“If you’ve ever had that feeling of loneliness, of being an outsider, it never quite leaves you. You can be happy or successful or whatever, but that thing still stays within you.”

― Tim Burton

The first floor of a three-bedroom two-story home in the Garden State suburbs fills with a small gathering of mixed-age company. Kool & The Gang’s Celebration pauses and resumes to accompany a game of musical chairs. Shrill shrieks break the air with each blunt-force swing at a donkey piñata. A pungent odor of hot dog water wafts through the indoor air and mixes with the warm vanilla of a freshly baked cake. Someone’s auntie scoops the requested flavor of Neapolitan ice cream onto plates from a round plastic tub. A fully costumed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Michelangelo impersonator stops by as a surprise guest and passes out jumbo rainbow swirl lollipops. An acapella chorus belting out an unsynchronized version of Happy Birthday to You replaces the music. Wrapping paper rips and crumples to the floor.

There is a little girl in an upstairs bedroom. A little girl with her four-year-old ear pressed up to the metal trunk duct in the corner of her closet. The hollow inside of the HVAC unit transports the voices from down below along with the circulating air. The little girl was not invited to her older brother’s shindig happening on the first floor of their New Jersey suburb middle-class home. Today is your birthday and that makes you the King, the mother had said to the now six-year-old boy that morning, what is your one wish? He wished for his sister not to come to his party, and the mother obliged.


When I was eight years old, my parents told me I was an unplanned pregnancy and they strongly considered abortion. 

“If it weren’t for my devout Catholic values,” my mother stated, “you wouldn’t be here.”


Valerie Frost is a Garden State native. She lives and works in Central Kentucky with her twin three-year-olds. Her poems have appeared in the Eastern Iowa Review, Headline Poetry and Press, and Dissident Voice, and she has forthcoming pieces elsewhere.