Tuesday, September 02, 2008

moving past the happy ending i wanted

I've been a longtime fan of celebrated writer Rick Moody. During my sister Laura's battle with cancer a few years ago, I used one of his short stories, "Boys", which uses repetition to evoke multiple images of the same characters through time, as a jumping-off point and I wrote an homage-of-sorts using the same structure and aping his style, titled "Girls". I wrote it for Laura, because by then she couldn't talk and I didn't know how to tell her adequately how profoundly I loved her, so we communicated through our blogs and our writing. I have to admit that I didn't like the ending I wrote back then. It was a happy ending, which doesn't work for the story, but I didn't want to/couldn't imagine anything but a happy ending for my sister, even if it screwed up the story. Last week, in anticipation of September 3rd (the third anniversary of her passing), I rewrote the end:


Girls enter the house, girls enter the house. Girls, and with them the ideas of girls (ideas bright, expansive, flexible), enter the house. Girls, two of them, one charging ahead, one lagging behind, girls dreaming of princes, enter the house. Girls, sugar and spice, girls clad in jumpers with butterflies, flowers, and “Daddy’s Little Girl” t-shirts, enter the house. Two girls, heads together, whispering secrets and giggling, enter the house. Girls enter the house speaking a made-up language. Girls, one with scraped knees and unkempt hair, the other pristine, enter the house. On a Sunday night in September, the night before a new school year, unable to sleep, eager to wear new outfits, girls argue about whose turn it is to turn out the lights. Girls disturb their Brother down the hall with giggling and loud noises. Girls receive a scolding from said Brother to shut up and go to bed, after which the girls giggle into their pillows.

Girls enter the house, girls enter the house. Girls, trailing after their Mother, attempt to emulate her walk. Girls enter the house, repair to their room to daydream and play pretend. Girls enter the house, sneak into Mother’s closet to try on high heels. Girls enter the house and repair immediately to the kitchen, alchemists with the Easy-Bake Oven, stirring sugar with magic and will it with all their might to become frosting. Girls persuade their Brother to sample half-baked creations; later they sit quietly beside him as he lays groaning, grateful he doesn’t snitch, terrified that complicity in his silence will result in death from food poisoning.

Girls enter the house, girls enter the house. Girls enter the house clad in velvet dresses and lace stockings that itch so bad. Girls, fresh from Sunday service, one with long raven locks curled and gathered in ribbons, the other disheveled, yanking ribbons from her hair, uncertain if girlish things - such as playing quietly with dolls, waiting for a prince to rescue her from her tower, and feigning horror rather than displaying interest when the redheaded boy from down the street shows his shriveled boy-penis to the girls - are as much fun as boyish things.

Girls enter the house, girls enter the house. Girls enter the house wearing Catholic schoolgirls uniforms, drained from piano lessons, violin lessons, ballet lessons, volleyball practice, choir rehearsal, volleyball practice, auditions, dress rehearsals, group study sessions. Girls enter their brother’s room unbidden, denude brother’s nose and brows of hair while he naps. Girls are grounded, don’t leave house except to go to school for a month. Girl enters the house dressed in a cheerleader’s outfit, the other, not. Girls enter the house, go to separate corners of their room. Girl slams a car door on the other’s finger, the other slams a car door on the other’s head. Girl enters the house bleeding profusely and is sped to the hospital for stitches, the other watches, scared and full of regret. Girls, with their Father (an arm around each of them), enter the house, but of the monologue proceeding and succeeding this entrance, not a syllable is preserved.

Girls enter the house, girls enter the house. Girls with acne enter the house and squeeze and prod large skin blemishes while locked for hours in the bathroom. Girls with acne treatment products and lip gloss enter the house. Girls braid each other’s hair, try on outfits, scowl their disapproval and practice their dance moves in front of the mirror. Girls bat their eyelashes at their brother’s friends, boys to whom they would not have spoken to only six or eight months prior. Girls enter the house with boys lanky, gangly and graceless, and rebuff the boys’ awkward attempts for physical contact. girls talk long into the night about boys, school, boys, future plans, boys, hair, boys.

Girls enter the house, girls enter the house. Girls enter the house having kissed boys! Girls kiss boys in backyards, on the beach, sitting in bleachers, at night under stars, in cars, backstage, and between classes. Girls practice kissing constantly: on pillows, back of hands, on more boys. Girls enter the house, go to their room, put on loud music, feel despair. Girls enter the house, fight over the phone. The girls are pretty, popular, adored. One girl knows she is pretty, the other feeling less so. Girls enter the house and kiss their Father, who feels differently, now they have outgrown him. Girls skip school and head for the beach. Girls cut class and go shopping. Girls enter the house, one before curfew, one under cover of night and through the bedroom window. Girls enter the house, one carrying bottles of liquor, nervously seeking hiding places where no one would look. Girls, with their Mother (an arm around each of them), enter the house, but of the monologue proceeding and succeeding this entrance, not a syllable is preserved.

