Subtext & Dialogue: Hidden Emotion

A work-in-progressthe following piece is a writing assignment produced for The Center of Fiction’s Active Storytelling course taught by Judy Sternlight.

An Innocent Banter

“I forgot.”
“It’s not that big of a deal, really …”
“Yeah, right.”
“So, what now?”
“Uhm, I’m not sure.”

Subtext Version 1

Clutching the calendar with today’s date circled in bright blue and highlighted in yellow marker, Mallory felt her stomach drop. 

“Oh God, I forgot,” she mumbled. He’s going to hate me, she thought as she dialed Jack on her phone. The phone rang three times before going to voicemail.  

“Hey Jack, it’s Mallory. I’m so sorry about this afternoon. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately with work, and …” She paused then, trying to collect her thoughts when prompted for a call waiting on the other line. Mallory clicked through. 

“Hello, this is Mallory.”

“Hey, Mallomar, it’s me,” said Jack. His voice sounded jovial despite the echo on the line. “Don’t stress, it’s not that big of a deal, and everything actually worked out for the best. My flight landed an hour early and I was able to make it to Dan’s graduation after all.” 

“Oh Jack, that’s such great news,” Mallory heaved a sigh of relief, she hadn’t missed him at all.

“Yeah, right, I know how that goes,” Jack said with a chuckle. He was notorious for being late but since his divorce it seemed he had turned over a new leaf.

“So, what will you do now?” Mallory asked. 

“Hmm, I’m not sure,” Jack replied, “Do you have time to grab a drink with your kid brother?”

Subtext Version 2

I forgot,” Mallory retorted. “What’s the big deal?”

“Mallory Michaels, we’ve gone over this before. You cannot walk out in the middle of group therapy without asking for permission,” Dr. Jack Lyons replied.

His words were met with a stone cold silence and a roll of the eyes. This was the second time Mallory had been reprimanded for breaking the rules, one more time and she good kiss her scholarship good-bye.  

Mallory surveilled Dr. Lyons from the corner of her eye and with a dramatic sigh replied. “Lyons, I’m sorry, really I am but I’ve got a lot on my mind lately, what with tests and applying for college and being here, without my family.” 

“Yes, yes, well of course, and about that,” the doctor’s voice trailed off.

Mallory’s parents had filed emancipation papers this morning. This was the first time he and his team of therapists had ever witnessed such a thing; everyone was scrambling for what to do next. 

“Oh man,” Mallory grumbled, pushing herself to stand up and face the sandy-haired administrator. “What now? Did something happen to my brother?”

“No, nothing like that, Marcus is okay. But Mallory I have something to tell you, and I’m not sure how you’re going to take it exactly. Your family, all of them, including your brother, have filed separation papers against you.”

Word Count: 472


remembering mama

I sometimes wonder how my mom would have changed if she had the time to age. I’d like to believe it would have been a graceful process, one that involved my dad, me and Rich, and getting to know her grandkids. It’s one of life’s greatest mysteries when someone is taken so much younger then the rest of there generation. Many of her friends have been living the life she ought to have had, had cancer not taken her so soon.

The most cherished trait I have acquired from my mom is empathy, the ability to understand share the feelings of others. She was by far one of the kindest souls I’ve had the fortune of knowing, and if you ever met someone who knew her, it’s quite possible that her thoughtfulness would be one of the first things they would mention. Her sweetness was also her Achilles heel. Sensitive to the core, she would never consider harming another human being. And on the rare occasion when an intention was misunderstood, she suffered with self-inflicted guilt for days from the infraction, no matter how minute.  She was a worry-wart, a trait I’ve sucessfully shed from my emotional repertoire.

I’ve been dreaming about her a lot lately. Lucid dreams that feel all too real, the kind of dreams that are painful to exit because they leave a stronger mark of loss when you wake. Bittersweet as they may be, rife with emotion and zeal, I’ll take them for however long they choose to linger in my psyche, offering a closeness to my mom that I haven’t felt in nearly 18 years.

