Acclaimed Author: Penelope Przekop
Penelope Przekop is an author and artist whose books include Aberrations (Greenleaf Book Group) and Six Sigma for
Business Excellence (McGraw-Hill). Her writing has been featured in the New Jersey Star Ledger, the Shreveport Times,
the Baton Rouge Advocate, the Detroit Metro Times, and several other publications. Her blog, Aberration Nation, has
been praised by acclaimed authors Anneli Rufus, Marya Hornbacher, Terri Cheney, Marisa Acocella Marchetto, Melissa
Walker, and Susan Cheever.
Boundaries is based on Penelope’s early years struggling to overcome her own boundaries.
Our aim is to give you a unique past and present view into the mind of a writer and artist. There are a million stories out
there; Penelope’s is merely one. But if you want to understand the undying optimism of the art virgin, take a look into
the past. If you want to know exactly what makes up the wrack and lode of a creative soul, she’ll show you.
Whether you have a special interest in the creative psyche, you love a good story, or you’re just plain nosey, stick
around to read Boundaries every week here on The New York Optimist. I’ll take you to a world much different from your
New York existence. Let’s go to Louisiana, the year 1984 …
In addition to writing, Penelope began painting in early 2008. Penelope’s column, “The Art Virgin,” follows her trek into
the art world working closely with New York art guru, Bob Hogge.
To learn more about Bob and his work, visit Monkdogz Urban Art, Chelsea, NYC. To read, “The Art Virgin,” go here.
To learn more about Penelope and her work, visit http://www.penelopeprzekop.com/.
By Penelope Przekop
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
This parable begins and ends at a fraternity house off Line Avenue. If you’re from Shreveport, you may remember the
place and its broken down charm. When I close my eyes, I still see college students crowded onto its wraparound porch,
big laughs, bottles in hand. I smell the beer and the mildew. Madonna is singing. It was a time when I believed frat
houses were glamorous and life was akin to fairytales. As with Jesus, there were twelve flawed men filled with good
intention. Together they brought a message of salvation, but not the one you’re expecting.
I was born in 1966, at the height of what was dubbed the charismatic movement. It swept through the Bible Belt, and
through my mother like fire, they said. On her twentieth birthday, she was filled with the Holy Spirit. I’ve yet to find
anyone who loves the Lord more. Not Billy Graham. Not even Mother Theresa.
Jesus speaks to her frequently and even visits. Once he walked with her on the dusty side of a road, just as he had with
the twelve disciples. She says his hair is lighter than most people think. Apparently, he does wear brown sandals.
Needless to say, a confusing mix of evangelism, mental illness, and lack of attention complicated my childhood. That
story led me directly to this one; it was inevitable.
And so it goes that in the summer of 1984, I met Matthew Adler at the frat house off Line Avenue. When my eyes close,
I’m both frightening and beautiful again, so small inside my sleek peaches and cream skin. I’m self-indulgent, reckless,
and sinful; don’t expect to like me.
I notice his legs just as I cross the threshold. They are long, but not too long, and bowed just the right amount. They
lead to a waist that is higher than mine, something I notice because I’m tall and have long legs. When I finally look at his
face, it welcomes the smile I’ve wasted on all the others. If Jesus exists, he is weeping.
My mother thinks she understands why but she doesn’t.
“Nice legs,” I say, moving past as if I belong. I try to blend with the crowd while searching for someone I know. Anyone
will do. I tug at the edges of my shorts and wonder if I still have lipstick on. Jungle juice flows from the nipples of a bald
mannequin named Lolita. An ugly sign bears her name. I glance around the dark room searching for the guy with the
perfect legs. He stands in the kitchen doorway staring at me over the 7-Up he’s drinking. He stands perfectly still. I stare
back as if straining to receive a message, not realizing he’s only the first of twelve.
He looks as if he knows a lot. A sort of residual nerdiness overlays his handsome face. Nerds are big due to Revenge
of the Nerds, and so I have a theory that there are two types. The first, call him Type A, is shy and intellectual. He’s
socially unskilled on many levels and knows it. This may or may not be painful for him, but he chooses not to fight it.
