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pieces of my memoir

pieces of my memoir

Black Thanksgiving 2017

I meant to publish this in late November 2017, and posted it to Facebook instead.

In the car, my dad’s partner has a ring.

“What’s this?” I ask, grinning.

“It’s just a ring. Amber. You cut out that grinning!” my dad is mock mad while driving, and trying to give me a stern look in the rearview mirror, but his eyes are crinkling.

“Okay, fine.” I shrug. “It’s just a ring. On a left ring finger. Just because. But if you need me to hang streamers from the backyard and call a florist…”


They all laugh.

“I’m excited to go to this Thanksgiving. I want to be in a room where I can say, ‘I miss Barak’ and everyone agrees.” We all laugh again, and then sigh.

“Ain’t that the truth.” my dad says wistfully.

Cousin Antwon smiles. “Tequila?” he asks. I’ve never said no to tequila on a holiday. We cheers and sip. It’s barely past noon. No one judges us. Cousin Dougie is trying to work his iPad and taking video of everyone and I can see it’s shakey. I feel like I should have brought my camera, and remind myself next year. Uncle Warren calls me princess, everyone raises an eyebrow. Cousin Robyn gets choked up saying grace and getting thankful, and we all get choked up, too. Her wife gives her a big hug after amen, and a bunch of us follow suit before getting our plates. She has a house full of people, a house she admits is a little too large, and that they bought especially for hosting Thanksgiving, and now it’s full of people, and it’s beautiful, and looking around, I get choked up, too.

My dad is the first in line for food. We sit together, he looks at me expectantly as I eat the collard greens. “Yes, okay. Yours are better.” I’m pretty sure if I don’t say this, I’m walking home. It’s not untrue, though. “Mmmmhmm. That’s right.” he says low enough so only I can hear him.

I promise I’m going to pace myself, but don’t, and wind up eating way too much. Pies and cakes are brought out immediately, without the gap between dinner and dessert that my white family insists on. I start on my first piece of my dad’s pineapple upside down cake, and he talks about his mother, and his grandmother, and reminds me that I come from a long line of strong black women. I’m starting to feel more tired than strong, but power through a slice of sweet potato pie after that.

Uncle Brian falls out on the couch. Cousin Sarah and Cousin Antown pick on each other, and then love on each other. Cousin Sarah chides her ten year old daughter, and Auntie Gloria says, “Don’t pick on my grandbaby!” and my baby cousin gives the smug smile every kid gets when your granny stands up for you.

Uncle Warren and my dad unthaw decades old arguments and fire them up again. They are the exact same size (and I can’t tell them apart from the back) but they each pick on each others small pot bellies.

I find Auntie Gloria and help with her crocheting. She admits she’s leaving soon because she doesn’t want to be in the area at night. There’s a lot of KKK in the town. It’s not safe, she doesn’t know how they live here.

Another Auntie whispers us she has a gun in her purse, because it’s a white town. I start to laugh, but she’s serious. Okay then!

For the first time in my entire life, I feel safe telling a tale of “blackness scorned”: I’m sitting with white friends. One asks if anyone knows of a hairdresser, another quips, “Why? To help Amber out?” and I laugh and let it slide off my back but actually die inside because I had felt cute and liked my messy hair. which I had left out of it’s usual ponytail for the day.

I’m half white, and get scared they will roll their eyes at me for this story, thinking of all the things I get away with that they don’t because I can usually “pass“. Instead, they nod, and furrow their brows, and suck their teeth, and shake their heads. They get it. They understand laughing to keep from crying.

I’m family, and I belong there.

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Currently mulling on the particular challenge of wrapping your arms around an enormous pain. Everything is foggy.

My therapist told me to accept the fog, and do something creative.

“Maybe you can cross stitch, or knit.” (My therapist is an older white lady, and she’s wonderful, but I’m not cross stitching shit.)

I started off small and got a hilarious audio book, then cleaned out our kitchen cabinets, storage areas, closets, medicine drawers, and coffee table. Creative, productive. Given my line of work, they’re often the same thing. Does it count as creative that I just brought four huge bags to Housing Works? No, right? Whatever. I’ll try again next week.

I drew a breath.

Friends sent flowers, and fun crafts, take out gift certificates, a gift certificate for a massage at the spa around the corner, snacks, and, hilariously, two dozen balloons that bounced around our ceiling, I imagine because one time during a particularly grueling season, Marley bought me balloons, and they remembered.

In August of 2016, I started a group of wedding professionals that have the same progressive morals; it’s grown to a group of 150. They pooled their money and sent over some well wishes, and a check, which is probably going to the criminally expensive genetic testing we are having done.

