The birds are back, which means Patty is coming home soon.

In the realm of absurd auguries, despite the habits of the ancient Romans, this is about as silly as it gets. Even for me, who does believe in and live to all sorts of signs and symbols, it really doesn't make much sense.

For one thing, there's no particular past or pattern to base this on; all of Patty's other digs have been in the summer when the birds are there before she leaves, while she's gone and after she comes back. For another, our bird issue is particularly crazy; this isn't about flight patterns.

In fact, despite my affinity for birds, they're sort of our enemy. There's an owl that lives in the tree outside our window and a woodpecker that pecks on the side of our building, and a hell of a lot other other birds that make weird noises -- loud and angry -- that wake us at all hours.

And sometimes the birds stare.

I wake up before Patty most days and sort of murmur at her about stuff in the world, and one day I mentioned that there were starlings on the fire escape looking in at us.

"Nooooo," she said. "Creepy."

So I sat up and scared them and then wrapped myself around her and told her I was protecting her from the birds.

"Good," she said in a little puff of breath. "Thank you, my darling."


Over time, the bird narrative has become weirder; once, we saw sparrows on the street eating the remains of fried chicken. It bothered me, even though people are mammals who eat other mammals and that doesn't make us cannibals, so surely it can be the same for the avian kingdom.

"Cannibal birds," I noted.

"Yuck," Patty said.

And meanwhile, birds kept coming to stare in our window.

"Pervert birds," she said.


One day, she called me into our office. "Honey?" she said, sounding a bit disturbed.

"Yeah?" I hollered as I got up from my desk in our bedroom.

"There's a woodpecker!"

And sure enough, there was one of our many bird enemies, the woodpecker, pecking on our window.

"I think the birds like you," I said, and from there, I made up stories.


You see, the birds in our neighborhood are fundamentalist cultist birds, who believe Patty is their queen, and they come to visit her and watch her and wait to see when she will take up the mantle of fundamentalist cultist bird leadership. And it's my job to protect her.

When the birds wake us up at weird hours, I tell her about their plans, and how I will protect her.

We decided that in Oman on her dig, she'd be safe. The birds there aren't cultist fundamentalist birds, just normal birds, and it would be too hard for our crazy Central Park exile birds to get them a message.

So Patty went to Oman, safe from birds, and winter came here in NYC and the birds that were watching her went away.

But it's spring now, and the birds are back. I watch them hop on the fire escape, still fat from winter, and I think they're cool because I like birds (they're weird), even though I know they are actually secretly and insidiously waiting for the return of their bird queen.

But who can blame them really? So am I.
As has been the case with most things in my life, the baby eating didn't start out as an obsession. Hell, it didn't even start out as a big deal. Growing up on the Upper East Side, you just do things like that. I mean, you wouldn't believe how many over-priced beauty products contain animal placenta either.

Maybe, at the beginning, I was trying to fit in, because I just didn't. Ever. At all. I was a weird kid, and even weird about my baby eating, preferring to swallow them whole in a some sort of reptilian fashion, or, once I got good in the kitchen, fashioning the babies into smaller, baby-shaped flesh forms. Because, seriously, if you're going to engage in baby eating, you've got to do it with class, style and flair (I have standards about this, and will mock you if you're just going to drink their blood or whatever -- that's incredibly lazy, and, let's face it, pedestrian).

Of course, awkward and weird or not, baby consumption does put me in some pretty elite company. What with notorious killers, sundry demons and a range of mythological creatures. And hell, let's not forget Cronos and his baby-swallowing ways, although that didn't work out too well for him. More recently, however, baby eating has been endorsed by Jonathan Swift in his 1729 essay, A Modest Proposal.

In fact, when one examines the entire history of baby eating (and why confine this research to just the humanoid? A remarkable number of creatures in the animal kingdom also engage in baby-eating, and I hear young doormice are, in fact, quite tasty) it's pretty much, pretty clearly, entirely The Best Thing Ever.

Which of course, is why I'm so terribly awesome, and wracked with nostalgia for the days when baby consumption was a standard aspiration of both the well-heeled and social climbers alike. Of course, by being interested in traditions passing out of the world, I can only hope to have a hand in reviving ones such as this.

A purpose for which I find catchy advertising slogans (a skill learned from my father) come in handy in quite remarkable a fashion.

So let's remember: Babies! They're not just for breakfast anymore!
Growing up, one of my friends was the daughter of the meanest man in show business, and so she took me and a few other kids to the opening night of 42nd Street on Broadway. I was eight, and, knowing I would get to go backstage after, my parents bought me an autograph book for the occasion.

You collect signatures. This is what you do.

The night is fuzzy in recollection, a strange mix of longing and fear and sex and a sense of adults laughing at me. I remember my friend's father announcing Gower Champion's death and girls in pink feathers tap dancing on giant dimes and the set for Shuffle Off to Buffalo.

I also remember backstage after: people crying, lots of noise, kissing, a chorus girl in little more than stockings laughing at me as she signed my book and folded the page across to make it easier for me to open to the next, a man running up the stairs, the yellow light of old-fashioned bulbs, Wanda Richert letting me touch her tap shoes, and the way I was too scared to do anything but smile slyly at Jerry Orbach as I hoped the devil really was just like him.

What I don't remember from that night is my friend or the world to which I was supposed to be tethered.

After, the autograph book went into a shoe box and the shoe box went under my computer desk, and I didn't think of it again until I turned twelve, until I hit puberty, until I fell in love with men on the television and started doing things like saving my allowance to buy Tiger Beat magazine.

My parents told me about the books of signatures they both kept as children.

You write away for autographs. This is what you do.

So I wrote fan letters and wouldn't allow my mother to check them for spelling. I surreptitiously slipped photos of myself in with the careful notes and it was, largely, not out of some tiny adolescent need to somehow be desired. Mostly, I just wanted to be seen and to be real.

Post cards came. Signed by actors or assistants, I didn't really know. By and large, I couldn't bear to look at them, lest the pictures see me blushing and remember me as the eight-year-old fascinated by the legs of a half-naked chorus girl, and so the postcards went into the shoe box and the shoe box went back under the computer desk, even if sometimes, I slipped out of bed late at night to choose something from it to slip under my pillow as I slept.

My mother asked if I was keeping the book up, since it might all be worth something some day.

You have to keep it neat and save it for a long time. This is what you do.

By the time I was fifteen, I had gotten a little smarter, a little more self-possessed, and I still wrote fan letters, but by then it was to go on about a performance or a character or a role.

It didn't matter, though. The same postcards came, went into the same shoe box and never, ever, I think, snuck out again. My words didn't matter and neither did the postcards.

Then Sam Neill sent me a letter. From New Zealand. After I'd written him about his performance in Amerika. It was probably one of the first fan letters the man ever got, and he wrote me a kind and flattered note and enclosed an autographed snapshot, and I laughed for days, never sending him a thank you note, because it seemed odd to thank someone just for being nice.

In the twenty or so years since then, I've met a lot of famous people. I've shaken hands with Bill Clinton and David Bowie and worked with people from Kathy Lee Gifford to Nicole Kidman. Sometimes we've exchanged a word or two, sometimes we've talked for ages trapped in a car or on a set together, and none of it matters, not really.

But it's given me very specific feelings about celebrity, about autographs, about a night in the maze of the Winter Garden dressing rooms when I was eight, and about desire too.

All of which can sometimes make my life at cons, which I do both for fun and professional reasons, very complicated, at least inside my own head.

I pretty much never get on the autograph lines or pose for pictures. And it's not that I don't see the point; it's that I see it all too clearly.

The book goes in the box and the box goes under the desk. This is what you do.

Because the fact is no one really cares about the autograph. Not anymore. Not in this modern world.

They care about that smile turned on them for twenty seconds, and they care about that hand resting on the small of their back for five and they care about being seen and made real by someone who both is and isn't.

I don't begrudge anyone that. I know it well, know the longing of it in my bones in a way that's nearly shameful, know a hundred fantasies of being seen and chosen and elevated, and know that maybe if I just had the balls or a certain lack of self-consciousness or even a surety of place in the hierarchy of such things (fan or pro, but not both, not semi-) that some of those stories could and might come true for me, at least just a little.

But I'm shy. Of pictures, of my shaking hands, of my faltering smile, of people who give off bright light and whose job it is to twinkle at me for just a moment, because somehow I am still eight.

Ask nicely. In a soft voice. This is what you do.

I can't go to cons without navigating this, without agonizing over where I opt out and where I opt in, and without berating myself for all the ways in which I get involved in the narrative of the process both intellectually and emotionally.

I saw 42nd Street the night it opened, and I'm still wearing the murky light strangers turned on me when I was eight-years-old.

When I come home from cons my mother asks after celebrities she doesn't care about by their first names, hoping that her daughter got autographs, yes, but also hoping that she somehow got chosen.

Because this is what you want, and this is what you do.

Except that it isn't. Not for me and not like that.
Love means all sorts of things. Like truth and fear, wings and the earth. If you're very lucky, love also means never having to say any of it, even as you know it's welcome and somehow waiting to be heard.

And me? Well, I'm mostly very lucky. At least out here in this corporeal world. But not always, not everywhere, because there's this woman named Annie, and she isn't real, and it wasn't me she married anyway. But god and the devil, have I been fucked up over her.

I made her up, you see. Wrote her. Fourteen years in three hours, and I couldn't breathe when I was done.

It wasn't unfamiliar, because this is what I do, and I can name you so many names, characters both original and borrowed. And Lord knows, I've loved a lot of them, brutally, covetously and full of guilt. I've loved them into their graves, loved them to lick their tears, and loved them simply to hook their fingers into mine.

The litany of secret names I have chanted in sorrow and fear, in boredom on my morning trains, and in simple numb exhaustion on late-night buses, is long. And, no matter how much you think you could guess at the syllables and the way they must shape my distracted mouth, you'd probably miss, by a wide mark. I'm grateful for that small privacy, although sometimes the order of things even surprises me.

