Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Grouchy and Passive - a winning combo!

After college, I moved into a house with three of my friends. Like most new living situations, we're experiencing some growing pains. Or maybe it's just that I'm experiencing growing pains. Anyway, it's taught me some things about myself.

1. I don't give a fuck about making sure my pans don't get scratched. Or making sure her pans don't get scratched.  I've decided the solution is to avoid using her pans at all costs. Basically, I am really in to avoiding problems rather than solving them when it comes to my living space.

2. I understand when someone doesn't want to spend time with me right this second. I'm that way too. But I get my feelings hurt when you don't want to spend time with me, but you find the time to ask me to change my behavior, even when the request itself is totally justified.

3. I'm a slob. I've always known this, but I held onto this illusion that I was only a slob in my room. Around the rest of the home, I'd be tidy! While I am tidier, I'm still not up to house standards.

4. Based on the standards of cleanliness, politeness, etc. that my housemates have exhibited so far, I will never ask them to change any behaviors. I'm not sure if this is because they are exemplary human beings, because my standards are low, or because I am just incredibly passive.

There are more, but basically they come down to this: sometimes I feel that I do not fit in, and sometimes I feel that I am too wimpy and passive, and both of those things make me feel sad, embarrassed, and a little resentful.

It will pass. I know it will. But that is why I am up here hiding in my room, sorting through my glumness in a consequence free zone, instead of going downstairs to get the dirty close basket that I left in the basement, the one that's been sitting there for over a week and that my housemate very politely asked me to move. The one that has the dress in it that I borrowed from my other housemate over a month ago, and still haven't washed yet.

This is the basic problem. I'm not living up to my own standards of how to treat other human beings - take care of what is borrowed, be courteous in their space, don't take something personally if that means lying to yourself about what the other person probably meant, to cover up for the fact that what they actually meant triggered a problem in you, not them. 

I'm not treating them how I normally treat people, which embarrasses me. But I am treating them how I treat myself, and how I am happy to let them treat me, which makes me wish they'd get off my back. 

No grand conclusions here. Just that I need to suck it up and do what they ask, or suck it up and explain it to them why I won't be doing what they ask. 

Which is why I'm heading down to the basement to bring up my dirty, unwashed clothes. Maybe I should avoid borrowing clothes in the future.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dreaming Without Qualifiers

There's a line in one of my favorite romance novels where the heroine is sitting on the couch with her best friend, who's named Bonnie (of course she is). And Bonnie asks the heroine to imagine her happy ever after. And the heroine hems and haws, and judges herself, until Bonnie finally blurts out "God, you can't even dream without qualifiers."

Fueled by the endorphin rush that comes from watching Mr. Smith goes to Washington, I've decided to actually sit down and do the where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years thing. And I've decided to dream without qualifiers.

For the past few years, when adults ask me what job I want, I say something along the lines of whatever gets my foot in the door for political communications. Turns out, getting my foot in the door was both more achievable, and dramatically more boring then I thought. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm doing good work with good people and making good money. I'm incredibly grateful. I'm also bored out of my mind. For forty hours a week every week for the next two to three years. 

Hopefully, I'll find a way to make it more interesting, or develop my skills to the point where I'm trusted with more interesting projects. But I have now admitted that there's a possibility that it won't get more interesting. 

Barring unforeseen circumstances, I'm not quitting early. I need to enter the field somewhere, and I might as well enter it working for good people that treat me well. Which leads me to the five year plan. If I'm going to put in my two years of semi-boredom, I want to make sure I'm getting somewhere with them. And to get somewhere with them, I need to know where I'm going. 

Thus the dreaming. 

In five years I want to live within two hours of home, with home being where my parents and most of my extended family live. I want to be able to drive myself to a loud family dinner, or to the wet, gray, windy solitude of the Oregon coast, whichever I need. I want to have a literary career. Not a full time literary career, but I want to have a handful of plays that have been performed by small theater groups, a published novel (either with a publisher, or through self publishing), and the relationships, and skills to continue down that path and expand my literary career until, in the ten year or fifteen year dream where I'm married with kids, I can work from home while raising them, at least until they're in school. Or, if I don't get the kids and husbands bit, then in twenty years I can have a completely literary career and have complete control over where I live, what I do, and who I spend my time with. Which means in five years, I want my literary career to be in a place where it can eventually grow into the freedom to live the way I want.

In five years, I want to be working in politics. I want to be working in something where I am close enough to see the difference with what I do. And I want to be working in something where I get to draft communications plans, and utilize people's strengths to work for something good.

I think maybe I want to work in city politics. 

I want to love the place I'm living in. Not in a perfect forever way, but in a perfect for me, right now, way. 

I want to be in a place where I feel positive, hopeful, and open about romantic relationships, whether that's because I'm in one, starting one, had a good one, or just comfortable in my skin and open to possibilities. 

I want enough of my friends close by that I can laugh and hug and dream on a couch with them, and visit the friends I can't live next to at least once a year.

If I can get all that, and I mean every drop of it, then two years of forty hours of boredom will be worth it. 

So tonight I sleep. Tomorrow I plan.




Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Flaws, Approval, and Silence

I was getting ready for a costume party the other night. Because I am vain, it was a beautiful costume - corset, sea green mask, hair swept up. One of my friends took pictures of me getting ready and put them on facebook. Of course, the first thing I saw was the faint stubble of arm pit hair that showed. Then the fleshiness of my arms. Only after I felt embarrassment about those flaws did I notice that, on the whole, I look gorgeous. I was going to write a post about how women have been programmed to find faults in every image of ourselves we see, but then I found something else to be mad about.

When my friend posted the pictures, she captioned them "my sexy friend." Which was why, obviously, her parents felt the need to call her, and threaten to stop paying rent if she didn't take them down, because those pictures, and that caption, made her look like a lesbian. It was unprofessional, it made her unemployable, and she was embarrassing them in front of their friends.

I don't even know where to start. Never mind the fact that they called her off and on all day, even after she'd taken the pictures down, and even though for part of the day she was at work in a small office.

She seems to have made up with her parents. They told her last night that they loved her, and she loves them, and both sides are committed to keeping each other in their lives. It doesn't help that her parents come from a part of the country, and a culture, where her being a lesbian is something that would embarrass them in front of their friends.

I am so, so mad. Not that I'll tell them, in the event that I meet them come graduation. And not that I'll even tell her, at least not anytime soon. It is not my business, and she has enough people pressuring her to behave a certain way. And every family has there own history, and nuance, and their own way of solving problems.

But still. I can't let it go, and I don't think it's just because someone hurt my friend. Or because of the homophobic paranoia. God knows that's a post in and of itself. 

I think what has me most is the level of power her parents have over her life. College is a nebulous time, in terms of the power balance between a student and their parent. I had one friend who broke up with her boyfriend because her mother threatened to stop paying her tuition. I had another friend who flatly told her mother no, she would not take down a picture of her drinking alcohol on facebook. And her mother accepted it, with nothing worse than some grumbling. Add to that the question of how much privacy a daughter deserves, especially in relation to her sexuality, and it has the potential to get very complicated, very fast. 

I ran into my own problem with autonomy yesterday. My student loans turned out to be four months worth of rent less than I thought it was going to be. Part of that's my fault, and I ended up sobbing while a friend hugged me and told me it would be ok, everyone needs help from their parents when they're in college. I can pay them back gradually once I'm out of school. 

The thing was, I really wanted to pay them back now. My parents are mostly great about respecting my privacy. I mean, it was annoying when my entire family knew I'd gone on birth control before my (at the time) boyfriend did. But in the important stuff, my parents do a very good job of respecting my privacy and agency. And yet they still step in when I screw up and need help on four months worth of rent. 

I know that, and I'm still upset that I can't pay them back now. I can only imagine how conflicted my friend feels. I guess the best we can do is act as responsibly as possible, be grateful when our parents help us out, and try to look at the situation with grace whenever we butt heads over how much freedom we deserve. 

But I don't love her parents, and I don't think they treated her with any kind of grace. Whether they meant to or not, for a moment they made her feel like all she was was flaws. For a moment, they couldn't see how wonderful and gorgeous her whole is, and that meant she couldn't see it either. Among all the give and take between parents and their daughters, maybe the biggest power imbalance is the need for approval. 

Which is why, on this one, the closest I can get to grace is just to keep my silence. 







Friday, March 7, 2014

Back (and Here to Stay)

So I haven't written on here in forever, largely because I am actually having a life, instead of just pondering on the internet about how I should have one. I'm directing a play. I'm working an internship. I'm in a playwriting class that makes me want to tear my hair out. I'm going to see one of my best friends this week. I'm going to see New York City for the first time and (fingers crossed) I maybe have a plan for after graduation.

I'll be back here introspecting soon enough -- I finish my last college theater production in a week, and I graduate in less than two months. And, of course, the first guy I have a crush on in a year has a girlfriend. So, fear not, introspection will abound.

