Palo Alto: Not Very Good

05/30/2014 § Leave a comment

PAMAIN-660x440

This is possibly the most unbelievable group of high school jocks ever to appear on the silver screen.

It seems ungenerous to give Palo Alto a harsh review. Written and directed by 27-year-old Gia Coppola (of the Hollywood Coppolas) and based on the short story collection by James Franco (also of Hollywood), the movie is basically a creative writing exercise-turned-film school exercise, polished to a moody, glossy sheen. Franco, widely acknowledged as a great actor, is not a great writer. Despite his plethora of graduate degrees, he is, at best, a promising student writer, and Palo Alto could easily have taken place in anytown, anywhere. Though Coppola, in her debut feature, does a few things well, the movie just isn’t all that good. And there is so much at which to pick.

First, as in any good writing-workshop critique, here are the positives: the teen protagonists look and behave—within the contrived confines of the screenplay—like real teens, and the dark, trapped-in-crappy-adolescence-tone is consistent throughout.

Indeed, the movie is joyless, save for moments in which the male ingénue, Teddy (Jack Kilmer, Val’s son and eerie dead ringer for the late River Phoenix) draws or paints, a nice detail that is marred by the ramblings of some random teacher, explaining the purpose and function of art as though the viewing audience needs a tutorial to understand why art might be thematically or symbolically important to one of the characters.

Moving on to storytelling, Palo Alto lacks a clear plot, character development, or point of view. Coppola takes a vignette-approach which, combined with deliberately distanced camera angles, makes it hard to empathize with the characters or authentically know them. We are only allowed to watch as Teddy, April (Emma Roberts), Fred (Nat Wolff), and Emily (Zoe Levin) flail about, making hideous and stereotypically immature decisions about their academic and romantic lives. Will April lost her virginity to her soccer coach/babysitting client (James Franco)? Will it matter that her step-dad (Kilmer Senior in a throw-away role) rewrote her history paper for her? Was Emily really gang-raped at a party, or is this just a fantasy about the school slut as imagined in irritating, layered voice-over by the sociopathic Fred, whose shtick you will be sick of well before the film’s half-way point?

To use an over-used turn of phrase, Palo Alto is what it is. There is lots of teen drinking, teen girls in their underwear, and stake-free pathos. The subtleties are too subtle and the shocking moments too easy. It’s…silly. Sophomoric. “Not terrible” isn’t good enough. Were the source material not written by James Franco, it would receive a harsh critique in any workshop, and deserves no less in wide release.
Rated R, 100 minutes
This review originally appeared in The Santa Fe New Mexican on May 30, 2014.

Screaming into a Void

02/02/2014 § Leave a comment

I am having a very hard time with this Woody Allen thing. While my instinct tells me Woody Allen is a total creep, and I believe Dylan Farrow is a victim of abuse, there are many factors at play, including a mother (Mia Farrow) who pings my own abuse radar like crazy.

This is not my business. No one has to listen to me. I have experience with incest, and deep family lies, and denial — so this is my take and my feelings on this situation. I am very much old enough to remember when Woody Allen and Mia Farrow split up. I’ve been refusing to watch Woody Allen movies since before that, when I saw the one where the young Asian woman dances in a bathing suit over the credits. It was made decades before he married Mia Farrow’s 19-year-old daughter. His legal appetites have been obvious for a long time, including to Mia Farrow.

These are my thoughts at this time:

I have never liked Woody Allen. I think he’s a creep. He might be a pedophile. I have no reason to defend him. I have no reason to assume Dylan is lying or to question her story.

But the truth is, what I think or know about the situation doesn’t matter. It’s not my family. And for all the headlines out there, most of the publications are, yet again, exploiting human interest for ad revenue and many of you are confusing the recitation of someone else’s abuse narrative with your own abuse narrative, and worse yet are the publications and people pitching salacious voyeurism for clicks.

Here are some things to think about:

Wanting to have sex with teenage girls and wanting to have sex with little children are not the same thing, but power and madness can break down walls even standard perverts keep solid.

Most child-molesters are not one-time offenders or one-victim offenders, so will there be an investigation into his younger children now? Will other grown women come forward to say he touched them as children?

Wanting to molest girls and wanting to molest boys are two different predilections once kids are over the age of five or so. I have in passing seen people accusing Allen of molesting Farrow’s brother, who is now a convicted pedophile, an abuser of boys. It is a weird, muddy, poisonous and ignorant slope to slide down to assume Allen molested him, too, and that’s why he is the way he is. (Was he ever in a position to have done that? How old is Mia Farrow’s bother?) Child abuse is rampant and Allen didn’t perpetrate all of it. Would that it were and we could just lock him up and we could all feel safe forever, but that’s not how it works.

Something obviously happened to Dylan Farrow.

In a way, I hope that what she says about Allen is true because if it’s not, this is going to be a disaster for her. I definitely believe she is a victim in this situation. I’m just not completely convinced that her father was her only abuser, or that she was only abused in one way by one person.

Mia Farrow collects children as a hobby (count them and then see how you feel) and has a brother who is a convicted pedophile. Something is wrong with the elder Farrows’ family of origin. Perhaps Allen, as a predator, felt comfortable in that environment. Perhaps Mia Farrow, as a predator, felt comfortable adopting children with whatever man accepted her chaos.

I don’t know what the truth is and neither do you.

But I know this: Mia Farrow is not her daughter’s savior or protector. Just because one parent is bad does not ipso facto make the other parent good.

Hot Springs Time Machine Interlude: 5 Years

12/12/2013 § Leave a comment

The square jutting out on the left is the conference room in which we were laid off.

This is the Visual Arts Center in which I was laid off. For the last time, the funds for this building did not come from the college’s budget! No one stole anything from anyone, okay?

Today is the five-year anniversary of the day I was laid off from the College of Santa Fe. The date has always stuck with me because it was two weeks before Christmas and shared a date with the birthday of an old college roommate. It’s also five days before my wedding anniversary. Wills and I got married five years ago as well. Though we essentially eloped — after living together for nine years — the date was set before the layoff was. After the layoff, it seemed even more important to get married on that day. I shamelessly crave stability and Wills is good about providing that when I most need it.

Talking about the CSF layoffs is risky business because there were several distinct groups with distinct interests and agendas, and the way we treated each other wasn’t pretty. The faculty, who always had the most power, seemed to think they had the least and that everyone not designated “faculty” or “student” — in other words, the people who turned the lights on every day — was actively out to steal food from their mouths while not really understanding what was at stake for them in losing their very important (possibly holy) teaching jobs. They didn’t seem to realize that by the time the administration started offering to buyout faculty contracts, there had already been four rounds of staff layoffs, staring two years prior, before the official “financial announcement” came down in October 2007.

