Exploring the art of prose


Churchgoing by Jenny Feldon

Image is a color photograph of dimly lit pews; title card for the new short story, "Churchgoing," by Jenny Feldon.

At its core, Jenny Feldon’s “Churchgoing” is a study in fear—tangible and intangible, rational and irrational—explored through the lens of a narrator who lives consumed by anxiety about the unforeseen, to such a degree that she is relieved when one misfortune outlaws the possibility of another. Better to have her fiancé leave her, she reasons, than to lose whatever life they might have built together to random tragedy: “Our children—precocious, beloved—could not be gunned down in their elementary school classrooms if they’d never been born,” she explains, and thus remains ensconced in solitude, made safe by her distance from others and from emotional attachment. In churches, where she can remain transient and anonymous, she finds brief peace and security, and Feldon describes in sublime detail all the quiet ritual of these spaces. “Faded velvet curtains rustling in the dusty breeze” and a “sun-soaked prayer room with benches made of pine” lull the narrator into thinking that, perhaps, there are places in which she might find some succor from imagining all the devastating paths down which life might lead her—until Feldon, in a master stroke of understated tension, disrupts all our expectations about the gulf between safe and unsafe, between the sacred and the human. “Churchgoing” is a brutally authentic portrait of fear and faith and all their intersections, and a phenomenally unsettling portrayal of one woman’s search for solace in an ever-unpredictable world.  —CRAFT


I go to churches because they’re quiet. The world is too loud.

The first time I went, I was hiding. I’d been paying for a flat white at the café near my old office when my ex-fiancé and his girlfriend walked in. I knew they’d seen me. Pity is a thing you can feel. But even if I hadn’t felt it, those thousand pricks of shame beneath the surface of my skin, it was written across their faces, visible all the way at the back of the line. I scattered change and bolted, leaving my coffee behind.

Next door, there’d been a church. A church I’d passed a hundred times but never noticed, not until the day it rose up from the sidewalk to save me. A polished cross on a plain white door that I didn’t expect to open. Sacred spaces are supposed to be locked. When the brass knob turned and the door creaked inward, I almost fell. I’d expected the door to stay solid and repel me. So many doors already had.

Inside, it was dim. The light fixtures were old, their brass polished bright. Flame-shaped bulbs glowed citrine yellow. I waited to be caught, questioned, tossed back outside. But no one came.

No one said, You aren’t supposed to be here.

No one said, Welcome, my child.

I hadn’t considered additional scenarios, which meant I was temporarily emptied of things to be anxious about. The quiet was heavy like a wave.

I sat down in a pew, its wooden seat worn smooth. The word pew sounded foreign when I said it in my head, labeling the thing to give it order; a therapy trick from the sessions I kept attending and could no longer afford. I am in a church. This is a pew. I lose myself in the spinning world when I don’t label things. I lose myself anyway, but some days I try to go down with a fight.

Once seated, I had no idea what to do. Was I supposed to keep my hands folded? Was I supposed to pray, or speak, or listen? No instructions were provided, from God or elsewhere. The surroundings were unfamiliar, but my confusion was not. Left to my own devices, I usually chose the exact wrong way. But minutes ticked by and despite my uncertainty, the silence remained unbroken.

Maybe, in church, there was no wrong way.

Temple had never been this quiet. There were never any unlocked doors. The sanctuaries of my childhood were full of voices, and bodies, and cloying perfume. Snipers stalked the roof on High Holy Days. Their rifles reminded us that we were targets; that across oceans and deserts and generations, we always had been. Entry required metal detectors and annual memberships or expensive tickets, hundreds of dollars for Kol Nidre alone on the eve of Yom Kippur. There were no pews, no need to know that word at all. The seats were overstuffed, flip-down brocade.

On Rosh Hashanah, the children’s rabbi wore a double-fox stole over his tallit. He made its sharp-toothed, pointy heads act out Genesis stories in high-pitched falsettos. Their dead black eyes reflected colored light from the stained-glass windows. The rabbi’s actual voice was deep and calm. It was years before I realized his was not the voice of God.

I stayed in the church for a long time. Outside, the light shifted and darkened. Minutes passed, an hour. By then, of course, it was safe to leave. Andrew would be gone, the cup bearing his Sharpie-scrawled name long since discarded. He and his not-new girlfriend were elsewhere now, meeting friends for dinner or curled up on their new couch with Indian takeout, streaming something they both agreed on. Andrew and I never liked the same movies. One of us was always resentful, giving in.

