using category excluder, exclude Out category

D’Gina, or, Every Story Is True

I do this trick I call The Gina. Da Gina or D'Gina. It's for when someone's crazy and I hate them. It's for people who lie to your face and stick to the lie no matter what.

My father said every story is true if you know where to look, and made-up stories tell you more than true stories. I see that everywhere now. There's a presidential election coming, and I see all these stories people believe no matter what, or deny no matter what. Like a guy says something about coal and it isn't true. OK, it's not true about coal but it's true about him. He gets shouted down and ridiculed but he repeats his story. Why does he put himself through all that? What does he care about so much? Not coal. He's not stupid. He knows coal and that's not it. He's saying something else that's hard to say and this is the only way he can, once you see through the coal.

I got the idea in fourth grade. Homework got hard in fourth grade. A lot of nights we made something fast for dinner, like mac'n'cheese and six cherry tomatoes for a vegetable, and at bedtime we still weren't done. A lot of nights my father had to look something up on Wikipedia so he could help me, like Least Common Denominator.

We were driving home from school and we had a bad night of homework ahead.

MY FATHER
Something's bothering you.

ME
(growls)
No.

MY FATHER
Whoa, what a growl!

ME
A girl in my class.

MY FATHER
Yeah?

ME
Remember Gina?

MY FATHER
Yeah.

ME
I wanted her for soccer but she said she doesn't like soccer. She's lying! She loves soccer and she's great at it. She never stops jumping to fake you out. You can't guess which way she'll go or when. How stupid does she think I am? Like when I asked her about soccer she started talking about that carnival every summer, and how the carnival guys wanted her to go around with them, and she told them sure, next time they come, so now they're watching for her. She says all kinds of things like that. She even lies when it doesn't get her anything, just to keep in practice.

MY FATHER
Hmmmm.

ME
So forget her!

MY FATHER
Maybe she talks the way she plays soccer? Jumping all around to confuse everyone? You can't guess which way she'll go?

ME
Yeah, but it only works in soccer.

MY FATHER
There was a guy in baseball they called Mr Hustle. You know how baseball can be kind of a sleepy sport, with the guy in right field standing in the sun and chewing and scratching while the pitcher and the catcher have a debate in sign language and just when they make up their minds the batter steps out? Mr Hustle never zoned out. He never stopped moving and he never got tired. He always got the jump on you, by a split second. He said all those split seconds added up and he piled up great numbers over the years. He set a lot of records. He said he knew he wasn't very good so he had to be tricky instead.

ME
(growling)
Yeah, Gina never gets tired.

MY FATHER
Maybe she's thinks she's not very good, so she has to be tricky instead?

ME
Yeah, but she's no good at tricks either. Like that carnival!

MY FATHER
You remember how a squid squirts a cloud of ink to escape? In World War II we had planes that did that. They were huge slow bombers that had to fly low if they wanted to hit anything, but then enemy radar could see them and shoot them down. So the bombers dropped a cloud of aluminium strips called chaff that clouded up the radar screens.

ME
Cool.

MY FATHER
Maybe Gina's doing that?

ME
Chaff?

MY FATHER
You want to try something?

ME
OK.

MY FATHER
You be her. You be Gina.

ME
I can't do Gina. She's crazy.

MY FATHER
I'll be you. Ready?

ME
OK.

MY FATHER (as ME)
Hey Gina, we need you for soccer. It's great how you fake everybody out and get them tired.

ME (as GINA)
When is that carnival coming back, you know, out by Shoprite?

ME (as ME)
How do I know what she would say?

MY FATHER (as MY FATHER)
You need good shoes for soccer, right? Does Gina have good shoes? Does she wear good shoes in class?

ME (as ME)
No, she wears rotten shoes with holes in the sides. We saw her toe coming through once. She waved at the whole class with her toe.

MY FATHER (as MY FATHER)
She didn't try to hide it.

ME (as ME)
No, she made a puppet show or something.

MY FATHER (as MY FATHER)
A puppet show could hide something, couldn't it?

ME (as ME)
Yeah, if she's embarrassed.

MY FATHER (as MY FATHER)
If she doesn't have shoes for class, maybe she doesn't have soccer shoes? Or shin guards, or wrist guards, or a water bottle? Or the fruit plate we take turns bringing for everyone?

ME (as ME)
Yeah. You lose your shin guards and your parents get mad, that stuff adds up.

MY FATHER (as MY FATHER)
Have you seen Gina's parents?

ME (as ME)
(thinking)
No.

MY FATHER (as MY FATHER)
Driving her to school, picking her up?

ME (as ME)
No.

MY FATHER (as MY FATHER)
Talking to her teachers? Taking her and her friends to the movies? Anything?

