Two things happened yesterday on 4/8 and the first was, I finished reading A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler, a disturbing tale about class and race, one where widow, Valerie Alston-Holt, PhD professor and ecologist is raising her musically talented biracial son, Xavier in the quiet suburb of Oak Knoll, North Carolina, where all is good until Brad, Julia and their two daughters, Juniper and Lily move in next door – your typical “cookie cutter” family. But appearances are deceiving, and as the story progresses, the lives of these two families will break in ways the reader never saw coming.
A Good Neighborhood is at times infuriating; the plot revealing qualities of a greed-ridden, narcissist, who spins the truth to get his way, not caring how it affects the people involved if it means attaining the thing he wants.
The story is nothing short of heartbreak, uncovering cruel realities with themes such as unfavorable assessments, racial biases and social cultural ideas about gender and how it challenges the existing norms. It’s maddening how parts of the story feels so true and authentic to what exists in the world today. The conclusion is tragic, a warning from the narrator in the very first chapter, a promise kept.
A Good Neighborhood is at times difficult to read, however in the end, justice is served, leaving the reader with a bit of hope left in their hearts.
Most who know me, know that I have been working on my novel series, The Pace of Nature for years now, but I’ve also been writing the story of Anthony Senerchia. Actually, it’s more of a letter than a story; it’s a letter to Anthony’s daughter and is packed with stories of Anthony’s childhood, along with lessons he’d learned from living with an illness, one that had ultimately taken his life.
Anthony was diagnosed with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was diagnosed in his early thirties just two months after marrying his high-school sweetheart. The disease would rapidly break down his nerve cells and reduce the function in his muscles. And although doctors believed Anthony’s lifespan wouldn’t consist more than four years, Anthony never gave in to the illness; he fought hard to live his best life up until the moment he passed, far longer than any doctor had anticipated.
I am not sure if it was fate or coincidence that brought Anthony and I together. At the time I met Anthony, his wife and I were studying American Sign Language at Mercy College and had partnered up to help each other practice our signing so we could pass the course. She and I were sitting in her dining room, learning new signs when Anthony walked through the front door with his head hanging over his feet as he shuffled his way into the room to greet us.
That night, his wife never mentioned anything about Anthony’s appearance; his speech was also slurred and he had trouble lifting his head to meet my eyes. But being who I am, having certain learning difficulties of my own brought on after an accident I was in at seven, I’m never one to judge a soul or shy away from a person with a handicap. In fact, I’m drawn to people with unfavorable circumstances; I not only relate to them, but I also have a huge heart for the disadvantaged. My first instinct is to help them, learn about them, uncover their strengths, because with every weakness comes a strength that if recognized and used to the advantage of the individual, will surpass any shortcoming.
And so, the more I hung around Anthony, his wife and their little girl, the more I knew they were rare and special. Despite the struggles they faced, many different ones each day, they carried on with as much normalcy as they could, not allowing the disease to destroy their lives or their chance for happiness.
One day, Anthony approached me with a 50-page plus typed manuscript, a sort of journal he had written for his daughter. He was starting to lose his speech, yet before he lost his voice all together, he came and asked me to help him finish his story, his letter to his daughter. So, for two years, once a month, Anthony and I met up, and I took notes and asked questions, and he shared with me everything he wanted his daughter to know. When Anthony lost his voice all together, he spoke to me through use of a tablet where he would spell out words with his eyes. Communication had slowed down, but he already had given me a great deal of content with the already written pages and several of other interviews to work with.
Unfortunately, Anthony had passed away right in the middle of us working on his book. Although I had a lot of material, I did not have enough. Days before Anthony passed, I promised him that I would finish what we had started; I would finish writing his letter to his daughter.
As of yesterday, thanks to the help of Anthony’s loving family who have stepped in to help me finish his book, I am able to carry on and keep Anthony’s legacy alive.
The title of the book – Anthony’s choosing – If Tomorrow Never Comes – a title from one of Anthony’s favorite songs by Garth Brooks. A title meant specifically for his daughter – listen to the lyrics and you’ll understand why:
I am now back to work on Anthony’s story and find myself eager to continue to give a voice to this exceptional man who was taken from this world way too soon. With Anthony, along with his family, I am going to show you all the pieces that made Anthony so beautifully unique.
Until then, I leave you with this question:
What are the things you cherish in life, and are you actively doing the things you believe in?