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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…

red raincoats and tiny egg rolls


A smile is plastered across her face as she sleeps, blankets drawn to her chin with the windows open. 

She has dimples. 
She is growing up.

I am working long hours, but we find a way to take breaks and run downstairs to kick a ball around, to race up and down the sidewalk, to buy a strawberry ice. E is pure magic this August, spending six days of the week in our place by the river. 

I sigh, and sigh and sigh. How many nights did I stay up late, staring out the windows, haunted by the thought that she lives in the wrong place? It took me some time to understand that even the most foreign place can become a home if there is love and laughter there. It may not be the home I dreamt of, or the home I wanted for us, but this is where we live. At one point I had to surrender, and find a way to enjoy this displaced life. If not for myself then for her, and ultimately both of us.


There is a box of shoes and dresses she has grown out of in the living room closet. There is a plastic christmas tree somewhere here. Red raincoats, Hello Kitty umbrellas, piles and piles of her drawings. There are memories of great meals in our kitchen, chairs crammed into the space like a wooden traffic jam. 

I have intense memories of my childhood, from the age of four. I wonder what her mind will preserve from all of this? The ragtag way we go to meetings together - me half lost, her helping me turn the map the right way? The tiny egg rolls we make together, her spooning the filling into her mouth and tasting the separate ingredients the whole time? Maybe her dolls and how she brings them into the bathtub to act out elaborate stories. Maybe the feeling of waking up and seeing me working on the other side of the room, turning and asking what she wants for breakfast, her stretching her arms to me as I take her and squeeze her and feel her chin resting on the back of my neck.


I write in the bedroom, on a tiny table. She pads in, her pyjamas twisted sideways around her skinny body.

"Pop?" She says, resting her hand on my shoulder.
I look up at her.
"How's it going?" She says. "I mean the Monday story, how is it going?"
"OK." I say, as she curls up on my lap.
I shove the red coffee cup aside so it does not fall.
"You know how sometimes I write a sad story, and sometimes I write a rough one, and then sometimes I write one that is like ah?" I ask her.
She nods yes, even though she has never heard any of them.
"This week is an ah story about you." I say.
"OK." She says, twirling a finger in her messy hair.

I ask her what she will remember of our life here. We talk in hushed, simple sentences about what my parents were like and how I raise her very differently than how they raised me. We talk about what she will be like when she is a teenager.
"We'll be best friends." She says, and starts to cry a little.
Her lower lip curls towards the ceiling, she collapses against me.
"Sometimes we cry because we're just so happy, but in a funny way." I say quietly and she nods a few times.


And all at once it is time to make sure she brushes her teeth, even though she loves doing it. She wants me to stand there in the narrow room, to witness her technique, the methodical child's ballet of swishing water, spitting two times, rinsing the brush, checking her new teeth in the mirror for growth. All at once, it will be September and time to go back to music school, to detskie sad for one more year before real school. All at once it will be autumn and the water in the fountains will get shut off one day. More shoes will be too tight for her feet. Maybe more friends. Maybe new recipes. New jokes, no doubt.

New songs, without question.
And we will never stop singing.



Comments

I think this is my favorite of your Monday stories so far. It is so hopeful. And I'm really curious to know what E's gonna be like when she grows up.
Annie said…
Yes; I like this "ah" story,too. I like the fact she is spending so much time with you. It will be surprising what she remembers. My grown-up children surprise me all the time with memories of events and routines I have no recollection of....though it wasn't tha long ago (in my years).
liv said…
Ahhhhhhh, to wake up Monday morning to the adorable face of E. - who has no idea that so many people are enchanted with her, cheer for her and for you, Marco.
The beauty of this post will carry me a long way today.
Many, many thanks.
Banker Chick said…
She is going to remember the love,attention and balance you bring to her life.
AH, MARCO. IF ever there were a post about an adult 'growing up', this is it. How marvelous to finally feel some of your own joy. A joy that is not always about E or N but all your own. The fact is, humans can make a hell even out of paradise. And tho you sure as hell don't live in any paradise, hope sure helps!! A lovely post!
Marco North said…
Thanks for every single comment. I had less than four hours of sleep before I sat down to write this. Yes, working until 4AM on a Sunday night - as always, for good reason. Moscow is the most expensive city in the world to live in.

That said, we had a great day today - but that's a story for next week already...
Omgrrrl said…
Of course, I read all of your Monday Stories. And mostly your words knock my words off of my fingers and I cannot manage to write a comment.

But this Monday Story made my heart happy and my fingers decided to join in the dance and comment.

Where there is a child, there is Hope. Where there is Hope, there is music. And occasional Joy.

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