Back in my apartment, I kicked my interview heels down the hallway and ignored the pile of unopened mail, the precarious stack of dishes in the kitchen sink. Just me now—no new boyfriend, no pets allowed—and yet the mess felt indelible. I’d have liked at least a cat. When Andrew lived here, I’d still felt lonely, but at least he’d been a witness to my attempts at being human, at doing things the right way. We do things, or don’t do them, differently when no one’s there to see. I curled myself into the window ledge and stared out over the freeway into the brown and barren hills.

The church quiet had not yet faded. I could feel it on my skin, a steady pressure. I couldn’t remember when I’d last been touched. I hadn’t belonged there, and yet the church had yielded, offered me safety inside. I looked out at the hills, which seemed less sad somehow, and my breath came steady and deep. I wasn’t born a believer, but maybe God could be a place, after all.

Days later, or maybe weeks, I told my therapist the church story. She asked questions.

Why do you think you found it so peaceful there?

Why did you feel like you needed to hide?

Her office was too bright. Fluorescent lighting shouldn’t be allowed in a place that claims to heal. Construction noise hurtled through the open window, drowning out the rainforest sounds that drifted down from speakers in the ceiling. The vegan leather couch, too purple to be soothing, stuck to my legs. I wore my interview skirt, those heels again. If my outfit conveyed “functional adult,” I might one day fool someone into believing it was true. I paid the therapist to listen to me, to offer empathy and hold space for my existential angst, and yet in every visit, I felt defensive. As though even here, on this purple cliché couch, my anxiety—so basic; so unworthy—was something I needed to hide.

I didn’t answer her questions. I didn’t want her to take it all away. I still carried the church beneath my skin: the symphony of noiselessness; the drowsy, weighted feeling that kept my breath steady for days. No one there to judge me, in all that quiet. No voices to drown out the possibility of hearing my own. I told her, instead, how just that morning, I’d vacuumed the bedroom carpet and taken out the trash. There’s a pottery place around the corner that has beginner classes, I said. Maybe I’ll go.

When the session was done, I couldn’t find the energy to get back in the car. There were missed calls on my phone; two new voicemails. A potential employer regretted to inform me they’d chosen someone else. Overqualified, the message said kindly, like it was something I didn’t know. We wish you all the best in your search. My mother wanted to know if I’d tried valerian capsules, because her neighbor uses them and doesn’t need Paxil anymore, and also to remind me to show up for dinner this Sunday, and could I please call their accountant’s son back to be polite, at least? I leaned against the passenger window, my expired meter blinking red, and sent the therapist a text, canceling our next session. I blamed it on a job interview, named the company from my voicemail who’d chosen someone else.

It wouldn’t matter whether she believed the lie. There was nothing special about my struggles, nothing redemptive about my past. I could claim no specific trauma beyond existing in the world. I was not an assault survivor, or a child of war. When she scratched down notes in my file with her fancy pen, I imagined her disdain.

I kept thinking about the church. Not so much the church itself, but the feeling of it. I’d loved the dim light. The fragrant dust, smooth like sidewalk chalk beneath my fingers. I recalled the unlocked door and how easy it was to slip inside. If I’d wanted to pray, I could have prayed.

There are true believers in this world. Was it so wrong to wish myself among them? To sit in pews, straight-spined and ready, for whatever instructions might come? To wait within hallowed walls for miracles; the only key required a promise to believe.

My mother had loved Andrew. All parents did. I had not yet been forgiven for his absence; her grief remained long after he’d moved on. As a prospective son-in-law, he’d been perfect. He asked about people’s investments, and their vegetable gardens, and their book clubs; he knew how to flip pancakes and played a decent game of golf. He was tall enough, educated enough, spoke good-naturedly about his commitment to raising a family in a good Jewish home.

He felt safe everywhere. He always belonged. He didn’t spend his life waiting for steel-toed boots to fall from the sky. He didn’t ask uncomfortable questions or fall short of his potential. It would be fair to say, objectively, that if we were both her biological children and we were trapped in a burning building, Andrew might have been who my mother wanted to save. His life, lived unafraid, was what she’d imagined would protect me from myself, propel my own life forward. Without him, all she could expect from me was more of the same.

