My mother tells me when I was a shy little girl in kindergarten, I wrote a story about a gumball machine, apparently comparing the little round balls of varying colors to people in the world. I'd share the poem with you, but my mother wasn't exactly the type of parent who kept those kinds of things. No little shoebox of priceless memories or scrapbooks full of photos for her. I'm guessing she read it, smiled, then rolled something into the tiny piece of paper and smoked it.
It was the 70's, after all.
I should note, my mother is the type of mother who would, years later, wake me with a three a.m. phone call, "I just had the best idea for a porn movie!!" What followed was a three hour trip to a local store the next day, where I was horrified to find the toy dolls made for young girls now look suspiciously like whores. Out of this shopping adventure came a three page script for a movie that could only be described as Barbie-Porn.
Some years after the gumball poem but prior to the porn, I was a ten year old Catholic School girl. Each week we were required to check something out from the library, making sure to carry the book to every class in case we had free time that period. We had to read it, as Sister Eugenia would occasionally give us a pop quiz, and unfortunately this particular nun was familiar with the entire collection in the small library.
I checked out The Diary of Anne Frank. It made a huge impact on me, because I related to her. I was about her age. I could be her. I could rage against the horrors of a life lived in secret. I, too, could be remembered long after I was gone.
I asked for and was given a diary to record my own juvenile thoughts. My entries were decidedly less awe-inspiring than Anne's.
July 9, 1978
We went on vacation and it was nice, except there was a strange smell in the VW van the entire trip from something Mom and Dad were smoking. She said they were ‘herbs'.
(note to self: look up the definition of herbs)
At the Grand Canyon I was surprised that the railing to keep you from falling was so small. Resi ran right up and swung from it, but I stayed back. I don't know why but suddenly I thought one of my family members might push me over the edge. Could that happen? I don't think any of them are THAT crazy, but the idea would not leave my head, so I stayed back while they all looked.
(p.s. I do not trust them.)
Then we went back to the campground and while Mom and Dad took a nap, Resi and I played with two brothers named Nick and Roger. Roger asked me if I knew what a ‘blow job' was.
(note to self: Ask Mom what a blow job is.)
July 12, 1978
My parents are horrible, horrible people. I must be adopted!!! Resi asked Dad what a blow job was and he said "What the hell?" and his face got all red and he pulled the VW van over and got out. I hid under my pillow in the back seat and cried, so Mom told me and Resi what it was. My parents are GROSS!! She said when two people love each other, they do certain things. I said "Gross things..." and she said, "Come back and tell me how you feel about it when you're thirty." I told her she was going to hell and so was Dad. Resi just asked if she brushed her teeth after. My sister is so stupid. I hate my family!!!!!!!!!!! ...And I am stuck in this van with them for three more days.
Then came high school and a plethora of very unmemorable material which could only qualify as melodrama. Sappy, unrequited love story type of stuff that now would cause my lunch to take a sudden u-turn, heading back from whence it came. I am often reminded of that writing when I talk to my Nanna, because she's always watching something or other on Lifetime Television for Women.
Next came the dark period. I cannot recall what these stories were about either, except to say that after reading some of them, my father had one comment. "Jennifer, must everything you write be so... maudlin?"
I had to look up maudlin, and thus began another unfortunate chapter in my writing life. My obsession with the dictionary and thesaurus.
….which spawned my poetry phase.
It was not pretty, but in my defense, I thought everything was supposed to rhyme.
As I matured, I began paying attention to the world around me. I started to listen.
This is where my interest in characters developed. Stories do not move me as much as the people in them do. How they speak, what they say, what they aren't saying. I became obsessed with the news, memorizing banter and rewriting it in my head, in an effort to make it more entertaining.
"I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're here in the CNN news room where we've got breaking news to report. We are getting information that a young girl has fallen into the basin of the Grand Canyon. As you can see on our live feed, there is a helicopter flying over the site and our own Anderson Cooper is at the scene. Anderson, what you are seeing?"
"Yeah, Wolf, I'm here in Arizona and if you look behind me you'll see... well the side of a building, actually. We are some seven miles from where a young girl has apparently fallen five thousand feet below the rim, into the basin of the canyon. Canyon View Information Plaza is the parks' visitor facility where the press has been cordoned off and we are awaiting news from the recovery teams."
"What a horrible, horrible tragedy. Anderson, thanks for that... Now we've got our own Sanjay Gupta, another member of the best news team on television to help us with this. Sanjay, what can you tell us about a body that might fall some five thousand feet? What kinds of injuries would we expect to find?"
"Well, Wolf, with a fall from that distance, the better question is what injuries wouldn't we expect to find. If you look at this mock up I've got here, you'll see that the skull, which protects the human brain, is not made to withstand a fall of this kind. It is probably safe to assume this is a recovery effort, at best. What they'll be looking for are small pieces, rather than large ones. Think of a watermelon falling from a ninety story building, and you'll get a clearer idea of what we're dealing with here. On a positive note, it's likely somewhere after falling but prior to landing, one would have a heart attack. Death would be quick... in either case."
"Yes, Wolf, I'd say instantaneous."
"Thanks, Sanjay, for that. Sanjay Gupta, MD. And now we turn to Rob Marciano with a look at the weather these recovery teams will be dealing with. Rob, how's it looking out there?"
"Wolf, unfortunately Mother Nature is brewing up a nasty storm directly over the Grand Canyon right now. Satellite imaging shows the center of this unprecedented weather event will really start pounding the area in about forty-five minutes. So, whatever they're scraping up from that basin... they'd better make it quick. Storms in this area don't usually spur tornadoes, so this will be one for the record books, folks. I don't think I have to tell you what a mess it could be. Think of the large cylinder of wind and rain dipping into that basin and churning the whole canyon bed into something that might resemble the contents of a Cuisinart. Messy, messy stuff... Wolf?"
