FINDING FAITH - In a Box of Old, Important Things
DRAMA QUEEN - That Time I Bombed My Theater Major
DYE JOB - How a Coin & Fringe Bra Literally Saved My Life
BABY BELLY DANCER - My First Belly Dance Class
MAKING OF AN 8-WEEK WONDER - How I Started Dancing for Money
20 years old
I absolutely love this room! I’m subletting the smallest bedroom in a big house for the summer. There are five other college kids here, and three of us are subletters. My parents would have let me stay with them like I did after my freshman year, but I’ve gotten attached to life here in the city.
It’s been a relief to get my own bedroom again, after two school years sharing space. I’ve been super lucky in the roommate department--of all of us, I'm probably the notorious crappy roommate, especially after that horrible breakup with Martin last fall. Plus, being an only child I just really want my bedroom the way I want it, and I need a place where I can close the door and shut out the world.
For junior year, Julia, her sister, Aimee and I are going to get a house off campus. I’ll start hunting at the end of summer for a good place, but for now this bedroom is like heaven.
Okay, it’s more like an inferno. Since I’m always cold, that’s pretty heavenly to me. Technically it’s not even a bedroom. It was once the front patio of this house, so three sides of it are windows. The fourth side that opens into the living room has been fitted with double sliding doors made of wooden slats. The bed fits so snugly that I have to climb onto it in order to pull the doors shut when I’m inside, but I don’t care. I’ve always loved snug spaces.
I used to make forts out of sheets and always wished my parents would let me keep them up permanently. Whenever I got to sleep under them, those were the coziest nights ever. This room is surrounded on three sides by heavy blackout curtains, so it comes close.
It’s the middle of the afternoon right now, which means the sun has passed to my side of the house. As I lay here in shorts and my bikini top, the bed cover scorches my skin and collects a me-shaped outline of sweat. It’s my old navy-and-plaid sleeping bag from our camping days. I rarely need it until the middle of the night. At least I have the ceiling fan to keep me from becoming a puddle myself. I also have to turn on the light because the curtains need to stay closed, otherwise I’ll blind and roast myself.
I need the light today.
I’ve been struck with the sudden urge to pull out my all old writing from high school. For the past hour, I've been immersed in teenage poetry, the short stories I wrote for English, and a bunch of other tales I wrote just because. So many stories of kids and teenagers escaping kidnapping, slavery, catastrophe, oppression, abuse--always with a hefty dose of sweeping, drama-queen romance.
The yellow folder is stuffed with the dot-matrix printout of the novel I finished toward the end of eleventh grade. I’d started it the summer before eighth grade. Johnny came over on a fluke. He was my best friend in my youngest years, ever since we were in diapers, and we got to reminiscing. Naturally, that led to us laughing about the tales we’d read into his tape recorder back in second grade. I had written play versions of them based off something I used to pretend in the bathtub with my one Dawn Doll. I named her Faith the Coo.
Don’t ask me why “Coo.” At least the name of the other race in this fantastical world makes sense. “Og.” They were green Coo-eating blobs.
What? I was six.
Laughing, I roll back onto the overheated sleeping bag and shake my head as those long-lost images splash across the cork board tiles that have been hung under the old patio roof to create my bedroom ceiling. “Faith the Coo and Norman the Og.” Now there’s a tale I haven’t thought about in even longer than the ones I’m rediscovering inside the filing box dad gave me from his work to hold all my writing. It’s lived under three different beds now.
I wish I still had those old elementary school stories, but they have long since disappeared. The oldest thing I have is that post-apocalyptic dome story I originally started in fifth grade. I only have my seventh-grade attempt to update it, and that Lord of the Flies knockoff--my first (abandoned) attempts at writing a novel.
Ugh. Wonderfully horrible! I can never let anybody see those things!
🤣🤪 Throwing myself under the blackmail bus 🤪🤣
Hideous. Just hideous.
But we all have to start somewhere.
For anybody who's read Persephone & Haides--apparently that last scene has been in my mind a verrrrry lonnnng time. I had totally forgotten I wrote that back when I was around thirteen.