ME (as ME)
I've never seen them. I don't think anyone has.

MY FATHER (as MY FATHER)
Have kids been to her house? For a party, or to play, or just to drop her off?

ME (as ME)
No. Weird.

MY FATHER (as ME)
So Gina, wanna come over Saturday? My father put up a soccer net in back.

ME (as GINA)
Nah, there's a motorcycle show, and all the guys are expecting me.

MY FATHER (as MY FATHER)
(laughs)
There you go!

MY FATHER (as ME)
Guys, guys, who's gonna drive us? Gina, can your Dad or someone drive us?

ME (as GINA)
Yeah, no, he's going for his pilot's license. It's his second try. He's freaking out. He almost flipped the plane last time.

MY FATHER (as ME)
Say, Gina, you talk the way you play soccer, you know?

ME (as GINA)
Yeah, no. Maybe. Who knows?

MY FATHER (as ME)
Yeah, you jump around, you fake everybody out, you keep everybody guessing.

ME (as GINA)
Whatever. When I'm up for it.

MY FATHER (as ME)
You're always up.

ME (as GINA)
Why not, with the breaks I got. I feel bad for some of these kids, they didn't get the breaks.

MY FATHER (as ME)
Yeah, be glad you're not me. My Dad's too old to run but he doesn't know it.

ME (as ME)
(laughing)

ME (as GINA)
That's nothing. My Dad crushed his leg on a motorcycle. He can't run or ride so now he flies.

MY FATHER (as MY FATHER)
Now you've got it! My girl!

ME (as ME)
(laughing)
Yeah!

MY FATHER
Now do that all your life, whenever someone makes you mad and you can't figure them out. Do Da Gina on them.

ME
If they're crazy and I hate them.

MY FATHER
Do it until you can talk just like them, you know just what they'll say.

ME
Yeah. I can.

MY FATHER
You even know what they say about you, when you're not around.

ME
(laughs)
Like looking at myself from across the playground, from inside someone who hates me.

MY FATHER
There's nothing better you can learn, ever.

ME
Better than long division?

MY FATHER
We watch a lot of movies. That's where you learn it.

ME
So I should skip math and watch movies?

MY FATHER
True stuff is too easy. The made-up stuff, someone had to want it bad.

ME
The more you make up, the more of you goes into it. The more it says about you.

MY FATHER
Exactly.

ME
(laughing)
Like, a lie says you're a liar?

MY FATHER
Every story is true, if you know where to look.

ME
(laughing)
Did I tell you about our tree, how high I got? I could see all the way over our house. I saw a light from your basement window, going through the long grass to the woods, where the sun was behind my head, and made a huge shadow.

MY FATHER
(laughing)
Right, right.

ME
(laughing)
A hot air balloon came out of the sun. That was the huge shadow. It lifted me out of the tree. I told it to put me down in that light from your window.

MY FATHER
(nodding)
Good driver.

ME
I got on my knees to look in. You had ten women in there, Curves owners who just bought your software. They were walking around laughing, not sitting. They were all around your desk, and you were showing them how members beep the barcode at the door.

MY FATHER
(laughing)
Ten! Great! Could you make that a dozen?

ME
They pointed up at me and laughed, and you turned around and saw my face in the window, and you laughed....

So that's D'Gina. I do D'Gina all through this book, on everyone: my judge, my lawyer, Judge Bender and Teddi, my mother. D'Gina saves me from hating everyone.

[ $revision: 983 $]

Cave of Secrets

David and I watched Rashomon to get us started. I got that dream feeling from the first minute, from the rain all around the falling temple, like it was the ark on the flood at the end of the world.

Is that what movies are? Someone makes a dream that strangers can dream together, side-by-side on a couch or in a hall of deep chairs, half awake in the half light, where sharing so much makes strangers close, like distant family that has lived through years and wars and birth and big days together?

Different bed, same dream. That's one of the four-word Chinese proverbs my father and I wrote in our blank book, on thick pages with a special pen. We liked the old-style letters, the Kanji, not the new ones, the old ones were more like pictures. Bed has a slanted ceiling over it, dream has a moon under a cover.

I kept our book of characters on his book shelves in the basement. The shelves went sixty feet along three walls, I counted. I picked a spot for my nine books near the light of his desk and half way up the six foot shelves. Later it went into the mud with the rest, I'm guessing, forty years of books, from long before me.

I remember this falling temple, Rashomon, from upstairs in that house, with the rough wood walls and high wood ceiling, and me and my father in that long front window, watching side by side on the couch the way we watched The Land Before Time. This time the long front window is streaming with rain, the windows in the loft are drumming, and in each flash of lightning I see our trees shivering and ticking like metronomes in the wind.

That can't be right.