Since my consecration—age six, white dress, mini Torah clutched between sticky palms—I’d been instructed to believe. But I’d always had questions. I wanted proof. I wanted to know what God looked like, if He really was a he. Did he have a long beard? Could he hear what I was thinking? What would he do if I broke a commandment—if I stole caramels from the grocery store, or lied about my math homework, or coveted my sister’s sparkly red shoes? I wanted to know if Pharoah really woke up with frogs in his bed. I wanted to know why God didn’t want me to eat turkey and cheese sandwiches. Cows should not be bathed in their mothers’ milk, they said, but turkeys don’t make milk. No one would explain.

Most urgently, I needed to know that if I prayed, he’d be listening. That if I asked him nicely, my worst fears would not come true. I would not be lured with candy into a kidnapper’s white van. My house would not burn to ashes while my family slept. I would never need the emergency backpack—flashlight, Band-Aids, peppermint gum—that I hugged like a teddy bear as I fell asleep at night. But there was no proof, no miracles or magic tricks to reassure me. My questions were never answered. I was told to stop asking, to sit still.

On that last day, Andrew left his apartment keys on the stack of bridal magazines by the front door. He’d wanted me to fight harder. To say something; to care. What he couldn’t know was that I cared too much, that beneath my stoic heartbreak was blessed relief. When he walked out that door, I’d have one less thing to lose. Leaving me now meant he couldn’t leave me later by going into cardiac arrest alone on a bike path in the Hollywood Hills, the picture of health when he started the ride, urging his friends to go on without him when he started to feel strange.

I would not spill red wine on my gorgeous white dress. He would not be hit by a drunk driver while crossing the street three blocks from our house, still holding the quart of milk I’d needed at the store. Our children—precocious, beloved—could not be gunned down in their elementary school classrooms if they’d never been born.

I would not be the only one to survive the earthquake. I wouldn’t die terribly and prematurely from a cancer that would leave my children motherless, my husband traumatized and alone. I could save us both from all of that by forcing the end before we’d had our beginning. My therapist said I didn’t love him enough to risk the heartbreak, but maybe I felt safer on my own.

I did not go to pottery class. I did not go back to therapy.

Instead, I found more churches.

The second was Lutheran; the third, Episcopalian. I became skilled at finding the empty ones. At slipping, undetected, through unlocked doors. There were so many churches, so many places where you might find God. I tried not to repeat my visits. It’s hard to stay unnoticed when you cross a threshold twice. But still, I had favorites. The little brown one named Little Brown Church. The blue-painted Craftsman, Presbyterian, gutted to contain nothing but a sun-soaked prayer room with benches made of pine. Jesus hung, proud and lovely, in a mural on the wall. My eyes met his painted ones. We did not know what to make of each other, Jesus and I. But he let me stay there, on a pine bench in the stillness, waiting to be found.

On the outside, the world kept getting louder; my place in it, no more defined. I was not supposed to admit that I still wanted the cat. I was supposed to have aspirations: a better job; another fiancé. An apartment farther from the freeway or, better still, a mortgage of my own.

What are you up to these days? people asked. There was judgment in the question. There was nothing to report. I’d accomplished little so far with my wild, precious life. All I wanted were the churches, where the world was not so loud.

Mostly, I stay Catholic. I love the flickering candles, the heavy-draped confessionals, the crosses on the wall. I plan what I’ll say in confession, if they make me confess. I’ve begun to anticipate the Hail Marys, the transactional cleansing of my too-human soul. I pretend to myself I don’t want to get caught and I wait to be found. But the booths stay empty, faded velvet curtains rustling in the dusty breeze. All these trespassed thresholds, but no one ever comes.

Church quiet is delicious. An unassuming drug. The weight of it compresses my body, makes me feel more worthy of taking up such space. The moment it’s broken—an electronic alert, a shout from the street, a singing bird—I mourn its loss and crave more. The silence is elusive, so hard to recreate. The next door could be locked. The next pew could stay solid and repel me, spit me back outside. Every threshold I step over, every time I stay unnoticed, I become recognizable to myself, and that feels like benediction.

Unbelieving has brought me nowhere, but in church, the chemistry of the universe feels different. Like some of the bad things might not actually happen; like the world still holds spaces where I might belong. I can forget, in these moments, that I’m supposed to be afraid.

The eve of Yom Kippur falls on a Sunday. Kol Nidre has always been my mother’s favorite. She asks if instead of our weekly dinner, we can go to services instead. My father hasn’t gone to temple in decades but still writes the checks; she attends twice a year but doesn’t like to go alone. It’s the music of Kol Nidre that she loves most. The ancient alchemy of melody and prayer. The same ones Great Grandma Bessie sang in the old country, she reminds me every year.

