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Not me, her

In 1987, I found myself trying to write about a high school girlfriend that had been molested by her father when she was a child. I was 19 years old, struggling to find my way through a screenwriting assignment about delivering character. The idea was to describe messy young love between two Sid and Nancy want-to-be's. But that failed, as I could not stomach oversimplifying her complicated past, events that shaped her life as a 16 year old with a mohawk, a smart mouth, a lingering stare. I understood that I had to start at the very beginning.

No one wanted to hear the story. When it was my turn to read in class, it even came to be that some of the other students asked to stand in the hallway before they heard another description of what happened in that lonely little house in the middle of nowhere. I was trying, and failing, and trying again to get things right, to explain how this happened, how it could happen to this girl, how this man found his way to acts of selfishness and d…

хлеб (bread)

In my most desperate moments, I jump up and find a heel of bread. Tearing it into tiny pieces that I fling from an open window, there are always birds to grab at them. At home there are great black crows. At the studio, sleepy pigeons and fast sparrows. This exercise helps me get outside of my thoughts. I imagine I am one of these birds, finding unexpected bread from an unexpected source. I imagine that gifts from a similar, impossible source are finding their way to me.

If this measure fails me, I go to the convent across the street from my studio. A great, sprawling collection of buildings sits low behind the walls. The convent is being rebuilt. There are skeletons of spires, great piles of bricks, yellow cranes tall in the sky, clouds of fine dust, suntanned workers, upside-down wheelbarrows and countless flowers.

The flowers grow wild here, as well as in organized gardens. There are roses as big as cows, and hollyhocks that stand taller than a man. There are some small stone stairs that lead to three graves. Each grave blooms in a collection of rumashki (wild daises), and violets and pansies. I always stare at these graves for some time.

As I leave, stooping my head under sunflowers bending under their own weight, bobbing in the wind, I see the church. Inside it is dark, cool and quiet. You can buy candles for whatever price you wish to pay. Every inch is adorned with icons of saints, Mary, and the Christ child. There is a big metal container filled with holy water and a still-wet cup dangling from a handle. You can turn the spigot and drink as much as you like.

Outside, there is an embankment covered so randomly with flowers, it is as if a child mixed all of the seeds together and threw them there. Black-eyed Susans, foxglove, and jasmine all twist into each other. The air is most fragrant here, and I stand with my eyes closed.

Around the corner, past more construction and white stones stacked on top of each other is the khlebuchik (bakery). Behind a small window, a mysterious collection of breads is displayed. There are yablokei pishki (tiny apple-filled pastries), khleb monaster (dark monastery bread). There are elephant’s ears, and cinnamon-filled logs, and even pampushki (tiny brioche covered in garlic and oil). I always buy myself the little pishki, for 20 cents apiece and some of the cinnamon bread for E for a dollar. She has been known to eat an entire loaf in one sitting. I found out that this bakery uses no yeast or baking powder - only hops, that are grown on the grounds.

Leaving from a side exit, I cross myself as I leave – returning to the busy street, computers, clients, telephones…and eventually home, to my little girl.

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