Faith and Norman are much older than everything in the box. I can still see Johnny’s big, grinning teeth and huge blue eyes, his cartoon face as he acted out the parts of all the Ogs. The echo of his hoity-toity accent rings through my mind as though we had recorded that story yesterday. “Ewwwww, look! Heeeee’s a perfect circle!”
That tape recorder was the most wondrous thing when he first got it. It wasn't an upright boombox. It was just a flat rectangle of nearly-black plastic with a tiny, tinny speaker and a clear, pop-up slot for the cassette. All the push-buttons sat in a row at the front. Oh, I hated hearing the sound of my own voice, but Johnny was such a ham.
We both were, and it makes me a little sad that I’ve dropped my theater major. I’m still studying dance and history, but I’ve decided to indulge my lust for travel and languages. Spanish always came so easily to me, so I’ve decided to be a translator…or…something. I’m not quite sure yet. Even though I feel wistful today, those two semesters with no theater classes or auditions were such a relief. I miss everybody, but the people I’m closest to will still be my roommates come fall.
I’m more than satisfied to keep my stage cravings restricted to the Dance Department and to the Greektown where I belly dance every weekend. To my amazement, National Geographic had a special about Madame Lucy, the most famous belly dancer in Egypt, so I videotaped it off the TV last week. I’ve been watching it nonstop ever since, and I’ve started sewing red and black sequins onto a new costume modeled after one of hers. She’s so amazing! I’ve added in all sorts of new moves that Hala never taught me, and I’ve started getting ideas for a Modern/Belly Dance fusion piece. Maybe I’ll audition it for the next showcase.
But even with all of that, my yearning for characters and stories still gnaws at me. Now that I’m not acting anymore, I find that I still need it.
I always have.
6 years old
I still hate having to take baths, but I get to do it all by myself now. That’s way more fun. More play, less scrub. As the tub fills, I sit in it with the drain plugged. The water pours down on my feet like a little waterfall. For my Dawn Doll, it really is a waterfall. She is so tiny next to my Barbies, and especially next to my Mandy doll.
Lorelei gave her to me after she babysat last time. She knows that I love Dawn Dolls more than Barbies. She’s got the whole set, plus the rock stage, but she had two redheads. The older one has hair that doesn’t stay put, so Lorelei let me have her.
I’ve named her Faith.
Every time I fill the bathtub now, I play the same story about Faith the Coo.
See, once upon a time there was a Mommy Coo and a Daddy Coo, and they had a baby girl. But in the land of the Coos, the worst thing anybody could be was a redhead. If you had red hair, you got thrown out into the woods to be eaten by lions or pythons or bears--oh, my! But the worst of the worst were those slimy, green blobs, the Ogs.
Well, Faith’s mommy and daddy loved her very much, so they tried to hide her red hair. They wrapped her up tight in her baby-binkie and didn’t let anybody else hold her. They kept her inside all day and only let her go out at night in secret. When she finally had to go to school, they made her wear a scarf on her head. She had to say that she couldn’t take it off because she caught cold too easy. But one day, a mean little blonde girl named Sarah pulled it off and everybody saw!
It was like Rudolph and the Reindeer Games, but for Coos.
It was a very bad day.
Faith’s mommy and daddy cried hard when they had to take her out into the forest and leave her there. The big, grouchy Coo Chief and his skinny, hook-nose, witchy-faced wife wouldn’t let Faith’s mommy and daddy stay in the forest with her. The whole town dragged them away and left Faith in the woods alone.
She picked berries and the good kind of mushrooms and hid deep under the ferns whenever any bears or pythons came around. She made sure to always stay on the left side of the river, because on the other side was Ogland and she didn’t want to be eaten by any big, green blobs.
One day, she was very thirsty and very dirty from all that crawling around under the ferns, so she went to the waterfall to get a drink and to wash her hair.