Staff, who absolutely knew what was at stake, began infighting about the causes of what was happening and how it would be handled, and some of us (okay, me) began writing departmental manifestos after some faculty were quoted in national higher education publications blaming the people who worked in marketing and admissions for the bankruptcy of the college. (Inaccurate, and still worth coming to blows over.)

The students, who actually had the least to worry about — transferring to a different college isn’t actually that big of a deal, and no one betrayed them or their parents, as some thought and even continue to think — got depressed and cried a lot in faculty offices. Some even openly chastised administrators for their failure to keep the college open specifically for them.

I forgot all about the following until three minutes ago: One of the faculty plans to get the college back on track, marketing-wise, was to establish some kind of party bus in which students could be driven around town, and in which would play awesome videos created by the film department, or something. This suggestion was on a new “plan” created by some faculty that was not remotely based in the reality we were living, but was hilarious to read. (Maddening at the time.) “CSF party bus” became an inside joke. And after that, I wrote the contemporary history of marketing at the college and distributed it via e-mail and oh man some people got really angry. Like, HR angry. Good times.

Have you ever seen 500 people go temporarily but certifiably crazy at once, over the course of a year? I have. It’s about as far from “stability” as I’ve ever been in my adult life. I spent months with insomnia, waking at 3:45 a.m. and IMing until 5:30 with co-workers who were also awake. I spent entire mornings in screaming matches with my favorite co-worker, because I didn’t believe the same conspiracy theories as he did, and got berated by my less-than-favorite co-workers over how mean I supposedly was. That latter event actually happened on the day of the layoff, on the way to the layoff meeting. Let’s reflect:

I was laid off on a Friday afternoon. The Tuesday preceding, I received a call from the Santa Fe Reporter asking me — as the PR/media contact for the college — to confirm that 40 people were going to be laid off at the end of the week.

I know how to count, and I knew that I could not escape being one of the 40. That said, I still had to do my job, but neither of the people I technically reported to were on campus that day, so I went to the president’s office. He would confirm only that there was a list of 20. He would not tell me whether I was on it, but that morning, my VP had already scheduled a departmental meeting for that Friday afternoon. I called the Reporter back and started cleaning out my office.

By that Friday, I was kind of zen. I knew I was going freelance and already had a good contract in the works at St. Michael’s High School. I was going to be okay. The meeting was at 1 p.m. We gathered — me, Roberto, N, and M — to walk from our double-wide PR & Marketing headquarters over to the Visual Arts Center, where all important meetings were held. M and N kept asking what I thought the meeting was for.

“We’re getting laid off,” I told them several times.

N became terrified and told me I should stop terrifying her. “You’re always so threatening and mean,” she said. “Now is the time when you should be trying to calm me down.”

(I wasn’t her boss, and she didn’t like me. I had no responsibilities in the area of her mental health.)

M became enraged when I didn’t want to come up with alternate scenarios for what might be about to go down. I knew what was about to happen. She knew I’d had to confirm the media query days earlier; she was obviously in some kind of profound state of denial. As we were leaving the building, M said “You’re not as smart as you think you are. You are not as tied into what is happening as you think you are. We’re not being laid off. This is a meeting to tell us that we do a great job and we don’t have to worry.”

“When a college stops planning for its future, they don’t need a marketing department anymore,” I told her calmly.

“You are such a bitch,” she said.

We were unemployed within the hour.

We were given two weeks notice and two weeks severance, which I took as four weeks severance because after 11 years and being the kind of employee who writes departmental manifestos, I was fucking done.

By the spring, everyone had gotten pink slips. A few were rehired by the new Laureate management; many staff members who were rehired wound up quitting within months because of the way they were treated and how they were required to treat their employees as the college was transitioning from its old identity to its new one. Some still work there.

I’m sure each person who was at CSF during the closure/transition would write a very different summary of events. This is mine. Happy December 12.

Hot Springs Time Machine Part One: 1859–1993

11/08/2013 § 11 Comments

The Fogelson Library at 1600 St. Michael's Drive. This picture dates to the mid-1990s.

The Fogelson Library at 1600 St. Michael’s Drive.
This picture dates to the mid-1990s.

The College of Santa Fe closed more than five years ago. It no longer exists.

There is an institution of higher education at 1600 St. Michael’s Drive and many of the same faculty are employed there, but it is not the College of Santa Fe. (It’s the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.)

CSF had a 150-year history in Santa Fe. It’s part of the ongoing history of St. Michael’s High School, which was CSF’s sister school. Laureate Education Inc., the for-profit international educational conglomerate, headquartered in Maryland, that owns Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and the De La Salle Christian Brothers, the founders of CSF, parted ways a few years ago over the use of the Lasallian tradition in SFUAD marketing materials. They are legally prohibited from claiming the Lasallian history, but as far as I can tell they still get to claim that they’ve been in existence since 1947, which is when CSF—then called St. Michael’s College—opened at the edge of town, on the grounds of the abandoned Bruns Army Hospital.

For readers who don’t know me: I graduated from CSF in 1996 with a BA in creative writing. From January 5, 1998, until January 3, 2009, I worked in the CSF marketing department as a writer and editor. I wrote all college marketing materials, from glossy view books to fundraising letters, and wrote for and then served as editor, for five years, of Vistas, the college’s alumni magazine. I also did all public relations for the college, managed the editorial marketing content of the website, and acted as photo editor and art director of photo shoots for the entirety of my employment there.

I’m sure there are things you know far more about than I do. I do not know how to direct a play or edit a film. I do not know how to breakdown data for reports or create formulas for spreadsheets. I don’t know how to ski. I don’t know anything about computer graphics and animation. I can’t perform surgery and I am hopeless with mail merges. The list of things I don’t know is endless. But, aside from some Christian Brothers, a few local historians, and a handful of extremely long-term faculty and staff, I probably know more about the history, marketing efforts, and cultural context of CSF than most people alive.

I’m not trying to be a know-it-all about CSF; I actually am one.

I am not trying to speak for you or determine how you should feel about the rise and fall of the College of Santa Fe, but when it comes to who knows what about what, I simply know more than you do about the college you went to. I was paid to. And if you moved away after your four years or however much inherently finite time you were here, I most definitely know more about the city of Santa Fe and the college’s place in it than you do. And the college’s place in Santa Fe matters, even if it doesn’t matter to you.

The question right now is why am I writing about this, almost six years after CSF closed?

A couple of alumni in Los Angeles are organizing an all-class reunion that is, according to the Facebook event page, being hosted in coordination with SFUAD. From the event page:

“This earth-shattering event will be open to any and ALL CSF, St. Michael’s, and SFUAD alumni and professors, even if you only attended for one year. Basically, if you ever called 1600 St. Michael’s Dr. home, you are welcome. We want to see all of your lovely faces, whether we’ve never seen them, we haven’t seen them in a decade, or we just saw them yesterday, we want to see you.