The invocation of my ancestors makes me feel ashamed. An ultimate betrayal, if they could see me now. From shtetl to pogrom, steerage to factory, their hard climb toward freedom is the inheritance I’m squandering. Can they see where I’ve been hiding? All the stolen hours spent in sacred spaces, and not one of them my own. The prayers of Kol Nidre are no more or less than a legal contract, the blanket annulment of sacred vows. My ancestors were forced to renounce their religion or endure terrible deaths. I imagine terrible deaths daily, but churchgoing is a choice entirely my own.

I want the quiet back, the wave. The kind you don’t see coming, even when you think you’re looking. The kind that either crushes you to pieces, or delivers you home.

But still, the music. The prayers of my ascendants, the holiest of sounds. The Amidah, the Aleinu. I chant from memory. My body knows when to bow my head, when to bend my knees in reverence. The melodies live whole within me, unleashing themselves like a flock of birds from a cage. I imagine them soaring to the ceiling, toward the stained-glass oculus with its gilded inscription. Ve’ahavta et Adonai Elohecha. You shall love.

Look at you, my mother says, her smile wide with admiration. Maybe you should come to synagogue more often. She scans the congregation from behind her mahzor. Maybe the accountant’s son is here, or someone like him. Maybe I will find God, or love, in my life again after all. I nod back at her, unraveled. Flecks of hope shine golden in her eyes.

I drive my mother home and spend the night in my childhood bedroom—the pink floral wallpaper I’d always hated; the stacks of diaries in the closet I feel a desperate urge to burn. The next day, a Monday, my father pours us each a bowl of Wheat Chex for breakfast. My mother boils herself a single, perfect egg. The Book of Life is waiting, our collective sins too many to be named. But none of us fast for Yom Kippur. Love looks like this, sometimes.

The parking lot of All Saints Episcopal is bustling and exposed. The people in charge have clipboards. They wear plastic gloves and waterproof sandals; they beam beneficent smiles. Less fortunate souls are everywhere: hunched over shopping carts or sheltering from the heat beneath ancient, fruitless olive trees. There is weak coffee; oatmeal congealing in crockpots. Loud conversations, shouts of laughter, bodies mingling in the afternoon sun.

On my first visit, I’d loved the chapel’s oak floorboards. Its stained-glass windows like the sanctuaries of my childhood; the entryway that smelled like orange and pine. I’d loved them so much, I’d risked returning. But today’s visit is the opposite of solitude. Before I can make myself invisible, find a different church and the quiet I crave, someone sees me. She approaches, misidentifying my intent, and there’s nowhere I can hide.

“I’m Chaplain Stephanie,” she says, her smile bright as she clasps my hand. “We’re so glad you’re here.” She gives me plastic gloves of my own, a blank name tag that says Volunteer. She puts a hand on my shoulder and guides me toward a folding table. My skin shivers from the unexpected touch. Then she walks away, and I am left to play along.

I could refuse the church people. I could run, like I usually do. Escape to the sidewalk and my sad sameness beyond. But a not-small part of me wants to be more like them. I envy their purpose, the space they’re not afraid to take up in the world. I want, so badly, to believe or belong.

So I do not disappear. I stay at the table. I hand out sack lunches and dented canned goods—Chef Boyardee and hearty soups, though it’s ninety degrees—and spoon oatmeal and raisins into Styrofoam cups.

The ancient upright piano from the entryway has been dragged into the parking lot. A woman with blonde dreadlocks sings earnestly into a microphone that whines with feedback on every other verse. Visitors—clients, I’m told to call them—are encouraged to shout out their favorite songs from a stapled list of titles, the wrinkled paper weathered smooth like sea glass.  Somebody wants “Desperado.” Somebody wants Britney Spears.

Chaplain Stephanie, still smiling, moves me from canned goods to coffee service and I like it better here. Here, I can feel useful. Coffee has always been something in which I can believe.

I am solicitous with offers of extra sugar, extra cream. I make eye contact and hold it and hope eyes aren’t really windows to my soul. I listen to their stories and wish/do not wish to trade them for my own. I wonder if there are can openers in the tent camps they live in. I wonder if they can hear me thinking they. I feel visible, like here for the wrong reasons has been tattooed on my skin. But still. I tap my foot along to the music. I mouth the lyrics to their favorite songs. I am surrounded by people to whom the bad things have already happened. All these souls on the other side of something, choosing life anyway.

