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Monica Bielanko
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Tooth Marks In The Wood.

I just got done shoving some more joint compound into a hole in the bathroom wall when Monica called up the steps that Amy Winehouse was dead. Some stuff fell off my blade, but I kept pushing what was left into the old plaster. Finish the job, I told myself. Hide the hole, motherfucker.


My daughter is half a year from three now and she talks a lot. We'll be in the Honda, cruising down the road towards the Home Depot or the beer distributor and she'll be back there in her seat all strapped in, the summer gushing through the window/making her curls medusa, and out of nowhere she'll holler,"AIRPWANE! AIRPWANE! OVER DARE! IT"S AN AIRPWANEOVERDAREOVERDAREAIRPWANELOOKANAIRPWANE!"

And sure enough me and her mom will lean out over the dash and look up in the sky and see some jet high out over the world, dangling from a cloud.

"There it is!," we'll say.


Airplane: full of people; full of businessmen with tilted necks gazing down into reflectionless laptops; airplane full of LAX-bound Sikhs; full of peanuts and Diet Pepsi. It ain't our airplane. We ain't riding on her and probably never will. We don't know anyone up there probably either. Probably won't ever meet anyone who was taking that particular flight. And, even if we did, how would we ever know they were way up that afternoon, soaring above our little car/little ant down between the cornfields?

Still, the plane becomes a wonderful little part of us, and of our proverbial ride. This little girl who melts my chest open and dumps my molten heart out all over ten differnt floors a day: she called it out with such lovely gusto.



So, in some ways, that thing is ours now. Forever. We rode on underneath her, living our life as she passed us by. Then, one of us tore through the wind in her eyes and saw that bird cutting across the bluebird sky and pointed her little right index finger/marzapan stub and announced it like it was something she'd lost long ago and just re-found.

And so: shit. That makes it as much our airplane as anyone elses, I guess.

Maybe even more.


Violet in the morning. Six-ish. Seven-ish if I'm lucky. Standing at the peak of these carpeted stairs in a house we barely even know yet, Violet grins a little: like a bashful grin, something shy coming over her. She nudges a pillow-matted curl out of her eye and giggles a little, nervously.

I know what's up.

I know what's up down here on my perch on the fourth step down.

My sweetheart is scared.

We touch eyeballs for a sec, but it doesn't last: and almost instantly she throws her look back down the long stairwell.

She doesn't want me to know. That she might be scared of these deep old stairs.

I act smooth. Or I try to.

"Remember to use your butt, girl," I tell her. "Slide down like we practiced. One Cheek. Two Cheek."

She rolls around on the upper landing and pretends to be getting in to a conversation with a plastic Wal-mart cow.

I let them have a couple private words before I come back in.

"Hey Violet, you can do it!", I tell her, a little pep in my tone. A fat bald little coach standing there on the tip of my tongue, his whistle dangling down a red lanyard, his clipboard curled up in his one arm like a sleeping baby.

"C'mon Violet, you can do it!"

She grins/her eyes give her away/she looks for a way out.

"A COW!" she screams.

She holds up the plastic heifer and looks him in the face. "A COW A COW RIGHT HERE A COW!!!"

Whadya do, you know?

"Oh yeah," I say. I know I sound dejected too, but this is before coffee and I'm bursting with old piss and I just wanna get down these steps and walk out into the kitchen, into the new day. But, I sound like a douche.

I pump some DaddyNeon up from my guts, up into my face. I get more interested.


She digs that and I can see that right away.

I lay on some thick butter.

"Why don't you give Daddy that cool cow and I will help him down the steps while you come down on your own because you are a big girl and you can do it, Violet!"

"BE CAILFUL BOOTS!", she hollers as she slides her tiny ass down a step. And then another.

Boots is Dora's monkey friend. Duh.

"I got the cow!", I assure her after she gives him up to me to sherpa down the morning slope.

"CAILFULBOOTS!", she says.