In the mean time, I wrote a play a while back for the Blind Pug's reWORKS Festival. I thought I'd share it here as a sort of apology for disappearing.

If you like re-told fairy tales, enjoy. And if not, I promise I'll be back with the usual stuff soon enough. I'm here to stay. I promise.

--------------------------------------------------------


Mrs. Braxton’s Roses

General notes: This a very loose re-telling of Beauty and the Beast. Instead of a curse, it’s social stigma. And instead of a romance, it’s a friendship that saves both people. I’m going for a gothic feel – innocent heroine, big old mansion, unpredictable rich man. Initially Summer finds the mansion cold and lonely, and Harvey Smith a selfish, manipulative man. By the end, those impressions have transferred to her own home life – she finds herself lonely, her home cold, and her father manipulative, while the mansion is warm, and she’s friends with the kind people who live in it.

Characters:

Summer Foster – She’s somewhere in her Junior year of college. She’s as late as she can possibly be in her college career without picking a major, which is freaking her out because she doesn’t have the money to stay in school forever (she actually doesn’t really have the money to be in school in the first place). She saw her dad quit a job he hated, so she’s wary of majoring in something that’s safe but that she hates. At the same time, her Dad hasn’t had any success pursuing his passion, so she’s equally terrified to just pick something she likes and then be stranded.
She gets sucked into t.v. stories, and she’s very empathetic. She’s good at creating order and taking care of people, but she doesn’t have any motivation right now. She’s a little in love with chaos.

Mr. Foster – Summer’s father. He quit his job to build some kind of computer program that he’s convinced will make them rich. After a year, his wife left him. He genuinely cares about Summer, but he’s manipulative by nature. He sees the program he’s working on as an artistic calling that he has to give everything he has to.

Harvey Smith – He’s been a friend of the family and caretaker and tutor for Killian for the past few years. But when Killian’s parents died about a year ago, the hours he works increased dramatically. He’s still technically an employee of the estate, but he’s very emotionally invested in Killian. At the same time, he’s old enough to retire. He needs help in the short term, because right now he’s basically working a 24 hour job, but he’s picky about that help because he’s looking for someone to whom he can eventually pass care of Killian when he retires.

Hannah – the cook. Soft, older end of middle aged. The kind of woman who can be religious without being obnoxious about it. She’s all about comforting people, with food, with replacing Killian’s rose, etc. Even if comforting them in the moment keeps them from healing in the long term.

Killian – A few years older than Summer. He has classical autism (not Asbergers), but he’s had therapy and treatment from a young age. This means he can be fairly social for someone with Autism. He can understand jokes, if he’s interested enough to pay attention to the speaker in the first place. He can ignore people purposely to get under their skin, but more often he genuinely doesn’t notice them because he’s so wrapped up in his projects. His current project is comic book series he’s been working on since his parents died. He’s trying to bring himself to finish the scene he was drawing when his parents died.
He’s lived in the same neighborhood his whole life, so he can wander around the neighborhood unattended. He’s very sensitive to stimuli, which means he’s picky about smells, being touched by any one besides his parents, and he’s very visually observant. Because he lives so much in the present any way, he drifts in and out of denial about his parent’s deaths. There is very little impulse control in how he moves. He’s very, very physically expressive. Most of the time he’d probably be fine working on his own projects by himself, but he can be unpredictable. When he feels something strongly he can act on an impulse (climbing out a window, running into the street, locking himself in a room and not coming out for days) that leads to him hurting himself, although that’s not his intention. He cares about certain people, but he doesn’t necessarily pay attention to them, or think about them when they aren’t in his eyesight.
He has a bit of speech impediment, but if that is not possible for an actor to do well, it’s better to play him without one.



Scene One

Setting: A college student sits in a study/family room with a very old t.v. in it. Textbooks are scattered around her, but she’s focused on the T.V. She’s very concerned about what’s happening on screen. She gets more and more concerned and exasperated until she can’t hold it in any longer.

SUMMER
No! It’s not – ugh. No you don’t have to -- Don’t go in there! What are you – he’s going to get you! No! Stupid! Stupid – [door slams open, and Summer screams.]

MR. FOSTER
[enters] Jesus! Don’t scream like that. Listen, if this guy asks you, I’m a competent mental health professional.

SUMMER
Dad, what are you – [knock on the door]

HARVEY
[from other side of door] Mr. Foster.

MR. FOSTER
Shit. Stall him. Tell him I’m looking for my license. [exits. Knocking again]

HARVEY
[pause] I know you’re in there. [Summer answers the door] You’re not who I’m looking for. Where is Mr. Foster?

SUMMER
He’s just getting his papers.

HARVEY
[pushes past her] I am not to be trifled with.

SUMMER
People don’t trifle any more. We mess with. We screw over. We fuck with.

HARVEY
Where is your father? I assume he’s your father.

SUMMER
I am not to be fucked with doesn’t really have the same ring.

HARVEY
Where is Mr. Foster?
SUMMER
What are you doing in my house?

MR. FOSTER
[enters] I’m really, really sorry, but I think it got packed into one of the boxes in the move. And my ex has the key to the storage, and she’s out of town till the end of the month. I apologize. This is so unprofessional. I guess when it rains it pours, huh?

HARVEY
It does indeed. I’m suing you.

MR. FOSTER
What?

HARVEY
Return the check, or I’m suing you.

MR. FOSTER
I can’t.

HARVEY
Consider yourself lucky. I could have you charged with falsifying a contract, with medical misconduct. [beat] You hurt him. Now give the money back and never come near that house again.

SUMMER
My Dad would never hurt anybody.

MR. FOSTER
Summer, be quiet.

HARVEY
[beat] I’ll have me lawyer call tomorrow.

MR. SUMMER
Don’t do this. I… may not have been as qualified as I said. But I can watch a kid, I can do the job –

HARVEY
No. You can’t. [exits]

SUMMER
Dad? [silence]

MR. FOSTER
Turn that damn thing off.
SUMMER
[turns off TV] What’s going on?

MR. FOSTER
The new job didn’t work out.

SUMMER
What do you mean? I thought it was another house sitting job. So you could work on your programming.

MR. FOSTER
The house sitting jobs don’t pay enough. This would have bought me more time.

SUMMER
What do you mean? What was this? [her father doesn’t seem to hear her, and she grows alarmed] Dad!

MR. FOSTER
What? Sorry. Sorry. I just don’t know what to do. [beat. Angry.] I mean what am I supposed to do?

SUMMER
Dad, tell me what happened.

MR. FOSTER
There was an ad. For somebody to watch this kid who lives in the old Mocks Crest place, up on the bluff. And the money they were going to pay – the money they did pay – just to watch one kid. They wanted someone with a mental health degree, but I figure a kids a kid. I raised you. I’ll stick it out for a month, let the kid play computer games while I work. I mean, it’s not ideal. But it’s only a month.

SUMMER
I still don’t-

MR. FOSTER
We needed the money.

SUMMER
[quietly] I didn’t know it was that bad.

MR. FOSTER
Good. You weren’t supposed to. [pause] I figured if they really needed a medical person, they wouldn’t be advertising online. I mean, you don’t hire a doctor online, right? And for two thousand dollars…

SUMMER
What happened?

MR. FOSTER
At first it was fine. The guy was so desperate to hire someone, he lapped up everything I said. But then I met the kid. And he’s not a kid, he’s older than you. He’s just sitting there, and it’s horrible. He stares, and stares, and you spend the whole time on your toes, expecting him to strike, but all he does is stare, for hours. And the way he treats the servants, like they’re not even people…

SUMMER
But they found out. That you were lying.

MR. FOSTER
He hit me. Nine times! For touching his stupid rose. And then when I hit back, to defend myself against a grown man – oh well that’s a problem. Apparently they don’t teach ‘em self defense in therapy school. [pause] I couldn’t go back.  Even if Smith hadn’t found me out, I couldn’t go back. [silence]

SUMMER
Right. I’ll get your checkbook.

MR. FOSTER
What?

SUMMER
We have to pay him back, or he’ll sue us. Here, write it, and I’ll drop it off tomorrow morning on my way to class. I know you don’t want to, but we don’t have another option. And it’s not like we could have already spent two thousand-

MR. FOSTER
It’s your tuition.

SUMMER
Oh

MR. FOSTER
Yes.

SUMMER
Look, I don’t have to go this semester. People take time off during college all the time. Or I can take out a loan. Or-

MR. FOSTER
It’s already been paid. Besides, we tried that. No one’s going to give you a lone until my program takes off.
SUMMER
If you could get a job…

MR. FOSTER
A job would only get in my way. I’m on the brink of something here. I just need time to concentrate. And now I have one more thing to worry about. [long pause]

SUMMER
Well don’t worry about it tonight.

MR. FOSTER
He wants that check by tomorrow.

SUMMER
Just give it a day. You’ll think of something. Or I’ll think of something. He can fucking wait for a day.