At this point in the story, I always bounce Faith’s tippy-toes along the left edge of the tub. She’s like a fairy but without wings. Closer and closer she gets to the waterfall. It’s been a long time since she washed her hair, and it is very messy. It has leaves and sticks and mud in it and everything. (Not really, it’s just pretend sticks.) She never learned how to swim like the other Coos because she would have had to take off her scarf, so she has to bend over and flip her bright red hair into the waterfall. She gives her head a shake, scrubs her hair and—
The water pounds so hard it flips her off the edge. Splash! Into the deep, deep pool. She goes under and the waterfall beats her down, down, down. She is so heavy. She claws her way up and takes in a breath, but that’s all she gets. She’s drowning! The water fills her mouth and she can’t breathe and she can’t find the bottom and she isn’t strong enough to kick to the surface! She has no mommy and no daddy to pull her out. Her legs feel like she’s got bowling balls tied to her ankles. Her arms feel like the big, wooden boards they sawed to make our garage.
Glub, glub…glubbbbbbb… She sinks. Her eyes close…
But then, shazam! Out of nowhere, there’s a splash into the pool! (I have to use my fist to make the splash.) Strong arms drag her to the bank. She coughs and sputters and a hand pounds her back.
A big hand.
A big, green hand.
“Eeeeeek!” She runs off into the woods.
“Wait!” the Og yells. “I’m not going to eat you!” (You have to use your imagination for him because I only have Playdough to make Ogs, but Playdough is not a very good bath toy.)
The monster chases her, and she runs and runs until she can run no more. The green blob rolls down the hill after her, bumping and bouncing off the rocks until he splats next to her in the ferns. Boi-oi-oinnnnng! He bounces back into a perfect slime-ball with big, orange eyes. “Please, don’t run away again,” he begs. “I’m lost and I’m hungry but I can’t find any food anywhere. Do you know where I can find a nice, juicy squirrel?”
Faith blinks and decides not to run off, because she’s seen plenty of squirrels, and it would be better if he ate them instead of her. “You really don’t want to eat me?” she asks.
“No,” he says. “You’re too skinny and I don’t like the taste of Coos.”
“Oh,” she says. “That’s good.”
He smiles and holds out his hand. “Hi,” he says. “I’m Norman.”
“Hi,” she says. “I’m Faith.”
They shake hands, and then she asks, “Where are your parents?”
Norman looks really sad and his ball shape start to look a little saggy. “They had to leave me in the woods because…I’m icky.” He starts to blubber with tears in his eyes, and his nice slime-green color goes very pale. “Ogs are supposed to be lumpy and blobby and globby.”
“Yes,” Faith says. “I know.”
“Well, look at me!” Norman cries. “Not a blob in sight! My parents hid me for a long time, but when the other Ogs of Ogland finally saw me, they all pointed and laughed. ‘Ewwwww, look!’ they yelled. ‘He’s a perfect circle!’ Then they threw me out into the woods and I have been lost and hungry ever since.”
“Well, I think you’re a very pretty Og,” Faith says.
“You do?” Norman sniffles. He’s still a little choked up.
“Yes,” she says. “You’re not scary and ugly like those other ones. You seem like a very nice monster.”
Norman’s green turns a little pink and he says, “Well, I think you’re a very pretty Coo. Too pretty to eat.”
“Me?” Faith sticks out her tongue and says, “No, I’m icky, too! I have red hair. Red hair is the ugliest and the worst. That’s why the Coo Chief and his mean wife threw me into the forest.”
Norman pets Faith’s hair and says, “I like your red hair. It’s not yellow or brown like all those others. It’s like a campfire. It’s so pretty.”
“But it’s all dirty and full of sticks,” Faith says. “I’ve been crawling around under the ferns, hiding from monsters and lions and pythons and bears.”
"Oh, my!" Norman says. “That sounds very scary. But if you leave your hair dirty and full of sticks and if you crawl around under the ferns, the monsters will think you’re one of them and they won’t want to eat you.”
“Oh,” Faith says. She thinks about that for a little while. Since Norman is a monster, he must know about these things, so she decides to believe him.
And so, when Norman the Perfect-Circle Og holds out his hand again, Faith the Red-Haired Coo takes it. They walk into the woods, hand-in-hand, to hunt squirrels and berries and nuts. They go deeper and deeper into the forest where there are no more Coos and no more Ogs. There are only friends. Some of those friends look like monsters and some of them don’t, and they live happily ever after.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: STRUGGLE - Watching Nature Persevere
--OR: if you like my stories about meeting monsters in the woods, you might like this one: BEWARE THE MINOTAUR