I’ve stowed in my heart tiny texts, heartfelt emails, phone calls, and a dozen stories texted and emailed from other women, of “I lost babies, too” ranging from a few weeks to thirty years ago. I’ve been warmed with love, and all of the ways sharing our story has made us, and others, feel less alone, which is the only good thing I can do with it.

I feel seen.


My friend is seven months pregnant. I asked if she’d taken any photos yet, and she said not really. “Please let me photograph you. You need photos. Trust this heartbroken photographer.”

I photographed her on the streets of Brooklyn, and in my apartment, and pressed my palm down in the middle of her to feel her son squirming inside of her.

“Does this make you sad?” she asked.

“No, it gives me hope.”

I drew another breath.

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I Had Three Hearts

CW: Story of a missed miscarriage of mo-di twins.

Two days after Christmas, we get another gift: a second tiny bean, previously undiscovered. I think of Beyonce, and the poet Warsan Shire.

“I’m beside myself with dreams. I have three hearts.”

They’re identical, the result of overly enthusiastic mitosis. No one knows why. I feel like I’ve won the lotto.

I’m sent for a more detailed sonogram – they’re really close together so they might be in the same sac, which is scary – but for the following week. We make it through New Years Eve nervous, but happy.


Two wiggly gummy bear-shaped shadows are floating inside me, patting each other gently in the face. They are separated by their own sacs, which is good, but share a placenta, which is concerning, but usually fine.

The tech turns up the sound, and we hear one heartbeat, and then the other. It would be the only time we ever heard heartbeats, but of course we don’t know this yet.

Waiting for our cab, Marley asks if I’m okay. “No,” I said, laughing and crying. “I will literally never be okay again. I have TWO people to worry about for the rest of my life.”

Lying in bed weeks later, suddenly empty, my tee shirt drenched in milk for nobody, I looked back over the previous weeks trying to figure out when it was that I fell in love, and pinpoint that it was then, when I saw them, and heard them, and they looked like gummy bears.


At thirteen weeks, I went back without Marley for a diagnostic scan.

I will never go to another scan without him again.

“They’re straight up chillin’ in there!” said the tech. And they were were. They had flipped back to back, one leaning against the other, sucking their thumbs like tiny beach bums in hammocks chugging Coronas. They were also completely still.

The doppler lines went across their hearts without moving. My brain shut down this information, and I think nothing of it. I’m quiet, watching their shapes. So is she. The doctor comes in and leans over me to deliver the news.

I am naked, covered in jelly, and sobbing. This is the worst. It was the second trimester. We were supposed to be safe. Intellectually I knew anything could happen – I’ve experienced “anything can happen” with girlfriends – but still. Still.

Gulping, I ask for a photo of each of them, which I will keep forever. It’s technically too early to tell, but also really obvious they are boys. I was going to have sons.

I find comfort in this: if you’ve only existed for three months and a week, and your arm has just grown long enough to reach your hand to your mouth, and you’ve also just grown a thumb, sucking it is, in your incredibly limited amount of experiences, the best thing ever. They died happy.

I get dressed and slip across the hall to the doctor’s office, who already has my OB on the phone, and my OB is already pulling information for an operation the next morning. The option to let it happen naturally was too horrible to think about, and too dangerous. I held my breath and ducked my head walking through the waiting room, determined not to traumatize anyone else pregnant and waiting for their turn. I wept in the elevator. I wailed on the street. I managed to stuff it down to gulping sniffles to get in the car I called to pick me up. The driver turned and looked at me.

“You look tired!” he said brightly.

Fuck outta here.


I sat in the marble and glass lobby of Marley’s insanely fancy Manhattan office building. Security guards eyed me, but let me be. I wept on the velvet couch. People made a wide berth. I love this City.

I count down the minutes he has left to be happy, starting at 36. They tick away: nineteen, thirteen, seven, two. He’s late, and gets bonus minutes of happiness. I’m glad for him. At 5:03, it occurs to me I should have gone home instead, that his work colleagues would be right behind him, that we were in a crowded lobby full of offices and people leaving for the day, that this news would have been better delivered at home. But it feels too late to leave. He knows I’m there waiting for him. I stand up, then sit back down.

He’s my homing beacon, and I’ve turned towards him like always, but now I regret it, although he promises later that I did the right thing.

He comes around the corner, and I watch him searching my face from yards away. He sits and looks at me expectantly as New York City streams around us.

“No more minutes.” I think to myself, and then I begin to speak.


They give me a hospital bracelet.

This was not the hospital bracelet I wanted.

They give me a sonogram.

This was not the sonogram I wanted.

I change into a gown. We wait.