MR. FOSTER
God, I hope you’re right. [beat] I love you. Everyone should have someone like you in they’re corner.

SUMMER
Good night.

MR. FOSTER
Night. [exits]


[Summer turns the T.V. back on. You hear sirens on it. Someone says, “She shouldn’t have gone in.” Someone else says, “What would you have done?”]

END SCENE

Scene Two

Setting: It’s Harvey’s office, a lavish room in the mansion. Summer follows Hannah, the cook, into the room. Summer’s dressed professionally and clutching a folder.

HANNAH
You can wait here for Harvey.

SUMMER
 Harvey?

HANNAH
Harvey Smith. [pause] You said you wanted to see Mr. Smith.

SUMMER
I do. He just doesn’t seem like much of a Harvey.

HANNAH
What’s your business with Mr. Smith, if you don’t mind my asking?

SUMMER
I’d rather keep that between myself and Mr. Smith. [trying to distract her] It’s nice to finally see the inside of this place. I didn’t realize the rooms were so small, and tall. I grew up in the neighborhood, but I’ve never been inside. One time, when I was a kid, I snuck into that bit of the rose garden that borders the park. I was short enough, all the roses were right at my face. I thought I was in another world.

HANNAH
[sizing her up] I don’t know what you’re here for, and I don’t care about your childhood. But if you’re connected to what happened yesterday, you should know I won’t have it. Just because he’s lost his parents does not mean he hasn’t got vengeful people looking out for him. So you just keep that in mind before you go lying and thieving and taking advantage of him. [beat] And if you weren’t involved, I suppose it’s best you know we’re a bit testy today. Don’t waste Mr. Smith’s time. Or mine. [exits]

SUMMER
And hello to you too. [beat] You can do this.

HARVEY
[enters] Miss Foster. [pause] Put the check on my desk and leave.

SUMMER
I think we got off on the wrong foot. My name’s Summer.

HARVEY
And I’m sure the next person you introduce yourself to will care. But I have to find somebody qualified to watch an autistic young man traumatized by the death of his parents and a stranger hitting him. And now, thanks to your father, I found out that my next to choices have taken jobs elsewhere.

SUMMER
That’s why I’m here. To solve your problem.

HARVEY
[beat] No. No I am not letting your father within a hundred feet of these premises.

SUMMER
Not my father. Me. Here’s my resume. [silence while he flips through the folder she hands him]. I can watch – I’ll watch Killian. I’ve nannied before. And I’m CPR certified. As you’ll see.

HARVEY
Mr. Braxton is not a child. Do not belittle him with that comparison.

SUMMER
I didn’t mean to insult – I just meant to say that I have more experience taking care of other people than my Dad does. [beat] I can’t pay you back. We can’t pay you back. And my Dad can’t get sued, or fined, or whatever happens when you…But I’m smart. I’m kind, and I work hard. Let me work off whatever my Dad owes you.

HARVEY
You’re just like him. You think you can waltz right in and take a job to care for someone you’re not qualified to care for.

SUMMER
I’m not like him. I’m not lying about it. [beat] That woman who showed me in. The housekeeper?

HARVEY
Hannah. The cook.

SUMMER
Does she ever watch Mr. Braxton sometimes? Just for an hour or two. If no one else can watch him.

HARVEY
Yes.

SUMMER
I’m like that. I’m just here for a couple of hours. A couple of hours this month, until someone better comes along. I’m giving you the time to do it right. To find the right person, not someone like… I’m here to solve your problem.

HARVEY
No you’re not. You’re here to solve yours.[picks up a phone] Your resume says you’re going to PSU? [she nodds] I’m enrolling you in two new courses and a weekend workshop.

SUMMER
What? You can’t just-

HARVEY
I know someone in the psychology department, and I am not letting you treat this lightly. Don’t give me that look. I’m giving you what you want. [into the phone] Hello, Mike? It’s Harvey. Can you do me favor? I’ve got a young woman who might be doing some work with me, she’s an undergrad at PSU. She’s absolutely fascinated by psychology, but she had some trouble getting into your classes. Do you have room for one more… yes, I’d really appreciate that… of course her schedule is clear… whichever ones you think best, although she’s really interested in autism… Sure, you can get back to me. I appreciate this, Mike… Yeah, you too. Bye.” [hangs up]

SUMMER
I do not have a clear schedule. I’m working here. And I’ve already got a full course load.

HARVEY
You don’t want to make time for these classes, you can hand over the check and leave. [beat] That’s what I thought. You can start tomorrow.

SUMMER
[beat, while it all sinks in] Can I start today? Just for an hour or so. I think it would be good if I met Mr. Braxton today.

HARVEY
Perhaps that is for the best. [hands her a set of papers] This is your contract. Read it through, and if you still think you can handle the job after you’ve met Mr. Braxton – [Summer signs it without reading it] I said read it!

SUMMER
It doesn’t matter what it says. It’s me or my Dad.

HARVEY
[Takes contract and holds door open] After you.

SUMMER
Did he really hit me Dad? [exits. Harvey looks exasperated, and exits after her].

END SCENE

Scene Three

Setting: It’s a den-type room. Unlike the rest of the house, it looks like someone lives here. Lots of drawings and pencils and art supplies are scattered throughout the room. There’s also a rose in a vase. Killian is going through a notebook, ripping out every page and putting it on the ground.

HARVEY
Killian, this is SUMMER. She’ll be spending some time with you. [Killian ignores them]

SUMMER
What’s he doing?

HARVEY
So long as he’s safe, it doesn’t matter. Pay attention to me. Don’t be loud, don’t touch the rose, and make sure he doesn’t climb out the window again. You should be fine. Mostly he’ll ignore you. But if something happens, and you’re in over your head, for the love of God call me. [to Killian] Killian, I’m going to leave you with Ms. Summer. She’s going to help you with anything you need and make sure you make safe decisions. [Killian rips a paper in half. Mr. Smith addresses Summer.] I’ll see you at 4:30, and we can discuss how the day went.

SUMMER
I have to leave by 2:30 today. I have class. Unless I have to drop it to clear my schedule.

MR. SMITH
You have class. Of course. [exits, but leaves the door open]

SUMMER
[goes over to Killian and picks up a paper. Then picks up another, and another] These are beautiful. [Killian looks up, makes eye contact with her. Then he very slowly rips another paper] Stop it!

KILLIAN
No. [he keeps ripping them out of the notebook, while Summer starts picking them up, faster and faster, until they’re racing] No, it’s not right! [Summer tries to take the notebook from him] No!

SUMMER
[wrenches the notebook away from him. He kind of physically throws a short temper tantrum. He’s not screaming or throwing anything, but his physicality expresses everything he feels, and right now he feels very, very frustrated] You can have this back when you’re not going to wreck everything.

KILLIAN
They’re not good. They’re bad.

SUMMER
They’re beautiful. Who drew them?

KILLIAN
I did.

SUMMER
[Summer looks through the pictures again, closer this time] You keep drawing the same three people. Like they’re… characters?

KILLIAN
They’re mine, so I can do what I want.

SUMMER
There’s lots of black in these. Is that you’re favorite color? [Killian starts playing with a ball, or some kind of toy, doing a repetitive motion] Killian? Do you like black?

KILLIAN
It’s not black. It’s pencil. They’re different colors.

SUMMER
What are you-? I guess you’re right. Lead isn’t really black. Sort of a grey, hovering on the edge of black. [beat] So you notice colors. You’d be good at light design. [Killian turns on a laptop/or a game-boy/something electronic, and ignores her.] Do you know what light design is? [ignores her] It’s the person who does the lights for theater. You have to have an eye for color. [ignores her] Of course, you also have to notice what’s happening on stage, and you’d be REALLY BAD AT THAT. [still ignoring her. Except at this point he’s not trying to ignore her, he’s just completely absorbed in what he’s doing on screen.] Fine. We don’t have to talk. I’ll do homework.  Or, better yet, I’ll pick a major. Everyone wants me to pick a major.

[She takes out a brochure, and he keeps doing whatever he’s doing on screen. But SUMMER gets bored pretty quickly.]

SUMMER
So what happened to your parents? [he freezes, then turns away from her and keeps playing. She’s kind of talking to herself at this point] I mean, they’re gone. Mr. Smith said as much. But if I ask him for details, he’ll think I’m unprofessional. [beat] Who am I kidding, this whole thing is unprofessional. [more insistent, directed at Killian. Each time she waits for an answer. She grows more and more frustrated as he doesn’t answer] What happened to your parents? Why don’t you like your drawings? Why isn’t there any black, only pencil? Why am I supposed to keep you from climbing out the window? What’s your favorite color? Or the weather. Let’s talk about the weather. How do you feel about rain? How do you feel about torrential downpours? [beat] What I’m doing here? [beat] Why did you hit my Dad?

