Updated: Oct 17, 2020
I find a dusty camcorder in the garage.
It used to belong to my grandmother.
It takes VHS tapes.
In the years between 11 and 12 all want to do is make movies
on that camcorder.
and listen to Fiona Apple.
Adults shuffle in and out of our house.
But mostly I glide off their radar.
My father is reeling from my mother’s absence.
A disease that takes her to a life I don’t understand.
My visits with my mother are brief and supervised.
A social worker
watching me paint my mother’s nails in shades of green.
I paint her fluttering eyelashes with mascara.
Feel her breath on my face.
When she calls me at night, I’m advised not to answer.
Those calls end in fear. Will she survive this night?
On rare occasions I am permitted to stay with her.
Her new home.
Both the most comforting and terrifying moments of my life.
But I don’t want to talk about that now.
I want to talk about that camcorder.
I convert my bedroom into a dressing room.
In it are thrift store bride’s maid dresses from the 70’s, old halloween costumes, a caboodle full of old lipsticks and eye shadows taken from my grandmother’s bathroom, rickety tripods, construction paper, old sheets that serve as backdrops.
I sleep in the room with the fold out couch now.
The “dressing room” is a workspace.
I build movie credits out of printer paper and magic marker and tape them to the wall.
Tilt the camera to make them appear as if they’re scrolling.
I build elaborate plots involving twin sisters,
both played by my best friend.
We record the other sister’s lines on a tape recorder
I find in my father’s bedside.
We record the other sister’s close up.
I think I’m really clever editing this stuff
on the TV VCR combo in my bedroom
while my father sleeps down the hall.
Wires all coming out of the back of the TV
and hooked up to the camera and some fresh VHS tapes
from the drug store to lay my our masterpiece.
I play moody tunes in the background of every scene
from the CD player when we hit record to give it a soundtrack.
At night we lay three across on the foldout couch and hit the red button.
A variety show in our pajamas and old toys that become sacred props.
We play it all back and amuse ourselves with our antics.
I’m the last to fall asleep.
My friends doze while I edit outtake reels
to wow them with by morning.
I’m learning my shape, my size, my voice, in playback.
I’m smaller than my friends. But I like my shape.
My athletic little gymnast body.
I’m learning accents to perfect my grey-haired Russian fortune teller, my Egyptian princess, a dinosaur, a girl with legs with a mind of their own.
All the characters sound vaguely the same and vaguely Russian but it doesn’t matter.
We prop an old futon up with chairs and throw sheets over as a backdrop .
Most times, it falls on top of us in the middle of a pivotal scene.
We live for the moments something goes wrong
so we can play it back and cackle at our reactions.
Hours planning stunts
that involve skateboards
anything with wheels.
I just want to make people laugh.
of my mother.
I can’t hold onto anyone’s attention long enough
to make dramas.
But I try.
We spend three days taping a scene where I fall out of my grandmother’s old white Cadillac and into the road crying. Insert moody Cranberries song.
My friends want to go back to the goofy stuff.
We take turns squeezing ourselves
into my brother’s dragon costume from when he was 4.
This one is our favorite.
It’s the most absurd on a girl of 12.
There’s a zipper on the front
and I’m kind of into the way it gives me some tiny cleavage.
I can’t tell if it’s sexy or ridiculous.
But I like it.
There’s a photo of me wearing it
tucked into the clear cover of my binder.
I’ll let the masses at school decide which thing it is.
My father’s mother talks me into doing beauty pageants.
There’s dress up and tiaras and lip syncing competitions
and she doesn’t have to work hard to convince me.
I don’t know anything about these things but I’ll go anywhere
I can wear a costume.
She says maybe I’ll get an agent and end up in movies.
I land my first agent at a pageant
outside at local carnival
where families are scattered
around picnic tables
and kids eating hot dogs
distracted by pig races
next door to the stage.
My father gives me a pager for xmas.
Now he can contact me at school
when I get an audition.
I live for that tiny buzz in my pocket
But mostly it’s kids at school
who page me with the number 55378008.
Hold it upside down and it says boob-less.
I blow it on my first job.
My new agent books me on a movie
and lies about my age.
I’m supposed to be over 18.
My best friend’s mother drives me to set
in the dark at 5am.
I get to miss school.
I have a job.
I open a bank account.
I show up wearing a drama club sweatshirt
with the name of my junior high school on the front.
A furious message on my father’s voicemail.
How could I be so stupid?
If I had just upheld the lie.
I call her in tears.
Tell them I was wearing my younger sister’s sweatshirt.
I’d ruined her with casting.
How could I be so stupid. How. How?
An echo that would teach me to forever conceal my age.
I would be the age that suited the moment,
I’d go to great lengths
to be the person I was told.
I get headshots taken
In a dusty studio on La Cienega Boulevard.
The photographer sends my father out
to buy a hairbrush.
It hadn’t occurred to us to comb my hair.
A signed print on my best friend’s wall.
I’m gonna be somebody, don’t you know.
My agent sends me for more photos.
This time I’m in a bikini running on a beach.
The photographer keeps saying sexy, from behind the lens.
I’m gonna use you, body
I’m gonna be some body
What can you get me body?
Where did you go?