The Catalyst

A Writing Teacher Writes (plus some writing prompts and recipes)

After All These Years March 30, 2010

Filed under: Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 10:38 am

The prompt this time was a podcast of an NPR story. It’s a pretty heavy one about a combat survivor from Iraq suffering with PTSD. Check out the podcast (or read the transcript) by clicking on this link: Some Scars Only Doctors See

What I wrote in response, is below.


The office is tiny and modern, and I catch a glimpse of her before my name is called: it’s been ten years, and she’s changed. She’s wearing magnifiers and her hair has gray streaks in it, but she’s wearing funky boots and red tights, a short skirt. She looks oddly younger and older at the same time.

When I enter the small examining room, I’m surprised by the big, cushy exam chair, and a big book on the side table titled, How to Look Younger. I consider cracking it open, but hesitate. I’m aging; there’s no way to stop that.

She was my Dermatologist ten years ago, then she retired, and I got trapped at Kaiser for a while. But now we’re both back, and when she enters the room and shakes my hand again, it really feels like a reunion.

“So good to see you again,” I say.

“So good to see you!” she says.

We talk for a while about our lives. Her daughter (who was eight the last time we spoke) is graduating from high school in a few months. I’ve started my own business. We talk about books and writing, and eventually, moles. Especially the one on my shoulder, which has recently changed in shape and size. I’m so sure it’s cancerous that I convinced the intake nurse to prepare a biopsy set-up for us.

“This is a non-melanoma abnormal growth,” she says, zapping it off with a cauterizing needle. “It doesn’t need to be biopsied. You’re fine.” The little jolts of electricity usually jar me a bit, but she’s numbed the area for me, and was so deft at administering the injection, I felt nothing when the needle slid in.

There are a few more issues, mostly skin tags: benign, flat moles that I’ve inherited from my father. Three of them are on the edge of a very round, very tender body part. I’ve learned the medical jargon for this area of the body: the gluteal fold.

“I’m impressed you know that term,” she says, covering my nakedness with a striped cotton robe. “Just in case a nurse pops in,” she jokes.

“I showered right before I came,” I say.

“Thank you,” she says. Zap. Zap. Zap. “Okay. We’re all done. I’ll pretend to be putting my instruments away,” she jokes, “while you pull your pants back on.” She turns her back.

At home, before I left for the appointment, I was doing a good job of tearing myself apart in the mirror. Round belly. Lots of grey hair. Broken blood vessels on my cheek. But here, with her, I feel young again. Charming.

“Next time, I want to address these veins on my face,” I say.

“Okay,” she says, squinting at me as I point to the thin web of red marks. She slips her special magnifying glasses down over her readers. “Those?” she asks, pointing to my left cheek. I nod. “They’re really tiny. We can get those in one shot.

Then she bids me farewell,  pointing to How to Look Younger on her way out. “Ignore that,” she says. “You don’t need it.”

She’s a good doctor.


Mama March 24, 2010

Filed under: Poems,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 12:56 am

For this prompt, I read a section of Pablo Neruda’s poem “Dead Woman” (see below),  and asked everyone to choose two consecutive lines from the poem to use as a prompt. Everyone had a copy in front of him or her, so they took a moment with this after I was done reading out loud. The lines I chose were “I shall stay alive/because above all things you wanted me/indomitable.”

The section of the poem I chose, and my writing in response, are below Neruda’s poem.


Dead Woman (La Muerta)

If suddenly you do not exist,

if suddenly you no longer live,

I shall live on.

I do not dare,

I do not dare to write it,

if you die.

I shall live on.

For where a man has no voice,

there shall be my voice.

Where slaves are flogged and beaten,

I cannot be dead.

When my brothers go to prison

I shall go with them.

When victory,

not my victory,

but the great victory


even if I am dumb I must speak;

I shall see it coming even if I am blind.

No, forgive me.

If you no longer live,

if you, beloved, my love,

if you

have died,

all the leaves will fall on my breast,

it will rain on my soul night and day,

the snow will burn my heart,

I shall walk with frost and fire and death and snow,

my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping,


I shall stay alive,

because above all things you wanted me


and, my love, because you know that I am not only a man

but all mankind.

-Pablo Neruda (1904 -1973)


My Piece:

You brought me here, made the choice to push through pain and blood, the awful fluids, and bring me screaming to life. Before that, a kidney failed, was removed, and a few years later you entered the obstetrician’s office six weeks late.

“You are a candidate for termination,” he said. “Pregnancy taxes the kidneys. You are potentially in danger.”

I’m told you never wavered. You simply said, “Doctor, I’ll be fine.”

I could sing your praises, hold you up on the altar for your selflessness and love, like Guadalupe or Christ, but you were not virginal and you did not die for our sins. And I’m tired of writing about your dementia, your little body and how it shrank, how you didn’t know me at the end. It’s over now, so why go on and on with all of that?

Sometimes, I still have nightmares about you. They are ugly and involve feces and urine, dirty fingernails, fragile bones. I wake up and have to turn the light on, have to repeat this mantra to calm myself down: it’s over, it’s over, it’s over.

It is over. And mostly, I’m done missing you. Grieving you. I’m even close to letting go of the grief of what we lost: a relationship as adults, long phone conversations, lunch outdoors, a shared joke and our similar laugh: a sing-song cackle. I’m nearly done grieving my lost adolescence, but I’ll never be finished with thanking you.

Not for the confusion, the pain, the loss of you, the loss of you, the loss. Never for that. I hold onto that each day with the knowledge of what we never had. But I’m thankful for the way you took responsibility for my safety, for the way I never felt threatened or judged or alone. For the love of small birds and bright colors and the miracle of growing something in the wet, black soil. For the joy I still feel, watching cookies rise on a thin metal sheet in the frame of an oven window. For the way it felt to be seen, really seen, with nothing but affection.

You were so skilled, so at ease with that kind of love. I realize now how rare that is. How I’ve inherited that willingness to love others so completely, how some parents don’t do this well, or at all, or with the ambivalence you never seemed to have.

Am I angry? Am I sad? Of course. Oh, God, am I ever. That battle goes on every day. But it feels good to be thankful now; I’m so clear that I’m thankful now. I’m thankful now. I’m thankful.