While having an awesome weekend together is reason enough to come out, we are also hoping that this event will kick off the development of a stronger alumni network. Regardless of what the school was called when you went there, there is no disputing that tons of talent, skill, and knowledge have come out of that place. We have scattered ourselves all around the country and beyond.

Let’s (re)connect and build a system that will help us all in our professional, artistic, academic, and personal endeavors.

That said . . .

We’ve narrowed down potential locations for the event to Santa Fe and LA.”

I am ready to call shenanigans on this whole thing.

There is so much to dig into here that this is going to take more than one post, as this event and my thoughts evolve. But in this post, let’s talk about location.

Inviting St. Michael’s College alumni to a reunion in Los Angeles is a shockingly ignorant move.

St. Michael’s College was founded in 1859 when Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy got four Christian Brothers from France to come to the wilds of northern New Mexico, when it was just a territory, and open a school for boys in a mud hut next to the San Miguel Mission on what was then named College Street and is now known at Old Santa Fe Trail. The mission is in competition with a similar structure in Florida to be known as the oldest church in the United States.

El Colegio de San Miguel, as it was known, was founded a few years after the Loretto Academy for Girls, which was run by nuns. The four Brothers, who traveled to Santa Fe via ship, train, and then covered wagon, arrived on a dark day in October and managed to open the school in a matter of weeks. San Miguel drew students from in town and the surrounding areas, and as far away as California, Texas, and Mexico.

St. Michael’s students ranged in age from elementary school through college. The founding financial plan of San Miguel established that tuition revenue was to come from boarding students so that local boys could come for far less money; many local boys’ families paid their tuition in trade for goods and services, including carpentry and livestock. One of the early boarders from Texas was Conrad Hilton, founder of Hilton Hotels, the man who toyed with Don Draper’s career and triggered his father issues on Mad Men.

The school was chartered by the New Mexico Territorial Legislature in 1874. If you were an educated boy in Santa Fe, you were a graduate of St. Michael’s. When public schools were mandated for the northern part of the state at the turn of the century, the Brothers trained the teachers and taught for free for a time in the buildings on College Street while the schools were being set up.

All along there was financial struggle. That’s what happens when you open a school in a mud hut and no one’s getting paid. It’s a labor of love, and you might never, ever turn a profit. Such is a calling to the Brotherhood, and even the Brothers didn’t always love it.

Brothers were constantly getting sick and tired of the dire conditions in Santa Fe—it was muddy; you were at the mercy of the elements and a somewhat lawless population—and other Brothers were sent to either raise their morale or replace them with newly trained Brothers. Finally, Brother Botulph got St. Michael’s back on track in the early 1900s, which is why there’s a street named after him. It’s near the hospital and you are probably pronouncing it wrong. A lot of people do, including locals. They reverse the “o” and the “u” sounds. The reason why is an enduring mystery for me.

After World War I, financial problems prompted the school to suspend college-level instruction, which was okay for the state because the University of New Mexico was well established by then. But Brother Benildus of Mary, the namesake of Benildus Hall, always planned to find a way to reinstate the college program at St. Michael’s.

And then St. Mike’s burned down in 1926 and had to be rebuilt. If not for the unexpected generosity of a local alumnus businessman, the school would have closed.

After World War II, Brother Benildus paid the government a buck for some barrack buildings and history repeated itself: four Brothers started a college in a matter of weeks.

The Bruns Army Hospital, which was abandoned now that the war was over, was made up of numbered buildings that began with the letter T, which stood for temporary. It turned out they were filled with the dangerous kind of asbestos that can’t be moved, so it cost a fortune to break down and move each building from the campus in a way that wouldn’t kill people, which meant not moving most of the barracks even after it put the college in the hole to insure them as offices and classrooms.  (I worked in T-45 until 2005.)

In 1966, St. Michael’s College changed its name to the College of Santa Fe in order to, according to the history I have read and repeated hundreds of times, better connect itself to the city it served and—I’ve heard—likely to distinguish it from St. Michael’s High School, possibly at their request. CSF had become known as something of a national dumping ground for troublemakers who’d been kicked out of other colleges and whose parents were sending them to the desert to be set straight by the Christian Brothers. Many of those men came to Santa Fe, met and married local girls, and stayed. They sent their kids to St. Michael’s High School. This era of men and women, who graduated in the ‘60s and ‘70s, ran the bingo night at Alumni Hall for decades, raising tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for scholarships.

Point of order: Until its conversion to Laureate books, the legal name of the College of Santa Fe was “the College of the Christian Brothers of New Mexico.” The legal name of St. Michael’s High School is still “St. Michael’s College.”

CSF began admitting girls the same year the name changed. St. Michael’s High School, which was at that point still located downtown on Old Santa Fe Trail, broke ground around the same time on its new campus on Siringo Road, not far from CSF. When the Loretto Academy closed in 1968, St. Michael’s High School also went co-ed. The era saw Brother Luke Roney, president of CSF, head to Chicago to meet with the North Central Association of College and Schools to get CSF nationally accredited as a bonafide degree-granting institution of higher education—not that they hadn’t already been granting degrees.

To a huge number of 1960s alumni from Loretto Academy, St. Michael’s High School, and St. Michael’s College, this all happened just a few years ago.

Santa Fe is a small town. Not everyone is a weirdo hippie artist type; we also have football culture. St. Michael’s High School alumni are a fiercely dedicated and proud bunch. They have numerous reunions. They love their Horsemen, and the Horsemen win, a lot. Until CSF got rid of sports (the first time) in 1986, they were also fiercely dedicated to the Knights, as were many Santa Feans. The basketball team was a big deal but we also had volleyball and tennis, among other sports. CSF also had a frat and sorority culture, which died with sports. When CSF got rid of sports, a major connection between the college and the town was lost, and in some quarters that connection is still actively mourned.

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In the 1970s, social work was the biggest major at CSF. Nursing was also huge. And then Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico, started doing incredible education in social work, and they attracted a lot of students who might otherwise have gone to CSF. And then Santa Fe Community College opened in the early 1980s, and their nursing program was much less expensive, and they attracted a lot of students who might otherwise have gone to CSF.

Other locals headed to UNM in Albuquerque, which was less expensive and in a city, which was appealing to many locals who wanted to spread their wings. The college took a huge hit after the people coming to school on the GI Bill during and after the Vietnam War tapered off.

