissing the top of my head, he added, “It’s now or never.”

And just one month later, we flew the coop and landed in a tree house.

Missed a chapter? You can read the entire series, by visiting the page, titled, The Road Taken.

Call Me Thankful

In keeping with the season, it’s fitting to take a moment to express gratitude. Of course, what I’m grateful for runs the gamut, from A to Z.

Alice, my grade-school chum, who was challenged and different from my other classmates. I’d button her coat for her each school day because she couldn’t do it for herself. In return, she taught me how to share when she’d break off for me, half of her Drake’s Devil Dog snack, at recess. I’ll never forget my sweet, childhood friend.

Blogging. I’m finally getting the hang of it and I love it!

Chargers. The San Diego Chargers, that is. This football team has given me a chance to bond with my son and spend fun times together. Thanks to Josh, I’m a diehard fan!

When I'm tap dancing, I'm channeling Fred Astaire!

Daughter and Son. My kids are alright (Somebody, knock on wood!), having given me little trouble over the years. Best of all, they think I’m a good mother. As Sally Field once said, “They like me! They really like me!” All the guilt I poured on clearly paid off!

Empathy. It made me happy when my son’s daycare teacher told me, Josh had empathy at the tender age of 3. Having it means you care and can understand the plight of others. Indeed, we could all use a little empathy.

Family in San Diego at last! For the first time, I have family living nearby (not counting my kids who don’t live here anymore, anyway). I so adore my cousins, Roxanna, Daniel and David. I just love having them in my neck of the woods! And to all my family—and friends—I offer my heartfelt thank you.

Giving: Giving, no matter the size of the gift, is genuinely a wonderful thing. No doubt our desire to give to charities and help those in need is closely tied to our capacity for feeling empathy.

Harvest moons on a cool evening, when I’m out walking Henry. Ah, perfection!

Indigo, one of my favorite hues, somewhere between blue and purple.

Joy. That’s what I get when I think about the little things in life, like a text message from Sarah, or the embrace of an old friend. Pure joy.

Kathleen, my petite, blonde friend and colleague. A lifeline in times of stress. The woman could crack me up with just one look. She’s still in my address book, and I can’t let go or hit the delete button. Thank you for being in my life, Kathleen, if only for a little while. I will remember you. Always.

LOL. The laughs started years ago when I saw my first Abbott and Costello film and haven’t stopped yet. Some call it the best medicine. I call it the key to life.

Music and Musicals, the soundtrack of my life. I love many genres of music and I’m a big fan of Broadway. To paraphrase Tom Cruise, “Music, you complete me.”

Nordies, aka, Nordstrom’s, my favorite place to shop. An oasis among the retail clutter, especially since I met Patrice, my own personal stylist. Patrice really has a flair for style. Thank you, Nordies, for bringing her into my life!

Old-Time Hollywood StarsCary Grant, James Cagney, Bette Davis and so on. They represented the best of Hollywood’s Golden Years.

Pets. As in dogs. As in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. As in Henry, my pampered pet.

Queens. My first stomping grounds. The best place to grow up, if you ask me.

Rafael, my brother, who willingly took on the role of parent to his siblings. He’s also a good husband and father, not to mention an amazing uncle to my kids. He’s always there for all of us.

Sleep. I seem to have a love/hate relationship with sleep. I often end up putting it off, simply because I have too much to do and not enough time in the day. But when I finally fall asleep, ah….that’s heaven.

Tap Dancing. I’ve always said that you can’t be sad when you’re tap dancing. Trust me, whether I’m doing a ball change or a shuffle, I’m channeling Fred Astaire!

Universe and Everything. So much to see, so much still to discover!

Venezuela. At least, the Venezuela of my youth. It’s different now, but back then it was my second home, and it is and always will be, my heritage.

Wonder. Little can compare to a child’s sense of wonder. Try to keep a little of it always and you’ll be the better for it.

Xylophone, when played in jazz, it’s awesome.

You. Without you, my blog is nothing. Like a tree falling in the forest and no one to hear it. So, thank you, and thank you for your insightful comments.

Zone, as in The Twilight Zone. This is one of my favorite, all-time, (not for kids) childhood shows. I loved how it terrified me and am grateful that I got to meet its host and creator, Rod Serling, in Central Park, way back when.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers. I’m taking the rest of the week off and I’ll be back next week with more stories, more tangled webs to weave. In the meantime, feel free to add your own list of what you’re thankful for this year. Toodles!