KILLIAN
[makes sound effects for the game he’s playing]

SUMMER
That guy who was here yesterday? Why did you hit him? [crosses to rose] He touched this, didn’t he? [she has Killian’s attention. She pokes the flower.]

KILLIAN
Don’t do that.

SUMMER
Then tell me why you hit my Dad. Why you hit the man yesterday.

KILLIAN
Don’t do that! [rushes toward her, but she steps back, and he stops with his hand raised. SUMMER waits] I don’t want the smell on it.

SUMMER
What smell?

KILLIAN
Mom put it there. I don’t want his smell on it. He can’t get his smell on it.

SUMMER
Ok. Ok. [backs away] What did he smell like?

KILLIAN
Wet. Like a dog. But dogs are warm.

SUMMER
He does not smell like a dog!

KILLIAN
Does too!

SUMMER
He does – Killian, when did your Mom leave?

KILLIAN
[to himself] He does too.

SUMMER
Because that rose is brand new, like it was picked yesterday. Mr. Smith made it sound like your parents had been gone for a while. [beat] I think you made a mistake. I don’t think your Mom picked that rose.

KILLIAN
She did.

SUMMER
But it-

KILLIAN
Yes she did! Yes she did, yes she did yes, she did yes she did! She came in this door, and she walked over here, and she said I love you then she put it right here and I said I’m going to draw the cave next and then she said I’ll see you at dinner and then – and then – this is her rose! She did too! She did too!

SUMMER
Ok, ok. Calm down. You’re right. I’m wrong. I was just asking a question.
[Killian picks up one of his drawings and starts ripping it. SUMMER crosses to him, her voice soothing] Hey. Hey. None of that. You don’t need to do that. [he lets her take the notebook from him] I have an idea. Why don’t you tell me what’s happening in… this picture? What’s happening here?

KILLIAN
They’re fighting.

SUMMER
Why are they fighting?

KILLIAN
He wants to leave, to start the adventure, but he won’t let him.

SUMMER
Who wins?

KILLIAN
The bad guy. But it’s ok, because he…[searches for a picture until he finds it] He waits until he leaves, and then he crawls out the window and jumps down like Cook’s cat. And then he starts the adventure.

SUMMER
Maybe you could tell me…shit. I’m going to be late for class. I’ve got to go, but I’ll see you tomorrow.

KILLIAN.
But I’m not done.
SUMMER
You can tell me tomorrow. But I have to get to class –

KILLIAN
Summer, will you stay?

SUMMER
Oh – I. I’m sorry, hon. I can’t. I’ve got class. I’ve got… life. Homework to do, people to avoid, groceries to buy. But I’ll be back tomorrow.

KILLIAN
And then you’ll stay?

SUMMER
I – just… I’ll see you tomorrow. Ok? [exits]

KILLIAN
Ok.

END SCENE

Scene Four
Setting: Killian’s den again, but a different day.  About a week later. Killian is sitting quietly working on his drawings. Summer is lying on the ground, bored out of her mind.

SUMMER
[humming something perky sounding]

KILLIAN
Stop doing that.

SUMMER
Stop doing what?

KILLIAN
Making my ears hurt!

SUMMER
You’re such a killjoy. Killian the killjoy. Sir Killian, of Killjoy, slaying joy since  – I’m sorry, that was mean… I’m not supposed to be sarcastic. That’s what they say in the new class Harvey has me taking… I’m just so bored. And you have to be too. That’s all you’ve been doing this week. No one can like drawing that much…I know! We can have an adventure. [this catches Killian’s attention] We could go to the zoo. [Killian is disappointed, and goes back to drawing]

KILLIAN
No.

SUMMER
Don’t you like the zoo? [he looks up at her, and then goes back to his work.] Ok, no zoo. What about downtown? We could get some food, walk down by the river, stop by campus, drop off my late homework… how about hot chocolate? I’ll buy you hot chocolate!

KILLIAN
Summer. It is summer.

SUMMER
Ice cream then? Killian, I’m dying here.

KILLIAN
[angry, but a touch of panic] No! You are not dying!

SUMMER
[gentle, realizing] No. Of course I’m not. You’re right. That was a figure of speech. A bad joke. I’m sorry Killian. I forgot about… I forgot. [beat. He goes back to drawing] Want to go to the park?

KILLIAN
No!

SUMMER
Come on! It’s just next door. We barely even have to leave your property. [stands] Come on, it’ll be fun –

KILLIAN
I don’t want to! You can’t make me. I’m a grown up! And I want to draw.

SUMMER
Fine. Fine. Whatever you want. [sits back down, defeated. For a while there’s silence. Then Summer sighs. She’s feeling stressed and defeated.]

KILLIAN
You could draw too. If you wanted to.

SUMMER
Oh. I’m not very good at drawing.

KILLIAN
Then you can sharpen the pencils. I’d let you.

SUMMER
Oh, give it here. I’ll draw. [he hands her some colored pencils and a piece of paper. They start to draw] Oh God that’s awful. That is truly, truly awful.

KILLIAN
It looks like a penis.
SUMMER
Hey. Eyes on your own paper. [turns the paper over and starts again. They draw in silence for a while.] I used to have this friend, she could draw anything, and make it beautiful.

KILLIAN
[not very happy about it, but trying to be generous] I guess she could come draw with us.

SUMMER
Nah. We haven’t talked in years. Not since my parents…well not since some stuff changed.

KILLIAN
She didn’t stay.

SUMMER
No. She didn’t stay. [pause] Can you pass the black pencil?

KILLIAN
No. Black’s not a good color. [he offers her his pencil] You can have red. Red’s the best.

SUMMER
But I don’t want red, I’m trying to draw [sees his face] Never mind. I want red. Red’s the best.

KILLIAN
I told you. [draw for a while]

SUMMER
You know, it’s not her fault she didn’t stay. It got hard for her to be friends with me.

KILLIAN
It’s hard for people to be friends with me, too.

SUMMER
Who told you that?

KILLIAN
[shrugs]

SUMMER
[beat] Thank you, Killian. For letting me use the red.

KILLIAN
Welcome.

SUMMER
[starts humming]

KILLIAN
Stop.


END SCENE

Scene Five

Setting: It’s the den in Summer’s home again. Summer’s Dad is folding a laundry basket of clothes.

SUMMER
[walks in reading a book] Whoops. It says here it’s incredibly important to be patient with autistic people and, as much as possible, let them go at their own pace. I guess I shouldn’t have rushed him with lunch yesterday. [flips page, reads more] Aw shit. I screwed that up too.

MR. FOSTER
What are you reading?

SUMMER
It’s for my abnormal psychology class. Did you know that lots of people with autism are really creative? This guy even thinks that Yeats might have had some autistic- type traits. Also, autism can make you really sensitive to scents. Which was why Killian got all freaked out about your smell.

MR. FOSTER
I do not smell. Since when are you taking a class on autism?

SUMMER
It’s not just on autism. [beat] But did you know autism comes from the Greek word for self? Which means autism literally means “alone.”

MR. FOSTER
Summer, why are you taking this class? You’ve never shown an interest in psychology before.

SUMMER
I - Harvey asked me to. Well, ordered me to. But it’s interesting, in a way that’s different from my other classes.

MR. FOSTER
Harvey?

SUMMER
Mr. Smith? The guy who hired you.

MR. FOSTER
You’re on a first name basis with the man who was going to sue me.

SUMMER
Because you lied to him!

MR. FOSTER
You’re defending him!

SUMMER
I’m not, I just…

MR. FOSTER
Go on, say it.

SUMMER
I wish you hadn’t hit Killian.

MR. FOSTER
You’re mad at me for – Summer it took a week for the bruises to fade.  So forgive me, if some happy politically correct textbook doesn’t make me feel better about you working with that…

SUMMER
That what?

MR. FOSTER
Nevermind.

SUMMER
No Dad. That what? Because his name’s Killian.

MR. FOSTER
You’re seriously going to stay in that horrible house with that manipulative man and an unpredictable – no, give me that, you can’t say he’s not unpredictable – and you’re going to stay? Honey, you spend all your time there. You’re over halfway through college, and all you do is flit from thing to thing and then come home and stare at the T.V. You’re supposed to be joining clubs, making friends. Not hanging around some gloomy old house.

SUMMER
I don’t want to join clubs.

MR. FOSTER
Summer. This isn’t like high school. People won’t care if…

SUMMER
If we’re poor? You’re right, they don’t. Until we’re all going to see a movie, and I have to say sorry, I can’t go. Or go on the club trip. Or raise money for the stupid fundraiser. Or buy the uniforms. Or buy any of my friends birthday presents. Or do any of things that people do to say, hey, I like you. I’m glad we’re friends.

MR. FOSTER
If they care about that stuff, they aren’t your friends.

SUMMER
My point exactly. Which is why I’m not joining any clubs. Besides… I might be able to convince Harvey to let me stay on. After the month ends.

