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there is always something (why I shoot film)

There are maybe ten shots left on the roll. Outside the metro, a collection of pigeons sit on minuscule ledges above two old men. They talk as all old men do, with operatic waves of their hands, sour expressions, belly laughs, eventually scratching their chins as they stare off at nothing in particular. I am pretending to take pictures of something near them, then swing across when they are not looking to shoot a few frames. At one point I surrender to the afternoon and move on.

And now, the courtyard that leads to the film lab. A great old building rests here, a school of architecture where students mill around dressed in black sucking on cigarettes with giant portfolios tucked under their arms. A young man approaches me. I am ready to tell him I have no idea what he is saying, but he wants to know where the film lab is. I jut my chin, telling him the door is just beyond a few bushes. He nods his thanks.

There are screens set up in a jagged line, sheathed in filthy white plastic to …


It is like driving in a snowstorm, at night. The headlights shining into that tumbling loop, showing no landmarks, no signs, just a few feet of the road ahead. My growing paranoia feels like that snow, growing, smashing into the wet pavement, then returning.

I am a passenger, and the doors are locked. We are just here for the ride, putting one foot in front of the next, manufacturing faith that things will turn out well. We have no idea what we are doing, or where we are going.

Outside the windows, the sun has suddenly disappeared.
A flock of black birds fly close together.
The sky is a giant washing machine flipping them around.

E is writing invitations for her birthday party. N has written the words out for her to copy.
We are sitting at the kitchen table. I am making gnocchi for dinner, with some roasted pumpkin.

E changes the words, instead of writing I like you, she writes I hate you. 

This is my nightmare, that there is something broken inside her I cannot fix, that life in this wilderness has twisted something deep inside her that cannot be unraveled.

I get her to take a bath.
She curls up next to me in her pyjamas afterwards and we have a quiet talk.
"I don't know." She tells me.
I tuck her into bed, surrounded by stuffed animals she has dressed in her own shirts. A rabbit. An elephant. A tiny white kitten with giant eyes. They all have names.
I kiss her goodnight.
"I love you, kiddo." I say.
"I love you too, Pop." She says.
She has never said this before.

The next day, she changes the word hate, blotting it out with flowers and hearts so now it says like.
We bring the invitation for one girl, leaving the second at home.

Things slump back to normal. We practice guitar. We do solfeggio homework.
E's mother does not call for days.

On Saturday, when she should take her there is a sudden cough in her voice. She says she is sick, but maybe will be better in a few hours. E sighs, looks up me, hanging up the phone.
"She's not gonna take me today." She says.
"I know." I say.
"She's not really sick." E says.
I nod once.

E spends the afternoon turning the living room into a version of her kindergarden.

Later, her mother calls saying maybe she will take her on Sunday. 
But Sunday comes and goes, and she never takes her. 

I walk quickly on the wet sidewalk, my hands deep in my pockets.

A man is playing his accordion in the underpass by E's school. He sits in a tiny folding chair that is about to break and fall sideways. The song is fast, but I would not say it is a happy. The accordion opens and closes with a sort of labored breathing.

He stares off at the empty wall across from him.
His eyes are too big for his face.

No one gives him any money, but he is here every day.


Sarah said…

Hang in there. It is tough but you are doing a great job. I have two children adopted from Russia and also always wonder if they will always carry the hurt. We can just do our best to help them and love them and you are doing that. Your an amazing father. I love reading your blog so thanks for posting. I am saying prayers you can all head home to NYC in a year or so.

All the best,


Banker Chick said…
It's hard for kids to understand the abuse they receive from a parent who are unstable. E understands her mother's hurtful ways, but that doesn't keep it from hurting.
KgH said…
Felt it. Nice one.
liv said…
God, those first two paragraphs went through me like an arrow. They were piercing.

She is scarred, there's no denying it. How could she not be? So, so many of us are. And as I get older, I think I don't trust/like people who are not at least a little scarred. Although it still makes me sad that anyone, anyone!, has to be.

The true sadness is those that think that is all they are. But you give her more. You show her she is more and that there is more for her in the world. She will survive just fine. She truly is one of the most compelling people I've ever experienced. There is something in E that is just beyond - beyond the normal. And that is her blessing. She will use that blessing well in life even in spite of her scars.

It is you I worry about. You run around and do all these things, these marvelous things to make your family safe in every way a man can.....but I worry that there is a hole in you and every year you are there it gets bigger and bigger. Do you have a trip home coming up? I know The City replenishes you. Be safe Marco and take good care ... of yourself.

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