Mostly, I only keep my decency because you simply just don't know the names. You're less likely to have read my original fiction than my fanfiction, and so you don't know B3n and Paul and Heather, Gabriel, Elaine, John, and so many men named Marten. But I know them, have known them, all along my bones for a long time now. They wait with me, through my life, ducking sometimes into trees and shadow.

Annie's different, though. Annie, to be frank, freaks me right the fuck out, but she'd laugh at that, say she was harmless and stand in the sun shaking her hair out with a fury. She always scolds with it somehow.

Annie, you see, is an original character in a piece of goddamn fanfiction I wrote once, but I mourned for days once I'd mapped the shape of her life closed, as if she'd somehow been mine, and trust me we all know, she hadn't.

It was, I freely admit, a bit nuts. More than a bit nuts.

I stumbled through phone calls, trying to explain the unfairness of those mere three hours, and the sheer exhaustion of them, of a whole life in my head like a picture book and only space on the page for the appropriately melodic parts.

It was so strange. Still is. Because I know everything about her, things I don't even know how to describe, a vast sea of inadequate nouns, and it still feels like a shitty cheat.

Because I am a writer and I should do better; because I know her and yet, she doesn't know me, and well, isn't that just a little awkward?

Once, on her birthday, I lit a candle in memory and sang an old-time tune full of the sort of nasal eeriness that suits my voice and realized that she would laugh at me. After all, I wasn't her husband, wasn't her dead brothers, wasn't anyone she'd ever have been friends with, but since I'd written them all too in some fashion, I was the only one there to take to the task, a fact I hope she'd tolerate. I wonder, sometimes, if she'd thank me for her folk, if she knew.

Love in all my worlds, thanks be, means never having to say any of this makes the slightest bit of goddamned sense. And Annie, if nothing else, would certainly agree with that. Silently. Smirking. And full of lies.
There is a tattoo I do not have, and it is of a compass rose.

No great drama about why I don't have it. Time. Money. Impetus. Placement.

I want it, my own true north, on the inside of my right arm, where the skin is soft and pale, and, in another time and place, hidden. But my arm is too small for even the simplest design to show without becoming muddy, even now, even after becoming an athlete.

It's not something I'm particularly tortured about; there are a lot of tattoos I don't have: stylized marks of black leaping rabbits, a fleur di lis.

I don't worry about it. Not really. I have three tattoos. Maybe one day I'll have more, maybe one day I won't.

Tattoos for me are a funny thing. They aren't about art, so much as they are stamps on a passport, or as a friend once joked, the marks the aliens left when they dropped me back off. An inch or two here or there cut away to tell you a story, to hand you a riddle.

Because the stories are hidden. My kokopelli has nothing to do with kokopelli; it is the mark of the shape I make when I sleep, curled on my side, the art of nesting dolls.

The question mark and two exclamation points on my ankle make up, I say, my "what the fuck?!?" tattoo. And it is, but I can't tell you how many people have seen it and asked if it was a particular Crowley reference. Well, it wasn't at the time. But then, things happen in strange order.

My first tattoo was a crop circle design, which I got for fondness and circumstance, but people always mistake for DNA.

My body is covered in lies and evasions.

The compass rose wouldn't really be any different, because while there are a billion pretty ways to say it, at its simplest and most base it would represent my years in the Harry Potter fandom and the way I learned my most desirable qualities were often those I had assumed to be the most unpleasant.

I stitched myself together in those years out of want and solitariness, and I became not just a finer thing, but a sharper one. That's the price I think, when you go on these journeys alone.

But the mark won't fit on my arm and maybe never will. Yet it doesn't stop me thinking about it, doesn't stop me thinking about it like it's mine, like it's a code, like it's a secret, no matter how many times I tell all of you all about it.

There is a woman I know who wants to have a baby. Maybe she will and maybe she won't. Life's like that, and it isn't kind, I've found, to do certitude for anyone but yourself.

Anyway.

One day she'll have a baby, and it will be incumbent upon me to make a grand gesture. It's not important why, it's just how it is, in part because grand gestures are what I do -- I think it's why I always like the anti-heroes with the big flappy coats (and hey, did I ever tell you about the time I took a bus to Texas to go to my girlfriend's wedding? Now that was a grand gesture) -- and in part because this is how you tell a story, even to little strangers you don't yet know.

So I'm going to make a quilt. With a compass rose on it. Even though I'm not a quilter. Even though it won't be for this woman; it'll be for the baby. Because everyone should have a secret true north, a strange riddle, and allusions to the way the flesh is made.
I've been using my wealthy voice all week, and it's getting a little tiring. Whatever you think this is, it probably isn't.


I didn't grow up rich, but I sure as hell grew up around those who were, and I remember things like ladies menus without prices and that to be treated with respect you must never, ever let the dress shop sales lady catch you looking at a price tag; my mother taught me how to do it on the sly while trying to find a size. It was a given, too, that we dressed for going into Town -- Midtown, Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf's and Bendel's, where my father had been a window dresser in the 1950s.

My mother sent me to private school because all the girls wore white gloves like in 1940s movies, but this meant that my peers were not my peers. They were daughters of captains of industry and had brothers with numbers following their names; no one could make me understand why girls could not have the same.

My teachers, always trying to be helpful and kind, asked constantly if I was French. But I was not French. I came from Jews and inbred Italians, and in the world of my childhood such things were more than just a little bit sordid.

In the eyes of many, my breeding bore out. I lacked a natural facility at nearly everything -- gross and fine motor skills, the formation of words, the proper modulation of sound, the ability to remember vowels in the correct order. My early report cards were filled with beautifully hand-written paragraphs on how my parents must not hope for too much from me, most grace and spatial awareness being beyond my ken.

My father bought me a Pete Rose jersey and took to playing baseball with me in the Park; maybe that would help. My mother sent me to speech therapy.

"Speak well," returned from me silence. As did "Speak slowly."

But speak like Suzanne, like Julie, like Lulu, like pert and perfect Maguerita and her exacting t's and lovely posture? That was easy. It seemed I did have one singular natural gift, and it was mimicry.

Eventually, it was deemed that I had learned the proper use of my voice and so Hewitt also taught me French, Latin, Spanish, Rhetoric and Musical Notation. I learned to dance. My parents sent me to camp, and I made friends.

Their parents, though, were always strange around me.


"My mother says I have to wear a dress when I come to see you."

"Why?"

"She says people would think poorly if I didn't."

"Why? I play baseball with my father."

"But you live uptown."



I didn't understand for a long time.


In my twenties, a new friend called laughing after we'd been at the beach for a day.

"I came home, and my mother wanted to know where I'd gotten that horrible, affected private school accent from!"

Oh. That.


By then I had learned to recognize it.

I drawled. Still do. A bit like characters from Boston on Saturday Night Live. If I'm not thinking about it, I talk and move languidly, like some drunk 1930s socialite. It's the sort of thing they teach you at private school, even by accident, especially when you're a mimic.

I've never really tried to tone it down, although it's faded some as I've moved away from that world; mostly, it's just the way I speak, but I've always been keenly aware of when I've had to dial it back up. It's easy, really, as if I have a native tongue that came from bankers and their ladies-who-lunch wives and not parents who never finished college.

Which brings me to the fact that I've just booked a cruise, about an hour ago, on Cunard for Patty and I. And when our Cunard representative (she is Ann; I am Miss Maltese) first called me, I was so tickled. I knew how to do this! I'd been doing it my whole life.

Except for the part where that's not really true. This isn't the sort of bullshit I've had to fake in more than 15 years.

But I knew the rules. Voice high, drawl, say things like "well, you see, I'm not really sure...." as a way to hedge around matters of price. Pretend like I did this sort of thing all the time, booking a cruise where one has to dress for dinner (that means black tie now; once it meant white).

And it was fun, the first two days of the Great Cruise Booking Ordeal. But it's a strain on my vocal cords; it makes me impatient, and I felt like a doll. Besides, Patty and I really needed a king bed, not two twins. I didn't grow up in _that_ 1940s movie after all.

And that's when I sighed, dropped into my regular pitch and said, "Call me Racheline and Patty's my partner and we need a king bed and I have this awful food allergy and she's in the middle of nowhere Oman, so I'm sort of doing all of this on my own, and I'm having trouble making decisions about money and I've never been on a cruise and will I get seasick?"

Ann, as I imagine her, didn't blink. Her tone did not change. I was still a wealthy person doing the things wealthy people do. The dress shop attendants were not going to suddenly ignore me because they had caught me looking at the price.

The world I grew up in was not real, even then. It was a relic, dead and uninformed of the fact. In many ways, that makes me sad, because I learned beauty and refinement at its feet, and it served as a fragile thread that bridged a century bisected by a war that was a part of my school's history: we had boarded British girls of a certain class, when they were fleeing the bombs.


Despite assumptions and despite my own arrogance, I do not speak the way I speak because I think I am better than anyone else. I speak the way I speak because I am trying desperately to keep up, because I am trying to buy a dress, because I am trying to take a vacation, because I am trying not to be both the first and last of my kind even though there's a really strong chance that I already am.

It's not fun or nice or romantic. It's lonely. And I don't know how to talk.
When I was a baby, my parents owned an art gallery and one of the items they had on display was a pair of paper mache punching puppets of Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon. I would, apparently, cry whenever my parents brought them out, and this became something of a party trick for them with the baby. They were proud that even in my infant state I had the capacity to recognize evil.

Despite this, my parents are not cynical people, and I was not raised to be cynical either, especially about America.

By and large, this has not been something that is comfortable in my life. My liberal friends and their families were often, to my perception, embittered and deeply resentful of the way in which narrative of America did not match up to Her reality, whereas I cleaved to the narrative in hopes that we could somehow, someday enter the storybook.

That quest to exist in pages, of course, has largely been the story of my life, and my first memory is of New York City's bicentennial parade and tap dancers dressed like Minnie Mouse in light-up costumes in the warm night. There were fireworks, and the explosions scared me; if only someone had explained they were supposed to, that this was martial, I suspect I would have been fine, even as I wasn't even four.

America's story is my story. America's fiction is my fiction, and fiction is my truth. What I rarely mention is that it has reason to be.