In the 1980s, the city of Santa Fe was becoming more and more well-known for its art scene. Probably due to this, more and more students who came to CSF from out of state were asking for art classes to complement the liberal arts core. In 1986, art became an official department separate from humanities, chaired by Dick Cook. In 1989, Greg Glazner founded the creative writing program, and in 1990, Joseph Dispenza and some new faculty recruits, Carole Evans among them, founded communication arts, which later became known as moving image arts. (Dispenza was replaced by Jonathan Wacks a few years later.) The theater department had been in existence since the early 1970s; the music department was founded in the late 1980s and became separate from theater in the late 1990s. The documentary studies program was a late entry into the game, founded just a few years before the college closed.

Majors also existed in English, business, various scientific disciplines, psychology, social science, education, theology, and other areas of study. CSF was a liberal arts college that offers a range of majors, including the arts—no different from hundreds of other small liberal arts colleges in the United States. But the number of art majors never equaled the number of students lost in other majors. The enrollment shortfall started 25 years ago and increased in seriousness and severity as other costs increased.

When James Fries officially took over the college presidency in 1987, he wanted to capitalize on the popularity of Santa Fe as an arts and culture tourist destination by opening a sound stage. According to Brother Brian Dybowski, who I interviewed prior to the college’s closure when I was instructed to find work for myself that didn’t cost anything, Fries believed that if he built the Garson Studios, Hollywood would come knocking. He didn’t understand marketing—a blindness that I can attest also cost the college decades of ground in recruitment, since we weren’t playing with the big boys in terms of messaging.

Also, the campus looked like an abandoned Army hospital with some yellow brick buildings on a mud-quad. (There was no grass on the Quad until the early 1990s.) The look of the campus became a more serious issue for recruitment and retention as the general public became more consumer-like regarding college and the creature comforts and opportunities it offered. CSF was always more of a DIY place than that. In the early days, students did their own cleaning and maintenance, including fixing barrack roofs.

Despite some notable early film projects, the film studios didn’t really earn their keep until tax incentives were passed in the state and film and television productions swarmed. No Country for Old Men was filmed at the Garson Studios, as were lots of other films. But it was too late.

The college had no money. The College of Santa Fe has never had any money. There has literally never been a 20-year period that didn’t find the college in danger of closing more than once.

And by the early ‘90s, the Christian Brothers were growing old and dying. The order as a whole was shrinking. More and more lay teachers were hired to fill the ranks, lay teachers who drew nationally competitive salaries that were not donated back to the college as a significant portion of Brothers’ salaries were.

Obviously, there’s more to the story.

*

Next: When you live here, college nostalgia doesn’t exist. CSF is always in your peripheral vision. I live off Siringo Road. On a busy day, I pass the back entrance to the college eight times.

Note: This post was edited on 11/10/2013 to reflect Joseph Dispenza’s role in the formation of the film department at CSF. 

Your Kids are Little and Innocent

09/24/2013 § 14 Comments

Trigger Warning

Dear Parents & People with Kids in Your Lives:

There are so many babies and toddlers on my Facebook newsfeed, some of them just hours old. Look how little they are, even the two- and three- and four-year-olds. They are so little. So very cute with their big heads and wee tiny toes.

My grandmother started molesting me when I was two, maybe two and a half. Probably just after my grandfather died and something clicked-on or clicked-off in her mind that made her look at me and say “I want to make love to that little girl.”

Think about how little I was, how my brain was barely starting to have thoughts of its own, just starting to form memories. My nervous system — the system that regulates how the body interprets threats — was just starting to form and because I was plucked out of bed in the middle of the night by my grandmother and taken to her bed — while my parents trusted her to take care of me, and not, you know, fuck me — my nervous system became permanently calibrated to fear. I am scared all the time. All the time. I am scared of almost everyone and everything. Therapy has helped, but PTSD caused by chronic child abuse is a chronic problem, a mental illness caused by external forces. It can be managed but there is no cure.

I perceive everything as a threat, including what I perceive as threats to the safety of your children — which happens when you post pictures of your kids with captions that make fun of or exploit their bodies for laughs, when you describe their bowel movements for funsies, when you attribute adult sexual motivation to a butt stuck up in the air, when you make fun of their feelings of terror or dismissal and post photos of your kids in hysterics. I often interpret these posts as a need to rescue your child from you, and I judge you for it. Harshly. Even as I pray — and it is the only time I pray — that you are not a monster and there are no monsters lurking in your lives.

This is not about your kid accidentally “seducing” a pervert. This is about you being the kind of parent who won’t notice when a pervert is watching your kid, because your gaze isn’t always parental.

Think about how little your kid is. Think about how little your kid is and then think about someone you trust deciding to take them on as a “lover” for the next eight years.

Why do I phrase it like this? As a “lover” and not call it what it is? Abuse. Sexual predation and assault. Perversion. Pedophilia. Incest.

Because the abusers in our midst don’t think that way. They think it’s love, or maybe they don’t give it a thought beyond their own needs. They want to love your child, or have rights to them as extensions of their own bodies. And a two-year-old seems like a good receptacle for their urges and feelings. Your two-year-old.

If that seems unimaginably sick to you, but you’ve posted pictures of your children that do not honor their personal autonomy or their right to be children, you need to understand how easy it is for your child be kidnapped by wolves (in sheeps’ clothing). You might even watch, laughing, while it’s happening, right in front of you, because you can’t see that the danger is real. It doesn’t just happen to other people’s kids. If that seems sick to you, but you personally know victims of child sexual abuse and refuse to look at their reality in your mind or ever talk to them about what they went through, because it’s too hard for you, you contribute to a culture of silence that makes victims victims all their lives.

When you forget that your child is a real person who will take his/her memories formed now, at two, three, four, five, and grow up into an adult who has to live in the world, the creeps are watching. When you make it clear that you think it’s okay to mock your babies for laughs on the internet, they are watching. And victims are watching too.

Treat your children with respect. The internet is forever. Sexual abuse is forever. Do not give your son or daughter the impression that they can’t come to you with a terrible secret because you’ve been making sex jokes and exploiting their bodies and bowel movements for laughs since before they even knew was a camera was. Just don’t do it. Please. Your kids need you to save them from danger, not to create a home culture where it’s more important to laugh at them with your friends.

I am three here. Which means you are looking at a little girl who is already considered "ruined" by many people, including people I know.

I am three here. Which means you are looking at a little girl who is already considered “ruined” by many people, including people I know.

In the photo above, it is the fourth of July. A parade ran right past our house, so various friends and family members came over for a party. I knew my grandmother was coming over and my parents sent me out to watch for her. I climbed on top of our car to get a better view, because I did not want her to surprise me. My bare legs were getting singed on the hot car hood, and my dad asked if I was okay. I told him I was fine. I told him I liked the way it felt and did not say because it was better than how I felt when I was with my grandmother. To me, bearing the pain proved my worth, my very existence. I was part of the car, the earth, the grounded world, and not part of the never-ending sky where I would explode into a million filaments and cease to be.