ME
Sorry, I told you wrong. I didn't see this before. I thought I had. My father only told me about it.

DAVID
Yeah?

ME
How each person's story undid the story before, because each person made himself better than he was.

DAVID
Hiding something he was ashamed of.

ME
Yeah, his cowardice or whatever.

DAVID
But not guilt! Never guilt.

ME
Yeah, like the bandit, the Mifune guy.

DAVID
He's shouting out his guilt, over and over, laughing. He'd rather get himself hung than say he was a coward.

ME
Yeah.

I looked away.

ME
So I didn't tell you right. I had that wrong.

DAVID
Yeah. Whatever.

I didn't move.

DAVID
Guilty. You miss your turn. I get your next Jolly Rancher.

We laughed.

ME
No, wait, I'm remembering something.

His lifted his chin and his eyebrows went up.

ME
Just a second.

He waited.

ME
Want to hear something really weird?

DAVID
Always.

ME
I don't know if I can say it right.

DAVID
You get three tries.

We laughed.

DAVID
You already have one strike.

We laughed.

ME
When you remember wrong, or you lie...

DAVID
Yeah...

ME
You're never closer to the truth.

His eyebrows went up again.

I laughed, still looking away, thinking how to say this.

ME
You have your outside story and your inside story. They go together. Like evil twins.

We laughed.

ME
Not evil. Your bumbler twin, always embarrassing you. You wish he was more of a coward, so he wouldn't be so loud about it.

He laughed.

ME
You push your outside story on everyone to hide some inside story.

DAVID
OK.

ME
Ready?

DAVID
It gets weirder?

We laughed.

ME
OK. Say the lie is the dragon....

DAVID nodded slowly, his eyebrows up.

ME
That guards your cave of secrets.

I looked at him. He nodded, watching me closely.

ME
If you see the dragon you're close to his cave of secrets. Too close.

DAVID
OK. OK. Tell me if I'm getting it.

I nodded.

DAVID
Rashomon. Why make a movie about lie after lie? Because every lie is circling some truth, like a mother goose trying to lure a fox away from her nest.

ME
Yeah. Right! But you're the fox and also the goose.

DAVID
OK...

ME
The dragon is your dragon, the secrets are your secrets.

DAVID
OK...

ME
Till you think you're ready for them.

DAVID
OK...

ME
Which the dragon can tell, when you face him.

DAVID
OK...

ME
You remember things when you need them. When you're ready for them.

He waited and watched.

ME
Then you remember them the way you need them to be.

He narrowed his eyes and nodded in a very small slow way.

ME
Like did I see Rashomon with my father. No.

DAVID
OK...

I laughed at the look on his face, and he laughed.

ME
That's where remembering crosses into dreaming.

He frowned.

ME
Into the cave of secrets.

DAVID
This is the weird part?

ME
Right.

We laughed.

ME
The cave of wishes and fears.

He started to nod again, just a little.

ME
Where all your stories come from anyhow. False, more false, and most false.

We laughed.

ME
There's nothing more true.

We laughed.

DAVID
OK. True wishes. True fears.

ME
Yeah. There's something true behind every story. Has to be.

DAVID
OK...

ME
The dragon disguises your secret from you, like with riddles or in dreams. You disguise it from him, to sneak it out again.

He was lost now.

DAVID
Yep, you were right. That's weird.

We laughed.

ME
I know.

He waited.

ME
OK. Example. I thought I should see Rashomon with you because I saw it with him. See?

His eyebrows went up again.

ME
Even if I didn't.

He nodded.

ME
So I did even though I didn't.

We laughed.

ME
You remind me of him. The way we talked.

We smiled nervously, both of us.

ME
I never talked that way again, you know? Seven years, eight? I didn't know if I ever would.

He nodded.

ME
This way I mean.

He stared and nodded.

ME
Like this.

[ $revision: 993 $]

Stripped

OK, one more thing, to introduce what's coming, then maybe I can go into Turow mode, Turow gear, and give you the legal thriller in all this. Ha! Joke. Just joking.

I remember my father had a book stamped

Advance Review Copy. Not For Sale.

I asked him where it came from and he said a friend wrote it, a friend he went to school with.

"You can't sell this?"

He started to say something, like a teachable moment, but he just laughed. "We had to quit asking my friend that."

I showed him another book from his shelf, a paperback with no cover. It was stamped in red:

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

That's too long for a red stamp. Nobody will read all that. But whatever.

He said there are a lot of books that nobody buys. They aren't even worth sending back where they came from.

I felt sad about that. I remember one time we were hiking on our ridge on the Appalachian trail, our favorite spot, and I found some shiny gold tree bark that fell off in sheets like paper, but thick and rounded, more like a old time bookcover if you could get it flat.

