Lucy has locked herself in her room as ever.
“Lucy!” Deb shouts down the hallway. “We’re going to watch the movie! It’s The Perks of Being a Wildflower! You want to watch it with us?”
“Wallflower,” I say.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” she shouts. A muffled answer emanates from somewhere behind the closed door, in that small, cluttered room with the laptop on the bed, a window on the world. I don’t know what Lucy does online. I often hear dialogue from TV shows. So, that’s not so bad. Sometimes I hear her Skyping. At least, I assume she’s Skyping because I can hear her voice and then someone else’s voice. Not female. That’s not so good. She disappears into her room when she gets home from school and we don’t see her until dinner. And then she disappears again and we don’t see her until morning.
“It’s not good,” I say to Deb. “It’s not a good thing.”
“I know,” she says. “I know. But she’s doing better at school. She’s seeing those tutors and she’s really trying hard.”
“It’s not good,” I say.
We begin watching the movie. Mike begins to howl. I pause the movie. “Mike!” I shout. “Be quiet please!”
“Don’t shout at him!” shouts Deb. “Come here, Michael! Come here! Want to watch a movie with mommy and daddy?”
Mike, still howling, comes over to the couch. Deb puts her arm around him. I start the movie.
“Pizza please,” shouts Mike. “Pizza please. Pizza please. I want pizza please. I want pizza please.”
“You want pizza!” shouts Deb. Deb has learned to repeat Mike’s words in a simple, declarative sentence in answer to his neverending questions. This lets Mike know that she hears him and knows what he wants while, at the same time, promises him nothing.
I pause the movie.
“Why’d you pause it?” says Deb.
“I can’t hear,” I say.
“Go ahead,” says Deb.
I push play.
“I want pizza please. Pizza please. Pizza please. Pizza please.”
I pause the movie.
I’m getting pissed off now. I should know better than to try to do something when Mike’s around. If I don’t try to do anything, I don’t get pissed off. If I sit in a chair and don’t do anything. Or listen to anything. Or think of anything. Or read anything. If I’m blank, I won’t get angry. Because then, Mike won’t be interrupting anything.
“Why’d you stop?” says Deb.
“I can’t hear,” I say.
“Push the subtitle thing,” says Deb. “Push that thing.”
I push play. And then I push the button for subtitles so we can watch an English language film like a foreign film. Which makes it much more highbrow.
Since I’ve been writing a screenplay, I ask myself a few questions about each movie I see. How does it open? That’s the first thing. It’s an important thing. The second is, what does the hero need? The third is, what does the hero sacrifice? I ask the last question because in Greek mythology, a character with the name Hero, kills herself after her lover drowns while attempting to swim the Hellespont to visit her. Suicide doesn’t seem, from our perspective in time; with our present definition of the word, to be a very heroic act. But when I read more about the Greek idea of a hero, I find that a hero is inclined toward self-sacrifice. If you pay attention to the idea of sacrifice in film, you’ll find that almost all heroes sacrifice something. Risk something. Put something on the line. Otherwise, who would give a shit one way or the other?
The Perks of Being a Wallflower opens with voiceover. A freshman is imagining what it will be like on the last day of high school. He is writing a letter to someone. He seems troubled. Heavy hearted. How does everyone else do it? How do they get through it? How will he get through it? What does he need? He needs to get through it. No one will sit with him at lunch. No one will say hello to him in the halls. The only friend he makes is his English teacher.
Deb pauses the movie and gets to her feet. “Lucy has to watch this with us,” she says. “Whether she wants to or not. We’re going to be real parents. For once. She’s watching it. I don’t care. She’s only fifteen. We can still tell her what to do!”
Deb knocks at Lucy’s door and then disappears into her room. Five minutes later, Lucy is sitting in our living room with us. This is a rare moment.
“Well,” she says angrily. “Go ahead!”
She’s bitchy. I don’t know if she gets this from the internet or not. Maybe it’s the way she imagines teenagers are supposed to be. Or maybe it’s just the way she is. Maybe we have made her this way. By being shitty parents. By allowing her to sit alone in her room all the time with her window on the world.