My last name is Maltese. That was not our name in Sicily, but it was given to us on Ellis Island to mark our foreignness, our darkness, our race, and in my teens, my father spent money to commemorate the fact, to honor the lie, at that portal's museum.

And so you see, truth and pride have always been murky things for me and for our whole family.

I know America has often failed everyone who has ever heard Her story. We have been brutal. We have been criminal. We have tortured. We have dismissed. We have ignored. And we have murdered.

I know this.

But I also know that I believe in the story, false as it may be at oh so many points, because I make a choice to believe in it, not to blind myself to our sins, nor because of some national, tribal piety that so often takes frightful turns.

No. I choose to believe in it simply because it's a good story, an exceptional collective myth, and I was raised by an ad man with gnostic leanings to always believe in the power of the lie.

This, today, shows the power of the lie: that sometimes it and all its impossible whispers can become truth, step by step and bit by bit; that sometimes lies can deliver us soundly and rightly into hope.
I have a year I call The Black Year wherein I spent a great deal of time in St. Patrick's Cathedral and prayed a novena to St. Jude. And while my father is, officially speaking, Catholic, I was not raised with or within the church. My mother is Jewish and taught me the Hebrew alphabet with a plastic bubble of a device with a button on the top that scrolled through the letters when clicked.

Religion, though, was just a home thing, a family thing, and an awkward, all-consuming, freaky one at that. My father changed religions every two years when I was growing up. He had a guru and then a swami, read the Book of Mormon, was Muslim, attended Theosophy and now self-publishes the poetry he writes in the voice of Jesus.

It's a strange sort of relief that it's not just my father; the whole family is cracked. He has a sister who is mentally unwell and talks to Jesus, conversationally, at socially inappropriate times. And my late cousin was in the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's cult and was allowed to wear no other color but red. As a child I wondered if it was to signify desire, but I never had the nerve to ask.

Religion is the family madness, and for all my lack of faith, I have always sort of aspired to taking orders, in the -- let's be clear, here -- spiritually devotional sense. Nothing gives me a charge in places it's not quite polite to talk about in casual company about than the hideous complexity of vows.

Maybe I watched too much of The Flying Nun as a child or maybe I just wanted the Virgin Mary for a friend when I was twelve and visiting the cathedrals of Montreal, I don't really know. But ritual -- formal and high -- calls to me not like a siren, but like that asshole ex-boyfriend who knows you're always going to be good for one more fuck.

To be frank, I'm a bit uncomfortable with it, but mostly because for me, asceticism has always been some sort of strange and easy slide that no one was ever present to help me govern. Even so, it's also always been one of those things I like about myself best.

There is a clarity in living to a bell and a sensuality to things that are basic: the components of food, the weave of fabric, the rarity of speech. I've lived that way enough to know its truth -- even if it was in many cases only by virtue of inappropriate bargaining: I want this success; I want this lover returned; I want this financial woe solved.

And that, right there, of course, is why I'd never make any sort of decent postulant (original meaning quite aside) at all. I'm a bargainer, through and through. In fifth grade I told God I'd never ask for anything else if he gave me the role of Ko-ko in The Mikado. He kept up his end, but I didn't keep up mine, and even though I don't really believe in him particularly (I figure we're probably equally fictive to each other and if you want to try to sort through that paradox, be my guest) I still feel a bit bad about it.

In all sorts of ways that freak me out I am not unlike my completely batshit family. I go to Catholic Mass when I feel bereft; I go to pujas with Amma, the hugging saint, when I feel in need of strange signs. I have helped to raise stone circles and recited the names of rather unlikely saints. And I've made peace with animal-headed gods who seem to have a use for me whether I like it or not.

I don't talk about it, hardly ever. And when I do, I laugh about it, quite sincerely. It is ridiculous! And the religions that would have me are not harsh enough, not high enough, not full of the drama that grants me the grace of an economy of motion or a week without speech. It amuses me really, to live between worlds in yet one more way. I am afraid of dogs, but Anubis is my guardian of the road.

So I take my rough cloth and simple food in other places.

I take it in fencing and in dance; after all, I first learned to pray when I was eleven through the contraction of my pelvis and the baring of my throat in the supplications of Martha Graham's choreography.

I take it in Guitar Craft, where we always say "instructor" and never "teacher," lest someone like me lose easy perspective.

And I take it in the shape of my partner's absence when she goes on digs and my devotion to anything that has ever broken my heart.

I take it in my service to lives that have never been, and the ache in my knees when I pray in churches that would not have me and museums whose purpose I mistake.

I take it in the longing I can feel towards head coverings and prairie dresses, vestments and habits.

I take it in the way I've learned to walk barefoot so that each toe hits the ground individually and in quick succession, smallest to the largest, for it is not the ability to worship that I crave, but these acts of order in the face of the chaos of my flesh and fascinations, my hopes and simply terrible housekeeping.

It is beauty in details and precision, even if I pray the way planes go on the tarmac, not inside the lines, but right down the bright and sinful center of them.
When I was in university I had a boyfriend, Joe, who went to school at UMD and lived in a house in Maryland with a couple of other guys: Dave, who had a bedroom only large enough to fit a king-sized waterbed, and Steve, who was the prototypical engineering nerd with bad eyeglasses and an inexplicably smoking-hot red-headed girlfriend.

Dave and Steve and Joe had between them four somewhat shared hobbies: smoking pot, brewing beer, computers and role-playing games. Every Friday I would trudge out to their place -- it was a hike in those days, before the metro extension, and involved taking the metro to the bus and then walking a mile and a half -- for the weekend in indulge in some combination of the four.

The ritual of these things was pretty basic. We'd all go to Mongolian BBQ together, sometimes with Steve's gf or Dave's squeeze of the week, then visit the bulk food aisle at the Giant supermarket and then go sprawl about on Dave's heated king-size water bed and get high out of our tiny little minds. Sometimes we'd stop at a pizza place so I could play their Doctor Who pinball machine; sometimes we'd throw in a little Axis and Allies before the pot.

One night Dave announced he had a special treat for us.

'Shrooms.

I immediately wanted nothing to do with it, because I hate hallucinating. In fact, the truth is I hate being out of control at all. More than tipsy or a bit high and I'm miserable. The second I feel like I don't have my strategic faculties in place, I am an unhappy camper, so I told Dave they could all do the 'shrooms, and I'd just smoke the pot.

So they take the 'shrooms.

And then about an hour later there I am arguing with Dave because he says there are dead cartoons all over the living room floor. This gets everyone else freaked out and they all decide they have to go outside immediately. So Dave and Joe and Steve run outside, and I follow them, at this point only mildly irritated.

My mild irritation, however, turns to real alarm as Dave decides everyone should climb up on the roof to escape the dead cartoons.

"This," I declare, sounding surely both very high and very goddamn pompous, "is why Nancy Regan says 'Just Say No'. This is how accidents happen when people do drugs! Don't climb on the roof!"

Of course, they all climbed up on the roof, using trashcans as steps, while I stood in the driveway hollering at them about Nancy Regan.

Eventually, I coaxed them down, and we wandered back into the house and regrouped on Dave's heated king-size water bed, wherein the usual stupidity ensued: Dave and Joe wound up wrestling about and smashing oreos on each other (oh Dave, I am so sorry about all the things we did to your bed!) while Steve looked at me and dryly noted, "this is awfully homosexual, isn't it?"

And finally, we passed out.

That morning, I was the first one up, and I wandered down from the carnage of Dave's bed into the kitchen, whereupon turning on the light I discovered slugs.

Slugs!

Slugs on every conceivable surface. Slugs on the countertops and on the refrigerator and on the floor and on the mesh of the screen door we had left wide open after the shenanigans of the dead cartoons. Slugs, in particular, all over the beer brewing equipment. Shit!

Slugs, you see, like beer. If you have them in your garden, you put a bowl of beer out and they crawl into it and die. Well, now they had crawled into our kitchen and were having a party.

Fuck.

So I go back up to Dave's bedroom.

"Hey, guys, there are slugs in the kitchen."

I get a bunch of incoherent moans.

"A lot of slugs. Like 'look kids, the slugs are back' slugs."

"Huh?" Joe asked, sitting up.

"Slugs!" I shout.

Dave sits bolt upright. "Beer!"

"Uhhuh," I say.

Steve starts rolling around and laughing.

Eventually we all trudge downstairs in the same awful flannels we'd been wearing since the night before to stand in the doorway of the kitchen, arms around each other (yes, Steve, it was awfully homosexual) staring at the, admittedly very slow moving, slug frenzy.

Looking around at the butcher paper we'd covered the kitchen walls in to write our most awesome random quotes on ("when you paint living things, they die!") it was one of the few times at 19 when I absolutely, positively knew how young I was and was glad of it.

I was happy. Not with any of those boys, and not with that awful hike out to their place, but with the idea that this was pointless and shining youth, and it was finally mine. It was something I never had much of and didn't need more of, but also know that I almost missed, and that would have been a tragedy, far greater than Dave, his king-sized heated water bed, some 'shrooms and the sea of slugs.
I didn't grow up knowing how to ask for things, and I didn't grow up knowing how to express desire. Wanting was too much of a risk; it was always too easy to get mocked for my wants: mom and dad are snobs and they laughed at me for a long time over Cabbage Patch Kids. They wouldn't get me one because they were ugly, they said, and too middle class.

"You don't actually want that, do you?" My mother said and after that there was no desire I could ever have that it was easy for me to be sure was real.

And I wanted all sorts of things.

Like I wanted to be famous, and like I wanted to be a pageant queen.

But I knew, more or less, not to ask. My parents weren't going to let me act, and the pretty girls at school were gonna tell me I wasn't attractive enough to do it anyway. So I sort of sneaked and cajoled and backed my way into all sorts of things.

Like Miss New York National Teen-Ager 1987, which I sent my picture in to all on my own and when they chose me for the state finals I told my parents I had to go and then got my orthodontist to pay the $300 sponsorship fee. I didn't do well; he died a year later; and it was only a year or two ago I realized the national organization had Phyllis Schaffly on its board.