We slip our asses down from one carpeted step to the next. Same as we did yesterday. Same as we'll do later this afternoon.

At the last step, I turn around and watch her descending just behind me, concentration smeared all over her face like her jelly gets.

I love her so much. So fucking much. I hand her the cow as her feet hit the floorboards.

She brushes him aside with a wave of her hand.

As if to say: what cow, daddy?

As if to say: that never happened, Holmes.


Fear wells up in me all the time and I try not to let it show, but I know I suck at that and my wife would confirm that. You can't keep your kids from falling down off shit or splitting their lips open on the very tables we set up to hoist their small dinners toward the heavens. Bees are gonna find that soft skin and they are gonna be fucking excited as hell when they hold their asses in the air and wave 'em around and then send the stinger home some early evening when you're all relaxing out in the yard, putting flowers in the dirt and feeling all good about yourselves because you're such a quality time family and look at us out here digging in Mother Earth together but not in some dirty hippie kinda way but more in a Beekman Boys vibe and aren't we just so....BAM.

The kid gets stung. Hell comes calling.

I can't stop it. I can't stop anything, really.


I would give anything to have all the dope in the world out in my garage. And all the fast cars and all the bees. I wouldn't care if taking the bees away fucked up the planet. I wouldn't give two shits if their missing honey started making it rain hot glue balls.

I would give all my limbs and my eyes and my teeth if that was the deal, if I could stave off all the goddamn possible bee stings. 

Not being able to makes me crazy. And super sad.


If you YouTube Amy Winehouse you can see what you wanna see. You can watch her in Serbia, all messed up. Her eyes seem like some lighthouse miles away over rough rough seas. You see a moment, a flash of glow. And then it's gone/out/blocked by raging whitecaps. People boo her/a new song kicks in/the people sing the words/it falls apart/people boo her/

You can check her out just a few hours before she died too. Dancing her kooky dance onstage over in London, a few blocks from her house, cheering on her teenage friend as that young girl sings a good song. Maybe Amy was loaded that night. I can't tell. She seemed happy though.

Or you can watch her sing back before she got stung bad.


Goddamn, that little girl could sing.


They will have burned her body and her bones by now. And now, no matter how much you maybe wanna stop it, there will be nothing left but the songs and some dust and whatever she left there on her nightstand, on her kitchen counter.

It won't be a half-written song or anything like that, either. It'll be something way more sad and way more heart-breaking.

A half-eaten bag of salt'n'vinegar chips. A novel with a bookmark in it.

A pencil with tooth marks in the wood.


Reader Comments (26)

Astonishing! Made the hairs on my neck stand up, and cry just a little. Maybe because I saw my ex-, the mother of my kids, today. And she is wearing a a sheet on her head to hide the hair she's lost since she started chemo. Maybe because we talked about how her mum died of the disease. Of familial hurt that can't be denied or covered up with a cheap wig. Maybe because Amy Winehouse's story is so sad, and the hurt that is so clear in her dad. Maybe just because your story speaks straight to the heart of these relationships and how something from the outside, drugs or cancer, or a car-crash can't be denied and isn't fair.

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKeith

It's comforting to know I am not alone in that often consuming worry. It feels like it sometimes when I look at my parental peers and how they appear to handle life's bee stings, large and small, with the "it is what it is" attitude. But not me. I'll plead to a God that doesn't exist, at least not the way most people perceive, to keep her safe at any expense to myself. It seems we just cannot wish big enough to make it so the really bad stuff, the stuff no one ever gets to take back, never happens to our kids. I'm gong to keep wishing anyway.

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJuli

Jesus. Just fantastic writing, man. Whatever your readership is, it's not big enough.

