In 1992, the film Wayne’s World is released. The title character is played by comedian Mike Myers. The girl’s mother likes Mike Myers. She thinks he must be a nice Irish Catholic boy, although she does not say why she thinks this. The girl’s mother is Irish Catholic, and she loves Irish Catholic boys. She wants the girl to marry a nice Irish Catholic boy. She mentions this often. In the film, Myers’ love interest is played by Tia Carrere. The girl is eight when she watches the Wayne’s World VHS with her mother. As the front woman of the rock band Crucial Taunt, Carrere screeches “The Ballroom Blitz” in a red lace mini-dress that looks to the girl like it might actually be underwear. Her mother tells the girl that this is what she will look like when she grows up. The girl doesn’t understand. Does her mother mean that her breasts will be perfectly round, her waist small, and her legs long and lean? Will she wear dresses that look like underwear? Later, the girl studies her face in the mirror. It is round and soft and indistinct. She does not look like her mother, but she does not think she looks like Tia Carrere either or ever will. Also, in the film, Carrere is Chinese and that is not the kind of Asian the girl is. The girl wonders if her mother mixes up Chinese and Japanese. A lot of people do. The girl thinks it is because both words end in –ese.
Weight Watchers is a system of tracking all the food you eat in an attempt to eat less and lose weight. When the girl is very small, she goes with her mother behind the curtain and her mother strips down to her bra and underwear and steps on the scale. The girl likes being behind the curtain. It feels like hiding or magic or secrets. Afterward they go to the health food store in the same shopping center where the girl always gets a bag of apple chips. When the girl is in third grade, she too gets to go behind the curtain and step on the scale and hand her little book to the woman who writes down how much she weighs. She counts how many breads she eats and how many meats and how many fruits and veg. When she has had the right number, she doesn’t eat any more. She doesn’t need to worry about hunger anymore. All she has to do is count. Her mother tells her that another mother at the pool said it looks like the girl is thinning out. Her mother winks at her because Weight Watchers is their little secret. When she is older, the girl understands better that the types of food matter less than total calorie restriction. Food becomes numbers. Reduce the number of calories, and the number on the scale goes down too. Hunger is irrelevant. At 500 calories a day, the girl can maintain a perfect body, although at this state of reduction, she must sleep fourteen hours a night. The girl moves away to college, and there she sees that other girls, girls with beautiful bodies, eat without thinking. She would like to do this too, but she does not know how. She has forgotten what it feels like to be full.
It is 1997, and while the girl and her mother are sitting in the Jiffy Lube parking lot waiting to get the Isuzu Trooper inspected, her mother explains that tonight on the NBC sitcom Ellen, which they both enjoy so much, Ellen DeGeneres is going to come out as gay. The girl’s mother explains that it is not a sin to be gay, it is only a sin to act on the gay impulse. The girl is not sure why her mother is telling her this, but she now understands that it is okay to be gay as long as you don’t act gay. Two years ago, when the girl was eleven, she had looked up masturbation in the copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church her mother keeps on the bookshelf and found that it is a mortal sin. Because the girl is too embarrassed to admit anything in the confessional besides disobeying her mother and taking the Lord’s name in vain, she must resign herself to living with the constant, unrelenting stain of mortal sin on her soul; every Sunday, when she receives communion, it is a sacrilege. Eventually she will die and go to hell. Somehow, the girl thinks, as she sits with her mother in the Isuzu, these two things are related, but it is not until much later that she understands how.
When the girl is in high school her mother gives her the novel Memoirs of a Geisha, written by a man of European descent named Arthur Golden, which tells the fictional first person account of a girl sold into a geisha boarding house. The girl remembers that when she was five and then again when she was six, she dressed in one of her grandmother’s silk kimonos and was a geisha for Halloween. Her mother painted her face white and her lips red. The year of the Halloween party, the girl fell asleep in her costume, and when she awoke, she tried to run outside to the deck where all the people were. The sliding glass door was open, but the screen was shut. It was dark and she couldn’t see, and she ran straight into the screen. For many years, until the door was replaced, the white imprint of her face was etched into the screen. As the years passed, the girl measured the progress of her height against the white stain. One morning when the girl is a woman, she will be forced to walk in the grass when a group of businessmen walking four abreast down the sidewalk toward her refuse to yield even a narrow strip of pavement. While she is shocked at the men’s total disregard for her, she is shocked too by her automatic deference to them. If she were in geta and not Converse, would they have seen her? Or would she have fallen over into the grass?
When the girl is seventeen, she receives a 1984 two-tone blue Caprice Classic Station Wagon. At first, she is terrified to drive, but with practice she learns she is cautious and observant and can wield with precision the boxy hips of the wagon. She drives to the grocery store. She drives to her baby-sitting jobs. She drives her siblings to basketball practice and the bowling alley. Her mother trusts her. The world gets bigger and smaller as the gaps close and the universe expands. The girl makes tapes for the tape deck. She turns the volume up loud. She is the driver. She drives her friends to the punk show an hour away in the upstairs of a dark warehouse. On the way home, her best friend pukes out of the passenger side door in the McDonald’s parking lot. She drives her friends to the Salsa Club in the city where they dance in a huddled mass and she lets a boy from El Salvador put his tongue in her mouth. In the Caprice, they smoke cigarettes. They smoke spliffs. They drink cooking sherry and old bottles of Peppermint Schnapps from deep in the cupboard covered in dust. In the backseat of the Caprice, her best friend gets pregnant for the second time and this time decides to keep the baby. Before the baby is born, the girl drives away to college. At eighteen, she is still a child. Her best friend is a mother.
