I am a writer you know…and after my New Yorker rejection email, I figured I could post.
Miracle Debris Lands on the Coast of Connecticut
By t.tara turk
She still has nightmares of sharks swimming around her, dressed in evening attire and salivating over her as if she’s a lobster in a tank. She hears them cackle during her REM sleep even though she is nice and safe inside her expensive bed with the custom linens flown from Egypt and the pillows made seemingly from angel’s wings and butterfly eyelashes (her boyfriend’s words). There is no amount of money that can make her feel rested. In fact, Lily Whitman hasn’t felt rested since she was five years old. She remembers it all as if it happened five minutes ago.
She was on a plane with her parents Sasha and Jeremiah Whitman, headed from Brazil to Paris after an economy vacation where her father monitored traveler’s cheques and ordered one entree for them all to share. This part she remembers because her mother complained at first and then, towards the end of the trip, rebelled completely by not partaking in the one entrée to share and drank coffee, picking fruit from natural habitats wherever they were. She remembers her parents were silently stewing in their anger towards each other when the first large bump on the plane propelled them up and forward despite their seat belts. Lily was injured slightly by the plastic cup of ice she had in front of her (she was practicing “bobbing for apples” with the ice cubes). Sasha and Jeremiah immediately looked at each other in a panic, forgetting their anger for a second. But when the second bump didn’t happen immediately after, they went back to rolling their eyes at each other, focusing on their reading material but darting their eyes carefully at each other when the other wasn’t looking. Lily sat in the middle caught the volley of all of this. Then the second bump lurched the flight attendant down into Jeremiah’s lap. Lily pushed her. The flight attendant leaped up quickly, embarrassed but also concerned. She darted down the row to the cock pit and when she opened the door, to Lily, it seemed as if she opened the door to some sort of hell. There was chaos flying out of the cockpit. The pilots were screaming at each other or at some one on the radio, the buttons were blinking, the knobs made panicked noises. The flight attendant looked out at the passengers and then quickly slammed the door behind her as she went in. They never saw her again.
The other flight attendants painted on frosty smiles, reassuring the businessmen (they were the first to panic) and parents (they were the best at hiding it) that everything would be alright. Lily watched at how people who were seemingly everyday people with barely distinguishing faces, pulled out religious artifacts as if they were weapons. One woman clenched her rosary so hard that the blood had left her pale fingers. Another woman was doing a call to prayer silently and peacefully. Most were screaming. That was their religion. Fear. It did not help that they started to descend…quickly.
Sasha and Jeremiah looked at each other with desperation. Suddenly, Lily couldn’t seen anything else because her parents had their hands all over her, pulling her this and way and that, not knowing where the best place for her would be. Lily wrinkled her nose, suddenly smelling something sour and looked down at her dangling feet. Someone had thrown up behind her. She reached in front of her and threw the paper bag behind her, to help whoever it was.
“What did she say to do when there’s emergency??” Sasha was digging through the materials in the pocket of the seat in front of her for instruction on emergencies. Jeremiah was pulling his seat, trying to get the floating part in his hands but he was pulling at the wrong part. The masks fell from the overhead and Sasha quickly put hers on and shoved Lily’s on soon after, cutting the girl’s ear with her hard diamond wedding ring. When her wrist was near Lily’s face, Lily inhaled her mother’s perfume (she can’t remember what it was – something faint and feminine – something she’s looked for everyday of her life since) before she started to inhale the stale claustrophobic air of the mask. It was tremendous on the girls face, matched in size only by her eyes. The rest becomes blurry for Lily. She knows that the plane started going down faster at this point but she also knows that her parents were crying and kissing each other and her, forming a tight knot of a their arms around Lily’s face. People around them were just about to reach the apex of panic, the point where you think you can run from a crash. The point where you get up to run to the back of the plane, to the front of the plane, to the side, to the luggage compartment, to the bathroom…all of these places were about to be seized with people but they hit the ocean too fast.
It sounded like a bomb. Her parents had taken her to war movie during one of their times of poor judgment (it gave her nightmares) and she saw what bombs did and how loud they could be from the state of the art movie theater they sat in. Lily had been preoccupied with popcorn until she saw a body part fly across the screen. She looked up at her parents who looked at each other like children who’d been caught sneaking candy. Her mother covered her eyes. But she still heard the big boom.
The next thing she remembers is the wave of light. She knows now, as an adult, that it wasn’t really light so much as the impact of the plane meeting the ocean. An aggressive angry hand shake between two polar opposites. People flew back. Some how there was a fire. And, just like in the movie, she saw body parts fly past her doughy face and her eyes followed like she was watching a tennis match. The screams were horrifying. When she watches movies now, and she comes to the part where people scream when they know they are going to die, she is sad for the moviemakers because they will never know that real, guttural torturous sound that someone makes when they are going to die. The last thing she heard her mother say was “See?” or “Sea?” She can never quite tell which one it was and it is something that gnaws at her like a dog and a bone it can’t quite conquer. Her father looked at her, deep into her eyes, stealing glances at Sasha but focusing on Lily. The look of pain washed over his face and then her face was wet.
They know that Lily was in water because when they found her floating on debris, she had sea plant life tangled in her hair and what was later to be found as coral wounds on her pudgy legs. Not deep enough to bite but enough to draw a little blood that had been left in the sea. Somehow, though, in her mind, she made these wounds to be from sharks and never changed the memory. She was either tired or unconscious when the rescue helicopters circled the crash site. Groggily, she remembers holding on to someone in all black who held her tight as she was lifted high, again, into the sky, the ocean rocking beneath them, ready for them to fall. She started to cry only when she was up high enough to see how far the water spread around her. There was no land in sight. The rescuers tried to calm her in a language she didn’t know. It was a beautiful language, soothing under most circumstances except this one. She was tired but still cried. She felt weak and thirsty. The only other time she’d felt like this was when she and her parents spent the whole day at the beach. Her father, a bit too overzealous, made sure they spent every waking minute in the salty water – jumping, diving, running, splashing, treading to the point of exhaustion as her mother looked on over her magazine, pretending interest.