"Turn around and don't look," I told Dad. "Kneel down. Sit on something. I want to put something in your backpack. Don't look."

He sat on a log and looked away while I unzipped a flat pocket and slowly slid the gold bark in.

"Don't look at home either," I told him. "It's a surprise."

At home I put the bark in a fat book on his shelf, Middlemarch. I imagined holding out Middlemarch later, and telling him look in it.

He wrote all through his books, in microscopic architect letters with a .5 mm pencil. He could pick up any book and remember where he was living and how it changed him at that age. When he looked in Middlemarch he would find my bark, my gold book cover for him.

When he was in jail his landlady put all his books in the mud by the street, his years and years of books, including I guess Middlemarch and the gold bark. People picked through his books for days, like pigeons pecking a loaf of bread all apart. I know because my bus drove over them every afternoon, like roadkill, like a truck full of chickens had tipped over and their feathers were blowing all around. I pretended I didn't know or care. Did someone find Middlemarch and my gold bark? Or is it deep in a dump somewhere, many years too soon?

[ $revision: 993 $]

Please Return

I still have three books he gave me, somewhere. I had more, but I kept my books with his, so mine are mostly gone too. While I was writing this I looked for them. I wanted to write something in one. I found Training the Mind by Chögyam Trungpa, a little book that fits in your hand, with 59 sayings. Did you notice I typed the o with the dots? I still have it because for a long time it was by my bed, in a little drawer. For a while after he was gone I pulled it out just to be sure I didn't dream it. If I open that book a little cloud of sadness comes over me. I know that's not how it's supposed to work. Chögyam Trungpa would be disappointed in me. I haven't trained my mind at all, you can tell.

I opened the front cover to write. But who would ever see what I wrote? Only Chögyam Trungpa and me.

So I wrote it in my big senior chemistry book instead:

Attention please. The owner of this book is a stolen child. If found, please return.

[ $revision: 983 $]

My Father’s Father

David doesn't have a father and he's fascinated by mine, but he never knew his father. He didn't know and love his father and then lose him, see him stolen in court. I don't know anyone who did, just me. Divorced kids have all kinds of rotten fathers but they still see their fathers if they want. Why couldn't I see mine?

While I was working on this I found someone else like me. My father. His mother wouldn't let him see his father, him and his sister.

When I saw two more like me, I started to see them everywhere. I wonder if there's a way to count them?

My father and his sister were angry for years. My father wrote that in a letter for me to find. He was angry half his life and then he dropped the anger. His sister never did. He didn't want me to be angry all my life, or even half my life.

The worst danger, he said, from some bad thing that happens to you? From then on you trace all your troubles to it. You can't do anything about your troubles until you trace them to yourself. You want the blame. In someone else's hands, there's nothing you can do. You're stuck, sometimes all your life. Like maybe his sister was.

So there's that coming too. Back to the Future it ain't, but sort of.

[ $revision: 990 $]

Thanksgiving

I just read where a mother, Bridget, says she almost decided on divorce the day before Thanksgiving. Her husband had just gone out the door with a sixpack to hang out with his guy friends, leaving her with the turkey and the kids and the cooking. Her husband doesn’t know who the kids’ dentist is, never makes summer camp plans or arranges child care, never buys toilet paper, never fills out all those damn school and Girl Scout forms, never clips baby fingernails, never figures out how to keep everything going through sudden snowstorms, strep throat, barf, and the mysterious moods and phases the kids go through.

I see from her what my project is about. My father did all of that and my mother couldn't handle it. Meanwhile he also brought in a lot more money than she did. A lot. I've done the math. I don't think my mother and my court ever did. He was the husband and father Bridget wants. My mother had Bridget's solution but wanted Bridget's complaints instead. She used a careless gullible court to kill off my father for me.

So that's two questions, and to me one matters a lot more than the other.

My advisor Mr Cionte says I keep dodging the central question of what happened in my court case. I keep digging into my father's beliefs and my mother's beliefs and wondering why they didn't fit together, or why they ever hoped to. Now from this Bridget I see why, and I think I have a good reason. I think it's the right way to go, the right question to be asking.

One question is, how could my mother use a court that way, against everything the court is supposed to be doing for me? The other is, did my mother want the complaint in place of the solution? Did she want resentment in place of love? Maybe she was better at resentment? Maybe she had more experience with resentment?

Also jealousy? She was jealous of him and me. You think that can't happen. Wrong. Oh so wrong.

I think it hurt my mother's pride with her mother and her sisters if she couldn't complain of every woman's complaints. Her family holds to old rules that have always half-worked. They don't look for better ways. They don't trust themselves to come up with anything better.