A man wearing torn cargo shorts, ribs straining through the skin of his bare and sunburned chest, asks if he can sing the “Star Spangled Banner.” The piano woman offers up her microphone. The shirtless man sings like he belongs on Broadway, his eyes tightly closed. His dog, a gray pit mix, stays curled at his feet as he empties his whole soul into the song. Long before the anthem is over, everyone has wept.

I think about how maybe this is what prayer really is: to share your anxious, damaged heart like holy words set to music; other people crying because they know it to be true. Here was the magic trick I’d always looked for. Tears into triumph, like water into wine.

Ve’ahavta et Adonai Elohecha. You shall love.

“Not too much sugar,” the man in the green coat tells me. “I have diabetes.”

I comply but he frowns at the cup, unsatisfied.

“Maybe one more spoonful. Live on the edge. You know how it goes.” His eyes are black, and not yet dead. The half-light within them makes me want to turn away.

“They called me Coach,” he says. “Varsity football, thirty years. Nineteen championships. No one could hold a candle to my boys. They were warriors, all of them. If they could see me now.” He laughs to himself, a violent bark that holds no trace of humor.

His hands tremor around the cup, his grip so unyielding I imagine the Styrofoam imploding, scalding liquid spilling everywhere, but the cup holds steady. His long fingernails are immaculate, clean and gnarled. He thanks me and he’s gone.

Daylight starts to fade. The coffee urns are empty. From the bell tower, Handel’s Messiah sounds out the hour, the echoing vibrations rippling through my spine. My back aches and my head throbs from so many conversations. The effort of keeping a continuous smile. I tell myself these are good kinds of pain. That if a blooming rose could make a sound, you would hear it screaming. I am changing, surely. I am becoming someone with purpose. One who can offer up a cup of coffee, or a prayer.

Later, at home, I curl up in my window and watch the freeway below. Usually, I can only imagine the accidents, the ways in which all those passing cars could become weapons, coffins, tragedies. But today I gaze down at the traffic and imagine metal untwisting; flames disappearing into wisps of gray. All those people going somewhere. I imagine their destinations. Church quiet settles on my skin.

A breeze wafts through the olive trees, scattering the scent of orange and pine. Inside, there are no curtains for confession. There are no pews, just folding chairs. I still try not to visit the same churches. I am still reluctant to cross a threshold twice. But lately, also, I’ve been learning maybe my own rules are made to be broken. This church calls to me for reasons I can’t name. I let the door drift closed behind me. The quiet is heavy, like a wave.

Then the door creaks open again, and I am not alone.

His coat is knee-length, green and stained. From here I can smell the stink of him, the ravage of a life more painful than I could ever comprehend. He puts his backpack down, sits in the folding chair beside me. His shaking fingers grip a Styrofoam cup. His fingernails are long, and gnarled, and impeccably clean. An uneasy revelation, when I recognize those hands.

He lifts his cup to take a sip, swallows his coffee with a clenched jaw. In his half-lit eyes, there’s no hint of recognition. Beneath his sleeve, a glint of metal flashes in the fading light.

Did he know, like I knew, that the door would be unlocked? So self-centered, all these times, to think I was the only one seeking harbor. To imagine that I was the one who needed to be saved.

He nods at me, his dark eyes focused on things I cannot see. With intention, he lifts the sleeve of his jacket to reveal the tattooed skin of his forearm; a swath of silver duct tape, and the knife he’s taped there.

My stomach clenches to a fist. The sour salt of adrenaline fills the back of my throat. A lifetime of anxiety has failed to prepare me for the corporeality of actual fear.

I am in a church. This is a man. That is a knife.

“We aren’t supposed to be here,” he says, finally breaking the silence. Silence and quiet are so different. I never realized it before. Unexpectedly, the anxiety loop in my head slows down to just a slur of blurry voices, none of them my own. The heart in my throat beats together with the blood pulsing in my veins.

He takes another sip of coffee. “But Jesus said the Kingdom of God was open to everyone. So that means you and me.”

“I guess that’s right,” I say. His baritone is commanding, like the bearded rabbi of my youth. I cannot turn away from the silver of the knife. I let myself imagine the grisly headlines that will be all I’ll leave behind. I am safe here, in church. Or here, in church, I’m in terrible danger. They feel one and the same.