Later, when I was little older and knew she was coming over, I would bite myself, sand my face with sandpaper, slam my head against the wall, and even chew on carpet fibers while rubbing my face into the floor as hard as I could. I slammed my hands in drawers. I became non-verbal and surly for hours.

My parents thought I was a moody bitch. Because three-year-olds are known to be super bitchy, I guess.

I was so little.

This Weird Part of My Life Feels Lost in Time…Continued

09/15/2013 § Leave a comment

Read the first part. 

During my freshman year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I met a girl named Lori. She was from suburban Detroit. She had dyed reddish hair and was tall, not pretty but striking. She liked to tell stories about her past. She was what some people might call “a character” and what I eventually learned to call “a compulsive liar.”

My first real boyfriend, Larry, who I dated when I was 16, had had a problem with making up lies whole-cloth and feeding them to people, so I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with the phenomenon, but I hadn’t yet learned to trust my instincts.

Here are some of the things Lori told me about herself in the first few weeks or months I knew her:

  • She was a recovering heroin addict. She’d been shot up at a party a couple of years prior by some guys who tied her to a bed. They “O.D.’d her” and she woke up already completely addicted.
  • She was sleeping with this seriously hot Ukrainian guy whose name I can’t remember (so I’ll call him Eddie).
  • Her grandfather, who was Swedish, had started smoking pot with her when she was five years old, and he’d recently been arrested for trying to send her marijuana through the mail.
  • She’d been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day since she was seven years old.
  • She lost her virginity to her 20-year-old boyfriend when she was 11. They were dating openly. He was her neighbor.
  • She and all her friends back home called ashtrays “knee-trays” and she was sorry that she always asked us to “pass the knee-tray” and then laughed hysterically when we didn’t know what she was talking about.
  • She was sleeping with this seriously hot guy I’d known since my high school days of hanging out with Revolutionary Communists and the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade. I’ll call him Morgan because that was the fake last name we all used to sign into the building with when we went to meetings at the ACLU. (I was 15. Good times.)
  • People in suburban Detroit used to pay her $20 a pop to pack their bowls for them because “you smoke pot long enough and you learn to pack an entire eighth into one bowl so that you can get an entire party.”
  • She used to be a pick-pocket.

Obviously, some of these might have been true, or contained a version of truth, such as the one about the 20-year-old boyfriend who lived next door when she was growing up. At the time, I didn’t know what to make of it other than I thought it was probably not right that he was her “boyfriend,” but I didn’t have the capacity/maturity/ability to talk about him being her friendly neighborhood pedophile. It’s possible she made the whole thing up because she thought it made her sound cool or because she wanted to scare the crap out of other people. Hard to say.

(It would be pointless to question why I was spending my time with her. I didn’t really like her, or trust her, but she invited me to do things.)

One night in October, we held a “rapture party” in the Herman Crown Center dorms because the Christians who passed out notices on the streets were pretty convinced it was coming. We drank Southern Comfort and Dr. Pepper (I know, I know) and Eddie was there. I’d met him only one other time—after which Lori told me she was sleeping with him—but on this night, he was paying a lot of attention to me. Not coming on to me, but flirting in an appealing way: making eye contact, laughing at my quips, smiling at me when other people were talking. Later, we took the El together from downtown to the North Side. He asked me to get off at his stop with him and come over.

I was surprised. Lori made it sound like they were getting pretty serious.

“Aren’t you dating Lori?”

He said he wasn’t, and wanted to know why I thought he was.

“She told me you guys have been…sleeping together.”

“Oh, come on—you’re making that up,” he said. “I thought she was a lesbian.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“I actually do have a girlfriend,” he said. “She’s at another college. But I like you. I would sleep with you. Not Lori.”

He was direct in that way that most American guys never are. I appreciated it, even though it made me queasy with nerves. “I still don’t think it would be a good idea,” I said. “Lori’s my friend and she must really like you.”

Eddie sighed. “Lori lies a lot. Happy Rapture,” he said before he got off the train.

A few weeks after that, I ran into her after our lunch break from figure drawing class. I’d come from lunch with my mother, who worked in the Loop. Lori was sitting on the ground next to the doors of the Museum building. She had her black backpack in her lap.

“How was lunch?” she asked.

“Stupid,” I said. “How about you? Are you okay? Did you smoke a bowl? You’re acting high.”

“I am high, but not the way you think,” she said.

I had a sinking feeling. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I found my old works in my bag, and well, there was some stuff left, and you weren’t around. So…”

“Did you shoot up?” I asked.

She nodded. “Can you babysit me?”

“What do you need?”

“Just keep an eye on me this afternoon and come hang out with me at the Crown Center after class.”

All afternoon, she acted like she was tripping on acid with too much speed in it. She skipped about the studio being kind of loopy, rolling her eyes around a lot and making big arm gestures. Acting like things were “trippy,” which was a hot word back then, usually for people who’d never done any drugs.

Class ended at 4 p.m. and then we walked over to the Crown Center to hang out with the dorm people. They are mostly a faceless mass to me. I haven’t kept in contact with anyone I went to the Art Institute with and can remember just a few first names. What I remember is that after 15 or 20 minutes of being around other people, Lori, poked me in the arm and told me she was starting to come down.

“But when you come down from heroin,” she stuttered out with a tremendous amount of effort, “you’re in withdrawal.” She stared at me with wide eyes, as if she was incapable of blinking. She talked low in her throat, her voice an electrical buzz that came in fits and starts. She went and sat by herself in a corner of the room. I realized that she was just…lying. That she hadn’t shot up that day and had probably never shot up. (A few years later I would see what people were like on heroin and I would know this for sure.)

We spent several hours at the Crown Center; we even went down to the cafeteria and had something to eat. Lori kept up the act the entire time. People would ask her what was wrong and she would silently tilt her head toward me, her eyes still terrified, and I would say “Oh, she used to be a heroin addict and she found some old stuff today and shot up and now she’s coming down. When you come down off heroin, you’re in withdrawal.” I recited that info a dozen times before I took off, knowing I didn’t want to hang out with her anymore.

The next time I ran into my old friend Morgan, I asked him if he was still seeing Lori.

“Who?” he asked.

I offered her last name and described her.

“I don’t know her,” he said. “Why would you think I was dating her?”

“She said you were, or that you’d slept with her.”

“That’s really fucked up,” he said. I thought he meant me. I regretted saying anything. I was being a bitch.

