My mother tells a story from when she was pregnant with me. The early eighties. My father came home in the small hours of the morning from the bar—the one he both owned and drank at two blocks from our house—after my mother was long in bed. Common when he drank, my father couldn’t go to bed right away, too keyed up from the night and also hungry. He rummaged in the kitchen. Made toast. I imagine he ate furtively, standing up, then crawled into bed where my planetary mother barely stirred.

In the morning while my father slept off his hangover, she came upon the scene: crumbs scattered, butter wrapper facedown, leaving a greasy spot on the counter. I imagine she felt her throat tighten—anger or maybe a sob.

But my mother has a sense of humor when she’s angry. My father once tracked her down to win her back after cheating. My mother let him get close as they danced in the hotel bar, and then she bit him hard on the neck. Left marks. They got engaged that week.

So my mother grabbed the dustpan and swept my father’s toast mess into it. She took it back to the bedroom and quietly opened the waistband of his boxers. She tipped the contents, wrapper and all, inside.

My parents separated when I was two and divorced a few years later. All my life, I’ve asked my mother why. I knew my father got caught with a town councilman’s wife. I knew Danny Monticello did not know the meaning of moderation. But the answer my mother most consistently gave was, “He was a slob. I didn’t want to clean up after two children.”


Because my parents agreed on me, they stitched our broken family back together over thirty years of divorce. Through the decades, they talked—laughed—on the phone for hours. After she moved into a new house when I was eighteen, my mother visited my father every Monday to chuck her garbage in the bar’s large dumpsters—avoiding the municipal fees—and bum a cigarette. My mother joked that she liked my father just fine when she didn’t have to clean up after him. “If marriage took place in separate houses,” she’d say.

So when my father rapidly loses thirty pounds, my mother sits with him and me in the doctor’s office as the news is delivered: metastatic kidney cancer. A divorce is not a marriage, but it is not the opposite of a marriage, either. It is not nothing.

One day near the end, I take my father to the hospital to fill out some standard death paperwork. He gives me power of attorney. He gives my mother permission to receive his medical information. “What should I call Ms. Loveland?,” the nurse asks about the space next to my mother’s name.

“Ex-wife,” he says. Then he shakes his head. “No, put best friend.”

A few days later, my mother decides my father’s house should be cleaned. She’s thinking of nurses, of hospice. She leaves me with him at the bar and drives to his place to get estimates. When she returns an hour later, she is screaming.

“Danny! Goddammit!” The house is destroyed; only a company specializing in biohazards agreed to take the job, and wanted too much money. “How?” she says. “How could you let this happen?” My father lowers his head.


Four nights later, after some friends gather to help me strip my father’s house of filth as best we can—after he walks through the door and cries at the sight of clean—he calls my mother’s house. His chest, he says.

“Take two nitroglycerin,” she tells him. “I’ll call you back in ten minutes.” She turns to my husband and me. “Go!”

We rush to meet the ambulance. I ride with my father to the hospital, but he’s already dead. Cardiac arrest.


One year later, on Christmas Eve, when I am nine months’ pregnant with my own daughter, my mother will call me a little tipsy after a party. “Do you think he knew?” she’ll ask. “How I really felt?”

I’ll know the answer. I’ll remember how she screamed at him in the bar, furious that the man she loved was so careless about everything that she would lose him for good now.

When she left that day, my father had turned to me. “She’s sorry she ever met me, isn’t she?”

Amy Monticello is author of two chapbook-length essay collections: Close Quarters (Sweet Publications) and How to Euthanize a Horse, which won the 2016 Arcadia Press Chapbook Prize in nonfiction. Other work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, CALYX, Hotel Amerika, Brain, Child Magazine, The Iron Horse Literary Review, and elsewhere. She is an associate professor at Suffolk University in Boston, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Read more at

Photo by Dinah Lenney