Lily, at five, was mature but really did expect to reach the top of the helicopter to find her mother there, magazine cast aside, reaching for her baby’s soft face and wiping away her tears. Except she wasn’t there. There wasn’t even a woman on board. Lily twisted her head around quickly to see if her father was there, crying for her, his thick eyebrows knit together with concern, his large hands extended to take her by the arms and hold her close into him so she could inhale his peppermint scent. No father. In fact no one she could recognize. Not from the line at the airport, not anyone who ordered from the large metal cart that kept hitting feet, not from the panicked run to the back of the plane. There was no one. She would’ve even been okay with the flight attendant who landed on her father’s lap but she wasn’t there either.
The helicopter whisked her away from the salty water before she could see the bodies floating and sinking around her. The debris she floated on was, ironically, a seat cushion that had been singed by one of the fires but remained in tact enough to carry the five year old, face down and rear up. The sway of the helicopter, the tight arms of the man who held on to her as some one checked her body for signs of trauma, impending death, escaped bones, etc., the salt on her body was all soothing enough to have her fall asleep though she tried to fight it.
Weeks later her face was still on the news of every major market. One country called her “Miracle Debris” though it sounded better in their language. Her grandparents rushed to her side and attempted to shield her from the microphones, the endless flowers, the handwritten prayers in shaky old people writing, the stuffed animals, the crazies who insisted that she was the child of Neptune that was birthed from the sea, the nurse who tried to abduct her, the doctor who sold his story to the tabloids and the families who pleaded with her to remember something, anything, that would give them peace over their deceased loved ones. After all, she was the sole survivor of the plane crash.
She could give them nothing.
It had taken years for her to piece together the chain of events she remembers. Some of the memories came in the middle of the ridiculous nightmares, like the sharks dressed up for the opera. Or the time she dreamed her father had flown away just in time before the plane hit. Or that it was all just a big photo spread in one her mother’s magazines. How disturbed her grandparents had been when she came down and told them she’d better stop reading before bed because she had the strangest nightmare. And then she paused before she lifted up her milky cup of coffee and realized it was not a dream. She went to school in a fog afterwards.
The settlement from the airline ensured that all her basic needs would be met for the rest of her life. Though there was some uncertainty about how accurate the trial would be, there was tons of evidence that there had been faulty wiring here and there, some parts that were supposed to be switched out, a fatigued crew, etc. The money meant nothing though, in the grand scheme of things. It certainly didn’t make her more social, more warm, and more outgoing. She was considered a bitch until someone remembered what had happened to her and informed whatever circle she happened to be around. Then she got sympathy looks over beers, faux concerned touches on the arm from possible suitors for the night and everything else she found unbearable. She respected very few people outside of her grandparents and those were mostly people who considered her bad luck and steered clear. She found those people honest and amusing.
First her grandfather died of a heart attack. Quick and sudden, he’d grabbed his chest and toppled down in a clump on the kitchen floor before Lily could call the emergency. As she waited for the ambulance to arrive, she wondered what he saw when he died. Did he see the light explosion from impact like she did? Her grandmother’s face was worried, concerned and sad but she carried on, putting together an overnight bag, holding his hand and watching the tea kettle all at the same time. His face reminded Lily of pictures she’d seen of herself, emerging from the sea wreckage.
Her grandmother followed her husband soon after and Lily was alone but comforted that she believed her grandmother had died of a broken heart. When standing at the cemetery over the only people she ever trusted (that included her parents since she was not clear on if she trusted them especially given the crash – she felt guilty for acknowledging this but it was true in her heart, despite the imploding feeling of love in her heart for them), she happy because she saw true love, side by side. She felt there was honor in dying of a broken heart, a commitment of joy to life springing eternal so much so that you will die if even one molecule is removed. She does wonder why she didn’t die of heart break at the ripe old age of five.
Years after her grandparents died, Lily went on to become a pilot. There were very few people around to find the irony in this. Every few years, a reporter would pop up with a piece on “Whatever Happened to…” and she, the “Miracle Debris” would be included with minimal detail. It would read something like “Lily Whitman went on to go to Harvard and study science. From all accounts, she was a great student with a creative mind though very much to herself.” They tried hard to make it all sound interesting but it wasn’t. By the time those social cake pieces faded into history, she’d decided to become a pilot. Her Harvard professors were puzzled but then they also rationalized that true genius students generally went on to do the extraordinary even if it wasn’t rational.
Her boyfriend was another Harvard grad but he didn’t appear to be one in person. Scruffy, genius, not from money and generally unimpressed with most social interaction, he went on to start a eco shoe company built from natural remains of the Amazon and sold on the internet. No classmate of theirs thought it would work. He was a millionaire five years after graduation. He adored her flying obsession, even knowing her background. He thought it an unexpected prank on the idea of “fate” and that would amuse him more than any of the reality shows on VH1 (which they loved to watch for various reasons).
Though they lived together in a large loft in Tribeca and their only extravagance were the sheets and bed she insisted on, she appeared to be like every other broke young pilot at the fledgling airline she worked for which specialized in luxury economy trips from the Eastern Seaboard to standard vacation points not too far away. She willingly took the longer trips and was renown for her keen detail of geography and her ability to stay awake for long periods of time. But because she was a she and young, she was only wanted as a co-pilot and therefore rarely got be “captain” which suited her fine. Until February 18th, 2009.
She was at the airport in Puerto Rico, sipping milky coffee and watching the passengers mull around for the flight she was going to co-pilot. She was always early because she generally liked to watch the passengers. Any shrink would say that she was looking to recreate her own experience but then that person would be paid to go deeper in the brain than Lily cared for. She would just generally say that she wanted to feel connected to who flew with her before take off. She wanted to see their eyes, faces, hear their interaction with loved ones, look at the state of their luggage, find out what they did to relax before flying…these things relaxed her.
Her captain was a jolly man who smelled like mouthwash though the rumor was that he was a drunk. Lily knew it was really mouthwash because she’d seen him swig and swish before a few flights. She liked him because he didn’t talk very much about things not related to the flight but also felt bad because he was old, like her grandfather, and was unable to retire because he needed the money. That was the only personal thing she knew about him. Well, that and he had a picture of a King Charles named Tommy on his side of the cockpit.