I tried to avoid Lori after that. I screened and didn’t return calls, but we had three classes together, so it was difficult to stay away from her. She noticed, obviously, and tried to make me jealous by parading other friendships in front of me. I continued to feel like I was being unkind, but the sight of her revolted me. The absolute worst day for this was during my Saturday-morning final critique for my 3-D class, which I hated. The professor openly disdained the lot of us because we were painters, photographers, filmmakers, and people who really didn’t belong in art school in the first place, and none of us ever knew what she wanted out of us.

This was the same critique for which that guy I went on a date with the night I met Donovan turned in a congealed blob of ground beef and rice, propped on toothpicks. I think the assignment was to take apart something organic and reassemble it into something geometric. I cut an old pair of jeans into even squares and sewed them, quilt-like, into a circular bag that I thought would make a good purse. The professor said I should have lacquered it in some way to make it stiff, more like a jar or a pot. “Did you consider that?” she asked.

I had not.

I don’t remember Lori’s project, but I do remember that she talked a lot and every time she opened her mouth I felt sick. I was in absolute INNER TURMOIL over thinking she was a liar. It felt mean, like something someone who was a terrible person would do. What was wrong with me that I could come to the conclusion that this girl who wanted to be my friend was so awful? I think I had terrible menstrual cramps that day. I remember lying face down on a bench in the studio and begging myself not to cry or scream.

Winter break arrived, thank God. I spent most of my time with high school friends and then went to New York for a while to visit my dad and step-family. My birthday was in mid-January and I had a party in my one-bedroom in Rogers Park; Lori happened to call me that day and I answered because I hadn’t thought of her in a few weeks and thought I was safe from the phone. But she was back in town, ready to hang out. I told her about the party out of guilt. She acted like an ass the whole time, telling her same stupid stories and acting like I was her best friend. She told huge lies about people I knew from the Art Institute, for no reason other than to have stories to tell. So many of my guests asked me what the hell was wrong with her that I felt much more solid in my dislike and distrust. I decided to stop dealing with her, and if I had to, I was willing to end our friendship in some official way.

A few days after school began again, a mutual friend asked me how my birthday party had been. “Lori said she made eighty dollars packing bowls for your friends,” he said.

“I really can’t hang out with her anymore,” I said.

“I kind of figured she was lying,” he said. “That’s why I asked.”

The last time I heard anything about Lori, it was from some new friends I’d made, two of whom, Katie and Danielle, I subsequently moved in with. All of them had lived in the Crown Center the previous semester. One night, Lori’s name came up. It took me a moment to figure out who they were talking about because they called her “Lorelei.” One of them told the story about how she’d shown up at the Crown Center with a black eye, all flipped out because her dealer from Detroit had sent people to Chicago to beat her up — because she still owed him money for heroin or because they’d been in a pick-pocketing ring together.

“I know this girl,” I said. “And she told me once that her dealer was threatening her, but I saw her practically every day last semester and she never had a black eye.”

So it all came out. They knew about the knee-trays and her childhood lover and her uncanny ability to get paid for sticking weed into a pipe. Chicago is a big city and the Art Institute isn’t small. I never saw or heard from Lori again.

***

I liked living on Halsted with Danielle. It was a centrally located neighborhood with tons to do, with diners and cafés and plentiful cabs. Danielle worked at West Coast Video, on the corner of Halsted and Waveland, at the far north end of Boys Town. She got me a job there, too. Despite the fact that it paid $4.27/hour, it was the best job I ever had.

Video-store culture was so different back then. Customers asked for recommendations, so not only did we have a display near the front counter for staff picks, we also sometimes walked around with people and asked questions to figure out what they might like or be in the mood for. We were allowed to take home any movie we wanted any time. We played whatever movies we wanted—using our own discretion about violence and nudity—on the store monitors. In frequent rotation were The Ruttles, Grease, and Hair. We once acted out Grease in its entirety on a weekday afternoon when the store was slow. We made up arbitrary rules to have some control over the clientele, including charging anyone who came in on roller blades a $5 service fee and creating “dog hour” on Monday nights, during which we set up a safety fence of milk crates so none of them could escape and encouraged people to bring their dogs inside and let them off leash. We also ordered pizza and beer for dinner and paid with it from cash from the register, and this was approved of by the store’s general manager, Stu, who looked EXACTLY like Black Francis from the Pixies. (He could have taken advantage of this fact with the ladies, but to my knowledge, he never did.) It’s possible that he wasn’t doing much good for the store itself, but all of the employees loved him.

JENNIFER’S STAFF PICKS,1993: Trust, This Boy’s Life, Dog Fight, The Man in the Moon, Nice Girls Don’t Explode, Better Off Dead, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, My Own Private Idaho.

Danielle and I, posing for a purposely blurry photo that Katie used for reference for a painting.

Danielle and I, posing for a purposely blurry photo that Katie used for reference for a painting.

At the end of August, Danielle and I woke up one morning to find our kitchen floor covered in maggots. We discovered this after we’d been standing there for a few minutes. Neither of us was wearing glasses or shoes. Danielle dropped a birth control pill on the floor and when she bent down to pick it up, she realized there were small white things all over the black-and-white checkerboard linoleum. There was a lot of screaming. We spent the night at my brother’s loft in Pilsen. We called Katie to tell her what was going on. She was supposed to move in that weekend, and when I was on the phone with her I had a sudden strong wish that she would think this was too gross and decide not to move in with us. Call it a premonition.

I knew Katie from my first-year 2-D class. I’d liked her then but we did not get along as roommates at all. She was uptight about cleanliness and I am a slob. I was also coming into the patterns of thought and behavior that would eventually be diagnosed as PTSD from the rest of my life, and living with someone who seemed to hate the way I existed in the world was a huge, constant trigger. I felt lectured all the time and it felt like she thought I was gross—that I was sloppy and dirty, that I ate too much, that I was pathetic, that she didn’t like my furniture. She pushed my buttons and I did not know how to fight civilly. It was a bad scene.

Katie, SAIC.

Katie, SAIC.

About a month into that fall semester, Donovan decided he was leaving the Art Institute and moving out of Chicago, back home to Minnesota. He was broke and having trouble with roommates and their landlord, who was breaking into their place and stealing their stuff.

By some coincidence, Katie and Danielle, as well as another friend of ours from school and the video store, were all dating guys named Mark. Katie liked to joke that I needed to find myself a Mark. I was very unhappy in a daily way, and I’m sure my roommates got the brunt of it. I really didn’t want to be around them. After Donovan left, I attached myself even more strongly to Mathieu. I had nothing at stake when I was with him. There was always a party, free weed, cute boys around for me to meekly observe, and a big dude to walk me to a cab late at night.

I can almost smell fall in Chicago while I’m writing this. Fall always filled me with nervous anticipation, free-floating longing and a strange nostalgia for things that didn’t seem to have happened yet. It was the fall that River Phoenix died. I was sad about it; Mathieu teased me about it.