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermclusky

Damn sir can you write well. This is a most beautiful love letter to your little girl, a great testament to the man you are, the father we should all have (I wished I had one that cared as much).
Amy Winehouse. At the age of 18 I lost my first and only idol, Kurt Cobain. and I lost it. I was one of those emo teens who thought the world had come to an end. And you you know what, it did. It did completely, my world changed, forever. Little Amy full of lungs. How can anyone judge, know. I am so saddened for her, for her family, friends, and myself. That little white girl soothed the blues out of my broken heart and sang the way I wish I could.
Mighty mighty Amy.
Great piece of writing Serge. Once again!

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMiss A

tears. many tears.

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

You're a very good dad.

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

Wow. Just, wow.

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeb

Came over here via MamaPundit, and wow. Just wow. This blew me away, especially as I'm the mom to a 10-month-old girl myself and can relate to how badly you want to protect little Violet.

This was beautifully written. And just when I thought I'd go away unscathed -- bam! Tears at the end there. So true. So true.

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPattie

Jesus Christ.....

I hate gushing more than anything. It's insincere and tired. But holy shit Serge this piece of writing is brilliant. Moved me to tears.

Thank you

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRichelle

Goddam, you can write.

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbec

Everything you write moves me to my core. More.

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDevany

Wow. I think when someone we love dies, that idea that the world doesn't care, and carries on right in our faces, really digs in the knife. You captured that feeling perfectly, and also wrote the most beautiful love letter to your daughter. Thank you for sharing it.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranother monica

oh my god serge. I Can't say anything but ..OH.MY.GOD! YOU are my favorite writer.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermom Elaine

The love for your daughter is so beautiful. Thank you for perfectly encapsulating my thoughts about protecting my kids. Damn those bees.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTara

Please, please, please write a book.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJaime

Serenity now! I don't believe I have ever understood the depth of a parent's love for a child but this graphic tale of a girl and a cow and a dad at the top of carpeted stairs is a great visual. Kind of reminds me of a time when I took the wrong lift to the wrong mountain top and prayed for God to somehow get me down that slope " and I'll serve you forever!" The town was so tiny down there and I though I could hand out and enjoy the scenery for a while or take it left cheek, right cheek. That cow diversion sure came in handy for Violet. life is scary and overwhelming. She's going down seat first and someday maybe flying by the seat of her pants. I don't know how parents deal with these thoughts and would bite my nails down in between prayers. It's like the parents eventually have to gain independence from their children in order to allow them to ride their bikes down the street. To wrap it up, wooden stair sliding boards are fun for the kids, and if you can get one wide enough ( not an insult) you and Monica could use it too. Great instead of having to navigate steps. Safer.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGina

extraordinary writing. i am hooked.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ

I hope my someday husband feels for our someday children the way you do for your kids. Somethin' fierce.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusie

"It's like the parents eventually have to gain independence from their children in order to allow them to ride their bikes down the street." I feel this everyday just never knew how to put it into words.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

i don't have anything particularly earth shattering to add. just wanted to mention that i feel like this is the most relevant thing that i've read in relationship to her death.

and i agree with mclusky.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKelly@TearingUpHouses

I read it, first time I've read you ever, while my kid careens down the hardwood hall in the office roly chair. I'm trying to ignore her, see, cuz she's irritating in that distracting kind of way that 11 yr old girls can be. Not stung yet, thank the sky. Suddenly, all limbs akimbo, she stops cuz she's caught me weeping and so I read aloud to her what my heart is seeing. Her brilliant little puffy mouth, jaw-dropped, letting your words form a new world that adverbs and adjectives never spoke before. Thank you. This will stay with me long after our game of 500,000 Rummy. **hugz**

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHHeaven

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGina

Simply beautiful.
I wish I felt my father loved me even a fraction of your love for your kids.
You're a very special, talented family.
Keep writing.

July 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterA

I lost a beautiful son to drug addiction. What is written here is so perfectly expressed and as a parent even though you know you can't protect them from those bees, you never get over the fact that you didn't.

July 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermik707

yes, serge. yes, thank you.

July 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarian

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