MR. FOSTER
Oh hell no. I put up with this because it was one month and I didn’t have a choice, but October 1st you -

SUMMER
We paid for one semester’s worth of tuition with one month. Three more months, and the rest of college is paid for. Seven more months, and my loans are paid off. Eight months, I’d even have some spending money. I could… join some clubs. I could maybe even… move out.

MR. FOSTER
Move out?

SUMMER
It’s just an idea, it doesn’t matter. But paying my tuition, that matters.

MR. FOSTER
You don’t have to pay for college. I’m telling you, my programming will take off, and once it does – you don’t believe me. You’re just like your mother.

SUMMER
Of course I do, Dad. Of course I believe you. I just think I should have a back up plan, in case… in case it takes a little longer than we thought it would for your ship to come in.

MR. FOSTER
Well. Teenagers always know best.

SUMMER
Don’t be like that. I’m not saying it’s going to happen. I haven’t even talked to Harvey yet. I’m just… thinking about it.  I like Killian. I like helping him. [indicates textbook] I like learning about some of the stuff that makes him tic. I- [grasping for words, until she sees his face and gives up] forget about it. It was just an idea.

MR. FOSTER
I’ll forget about it if you will.

SUMMER
Thanks for doing laundry this week. I know I’m supposed to, I just haven’t had time, what with…Have you seen my blue shirt? The one with the fluttery thing on the – [trails off as her Dad holds up a ruined shirt]

MR. FOSTER
I think I put it in with the wrong colors. Or maybe it wasn’t supposed to go in the dryer. Sorry.

SUMMER
I – that was Mom’s shirt.

MR. FOSTER
Well, now we know why it wasn’t good for the long haul. [sees her face] Too soon?

SUMMER
I think I better go do my homework.

MR. FOSTER
Come on. It’s just a shirt. I can get you a new one.

SUMMER
No, Dad. You can’t. And even if you could… things aren’t always replaceable. Not shirts, not friends, not families. So just… just leave me alone. [turns to exit]

MR. FOSTER
Summer! Come on. I’m sorry. I’m sorry baby. I’m sorry. [he hugs her] It doesn’t matter what shirt you’re wearing, you’ll be the prettiest, smartest girl in the whole school. And when your month in hell is up, everyone will be begging you to join their club.

SUMMER
Stop it, Dad. [breaks hug] Ok, I really need to do homework. I’m so busy.

MR. FOSTER
Well maybe if you didn’t waste your time reading about autism – kidding! Just kidding. That was a joke. Ok, go do homework. [she turns to go] No hard feelings about the blouse?

SUMMER
[Beat] No Dad. No hard feelings about the blouse.

END SCENE

Scene Six
Setting: Killian’s den. Hannah is replacing the rose with a fresh one.

[Summer opens the door, and Hannah whirls, hand to her heart]

HANNAH
Oh. Oh goodness. It’s you.

SUMMER
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. Have you seen Killian?

HANNAH
I sent him out to buy ice cream. At the corner store.

SUMMER
I didn’t realize he could go out by himself.

HANNAH
We try to give him as much freedom as possible. And he’s been going to the corner store since he was a boy. If something were to happen, they’d know who to call. Actually, I’m glad I’ve got you alone. I wanted to apologize for accusing you that first day. You’ve done quite well with Killian. And you’ve given Harvey more time to find somebody who can take over for him.

SUMMER
Take over for him?

HANNAH
Harvey was only ever supposed to be a part time care-taker. The rest of the time, Killian’s parents were here. Harvey probably wouldn’t have taken Killian on, he was almost ready to retire, but he was a friend of the family. And then Sean and Zoe died in that awful crash last year.

SUMMER
Doesn’t Killian have a guardian? Someone to take over for his parents?

HANNAH
Technically yes. But he’s a legal adult and his aunt is not interested… she’s not the person I wish she was. Which puts Harvey in a difficult position.

SUMMER
And you.

HANNAH
Oh, don’t mind me. I come with the house, at this point.

SUMMER
[indicates the rose] I was wondering about the rose. Killian seems to think his mother picked it.

HANNAH
Oh, well don’t tell him otherwise.

She picked it for him the day before she and her husband went on vacation. And then the accident… It broke my heart, the way he’d sit in his room, staring at that rose. You know, he used to keep me company while I baked, but that’s where he was when he heard the news, and he hasn’t come back in the kitchen since. I serve him breakfast in the dining room now.

He’s up here all by himself, staring at his rose.

SUMMER
How long have you been replacing it?

HANNAH
Let’s see, December, so… almost a year.

SUMMER
And he still thinks it’s the one his mother picked for him.

HANNAH
What am I supposed to do?  Let him watch the last part of her die? [the sound of a door closing and footsteps] That’ll be him. I better go.

SUMMER
Do you think – I’d like to keep this job. And not just for the money. Do you think – do you think, if I decided to go into occupational therapy, Harvey would…?

HANNAH
I don’t think that’s a good idea, dear. I said you’ve been a help, and you have, but you’ve only seen Killian’s good days. I don’t think you could handle his bad days. It’s admirable what you’ve done for your father, but don’t go making plans off of month long job. A bright girl like you doesn’t belong in a place like this.

KILLIAN
[from offstage] Cook!

HANNAH
I’d better go.

SUMMER
Why doesn’t he call you by your name?

HANNAH
He doesn’t remember names. That’s just his way.

[Killian enters]

KILLIAN
Summer!

HANNAH
[stunned] Well I’ll be… [exits]


[Killian goes and sits down in front of his sketch pad and stares at it. SUMMER pulls out a book and starts reading. They’re comfortable with each other now. Finally Killian starts to draw, but the lead breaks. He throws the pencil against the wall.]

SUMMER
Hey! Watch it.

KILLIAN
It’s wrong!

SUMMER
What’s wrong?

KILLIAN
I have to draw the next part. But it won’t work. There’s not room.

SUMMER
[Follows his gaze to the window] No. Killian don’t even think about it. [He moves toward the window] No. Killian no. [wrestling him away from the window] No! I said no! You’ll break your arm again!

KILLIAN
Urgh!  [turns away from the window, but he’s still mad. He faces her, mutinous.] Fuck. [beat] Fuck. FUCK!

SUMMER
Go ahead. I don’t care.

KILLIAN
FUCK! SHIZA! JESUS CHRIST!

SUMMER
Where the hell did you learn to cuss?
KILLIAN
[defiant] Cook says it.

SUMMER
I’ll just bet she does. [beat] You know, she has a name. It’s Hannah.

KILLIAN
Cook.

SUMMER
And the guy who takes care of you? He has a name. It’s Harvey

KILLIAN
 [sits with his back to her] Spiderman sits on the roof.

SUMMER
That’s a movie, Killian. It’s not real life. In real life, if you climb out on a roof, even if for a moment you think it’s cool, you’re just going to fall. That’s bad.

[Killian gives her a look. Then races for the window. She blocks him and locks the window]

Why are you so stubborn!

KILLIAN
FUUUUUUUUUCKKK!

[door opens, and Mr. Smith comes in.]

HARVEY
Summer. Your father’s on the phone. He’s very sick. He went to the emergency room but –

SUMMER
What?!

HARVEY
Apparently you’re cell phone’s off.

SUMMER
I’ve got to go.

HARVEY
Do you need me to drive you?

SUMMER
No I can take the bus, I – yes. Yes, please drive me. That’d be great, I –

KILLIAN
Summer?

SUMMER
Look, I’m sorry I yelled, but I’ve got to go.

KILLIAN
Summer, will you stay?

SUMMER
Killian, I can’t. But I’ll be back tomorrow, and we can figure out what’s wrong with your drawings and why the next part won’t work. I’ll be back tomorrow. Ok?

KILLIAN
Ok.

[SUMMER grabs her bag, and she and the MR. SMITH leave. Killian goes over and holds the rose] Ok.

END SCENE

Scene Seven

Setting: SUMMER’s home, the den. Dad is set up eating chips and watching t.v., propped up with a pillow.

[Woman on the television screams]
MR. FOSTER
Stupid woman. He warned you not to go in there.

[SUMMER enters, with a carefully prepared meal on a tray.]

SUMMER
What are you doing? You just got out of the hospital. Why are you eating that crap?

MR. FOSTER
It was my appendix, not a heart attack. And now it’s out, I’m fine. Sturdy as a horse. [looks at the tray] I’ll take the ham and the potatoes. You can get rid of the vegetables.

SUMMER
Are you really feeling better? You’re not just saying that so you can eat chips.

MR. FOSTER
Never been better. Well, I’ve been better. You know what I mean.

SUMMER
Yeah… I think I’m going to go back to work then?

MR. FOSTER
What? [beat] Is that jakass threatening to cut your pay cause you’re missing a few days to take care of your sick Dad? Cause I’m telling you I’ll-

SUMMER
No Dad. Stop. Calm down. It’s fine. Breathe. [waits until he looks calmer] He said I can take as much time off as I need.

