Rich Ferguson


(Copyright Foto: Cat Gwynn)






New Jersey Me – Excerpt


Mom sat the suitcase down, then reached out a hand to touch me, but withdrew it. In a voice there and not there, she said: “You and your father will do okay without me.”

I figured she must’ve downed a couple Bloody Marys because she was talking nuts—Code 10-37: mental case. No way would my old man and I survive on our own. With him working so much, I’d have to manage things alone. But I’d never be able to accomplish what Mom had done before going AWOL on housekeeping duties. I was clueless when it came to making the place smell like that wonderful blend of garlic, bacon, and onions whenever she’d whip up her special home-fried potato recipe. Wouldn’t be able to make the kitchen sink dishwater that perfect blend of sudsy and hot. I’d forget to put lemon pieces through the garbage disposal for a clean fresh smell. Wouldn’t bother using that gross paste of cream of tartar and water to clean the porcelain. All those things and more Mom had done perfectly, and for very little reward, to keep my neutron-bomb old man from blowing up in our faces. Once she left, though, he’d explode in full force. Only this time I’d be his only target. “Please,” I said. “Take me with you.”

“It’s best this way,” Mom said, still maintaining most of her icy calm. “A boy needs his father.”

I gave the coffee table a solid sidekick. Books, votive candles, and a bowl of sickly sweet potpourri went flying. “What’re you crazy? He’s an asshole.”

“How dare you talk about your father like that,” Mom said.

“You’re one to talk. You’re the one leaving him.”

Next thing I knew: slap! Felt like a sudden rush of bee stings and flames had ravaged my face.

I raised a hand to hit her back, but punched my thigh instead. “Don’t ever hit me again. I get enough of that shit from Dad.”

Mom pressed a French manicured nail into the center of my chest, right over my Superman S. Lines bunched up around her mouth, as she seethed: “Now you listen, young man. No matter how upset your father gets with you what he’s really trying to tell you is how much he loves you.”

I snorted a sound halfway between a laugh and a sob.

“It’s true,” she said. “He needs you.”

Based on past experience, that sounded like total crap. But I didn’t say so. Still stunned by her slap and threat of leaving, I stood there quietly, awaiting her next move.

Looking more at her suitcase than me, Mom managed to say: “I was only twenty-two when I had you. I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids. But your father did.”

That one snapped me out of my stupor. “You’re saying I was an accident?”

“I’m just saying I was too young, honey. I wasn’t ready. I don’t think I’ve ever been ready.”

She had it all wrong. She’d been a fine mom. And once gone, a big part of my life would be gone, too. No more beauty. No more prayers. No more smiles and tears to fill the house. Gone color. Gone cleanliness. Ditto with that voice calling me honey when I hurt. No more advice about girls. Gone heart. Gone kisses. And while she’d never done any one of those things that great, she’d done just enough to keep me happy.

“So what?” I said. “You were just gonna leave and not say nothing?”

“I left a note for you and your father in the kitchen.”

“Where? By the vodka bottle?”

Right then, I wanted my words to pack more of a wallop than the smack she’d delivered. But if she was feeling any pain, she didn’t show it. My words barely watered up her eyes. Not even enough to shed a single tear. She swiped a Vicodin from her purse, downed it, then grabbed her suitcase, and headed for the door.

Without looking back, she said: “I’m not leaving you, Mark. I’m leaving your father.” She paused, then added: “You may as well get used to it. This is what people do best. Leave.” She continued to the door. As she opened it, golden October light spilled into the room.

“Wait,” I said. “Where’ll you go?”


Harborville was only three towns away. It was a dump, though not as big a dump as Blackwater. Screw Mom for going to that lesser dump without me. “If you leave,” I said. “Dad’ll find you, you know. He’s a cop.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she said. “He already knows.” Then she gave me a look: looking right at me, looking right through me. On. Off. Total Mom.

“Fine,” I said. “Then go already.”

She placed a hand on the screen door handle, but couldn’t bring herself to open it.

Later, when recalling that moment, I’d be reminded of a Bruce Lee quote: “Optimism is a faith that leads to success.” While I’d often tried to live by that creed with mixed results, right then I was a goner. Once Mom walked through that door, all I wanted to be was a loser in spades.

I started my new life by grabbing one of Mom’s cheery Hummel figurines—a pigtailed girl playing a violin—and whipping it across the room. It rocketed past the floor lamp, the grandfather clock, my old man’s recliner, and slammed into Mom’s LeRoy Neiman print, Beach at Cannes. Like the Bruce Lee quote, that print—filled with colorful umbrellas, blue skies, and sunbathers strolling by an even bluer ocean—was a constant reminder that happier days were just ahead. Screw that. Along with the shattered figurine, the picture frame glass and print were totally smashed and torn apart.

If, on any other day, I’d smashed one of her Hummels like that, Mom would’ve grounded me for a month. But on that day, she just silently stepped through the door.

She was gone. Gone for real. I was so frozen with fear that I couldn’t even pick up the phone to call Grandmother for support. All I could do was puke all over Mom’s white shag carpet. That puke was chockfull of her lousy Spaghetti O’s dinner from the night before, along with the beer I’d later downed at Jimmy’s place. In the past, whenever I’d thrown up due to stress, Mom had been there to help clean up. Now there was only me.

My gut knotted up even more. Felt like I was giving birth to a brand new me: Nowhere Me. Blown To Bits Me. Like Mom, that new me just wasn’t there anymore.
















Pushcart-nominated poet Rich Ferguson has shared the stage with Patti Smith, Wanda Coleman, Moby, Bob Holman, Jerry Stahl, and other esteemed poets and musicians. He has performed on The Tonight Show, at the NYC International Fringe Festival, the Bowery Poetry Club, and South by Southwest. He is also a featured performer in the film, What About Me? featuring Michael Stipe, Michael Franti, k.d. lang, and others. He has been published in the LA TIMES, Opium, Sensitive Skin, spotlighted on PBS (Egg: The Art Show), and was a winner in Opium Magazine’s Literary Death Match, LA. His spoken word/music videos have been featured internationally. Ferguson is a poetry editor to the online literary journal, The Nervous Breakdown. His poetry collection 8th & Agony has been published by L.A.’s Punk Hostage Press, and his debut novel, New Jersey Me, has been released by Rare Bird Books / Barnacle Books.




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