A year later I wound up reading on camera for some agency in Times Square in much the same way. I lied to my parents about it and said it was just that I had gone with my friend Lisa and they were more interested in me. I had gone with Lisa, true, but they liked her just fine and worried after my teeth. Still. My parents said I was lucky it wasn't like Fame, that no one asked me to take my shirt off, and that I got away with not even a warning from them was pretty darn lucky.

So I didn't grow up with a force of will. Just a sense of how to sneak, how to get away with things, and how to move between the grasses. Maybe. Just a little.

Which is sort of funny, when everything I do now seems to involve staring things down or playing, at least a bit, a little god. Horses are like that. So's fencing. You've got to be sure.

I used to take flying lessons, a long time ago. I was 22, and I'd seen another plane go by in the air on a flight to Chicago and decided I wanted to learn how to fly.

It wasn't really how I imagined it would be. Cesnas aren't jets; they sort of waft about in the sky like flying lawnmowers. It's not a powerful feeling, but still, you've got to be sure, drifting over houses in New Jersey.

Of course I wasn't sure of anything, -- hell, I was 22! -- but I was expected to stare down the sky.

I wasn't so good at it really, the flying -- a bit queasy, a bit nervous, and with an instructor who didn't have enough force to bring out the authority that surely lurked in me somewhere.

After all, I wanted to fly.

Real bad.

Before dawn I would take a cab to a bus to a NJ airport and then walk a mile to go up before work, and I shelled out a lot of money for the privilege. That's got to be some sort of certain.

Anyway, I never got far with it, never got my license. Ran out of money. Ran out of time. But I thought about it, I've talked about it, for years.

"I can sail a boat, ride a horse and fly a plane. Can't drive a car though." I say it at auditions when the casting folk want to know something interesting about me. It works like a dream.

This summer, it so happens that I will finally be out of debt. Which means that this summer, it so happens that I'll finally have money to fly again, to rent a plane I'll whisper to as I climb her wings to check the fuel, knowing I look just a bit sexy doing it.

Flying has been a part of my story for so long, even with merely 14 hours in a log book and a headset on my living room bookshelf, I don't even have a choice about doing it now that I can afford to. But I do wonder if I've learned enough to pull it off. If riding a horse, if holding a sword, is somehow enough. After all I still don't have the authority to handle dogs, and yet here I am, somehow telling you that I've grown resolute enough to stare down the goddamn sky.
Every good story is a seduction.

So we're sitting there in this bar wondering what the hell do with ourselves and then this chick comes over, sits down at our table and says, "I have to tell you a story, and you have to promise never to tell anyone else."

But the best stories have a tendency to be love letters.

Sometimes, he calls her my little clinging vine, but more for the syllables of it than any truth.

Neither of these facts do much to make my life very comfortable.

"Mistress, will you let me be your dog?"

That's the problem with being a storyteller and having a bit of a misguided thing about being honorable: seduction often isn't very nice, the modern heart has a tendency to find love burdensome and no one really wants to hear the truth anyway, even if it isn't real.

He told her about long train rides in rancid heat and the way soldiers speak of women, crass and fond. He told her about the smallest and largest of demons, metal servants, dancing creatures, a dead dog by the side of the road, and a man who could find beauty in absolutely anything. His tales were full of strange flowers and poison imps and a constant, slightly cheerful regret.

Well, okay, that's one of the problems. The other problem is that you -- you, the writer; you, the teller -- get seduced too, and that makes it awfully hard to Be Here Now.

He found the two of them, their breathing regular and even, tangled together, like children protecting each other from the dark. He set the glass of water on the bedside table and stood looking down at them for a long moment.

Even when Now is pretty damn interesting.

And I'm thinking, okay, clearly I am still high. But no, this shit is really happening and there are slugs -- SLUGS! -- all over the kitchen. Every, single, goddamn surface. Slugs!

In a way it's a blessing, but of the sort it's nearly impossible to speak of, lest you think I'm mad or a child or haven't lived so many thousands of years in the tellings of all these things.

He didn't have much, he thought ruefully, and what he did have, he couldn't keep. But still, for now, there was this moment, and there were all the ghosts who walked with him, all those people and places and times to which he'd given all of his heart, poured out all of himself, those he'd defended, and those he'd failed.

And so asking me to play favorites isn't fair.

It has taken a long time to come to the trick of it.

Because how could I possibly be expected to choose between being the girl with the sexiest walk in the whole damn bar and being a man who got fourteen perfect years with a woman he lied to every day?

There was little point, they both knew, in bemoaning the state of the world or hatching plans that involved armies that did not exist and allies they did not possess.

And how could I ever choose between being the smug raconteur with the cocked hip holding court in a life of nightly parties and the hungry creature who cries in bed over the curse of loving a girl for the mere four hours of writing her, as opposed to the life, the whole life, in which I'd given her to someone else as equally a fancy?

He feels his life get just a little bit longer. It tickles, and, once he hears the news, he imagines it as the puff of her breath in his ear, rather than the dissolution of a debt.

Every good story is a seduction.

He calls me the next morning, at 7am, and tells me to pop by for breakfast. So off I go for fruit and yogurt and to see his place, which are these two amazing apartments with the walls knocked out between them. There's a baby grand and all these artifacts taken presumably illegally from native peoples. And I'm thinking, as I stare at his black silk shirt and really expensive, tacky necklace that practically screams "I engage in pretentious group sex," -- shit, this guy wants to put me in a glass box and put me up on his mantel too!

But the best stories are love letters.

He took a deep breath, sighed happily, let his eyes close and whispered, his lips red and precise and swollen like in the movies, "I love you."

And regret.


--

Italicized portions come from some of my most called upon party stories; fiction and fanfiction I've written; and work I've done with [livejournal.com profile] kalichan, which means that some of these words are hers (too) from [livejournal.com profile] descensus_hp or IHNIIHBT. For the particularly interested, longer explanations and links are in the comments.
When we were in seventh grade, my best friend Elyse and I were obsessed with the miniseries V. More particularly, she was obsessed with Faye Grant (who played Juliet Parish) and I was obsessed with Marc Singer (who played Mike Donovan), all of which meant that people asked Elyse if she was a lesbian a lot while people mocked me flat out -- ugly girls aren't supposed to have budding sexuality; it's too awkward and embarrassing for everyone.

I'm not sure what V meant to us, but it meant a lot. Seventh grade was the year Elyse spent hundreds of dollars in pursuit of the perfect Faye Grant haircut, and it was the year I decided I wanted to be a war reporter when I grew up. It was also the year we became friends with our science teacher, Mr. Krupka.

This is a funny thing, because I know it's the sort of thing that would never happen now. Men are so suspect around children in our climate of fear, and there are so few male teachers anyway, that it's hard for me to imagine a girls' school hiring one.

But be that as it may, Mr. Krupka was our friend because we were good students and he liked V too, and Elyse and I would visit the chem lab during lunch with toy ray guns and play pranks on him. In turn, he'd make show references in class that really were just for us. No one else got it. No one else cared. No one else thought we had any business being anything other than what we were -- ugly twelve-year-olds. Mr. Krupka was different, though, and so was the world of science fiction fandom.

Elyse and I joined a V pen-pal circle. We both wrote from her home as my parents would have pitched a fit (I'd already gotten in scads trouble some months before for obtaining a pen-pal in the British navy through the back page of a gothic music magazine. That was when my father told me all military men were vile and asked me if I wanted to be a whore. I don't like that story. I never wrote back to the boy -- he only wanted to talk about The Cure and my father ripped the letters up; I still I feel guilty about it). No one knew we were twelve, and people drew us fan art.

We wrote fan letters, asked for celebrity autographs and bought Starlog magazine. I eventually discovered the idea of cons, and Elyse got a new good friend who didn't like me because I picked my nose.

In a year or two, we'd gone off to different high schools and a change of venue didn't really improve my social status very much at all. I found new friends, but mostly they didn't like me much or weren't very nice. I was less alone and more miserable than I had ever been, and even in a specialized math and science high school, being a science fiction fan was a bit like wearing a kick me sign to a soccer match.

I didn't get to my first con until university, and when I went, the world upended itself a bit. I went from being at the bottom of the hierarchy to somewhere near the top, just because I was young or thin or could look people in the eye.

It felt great, and like I might one day get to lose my virginity, but it also felt like something I didn't deserve, and I fretted a lot, because it was so easy suddenly to feel like I was better than other people, to feel like I could be one of the monsters from which I'd spent my life hiding.

But attention is addictive, and so is being told you're beautiful, and so it was easy to wear skimpier and skimpier clothes and to engage in awkward conversations with people I didn't like, because it meant that I was good, better even, than someone, somewhere. And if being fannish was still a secret, still a sin in the rest of the world, I didn't care.

All of this, of course, is a pretty common experience. People find a home in science fiction fandom. They find out it's okay to be supposedly atypical on any number of spectrums. Neurological deviations are as common as those of gender or sexuality, appearance or social presentation.

Who talks about coming of age in fandom without remarking on the wonder of being able to make a friend, or get a date or have sex for the first time?

Of course, all things change, especially places of miracle and wonderment. And somewhere between then and now -- and I'll lay this squarely on the doorstep of Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings -- it became okay to be a nerd. It became great. We were no longer exiles, and our small pond turned into an ocean where we were very tiny fish.

Some of us thrived in the legitimization of what had sustained us. But others of us found that our awkwardness was no longer as overlooked in the broadening science fiction community or that suddenly, we were no longer the most beautiful girl in the room by the sheer virtue of there finally being other girls in the room. Status started to mean more, became harder fought for, and home meant something else.

Now I, I managed to hold onto my privilege and my shame.

It embarrasses me that I'm prouder of my community today than I was of it fifteen years ago, not because I'm more confident, but because we're more functional, more normal, more mainstream, more typical. This doesn't reflect well upon me, and I know it.