MR. FOSTER
Then what’s the problem? [turns the volume up on the t.v.]

SUMMER
It’s because Killian – Dad could you turn that down? It’s because Killian needs me.

MR. FOSTER
[turns volume down] I don’t think so. I’ve been doing some reading myself, and these Autistic types – they don’t attach to people. It’s not their fault, they just have a hard time you know, caring about people. So stop worrying. He doesn’t need you.[pause] Honey, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you aren’t anything special to him.

[the silence gets awkward, until the phone rings]

SUMMER
Hello? Who is this? …. Oh, Harvey, hi…. Yeah, my dad’s fine. Turns out it was appendicitis. How’s Killian?.... He ate breakfast in the kitchen? That’s fantastic… Wait, I’m sorry, say that again… Three thousand?... Tomorrow? [looks at her Dad] I’m sorry, I need a few more days. But I’ll – yes, I’ll be back soon… Oh. Oh…Yeah, of course… Tell Killian I miss him. Ok. … ok… bye. [hangs up]

MR. FOSTER
What happened to take as many days off as you need?

SUMMER
They want me to stay.

MR. FOSTER
What?!

SUMMER
He even offered to let me move in. To help with the commute. Full time. Well, not full time. I’d still go to class, and have days off, and they said I could use the extra car. Although it’s pretty close to campus  anyway.

MR. FOSTER
The nerve. Like you’re some kind of servant.

SUMMER
They just want me on hand, in case… Killian’s making huge strides. He ate breakfast in the kitchen.

MR. FOSTER
Whoop-de-doo. Give the boy a medal.

SUMMER
No, Dad, give me a medal. I helped do that. I – Dad I helped someone. What I did mattered. [beat, where she realizes her Dad is not visibly moved] They’d pay me an extra thousand.

MR. FOSTER
A thousand dollars? To live there? That’s just sick. I don’t know what’s going on with these people, but they’ve got you at their beck and call, and I don’t like it. I don’t trust them one –

SUMMER
Dad, stop making this about them. About Killian. This is about me. I found something I like to do, with people I like, that I can support myself with. You quit a job to follow your dreams. How come I don’t get to keep a job to follow mine?

MR. FOSTER
Because this isn’t a dream! It’s goddamn Stockholm’s syndrome. Or guilt. I should have just let myself get sued. Better than have you leave and-

SUMMER
That’s what this is about. You don’t want me to leave. Because you can leave your job and Mom can leave you but I can’t ever leave the house I grew up in. You’re terrified of me having even an inch of independence.

MR. FOSTER
Independent? You’re going to be independent by living with your job and your boss? Like some kind of gothic servant. You’d rather live with your job than your family?

SUMMER
No, I – Forget it. Just… forget it. [silence] Harvey’s already hired someone else by now. He said this woman was brilliant, experienced, and he didn’t want her to get away while I made up my mind.

MR. FOSTER
Sounds like you’ve made up your mind.

SUMMER
I said no. He needed someone to start tomorrow, and you still need me. You still need me right?

MR. FOSTER
Absolutely. I feel crummy. I haven’t slept solidly in days. I need you. [takes her hand] I always need you, Summer.

SUMMER
He said I didn’t owe him any more hours. I’m done


MR. FOSTER
Then it’s over. We can go back to the way we were.  [beat] You know you’re the reason I’m working so hard on this program. Because you deserve a better life. You deserve the best.

SUMMER
And I got you.

MR. FOSTER
That’s sweet.

SUMMER
Not really. [exits]

END SCENE

Scene Eight

Setting: Summer’s house. Her Dad is still in front of the T.V., only this time there are lots of empty chip bags on the ground surrounding the chair. He’s sleeping. T.V. should be playing choir-y church music, like when they put mass on cable t.v. channels. Summer turns off the T.V., and is picking up used dishes when there’s a frantic pounding on the door.

[Summer opens door, and Harvey enters.]

HARVEY
You’ve got to come right away.

SUMMER
What do you mean? It’s after midnight. My Dad’s asleep.

HARVEY
We need you. Killian needs you.

SUMMER
Two days ago you said he was fine.

HARVEY
That was two days ago. He locked himself in his room yesterday morning, and he hasn’t come out since. Not even to eat. The new expert we hired… she said there wasn’t anything she could do, without a prior relationship with him. She said we should get you.

SUMMER
What do you think I can do?

HARVEY
[exhausted] Honestly, I don’t know. But Hannah and I are out of ideas, and I thought maybe you… Please.

SUMMER
But… my father…

HARVEY
He’ll be fine. He’s sleeping. He won’t even know you’re gone. [Summer hesitates, torn.] Fine. I’ll stay with him until you get back. Take my keys. [beat]  Unless you’re too tired to drive. I don’t want another accident.

SUMMER
I’m fine. [takes keys] I’ll go, but don’t get your hopes up. If you’re qualified expert can’t help, I don’t know what you think I can do.

MR. FOSTER
[stirs] Summer? Why are you leaving?

SUMMER
I’ve got to go take care of Killian, but I’ll be right –

MR. FOSTER
Killian!

SUMMER
Don’t worry, Harvey will take care of you.

MR. FOSTER
Him! I don’t want him. I want you.

SUMMER
I’m sorry, Dad, but he needs me. I don’t know if it will work, but I’ve got to try. You understand about trying.

MR. FOSTER
[stands] Don’t you dare walk out that door. I said stay. I mean it young lady. Do not move another muscle or –

[Summer exits]

MR. SMITH
Shall I… get you anything?

MR. FOSTER
Get out of my house!

HARVEY
I’m afraid I promised SUMMER. [turns on the t.v. It’s a comedy with a laugh track. Both men watch in silence, their faces grim]

END SCENE

Scene Ten

Setting: Outside the door to Killian’s den. Hannah is banging on the door when Summer comes in. She looks desperate and completely and totally exhausted.

HANNAH
Oh thank God you’re here.

SUMMER
What happened?

HANNAH
I don’t know. He was doing fine. He even came back to my kitchen. [leans on the door] Then he went up to his room. After a while he started shouting, asking for you. I had to tell him you weren’t coming. He kept asking all through dinner. Then we introduced him to the new woman. When I came up yesterday to get him for breakfast, the door was locked. He hasn’t eaten since then!

SUMMER
Forget eating. What about using the bathroom?

HANNAH
That’s not the worst of it. [frets] I forgot to switch the rose. I should have done it on Tuesday, but I was so happy to see him in the kitchen I forgot and now – it’s dead. It has to be dead by now.

SUMMER
This is what you meant be the bad times isn’t it? [she nodds] So he’s done this before.

HANNAH
Once or twice. But never for this long. Never for long enough for the rose to…

SUMMER
You go get some rest. I’ll try for an hour. I’ll wake you up if I can make anything change. Or if I can’t make anything change. I’ll wake you then, too.

HANNAH
If you’re sure… I might just have a cup of tea. If you’re sure.

SUMMER
I am.

HANNAH
You’re a good girl. I’ll be praying to St. Therese on this one. [exits]

SUMMER

Right. You can do this. [gathers herself] Ok, Killian. It’s me. You have to come out now. [pause] Killian can you hear me? Killian I need you to open the door. I’m in charge, and I say you have to open this door. [pause] It’s SUMMER, Killian. I’m here. I’m sorry it took me so long, my dad… I let my dad talk me into staying away longer. I shouldn’t have let him do that. It was wrong. You need me more than he does. And I… I like being with you better. I like being your friend. [she waits, teetering on the edge of hope and hopelessness] Please. I’m sorry. I should have come back sooner, but I’m back. I’m back now.  [beat] And I’ll stay! Tonight, tomorrow…. I mean I’ll have to leave, for class and stuff. But I’m moving in. For the next year, I’m here. Maybe longer. But at least for a year, at least – Killian, I’m not just saying this to get you out. I promise. I’ll stay. [pause] This is where I want to be.

KILLIAN
[A long pause. Then, from the other side of the door] Summer?

SUMMER
Yes! Yes, it’s Summer. I need you to do me a favor. I need you to open up the door.

KILLIAN
[still through the door] You didn’t come back. I lined up my pencils so we could fix the story and you didn’t come back.

SUMMER
I know. I know. But I’m here. I’m here now. [pause] Please open the door.  Please [the door opens, hitting her in the face] OW! Shit that hurt, be careful – [breaks off when she sees him standing in the door holding a dead rose] Oh, honey.

[Killian starts crying. She goes to hug him, but he pushes her away. He takes a few more steps into the room, and sinks down, curling over until his forehead is pressed into the floor. SUMMER sits next to him, careful not to touch him.]

SUMMER
Do you want to tell me about the story?

KILLIAN
I fixed the story. I thought it was a cave. They were going to a cave. But it was a desert. At night time. [beat. Next part with relish.] With snakes.

SUMMER
Snakes are good.

KILLIAN
It was the desert. That’s why I had to draw so much, ‘cause deserts are big.