In 1979, the band Talking Heads releases the album Fear of Music. It marks a transition for the band into new dissonances, both musically and between members. When the girl slides the CD into her Discman almost three decades later, she does not know this. What she knows is that when the shaking percussion and rubber tire bass and thumping nonsensical chant of “I Zimbra” begins, her feet hitting the pavement feel like greased gears that were made to roll over the ground. She walks with the hidden disco beat and the sun sends vitamin D through her skin and her blood fills with oxygen and she feels like she is on Ecstasy—a drug she has tried a few times and likes. In 2008, David Byrne tours to promote his new album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. The girl does not know this new work, but she goes to the show because how could she not? The songs span the period of Byrne’s collaboration with Brian Eno. Byrne hops about all in white, flanked by white-clothed dancers. The crowd moves with them, faces bathed in glee, and the girl is so happy. She dances, dances, dances—and this is how she meets the boy. Together they dance and grin and he shares sips of his beer with her. After, they see each other everywhere. The boy’s favorite Talking Heads song is “Cities.” One day, long after “Naïve Melody” has been ruined, it will be the girl’s favorite too.
In the game Boggle, lettered dice held within a clear container are shaken to jumble and then settle into a square plastic grid. As sand sifts through a miniature hourglass, players compete to find words vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. When the girl and the boy attend a game night at a local bar, the girl is a whiz at Boggle. The boy is better at drinking. Some nights, the boy wears the girl’s dresses. Sometimes, she wears his shirts. By now, the boy is sleeping in the girl’s bed every night. At first, the girl doesn’t think anything of it. She does not think the boy will want to have sex with her because she is a girl. Sex is a new world to her, and so she still holds the rigid outlines of her youth. But soon the boy’s hands are touching. Touching thigh, touching waist, touching shoulder, touching face. The lines begin to smudge and soon there is sex in every crevice of the day. The girl loves the boy. He hums the opening lines of “El Scorcho” and laughs a laugh that feels like a manila envelope that she could slide right into. She does not care if he wears dresses. When she lines his eyes with her eyeliner, she can feel him pressing hard and hot against her belly. They are young and they want and want and want without reservation. Sometimes, however, the girl feels as though the boy exists between two worlds. How quickly his delight flips to bitterness! He is like a spark of static on a carpet in a dark room. Watch for him. Watch for him. He’s here. He’s gone.
In the 5th century, St. Augustine of Hippo, plagued by his own insatiable carnal desire, develops the doctrine of Original Sin. Original Sin, born by Adam’s transgression, induced by the temptations of Eve, was passed down to each successive generation by the sexual act. Original Sin, according to St. Augustine, left the human race wallowing in sin, falling headlong from one wickedness to another, always always wanting sex. In 2010, the girl, who is now a woman, gives birth to her own child. Her mother is desperate for the child to be baptized in the Catholic Church, but as soon as the girl lays eyes on the sterling face of her child, she knows without a doubt that Original Sin is bullshit. To baptize a creature so pure would be a sin itself. And so, one night when the girl and her child are home for the holidays, the girl’s mother, who is now a grandmother, gives the child a bath. As she pours the water over the child’s head, she mutters an incantation meant to save the child’s soul from their own innate wickedness. At bedtime, she whispers Bible stories into the child’s ears. She buys the child the new issues of the Berenstain Bears which, since the deaths of Stan and Jan, have been overhauled by their son Mike and given an evangelical slant. Now, the Bears talk a lot about Jesus. The child asks the girl if God is real. The girl tells her child that she believes that God is too big for them to understand. The child replies that they do not believe in God. For some reason, this hurts the girl. She tells her child, that they can believe in God or not believe in God, that this to her does not matter. She tells her child, over and over, that this is the most important thing: be kind.
The Baby Trend® Expedition is an inexpensive all-terrain jogging stroller with bicycle wheels and air-filled tires available at various retail establishments. Because the girl, who is now a woman, and her child do not own a car, they log thousands of miles on their Baby Trend® Expedition. They walk and walk. They walk each morning 2.5 miles through sun and snow to the preschool where the girl does her work and the child does theirs, and then they walk home. They walk to the market and buy however many groceries they can afford, however many will fit in the mesh basket below the child’s seat. On Sunday mornings, when the weather is nice, they walk to the park and the child plays on the playground. In the summer, they walk to the pool and swim. The child can dive to the bottom of the pool when they are three years old. The mother tells the child that they are strong, and the child says: I know—it’s from all the swimming. The child says hello to every person they pass. The child is not afraid of anything. As they walk, the child and the mother talk. The child asks the mother questions, and the mother tells the child the truth. If she does not know the answer, she tells the child: I don’t know. What do you think? In this way, the child and the mother teach each other the answers. As they walk, the mother says: Look. Look at the sky. Look at the clouds. Look at the trees and the flowers and the way the grass waves in the wind. Look at the pigeons lined up on the wire. Look at the spider on your knuckle. Look how that oil-stain shimmers in the sun. Look. Look outside. Look around you. This is the world, and you are a part of it, and I am a part of it, and it is a beautiful place.