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running away with the circus (looking for dolphins)

There are three of them, a brazen woman with bright eyes and a big voice, a man going grey with a hop in his step and a younger woman who might be their daughter or their niece that twists her short hair into little tufts. They roam the hotel, sometimes in elaborate costumes, letting us know that there will be a secret dance party near the ballroom in an hour.

The older woman strolls in during dinner in a costume of blinking Christmas lights and exotic face paint. V stares up at her, convinced she is a princess or a fairy or maybe both. The next night, she is all in black, great horns wobbling on her head. She always has a pair of black Converse high tops on, as if they go with every costume or maybe they are the only shoes she owns.

The man is typically dressed as a pirate, in a striped shirt, maybe an eye patch. He is perfectly relaxed, like his limbs are made of silly straws. The younger woman is always smiling, her mouth a wall of metal braces and lip gloss. I imagine they sleep …

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 desperation. "Why do you want to write about this?" I was asked, over and again. They all expected to find out that I was the one that had actually been molested, and this was just my smokescreen, that there was no little girl, no cold living room visits to her inthe middle of the night.

I kept at writing about her for the entire semester and showed the pages to women I knew, asking them to give me the harshest comments they could, to let me know the second the train went off the tracks. I was completely unprepared for what happened after that. Along with the notes, they would share their own experiences with me. An uncle, a stranger, another story, another trespass. The work of getting this girl's story right somehow became a responsibility, no longer an assignment.

In those days, incest was discussed on afternoon talk shows, sensationalized and interrupted with commercials for shampoo and cake mixes.

Over time, the story evolved into a first novel. I spent months and months attending art shows and spoken word performances all by incest survivors. I listened to the private accounts of over a hundred women. I examined the effect these events take on the people around the survivor - the friend, the lover, the teacher. Somehow, that lead me through to the end of the book.

People still tell me they cannot, and will not read it. Not because it was written by a man, but simply because they do not want to. Too painful. Too ugly.



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