SUMMER
They sure are. Big as the sky.
KILLIAN
That’s why I had to do so much black. [beat] There’s lots of black at funerals. [slowly, she lays her hand on his back. This time he lets her.] I don’t like black.

SUMMER
I don’t either. But sometimes you need black, right? Like for your dessert in the night? [he turns his head to look at her] When I did lights, for theater, we needed to turn the lights out, in between the scenes. Let it be black, so the audience knew we were changing. Starting something new. [beat] And at the end. To let the audience know it was all over. But then the lights come up, and it’s bright and sparkling, and you can see everybody’s faces, not just the actors, but the people who were sitting next to you in the dark the whole time. And that’s new too.

KILLIAN
No. I don’t want anything new. I don’t want – [turns his face away]

SUMMER
Killian. Can I see the rose? [he ignores her] I think it’s time for you to give it to me. It’s only making you sad. [she reaches for it, and he scoots away] Let me take it, for just a little while.

You’ve got a whole garden of roses outside. Did you know that? That’s where Hannah got this rose. A whole garden of roses that smell like your mom. All growing on bushes. The bushes don’t go anywhere. They were there when I was a kid, and they’re still there. Tough and strong, and alive. We’ll go out tomorrow, and you’ll see. It’s like heaven. All those roses lined up, waiting for you. So if you just hand me this one, we can all go to bed and…[beat]

You know what? Never mind. You hold it as long as you need to. I’ll wait. And when you’re done, you can give it to me. And then tomorrow we’ll go out and see all the roses. And I’ll stay. I might not always live here, and I might not always work here, but I will always, always be your friend. If you need me, I’m here. Ok?

KILLIAN
[beat. Then, softly] Ok.

[they sit in silence, until SUMMER starts falling asleep. You hear birdsong. The birds that start chirping when it’s still dark outside. Killian crawls over, and puts the dead rose in front of SUMMER] Ok.

[the lighting goes warm, like dawn, before the lights go down]

END SCENE

END PLAY





Tuesday, December 10, 2013

One Woman's Trigger, Another One's Art

Content Warning: this post contains discussion of rape in novels.

For the first time in my life, I got so mad at a book that I had to set it aside for weeks before I could read it again. 

Normally when this happens, it's because a book couldn't make me care. Either the writing is bad, or the plot feels fake, or glacially slow moving. Maybe the characters are stupid. Maybe the writer is amazing, but I'm just not hooked. This was the first time I set a book down because I cared too much. 

I've talked a little about this before, but at this point in my life three of my friends have told me they've been raped, and three more told me they were molested as children or sexually assaulted. So this is a topic that matters to me. I honestly prefer to read books where the characters aren't raped - I like my fiction escapist. But rape is a reality for far too many people, and stories are here to help us make sense of what we love, what we want, and what we survived, so if an author wants to write about characters who survive rape, or survive the rape of those they love, and how they put their lives back together, more power to that writer. 

But because I have watched, at least from a distance, someone put her life back together decision by decision, I'm going to react with irrational rage if I feel an author is in any way failing to grasp the depth of what happened, and what it takes to recover from something like that. 

I was reading a book, by an amazing author, who made me really care about the characters. I was reading for hours, ranting to friends, re-thinking my own writing style, it was so good. And then a character was raped. Worse, actually. He promised to allow himself to be raped in order to spare another character. 

Talk about an emotional sucker-punch. But at this point I'm actually having dreams about the characters in the novel. I have to know what happens next. Plus, I trust the author. 

And at first I was impressed. She dealt with the fractured recovery process in a way that breaks your heart, but also shows the strength of the survivor, and that, unfortunately, the stresses of life don't necessarily stop so someone can recover. On top of flashbacks and a shattered world view and all the other things that can go with recovering from trauma, groceries need to be bought, classes need to be attended. Or, in the case of this novel, the Scottish rebels have to escape the English army.

Anyway, I was along for the ride, until suddenly the hero is incredibly sick and at death's door and desperately wants to die, and the heroine decides, after much prayer and reflection that she... needs to reenact his rape. Because he's delirious and he doesn't recognize or care about anyone, and this will give him a chance to fight back. Because he is stubborn and Scottish. 

WHAT. THE. FUCK. 

YOU DON'T DO THAT.

Once I calmed down (which took about two weeks) and read through the scene, I could see what the author was aiming for. There's a sort of balance to it. He did something difficult to save her. She's doing something difficult to save him. The attack poisoned some of his sexual memories of her. She's poisoning some of her sexual memories of her first husband by using them to re-create the rape scene. And she's right (in the world of the novel). Giving him a chance to fight makes him feel like he has power again. So he roars around the room in an opium fueled rampage, trying to fight what he thinks is his rapist, and then the next day he's recovered. Not physically, but he's recovered emotionally enough to want to fight to be alive. I think it's supposed to read like an exorcism. And for many people, it probably does.

Here's the thing.

I'm not a psychiatrist. I'm not a therapist, or a pastor. I'm not a survivor of sexual assault. But even the pamphlets that they hand out at college tell you that if a friend has been sexually assaulted, the most important thing you can do, aside from getting them in a safe place, is let them be in control. Support them, let them know their options, but everything is their decision. They have had control taken from them once, in a horrible way. It's tremendously important not to take away their control again, even if you think you know best. 

Add to that the fact that I accidentally gave my friend a flashback by describing a friend's bedroom, and I'm going to have strong feelings about how rape, recovery, and flashbacks are dealt with in books. 

For an intimate partner to purposely trigger a flashback is a betrayal of trust on so many levels that I don't even... If an author doesn't seem to think it's a problem in the way that I do, I don't know how to explain it. 

A couple pages after this occurs, the character confesses to a priest. AND SHE DOESN'T CONFESS THAT SHE PURPOSELY MADE HER HUSBAND RE-LIVE HIS RAPE. She's worried about the boy soldier she killed. But not the huge betrayal of her husband's trust. 

I can deal with a character who makes a tough call, and deals with the repercussions. What I can't do is deal with a character who has an insufficient understanding of why the call was tough in the first place. 

I'm going to finish it, because I'm maybe forty pages from the end, and the bulk of the book has been really good. But I'm not sure I'll read the sequel. I don't trust the author to tell me a story that reflects emotional reality.

On the one hand, I get that not every book is for everyone. A friend of mine loves this book with all her heart, and she's never had any trouble with that scene. But she's also never had someone fight off a rape flashback in front of her. 

On the other hand, my friend had a serious issue with how Jennifer Crusie treats her over-weight heroine in Bet Me. It's one of my favorite books, and I find it empowering. My friend, whose experience dealing with weight is different from mine, thinks Crusie makes a fetish out of being fat, and that got in the way of her enjoying the book. 

I get that not every story is for every person. We're all going to have different buttons, some that give us happy bubbles, and some that make us insane with rage. 

Even if you could please everyone, a brochure handed out by the health center is not a story. Stories aren't meant to be manuals. People make mistakes, just like they do in life. And there's also the possibility that what is a mistake for one person, is absolutely the right thing to do for another person. 

I can write all that, but I'm still angry. Because I don't think that author would have written that scene the way she did if she'd ever watched someone recover from rape.

I had a teacher who said that the worst advice you could give a young writer is "Write what you know." If people only wrote what they knew, we wouldn't have men writing about women, women writing about men, or magic, or fantasy, or science fiction.

At the same time, a writer has to do research, if only because they'll throw any readers who know something about the subject out of the story. 

The author I'm reading got so many other things right, she has to have done some research. 

No topic should be out of bounds for a writer. But I think when a writer is dealing with a topic that is so emotionally charged for so many people - rape, post traumatic stress disorder, domestic abuse - writer's have a particular responsibility to try as hard as they can to tell the truth. Not just the truth of their characters, or of the world they created, but the truth of how humans react, what we do, what we deal with, and who we are. 

I guess I believe in Truth with a capitol "T." Normally I'm ok with an author just showing part of the truth, which is hard enough. But when an author deals with a topic like rape, I think they should come as close as they possibly can to telling the whole truth. Otherwise it's an insult to the people who live with that Truth everyday. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Four Weeks and Four Days

I am leaving Ireland in four weeks and four days.

I ache for my friends at home. I'm more used to being away from my family during the school year, but the idea of being in a place where I can afford to call my Mom and Dad as I walk to the grocery store, or when I get a good grade on a paper, makes my throat ache.

But I'm not ready to leave. Not because I'm having such a good time. I'm having a nice time, but I've really only had three extraordinary experiences. And for the trouble of moving to another country, it feels like I should have a few more extraordinary experiences.

I read a blog post from a friend who's flying home tomorrow, after finishing his study abroad experience. And he (at least online) is ready to go. He feels like he did everything he came to do.

I am so far away from doing everything I came to do. Then again, I always am. I always mean to put more thought into papers before I turn them in. I mean to spend way more time on projects, and internships, than I do.