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ Matthew 22,” the man says. “Guess old Matt didn’t bank on people loving God with their minds half gone.” He looks at me. “You looking for God?”

I don’t know how to answer. I look down at my own shaking hands.

He flashes me a decaying grin, taps his chest with a gnarled fingernail. “Maybe today’s your lucky day.”

In my head, reflexive, the words of the Shema. When Andrew and I flew places, I chanted the prayer over and over during takeoff, and then again on descent until the wheels touched ground. Andrew refused to hold my hand, so instead I’d grip the armrests with white-knuckled fists. He thought being anxious was a choice. He had no idea what it felt like, to be compelled to speak words you didn’t believe in just to keep an airplane in the sky.

But now the plane is falling, and I feel calm. The quiet has not broken. All this time, all these churches, and I’ve become the kind of person who could believe after all. Who’s to say we all have choices? Who’s to say he is not God?

Shards of color from the stained-glass windows dance across the oakwood floors. Soon, all the light will be gone. All the space I’ve taken up, all the lives I have not changed, but I will not go down without a fight. If he’s God, he might forgive me. If he’s God, he’ll know the reasons why. In church, there is no wrong way. I’ve let myself believe.

“I’m sorry,” I tell him. For the tragic ruin of his life; for the unrequited potential of mine.

He offers me no absolution. He makes no reply at all.

The quiet is a wave, where breath comes deep and steady. The kind that crushes you to pieces and delivers you home.


JENNY FELDON is a memoirist, essayist, and fiction writer. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and American literature from Boston University and an MFA in creative writing from The New School. Raised in New England, she lives in Los Angeles with her family and will always call New York City home. Find her on Instagram @jennyfeldonwrites (mostly books and writing) and @jennyfeldon (mostly kids, travel, dog).


Featured image by Josh Applegate, courtesy of Unsplash.


Author’s Note

It was late afternoon on an ordinary Tuesday. I was stopped in traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard in front of a small white Catholic church I’d driven by a thousand times. Its wooden doors were closed; the church grounds looked deserted. I watched as a girl wearing a lace minidress and combat boots looked over her shoulder just once before pushing the door open and slipping inside. I stared at the space on the sidewalk where she’d just been standing. It was like a magic trick. Here, then gone to somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be.

I’ve always been fascinated by churches. On the East Coast, where I grew up, so many of them are breathtaking architectural landmarks: centuries-old neo-Gothic cathedrals with bell towers and stained-glass windows fifteen feet high. Places I assumed were holy and impenetrable. Los Angeles churches tend to be humbler. You could mistake many of them for regular places: a bank, an office building, someone’s 1920s Craftsman home. I couldn’t stop thinking about the girl who’d walked right in. In my imagination, she’d been escaping something. What had she been hiding from? What happened once she went inside?

When I began writing the early drafts of this story, all I knew was that the narrator kept going into churches. I’d drive around LA, mentally collecting new churches for these scenes, peeking through windows to conjure details for the interiors (unlike the narrator, I never mustered the courage to go inside). But it took many, many balled-up pages to discover what she was really looking for; the thing she needed to live her life instead of running away as she always had before.

Anxiety is as much a character in this story as the human beings are. There can be something shameful about living with anxiety, and I believe that shame is magnified when we’re unable to tie it to a specific source. Privilege itself is something to feel ashamed of. The narrator has been given every opportunity to thrive, but she’s so paralyzed with her fear of what might happen that she’s unable to exist in the world, or in her own skin. Churchgoing becomes a lifeline; a way to quiet the cacophony anxiety creates in her mind.

In the early drafts, which my brilliant writers’ group kindly workshopped far too many times, the question of whether she dies at the end kept coming up. Did the reader need to know the answer? As the author, did I? The stranger in the green coat represents so many things in that final scene—the God she’s been seeking; the connection to another human being she’s desperate for; the terrible tragedies of this world from which we cannot hide. As I wrote and rewrote the ending, it always stayed essentially the same, and I decided it didn’t matter. The journey she takes starts and ends in that moment. I’ll leave the revelation of what happens next up to the reader, like all my favorite stories tend to do.


JENNY FELDON is a memoirist, essayist, and fiction writer. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and American literature from Boston University and an MFA in creative writing from The New School. Raised in New England, she lives in Los Angeles with her family and will always call New York City home. Find her on Instagram @jennyfeldonwrites (mostly books and writing) and @jennyfeldon (mostly kids, travel, dog).