“Do you want us to rewind it?” says Deb. “Rewind it, Joe! Rewind it!”
“No!” says Lucy. “Let’s just get this over with!”
I rewind it to the beginning. The freshman is imagining his last day at school. Confetti in the halls. Everyone jumping up and down. Michael is howling.
“Michael, be quiet!” shouts Lucy.
“Don’t shout at him,” shouts Deb.
Mike continues to ask his question, but I don’t care now because I’ve already seen this part of the movie and I’ve made the switch to doing nothing. And Mike’s question might as well be the sound of waves pounding the shoreline after a storm.
That’s a little bit poetic. Actually, it’s not like waves. It’s still bothersome. But not overtly bothersome. Eventually, I stand up and bring Mike into his room. I start a movie for him. He gets angry and starts shouting. “Drink please!” he’s shouting. “Drink please!” I get him a drink. Which really pisses him off. “Drink please!” he shouts.
“Here’s a drink right here!” I shout. “I just got you a drink!”
“String!” shouts Deb from the couch. “He's saying, 'String!'”
“Oh,” I say. “You want your string? Where’s his string?”
“In the backyard,” shouts Deb.
I get on my coat and grab a flashlight and go searching in the backyard for Mike’s “string” which is, in fact, a white, four-foot section of a light-duty extension cord. I find it immediately and return it to Mike, leading him into his room.
Now the movie as about to the point where it was before I rewound it. I take a seat on the couch. Things happen. I pay attention. I think the kid is going to sacrifice his anonymity. I think that’s what he’s going to sacrifice. But maybe I’m wrong. It’s nearing the climax when I pause the movie.
“What are you pausing it for?” says Deb.
“Ice cream,” I say.
“What kind’d you get?” says Lucy
“Candy bar crunch or something,” I say. “You want some?”
“Yes,” says Lucy.
“I’ll get my own,” says Deb. Deb likes to put her ice cream in a glass and add milk. But it has to be just so. Not too soupy. Not too frozen.
We sit on the couch, a Kermit-the-frog colored mid-century thing we bought at a groovy Cedar Rapids used furniture shop with a velvet painting collection and I push play and Michael asks for pizza and I push pause and I’m getting angry again and Lucy says something about how she never watches movies with us and this is why and I say something about how I’m going to cancel our high speed cable subscription for good and Lucy starts to cry and abandons us to take a shower and Deb starts to argue with me about how we can’t cancel the cable subscription because that’s like a punishment and I say it’s not a punishment it’s just us being good parents because this whole internet thing 24 hours a day is not healthy not at all and Deb says we should talk to Lucy and figure out what we should do and I say, “No no no! You don’t have a discussion with your child about what her punishment should be.” And Deb says, “I thought you said it wasn’t a punishment." She’s got me there. "It’s not a punishment. It’s. . ."
“She’s doing everything we want her to do!” says Deb. “She’s doing her homework! She’s getting better grades! She’s. . .”
“This internet thing 24 hours a day. This internet thing is not good,” I say.
“You don’t punish her like that,” she says. “Then she just says fuck you and leaves for good. She goes somewhere else. Do you think that would be good?”
“Yes. I think that would be good. That way at least she’s not in her—”
“Why are you such a prick?”
“Why are you such a cunt?”
“Would you please just shut the fuck up?”
It’s getting ridiculous.
“What,” I say, laughing. “You think I’m going to get all angry again?”
Deb laughs too. This is so ridiculous.
I knock on Lucy’s door and she doesn’t want to answer. Finally she does and I say I’m sorry. I went a little overboard. Maybe I was frustrated because of Mike. Anyway, we won’t be canceling the cable. We’ll just talk about what hours we can use it and what hours we can’t. And I try to hug her but she doesn’t want to. She just wants to go to bed. I’m afraid we have fucked up our daughter. I haven’t taken her camping enough. I haven’t told her I love her enough. Maybe I’ve ignored her too much. Why didn’t I take her to Adventureland like her older brothers? Why didn’t we get our pictures taken in that old fashioned picture taking place like I did with Sam and William? Does she wonder why? Does she wonder if it’s her? Is she so objectionable? Or is it because of this brother of hers. This fucking brother who always gets the attention. And why shouldn’t she stay in her room?