I mean to spend more time on everything I do, except spending time with friends, and gobbling up fiction. That I make time for. I had a professor who said you can never actually do anything against your values. You can do something that goes against what you wish your values were. But if actions speak louder than words, what a person does tells us what she values most. What I do tells me what I value most.

I value my relationships and I value the entertainment, perspective, and inspiration of stories. These are not bad things to value. But I'm in Ireland. I'm on an adventure. It's not what I want to value. I want to go out to the bars I want to go to, the ones with music I can't hear anywhere else, not the ones my friends go to, with hip hop spilling out onto the sidewalk and customers spilling drinks. I want to be the kind of person who picks walking by the river over curling up with a BBC show I can watch anywhere.

I want to be brave enough to ring up my distant relatives in Ireland and ask them what weekend would be good to drop by.

It's not that my time in Ireland has been bad. But there was a night, the third night I was there, where I went out and danced with my friends to a fantastic band and when I was dancing, I thought, if this is the best time I have here, it will all be worth it.

Turns out that wasn't the best time I had. Or the most remarkable. I made a new friend, and went to Scotland. I hitchhiked, and climbed a mountain, and missed a plane and slept in an airport. And spent way too much money. To the point where I'm looking at my last weeks here and realizing it's not just that I don't have the time to do everything I wanted. I don't have the money.

Fun (and somewhat relevant) fact: how successful a president of the U.S. is perceived to be doesn't have to do with how many things he accomplished, or in what area his accomplishments lie. It has to do with the percentage of things he said he would do that he actually did. So a president who doesn't claim that he will do much, and then doesn't do much, is perceived as more successful than a president with a huge number of wins, but also a considerable number of losses.

I think that also applies to how I see myself. Which leaves me with a few options.

  • Step up, shift my values, and do the things I say I'm going to.
  • Stop wanting so much. Confine the things I want to the things I will actually do.
  • Accept that I'd be a very poorly viewed president, and start trying to focus more on all the stuff I do get done.
The first one is unrealistic. The second one is also unrealistic, and reeks of the fatalism that spawns depressing, prize-winning novels. The third one sounds good in practice, except it leaves me almost exactly where I am now. 

I'd go out take the town, just to prove how much I'm seizing the day (or the night). Except that I have a big paper due on Monday. One I really, really meant to start before now. But I didn't, so here's to scrambling to meet yet another deadline I didn't value until the last minute. 

So instead, I'm going to keep a record, of what I wanted to do, what I did, and what I still want to do. I'm not changing my values tonight, and probably not anytime in the next four weeks either. (One thing I've learned here is that who you are and what makes you feel alive doesn't change just because you start over.) But I  can at least try to tell an accurate story of who I am and what I want, instead of letting the failures eat everything else up. 

So, without further ado:

What I wanted to do:
-have a romantic fling
-see the Cliffs of Moher
-finish the first draft of my novel
-finish the second draft of my novel
-write
-Irish dance
-see Dublin
-meet my family
-go out to a good pub once a week
-touch the Atlantic ocean
-go to literary events in Galway
-see everything there was to see
-keep up with my internship
-apply to three more internships

What I did:
-made a new best friend
-learned how easy it is to demonize a nice guy when I turned him down, and then felt the need to justify my guilt
-saw the Cliffs of Moher
-finished the first draft of my novel
-wrote and submitted a short play to a theater company back home. And yet I feel like I'm barely    writing.
-learned sean-nos dancing. Which is different than Irish dancing, but also fun. 
-went out to a pub maybe six times? 
-went to Scotland
-touched Loch Ness
-became treasurer for writers club
-applied to two internships
-helped build a set for a play

When I look at it that way, I'm only two off, in terms of number. But it doesn't feel like I'm two off. I feel miles off. So, here's the things I still want to do: 

-get my finals stuff done as soon as possible so I can enjoy Ireland
-go to Monroe's on Tuesday night for Irish dancing every week until I leave here.
-go to the Crane bar at least once, where I WILL drink Guineas.
-do a nanowrimo write in in Galway at least once
-buy postcards, and send them
-meet my family
-ramp up the effort on my internship. Because those people are awesome and need me and just because I'm scared is no reason not to do everything I can.
-go to Dublin
-see two more castles
-see the Aran Islands
-go to Connemara

So that's eleven things. Which is almost the same amount of things I've done my entire time in Ireland. To be fair, three of those weeks will have a lot more free time. But still. Clearly I'm not going with wanting less. 

I think this is one time, though, where it's not about me. Ireland is bigger than four weeks and four days. It's bigger than four months. I think it's better to find the places that make you want. And then it's up to you to figure out how to be happy with all the wants you can't fill. 

For my part, I'm going to bed. It's after midnight, which means I'm down to four weeks and three days. I need all the energy I can get. 

p.s. This post was incredibly self-indulgent, even by blogging standards. But since at this point I think the only person who's reading this is my Mom, I figure it's all cool. Hi Mom! See you in four weeks!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Safety in Novelty

There's a point where fear and caution and habit meet, and that's the place that leaves me thinking, "But I just don't do that." That can be walking alone at night. Or walking alone through a rougher part of town. Being drunk. Then being drunk in public. Writing a sex scene. Writing a love scene. Reading a romance novel in public, glorious bodice ripper cover and all.

Some of these I'd recommend, some I wouldn't. But there was a time when each of these was unthinkable.

Then I did them. When nothing bad happened (apart from a mediocre sex scene), I became a person who could do those kinds of things. Not necessarily who should do those things, (see the above sex scene), but I got to a point where I evaluate the idea instead of giving it an automatic "no."

I heard once that one of the reason that teenagers make such stupid decisions is because they actually give stupid ideas a fair and unbiased trial, instead of automatically saying no. Something about the parts of the brain that aren't yet fully developed means that when someone asks a teenager if they want to ride on top of a moving car, or break up with someone in front of the whole school, they're more likely than an adult to weigh the pros and cons, and decide whether or not it's worth doing.

Which means sometimes they actually decide it's worth doing.

I think maybe I wasn't a very good teenager. I shut down irresponsible ideas so fast that one of my friends got her mom to agree to let her go out by saying "It's ok, Cate will be there."

I had good high school years. I trusted my friends, discovered theater, and began to see my parents as people who had lives before me.

But when people talked about young people thinking they're invincible, I couldn't really relate. If I followed the rules, I was invincible. If not, I was toast.

When the women in my family found out that my Grandpa disarmed mines in WWII, they were horrified. Even more horrified when they found out he volunteered.

"Why?" They asked.

He shrugged, and said when you're that age, you think you're invincible.

When I was getting ready to move to D.C. for college, people warned me to be careful. Earnest and genuine, they told me about something they'd read online or heard on the news.

And I was careful. But when I moved to college, I found myself doing little things. Walking from one end of campus to the other at four in the morning. Herding my drunk friends through downtown D.C. late at night (although they didn't end up staying my friends for long - I'm still convinced one of them accidentally stole my purple hummingbird cup). Taking the metro into areas of town I'd never been in, by myself. Little things that back home would have seemed like big things.

I'd like to say I got braver. Or just got more perspective. But honestly, it was as simple as moving to a new place. And that was enough to step over old habits like you step over a dead branch that's gotten knocked off a tree in a storm.

The same thing's happening in Ireland. I feel safe doing things I never felt safe doing before. Granted, there's a bit more logic to it this time. No one carries guns, and I'm normally within walking distance of my apartment complex, which is surrounded by a gate.

(Which technically means I live in a gated community. My urban soul cringes.)

It can be exhausting moving to a new place. You're making so many decisions, all the time. Which route to take, what's a reasonable price in the super-market, how to get un-lost for the thousandth time. Whether it's worth it to try and befriend the silent person next to you. Without habit, everything is harder.

But without habit, you're also more free.

I cook with couscous now. Also mushrooms. I own a (fake) leather jacket. I walk home from town by myself at midnight. I let practical strangers read a first draft of part of a play and critique it. I'm treasurer of a club. I went to a poetry reading. Not all of these decisions were good ones (see treasurer).

But they've gone from being things I don't do, to things I most definitely did. Things I most definitely do.

When you're younger, you're told not to talk to strangers, unless you're with an adult you know. And then eventually it dawns on you, that now you're the adult you know. Except what you know is that you are not the kind of person who talks to strangers.

Until the day you do. Sometimes it's awkward, or upsetting, but sometimes it's fun and sometimes it's outright magic.

I'm hardly going to spend the rest of my life moving to new places, just so I can continue to push my boundaries. And I'm not going to volunteer to defuse any mines either. I could barely get myself to crawl within a foot of the edge of the Cliffs of Moher. I'm not that invincible.

But I do think it's interesting. We talk so much about how the new can be scary. We forget that, while the new is empty of the good stuff we know, it's also empty of the bad stuff. And with that bad stuff finally brushed to the sides, novelty starts to look almost safe.