Take off was smooth except for Lily’s bra itched a bit but that was nothing out of the ordinary. It wasn’t until they were about thirty minutes away from JFK did she notice that something was going to go wrong. Since her accident, she had developed a split second alert that told her when things were not right. Her boyfriend called it her Jungle Bell since it was very animalistic. When she looked over at the captain, his head was resting on his chest as if he were sleeping but she knew he wasn’t sleeping. His arm went dead but he was breathing. Calmly, she got on the radio and let the tower know that there was an issue with the captain and that she’d be taking over. She alerted the lead flight attendant so she wouldn’t worry but she did so with reserve as she never warmed to flight attendants going back to her crash and the woman who landed on her father’s lap. She knew it was irrational but then most things were. The flight attendant responded to her coolly and confirmed the change in captain status.
That was the least of her problems. At the top of her list? Birds.
The plane shook more than usual and the head flight attendant came rushing in to see the problem as the passengers were concerned. Lily didn’t need the flight attendant to tell her that; she felt it. When the flight attendant came in the cockpit, her reflex was to shout for her to leave. She remembered seeing the one disappearing into the cockpit when she was small and she didn’t want to be stuck, in her last moments, with a flight attendant. Irrational but true. Plus this one had perfume that could change a skunk. The flight attendant rushed out of the cockpit as Lily went to work. She told the tower she needed to do an emergency landing. They told her they would clear the JFK runway for her. She told them she couldn’t make it in time. With the quickness and a mindlessness that didn’t belong to her (she doesn’t remember thinking really about anything), she went to work. Her best guess she would be able to land the plane in Delaware but then she realized that was too far. Her pits were sweating. She was chewing her upper lip and trying to digest all of the information the plane was giving her. She was trying to blink away the images of her five year old self, trying to move past the sharks with the evening attire, the fires, the people running. She was blinking fast as if trying to make her eyes swallow those memories whole and ensure it wouldn’t happen again. She smelled that feminine faint smell on her mother’s rest for a moment and she panicked once she realized that it was not the perfume of the flight attendant. Instead, she tried to picture her grandparents’ faces and when that didn’t work, she pictured the darkness she saw when her parents embraced each other, with her in the center before the plane hit the ocean. She felt serene. She felt her hands go into motion. She even closed her eyes.
With the ease of someone far beyond her years, Miracle Debris landed on the coast of Connecticut. Everyone was alive and well.
Hey there, kids. Wrote this little ditty when I read about the scandalous affair of Sidney Poitier and Diahann Carroll on the set of “Paris Blues.” Short story: they fell in love, were supposed to leave spouses. She left, he didn’t. The end. In the spirit of Sidney and his 82 years, we have the following by me! Forgive some of this weird formatting business. And don’t snatch! If you want to reprint/publish/read aloud/ longhand, just ask.
By t.tara turk
I jut act. I come to the set, I say hello to the crew, I do my work and I wait. I said once before that the real drama is real life and so far it probably doesn’t seem like that’s the case here but I’m getting to that. Right now, the drama is underneath the surface. It’s unspoken. It’s this crazy intangible beat that’s circles the set. All he and I have to do is look at each other and it becomes a spark, some kind of eclipse in the making. Two “celebrities” standing in front of each other, not saying anything but this thing happening.
But anyone who says that acting is this intense life altering experience is full of shit. It’s the things that happen because you act that change your life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard as fuck. But it’s not brain surgery. Nobody ever got saved because they saw me play some lost love of a rapper-turned media mogul, raising the kid he never knew we had. Or the hooker with the heart of gold, hustling because her kids come first. Or intelligent black girl best friend, schooling Suzie Creamcheese on the ways of the world, yet never seeming to end up with anything cool in the end. For thirteen bucks, you can see me do a show for ninety eight minutes. But I guarantee you that the cameras never fully capture the real action. Not even “reality” television comes close.
Right now I’m thinking all of this up in my head as I sit my trailer, waiting. I could run lines but I’m too far into my career to feel as though that’s necessary. I stopped drinking four years ago, think coke is a waste of money, will indulge in the occasional spliff, don’t really pretend to be a hyphenate (actor/producer/director/writer/diva/hotass/clothing designer/whateverthehellelsesomebodydecidesisgoodatthetime). I am just waiting for my cue to be near him.
Aside from a couple of lame ass parties in the Hills, he and I never really met. Parties like that are usually like somebody’s thirteenth birthday party with chaperones anyway. We all stand around looking at each other, pretending to be interested in the other’s project or new home design/rap record/producing efforts, secretly trying to see if we can snatch our chance to be involved (if said project has “potential”) or if we can side hustle out of being asked to lend our name (if said project as “stinker potential”). All in all, nobody ever stays longer than two hours, never long enough to find out anything at all. At least not from my southern/Midwestern point of view. I have seen him at these parties not even attempt to talk to anybody for real. His wife does all of the talking. I tell my girls that’s because she doesn’t really do anything else for a living. She has the energy for small talk. If you do it for a living, you’re not about to do it for free.
Not that I even noticed him really at these adolescent adult gatherings. I don’t really notice anything beyond my own minimal effort. I’m in my head a lot. I stare at other people’s clothes. I smile at dumb shit. I have rep for being a real weirdo and I actually kind of like it except for weirdo in this business can mean a bit shallow, which I know I’m not anyways.
The other places I’ve seen him before kind of don’t count because they are places where one would see others in the profession, and there are usually a billion other people under the same roof. It only occurs to me here, now, while I’m waiting, that he and I were at those places at the same time. I can only wonder what kind of energy was floating around then. If it was when I was dating the A&R executive, then I wouldn’t have noticed because his drama kept me occupied with thoughts of how not to shoot him. Or how to shoot him and get away with it. I don’t have a lot of luck with men. He worked my sanity. Maybe that’s why I’m thinking the way I am now. And why Dre is under my radar right now, I’ll never know. Why I even promised I might marry Dre, I’ll never know. Maybe it’s okay that I don’t marry for love. That way I don’t break my pact with God. I just gotta steer clear of the children route. Wow…I haven’t called Dre in two days.
Anyway, this other actor, the one I’m about to do the most mundane scene with, while a crew of thirty five make sure it comes out looking “real,” this dude is something different. I’m not sure how we never worked together before. He’s known for only doing the indie, mainstream, indie, mainstream routine while I actually could give a shit what it is so long as I like the part and I can pay my property tax for the year (okay at least part of it—or pay my housekeeper for a few months). We’ve barely said two words to each other but I know me as well as I know anyone and I feel something is about to happen—wait’s over. They’re calling me on set for our first scene together.