I recently scrapbooked all the notes and cards she and my dad sent to me, including the jotted handwritten notes enclosed in college care packages. I strongly suspect Mom single-handedly supported Hallmark during the late 70s and 80s for all the cards she sent to family and friends, near and far. I’m a fan of snail mail. And for awhile I, too, thought it might be a dying art. I was relieved to find out that I’m not alone in my letter writing, it appears that my fellow Americans still buy about 6.5 billion cards each year for birthdays and Christmas.

Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 90. I’ve been thinking about her all day struggling with what to write to honor her memory flustered by the passage of time, these last 18 years and more potently the last 23 hours evaporating around me.

Happy birthday Mom, I think of you always.


Lucy Preziotti

9/19/28 – 1/23/00

The Greatest Life is the One You Choose to Live

Anniversaries are my totems. Although they are not animate objects or things, they still breathe.  With each year that passes, they remind me to come alive.

My parents were late bloomers: marrying and starting a family at an older age way before it was fashionable. I never had the opportunity to dig deep into their childhood stories but what I’ve been able to glean second-hand is that they didn’t quite fit into the norm of everyday life, and instead carved a life for themselves as best as they knew how. Attuned to the beat of their own drums, they found each other through their love of dancing.

I see myself in that analogy.

A friend recently shared that I, too, had carved a different life for myself, unlike anyone else’s. And I guess in some ways that is true. I owe my parents, and especially my father everything for giving me the opportunity to create a path filled with possibilities of my own choosing.

Dad was the middle child, the first native-born generation Italian-American. Named for a grandfather no doubt, as was the tradition. He grew up in Brooklyn, attended public school and later enlisted. He was a numbers guy, and I often wonder who he would have become if he had the chance to go to University.  Dad would have been 18 when he entered the army,  donning fatigues at the height (1943) of the Second World War. He once told me how a deviated septum prevented his deployment, and although he served his time, it was never on foreign soil. I’ve always wondered what happened to his platoon, but he never spoke about it (or them) again.

Dad was a conundrum, sporting a protective, rough around the edges shell on the outside. But his insides were softer than that, something I learned first-hand in the years after Mom died. A product of the Great Depression he didn’t know how to show emotion, let alone say “I love you.” It took decades before he could audibly say it out loud, but he shared his love tangibly in every day.

If you took the time to discover his truth, you earned his respect and friendship, and his stories. The tales he shared with my friends were different from the ones he shared with me, and so each new interaction became a gift in its own way. I regret that I didn’t fall in love in his lifetime, I’m sure that mystery man would have accessed another chapter or two.

Dad lying on a sandy beach
July 1957

What I remember most about my dad is his love for the sea, tennis, pasta fagioli, and chocolate, his passion for math and conservative politics. Not necessarily in that order. He would stay up all hours to watch a tennis match, staring intensely at the screen, mirroring the vibrant emotion of the crowds. Dad was always on the prowl for pasta fagioli foraging restaurants in New York, and Italy for a bowl like Grandma Teresa used to make. And his love for dark chocolate was infinite. He once consumed a ballotin of Godiva (the first I was ever gifted) in one sitting.  What I wouldn’t give to share a box with him today.

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Five years is both a long and short term of passage when you lose someone you love. There is no workaround to the wave of emotions you will feel. Grief doesn’t operate within a specific timeframe, some days will feel like you’re burrowing through marble, while others sand.

I stand by my belief that healing is the hardest part of the process; when you find the courage to move through it, you become a stronger version of yourself. Another lesson I learned from my Dad.

Vincent “Jim” Preziotti
b. 12 May 1925
d. 2 August 2013

The smell of Christmas is in the air


It was a big three-story house with a wrap-around porch. The crisp, breeze refreshing in the summer, was drafty and damp in winter. And luckily for us, there was a stone fireplace in the living room trimmed in evergreen pines and holly.

Some of my favorite Christmas memories were with my mom and dad at the O’Connell’s. Aunt Gail (Dominica) and Uncle Dermott and their family of six: Scott, Kathleen, Chrystin, Michael, Maureen, Brian. At one time, I distinctly remember a pair of chocolate brown poodles.

