Assignment 1: Life and Death
I come alive when I see a rack of clothing. I love,
really love shoes. I'm not your average twenty year old. I'm
not organized like my sister, and I'm not studying architecture. I am
taking a break from school right now. I have never met Christian Louboutin
but Karl Lagerfield admires me. I am not ashamed to tell you I never wear
clothes around the house. I am not ashamed to tell you I used to worry
about spiders creeping into my mouth when I slept. I am not ashamed to
talk about my learning disability. Leonard, my bodyguard, makes me giddy
when I think about him alone. I avoid commenting on my love life, though
I will remember the photos. Because I believe that if you can see it,
you can believe it. Believe in my sporadic interest in sporting events,
basketball and tennis. Never baseball, hockey, or football. I have never
been stung by a bee. I dyed my hair dark brown for high school graduation.
I consider my past-self with disbelief. When it rains, I miss my father
and being thirteen. My therapist told me that a dog would help me take
care of myself. She told me having an animal depend on me would provide
a model; I would be happy to model in Karl's spring ad campaign. I have
perfect vision, many vintage dresses, and a baby blue espresso maker from
If I come alive when I see a rack of clothing,
am I dead the rest of the time? Someone tells me that I love, really love
shoes, will that influence my relationship with the man I will marry?
Will we both love, really love shoes? Will we have better sex
than other couples because of the shoes? Will we start conventionally—me
in a pair of Christian Louboutin black leather slingbacks, four inch heels
and peep toe? Red soles pointing to the ceiling, will I sit on a dark
cherry desk in his den with my legs spread into a V? Will old flip-flops
turn me on? If my looks go, will I to go back to school? Because I don't
know a thing about flying buttresses or the Duomo, will my house collapse?
After the catastrophe, will I be forced to buy t-shirts in packages of
three or five, rescue my shoes from the rubble? Will I wear men's button-downs
for the rest of my life because they remind me of my father? Will I be
able to remember the color of his eyes, the way he took his coffee, what
he told me as we rode in a limousine to my high school graduation?
My father taught my sister and I how to
think smart, think sharp before we'd lost all our baby teeth. Except for
when he played tennis, he always wore a button-down. I used to marvel
over the fact that one of his eyes is green and the other is blue; I never
could remember which was which. He took his coffee with two sugars and
plenty of milk. In the back of the limousine, I swear he told me he loved
me more than my sister. Throughout our childhood, he'd insisted he could
never choose. He had no favorites. My mother picked happily, easily. The
furniture in our house changed with the season. She bought my sister and
I perfect, slim noses for our fifteenth birthday. She could say yes and
make decisions like a yes-man executive. Yes, we'll spend the summer in
Italy. Yes, the girls will get new ponies. Yes, the new Blahnik stilettos,
a pair in each color. Yes, Ashley. My father told me, Mary-Kate, you are
my favorite. He looked me in my baby blue eyes and told me, little girl,
little girl I come alive when I see you.
Assignment 2: On Crying
Mary-Kate never cries in restaurants, cafés,
or clubs. Since diapers, crying worked like an easily-reached switch.
On and off, not now but later. When she begins crying during an Adam Sandler
movie, she thinks: I've been crying like a light switch for twenty years.
Now, she tells Leonard she's getting really old. To look at him, Mary-Kate
must tip her head back. She's feels a strain beneath her chin, a stretch
of the throat. Leonard, who dwarfs her five feet by a foot and a half,
just shakes his head and laughs. Upon further insistence, he says always,
aw no, no, no. During this particular movie, her crying begins when she
considers Leonard standing at the back of the theater. Her therapist told
her to talk about her concerns but other girls don't listen so Leonard
hears the brunt of her burdens. Her sister calls from New York and the
phone ices everything. Mary-Kate listens about her sister's boyfriend—he's
thirty, owns a restaurant, a club; she bites her tongue when the spotlight
shifts to her own life.
If she's at her apartment, sometimes she
lets herself tear up. In the movie theater, she laughs before she cries
when Adam Sandler instructs the audience: family first. At first, she
swallows the sound, but then her body is caught by the force, and she
doesn't usually mind a good cry during a movie but she can't find anyone
else this worked up and what a baby crying now, here. Leonard doesn't
follow her as she rushes up the aisle and out the doors. She mouths bathroom,
even though he'll stay still without it. In the light of the corridor,
she feels the air conditioning trapped on her skin: Goosebumps prickle
her arms, even beneath a black cashmere cardigan. Her cardigan is unbuttoned,
so she pulls it taut around herself and heads towards the restrooms, staring
at her feet. Her toenails are painted red and the color has chipped off.
She only needs to go around one corner. Even in the middle of the afternoon,
plenty of people fill the hallways and she is thankful when she arrives
at the bathroom without being asked for an autograph or a picture. Maybe
no one even said her name. No one ever said her name. In the bathroom,
a row of stalls stretches on for what seems like the length of a swimming
pool. She heads to the end, always opts for the handicapped cushiness
when she can do so discreetly. Her reflection blurs the way iodine changes
an onion: I am wearing pale blue sateen shorts. I am wearing a white camisole
made from the softest cotton. I swim in my black cardigan. Inside the
stall, walls gleam gray. From its perch, a secret camera watches me cry.
Leonard is thirty-five. When I was a child, I crept into the walk-in closet
in our parent's bedroom. I huddled in the corner with my sister and told
secrets, protected by the fort of our mother's Ferragamo pumps and Tod's
loafers. If the house was chilly, we brought a giant satiny comforter
with us, so light the tag read Canadian Cloud.
Assignment 3: On Travel
Leonard swears driving is the best way to get anywhere.
When I go to New York, I get new bodyguards because he doesn't like to
fly. For flying, I never wear great clothes. Last week, I traveled in
straight black jeans and a Rolling Stones t-shirt. This t-shirt feels
like silken tissue paper. On my body, it's like the ghost of a cat. I
never wear a bra because I'm less than an A so I feel the shirt skimming
my nipples. On a plane, I need to cross my legs. I have never had sex
on a plane but I've masturbated consistently for the past two years. I
fly first class and make sure no one is seated next to me. I drink diet
Coke already mixed with 10 Cane rum and, underneath a cashmere blanket
that I bring on board, I unzip my jeans or slip my fingers beneath the
waistband of straight-leg sweat pants. I come quietly and no one needs
to know. I have never had an orgasm with a man. When the plane moves through
clouds, I keep the view from the window with me. The commissures in the
clouds mimic the commissure of my lips.
Creeping around in myself blacks everything
out. I imagine strangers on their knees. I imagine myself pinned like
a bug, tortured by thousands of lapping tongues. By the time I'm done
with my drink, I'm wearing a schoolgirl uniform, alone in a bedroom. There
are actually eight beds on one side and eight on the other, with an aisle
down the middle. My school was nothing like this. Our uniforms were sharp-elbowed
blazers with gold crests. In the bed-laden bedroom, I am alone in the
plaid jumper. The peter-pan collar peeks. It's a short sleeved blouse,
and I am looking at myself in a full length mirror when a girl steps out
towards me. She tiptoes out of the mirror. No one needs to know. Her hair
sways long and brown, hitting her butt. I will never be a punk, but tight
leather pants encase toothpick legs well. She wears a faded and holey
wifebeater with nothing underneath and her large breasts swell. I keep
all my clothes on and caress through her shirt. Her ears droop with piercings
and her eyes fall over and over from the weight of black liner. Her throat
tilts and I open mouth kiss her. I'm practicing serious restraint. I could
come any time, but I wait until the girl has pushed me onto one of the
beds. We are naked on white sheets. She says my name and I dissolve. I
am gone, watching her, and she's wishing me back. She screams my name
again and again—come back—out of luck, and she begins to cry.
Then I come. I feel myself tripping. My eyes squeeze shut. I get up to
go to the bathroom, making sure my shirt covers my fly.
I have never masturbated in a car. Leonard
and I drive around, though, and the thing about traffic is you can never
predict how you'll feel in the midst of it. A traffic jam might have you
lazing or it could have you raging. I love that Leonard knows what I mean.
I love that we are diplomatic about music. When I drive, I choose. When
he drives, he chooses. None of my friends would approve of this and neither
would my parents or sister. Leonard says he's never heard of such a thing,
either. He knows other bodyguards just like I know other movie kids.
"Did you want to be a bodyguard when
you were a kid?" I ask. We are driving to a salon. I am coloring
my hair. For fall, I will be a different girl, though New York and California
seasons pretty much negate each other. As soon as I say the words, I feel
dumb. Leonard keeps his eyes straight ahead. Today we are both dressed
in all black but we didn't plan it. Sometimes cycles line up. When I lived
at home and got my period, my mom and sister suffered too. The traffic
light turns red, and he brakes so evenly that I barely feel the stop.
Assignment 4: Your Ideal Family Situation
My parents live together but separate. Their house
contains a wing for each of them. They are aboard a fantastic bird. Imagine,
a divided marble staircase, tongue stuttering serpentine beneath a clacked
beak. Imagine feathers the cerulean shimmer of our pool. Imagine a construction
lightweight, aerodynamic, transportable, and capable of ruffling. My parents
cling like tiny bugs to the house, grasping at those feathers that happen
to stick up.
In pictures, they hold hands and smile,
or, at least my mother smiles, and holds my father's hand. My father hates
to have his picture taken. He doesn't mind contact with my mother—they
say I love you every day—but capturing the moment on film doesn't
sit well with him. On his bad days, he worries those pictures will ruin
things for my sister and I, that a happy family just won't cut it. For
that reason, he's been the worst kind of parent and the best kind of parent:
kicking us out of the nest, while still throwing up at feeding time.
They're not divorced, but I spend some
weekends with my father and some weekends with my mother. I will always
keep these visits for myself. My sister goes with one parent and I go
with the other. It isn't that I don't love my sister, but I like all the
attention. Coach says that I need to become more comfortable with self-expression.
I am not ashamed to say that I want all the attention. I do want all the
In fact, I need all the attention. With
my mother, this attention would not be much different with my sister present.
My mother would still flutter from one cloud to another, now shop now
lunch (the verb) now sun (the verb) now this now that. Both verbs. She
is a women with concerns, opinions, and, she feels, certain rights. Convictions.
With my mother, I need all of the part of the whole she can give me.
When I am my father's daughter, though,
I am the only thing in the world. I know because he told me so. During
our weekends together, we watch movies on the television set in the kitchen.
We sit on stools and snack on cucumber sandwiches. We drink vodka martinis
on the rocks with lime. After two, we eat some olives. My father knows
my deepest, darkest secrets. The olives can never be stuffed with blue
cheese but I'll sneak one filled with a bit of garlic. I keep my journals
in the middle drawer of the nightstand. He knows that even though I live
alone, I always cover the journals with my laciest bras and most ruffled
panties, frilly pieces so exotic I've never worn them; so tropical that,
if I ever did wear them, I'd feel like a bird of paradise. I feel like
a bird of paradise in my father's eyes, his tropical swirl eyes, one as
blue as our pool and one as green as a bamboo plant, eyes like perfect
globes. His eyes show me his world and it is just me, only me, and I swear
I heard the words fall right from his mouth.
Happy 21st Birthday.