Dr. Lisa Jones:
The program won’t connect with other mainline systems. Somebody’s rewired it.
Dr. Calvin Fisher:
Lisa, we’ve got to tell somebody. That virus could take over the northern region in days.
Dr. Lisa Jones:
Who can we tell, Calvin? They all think that you and I are in on it.
Dr. Calvin Fisher:
We’re being set up. We have to go over their heads. I know just what to do. Follow me.
Dr. Lisa Jones:
I’m not going anywhere until you tell me how you knew to search this sector. What are you not telling me, Calvin?
Dr. Calvin Fisher:
I don’t know if I can trust you, Lisa.
Dr. Lisa Jones:
Then leave without me, Calvin. It’s you and me against them. I don’t have it in me to fight you too.
Dr. Calvin Fisher:
I would never do anything to jeopardize you, Lisa. You know that.
Dr. Lisa Jones:
If I knew I wouldn’t be asking. Prove it.
Dr. Calvin Fisher:
Lisa, the alarm is going off. They’ll be here soon!
Dr. Lisa Jones:
Then you’d better make it fast!
Dr. Calvin Fisher:
You want to know? I’ll tell you. I’ve had the virus for five years. Dr. Adams used me as a guinea pig for a cure. They knew when they hired me that I was a carrier. But they don’t know why I haven’t died. And neither do I. I need your help, Lisa. They only reason you’re here is because they know you were the one who cured the HC virus, even though you thought you were anonymous. They knew you wouldn’t let virus go uncured. Everyone knows. Problem is, now they are making money off of the temporary medicine that quiets what I have. Now they don’t want a cure. Lisa…I need you.
Dr. Lisa Jones:
Today I fell in love with someone using somebody else’s dumb ass words. It was like we were speaking a different language. When I was young you told me to search for the purple clouds because that’s where the real men were. You told me there were no such things as princes and horses and glass slippers. I am grateful. I listened even if mama didn’t. I never knew what you meant by purple clouds but I feel like you meant to look for the most unlikely place.
You always said I was “touched” and that I could see things that nobody else could. I never believed that. I always thought you saw that because you liked to drink too much and your reality was a bit altered. But maybe you were on to something anyways. I was ten, what did I know?
I can sense that he’s unsure of what the hell happened between us just now, in between those lines about nothing in particular. He looked at me sideways. I know that you saw it. You remember I made this pact with God that I would stay unmarried so that I wouldn’t be the one to spread our family’s ill emotional dramas. Either that or I would not ever marry for love, that way I would make sure not to have children. Hence Dre. And Lucy can’t have babies so we don’t have to worry about her and Deron being responsible for more craze in this world. I know, she’s my sister and I shouldn’t say that. But she’s crazy. And married. What is it with men who really love women who show up at their jobs, cussing them out over a phone number? They say they don’t love crazy women but they do. By the way, that little act out Lucy did looked really good in The Enquirer the next morning. Did you see the headline up there? “Siren’s sister’s own emergency: cheating husband!” She could’ve at least closed her mouth for one minute while the paparazzi snapped away.
Don’t worry, M’Dear, I will keep my end of the bargain with God. Even if he didn’t bring you back after I promised to keep my end up. I don’t usually make deals expecting things to go my way. I make deals because I never had a problem doing it before.
Your Lucky Star
I’m away from home. We’re shooting this movie (the execs call it “blockbuster” but people have said that about tons of other good intentioned but stinky bomb movies—“Gigli”, “Alex & Emma” , “Mothman Prophecies”—all movies I like by the way—point is, you never know until the big screen sees it) in Italy. Good for me and Home Dude because Italians consistently show love to black people, whereas most other countries consider us a fad. There are exceptions. Italy is beautiful. But it isn’t home. Where is the fried chicken? Where are the barbecues? Lawn mowers in the morning? Jay Z coming out of a bumping system while some fine dude washes his ride? I’m in a hotel. A phat ass hotel. But a hotel nonetheless. My bed is made when I come home. Nothing stays messy because some phantom comes in and cleans it. Dre isn’t around to leave his track suit pants all over the house so the maid can pick them up, or leave his beer bottles on my glass table or smoke his trees near my cashmere sweaters. I like hotels. There are flowers from him though…big and gaudy. Calla lilies, roses, baby’s breath, orchids….a messy garden. He should’ve have just called my assistant. He could’ve pointed him in the right direction at least on what to send your kinda fiancé who sort of loves in you in that way that doesn’t involve the heart.
My assistant is good at his job but we aren’t really friends so we don’t speak outside of business. That works well on home turf. He can at least laugh during me and Dre’s fights. And our make ups. Dre can kiss his ass off. Humph…here, alone, it’s tough. I called my sister Lucy but she was on her way to the club with Deron. I told her they were like modern day Fitzgeralds. She didn’t get it. I said F. Scott and his wife, Zelda. The one who wrote The Great Gatsby. She doesn’t read very much. She said I was the smart one and, by the way, could they borrow a couple hundred dollars until her payday because Deron said her brakes weren’t working right. (So many questions could follow: Lucy, why is your husband driving the car I gave you if he has his own Escalade that he never lets you drive? Lucy, you get sent money every month, what are you doing with it? Lucy, did you even want to ask how I’m doing? Lucy, do you ever get scared of something that you don’t even know really exists?) I tell her it’s late and I have to go to the cast dinner.
There is a dinner tonight. First night’s dinner or something. Director is a bit strange as he likes us to operate like a theatre company even though we’re making a blockbuster. I wish I had a ship full of food for starving people every time I’ve heard a director say that. Tonight is a chore for me. People tend to just look at me strangely, some kind of fear in their eyes. Home Dude doesn’t. I have trouble saying his name. I have trouble saying my name. So many people say both of our names so carelessly every day, separately. Our names are mentioned over the silliest and dumbest things. What product I use in my hair. What designer gives me free shit. The last rapper/R&B singer/basketball/football player/DJ I dated. What food he likes. How he and his wife spend their vacations. What food I don’t eat because of which diet I’m on. Where I was seen last. Where he was seen last. Who used to date me. Who is having an affair with him…
That last part just came out. I’m putting lipstick on and looking in the mirror tracing the laugh lines that are starting to show while my assistant sneaks a line of coke in his bathroom, forcing me to be responsible for myself just this once. As if I could ever fully become what everyone thinks I am. Only a few people know my checks and balances. I am superficial enough to wonder what J. Lo thinks of Seven jeans and deep enough to know that that is superficial. At least my Crème De La Mer is working and my advanced copy of Erykah’s new joint is in the player. Small things keep me together.