The layout of the house imprints itself on my memory. The winding hallways lead downstairs to the siblings’ bedrooms and the rec room in the basement, a sweeping staircase leading us to the master suite. On the main floor, the kitchen and living room opened into a full dining room with a wood farm table, long enough to feed twelve. Meals were half-Irish, half-Italian with lots of wine (and chocolate milk for me, of course).

On December 24, you would find us in the living room hours before midnight, stringing popcorn and watching old movies. A sea of brandy snifters and mugs filled with hot chocolate and marshmallows; the crackling of wood in the fireplace, the smell of Christmas in the air.

home is where the heart is

We start talking about our grandparents. Of landing in the United States after months of hardship in their homelands, of escapes from war and terror and oppression, of arriving in this new land laden with sadness striving for a hopeful future for themselves, their children, their grandchildren.

The stories are full of details of coal mines and lace factories, intertwined marriages, and large families. There are stories about religious obligations to become nuns and priests, of husbands and wives widowed, of marrying the next family member in line, of keeping the family together at all costs. So many stories.

I think about my grandparents, two sets that migrated from Italy’s shores. One from the North, one from the South. My father’s parents Teresa and Riccardo; my mother’s parents Francesco and Rosa. My memories of their lives are fuzzy. I reach out to my brother to see what he can remember. I reach out to my uncle, my father’s sole surviving sibling. Both are dead ends. Figuratively. Literally.

What I do know is that my father’s parents, both from the same town in Italy, crossed the Atlantic to find each other in Brooklyn; my mother’s parents married in Sicily, my grandfather migrated to the Fashion District, my grandmother emigrated to Carroll Gardens soon after, with three children in tow.


Brooklyn was everyone’s home of choice, and it has become my home of choice, too.

Photo credit: @pixabay

cara mia siracusa

IMG_1877To visit and witness the heart of my ancestors, the home of my family … eight days non abbastanza troppo. There is so much to see and do, meals to enjoy, vistas to climb, sunlight to bask in… Sicily moves at a much slower pace, and ammollo tutto in richiede tempo. There is a tranquility of life that cannot be described, only sentito con il tuo cuore. The people are the breath of the island, their stories as complex as the minerals of lava rock on Mt. Etna. And to study them individually, you need time. Senza limiti precisi.

‘Sogno di vivere in Sicilia per un mese, un anno.’

I know this desire to have limitless time in another place other than your home is a dream. Un sogno. The young adventurous students without any obligations can do so easily. As for the rest of us, it requires deep thought and planning, carving out space to lead a different version of the one you are living. It is not something one engages in lightly, the rearranging of the present life to live a richer, fuller one. Ma può essere fatte.

Today is our last day in Siracusa. We have strolled streets of stone, trekked Etna’s mountain. Abbiamo assaggiato il cibo e il vino degli dei. We have dipped our toes in the Mediterranean and Ionian seas. And immersed ourselves in a different way of living, one where we are far better off for knowing, respirandola.

For me personally, this trip was an opportunity to reconnect with my family, my blood family. I have my friends, la Mia tribù … ma la Mia famiglia a Sicilia è una linea di salvezza to my past. Con ogni abbraccio e ogni memoria my heart expands, come l’Etna esplode con amore.

In many ways since the death of my parents, I had forgotten what it feels like to be loved openly without pretense, to be welcomed freely into the every day of a person’s life, to be missed before leaving — da perdere da una persona cara prima di partire. When you live alone there is a great desire to be part of something bigger than life itself. To be loved unconditionally.

Da amare incondizionatamente.

I have found this love here in Sicilia, and after seeing multigenerational members of my family at last night’s reunion, my heart once again is full.

Grazie mille.

Weekend Warrior: Go West

Go West! To Western Pennsylvania, that is. Chester and I started our journey to Lake City, PA after rush hour on Friday morning. It was part one of a 4-day affair.

