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Presence: Part 1, an essay from my memoir

The essay below is part one of a three-part series of short essays from my coming-of-age memoir, When Love Sticks Around, which will be out on November 15, 2021. Each of these flash pieces are the last three encounters I had with my biological father. Although writing about these experiences rattled some serious negative emotions, I thought they were necessary to share because my relationship with my father most definitely shaped the person I am today. Thank you for reading. I hope that when my memoir is released, you will consider purchasing a copy. 

***

The day I turned eight in 1989, Don knocked on the door at Mom’s house.

“I came to say happy birthday,” he said when I opened it.

I thanked him through the screen door.

“Hard to believe you’re already eight.” He looked away, so I followed his gaze toward his beater car in the driveway, still running. I poked my finger through a hole in the screen the size of a nickel. It had started with a tiny slit I jabbed my pinky into, and over the years—with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, neighbors selling Girl Scout cookies, and Don occasionally stopping by—the hole had gotten bigger.

He wore a faded jean jacket and a trucker cap. His pale skin looked ashen through the screen that separated us.

“I brought your present.” He pulled a cassette from his pocket and waved it at me. That year, Mom had bought me a Walkman to listen to all my cassettes. She and Jim couldn’t afford much else other than that.

I stepped outside the door onto our cement front porch. Green plants with brown tips sprawled from the planters. Soon, they’d die off and sleep for the winter. “Thanks.”

“Is it the right album?” he asked. At that point, our relationship consisted of nothing more than the occasional gift or card. He offered no advice or scolding. He never called to ask what television shows I liked, what food I hated, or the names of my best friends. He didn’t know me well enough to know what I wanted, so I had told him over the phone the week prior.

I looked at the front. The New Kids on the Block band members sat in a sleigh with jolly grins on their faces. “Yeah. It’s the only one I don’t have.”

I looked back to Don. “Will I see you again?”

“I hope so. But not for a while. I’ve been driving trucks down south.”

“Can I come visit you in Tennessee?” I wanted to love him as much as any child loved her father. But I was cautious. I didn’t get too close, because I didn’t want to get hurt by him again. I craned my neck up to see him. Long dark hair, same color as mine, fell almost to his shoulders.

Yes, I looked like him, but I didn’t know him. I only knew that he liked race cars and drove a semi-truck.

“Sure. Listen, I’ve got to get going now.” He scratched his cheek and adjusted his cap.

“Okay. Well, thanks, Dad. Love you.”

“See ya, kid.” He waved and walked away.

Photo by Sergiu Vălenaș on Unsplash

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Writing and Editing My First Book

Since 2018 I have blogged very little, but I have been writing! Writing so much, in fact, that I finished my first essay collection. It’s a coming-of-age memoir-in-essays about growing up poor in Ohio, to young adulthood in Detroit and Brooklyn. Through my essays and my experiences, I examine what love looks like, whether it’s from my supportive mother, my absent biological father, my steadfast stepdad, or eventually my husband and first daughter. 

After many beta readers, in 2019 I submitted my collection to an editor friend of mine, Chelsey Clammer, who I admire. She gave me my first round of professional edits, along with homework to develop my stories and characters. I listened to all of her suggestions and advice, honing, toning, paring down, and building up. Then I submitted and submitted (and submitted). 

Many publishers said the book wasn’t a good fit for their current slate, some showed serious interest but went in another direction, and many outright ghosted me. That’s the life of submitting. I kept my chin up and submitted more.

Then in April 2020, during the beginning stages of our pandemic, I received an email from Brandylane Publishers. They wanted to publish my book! I read the email at least ten times. Then I cried. Then I jumped up and down and cried some more. Then I ran outside barefoot and still in my pajamas (even though it was almost dinnertime because pandemic–who wears real clothes anymore?) where my husband was mowing the lawn. I flailed around so much that he turned off the mower and ran over to me, alarmed, checking me for wounds. Then I showed him the email. And then he gave me the biggest hug. 

It was a great day.

Since April, my collection has gone through several more edits to build, cut, and perfect. The team at Brandylane is a wonderful group of people, and I’m not sure any other publisher could have done so much magic with my words. I love each and every person I have “met” there, but especially my project manager. She’s been with me every step of the wild ride, cheering me on. My book is in the final proofing stage now, and soon it will head to design where I will choose my cover and interior font and layout. It’s scheduled to release in late 2021. The collection is titled, When Love Sticks Around, and I hope you’ll consider sticking around to read it.

Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

What the Final Stages of Proofing a Book Looks Like

Last week I approved the final proof of my memoir, When Love Sticks Around. It has been a long process getting here, but one that has also been so enjoyable.

My book went through several in-depth edits to improve the story, the details, and the grammar. After that, my project manager and I read through the book three more times to look for typos or layout issues. This whole process has taken more than a year in total. But with each of these edits and proofs, I have come to respect the publishing industry, and my publisher in particular, so much. Brandylane and Belle Isle care so much about their authors. They want them to succeed, and they go above and beyond to make that happen.

I can’t wait for the paper copy of the proof to be in my hands, but I know this, like all other steps in the publishing process, will take time and love and patience.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a few more endorsements for my memoir. The first is from Amy Bayne, a colleague and acquaintance of mine that I met through the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review. She published two pieces of mine in the past. FLAR has since gone inactive, but the journal was something I was so proud to be part of. Here is her endorsement:

In When Love Sticks Around, Danielle Dayney instantly transports us to moments throughout her life with relatable cultural touchstones and references, linking us to her young self growing up in a struggling, working-class family in upstate Ohio throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Her story of family, hope, and perseverance opens a space for us to laugh, acknowledge,and remember moments in life that shape us as adults. It is a work of great compassion and great joy.  A.E. Bayne, writer, artist, and publisher of the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review

The second endorsement comes from Betsy Ashton, who I know from The Virginia Writers Club. Over the years of being a member, Betsy has proven to be someone I can reach out to for answers to my questions as well as encouragement when I almost gave up on getting my first book published. Here is her endorsement:

Dayney’s well-written and poignant collection of personal essays makes you laugh, seethe, and cry. In other words, this is life itself. Betsy Ashton, Author of Out of the Desert

Thank you to Amy and Betsy for reading my book and saying such nice things. I truly appreciate your time and kindness.

Photo by RetroSupply on Unsplash

Another Blurb for my Memoir, WHEN LOVE STICKS AROUND

I received another early endorsement for my memoir, When Love Sticks Around. This time, the endorsement came from my friend, author, and editor, Chelsey Clammer. I found Chelsey online a couple of years ago while hunting for an editor who understood me. She’s edited numerous essays for me in the last four years, and even did the first round of edits on this memoir. She’s amazing to work with, and I was delighted when she agreed to read my finished book and write a blurb. Here is what she wrote:

“Each short essay in When Love Sticks Around is a marvellous example of the struggles we face throughout our lives, how love in all of its various forms presides through it, and ultimately how together we face both the tragedies and the moments of celebration. Whether the topic is growing up poor, struggling to gain a relationship with a parent, dating, having not-the-best jobs, transitioning into being an adult, or navigating racism, Dayney’s mesmerizing narratives and skill at storytelling aid in exploring the complexities of life all told in simple, relatable ways. Through these candid glimpses of experiences, this coming-of-age memoir reaches beyond the life moments of growing up and creates a visceral testament to all that we love and search for.”

Chelsey Clammer (author of Circadian and BodyHome)

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

When Love is Receiving a Blurb for Your Book

My first memoir, When Love Sticks Around, will be out later this year. The publication process has been educational and eye-opening, to say the least. I’ve enjoyed meeting everyone at Brandylane Publishers. In my experience, they truly care for their authors and the books they choose to publish. Part of the process, after one of the last rounds of editing, was reaching out to contacts for book endorsements. My project manager suggested I try to acquire at least three to four.

I have to admit that sending out my book to friends and acquaintances in the writing world was a nail-biting experience. I worried they’d ghost me, or wouldn’t like the work I’d written. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I ended up with six beautifully written endorsements that will appear on my book in some way. This is the first one I received, written by my dear friend from Norfolk, UK, Donna-Louise Bishop:

When Love Sticks Around is an instantly engaging memoir that deals with the highs and lows of coming-of-age and the realities and complexities of adulthood.

