I know a monster who lived in Scranton

When my sister, Kim, was about 13, if I remember correctly, she and my mom took a trip to Scranton, Pennsylvania. Now, this was five years before I arrived, a few years before my mom even met my father at the pawn shop where they both eventually worked.

By this point in her life, my mom, a divorcee and mental hospital survivor, was searching for redemption. She arranged the trip to meet with a priest, I think. She was working towards her conversion from Judaism, studying the New Testament and Catholic scriptures, as her story goes.

Scranton isn’t all that far from Baltimore, but for my mom it was a big trip. She was never much of a traveler. I’m not sure why she brought my sister along, and I can only imagine what a 13-year-old Jewish girl from a broken home would think of spending a week in a monastery. That’s another story itching to be told.

In any case, Kim was there when my mom received some kind of bad news. Was my Bubbie sick? My aunt? I can’t remember. Something happened that drove my mom to return to Baltimore, alone. Her friend the priest suggested that she leave my sister there with him while she went to sort out the emergency. At least, that’s how she told the story. So she left her 13-year-old daughter alone in a monastery in the care of a priest.  Today, the thought of doing such a think strikes me as almost comical.

It wasn’t. Something went wrong, of course. I’m hazy on the details, but my sister spent three days by herself at that monastery in Scranton. After my mom came to collect her, she was broken. Now, my mom used to say that Kim was always a difficult child. She struggled even when she was a baby. But whatever happened in Scranton set her on a downward spiral.

My mom never forgave herself. Her guilt ran so deep that she had another child – me – and dedicated nearly the rest of her life to keeping me safe. For my sister, whatever trauma she experienced in the care of the priest became a pivot point in her life. By the time I was born, she was receiving treatment for bipolar disorder. Later, when things began to get really bad, when she first began to have flashbacks and emerge from her room talking like a little girl or an angry truck driver, the first thing that came up in therapy was Scranton. Scranton. I remember overhearing so many horror stories about Scranton that I came to hate the entire state of Pennsylvania.

I have no idea what really happened there. Could the priest have molested my sister? Possibly. Yet I can’t help but wonder if all that really hurt my sister was fear. Fear – a cold, dark, mysterious monster that invaded a troubled girl at a crucial point in her life. Fear can do terrible things.


Flashback: 1980

I’m excited, you guys. Last week, my godmother sent me these:


They are a collection of letters that she received, separately, from my mom and my dad. They were written in the late 70s and early 80s, when I was a baby.

I read this one on Friday:


My dad wrote it in 1980. His writing reveals him to be thoughtful and quite spiritual. Also long winded. He wrote about me a lot, which surprised me.

I’ll write more about the letters soon.

I also started reading this:


It’s weird. I’m not into it yet. But I did check the copyright page. It was published in 1980, the same year as my dad’s letter. That’s funny, right?


I guess I’m going to spend a few days in the 80s. Maybe I’ll put on some legwarmers and crank this, too.

Want to join me?

All dads should play pony

“Where’s my brown-eyed princess?” he called as soon as he set his hat on the rack and tossed his coat over the banister. His voice reverberated throughout the small house, now all the more a home because of his arrival.

He kicked his wet shoes off into the mat and loosened his tie, unbuttoned two buttons on his white shirt. “Come on, princess, let’s play!” he called, waiting. Usually she was sitting by the door, but today she was off somewhere, immersed in a game.

He quickly ran a hand through his hair and got down on his hands and knees. “Come ride your pony,” he boomed.

“Daddy!” she cried, running from the kitchen, through the house, and vaulted into his back, hugging him. “I love you, Daddy! I missed you!”

“I missed you, too, princess,” he said, beginning his loop around the living room. “Where to today?” he asked, as he did every day.

“Can we go to India?” she asked, her voice hopeful and excited.

“Of course, princess,” he agreed, rounding the armchair and nearing the fireplace. “Which way is it to India?” he asked.

“Oh, Daddy, I don’t know. Don’t you know the way?”

“Well, I’m not sure, but I think we need to go south, and over oceans.” He paused near the fire for a few moments.

“Oceans, Daddy?” she asked as she tightened her grip on the collar of his shirt.

“Yes, princess. But ponies cannot ride over oceans, so we’ll need to take a ship.”

“A ship? Really?” she was so excited that she nearly fell off of his back.

He stopped while she climbed back on, “Yes, my love, a huge ship! Would you like that?”

“Yes, Daddy! Let’s go! Mommy and Norman can come, too, right?”

“Yes, princess,” he laughed his deep laugh, pausing to lean against the sofa. Little did he know that in a few short months he’d be boarding a plane without his family. Ships were no longer the only way to cross oceans.

“Oh, Daddy, I can’t wait to sail to India and meet the Indians!” she cried, climbing off of his back and onto the sofa. “When do we leave?” As he sat up, she grabbed his hands.

“After dinner, my love, after dinner,” he laughed, turning to smile and wink at his wife—my Bubbie—in the kitchen doorway, who was holding a dishtowel and wearing the same slightly displeased expression that would come to be her usual expression years later when I was born.

“Dinner is ready,” she said.