Half the people at the dinner think I’m shallow. Somebody in somebody’s office told somebody and these somebodies believe it so I’ll be on the spot for dinner. I wonder where they will seat me. Every chair is a point of power. Close to the director means he cares about your work and what you think. Or he’s afraid of you and wants to please you. I don’t really pretend to know what any other seat means. That’s the important one to me. Temporarily important. I wonder where Home Dude will sit.
That’s the phone ringing. The car must be ready downstairs. My hair is good. I smell good. Lipstick is perfect. Jeans fit just enough to not eat too much because I do love Italian food (from Italy-Italian, not Joey Pizzachain Italian). My assistant appears in time to wish me a good night and to have fun and that he will call somebody to get the money to Lucy while I’m gone. Is there anything else I need? I want to tell him I need to run away but he’s on coke and might take me seriously.
Dinner. Things are ordered for us. I don’t eat red meat and I’m on Atkins. Great. I’m staring carefully at the food to see what the ingredients are. White people are generally vegetarians or hot animal eaters. No in between like black people and our “I eat chicken on Sundays and fish when I can afford it maybe even a beef hot dog but never pork” routine. The director catches me staring. He has no choice. I’m sitting next to him. And Home Dude is next to me. Director is at the head. On the other side is Suzie Creamcheese. Next to her is her McGyver-like co-star who’s never been in a “blockbuster” before. Not an unusual lay out.
Home Dude is trying to talk to the other person next to him most of the night. It’s like that Dorothy Parker short story where she feels like she’s the only one not being talked to and has a bunch of imaginary conversations with the other dinner guests out of her own insignificant complex. That’s me. Right now. Only I’m this conversation with…me, I guess. But now that the salad is done and the bread is being served, he’s turning to me. Reluctantly but he can’t help himself. We are the only black people at the table but it’s more than that. More than our racial connection because God knows what our social backgrounds are like. He could be an Alpha or a Q or a Kappa and I, well, I liked college enough to graduate and land an agent. I am turning from my minimal yet decent conversation from Director to see Home Dude staring at my plate. Picked apart food.
Him: Are you not hungry?
Me: Oh, yes but…well, I don’t really know what I’m eating and I can’t afford to gamble right now.
Him: Why not? You look dope.
Me: Maintenance. You were hungry though?
Him: I love food.
Him: I was wondering how it was that we never got to work together before.
Me: I was just thinking that.
Him: Your last film was some really powerful craftsmanship.
Me: Craftswomanship and thank you. Do you talk like that all the time? Powerful craftblahblah?
Me: Good cause that’s a good way of telling someone you like their stuff rather than kissing their ass or whatever.
Him: Thanks. So the last time we were in the same place had to be Kevah and Charles’s babyshower over in Studio City, right?
Me: Is it wrong if I say all the places and themes run together?
He laughs…a real laugh. Me too.
Him: I say that all the time. Kevah just happens to be producing the next film I’m working on.
Me: She’s good to work with. Charles is strange but that’s okay. It works. I’m all for Black Hollywood couples making it work.
Him: And you?
Me: Me what?
Him: Do you make it work?
Me: No, I’m not part of any couple. I seem to only get a commitment from others folks when I’m acting with them.
He turns red (since his skin is like chocolate, it’s more of a chocolate cherry color) and looks at his wine. He doesn’t need to know about my situation just yet. I mean because that’s what Dre is, a situation.
Him: Where did you study?
Him: Because even though the lines today were…well, you know they weren’t like some kind of deal breaker…I don’t know…I hadn’t felt that energy with anybody I’ve acted with probably since Yale.
Me: Interesting. I didn’t go to Yale.
Him: Not about the school really, I guess.
Me: I did a bunch of theater out of college.
Him: That explains it. Rare now.
Me: You can’t eat now if you stay there.
Him: Kevah says your doing a play in New York next fall.
Me: Yeah. Scared don’t want to talk about it or I might throw up.
Him: Can I just ask which play?
Me: Aisha Rahman piece. Off Broadway. That’s all I have to say before I loose my shit.
He looks impressed. People are interrupting us to do the obligatory small talk. He gets a call on his cell. Goes to take it on the balcony. Hands flailing. Street language floats through the open doors but only I understand it. Other people don’t recognize it and ignore it. Must be talking to his “people” they think. But I know it’s his wife. He flips the phone and comes back. But walking under the archway of the balcony, I see him preparing himself for this role at this table and then I understand him. He frowns out there. He puts a sly grin on as he walks to the table. Nobody could possibly know what that takes, aside from me. I have done that. He is looking directly at me.
Him: Aisha Rahman, huh?
Me: What? Oh, yeah right.
Him: I would like to do a play again. It’s been years. My wife—I’ve been told that it doesn’t do anything for my career and that I don’t have the time.
Me: Well, you do a lot of indie films and that’s good. They crossover too so you’re not pigeon-holed either. People respect that.
Him: Thank you for meaning that. I would like to do stage again. What would you recommend?
Me: Some new playwright. Give some other folks a chance. I’m on the board of a company I founded back in New York
Him: You are?? I really didn’t know that.
Me: Hmm. Okay. Forgivable, I guess. My business isn’t in the street. I let people think I’m a one dimensional starlet but really—
Him: I didn’t mean to insult you by being surprised. It’s just…half the stuff you’ve said tonight I haven’t heard in years. I just don’t get to meet people like you often.
Me: I don’t have anything to say back to that. Sorry. I don’t get to talk much to many people, real people, not like fake people. I just stay to myself. This is the perfect city for that though. Have you been in Florence before?
Him: The airport only. My wife likes to vacation in the islands usually.
Me: It is beautiful at night. The streets. On a Vespa. Unreal.
Him: Show me.