I see something about my mother's family, but I see even more about my mother. I always thought my mother was the leader in her family, bringing them into the future. My father said that. He wanted me to be proud of her. She was the oldest child. Her parents never went to college. Two of her brothers and sisters never went to college. She was the first. She got a Master's degree from a technical college, not the kind of college where you go away and live and party for four years. That had to be hard. Her degree was in psychiatry, which her family never really understood or trusted. She trained for a kind of work that got voted away in a political change. They wouldn't vote the taxes any more. Her family stopped thinking she was the future. They started wondering what was wrong with her.

Her father was a laborer on bridge projects. Her mother looked after the kids and the house. Her father handed over his paycheck every Friday and went drinking with his buddies. Her mother managed the money and the kids and schools and doctors. Her father was just one more of the kids. He did what he was told. He was a bad kid who had to be watched and kept on a short leash. To my mother he was more like a big brother than a father. Maybe she never knew what a father is, and didn't see a father as any big loss to me.

No wonder it didn't work between her and my father. My father was nothing like her father and I don't think she knew what to do with him. But she knew police and courts and used them to kill him off.

When my father was little they had family meetings where he and his sister were encouraged to speak up about what was or wasn't working and what they would like to see. My father expected my mother and me to be equal partners in the family. I don't think my mother could respect that in a man. A man should bellow at times for show, like the walrus at sea world, then silently go where he's told. The wife lets him pretend to be in charge but he's not, not even for the car and the yard. When something goes wrong it's his fault, but until then he should stay out of it. She turns to him if someone outside the family needs yelling at, but she tells him who to yell at and what to yell. He's the well-trained guard dog. He's also a tomcat, if you don't watch him. He'll eat his kittens and wander away to make more.

Does my judge at court think the same way? Better laws can't fix that. Laws are just butcher paper. The butcher doesn't cut meat with butcher paper, he only brings out the butcher paper at the end, to wrap your remains so you don't drip on his floor.

Mr Cionte says whoa, I'm thinking of family law. There's more to law than family law, and family law might be the worst of it.

OK, but why do families get the worst kind of law? Family law treats a family like small claims, like a crumpled fender. A child's future gets less care than a fender because law has a chance with a fender but not with a family or love or a child's future. Family is where kids learn love, and law cannot do anything with love or for love except crush it or poison it. You might fix a fender by hammering it, but can you grow a sprig that way? Family law is already a contradiction, right from the start. Nothing good could ever come from it.

Maybe no one wants to pay taxes for that kind of court, for the kind of people who go there. Those people wouldn't know justice if they saw it. Justice would be wasted on them. So my court has too much work and not enough money and cuts through families like a sawmill, making a few sizes of plank and mountains of sawdust. No, like the smelter in Madame Gasket's chopshop, or the furnace at the end of the last Toy Story. I was mad at my dad when we watched that one. He had worked with his Hong Kong client all night, over the Internet, and he fell asleep for the ending, the conveyor to the furnace. I started to yell at him to wake up but I saw his closed eyes shining. He knew. You think a little kid would feel worse but no, an old parent who has seen a child leave home, and helped them pack away their childhood. The child goes off to a big future, the parent goes home to an empty one.

A court like mine is a loaded gun left lying in the open in every home with small children. Touch that trigger and you never get the bullet back. My court can make any disagreement permanent and fatal in fifteen minutes or less.

Lawyers and judges make more for making your troubles worse. Law leaves everyone with less. Law pours you one poison to cure another, like the top doctors who bled George Washington his last night. Medical science has come a long way since then. Law has not. Law is the sewer where you dump things you don't care enough to know about. Law is a toxic dump where nothing grows, just one cancer against another. Don't let anyone you love go near the law, starting with yourself. Stay with love. Love is the slow hard work of growing something crowds out those cancers, leaves them less room, less opening for them to get started.

But I've lost enough of my life to the law, and all these questions about law. I'll tell that story and let someone better with more power fix it for kids in the future. Almost the same thing happened to my father over fifty years before me. Medical science advances, law does not.  If medical science can cure us of cancer, maybe it can cure us of law. Unless only love can. If one cure takes decades the other will take longer, but let's start, can't we? Then I want to be done with all that, law and complaints and resentment. I knew love once and I want that back. Starting with how my father and mother loved each other, and what went wrong.

Maybe everyone my age says this. We mean it but then we lose it. Maybe my mother felt this way once. How did she lose it? And the big question: Did my mother resent him more than she loved me? Can that happen? Can there ever be a good reason for that?

Because I never want that to be me. It might happen to me but it won't come from me, no matter how many good reasons I get. You can love without any reason to love, with every reason not to love. I've seen it. If you have a reason for love it's not love, it's something less. Only love is its own reason. Love gives all the reasons to everything, and nothing is anything without love. That's what I want to know about, for my life from here. The kind of love no court or law can kill.