Dayney moves seamlessly through her life from birth, right up to the first moment of motherhood, before losing her own to cancer. Her vignettes of life’s journeys instantly transport readers into a world unique to her. It’s the complexities of the relationships within the pages of her debut novel that are both delightful and also heart-breaking. 

From the very first page, she has written a book worth sticking around for.”

Donna-Louise Bishop, Community Life Correspondent for the Eastern Daily Press, Norfolk, UK

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Finding Warmth

Bitter air nibbles the back of my neck. I pull the worn cloth on my coat closer to my ears and sit down on the splintered bench, next to the quiet, dark-skinned girl. Her name is unknown to me, though we travel this same path daily.

We come from the same dilapidated street and, judging by the rags she wears, we are haunted by similar stories.

The doors of the bus open and warm air thieves the rawness from my cheeks. I nod and she boards first.

She smiles, takes my walking stick, and guides me to the last seat.

***

This is my take on the this week’s Yeah Write Prompt taken from The Write Melony’s essay titled The Case.

Photo courtesy of Alex Wong/Stocksnap.io

Animal Instincts

As I slather SPF50 onto me and my kid, I scan the area and get my bearings. It’s a large, fenced-in saltwater pool at the country club with verandas and cushioned seating along three of the four sides. Along the front there’s a snack bar. My knees weaken at the unfamiliar landscape. It’s like someone dropped me into the middle of the zoo without proper equipment—feed for the lions in Lilly Pulitzer.

The scent of saltwater wafts into my nose. Everywhere I look, there are women and children. The men are on the golf course with my husband, fighting like chimpanzees for their territory. A win solidifies status of smarter and stronger.

When it comes to situations where I’m thrown into the mix with new people, I normally try to blend in. I learn to dress like them, talk like them, be them. It’s easier than being myself. I’m a chameleon.

It’s a defense mechanism I learned from bullies in junior high. If I hadn’t worn the crotch-hugging jeans Mom bought on clearance, I wouldn’t have looked too poor. If I would’ve left my poetry journal at home, it wouldn’t have been stolen from my locker and plastered all over school. I had to blend into the mint-green junior high walls and disappear.

At the pool, I wonder who to trust. The moms who dress to match their kids in bright flamingo-like colors, all with perfect hair, strutting from tennis to swim? Or the moms with oversized expensive beach bags who sit on the sides laughing like hyenas? Or maybe the moms with fresh bundles wading in the baby pool, cleaning their kin like protective elephants?

 “Mama, I want to swim.” Morgan yanks my thumb and startles me from my thoughts.

I’m standing under the veranda at our table in the far corner of the pool, doing my best to shrink into the shade. My head lightens to the point of passing out, so I sit on the wooden bench for a moment and collect my breath. No matter how much I want to be like Morgan who has no distrust for strangers, I can’t get out of my head and just be myself.

I glance over to the snack bar, where a small dazzle of women have gathered like zebras at the watering hole, clear plastic cups in one hand and tugging toddlers in the other. I know the color of the drink they are sipping. It’s most definitely white wine. A bar at the pool—great idea!

“Let’s get a snack first, okay?” I ask her, adjusting my cover-up. 

“Okay!”

We walk hand-in-hand to the snack bar. I smile and nod at the women—my new pack. 

“Hi,” I introduce myself and my daughter as I order my first Pinot Grigio at the pool. They wave and welcome me into their circle. I puff my chest as I prance to them, realizing I’m not a chameleon after all. 

I’ve always been a zebra, looking for my dazzle.

How to Eat a Spam Sandwich

The year is 1953. Your husband is out at the bar. Again. The house is clean. You’re hungry, but the pantry is empty.

Clip on your best earrings because you love a good piece of jewelry, even of the costume variety. Apply some red lipstick. Spritz some floral perfume. Slip into your trench coat and pearl-dotted gloves. 

It may only be Toledo, and it may only be the grocery store, but you never know. Elvis could make an appearance in produce. 

Plus, even when money is scarce, it’s important to always look your best.

Begin your one-mile walk downtown.

At Tiedtke’s Department and Grocery Store, add Spam, Kraft American Cheese, and Wonder Bread to your cart. Pay with change from your pocketbook. 

Head home, sandwich ingredients in hand. 