The movie. The Wallflower. Mike howls. We go to bed. Mike does not. Sometime in the night, I have a dream that Deb and I have committed murder. I held the woman down and Deb smashed her head open with a large boulder. I could feel the woman’s head go from solid to liquid. We flooded the mansion. Somehow. Our house. But, of course, not really our house. And then we ran away on a motorized tricycle. And then Mike has a seizure, yanking me out of the dream and it’s a good thing because they were after us and much faster than we were and they had spotlights. I stagger out of bed and run to Mike’s room and find him face down ass in the air arms spread out like broken birds wings. I try to turn him so he can breathe better and I need to move his arm so he doesn’t hurt himself. I lay him on his side. He continues to seize. His lips turn blue. He isn’t breathing. His muscles all contracted. A large puddle of drool begins to soak into the mattress. And then. And then. And then it’s over. He is relaxing. He is breathing again. A towel for the drool. Pull the comforter over his body because he is shivering now. And back to bed. No more dreams of murder. Please. No more waking with that certainty of guilt. Certainty of consequences. What were we thinking? Why the boulder? Why the flood? Why the tricycle? Why the spotlights? What have we done? Have we done anything?
Morning now. On my way to work now. Everything is gray now. Everything. The sky solid gray. Even the fields gray. But for the dollops of snow there by the ravine. There by the berm. Like sour cream. The harvest lines still visible on the face of the fields. Where the corn was planted. And harvested. The stalks cut down and collected. When the winter was just beginning. And people were slaughtering turkeys. And then cutting down evergreens. Now we’re buying heart shaped boxes of candy. And there is a blood red accent to this grayness. And tonight, while watching yet another movie, The Words this time, I will pause the film. Not because of Mike this time. Mike will be quieter due to the seizure. He will be playing with his string. He will be watching a movie of his own. Or sleeping. But I will pause the movie and, mimicking a scene we have just watched, I will ask Deb, “Why do you love me?” And she will think I’m kidding. And she won’t want to answer. Because it’s so fucking goofy. But I’ll say, “No. I’m not kidding. Why do you?” And she’ll think about it for a while and then she’ll tell me why. Even though she doesn’t really know. She’ll make something up so I’ll start the movie again. And then I’ll make up some reason why I love her. Neither of us can put a finger on it. We can’t explain it because we don’t know love at all. We’re exactly like Joni Mitchel that way.
There will be lines imposed upon our lives. A grid. This is the way we need it to be. To make progress. This is the one we love. This is our job. This is our leisure time. This is our retirement fund. This is our essay. This is our film. This is our song. This is our glass of wine. This is our cup of coffee. This is our routine. Because this is how it goes. This is how it must go. We are an injury away from swimming in the ether. A diagnosis from understanding everything differently. We are a lost job away from walking through a winter field alone. These fields that will thaw again. These seeds that will grow again. And although we would like to drown in our ocean of miracles, we don’t know how to go about it. But we can’t wait much longer. I cannot wait. Because my life is nothing but the single drip of a constantly dripping faucet. The sliding movement of passing headlights illuminating a strip of wallpaper. We must not be fools. We must not believe ourselves to be heroes and be all proud of ourselves for the amazing things we believe we have accomplished. Or condemn ourselves for bolloxing everything up. Things are moving too fast now. It’s almost too late. We cannot wait for the routine to show us the way because that’s not what routines do. We need to shrug it all off. Leave it behind. See the world for what it is. And ask, how does the moon hang in the sky that way? How is it possible that stuff grows out of the dirt that way? We need to see the miracles all around us. Learn our place in the world. And occupy it like a motherfucker.