[ $revision: 993 $]

Sled Dogs

He was a distance runner for twenty years. He quit running before I was born, the year he got cancer the second time, three years before me. He was always religious about it. He still kept his running shoes in a neat row under the shelves near his desk. They had reflective foil on them for the dark and fog and rain and snow. They were his sled dogs, waiting for the call and the trail. I called them sneakers once and he corrected me sternly. I knew he would. Not sneakers, running shoes! We laughed. He only wore leather shoes now. He would only wear running shoes for running, he said. They had not moved for years. I watched them one time as I passed. Each shoe gleamed for a second, a sleeping dog opening one eye.

I can still see his books. The Middlemarch with my gold bark in it. The book of Kanji we were making. My Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree. His Shakespeare books and Jesus books, feet and feet of them, and lots more that I'll never remember now, from the shelves that lined our basement walls when I was little, three times my height, on three long walls.

If I can't remember, who can? But I barely know how to start. He had forty years of books before I was born. Most of them you couldn't just buy another copy. He wrote in all his books. My mother was shocked he wrote in his Bible. He had two dozen Bibles and wrote in them all. One was a huge red book about Q, the sayings by Yeshua (his name for Jesus) and where each one ended up in the different gospels and gospels that didn't make it into the Bible. He had written his microscopic notes all through it with his Staedler pencil. My mother had one Bible somewhere, a huge expensive Bible with pictures that was too good to write in or touch. I wanted to see but she could never find it.

He had books in all languages, including languages that don't use our same kind of letters. I could already tell German and French and Spanish and Latin apart just by looking. Latin was easy. It looks like a low brick wall. I could tell Greek and Hebrew by the letters. I could tell Chinese from Japanese. I liked the Greek letters in a big dark blue book with Oxford stamped in gold, with thick stiff pages.

I don't know how to even start.

He did homework with me all those years including fourth grade when it started to get hard. My mother was traveling a lot. He got me to bed and got me up. When I had to write something and I was stumped, he had two tricks for me. One, tell him outloud what I was trying to write, and two, pick one example, the best example, and let it speak for all the rest.

So now when I'm stumped on this project I tell David out loud.

And for his books, sixty feet and forty years of them, I'll pick one example.

This one mysterious book was all in Hebrew. He had some others with Hebrew and English together (like The Song of Songs I remember) but this one was all in Hebrew. It was brown with gold letters stamped into it, like you could feel in the dark. It had a number like it was one volume out of a set. The title was on the back because the back is the front in Hebrew. Someone wrote a note there in blue pen, also in Hebrew. I asked him about it.

It was a gift from a woman named Nina. It was from the time he lived in the city, before my mother. They lived near where Isaac Bashevis Singer lived a little before their time. My father had two feet of Isaac Bashevis Singer on his shelves. He said Singer but I liked to say the whole name, Isaac Bashevis Singer. Nina took him to an all-Hebrew bookstore on Broadway and bought him this book.

Nina whispered to him in that store that day. "Please don't buy anything. Let me. If you buy a pile of books and maps and charts, my one little gift will be like nothing."

Nina was the daughter of an orthodox rabbi and she spoke Hebrew to them in the store. She was an architect but she didn't have much money. She had a little boy named Eno. My father bought Eno a hockey stick and went to his parents day at Westside Montessori, the school in the movie One Fine Day. He was thinking about marrying her.

I asked him about the note written in the back (the front). Did Nina write it? Did she write it from right to left? What did it say?

It was some riddle I don't exactly remember, something with numbers, one to two is more than zero to one, something like that, I wish I could remember. He could pick out three words in it: his name, her name, and love. She was giving him a warning about love, about missing out on love.

He showed me her picture. She was beautiful. She looked like Barbra Streisand. Who would I be if he had married her instead? I can hardly imagine. I would be beautiful. I would have her talents, her drawing and architecture. She was good at math. Eno would be my brother. We would live in New York City, by the park. I would still have my father.

Whatever else happened, I would still have my father. Eno still had his father. My father knew him. Eno's father wasn't perfect, he wasn't even so good or nice, but Nina wanted Eno to have his father and she worked at it. Nina would have done the same for his little sister, me.

Her one little book is like nothing now, just like she said. It went into the mud along with Isaac Bashevis Singer and Jesus and Shakespeare and the Greeks and the Chinese and Shel Silverstein and everyone, under the windows of my school bus. When Mr Lucky was hit by a car all the kids crowded to the windows on that side, yelling and crying. This time they whispered and shushed. This time it was my father.

Soon I might have something like hers to give, a gift. One small book with something written to him, some riddle about love.