Once there, open your bag of bread and can of meat. Add slices of each straight to a warmed skillet with a bit of butter. Let your ingredients sizzle and brown before flipping. While the Spam is cooking, place a piece of cheese on top of one piece of bread. After both sides of bread and meat are cooked, smoosh the slices of toast together around the Spam. Open a can of peaches for dessert. 

Leave your dishes … On purpose.

Apply some rouge and settle down to watch the latest wrestling match. You know it’s scripted, but you love watching those muscly men like Buddy Rogers duke it out in the ring. Take your first bite, savoring independence before your husband returns, blitzed and ready to argue about a woman’s place. 

*Photo taken in 1953. It’s Danielle’s grandmother and great aunt, likely just before they headed out to Tiedke’s.

Thunderclap Night

Ethereal love races

Through electric fingertips

Satin sound

Whispers

To the deepest soulparts

Iridescent lightning

Brightens darkened hearts

All in a single second.

Photo by Jonathan Bowers on Unsplash

Why Hypoglycemics Should Always Have Snacks

“The bee attacked me.”

But before he did, I rolled down my windows in a frantic attempt to shoo him outside. It was September. Why on earth were bees still attacking in September? They were supposed to be dying for God’s Sake, not invading my car full of healthy lunch snacks of carrots and goldfish crackers, mom juice of every color and dinners to cook by necessity rather than a pure love to stand in front of the stove chopping stuff—hello you beautiful bag of frozen nuggets!

But before I shooed him, I devoured half an egg salad sandwich. It was one of those sandwiches that come wrapped in plastic and have the little sticker on them that says, Made fresh in store daily! Doubt it. Those sandwiches probably came on the truck with everything else, right next to the big ass tubs of Amish macaroni salad. 

The sandwich was tasty though. Only because I have hypoglycemia and that pretty much means if I forget to eat I turn into a beast willing to gnaw at my own arm if I don’t eat food like immediately

But before devouring my sandwich, I buckled in my daughter. The little one of course, because my oldest can buckle herself. Plus I left the big one at home because when she comes shopping, she literally asks for ALL THE THINGS. 

And even before that, I forgot to bring a snack with me. This is key. Because while shopping, right around the junk food aisle, my legs started trembling. Beads of sweat formed along my hairline. Nausea swirled in my gut. I envisioned tearing open a bag of Doritos and ravaging them like a rabid dog.

I shook my head to erase the fantasy, then grabbed my little egg sammie on the way to the register.

So after I loaded the car with groceries and one small child, I climbed into the car, turned the car on, put the car in drive and put my foot on the break because that’s what hypoglycemics do when their blood sugar drops too low–stupid shit–then I unwrapped my Made fresh in store daily! egg salad sandwich and shoveled it into my mouth.

Just as I wiped the last bit of mashed egg from my chin, I noticed a bee swarming around the passenger side. I rolled my windows down and flapped my arms to shoo him out, but the little jerk refused. Maybe he was mad that I didn’t share my sandwich. He got closer and closer to me, zipping back and forth, up and down, until he stopped to hover in front of my left eyeball.

At that point, I opened my car door screaming, “BEEEEEEE!”

I left my daughter buckled, because my flight response kicked in. I was all like every woman for herself! 

And after I jumped from the car, I noticed the strangest thing. My car was rolling very slowly toward a row of parked cars in front of me. A Beamer, a Mercedes, and a Landrover. There was also an old Honda Civic, but that was the least of my concerns. 

At first, I thought something must’ve happened to my car. Why else would it be rolling away from me with my child, my nuggets, my wine, and a jerk of a bee still in it? That’s precisely when I remembered putting the car in drive.

So, like Matt Damon in Jason Bourne or maybe Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, I dove back in and shoved the car’s shifter into park. 

“Are you okay, Ma’am?” I turned to look over my shoulder, ass and legs still dangling from the car, to find a man in overalls with a pipe hanging from his lips. His eyebrows were sewn up in concern.

I stood and straightened my shoulders, glancing back into my car. All traces of the stinging asshole had disappeared. For the shortest moment, I wondered if I’d imagined the whole thing, if maybe my spiraling blood sugar had reached new lows causing me to hallucinate the little bastard. No matter. It was still the best excuse I had. 

I adjusted my messy bun. “The bee attacked me.”

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash