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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 Abraham Lincoln summer

I remember the summer when I was ten, the same age E is now. We were poor, living off of food stamps and the garden. Summer was an epic stretch of time, one and a half lives removed from the last ride on the long yellow school bus, the weeks spent shirtless in a pair of cutoffs exploring the forest and turning over rocks in the creek. There was the smell of the lopsided barbecue, watermelon, fresh corn. 

We took rides to the local pool, the water so amped up on chlorine that our eyes burned after we got out. The car was the old pale blue Dodge Dart with the AM radio that came in loud and strong, cranking out Glen Campbell singing Wichita Lineman. There were a handful of pretty girls that flopped across towels on the grass, letting their hair dry, girls that wore polka dot bikinis, with pink toenails in their flip-flops. We oggled them from the deep end, our chins on the surface of the cold water. My brother never made a move, and neither did I. We just held back, treading water, satisfied all the same.


When school started again, and I entered the fourth grade I told everyone I had been in Florida all summer with my grandfather. In truth he died some years before and I had only met him twice. I told everyone we picked oranges and went to the beach every day. Then I told them that Abraham Lincoln was with us the whole time, that he had not died and he was living well in the outskirts of Miami.

The thing is, I really believed what I was telling them. It was real to me. I saw it all, the wet trees in the mornings, Abraham's big laugh, my grandfather with a cigar (or maybe it was a pipe). The kids gave me plenty of trouble, names, insults and the occasional gut punch. Later I understood I would do anything to avoid the fact that we never went anywhere, during summer or anytime else.


E has navigated another one of her summers, cooped up in Moscow drawing pictures, pointing cameras at leaves and trees and sunrises. She read some long books. She slept in. She stayed up late watching movies with me, with plenty of chocolate by her side. She has grown taller. She has lost more baby teeth, and she still gets visits from the Tooth Fairy (who is generous in a different currency every time she visits).

We made more of a film together, a part I wrote for her, a part she is proud of. I think this surrogate summer plan we cook up each year is getting better, but there are nights when I wish she was enjoying a gelato in Rome, or the salty ocean water on her lips at the end of a day in the sun.

 











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