[ $revision: 993 $]

Black Teeth

A lot of my questions here are not about our court case, they are the same questions you have about your parents, or anyone would. Maybe you got  more time with your parents and got more answers, but maybe you got less. I had no idea how many young children lose a parent not in the hospital but in a courtroom. It's an epidemic. I have numbers.

Except ours is an epidemic where love dies. It doesn't just die, it turns on itself like an auto-immune disease. Love reverses into resentment. Love turns against love and lives out a long half-life like plutonium.

My father had an old Chinese friend, Ma Wong, who said she had no words for tooth brush or tooth paste or tooth decay until she came to this country in her toothless later years. In her time, your teeth were gone by age thirty. There was nothing to be done about it. It was just a fact of life. Everyone knew it. No one talked about it. There were no words for it. When an epidemic is everywhere it's invisible.

You are toothless Ma Wong. You don't call our epidemic an epidemic. You don't call it anything. It's too big to see. It's everywhere, like air.

The Black Death first entered Europe when Mongol armies under Jani Beg besieged the port city of Kaffa on the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. Jani Beg's army was fleeing, not just invading. He was fleeing The Black Death. "India was depopulated. Tartary, Mesopotamia, Syria, Armenia. All covered in dead bodies." The Black Death traveled with silk and cinnamon by caravan and merchant ship, then rode on horseback with invading (fleeing!) armies. Surrounding Kaffa, Jani Beg was himself under siege. Kaffa was a contest between two kinds of siege, one man-made, the other medical and invisible and not of anyone's choosing.

Or was it? Was The Black Death our own choosing? Jani Beg won by catapulting his dead over the walls into the city. Traders from Genoa escaped the siege of Kaffa and carried The Black Death to all the ports on the Mediterranean. Like Jani Beg they spread The Black Death by fleeing it.

When The Spanish Flu killed half a million people who had otherwise survived World War I, a brilliant young doctor at America's best hospital wanted to fight back. He went around all the wards of his hospital comparing diseased and healthy throats with his tongue depressor, the one trusty tongue depressor he carried with him everywhere. Above all he wanted to keep influenza from his maternity ward, where life gets another chance, and another and another, and there he probed every throat with extra care. Like Jani Beg and the merchants of Genoa he spread what he fought against.

Love works that way, my father said. You look for it in front of you but it's behind you. Love is behind your search for love. It's there from the start, if you stop and look back. Only knock and it opens to you.

Same with evil, he said, which cannot be anything but love twisted back on itself. Evil is behind your search for evil, not anywhere in front of you. To stop evil stop hunting it.

Our epidemic spreads from three thousand county courthouses every week. This week too, from a courthouse not two hours from you. Like that brilliant doctor hunting down influenza at Mass General, like Jani Beg fleeing The Black Death and besieging Kaffa, like the merchants of Genoa fighting back at Kaffa and then fleeing, these courts spread and multiply the evil they fight against. Medical science has come a long way since The Black Death and The Spanish Flu. Law has not. Law is still the doctor with a long beak full of flowers who hurries people with plague to their death far from everyone else. Sorry, Scott Turow, but why don't you know this? Or if you know, why don't you say? A court cannot grow love or save love, a court is like the earliest kind of chemotherapy, the same mustard gas that killed 100,000 men in World War I. A court can only poison love or twist it back against itself. Law is death to love, and if love is life, law is death.

Yeah I'm mad. How did you guess?

You don't call this an epidemic. You don't call it anything. It's too big to see. It's everywhere, and there's nothing to be done.

But my father wondered. Is this just tooth decay? In one era you are toothless. No one past thirty has any teeth. In the next era your perfect teeth outlive you in your grave. Could love outlive teeth in some era to come?

As you guessed, I'm sure, I found all this in my father's papers after he died. Take it up with him if you like. OK, no, with me I guess.

[ $revision: 993 $]

Another Year

Someone tried to tell me all this one year sooner and I just disappeared. I could have had another year with David before we signed up for different colleges. I could have said something to my father before he died. I don't know what, but something.

Shoulda woulda coulda, hunh? I know.

I was trying to forget my father. He was a world class loser and I was terrified people would see me the same way. You know the movie Hoosiers, where one boy's father is a drunk who lives in a shack in the woods? That's how I felt. The new coach wants to give the drunk another chance, as assistant coach. He was a big basketball star twenty years before. The son says forget it coach, please, he can't change. Every time the drunk shows up on the basketball court he embarrasses his son. That's how I felt. My father lived two minutes from my school and came to everything but I didn't say a dozen words to him his last two years. Mostly just "please don't come."

Forgetting isn't like evaporation, like water on the floor. It's hard work. You have to keep at it and not forget.