Friday, May 5

It’s raining, it’s pouring but a girl still needs her coffee. We stop at Davy’s Hot Dogs in Mount Arlington, a kitschy-styled Swiss chalet, just off I-80.

Chester’s playlists bring us back memories of our teen and college years and we swap stories in the car.

We stop in Danville, PA for lunch at the Old Forge Brewing Company on Mill Street. New Yorkers will understand my shock at the cost of metered parking — 1 hour and 40 minutes for 25 cents!

I fall in love with the beer steins. Sadly, they are only available to members of the Pub Club. I may have to come back in November for the open enrollment period.

The highway is filled with semis and trucks, and us, of course. At one point we drive alongside a military convoy led by a camouflaged humvee. At a rest stop, we spot a specialized mitt for pumping diesel; it reminds me there are niche products and industries I know nothing about.

One thing you should know is that Chester, having made this trip a couple of dozen times over his life, is all about minimizing drive time. If you know anything about me, I’m all about the journey and what you can discover along the way. Luckily, our bladders are on the same clock.

We stop at The Glass Blowing Center in Hillard, PA, where we meet the proprietors Tom and Elaine Doner. Tom shares how he fell in love with the art of glass blowing after visiting an art fair. Self-taught he walks us through the steps to create a seamless work of art, a glass dolphin garden stick. If you are traveling with the kids this summer, consider adding them to your driving itinerary.

Next stop: Cleveland. (Yes, you read that right.)

Chester’s Uncle Bill was traveling from San Francisco to attend Sunday’s family event, and we are his transport to PA. Unfortunately, we find out that his United flight has been delayed. We amuse ourselves with a cool exhibit about Superman at Cleveland-Hopkins airport, followed by dinner at the Sheraton.


We finally made it to Lake City (a suburb of Erie), PA at 11:30 PM

Saturday, May 6

It’s a blustery day filled with wind and rain when we set off to explore Lake City and surrounding areas with Chester’s family.

First stop: Peggy Gray’s Candies.

The Holliday family has been making high-quality European-style chocolates for Western Pennsylvania since 1922. In addition to chocolate, they sell old-time candies and salt water taffy, brands like Black Cow and Charleston Chews, among others remind me of my childhood.

We stop at the tributary where Crooked Creek empties into Lake Erie. I marvel at the tumultuous, rolling waves. It looks so much like the ocean.

Chester, his aunts, and uncles used to spend summers by the lake and they share stories of the summer cottage. It’s now been sold but we drive by for a visit.

The rest of the day is spent exploring Erie’s consignment shops and the Salvation Army. Back at the house, we have lunch, then dinner engaging in lively conversation with his extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Sunday, May 7

We wake to a sunny and beautiful day with all the flowers alive and in bloom. Chester takes me on a tour of the “back forty” behind the house and barn, everything smells of spring. The grass seems to go on forever. First I hear, and then I see the creek at the edge of the property. An abundance of nature.

And then there’s the barn, a true sampling of Americana, right here in Lake City, PA.

Late afternoon we make our way to St. Paul’s Cathedral in Erie, where Chester’s stepmom Dorthy will be ordained as a deacon.

The day ends with a celebratory dinner with friends and family at the Colony Pub & Grille, followed by “the best chocolate cake in Arizona” prepared by Aunt Carol and some ice cream back at the house.

Monday, May 8

Monday comes too soon, and before we know it we’re all saying our goodbyes, and back on the road home toward home.

Chester’s family photo on the back forty, Lake City, PA

Header Photo Credit: @pixabay, all others @prez13

right here, next to me

There are some days, even now nearly four years since my Dad died when I find myself thinking he is still alive. It is a fleeting moment, lasting thirty seconds or less. It lingers in the air like smoke from a snuffed out candle.

Sunday morning, not quite 2 AM, an evening in with the muses talking about life and friendship, death and spirituality, family and friends. Monica and Suzie fall in and out of sleep, their voices a rolling cannon of sighs punctuated by snores from our favorite pug, Jello. It’s a midnight symphony at ebb+flow headquarters.