"Just a bad, bad situation. Thanks Rob. Rob Marciano, CNN meteorologist and another member of the best team on television. At the top of the hour we'll join Lou Dobbs, what have you got for us tonight, Lou?"
"Thanks, Wolf. Tonight the topic is illegal immigration and this administrations' blatant inability to get things done. They are incapable of intelligent thought or action--"
"--Lou, I'm going to have to stop you there... We've got an update..."
Then came my Victorian Era. Nudged on by the writings of Oscar Wilde, I wanted to be someone who could, say, describe the fetid contents of a backed up community toilet, making it sound clever and slightly appealing. I wanted to be Oscar Wilde.
...wearing a corset, of course.
Lady Cicely Brighton, her pale face chiseled of nobility, knocks on the door of young Julia Bourget as the maid, Miss Leaf, flutters nearby, worried her mistress will not be amused by the visit from the older woman.
"Julia, do let me in at once. I must see you." Lady Brighton kicks one of the three King Charles spaniel's that occupy the dark hallway where she impatiently waits.
When no response is heard, Lady Brighton simply opens the large oak door, entering the bedroom, Miss Leaf ringing her hands close behind. "The lady wouldn't take no for an answer, miss..."
"Never mind, Leaf. That will be all." The red-rimed eyes and mottled face color give away the fact that the young woman had been crying all night.
Miss Leaf shoots a withering look in the direction of Lady Brighton, who merely winks at the old woman as she takes her leave.
"I'm sorry for it all, Julia. But, better to learn now that he prefers a bugger up his arse before you find yourself knickers deep in nappies." Lady Brighton shudders at the inconceivable notion. "That would be tragic."
The younger woman begins to sob, pulling the antique duvet cover to her puffy eyes, finally blowing her nose into it with a great trumpet. "I will never marry, Lady Brighton! Never! It was--" Julia covers her face, unable to speak more of the tragedy of the previous night.
Lady Brighton does not even bother to hide her obvious distaste. "--unseemly... yes. Two men in any configuration is quite laborious with their large indolent hands wandering about without direction."
Julia, a mass of hysterical dry-heaving, recalls the events of the previous night. "I am sick! It was vile!"
Lady Brighton pats the young woman on the head with as much affection as she'd previously given the dogs in the hall. "Shhh now. Cyril Vane is what he is. A big poof of an actor, slightly too primped and powdered. He has his station in life. Who else will entertain us on stage but the dandies and the objectionable? Now, come, get dressed. Let me take you out. We'll get a table at the Grovsenor and Sage will join us in her boy clothes. My husband and his friends are sure to be there for tea... He will be so un-amused."
Lady Brighton leads her young ward to the dressing room, leaning in very close to caress her cheek. She chooses a lilac dress, handing it to Julia. "Here, this is lovely. And maybe a hat..."
Julia undresses, stands in her underclothing in front of a mirror, while from behind, another woman enters, dressed in the male accoutrement of the day.
She whispers, still unnoticed by Julia, "Julia, how are you? I am so sorry... Cicely told me about--"
Julia spins around to face Lady Brighton. "--you did not!"
Lady Brighton, rather matter of fact, tosses the lilac dress on a nearby chaise, sitting next to it as she lights a cigarette. "Of course I did. It was the most amusing thing that happened the whole day, why wouldn't I?"
"Cicely..." Sage chastises, glaring at Lady Brighton.
Julia stares from one woman to the next, a fresh round of sobbing due at any moment, "Maybe Cyril could be reformed..." Her voice quavers.
Sage shoots Lady Brighton a look and receives one in kind: horrified for amused. But it is the deep-throated chuckle which comes after, from Lady Brighton, which starts Julia's sobbing again in earnest. "My dear Julia, the only way a woman can ever reform a man is by boring him to death."
Sage now seems rather irritated by the entire conversation. "Do you really want to go through life wondering if your husband is out hunting or bent over in the stables with the valet up his bum?"
Julia now focuses her sadness into the more blunt instrument of anger. "Do try and be less vulgar..."
Sage continues to trod heavily, "Less than Cyril bent over the makeup table?"
Lady Brighton chuckles in a deep baritone usually reserved for males, but it is Sage who is the recipient of the blistering gaze sent her way from Julia.
Sage appears stung. "I am only worried about you." She swivels, yelling at Lady Brighton, who is busy blowing dainty smoke rings into the air. "What have you done to her?"
"I've done nothing. Seeing Cyril Vane being entered by a poorly costumed Mercutio has obviously scarred her delicate psyche."
"Did you take her backstage knowing what you would find?" The accusatory tone in Sage's question requires Julia to now focus on Lady Brighton.
The older woman answers, with not a hint of regret. "I'd heard rumor about that particular dandy's fascination with young boys, but only because my husband brings home the most marvelous stories about acquaintances that he is only too happy to share."
"It was cruel. A cruel thing to do."
Lady Brighton stands, caressing Julia's cheek. "I'm afraid some women appreciate cruelty. Downright cruelty more than anything else, wouldn't you agree, Sage?" Lady Brighton smiles wickedly at the artist wearing boy clothes. "...now do be a dandy and fetch me a brandy..."
Today, as a writer, I must ponder life's sores, or push the occasional bruise.
My pen is my sword and I wield it with gusto, it is rarely sheathed.
I have something to say and I need you to listen, hopefully without the use of restraints.
But mainly, I write to laugh at the ridiculous when I might otherwise be inclined to, say, strap on a bomb and take a road trip to visit Karl Rove at his summer home. Needless to say, I don’t believe he’s gotten quite what he deserves out of life, just yet.
But I’d be happy to remedy that.