It embarrasses me that when I go to cons as a B- or C- or D- or Z- list celebrity (depends on the con), I feel jealous of the girls who are younger and thinner and dressed in skimpier clothes than me that get invited to all the parties, that get to have drinks with the guys who are actually on the TV. Christ, a lot of them are younger than me now, too. Kids. Beautiful kids.

And it embarrasses me that I'm still too shy to go up to some actor or other and say, "You know, when I was seven years old, your show meant the world to me. Thank you." Or "Hey, I totally get a kick out of your program, thanks."

I should be better. I should be less covetous. I should be grateful that I have a home and a family every day, not just when I'm at cons. But it's not always easy. The wounds of twelve are hard to heal.

Sometimes, though, what shocks me the most is all the ways in which I'm not alone.

Because it used to be that science fiction was the ghetto every actor dreaded winding up in. I mean, just watch Galaxy Quest.

But now David Tennant (back injury aside) is Hamlet, and John Barrowman goes on and on about how much he loves that Jack is the Face of Boe. Battlestar Galactica somehow wound up the most politically relevant (and revered) show on television for a couple of seasons; Heroes and Lost rearranged people's weeks, and if it's an event of a movie, it's probably a science fiction or fantasy flick.

And these actors come to cons and talk about their own fannishness now!

Which means they're just as pathetic as us. Which means we're just as good as them.

It should fix everything.

For some of us, I think it does, more even than the first time we had friends or kissed somebody or paraded down to the pool in a bikini and heels or realized that we really were sexy enough to invite somebody back to our room and get a yes.

But for some of us, it doesn't fix anything, because now we fight and snark over which celebrity paid more attention to who at what con and debate whether a given interaction was sincere or "fan service." We plan how to get attention and make it clear that we only associate with the right sorts of people at cons.

We feel jealous and alone.

We remember not getting asked to prom.

Mr. Krupka was a funny looking man with a wife and a kid who was nice to my friend and I when we were twelve. Maybe he knew how alone we were, and maybe he knew science fiction could save us. Maybe he just had no one else to talk to about the television show he liked. I don't know.

Elyse is, as far as I can tell from Google, a lawyer now and married to a man. She wasn't a lesbian, and I wonder if she even remembers what it was to want to be Juliet Parish and spend all her money on hair care products.

I never became a war reporter or a chemist.

I never wrote back to a British boy on a boat.

And it's been a long time since I was the most beautiful girl in the room at a con.

Mostly, I am grateful. But it is sometimes a beauty of sadness gratitude, that now that we -- the nerds, the freaks, the geeks -- are acceptable, it is perhaps harder for us to be glorious.

The wounds of twelve are hard to heal, and I've lost sleep at night pondering the ways in which the stars we aren't apparently have them too. I have witnessed it in drink and smiles and bashful hope as surely as I've known it in my own envy.

It's a beauty that had I grasped the shape of, I suspect I would not have asked to see.
When I was five years old, my mother dressed me up in a yellow frock and photographed me in front of our avocado plant by the terrace doors for my private school applications. Schools, she said, wanted to see that I was a pretty and well-behaved girl.

When I mentioned this to my mother when I was thirty, she said it never happened. Not, that she did not recall, just that she was certain there was no such photographic requirement on those applications and no such garment.

But I remember the dress. And my white socks with lace cuffs, and my patent leather mary janes which had been fitted with an orthopedic insert so as to encourage me not to turn out my left foot when I walked. I remember the camera, the cartridge film, the pack of flash bulbs you had to stick in the top, and the sweet smell of plastic burning when one of the ten went pop!

But mostly, I know it all happened because my mother says with such a surety that it did not.

I'm an only child, and conventional wisdom says we're strange animals: selfish and self-obsessed, immature, petulant. Frankly, I find all that a little annoying, but I see where it comes from. We have to be so covetous and live with so much personal certitude, because we have no one with which to compare notes. We live lives in which our parents can glibly deny our history and where no brother or sister is there to say I remember too.

I know I am lucky my only loss is a yellow dress and instructions on being a good girl.

But this stuff must have happened all the time when I was growing up, about small things, and I just don't remember most of it. I suspect it's why I cleaved, from the very beginning, so desperately to the stories my parents did offer me, and to the stories I found and stole and kept and hoarded for myself.

When I was six I lay across the arm of the sofa with my arms out so I could fly like Superman. At eight, I banged on my father's old radio with a plastic hammer so that I could fix it, just like Greg on The Brady Bunch. That year, I also hid in the back of a wardrobe at an inn in East Hampton, touching furs and praying to be tumbled out of the thing backwards into the snow.

Eventually my whole life became about stories, and eventually all those stories started rewriting my past.

So at eight in dirty clothes I awkwardly stalked a neighbor girl. And at eleven, I lost my brother by the sea. At thirteen, I kissed and fucked the world back into being, while at seventeen I walked out to hunt with mastiffs and fell in love with my best friend. I became a betrayer and a murderer and a spy. I was a penitent, a mourner, a whore and a soldier. I was a priestess. I baked bread, I made wine, and I talked to the whistling beasts under the water.

These were all my stories, and they were all true, and they always will be, even if I feel like I won't ever, ever, ever be able to explain it to you well enough for you to actually get that I am not mad or pompous or lonely, so much as I am permeable and hopeful and lost (albeit in a terribly directed fashion) in the mists.

We will things into the world. Not just as individuals, but as families, as friends, as cultures and nations. We make things that are not real, true. And those things have to live somewhere, and so they do in books and movies and television shows and stories you wrote with your best friend and never showed to anyone, not ever, except you really wanted to, because oh, your pretty demons deserved a bigger home!

Somehow, it turns out I've tiny hands that can move exactly like those of men who have never existed, except in storybook and sin. I am a mimic in hopes that if you like you, you'll like me. And I am an amplifier, a liar's truths, for reasons I simply don't know, can't grasp and rarely feel free to explain.

This is what was bought me with a yellow dress my mother says I never even wore or touched or saw: lives I was never supposed to have known, much less lived and been whispered to by in the shimmering dark, spinning about on this little rock that, coincidentally, apparently, orbits an unavoidably yellow star.
I'm a procrastinator with a strong work ethic. Over-commit, I figure, and something gets done. Which is why I've never really been prepared for anything, at all, ever -- except vampires.

When I moved back to New York City after university, I worked in the Computer Assisted Reporting unit of the Associated Press for a while. Getting the job had been a bit of a bitch, with their head Editor asking me if I was going to sue them for sexual harassment when I bumped into porn on the Internet.

Thinking I was clever, maybe in the way all women do at 22, I'm not really sure, I leaned forward, said I put the porn on the Internet and then leaned back against the couch and laughed long and throaty, like I didn't need anything. Or anyone. Or the goddamn job. Which I got, you know.

I had a couple of different tasks there: create an internal online resource for reporters doing Internet-based research; liaise with the database guys who did stuff like cross sex-offender registries with teaching licenses to see what horror shows popped up; support reporters in the field with on the fly research they called in for; and travel representing the CAR mission to journalistic conferences, major news events (I covered the 1996 Democratic National Convention), and AP regional meetings where I trained reporters to do what I did best -- which basically was fuck off on the Internet.

And all that is how I wound up in New Orleans at a Doubletree Hotel with a busted air-conditioning system writing a letter to the man I was having an affair with while watching The Lost Boys.

I'd never been to New Orleans before. Hell, I'd never even traveled on my own. And here was a business trip. I felt so grown up. And utterly filthy. I mean, someone else was paying for my hotel room, and all I had to do was give a speech on the wonders of the Internet, and then hang around New Orleans for 72 hours.

It was May and 95 degrees when my plane landed. I remember an elderly man in seer-sucker suit dancing on a street corner and a horse tied up to the side of a building and my black jeans drenched in sweat. And I remember thinking the city was whispering to me the way the wind lies. All the big stuff always happens after dark, you know. Patience. Patience.

Besides, I had a speech to give. I threw on my black suit, bound my hair back loosely, and headed to the meeting room, which had like 60 people in it sitting around a giant square table with stupid amounts of empty space in the middle of it. Christ, who the fuck thought that was smart?

So I'm handed a mic. I've never used a mic before. Fuck. Okay. Give my speech, am perfectly awesome (hey, I didn't take rhetoric and six years of Latin for nothing), move on to the q & a.

"Are you from New York?"

I did the laugh again. "Yeah, how could you tell?"

"Black suit. You don't wear black in New Orleans. Too hot."

"What, were the vampires a lie?" I asked even as my brain was going Shit fuck shit. Why didn't someone tell me not to wear black? FUCK!

And then we were on to question two.

"So... uh....," some guy started to stutter, and I realized he was looking right above my eyes. Right. Eyebrow ring. FUCK.

"Yeah, but not as much as you think. Okay, anyone got anything else for me?" and then I got some real questions out of them.

Fucking reporters, knew I was 22 and probably thought I looked 16 and decided to fuck with the kid. Fine, fair enough. I just wanted to finish the thing and be out of there.

Now, I don't know, maybe I could have asked someone for help, advice on restaurants, suggested drinks with coworkers, something like that. But I didn't know how, and I probably didn't even really want to. Whatever it was, I wound up in a cajun restaurant bitching at the maitre d' who wanted to put me at some table in the hall on the way to the restroom. Fuck that shit.

"I'm on business. I'm not ashamed of eating alone, and I'd like a better table." I was really angry then, and maybe everything changed for me with that, who knows. Anyway, I ate my jumbalaya fast as I could and went out into the New Orleans night.

Now, I've never been afraid of a city for a second, but I knew New Orleans was dangerous, and I knew the rules. Stay on the main streets in the Quarter and be sober and careful and you might not be totally fucked.

And I tried. I really did.

But when I was twelve years old I'd read The Vampire Lestat on a dare, and I had believed in the background of every moment in the ten years since then that there was something out there waiting for me. And maybe it wasn't vampires or spies or the TARDIS I didn't even know about then, but it was something. I was sure of it.

And if there was going to be something, well, it damn well was going to find me in New Orleans, wasn't it?

Too bad it played hide and seek with me. Too bad I didn't find it, I had to think for a long while after, even as it lured me onto dark streets, followed me with clacking heels and whispered to me from trees.