Mathieu lived with his boyfriend, a guy his age named Joe. Joe didn’t really hang out with all the boys who came over, and it was unclear whether those boys understood that they were a couple and not just roommates. It’s hard to say whether anyone noticed that it was a one-bedroom apartment. The door to the bedroom was always closed. It was the early ‘90s — hard as it might be to imagine it now — these slightly scrubby-hippie dudes we hung out with might not have been all that cool about it. I really liked Joe. I wondered how he felt about Mathieu’s friends. Mathieu and I didn’t really talk about his relationship. One time he told me that he loved sex, was totally insatiable, and a few months later he told me that he was practically medically frigid and he and Joe barely ever had sex.

After Donovan left, Mathieu started spending time with two guys named Boris and Kevin, and by extension, all their friends. (Boris was not actually Boris’s real name; at freshman orientation some staffer with name tags asked him what he wanted to be called and he said Boris, and it stuck.) They were big drinkers and stoners; Kevin and some of their friends played rugby on Saturday mornings on a field at Loyola. I went with Mathieu. People had flasks and were drunk by noon. This was a new scene for me. There were more parties than ever, bar nights, pool nights, and other times to hang out. I developed a crush on Boris. He had brown hair in a ponytail and puppy-dog eyes. He was a philosophy major, a junior.

There was one night at a party that Boris and I hung out together all night, just ourselves in a window seat in the living room. If he went to the keg, he came back. It was just us two. I’m not sure how many more years it took me to understand that when a guy is willing to ignore the whole party for you, for hours, he likes you. But nothing happened that night. I was scared to flirt, the same way I’d been with Donovan.

The health food store had closed down by then and Mathieu was working for another company, where he’d also gotten Boris a job. The company hosted a holiday party just after Thanksgiving, on a Sunday afternoon with an open bar at Southport Lanes, an old fashioned two-lane bowling alley with guys paid to manually reset the pins. I don’t remember doing any bowling. I remember that people drank enough that the open bar reached its limit and Mathieu started paying for his and Boris’s drinks. At some point, the party was over. It was evening, dark outside. I don’t know where Mathieu was. I was outside with Boris, standing up against a wall. He had his arms around me and I was basically pressed against him and I still wasn’t sure what was happening. And why wasn’t he kissing me?

He asked me what was wrong. I think I was really fussing and fretting. I told him in a very frustrated way that I wanted to kiss him. “Then you should kiss me,” he said. So I did. “That was easy, right?” he said when we finished. And then,  “Mathieu said you were weird about guys, but I thought he meant something else. I should have just kissed you first. A long time ago.”

We went back up to Rogers Park, to Mathieu’s house. I sat on the floor with Boris, which seems like a weird place for us to have been sitting. There were a lot of people there and the music was loud. At some point I got very thirsty and I asked Boris if I could drink his water. He handed me his cup and I took a few gulps. He laughed because it was actually straight vodka on ice.

That night, on my cab ride home I saw three car accidents on Lake Shore Drive.

A few nights later, Mathieu broke the painful news to me: Boris was seeing someone else, a girl he’d met just days before the party where we kissed. I was angry and hurt. I was so miserable that semester.

***

To be continued…

This Weird Part of My Life Feels Lost in Time

09/10/2013 § 2 Comments

September 1992, Freshman Comp at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. A girl who hadn’t been in class the first week showed up at the beginning of the second.

We sat around a rectangle of long tables. She was across from me, between two guys who’d been there the week before and with whom I had other classes. They were flirting with her hard and she was more than humoring them, turning her head back and forth, laughing, giving them each equal time, with a broad, friendly smile on her face. Anyone who’d spent any time in the world could tell you that neither of them had a chance with her, and that this girl had never been in a room where at least two men weren’t overtly trying to win her. I had never seen a girl like her, nor had I ever understood something so quickly about a stranger.

She reminded me of a swan, with a long gorgeous neck that swiveled easily. Her skin was neither pale nor tan but a golden hue that shimmered even from across the tables. She had dark blond hair cut short, like a boy’s, and enormous navy eyes with long, fanning lashes. She was probably wearing a face full of makeup but she came across as an effortless natural beauty, like a model from a Cover Girl commercial. I was too young to know that looking like this can be its own burden.

I wasn’t jealous, exactly, but I was suspicious. Looking back, this is meaningful because I have spectacularly bad judgment when it comes to forming friendships with and trusting women. I am easily charmed by friendliness and openness, and having someone else be the one boys like never bothered me, because I was always the friend of that person. It was my natural role. Back then, I was attracted to bad girls—girls who said what they thought and take certain kinds of dares; girls who made their own fun and made the boys pay attention. Girls who were constitutionally averse to passivity.

I watched her throughout class. When spoken to or speaking she smiled that model smile, but when no one was looking it was obvious she was giving all her attention to the class discussion, that she could be serious. She offered opinions that day—wrapped in her sprightly, impish grin—and made eye-contact with me more than once to imply agreement with something I’d said. I hoped we’d be friends. But by the next class session, a couple of days later, she was gone and she didn’t come back. Somehow I knew that she hadn’t just dropped the class, but  that she’d dropped out of school.

***

When I was 17, 18, 19 I worked at Morse Street Market, a health food store in Rogers Park. Having older friends at that job was crucial to getting through the end of high school. Once I graduated, I was automatically inducted into the neighborhood party scene, which was broader than just the work parties I’d been invited to the year before. We lived in the neighborhood of Loyola University. There were parties upon parties upon parties to go to, and my permanent date was a 34-year-old produce manager named Mathieu. He was 6’2”, gay, black and dread-locked, and generous with his hash. Essentially, he was the perfect friend.

I spent almost every weekend with Mathieu and this guy I liked, Donovan. He worked stock and produce at the Market and was a year older than me. He also went to the Art Institute. The year before, when I was still in high school, another co-worker, Dianne, who knew him from the neighborhood, had wanted to set me up with him, but he’d had a girlfriend. I finally met him that fall at a party to which I’d taken a date, some guy from my 3-D class who’s asked me out. He was really impressed that I knew of a party to go to, but he was a dud. (He didn’t make it through the first year, and his final project for 3-D involved overcooked ground beef and rice, balanced on tooth picks. It was disgusting. It was not art.)

At the party, Dianne introduced me to Donovan and made sure I understood that this was the guy she’d wanted to set me up with. His girlfriend was adorable. She had red dreadlocks.