My father wasn't a drunk. People could understand that easy enough. He was way worse. I don't know how to explain except I got the idea he was a Quaker. My town Paulie is in the part of New York near Connecticut, and the hills in between are called Quaker Hill. My father and I hiked around up there and went to the church there. There was a big famous Quaker library there, but it was from a hundred years ago. There are no Quakers anymore. You can see why. Quakers didn't believe in violence. They wouldn't call the police for help, either. That was just more violence, if you let someone else do your violence for you. They wouldn't join the army except the medical service. They wouldn't haul you into court. They wouldn't hire a lawyer if you hauled them into court. How they lasted long enough to build a library I don't know. When my mother took us to court his ideas got us killed. When no one tells you, you come up with your own explanations. I wondered if he was some kind of Quaker, or anything like that.

My mother told everyone not to ask me anything, I had already been hurt and embarrassed enough. If anyone asked her, like when he brought his mother to my Science Symposium and I didn't say two words to them, she hissed that he had kidnapped me and that was the end of that. Everyone just backed away and never brought it up again. I guess I can't blame them. I did the same. Maybe I could have asked her for more? Or asked him? But she would be furious, and if he couldn't protect himself he couldn't protect me. Better just let it alone, and leave it for later.

My father said don't waste the future trying to fix the past. OK, that much I agree with. But he also said the futures you dream are mostly the past in disguise, an endless parade of clever and sexy disguises. You won't know the past from the future until you know the past eye to eye. The past will come back again all your life, every day and every hour, but you can learn to see it coming a block away and say Oh no, not this time, no thank you. You can change in a moment, but only for a moment. Change enough of those moments, though, and you get a different life.

Except he said it a crazy way that no one could get. "You can never transform yourself, you can only transform the moment, the moment you step out of your self." He just looked looney, and me with him.

My advisor Mr Cionte says to summarize what's coming. So, someone tried to tell me all this, or the start of this, at the start of my junior year. Madison was AP English and Newsletter and wanted to be an investigative journalist. Her father was some big lawyer in the city. She wanted to interview me, or talk to me about maybe an interview. She had heard the kidnap story. It was a trick, she said, an old and well-known trick. I basically knew that, minus the details, but I didn't want anyone else to know. It was better if people thought my father was bad, a kidnapper, a daring outlaw who got caught. I knew he was a loser instead, full of foolish ideas. That's why I disappeared from Madison. I pretended not to see her when we passed. David sat at her same table at lunch. I could have met him a year sooner, maybe in time for us to plan something before we went away. I saw him looking at me that day, the way I had been looking at him a long time, but I didn't want to start that way, with him asking about my father.

Better to forget my father for a while. Then other people would and then I could. Till after high school maybe, or when I had kids of my own. I thought there would be time. At that age you think there's time for everything, all the time in the world. Also, any day could be the end of everything for you. So which is it? It's a crazy time. Maybe you remember.

Forgetting isn't like evaporation, like water on the floor. It's hard work. You have to keep at it and not forget. One day you forget and you remember.

Yeah, that was my father too. One of his funny riddles. We laughed.

I don't know what I would have said to him anyhow, his last year. Sorry? I don't blame you? Thank you?

Forgive me. I forgive you. I love you.

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Down the Dark Steps

Mr Cionte will never let me put this in, but what's a Black Trail for?

Some days the weirdest nothing can make me cry.

Today my music teacher was showing us how everything depends on the conductor. She showed us Leonard Bernstein on YouTube, the six big notes at the end of the Sibelius 5th, Es-Dur, which I think means 'The Enduring,' and ninety players watching his every breath, looking back and forth from him to their drum or piccolo or French horn or whatever.

My father was suspicious of music in movies, on the soundtrack, unless the people in the movie could hear it too, or they were playing it. He called it Mrs Butterworth, the syrup. Everything tastes great swimming in Mrs Butterworth. How is that better than a laughtrack? But this OK, the Sibelius. I heard it today and I can still hear it, and now I have a chapter with music and a soundtrack!

All the kids were laughing. I was laughing too, how Leonard Bernstein pulls those six big notes out of the sky with just that little white stick, like a magician.

But then I saw his cheeks were wet down in the crags. I saw how old he was. I worried for him, standing up so long while everyone else was sitting. His white hair was huge but thin. It blew around his head like the clouds coming off Mount Everest. Yeah, it was funny but I was crying too, along with him. He knows he will never play these six big notes again. I couldn't look at anyone.

That's when you see you might be different from the other kids, maybe from what happened to you. Maybe I was thinking of my father. His Rachmaninoff in the basement, and maybe Sibelius, I don't know but probably. I could already hear it when I was going down to him, down the dark steps, towards the door at the bottom with light coming out.

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