I wandered, late, for two nights looking for whatever the fuck it was I thought I felt in that city shivering over my skin, so sure, in some way that I was good enough to be chosen for something.

But it turned out not to be, and I went back each evening to the hotel with the busted AC and worked on a letter to the lover I hadn't had the balls to invite with me, while I watched The Lost Boys on cable.

I told him there was something waiting for me.

And I told him I was sure he would laugh at that, like it would somehow make it hurt less when he actually did. And like everything else I did in New Orleans, I mailed the letter in the dark and thought the consequences could be damned.


Seven years later, I was helping him clean his apartment in the precious sunlight of Brooklyn. He had waffle cotton blankets on his California King and sheer drapes blowing in across the wood floor from the long windows.

We'd broken up at least a half a dozen times by then, and the night before we had, had some pretty fucked up ritualistic sex while we were both trashed (and after he screamed like a little girl because of a water bug that accosted him in the kitchen) that was somehow meant to make us feel like we were no longer in each other's clutches. And trust me, I'm not even saying this made sense at the time, because I'm pretty sure it didn't.

But I was in a pretty good mood. Felt happy, maybe a bit free and was sorting through a stack of papers when I found the letter I had written him seven years earlier from New Orleans. Unopened.

I turned it over in my hands a few times, conscious of how the shot would look in the movie.

"Dawdling!" he teased.

I looked up and waved the letter in my hand.

"You lose it, or could you just not be fucked to open it?"

"I.... God, I don't know."

He went back to cleaning.

"No curiosity?" I asked, meaning to sound coy, and surely sounding vicious.

"Rach --"

I laughed in a way that always reminds me of my gender. Women know how to laugh to make men scared.

I opened the letter.

And I read it.

And I then I put it in the trash and dusted off my hands.

Because if you're unprepared for pretty much everything in life? Here's a hint: you're unprepared for the vampires too, because they aren't what you think they are and they aren't where you think they are.

But that doesn't mean I won't always listen like hell in the cities and in the dark, because I don't leave letters unread.

Ever.
I have not had a great couple of days. I'm tired and overworked and New York is angry and makes me look like a fool. Last night, I "corrected" a bakery I always go to on their math. Just one problem: I was wrong, and I apologized and said I was ashamed, folded in on myself and vowed that I would never ever go there again. Except, of course, because I have celiac disease, if I keep my word, I'll never get to eat another cupcake for as long as I live.

What really ticks me off though, other than the part where I'm a melodramatic idiot with a crappy genetic disease (which does, btw, include "rages" as a symptom -- I wonder if it also includes articulateness and sexiness because seriously? Keith Olbermann and I? Awesome celiacs! Anyway....) is how much I suspect people are enjoying this post right about now.

It's so real!

I can hear it already, and it pisses me the fuck off. Because the other stuff I post? Those sweeping stories and odd coincidences and the whole cadence and tone thing? They're not any less real. They're not made up, and they're not as goddamned studied as you think. That's really what my life is like. Even when it's shit. It's fucking luminous, and I loathe, loathe, loathe when people are impressed with me because crappy mundane shit happens, and it makes them feel more comfortable.

Seriously. How fucking weak is that? Like, I piss you off, you like the schadenfreude when some shit happens to me? Fine. I get that. But you like me and you just like me more when my life is smaller? Screw you.

Try as we might, we don't really get to pick and choose about people, we just get to pick and choose the parts we're going to pay attention to. All that other stuff is still there, and ignoring it sure the fuck doesn't make it go away.

I tell stories, and stories saved my life. Fictional characters held my hand when my father wouldn't, because he said I smelled funny. They told me to get up, dust myself off and stop crying when all my mother could do was express exasperation on the fact that her daughter had the temerity to look ugly in public. They held my hand when the plane took off, let me fit my face against their shoulders, caressed the the side of my neck as they whispered to me about hope, and apologized without an ounce of give in their voices before asking me to do the hardest things. Always.

My parents had no fucking idea what they were doing, but they gave me that. They gave me stories. They gave me people who could take care of me when they didn't know how or didn't want to. So I am not "more real" when I've had a bad day, when I've lost my patience, when I don't know how to show you the arc of things, when all I can do is snap obscenities or tell you I am tired or bored or having a crappy hair day.

That wasn't the life I was given. No one ever grounded me. Those things were never valued. And I know that makes me lost and remote and maybe false. But that is me, effortlessly and truly, and I am so sick of people rooting for me to be ordinary. I do that enough. All on my own, when I can't do math in a store and when I can't stop myself from hating myself over stupid mistakes. Don't root for that, even if it's a basis of connection. It's not worth it.
I took up fencing during what I call my black year. It was this sort of weird, gaping hollow of asceticism and sadness in the wake of a breakup that wasn't bad so much as complicated, and it really punched my buttons in all sorts of odd ways. It was not a good time, but I was utterly crystal clear, occasional moments of emotional ineptness aside, that this burden of a perfectly ordinary turn of events was both of my own making and utterly my own to solve.

Fencing came to me, like most things, as the product of stories. My parents never taught me that stories weren't real, and one of the lingering and embarrassing moments of my childhood is of my mother, suddenly weepy and terrified, that because I like Superman, I will jump off the terrace to my death in an attempt to fly. She has always been too literal minded to understand the way in which I feel all things are true.

One of my favorite films is Gattaca because it is, in many ways, the story of me. I was never supposed to be healthy; I was never supposed to be strong; and my heart does not work like other people's. When I saw it in the late night dark alone on the evening it was released, I walked out declaring I would run a marathon. But I will never run a marathon.

That, though, is less about ability (I don't know; I will never know) than common sense. Running is bad on your knees. It is a terrible thing for dancers. It is a terrible thing for fencers.

I fell in love with fencing, fast. But it was difficult. I felt isolated in my pursuit, embarrassed in my ardor, and abashed by my awkwardness. I struggled, not just with the inadvertent sexism that was certainly present in my salle, but with my own sexism, my own contempt for my spindly curves, when all I have ever wanted is a straight back and good shoulders.

Everything became about strength. The strength to hold, to endure, to fight, to wait. The strength to believe I would one day be spectacular at this, to talk about it, to prove I was all right, in a time when I was not all right at all. I can't believe I was fooling anyone, except, perhaps, I suspect I was.

Fencing was my hope. And sometimes, it was also my despair. I tried a hundred things to get through it, wrote of apprenticeship and bit my lip silently at the narrative grace of helping my fencing master with the German buttons on his fencing jacket. In my mind, I played attendant on a world that would never be formal or cruel enough to suit me -- not as a storyteller, not as someone with a broken heart, and not as someone who knew she would always be physically inadequate for the rest of her life from the simple act of doing what people do together: breaking bread.

At the end of Gattaca we discover how a man who should not have been capable of anything becomes capable of everything. It is not just through an elaborate, expensive and painful fraud, and it is not just through good luck or even will. We find out, you see, that he has never saved anything for the way back, that every time he swims out to sea, he worries neither about his heart, nor the shore. It was so good to know that I finally had a way of telling people what it is like to have a life, where no one can see what's wrong, but you feel like you can't do anything.

In a few weeks I will compete in my first fencing tournament. I will not win; I'm not that good and haven't been doing this that long, and if I cry, no one will know thanks to the mask. If I am lucky, I will surprise people a little. If I am the person I have always dreamt of being (and I am not) I will be cold and instinctive and precise.

My biggest worry, though, is merely getting through it. It is so much more likely that I will not have the endurance, that I will faint, that I will get ill, that my muscles will give out -- this is what the form of my flesh dictates.

More than anything when I fence the truth, perhaps sad, is that I want to make people proud: my fencing masters because they endure so much from us; the instructor whose left-handedness and grace was enough to make me not feel lonely; my partner, because we are together thanks to the story that made me want to fence in the first place; and my writing partner because even when I was nonsensical about it, she quietly let the sword be the thing that allowed me to endure.

But most of the people I want to make proud are fictional. Because my parents never taught me that stories aren't real. Because I do my best disarms when I borrow a humor about fighting I do not personally possess and a graveness I only pretend to.

Fencing is my hope, even when I hate it, even when it bores me, even when it breaks me and is a map of the indignities of my flesh, my nature, and my easy heart. Fencing is my thread back, the buoy to cling to between loss and love and a future I never, ever expected, but for which I am so goddamn grateful.

Fighting is, I know in truth, an ugly thing, and my romance over it is surely both barbaric and ignorant. But I have always been fighting. Myself and my sorrows, my flesh and its lies.

Sometimes heroes fight because they have to. Sometimes heroes fight because they want to. Sometimes heroes fight because they are too goddamn stupid to do anything else.

And I'll never be a hero, not really (that word is so shamefully overused). And I am fine with that, because being a hero means having to do terrible things. Fencing means not only do I not need to be a hero, I don't need a hero either to get me through my sometimes quite difficult life. That's more than enough. Because it's hope, sometimes for something as simple and mythical to me as a straighter spine and a broader back.

Hope, I know, is courage and grace and is often clumsy, small and flickering in the dark. Hope comes too from sorrow, and that is often what makes it fine.

--
for those lacking context about my health and my frustrations about it: I have, among other things, celiac disease, with which I was only recently diagnosed, and mitral valve prolapse syndrome. With common sense and attentiveness neither is life threatening, but both have had a profound impact on my physical and mental health. Both illnesses have limited my abilities in some ways at some times; both illnesses have also been used as excuses by both others and myself to encourage me to be less. I take their existence in my life extremely seriously in that I rage against them, these days, quite effectively.
Music is math, and so is longing, is the heart, is hope. So is silence. I tell people I used to study guitar with Robert Fripp. That's not really true, but I used to attend Guitar Craft, and that is, more or less.

Robert was the first of so many strange and eternally dissatisfied male creators that helped me decide who to be and how to be, and if I were a better Crafty, as we put it, I would probably never say anything like this at all. We have instructors in Guitar Craft, not teachers. But these are my sins, and I always wanted to be an apprentice.