I slide my hands all around my round belly for the last time, and reach low, for where I had begun to feel them wiggle. I know the science, but poke around anyway – a vain hope for a miracle. I hadn’t expected to be showing so soon, and definitely didn’t expect to feel them flipping around already, but with twins, that’s what happens.

I want to be be awake, but the doctor overrules me. I grudgingly sign consent to be put under. I am put on a bed with my calves strapped into cupped supports above me. A nurse gathers my gown to cover “my vajay”, then straps in my legs and begins an IV. “I’ve never had anesthesia before. What if it doesn’t work?”

“It’ll work,” she says. “I’ve been here for ten years, and it’s never failed.”

“What’s it like?” I ask.

“A power nap.” she answers. “If you’re behind on sleep, you’ll be caught up!”

I turn side to side as best I can, trying to figure everything out from flat on my back. The sonogram lady rolls an ultrasound machine in, and tells me they need it to keep everything as safe as possible.

The anesthesiologist walks me me through what she’s doing. “You’ll feel it going up your arm right now, and then maybe taste it?”

“Yup,” I say, “It’s in my face.”

I don’t notice I’m under. In my dream I’m walking down a long hallway, not scared, but overwhelmingly lonely, and everything is grey.


I’m awake, and uncomfortable, and we’re going to keep it real: in the process of numbing my cervix, they also numbed my colon, trapping a piece of waste in it. I’m angry that this, of all things, is making me uncomfortable. They force me to eat something. I drink a small cup of warm apple juice, and eat one Ritz cracker. I try to poop, but can’t, so I give up, get dressed, and go home. Every bump on the ride home is brutal. I curl up on Marley, furious. I want to mourn, and it’s impossible. It’s another hour at home before the local anesthetic is worn off enough for me to go.

If you’re having a D&C, get an enema first.

I notice on my left arm they have injected me. There’s no bandaid, and no one tells me. A less observant person wouldn’t have seen it.

This is upsetting. Did they not think I’d notice? Days later at a followup, I’m told it was likely an injection to cause my uterus to contract. I feel betrayed this information wasn’t told to me. I hate not knowing. I hate that I never saw them. I hate everything about this.


In the days after, we all but sew ourselves together, living on takeout, crying, sprawling across our bed. The lady downstairs asks what she can do, and I have just the task for her: next month I have a speaking engagement that I ordered a maternity dress for. I ask her to take it away for Marley to deal with later so I don’t have to see it. She brings us food, too. Nicki delivers “a package” and it’s her, standing on my stoop with cheese, and chocolates, and gin. A fruit basket arrives, and some treats from close friends.

We begin to think we will pull through, and plan a two-person memorial service for that weekend. We toast their lives after with pho, and bubble tea.

I make a therapy appointment.

We begin to dream about the future again.

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One of the Most Important Questions I’ve Been Asked

“What are your rates?”

Someone asked me what my headshot rates were in 2009, and I had to scramble to come up with a number since no one had ever paid me to shoot before. I came up with sixty dollars, and after the shoot, I was paid in three crisp $20 bills, which had me euphoric. (It’s a little more expensive to get a headshot from me now.) A year later, someone paid me $200 for an engagement shoot. These were the first wobbly little blocks of the foundation of my current career, and I thought I ought to write them down before I forgot them.

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The OK Cupid Profile that Landed Me a Husband

Never before seen outside of OKCupid, presented in all of its slightly awkward glory. Feel free to steal lines as you’d like. This shit works. (Good luck trying to top my username, though.)


Username: CozySweater


I am happy, warm, independent, gracious, fun, adventurous, sensual and curious. Also ferociously loyal.

Sometimes heels, usually Chucks. Sometimes pretty dresses, usually an old hoodie. My Liz Lemon streak is pretty strong, and my dance moves are done with enthusiastic abandon. My love of terrible jokes is unparallelled.

My purse always has band-aids and birthday candles, just in case, and I handwrite letters regularly. Second-hand bookstores draw me in every time, and I am excellent at checkers and kissing.


What I’m doing with my life

I’m a photographer. Love it.

Otherwise I’m trying new wines, making playlists, strolling through the city on beautiful nights, going to the park with my dogs, and drinking small-batch drafts in fun bars with good friends.

Putting new stamps in my passport is really fun for me, so I’m hoping to meet someone who loves to travel.

I’m really good at

Fixing socially awkward situations, identifying constellations, opening prosecco, catching sparrows trapped in apartments (you’d be amazed at how much this comes up), packing for two weeks in a carry-on, flipping pancakes, parallel parking, and puns.

The first things people usually notice about me

“She looks like a good hugger”. (I am.)

