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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…


The pen is dry. I unscrew it, placing the nib on an empty sheet of paper. The container is not far from me, next to a photograph leaning against the wall. I pull the piston out, twirling it down as it blows bubbles inside the little bottle then suck the bright blue ink inside as I twirl it back up. Back in the nib, ink stains my fingertips. I screw the body on last, making sure not to get any on it. N bought me this pen in Florence, on the last night we were there. I tried to explain to the little old man in the store that I would write a new book with it. In truth, I am still finishing the old one.

It is Sunday morning and I am somehow alone in the house. It has been a month or two since I brought the little white desk in from the balcony. Eggs and bacon already inside me, I reserved the second coffee until now, placing it on the corner. The last ten pages sit in the middle of the space, pen to the right. Maybe I am obsessive. Maybe I just have my rituals.

The phone rings. It is N checking in on me, just saying hello, just saying she wants to hear my voice.
"What are you doing?" She asks.
"Writing." I answer, after a moment.
"Woho." She says, happy and maybe a little surprised. "Call me later."

The pages are there, clean, poised.

The pen slides open, getting a little more ink on my fingers. I scratch the nib in the corner of the page to be sure it will write when I need it to.

I dig into the pages, fixing the awkward parts, noting where there needs to be an extra space between paragraphs or when there is too much space between them. I circle words, suddenly seeing some sentences are structured backwards. This is the work, to find a way to make it all look effortless and then leave that one tiny little piece that pokes out, the tiny rock in the shoe, the clipped hair stuck under the t-shirt that calls attention to itself. This is the part I delete and then put back in. This is the imperfection I keep on purpose. Otherwise it becomes too smooth, too clean. Maybe I listen to too much Thelonius Monk.

The machine has started turning again. I have done the hard work of rethreading the story, much like a sewing machine that needs a new bobbin, and a fresh roll. Maybe there are some confusing moments trying to remember which way the thread wraps around the hooks. The story is deeply disturbing. I know it all too well, this last story kicking around inside me for more than fifteen years now. Realizing it, putting the apples on the trees, the tall thin divorced man burning things in the backyard every chance he can get, the little boy crunching on dry macaroni, the woman who stinks like a horse digging into the dirt as she plants potatoes. There are moments that make the hair on my arms go up. Naked people in the rain, the child vomiting onto the dinner table, mysterious knocks on the door in the early morning.

I get up to get a glass of water and see my reflection in the hallway mirror. I do not recognize myself.


liv said…
Where does the time go? Monday came and went and I am just now looking for it.

This was a wonderful piece. Yes, I believe that too, that there should be a tiny bit of imperfection. It makes it all human - like us - we humans who are so much more beautiful for our little imperfections.

And may I just say that, after reading you for three years, is it? Your Monday ritual of writing for us here is one of the best constants in my life and I don't take the discipline that you must exert to do it lightly. It inspires me. And I am grateful for it.

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