It starts like that. It starts right there. And then the cast starts to taper off. We are mingled amongst them but staring at each other. I am laughing with someone who plays my evil boss in the movie. He is laughing with the person who kills his character in the end. A group of us laugh at him as he tells of his fascinations with the movie “Cooley High.” And then suddenly it is just us in the shadows of some voices calling to see if anybody needs a ride back to the hotel. I see him asking the maitre’d, in Italian, if we can rent two Vespas for the night. Two busboys appear and hand over their keys and he gives them lire.
The night is delicious on our faces as he follows me along the Duomos and the weirdly named, illogical streets. My sense of direction is pointless at night and I’m not worried. He pulls up next to me, bopping his head like there are sounds in his non-existent system. I laugh for no reason and start to do the same. For a minute, we are both speed racing in Ford Probes down Outer Drive in the Detroit of my teenage years only this place has a longer history. We don’t want to stop covering it in our way. Both of us are too afraid to stop and talk so we go back to the hotel after riding for hours in circles around Florence. He leaves copies of his last blockbuster in the baskets of the Vespas for the busboys.
Kiss my face and tell me you like chili cheese fries at four in the morning with a big bottle of Boone’s to wash them down
Tell me how familiar you are
Then show me again
You remind me of my daddy, for the five years I held tight to his image
After he died
Tall, fine, eyes shining
I find you in the most peculiar places
Like my heart or on my lips at night
Separate hotel room walls tight on preventing what’s not supposed happen
Trying to keep us away from our own truth
How good are we at ignoring the inevitable
Method act your way into the impossible
Use what you can to be real
Leave your chocolate kisses on my skin so I can know what love is for my next role
Sense my memory and give me cause to act accordingly
Three weeks go by and you are part of my fiber
Use you to recall life ideals I long since abandoned
People watch us whisper everywhere
Even when not together
Why is it the most craziest thing in my life is the most sane?
—three weeks after we kissed…on set…in character
Just a token of my affection for you. Thank you for injecting me with whatever it was that I was missing. These weeks have been otherworldly. I don’t want them to end…Ever. Give me all your seasons. Let’s get rid of our situations so we can have all the seasons…
Your Cochise who won’t die at the end of Cooley High
Pictures start to appear. Smudgy out of focus ones of me in sunglasses and diva hats covering the diamond studs he gave me, strolling across the Ponte de Vecchio with him behind me in Jordans and cargo pants. Telephoto lenses reach far out for us but we are still in a blurry crowd of Italians and German tourists. Our blackness blends into activity on the busy bridge. Gold everywhere. People who cannot recognize us everywhere. People who want to expose us out there hunting. I make him walk behind me. He must be the one there “by accident” if ever discovered. He must fade out into a deserted street if I run into someone I know.
We haven’t done anything physical that would shame our loved ones, the ones who barely know us. Our emotions are another story altogether. It is difficult pretending not to love when the very idea of looking at him brings tears to my eyes. Joy. I have not seen joy in such a long time. How tricky of it to appear this way.
The pictures are in tabloids now. Altered, they now show him nearer to me in the streets than he is. Celebrities know which tabloids are real. Dre is not a celebrity. Neither is Home Dude’s wife. Maybe they don’t know. Please believe that it was not a paved golden road to get him near me, even if he is behind me right now looking at gold with no history behind it. Gold maybe for his wife. Leather gloves…for her. It isn’t as if he doesn’t love her. But there is something…there is an elephant standing near us when we are together that nobody can deny.
Back and forth in my trailer. First no, then yes. Then a “what are we doing/we can’t do this/it’s not fair to her.” I say what about Dre and he says, “Dre is your situation not part of your life…she is part of me. And you are too.” There were tears and silences. Thrown pillows. Swigs of Hennessy and Chianti. Burning holes into Sade CDs. Hugs with nothing but a deep emotion attached to them. What to do?
Dre gets more stuff from me the deeper I fall in love with someone else. Guilt. I send him shoes, gloves, jewelry. Nothing outrageous but nothing big enough to make me feel bad for being in love. He thinks things are great. You see, if he knew me, he’d know they weren’t. You know when things are and when they aren’t, generally. I am looking at bag he might like while Home Dude buys his wife a bracelet. Another bracelet. I tell him to be careful because women aren’t stupid like men. He tells me that he hasn’t even sent half the stuff he buys for her. It sits in his room.
We duck into a restaurant. Our feet touch. It is as intimate a feeling as last night when we slept in the same bed and did nothing but hold each other and kiss. I can’t fuck him unless he’s mine. And I don’t fuck to make someone mine. He carves something in the wooden table:
Me and You Forever 2003
This is the first time I think of vows. Everybody’s vows. Implied or stated. He’s stopped putting his wedding ring back on after we wrap everyday. Says there is no need. Dre’s engagement ring is on the way, he says. There is a perfect one, he says. Not just any one will do for me, he says.
An Italian man, sexy in a never-gonna-go-there-buddy way, is smiling at me as I try on some pearl white shearling gloves for a winter shoot yet to be determined (I can find a rationale for every odd thing in my wardrobe). His thick eyebrow goes up as he casually licks his bubble gum pink thin lips, concentrating heavily as he writes out my receipt. I give him my Euros and he smiles broadly, like an 8th grader with a crush. I know he recognizes me. When I take my gloves, he leans on the counter about to say something equivalent to a pinch on my ass. But before he can do that, Home Dude appears behind me. Closer now than ever before in public. He looks at the Italian like he’s about to tell him to “raise up, mothafucka.” Your past is always with you no matter where you go. With his hand on my waist, we walk out of the store. I think to myself, Dre would have never even noticed a wrong pinch or a look.
Dr. Calvin Fisher:
I’m sorry I got you into this, Lisa. I never thought it would come to this.
Dr. Lisa Jones:
You’re going to make it, Fisher. Stop talking like that. I’m not going to let you go without a fight.
Dr. Calvin Fisher:
Lisa, I’ve been fighting all my life. Fighting first impressions. Fighting to be the best. Fighting to stay real. Fighting.
Dr. Lisa Jones:
You aren’t the only one, Fisher. We all fight. Some more than others but that’s the way the game is played. If you’ve been fighting all your life, you’ve been preparing for this fight in front of us. Now, I want you to get up and keep walking with me. We only have four more sectors to go before we reach the transporting pod. Now that we know the cure is on Star 80, we’re almost there. Are you listening?