You might notice my rack as a close second. Not to be crass, but it’s pretty fucking spectacular.

Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food

Books: My shelves are filled with well-written fiction, non-fiction books addressing human nature from interesting perspectives, and memoirs by smart people.

Movies: I love going to the movies! Small-town comedies, indie films, and dark comedies. At home, with popcorn and a blanket for cuddling under.

Music: My favorite Beatles album is Revolver. My music collection is huge; I’ll tell you more in person.

Food: NYC has tons of restaurants, and I’m excited to try everything at least twice. I grew up in Connecticut, which means I have a deep appreciation of diners and strong opinions about lobster rolls.

Magazines: Esquire. The New Yorker. I get weekend delivery of the New York Times and spend Sunday mornings in bed with ink all over my fingers.

Podcasts: This American Life, the Moth, Savage Lovecast and Risk!, which I forget not to listen to on the subway and turn into that crazy person sitting alone, laughing hysterically.

The six things I could never do without

My brilliant friends, art and learning, my dogs, the internet (and tabbed browsing), coffee, and something to read (that nerd in the bar with a book is me.)

And bonus: A cozy sweater (of course!) I am forever cold.

I spend a lot of time thinking about

“I know that the molecules in my body are traceable to phenomena in the cosmos. That makes me want to grab people on the street and say: Have you HEARD THIS?” -Neil deGrasse Tyson

I don’t believe in anything that doesn’t hold up to scientific testing (exception: Having someone who cares about you kiss a boo-boo. That totally works.) The magic of real things – friendship, love, whiskey and outer space – is more than enough for me. In other words, please don’t ask what my “sign” is. (I don’t know, and doesn’t matter.)

On a typical Friday night I am

Doubled over laughing with my amazing group of friends. Sometimes we’re hanging out at my house – I have a fire pit for making s’mores and a cozy living room set up for conversations – or at the usual place down the street.

I typically like dive bars that serve free popcorn with the draft beers, but every once in a while I want a drink at one of those dim cocktail bars with the fancy ice, “mixologists” in suspenders, and cocktails made with a stupid amount of care.

The most private thing I’m willing to admit

I can only watch The Walking Dead through my fingers.

You should message me if

You want the secret to an excellent OKCupid photo or the perfect high five.

You’re going to ask me out *right away*. Texting/emailing/flirting via email with strangers is SUPER WEIRD for me. Just ask me out in the first message (I’ll do the same, promise!) and we’ll get together and talk in person. Because this.

You are…

… fond of dogs (I have two older rescue mutts. They are amazingly friendly and sweet.)

… in possession of a current passport (seriously; “no passport” is my only flat-out deal breaker)

… showing your face in at least one of your profile photos. I’ll get to your torso in due time. (aww yeah.) (air hump.)

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2013, A Dating Story “Marley”

In 2013, determined to “get out there”, I went on exactly 30 first dates. I didn’t set out to go on this many; it just sort of happened as I stumbled across interesting men while browsing the online dating site OKCupid. Most dates just consisted of coffee or a glass of wine and then parting ways forever, and the majority were unremarkable. A few produced friends, or lovers, or lovers that became friends. There are a handful of one-night stands, and one or two that were downright awful. These are the stories of some of them.

“I just had a sweet kiss that made my heart skip a beat.”

That was the text I sent Katie after the 29th of the 30 first dates in 2013.

I hugged him, an overly familiar greeting just barely acceptable on first dates because of the automatic romantic subtext but something I generally avoid, except for this time, because he immediately felt different. I got a flash of something remarkable just before diving in to his shoulder and when I pulled back I confirmed he had the most amazing green eyes I’d ever seen, unexpected given his darker coloring. Months later I would ask why he didn’t highlight this trait in his dating profile, and he said photos probably did the job in showing them off, but they don’t. No photograph I’ve taken of him manages to do them justice.

I spent the meal trying to figure out if his first name is really Marley or if I had written it down incorrectly. (It turns out it is, and his parents are Bob Marley fans.) We ate risotto. My biggest piece of dating advice is “don’t get a meal on a first date” because what if, mid-meal, they say something like, “I don’t like black people.” or “I don’t think same-sex couples should be allowed to get married.” or “Hitler kind of had a point…” and you are stuck there? It’s way too risky, and best to stick to drinks for a first meeting. But risotto is only one course, so I agreed to it. (We were at Risotteria in the West Village, and it was awesome. They have 100% gluten free premises if you would like to go out to dinner with someone who has severe wheat allergies and can’t risk cross-contamination.)

After, we went for a glass of wine and then to the subway where, between the N platform and the R platform, he leaned in and kissed me, and I texted Katie when I got home with my heart still pounding in my ears. That was September.