Girls enter the house, one very worried, didn’t know more worry was possible. girls enter the house, one carrying and concealing controlled substances, the other carrying and concealing a pregnancy test, neither having told the other that she is carrying a controlled substance or a child, possibly. Girls enter the house, girls enter the house, one awash in relief, the other hung over, complexion ashen, blissfully ignorant.

Girls enter the house, girls enter the house, each clasps the hand of the other with genuine warmth, one wearing a suit and a severe hairstyle, the other paying no attention to her clothes or hair. Girls enter the house, enter the house and argue bitterly about boys (other subjects are no longer discussed), one girl smug, the other believing that the other gets away with murder, refuses flan, though it is created by her Mother in order to keep the peace.

Girls enter the house, girls enter the house and announce future professions. Girls enter the house, enter the house and change their minds about said professions. Girl enters the house with a boyfriend; the other, having no boyfriend, is distant and withdrawn, preferring to talk late into the night about going to school far away. Girls seem to do nothing but compose manifestos, for the benefit of parents; one follows their Mother around the house, having fashioned her manifestos in celebration of brand-new independence: I’m never going to date anyone but artists from now on, mad men, dreamers, practitioners of black magic, or A woman needs a signature fragrance; the other sits with their Father: Dad, I like to lie in bed late on Sunday morning and watch political and cooking shows while eating cereal, but these manifestos apply only for brief spells, after which they are reversed or discarded.

Girls enter the house, girls enter the house, listen to their parents explain the seriousness of their Brother’s difficulty, his situation. Girls enter the house; girls go to their Brother’s room, sit by his empty bed. Girls enter the house, enter the house and miss their Brother. Girls hold hands, laying aside differences, having trudged grimly into the house. Girls enter the house, embarrassed, silent, anguished, afflicted, angry, woeful, grief-stricken. Girls enter the house, one back from visiting their Brother in prison, the other never visits, never speaks of it.

Girls enter the house, girls enter the house arguing about one girl’s boyfriend. Girl accuses other girl: You just don’t want to see me happy. Girl complains to their Mother: Love is blind and he’s a crackhead. Girls enter the house, girls enter the house on a pre-arranged schedule so that they do not run into one another, one visits on Saturday, the other on Sunday. Girls enter the house, girls enter the house, one on the wrong day. Girls enter the house and say hurtful things. One storms out, takes the other’s keys and throws them onto the roof. Girls don’t talk for months. Girls call and email home and thereby enters the house only through a phone line or the Internet.

Girls don’t enter the house at all, except as ghostly afterimages of younger selves: fleeting images of heels clacking down the hallway; makeup strewn all over the bathroom; pantyhose dripping water as they hung to dry in the shower; girls as an absence of girls, blissful at first. You go to the bathroom, it’s unlocked and available. You put a thing down on a spot, put this magazine down, come back later, it’s still there; you buy a box of tampons, use three, later, three are missing. Nevertheless, when girls next enter the house, which they ultimately must do, it’s a relief. Girls come together in preparation for an important birthday, a benchmark age. Girls change into their dresses and heels (one wears ladylike kitten ones, the other preferring stilettos), as though heels are the mark of womanhood. Girls enter the house after the celebration. It was a good time! Girls enter the house, one flanked and aided inside by friends, having had one too many cosmopolitans; the other just happy to be part of the celebration.

One girl misses her sister horribly, misses the past, misses a time worth being nostalgic over, a time that never existed, back when their Brother finally came home; the other avoids all mention of that time. Each of them is once the girl who enters the house alone, missing the other, each is devoted and each callous, and each plays her part on the telephone or via email, over the course of the months.

Girls enter the house, girls enter the house with bad news. One girl enters the house with cancer. Girls enter the house, girls enter the house, girls enter the house.

Girls hold open the threshold, awesome threshold that has welcomed them when they were not able to welcome themselves, that threshold which welcomed them when they had to be taken in, here is its screen door, here is its doorbell that never worked, here’s where the girls peered anxiously through the window at their dates, here are the scuffmarks from when girls were on the wrong side of the door desperately searching the bottom of the handbag for the keys, here’s where boys kissed them goodnight, here’s where the newspaper always landed, here’s the mail slot, here’s the light on the front step, illuminated, here’s where the girls are standing as they pose for what they know will be their last picture together.

Girls, no longer girls, exit.

I miss you Laura.


Unknown said...

Freakin heartbreaking. Brilliant. Beautiful.

Jenny Lerew said...

That's beautiful.
I know where you're coming from, believe me. I lost my partner to cancer 6 mos ago. But even if that had never happened, this would still be the sweet, wistful and powerful tribute that it is.

Thank you for sharing it here.