I discovered Guitar Craft, New Standard Tuning, The League of Crafty Guitarists and so forth through a guy who worked at a Brooklyn cafe. I had a crush on him, and my friend Agnes said he had a face like a carnival. He was a big Fripp fan, and so I -- as I had done in high school with a different boy and a different band -- did my research and tumbled far down a well.

Now, I had studied classical guitar in college, but only because my father owned one and the lessons were free; it had made no sense to do as I wished and rent a cello. So I could play a bit, but it was no great passion, just something I could do and was glad to be able to.

But then there was this sound I found in Fripp's work. Math. Order. Rhythm. This was the construction of the universe by a million metallic ants. And it was perfect.

So, you know, I get on the Internet and Google. And I discover these essays, Robert's aphorisms, and it's all so smart and precise and deadly dry and completely hilarious. And I fell in love, just a little (really, just a little, I swear, even as I'm telling you this, I'm looking at you sidelong). And I thought, this is a hand I could want at the small of my back and that these were sounds I wanted to make, and I Googled some more and discovered that I could.

With a brand new Ovation guitar bought on discount through the course at a small shop in Fredericksburg, I went down to Claymont Court in West Virginia for the Introduction to New Standard Tuning.

I stayed in a room with five other women, and with one exception, the other 30 or so people at the program were men. I slept in a narrow bed with rough, woolen blankets, and, unable to tolerate the freezing cold water that came out of the taps, I bathed by kneeling in an empty claw-foot bathtub, splashing the frigid water on me as I dared.

I don't remember the other women hardly at all. One did Buddhist chants all the time, loud, and with power, and it was through the memory of her I learned to vibrate sound years later. But I recall no one else. What I recall is that I was lonely and that, that was the point.

Guitar Craft functions on a number of principles and suggestions, among them, that we do what is necessary, but also only what is necessary. We do not move the hand excessively on the neck of the instrument, we do not talk when we have nothing to actually say and we do labor when it is needful.

Meals were communal and largely silent, but joyful really, and laughter burst out strangely, often. It was nice, even if I was a hundred types of young and awkward and scared that I was somehow doing it wrong.

Each day we did meditation in the morning, which, I'll be honest, I often slept through. Then we did circles -- Guitar Craft music is largely created through improvisation in circles, and is largely played in circles, and it is, I maintain, a summoning. There was Alexander Technique in the afternoons, and then more playing, late into the night, until 11pm at least.

I haunted the halls after that. My hair was very long then, and I wore floor-length flowing dresses of thick fabric. I didn't seem like a hippie; I seemed like a queen.

There was a man I became friends with, whose name I also don't recall. He looked like a guy I had known in college through the GLBT student group, but this fellow was straight and had children, and we'd sit on the back porch of the mansion at night and talk, and since we did not care whether it was necessary or not, it must have been. No one ever shushed us.

I remember telling him, "I don't care if I'm the worst and least experienced person here, I just want to play. I just want my right to be here acknowledged."

He nodded gravely, but it was a woman's truth, and not one he could do or say any more in response to.

During our breaks in the day, I would wander out onto the back lawn of the mansion, and then down the path to the ruined formal garden that was ostensibly under repairs. It was filled with broken statues and columns and paving stones, and it felt dangerous and wrong. It was a wild place, thick with weeds, and it made me feel easier with the idea that I was full of blood.

Each Guitar Craft seminar features a challenge. Something one must do that one is not prepared to do. Our instructors, experienced students and people that have performed with Robert, with King Crimson even, told us stories from the early days.

"And then this truck pulls up with a recording studio in it. Record an album. You've got 26 hours!"

I wondered so desperately after our surprise, which turned out to be a concert at the mansion which was promoted far and wide (whatever that is for West Virginia).

While I remember writing (a misnomer -- Guitar Craft music is transmitted by habit, not notation) with my group what we eventually performed, I do not remember the performance. What I remember is this:

Flying down the stairs of the mansion with my hair loose in one of my long black canvas dresses, and knowing I looked like I was running to meet a lover and being proud of it.

A song performed by the one experienced female Crafty present at the concert about the sorrows of binary stars.

And me, in slacks, shirt and waistcoat standing on the back lawn looking out at the stars after it was all over, my hands in my pockets as I rocked back and forth from my toes to my heels in my perfect little black Oxfords in the wet grass and wondered at this feeling of having the elegance of men. Finally.

The next day my boyfriend retrieved me and we drove back to his home in DC in his blue pick-up. I didn't know how to speak to him, nor did I wish to relearn. He congratulated me on being made calmer by it all, and I thought with fury and with fire that, that had not been the point.

The point had been to have loved and to have left. I must have mourned.

I wrote about the experience soon after and posted it on my website. I spoke of that feeling of summoning, and I spoke of what it felt like to be in the mansion surrounded by what I termed the ghosts of the not yet dead.

On Elephant Talk, a popular King Crimson discussion board site, I was mocked for my mysticism and my belief in the supernatural. But it was no such thing. I was merely a writer who could see how others had moved and later would move through that house. That I could know their phantoms was a gift, because I could see also that I was not to be one of them, although I did take private lessons after and attended other Guitar Craft seminars in other places too. But those are different stories.

I have a poetry project I talk about but cannot seem to execute on, simply because I am too shy. I call it 100 Gods. 100 poems, 100 unnamed subjects, the pantheon of an only child, a hungry artist, a desirous woman, an ambitious man.

And Robert will always be among them for the precision I taught myself in shy silence and admiration and lust in the midst of everyone else's love songs. I would be someone else without him and gratitude has a long arm.
There's nothing quite like the feel of something new, and I know this because Carlis and I used to drive around DC in the middle of the night singing along with Nine Inch Nails at the top of our lungs. It was 1990 or '91 somewhere across the winter between the two and the year I learned how to say fuck perfectly -- round and coy with a bit of bounce on the k. Playful like. And with the insinuation of a perfect smile, which neither Carlis nor I actually had, but that's okay, because sharks lie.

I don't remember how Carlis and I met, although it was probably at a club and probably Tracks at that. But I do remember that for a little while he chose me in a terribly particular way no one else ever really has. Not before. And not since.

Back when I was a kid, I was always missing out on the good stuff. At least it seemed that way, and it was probably even marginally true. I had a bedtime of seven when it was at least nine for all my classmates, and I didn't have peers so much as my parents' friends who were never as veiled as they thought they were when they talked about swingers' parties and their ex-playmate girlfriends, while my parents, as lost socially as I would later be, just smiled tightly and nodded as I ate my vegetables.

Stories are currency for the lonely, so I learned the world and managed not to miss the '70s by saying I was afraid of the dark and sleeping with the door to my bedroom cracked open just enough to hear the tales I'd been exiled from. I'm afraid to say that it mostly left me wanting nightclubs and VIP rooms and a range of unfortunate upholstery.

Carlis used to come to my dorm to watch me try on club clothes before we went out.

"You," he said, "are going to be my Edie Sedgwick, but nothing terrible will happen. Not for us. I promise."

He would drawl it, and I always grinned and nodded rapidly as if I had the faintest idea who Edie Sedgwick was. I didn't, but Carlis wasn't ever really paying enough attention to care, and that was fine - really, really fine - because I didn't need his attention, I just needed him to save me from begging for tiddlywinks. That is not a euphemism for anything.

Slightly transparent tiddlywinks in a rich blue were, you see, the token needed to get into the VIP lounge at one of the clubs we, along with our friends Cat and Nik, frequented. Carlis made sure I looked good, and Carlis made sure everyone knew we were all with him: the fat girl from New Jersey who spoke such lovely French; the awkward stoner from Bakersfield, California who was a terrible dancer; and me, who lived those nights with such yearning I stank of it.

But when Carlis and his fabulous cheekbones received a token for the VIP room, he always snapped his fingers and stared down the queen with the box 'til the rest of us got ours too, and I will never stop being grateful to him for that, even though it was a child's game, even though it didn't matter, even though I will probably never entirely believe that.

This year I went to Dragon*Con for the first time, and I was a Guest. It wasn't my first con, but it was certainly my first con with major non-literary celebrity guests, and it was certainly the biggest con I've ever been a Guest at. And oh I was proud, and pride, you know, always goes before the fall, even of the most private sorts: I have a million unbelievably fucked up stories about Dragon*Con and not a one of them actually involves me.

Because I spent Dragon*Con looking for the cool parties and not even being able to catch an elevator in the criminally busy Marriott to get to the Green Room.

In fact, I led people on a wild goose chase for the cool parties that had us waiting in line for the lameness that was the Mad Scientists Ball (DrinkBot 2000 is not serving drinks to you); loitering briefly at the Pirate Party; being stymied by the sound problems at the Browncoat Ball (which felt like crashing a wake); and missing the celebrity guest appearance at the Yule Ball, all before winding up camped out in the Marriott bar several hours and a couple of days too late listening to other people's tales of celebrity shenanigans that if no less ridiculous than my own failed attempts at awesome, at least sounded a hell of a lot more efficient (which, oddly, isn't saying much).

As I listened to it all, I tried to be fabulous and never blink, never miss anything and always, always keep a watch out of the corner of my eye for the story I felt sure must really and truly be coming to choose me.

It was the way I used to keep my eye out for the queen with the box of tiddlywinks on Sunday nights in downtown DC, and I found I desperately missed Carlis and the random pride he insisted on showing in me and my misfit friends back when he was beautiful and we were not.

I wanted to lounge against him again and tell him what it was like, sitting on the floor of my bedroom in the dark of 1979, peering through a crack in the door to watch television and hear the stories - that I was too young to realize weren't cool at all - of the grasping desires of my parents' friends.

You see, Carlis chose me. And I don't know why, and I doubt it was with much intent and certainly no long term interest (we lost touch within a year), but it was something unique in my experience: like the way Robert Redford once bought my mother a drink.

Maybe it's being raised a girl-child, but it's like my cells can't help but turn anything they can into an audition, and Carlis chose me for no good reason and no particular purpose when I was an awkward virgin with acne and a desire to be more so strong it always made me less. So in my mind that will always have been kind of him.