In the months since, it has become overwhelmingly obvious – to me, to my friends, and to my therapist who, in a wonderful and rare slip-out-of-therapist-mode proclaimed, “Frankly, if you walk away from him you’re an idiot.” – that we are a really, really wonderful fit. Like all of my best decisions, it feels like a matter of course to run around the world with him. He’s smart and thoughtful, handsome and kind. We’re in the middle of packing up his apartment; he’s moving in at the end of the month. We are both so excited.

I love him a lot.

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2013, A Dating Story “The Mixup”

In 2013, determined to “get out there”, I went on exactly 30 first dates. I didn’t set out to go on this many; it just sort of happened as I stumbled across interesting men while browsing the online dating site OKCupid. Most dates just consisted of coffee or a glass of wine and then parting ways forever, and the majority were unremarkable. A few produced friends, or lovers, or lovers that became friends. There are a handful of one-night stands, and one or two that were downright awful. These are the stories of some of them.

As told in a bar, recently.

“So I was texting with the guy in my phone who was ‘Chris F.’, and it was getting kind of flirty, and then he invited me over. This was going to be my first official ‘booty call’, and I was excited. I got dressed and knocked on his door, and it turned out ‘Chris F.’ was NOT who I pictured. I thought I was talking to ‘Chris S.'”

“What did you do?” asked Emily, eyes wide.

I shrugged. “I fucked him!”

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2013, A Dating Story “The Labrador”

In 2013, determined to “get out there”, I went on exactly 30 first dates. I didn’t set out to go on this many; it just sort of happened as I stumbled across interesting men while browsing the online dating site OKCupid. Most dates just consisted of coffee or a glass of wine and then parting ways forever, and the majority were unremarkable. A few produced friends, or lovers, or lovers that became friends. There are a handful of one-night stands, and one or two that were downright awful. These are the stories of some of them.

While walking to this date, a really cute guy got out of the subway and brushed past me.

“MMMm-hmmm!” I thought, checking out his butt. He looked vaguely familiar, and then I got excited. I dialed the number for “David”, my blind date of the evening, who I had only seen in his OKCupid photos. The guy with the cute butt ahead of me reached for his phone.

“Are you walking RIGHT in front of me?” I asked, and David turned around laughing. Score.

It was an amazing date; he was as smart and funny as he was cute. We walked the rest of the way to the bar together and chatted easily, and after two beers I was done drinking but didn’t want to leave, so we had impromptu dinner (I never plan dinner on a first date). I walked him home, and at his front door he gave me “the look”, and I knew, and then we kissed. And…

The kiss was awful.

“It couldn’t have been that bad,” said my girlfriend when we were rehashing. “I mean, you liked him.”

“Think of a Labrador retriever encountering a steak.” I said, and shuddered at the memory.

I figured, though, that amazing first dates are hard to come by, so I would see if I couldn’t offer a few words of encouragement for next time, except next time never happened. Maybe *I’m* the bad kisser, but he never called again, and didn’t answer my text. He checked my profile a few weeks later, and I saw he was now listed as living in California, which… why are you dating if you know you’re moving? I dunno. This City is weird. As one person I went on a date with put it, “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

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2013, A Dating Story “The First One”

In 2013, determined to “get out there”, I went on exactly 30 first dates. I didn’t set out to go on this many; it just sort of happened as I stumbled across interesting men while browsing the online dating site OKCupid. Most dates just consisted of coffee or a glass of wine and then parting ways forever, and the majority were unremarkable. A few produced friends, or lovers, or lovers that became friends. There are a handful of one-night stands, and one or two that were downright awful. These are the stories of some of them.

He’s athletic, in the way that shows he spends more time in the gym than reading. Another woman would find it attractive, but I don’t.

This is my first date of 2013.

He talks about his mid-level sales job, workout regimen, and protein powder supplements. To connect, I mention that I’ve lost a lot of weight about a year ago. He looks me up and down – I’m perched on the bar stool next to him – and I see he thinks I’m too heavy still, even though my dating profile photos are carefully chosen to look flattering, but honest.

“I try not to be obsessed about it, but I count calories using my phone.”

“It sounds like you ARE obsessed. You keep talking about it.”

It’s out of left field, but I shrug instead of stammer. He’s being rude because he’s bored, and giving him the satisfaction of getting riled up isn’t worth it to me. There is “playing nice” which is what I’m technically doing, but in actuality, I just don’t care enough. My “wall” goes up like a car window and slides shut. I’m polite, but done.

He insists on paying for my beer which I find weird. We hug goodbye briefly before we part ways, and I go home and make dinner.

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