A few minutes later, the third uberPOOL passenger in a white Elantra, I find myself zigzagging from one side of Brooklyn to the other, the sickening sweet air freshener pungent in the front seat. This road traveled is like a driving race course with every pothole and speed bump a replacement for the orange cones.

Opening the door, I am greeted with a famished hello from Finn.

In the bathroom, I change out of my street clothes into PJs, running the water to brush my teeth. The door is slightly ajar. In the white noise and ambient sounds, I almost hear my Dad shuffling down the hallway.

When we shared the same space we had this institutionalized ritual where he would ‘find me’ on his way to the washroom just as I was returning from a night out on the town. Nonchalantly, he would ask how my night was, and in this moment, I hear him asking about these friends of mine whom he has never met, and how they are doing.

I can hear the shadow of his breath, the early morning scratchiness in his voice, as if he were standing right here, next to me.

the secret of life…

Best friends, you can never have too many of them in your lifetime. And rest assured that you will have many. It’s like that poem that has circled mailboxes and inboxes for decades, detailing the cycles of friendship and life, about how and why people shuffle in and out of it. As the words go: for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

Think reasons and seasons:
Childhood, high school, the good times of college, first love, first fight, work angst, vacation fun.
The span of a lifetime:
Lean on me when the world comes crashing down, rejoice with me when the sun is shining, console me from embarrassment, save me from myself.
Be here, sweet friend, be here.

In present society I find that it’s just too easy to be friends. Friends, I use that term loosely. The progressive nature of technology offers countless ways to stay in touch through feeds, wall postings and status updates, allowing us to broaden our circle of acquaintances and blur the lines that separate them from our friends.

Acquaintances share a commonality, an interest but oftentimes the relationship is fleeting, temporary.  Friends on the other hand are like family, members of which you have cultivated a relationship. You learn to grow with each other, in spite of one another’s idiosyncrasies. You become each other’s confidante, backboard, truth serum. You love one another unconditionally and without judgment. It is a natural evolution from stranger to friend, and occasionally acquaintances themselves evolve into one.

Maybe I am naive to be wistful, wishful, but I long for the days when friends were friends forever. Some may call that a myth, a childhood fancy. I believe it exists: this magic of friendship.  Despite the madness and confusion of the world, I believe there are still humans out there who embrace the complexity of it; who thrive from the give and take, the nurturing; who harness, protect and defend each other from the threat of an asunder; who still practice the art of thoughtful communication.  The warmth of a voice over the phone, hugs exchanged in greetings of hello/goodbye, the stories that made you laugh until you cried, memories shared through postcards, photographs (thank goodness for these), letters, phone calls, quality time, the absolute cerebral reality of being there in the moment. These timeless treasures, I feel as if they are happening less and less, were it not for my photographs I might start to believe they didn’t happen at all.

The world is spinning so fast, everything has become blurry, disoriented. Even the events one relies on to connect fall flat. I recently celebrated a birthday, away from my city of origin, disconnected from a LAN/landline.  I was looking forward to this day of celebration because of the phone calls and cards–concrete tokens from loved ones, family and friends. Imagine my utter disappointment when the phone (and postman) only rang twice. Every other birthday wish came noiselessly over the Internet, in email and posted to Facebook. The silence was deafening, filling my heart with a longing for another era. Era, the language of my grandparents. I’m still too young to be thinking in such terms and yet there seems no other word for it.

(quiet reflection)

These late night musings should be shared over malbec and merlot accompanied by philosophical conversations, memories, the occasional regret absolved with bittersweet chocolate and laughter.

They should not be part of a soliloquy.


“I found out what the secret to life is: friends. Best friends.” – Ninny Threadgoode (Fried Green Tomatoes)


numb, stoic, empty
that’s how i feel. lost, confused
trying to make sense

of overwhelming
every day chaos times two.
foolish, i believed

caring for my mom
would prepare me for right now.
impossibly not.

back then dad and i
had to learn to be close, friends.
i didn’t count on that

dynamic changing
so drastically where it hurts
my heart so deeply.