Dr. Calvin Fisher:
Thank you, Lisa. Let’s go.
Today he says the reason I am beautiful is because my inner comes through my pours to the outer. Then he says Lucy and I just need one incident as adults to make us the sisters we were meant. And that it will happen. I will be surprised. He loves me like I’ve needed for so long.
The words. The words. The words, M’Dear! So melodramatic in nature! Nobody is as desperate as our characters and yet the action playing out is real. There is desperation now. We are looking at each other as the last day comes closer and we are desperate.
He has asked me to marry him. He says he will leave his wife. He emailed her that they have something important to talk about. I saw the email. I saw him send it. It is her email address. Were are the loop holes? Normally, I am given a way out before I test my own limitations. I have never met someone so willing to go as far as I am. Where is the out before I have to deal with my pact with God?
Emotions are high. We argue sometimes and then hold each other in a silent sadness knowing the argument has nothing to do with what the real conflict is. I caught him staring at me last night when I woke up from sleeping harder than I ever have in my life. It’s a security I’ve never really known. His eyes staring into my skin. The Aisha Rahman book between us. He is almost finished with the whole book. He says he is happy not sleeping because he has slept all of his life it seems.
There is a comfort, M’Dear in waking up to somebody who means it when they say “Good Morning, Baby” or hearing music you are familiar with while you do other things around the house—hotel. Dre doesn’t listen to music much which was fine since me and the A&R guy broke up and I didn’t want to hear any music ever again. But I like Home Dude’s music. It’s familiar.
M’Dear, I haven’t once fought with Lucy or Deron and have actually come out of my moody shade to call my friends from here, which, as you know, I never do. People are starting to know. Lucy read me the tabloid story on us and laughed. She thinks it’s fake. That I would never go out with a married man. Oh Lucy.
M’Dear, mama of my mama, I’m waiting for you to show me what to do. But I am enjoying this and don’t feel bad at all. And you know something? You once said there had to be a connection between black women and the Whartons, Brontes and Plaths and I’m here to tell you there is. Suffering and happy.
Your Lucky Star loves you
The director looks at us with a look that says he is trying to ignore what’s happening in front of him. The closer we get to wrapping, the more the look gets bolder and more obvious. And when I look around, I realize everyone is looking that way. And no one is surprised because these things happen I guess all the time. But here’s my challenge: appreciating something rare in an environment where rare happens all the time. It’s a Sade song.
You make me hold my own against a world with no arms but is stronger than me
You make something in me move that I didn’t know was in me
What more is there that I don’t know?
What more can you teach me?
He’s not the best poet but his intentions are good. And these masterpieces are written on napkins and left for me in my trailer, at make up, in the hotel and my car. You name it and his words are there when he is not. Sometimes I get both. Dre has asked if he can visit.
Don’t make me tell you things that you have no ears for
Show you things you cannot watch
I have asked the world to give me a heart that could comfort the both of us
But it replies I am too big for that request
All around me there are signs of me and then you but never us
How can I wear your ring?
I am waiting, as usual, to be called to the set. My knitting is getting faster, trying to catch up to my heart. A whole line of hip hop knit, Home Dude says. Hip Knit Hop, he says. Corny, I say. Two days before we are wrapping. Waiting for the change to happen. The I-changed-my-mind-baby-I-can’t-do-this but he hasn’t shown any backing down. Not even a stronger-than-ever so that I can assume he’s over compensating before that boot drops. Consistency. Foreign to me. I am not just waiting for my call on set.
I am stupid enough to write this down! Here’s what I was thinking: We get back to the states and then we go home and tell them what’s happened between us. We talked about this a million times so I’m not going to tell you what to say but you know the deal. Deal with the situation! Sike. He’s alright for a corny herb that ain’t for you. I’m gonna tell her about how things ain’t been right for a while and she knows it. Then leave that shit. I’m gonna get us a place in the Hills or Silverlake. Something nice and cozy. I got my assistant there looking at a few addresses and she should email me which one she pick out tomorrow morning. Don’t spend the night in that house! He’s gonna try and make you stay. We will meet at our new place the night we get back. Keep the faith, Baby!
Your favorite MC (Mad Cochise)
Why he is addicted to the movie “Cooley High” I will never know. It’s a quirk. Like how he puts ketchup on everything. Like how he doesn’t replace toothpaste caps. Like how he kisses my eyelids good night. Like how his leg is shaking all of the time when he is nervous. Why don’t I just make plaid curtains and search for apple pie recipes? Why don’t I just make pot roast (what is that really) and wear an apron all day? Why are those my ideas of settling into love? I have no clue what any of this means. And there is no one to ask. What is it like to have girlfriends who won’t sell your story to the highest bidder, men who won’t steal your underwear like a trophy? What is like when your life would echo were it not for you being there?
At the airport:
Me: If your last meal was tonight, what would you have?
Him: Mr. Foo Foo’s in Detroit. The biggest everything you can imagine. Food for giants. What about you?
Me: Fried chicken, French fries and milk toast.
Him: What the fuck is milk toast?
Me: You make toast, you put it in hot milk and let it cook, add butter. Eat.
Him: I’m gonna be sick.
Me: You would still love me after I ate it.
Him: But I wouldn’t want you throwin’ up in my face if I went to kiss you after that milk shit.
Me: You would still love me though…
Him: It doesn’t sound like you are asking me but I know you are so YES I would still love you after. Before. During.
Pause. Plane is getting ready. Our sitting together is not obvious. We are on a commercial flight and there are others around us. Europe has an oblivious air to it. When we land, the whirlwind happens. Telephoto lens still capturing our casual conversation at this moment. I feel lit.
Him: It’s going to be fine.
Me: Mmm. Okay. Butterflies aren’t listening to you. They say you’re too cute to listen to.
Him: That is how they treat me after I done made out with everyone of them?
Me: I am the loyal one. Not them.
Him: Good to know. I can’t wait to buy furniture with you. And go food shopping and read the papers in the morning and buy you presents and…
Me: We’ve done all of that for two months, except for the furniture.
Him: I want to do it all the time. Everything. All the time. Maybe this is newness talking but love won’t die.
Me: Of course.