The truth, of course, though, is that I actually get chosen all the time. I know that now. Hell, I got chosen when I asked Steve to the prom before I'd ever even met Carlis, and I got chosen when I asked Patty to live with me. I get chosen - maybe the way men do - when people say yes. I'm not sure. It is something I'm still learning.

But I am learning it, and maybe that's what's important. Because I was able to wish people well on adventures that were absolutely not mine to have at Dragon*Con and say to Patty, let's go home; let's go to bed.

And we did. In the dark. In a strange city. In the midst of stories that happened to be hunting other people that night. And I didn't need Carlis's help or a crack in the door to do it at all. Because Patty had smiled at me. And said yes.
The cab drivers from Africa always ask me if I am a movie star from France.

"You look familiar," they say. "I cannot remember the names, but I liked your movies."

It seems as if I am living lives I don't even know about.

Certainly, it would explain why people always tell me that they'd thought I'd be taller or really didn't expect for my laugh to be so incredibly awkward and geeky. Somewhere I am sophisticated and sunning myself. Somewhere I am rich. Somewhere, I am even beautiful (that, again, is apparently France, at least according to agents who assure me I could get work there where the standard of beauty is different, and they cringe when they say it), but here, I'm just not what people expect.

Sort of like the Spanish Inquisition, except I don't even like Monty Python, and that tends to confound folks a bit too.

There are so many strange cases of oddly perceived identity in my life -- like the way I get called sir when I wear my hair down and long -- that while interesting and powerful to write about, don't really affect my life that much, probably because my life is so created, so written and breathed into at least seemingly deliberate being.

But as much as many people, especially people here, often view my life as a triumph of desire, the truth is, my life is also a product of the failure of it.

Because I wanted to be a cocktail waitress. A politician. A pilot. I wanted to be a war reporter. To be a dancer. To be a soldier. I wanted to be a chemist. Or a mathematician. I wanted to be a beauty queen. I wanted to move to Australia. I wanted to move to London. To Colorado. I wanted to like soccer. I was going to go to Amherst. Or Northwestern. I wanted to like Indian food. I wanted to be a corporate vice president by the time I was 30. I was going to go to law school. I wanted to have five sons: Julien, Gabriel, Michael, Daniel and Philip. I wanted to marry. Or be a nun. I wanted to have a dear little wife and kiss her pregnant belly and feel full of terrifying and possessive pride. I wanted to be strong. And brave. And I just wanted to like dogs. I wanted to be a priestess. Or a scholar studying the classics. And I wanted to farm. To direct. I wanted to work in hospice. Or be a midwife. I wanted to do things that were hard. And I wanted to be lonely.

But mostly, I just wanted to be the most beautiful girl in the world.

Of course, none of that really worked out. But just because I let it go or it never really made any sense in the first place doesn't mean it wasn't real. Doesn't mean it weren't true. Doesn't mean I wanted any of it any less.

There's this person I think I should be. That I'd like to be. That I can't help but think is a hell of a lot more dashing and stylish than me. And maybe she's a movie star from France, and maybe he works for the CIA. Maybe she's just a hell of a leader or was never ashamed to go to his knees. Maybe there is a fondness for scotch. After all, we're all about the fashionable vices around here.

Meanwhile, one of my many more pedestrian vices is HBO's Big Love. It's a vice because I know better, and because I have a friend who was a child in the FLDS, but they're rerunning it on HBO2 now, and I watch.

A few nights ago there was a moment wherein Nicki goes to visit the mostly toxic compound she and her husband Bill (they've moved to the suburbs where they are in a plural marriage with two other wives) grew up on.

It's one of the few times the show idealizes that world simply and non-sexually, and don't ever tell me camera angles can't break your heart as she and Bill chase each other through fields of laundry hung ghostly in a night breeze. The next day, as the massive, tangled family they are both a part of gather for a portrait, she turns to Bill and says simply, but with the saddest eyes you have ever seen, "I gave up hundreds, for just ten."

And I just can't stop thinking about it. Because even with my small biological family and my reluctance and suspicion when it comes to the true and solid reality of much of my chosen family, I get Nicki, jealous, conniving, fucking heartbroken, Nicki.

Because I'm her.

Because I gave up hundreds too. For just ten. I know it every time I look in the mirror.

And sure, I had to, just like anyone else. But I know it. And maybe not everyone else does. And more than that, maybe not everyone gets reminders the way I do of the men and women they aren't and the movies they're still apparently making back home in a France they've never seen.

Sometimes I dream about men watching my image wreathed in smoke and flickering on the wall of a cafe somewhere in North Africa. And always I have a secret, and that's that all things are true.
When I was a kid I thought I could call down wind and call down rain. It wasn't hard, living a block from the East River. I often walked that last block home from school with my eyes closed because of all the dirt kicked up by my imagined powers. But I wasn't fond of storms; they made it too hard to breathe.

I went to Australia in its summer, and it's strange to be in a place where it's 80 degrees on a cool day and yet every lamppost is adorned with banners featuring the legacy of Christmas back in Britain. You are surrounded by pictures of fir trees and snowflakes as you walk amongst spiders and palms.

We were working on Macbeth at NIDA, and I was playing the Lady. It meant a lot to me, seeing how I felt like I'd bullshitted my way into the program and whored my way into the country. I didn't know how to act, not really, but I sure as hell was discovering that I could, and maybe getting the Lady was obvious what with that little vicious slide of a smile in my headshot and the way I fall into high status characters full of reflex and fear.

Who knows. Either way. I had a shitload of text to learn in a very short amount of time, and if there's anything I'm crap at as an actor, it's learning text. And so I spent my lonely life in Sydney haunting cafes and muttering to myself about blood and ambition as I sipped lemon sodas and kept one eye out for the story that had brought me to Australia, but that I knew in my heart wasn't actually coming to find me.

My Macbeth was a fellow named Richard. He was a kid, twenty maybe. And while it wasn't something we talked about, lord knows it was something I thought about as we worked together. We were playing the characters young, the Lady particularly, so it wasn't so much an issue of them in my head, as of us. I'm bad enough at human interaction as myself, to add the layer of these lovers was a fucking terror to me.

Because I'd told Richard things, told him about why I had come to the other side of the world and also about why I was scared and lonely and a fool. Richard smiled and teased me and then showed me with great pride the sticks he'd taken from the yard behind his house and whittled down to be Macbeth's blades. From there it was also stories about how you have to tuck your pants into your socks into your boots if you really want to be safe in the bush.

He lived two hours north of the city and commuted in every day, and I get now that maybe he was embarrassed by his story too and that we were siblings in wanting.

We used to practice on our own time up by the library which was closed for the summer. I was in a fury about it, because access to the archives in there would have been worth the price of admission alone. I stared longingly through the glass doors of it between runs, and he took it, like most matters between us, with good humour.

There are few things more shitty in the world of acting that doing a love scene. It doesn't even have to involve nudity or kissing for it to just be awful, invasive and awkward, and I certainly felt like I must have seemed a foul, desperate, idiot of an older woman every time he yanked me close and I had to stare into his eyes and encourage him to my plans, until one day I forgot my lines and so did he and we just stood there gazing desperately at each other until suddenly we both broke into uncontrollable laughter.

"I'm sorry, I was staring into your eyes and completely forgot what I was going to say!"

"Me too!"

It was hilarious. We were acting so perfectly, we forgot what the fuck we were doing, and we just sat on the ground on the red-carpeted landing in front of the closed library and laughed until we felt broken.

After that, I knew the Lady loved Macbeth and did so with an eager pride. After that, I felt better with the world if I could sit close to Richard and feel as if I were a small but hard girl. He kept close, and I was grateful. We had to write diary entries as our characters, and I remember people being shocked at my ability to find her tone and saying they felt shamed in the face of her desire.

Richard and I wrote the story of Macbeth and the Lady's early life together with a woven fury. Shakespeare had given us a point, a fixed truth, and we were happy to extend it with wicked glee infinitely in space in all directions. I came to know that I loved Richard in no way but gratitude, because we were so very, very good.

Being a summer program, we had no support of NIDA's rather astounding costumers and had to style ourselves. Richard proudly showed me a shirt he had bloodied with paint in his back yard for a short film he and his friends had made on the beach at some point in his far too recent childhood, while I took the red gown I'd bought for attending the Opera House and draped the sheer gauzy robe I'd brought for the hostel over it and I was quickly haunted and drowned.

I performed in bare feet and struggled often for my lines. But I knew the Lady and knew cadence and I certainly knew Macbeth, and I plowed through it in all her playful anguish.

When Richard and I had no desire to let them go, I signed us up to perform a scene at the corrobee. The corrobee was held on a small platform stage in the cavernous glass-enclosed lobby of NIDA's new building, while people drank and ate sausages and our crazy movement teacher Wendy "Short Fast Loud" Strehlow tended bar.

"How do you want to do this?" I asked.

"Fuck the platform," he said.

Right. Bare feet on the floor in the middle of goddamn NIDA in the most ridiculously hard to project into space there ever was in front of a couple hundred drunk people who either wanted to be us or wanted us to want to be them. And I was the American girl. The curiosity.

It was grey out. And the sky had been a little bit rumbly all day. I was nervous about it because I had theater or festival or something tickets later that night and didn't feel like getting rained on, but hadn't really thought about it for any other reason.

Until we started the scene with Richard's silly wooden daggers made from sticks taken in his back yard.

Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
They must lie there. Go carry them, and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood.


Crack! Bam! Lightning. Not a flash, but one of those sharp and jagged lines that cut the sky. People gasped. Someone screamed. I, the Lady, was fucking terrified. At the end, Richard winked at me, and after, as Wendy pushed a glass of wine into my shaking hand, people congratulated me on the lightning.

I think of Richard often. I hope he has finally gotten into the full-time program at NIDA, even if I'm a little jealous, even as that's not my path. And I hope he is good and strong and brave. He has lovely eyes, and I want him to be a star.

I was so lonely in Sydney. It was so hard. Except when Richard was teaching me to call down wind and call down rain and never, ever close my eyes. It was bliss in nearly every way.

May 2016

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