Later that spring, Donovan came to work at the Market. I’d been informed by Dianne that his girlfriend was gone. I’d also started running into him at school and on the El. Sometimes we talked on the phone. It wasn’t long before I was completely smitten, in love with him in an e all-encompassing one-sided way. I mean, I was desperately in love with him. he was funny, sweet, and kind to me. Looking back, the prospect of spending time with him must have been what led me to start hanging out with Mathieu so much that summer, after my first year of college.

Back then, I didn’t drink. I didn’t like beer or the cheapo wino wine kids drank in high school, and I hadn’t yet developed a taste for liquor, except for tequila shots, but Mathieu seemed to think that tequila shots were for wild girls and with him I was not a wild girl. Mathieu and Donovan preferred Jim Beam and club soda.

It seems impossible now, but during the year or so I hung out with Mathieu, I didn’t talk much, at least not when we were with other people. Mathieu and I eventually spent quite a bit of time alone. i was his sidekick. Work people and Loyola kids came by all the time to smoke pot and listen to music. When Donovan was there, I sat next to him and did everything I could to simultaneously convince him, via ESP, that I liked him and he liked me, and not show any physical sign that I was intentionally flirting with him.

I have no idea what this was about. I’ve always been somewhat shy and afraid of rejection, so therefore afraid to be perceived as flirting, but this particular crush was intense in that regard, even for me. I loved this guy, and I was desperate for him to know yet terrified of him ever finding out. This madness mounted and mounted for me all that summer, culminating in a, surely, terribly embarrassing letter confessing my love for him.

***

I wasn’t happy in Art School or in Chicago. I was tired of dealing with my old friends from high school and they were tired of dealing with me. Everyone I really cared about had gone away to college, whereas I had stayed in the city and gotten my own apartment. But I was lonely and there was a lot of violence in my neighborhood. A pizza delivery man was shot and killed in the courtyard of my building. I was followed home from the El at night, and in general the El was filled at all hours with men jerking off and/or yelling at me about how I should appreciate how attractive they found me. (That’s a bit of hyperbolic summary, but let’s just say that lack of street harassment and public transport-masturbators is basically the number-one perk of not living in a real city.)

I had come to realize that I hated studying visual art. I hated artists, or I hated being surrounded by nothing but artists. I liked so few of my classmates and so few of my teachers that I knew I had to go to another school, and it was the realization that my required comp and lit classes, as well as my creative writing electives, that were the most exciting to me, that drove me to seek out a college where I could major in creative writing. I applied and was accepted to the College of Santa Fe for the spring 1994 semester.

Midway through the summer, I moved out of Rogers Park and down to Boys Town, to the corner of Halsted and Buckingham, over a French/Italian restaurant called Ooh La-La. I was to live with two girls I knew from school, Katie and Danielle, for my final semester at the Art Institute. Katie was still out in the suburbs at her parents’ house, so I was alone with Danielle for the month of August. I liked Danielle very much. She was from Tennessee and very relaxed about herself; just a genuinely nice and non-neurotic person, though I’m fairly certain she’d disagree with that description.

August in Chicago is a time of street fairs. What they now call Market Days but back then was just called the Halsted Street Fair took place right underneath our apartment—a million people (give or take) dancing to a DJ in the intersection out our front windows. RuPaul was there. There was also a giant blow-up pair of Girbaud jeans. For putting up with the noise that went on for two days without stopping, Danielle and I were each given a free pair of jeans—and we deserved them, because it was really hard to live that way, even for a weekend, but we also had a blast. We took the screens out of the windows and sat with our legs hanging onto the front of the building, watching the sea of people and participating from above. And we had people over.

Mathieu and Donovan were there. I was at a point with Donovan where I felt like he had to know how I felt. A few days before the street fair, I sent him the letter. I figured he’d get it on a certain day, so I timed a call to ask him over for the street fair for before he’d get it. However, I was wrong. He accepted my invitation to come over and then thanked me for my letter.

“I got it today. It was really nice of you. It was a really good letter.”

“Oh,” I said, not knowing what on earth he might mean by this. “Thank you?”

“The thing is, I’m back together with Eva.”

Eva was a beautiful single mother, about 24, who shopped at Morse Street Market. Her baby was beautiful, too. For some of the time that I’d liked Donovan, they’d been a couple but they’d broken up earlier that summer. He told me it had happened the last night before I moved out of Rogers Park, the night when he’d inexplicably refused to walk me home and I wound up getting chased down my street by two guys who pulled over into an alley and got out of the car to pursue me on foot. I had a good head start and I got away, but it was certainly a fitting farewell to the neighborhood I was leaving because I never felt safe.

“I want to talk to you about this, though,” Donovan said. “We can talk on Saturday when I see you,” he said.

***

Until the time we had maggots in  the kitchen, that apartment on Halsted was so nice. Wood floors, big windows, good neighborhood. We could walk around without male accompaniment late at night without feeling threatened. If we ever got chased, we reasoned, we’d just run into the nearest gay bar. Problem solved.

Mathieu came over with Donovan and a few new college guys I didn’t know. Mathieu was being a showman, acting like I was his best friend in the world, introducing me to the new people. it was disconcerting. They seemed nice enough; I just wasn’t used to hosting the random Loyola students and unused to Mathieu calling attention to me. It made me tongue-tied. Donovan sat next to me on the couch.

“So, I’m kind of mad at you,” he said. He didn’t really sound mad, but he also didn’t sound like he was kidding.

“Why?”

“Because you were supposed to tell me how you felt earlier.”

“What do you mean?” I wish I could remember what I felt when this was happening, but all I can remember are the words.

“I mean, I like you. I’ve liked you. I gave up and then Eva asked me to get back together. I know I wasn’t supposed to do anything about it, but this sucks. And you’re moving away, anyway.”

“I still don’t understand.” I understood that he was dating someone else, so this was all theoretical. I must have felt crushed. And stupid, because I was moving away. I had no right to be laying anything on him.

“Mathieu said that you liked me, but you were, like, weird about guys? And that if I came on to you that might think I was trying to rape you, so I should let you make the first move. And that you would. But you never did. I didn’t want to scare you.”

I must have felt like my stomach had fallen out of my body.

I’d never had any kind of conversation with Mathieu about having been raped or assaulted or traumatized. I have no idea where he would have gotten ideas in this area.

“That’s not true,” I said.

We sat there for a while without talking. Donovan held my upper arm in an awkward way that felt protective, even defensive, of me. Mathieu was in the window talking to other people.

“I’m starting to think that guy’s about 98% bullshit,” Donovan said.

“Really?” I did, too. And this new thing, though I’d already dissociated from it in order to keep hanging out with Mathieu, proved it.

“He hangs out with us because he knows us from work. But who are these guys? He’s 34 and all of his friends are in college. He meets them at parties. That’s fucking weird.”

I sort of saw his point, but I wasn’t sure I understood the problem.

***

To be continued.

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