Him: Of course. Behave yourself on the plane. No copping feels on my leg while I’m sleep.
Me: You nervous about people watching?
Him: I’m nervous I might take you in front of everybody and get arrested when we land.
His knee is shaking. Neither one of us call our situations before we board. We settle into our seats. We take out scripts and read. We make sure not to say anything as the rest of the passengers board in front of us. They stare. A few ask for autographs. We smile. We try to maintain some sort of distance that doesn’t exist. When you are performing in real life, it doesn’t matter how good of an actor you are, you still may fail. We tell them we’ve just wrapped a film and they nod. Soon it is quiet and we are back in our familiar territory, semi-seclusion. Sometime during the night, he kisses me deeply and goes to sleep himself.
Affair Shocker: Stars Caught in Love Tryst While Shooting Blockbuster
I wait days. He doesn’t come. Dre’s nasty words still hanging on my body like a ho outfit. Days in this little bungalow with curtains I made and scripts I’m supposed to read, fielding calls from my publicist, my manager and my agent. Lucy drives over and sits in silence with me. My assistant appears when I need him. We all wait.
There is no furniture. That waits too. I sleep, much to everyone’s dismay, on the floor in blankets. My things from Dre’s arrive sporadically. I have the pool cleaned. He doesn’t answer any phones. He doesn’t reply to emails. When I drive by, I can’t see if his car is there because of the gates. I have the garden taken care of. I wait.
Two days later, I am watching talk shows and he is on. I stop waiting and feel myself collapsing.
I have been with my wife for about twelve years and you know you aren’t
always in love but you always love, you know? She understands the
business and she’s pretty strong to withstand rumors. Heaven and I are good friends and she was a great tour guide in Italy. She’s like ‘Alessandro you haven’t been here???” I hadn’t been and you know I couldn’t show anybody anything except for around Detroit so I admire her talents, all of them. Amazing actress. Funny. Smart. But no, there is no truth to us having an affair. The media is far too kind to believe she would’ve even go for me. I’m lucky to have my wife so I’m not pushing my luck! She tells me everyday, ‘Alessandro, you are so lucky to have me. Just so lucky.’
Laughs. Smiles. Giggles. He is charming. But he did it. He said our names like they all say our names. Carelessly. The wind leaves my body. Lucy goes to turn the television off but I say don’t. She sits down again. Arrows darting from her eyes to his charming laughable charade on the screen. All this while Dre leaves nasty voicemails on my cellphone. Two-ways me begging me to come back. Suffering and happy, I imagine. There is more.
Now, your wife is expecting I hear!
Yes! Our first child. She just past her first trimester. She wanted to tell me
when I got back from shooting. Alessandro, she says, we have a new project, baby! Hell of a damn secret for a long time! Nobody but her and the doctor knew but she’s healthy and that’s what counts. Our first baby, man…
Wind completely gone. I chastise myself. The stage was set and I knew how the action was going to go down but all great drama twists you into falling into the trap of not-knowing-what-happens next. A bungalow for two but there’s only me and my retention team. Lucy, my great sister who I never really saw before, has stepped in with her maternal silence and soothes me some how. The tears, absent until now, have burst out of my body and if they whole neighborhood couldn’t hear then they are deaf. I scream loud. My assistant rubs my back and hands me a package that comes.
It is the deed to the house and the property. From him. No letters. No words. Nothing. Lucy tells me, calmly, to cut him a check and be on my way. In response, I lock myself in the bathroom. I cry. Hours. Hours. And hours. They wait for me out in the hallway. I smell my assistant’s many cigarettes and hear Lucy call Deron, who threatens to beat Home Dude’s ass if I want.
I look at my body in the mirror in the bathroom, realizing that this the first time I am alone. Really alone. Happily alone. Satisfied with my station in life. Happy there are none of his memories attached here. If he had touched this sink, or the toilet or the jacuzzi, I don’t think I could’ve stood there. At least I can leave this house without more tragedy. We are gone from the house in less than 12 hours. A suite at the Marmont is my cave and I love it.
One year later. He has a baby. I have memories, some good wounds and some bad. We do separate junkets. People are instructed quietly to not let us cross paths, though they believe it is because we never got along. I smoke cigarettes again but I’ not worried about this minor set back. I smoke one in this limo as we pull up to the red carpet. The limo driver is making a face but says nothing. Lucy, Deron and my assistant are in the limo. My publicist is on the carpet already. I get out.
The flashes, the screams, my name everywhere, demands. If I can survive this, I can do anything. I see him up front. He turns to me. She is beside him. They look happy. He’s an actor like I am because I look happy too. We are “on.” I slink down the carpet, smiling, waving, posing, conjuring up this woman who is not me. She is very handsome, this woman and how she deals with the shit. I am somewhere else, quivering like a cold crying baby. This year I worked on this woman I’ve conjured who can fool everyone now. Even him. I wave to them and shout congratulations on their little boy. She beams. His face is painfully smiling.
Lucy and Deron watch carefully, clutching each other as if the disease of infidelity is contagious. But soon they are too caught up in the magic world of photographers and fans. They forget about me in a way. I am glad. Two less people focused on me. I turn to the left. To the right. Wave. Blow kisses. Watch out of the corner of my eye as he goes in with his wife. The archway doesn’t change him. His face is still painfully smiling. He is clumsily stealing glances of me and she doesn’t notice. Or doesn’t care. Hats off to her for playing the game to win.
We near the archway inside. I pretend to laugh at something funny a photographer or reporter or fan says. My, that’s some funny shit. It’s easy. My publicist pulls me away after forty-five seconds of being anywhere on the carpet. Everyone asks me if there’s something new about me. I look fabulous. Is my hair different? Lipo? Implants? New diet? New man? What could it be that I’ve done to myself. I would tell them on the forty-seventh second but I never get that far.
The entrance. Before us. Tall proud. It’s a passage way, I feel like. I won’t be the same when I pass underneath it. This handsome woman who is confident and fierce is going to take over from now on. She’s going to laugh at all the right jokes and say all the right things. Gone is the weirdo extra sensitive girl who got her wires crossed. One foot closer. Another. Another. Another. Under the archway, no more waiting.
God, I kept my pact with you. Even if you didn’t keep your end of the bargain. I’m still a lucky star.