Type B is also intellectual. He may not always be shy in social situations, but his ability to relate on a deeper,
interpersonal level is lacking. For this type of nerd, there’s most certainly a painful realization. Although he knows how
he should behave, he can’t quite pull it off.
I continue to stare, lost in thought, until he finally comes slouching toward me. Comfortable. Not like a nerd at all.
“Is that always what you drink?” I ask as he comes close enough to hear above the music.
“Yep,” he says. Then he asks me to dance with a silent cock of his head.
Excited by our obvious attraction, we move toward the dance floor on what seems a journey toward inevitable
closeness. But we’re soon blocked by
the crowd and find ourselves staring at Lolita’s nipples.
“Cute girl,” he finally says in that awkward, charming way nerds sometimes communicate. In that magical moment, he
glistens like a treasure hidden in
a dark place only I can see.
I flash a smile and then fill a plastic cup with jungle juice. “I hear she has a great personality.”
He rocks toward me. “I like her,” he says, staring at me without a blink. I feel naked and bald and woozy as if I’m filled
Now I realize these fantastical moments in life are fairytales, perhaps the only ones we ever find. Who can fault the
young for believing in them?
The dance floor is in the formal dining room. Thirty or forty posters of models and rock stars line the walls, and layers
of wallpaper peel from the
corners. The flat poster faces make the room appear more crowded than it is. Once at the edge of the dancing mob,
we hesitate, waiting for an
opportunity to fit in. I swing around to face him and then realize I don’t know what to say. He gazes at me until I feel silly.
Then we quickly shove our
way into the drunken crowd.
“I’m Peyton,” I shout above The Blues Brothers.
“I know,” he says. Then he tells me his name and it’s perfect. He’s a good dancer, which contradicts my suspicion that
he’s a nerd. His dark hair and
eyes against his pale skin bring vampires to mind: charming, elegant, and in control. Someone turns on a strobe light
and his flashing face eases closer. In a
bold move, he kisses my soft, full cheeks and they’re miraculously endowed with high cheekbones like his.
Cheekbones like my mother’s.
“I like you,” he whispers into my ear like a prince sealing my approval.
Hours later as the partiers trickle away, we sit on an old piece of yard furniture behind the house. The frat music
meanders around us like a last call. The
rusted latticework frame and its ugly green cushion are perfect. No deep conversation takes place; it isn’t necessary.
That’s how it is when you’re
seventeen, still waiting for the depth to peak through.
“How did you know my name?” I ask, still amazed that he knew what it was.
“I’m a smart guy,” he says, running a hand through his super-short hair as if worried it may be out of place. “You’d be
surprised what a person can
learn through observation.”
I reach up and smooth a stray curl pointing off the side of his head. “Have you been spyin’ on me?”
“Would that be so terrible?”
The idea is appealing. I picture him lurking in dark corners, creeping down alleyways. “I’m just surprised,” I say. “I don’t
think I’ve ever seen you before. I wouldn’t forget those legs.” I smile.
“Maybe you saw me with pants on.”
“It’s possible,” I say just as he kisses me. Afterwards, I snuggle close until it becomes awkward. “So what else have you
observed about me?” I finally ask because I feel compelled to bring some noise into the silence that has lasted too long.
“Well, I know you started school in January. Your hair keeps gettin’ shorter. And you’re a loner.” My eyes widen as he tells
me about myself. “I hardly ever see you with the same people.”
A crack opens and I wonder if I can close it before he notices. “What do you mean?” I ask.
“I think you have a quality that attracts people, but you don’t seem to hang around with the same crowd for too long.” My
lips slowly part along with the widening cleft. “I think there’s more to you than meets the average eye, somethin’ a little
I stand up. Part of me wants to cling to him as if he’s divine; I want him to come into my heart and save me. And I want to
say something equally perceptive, but instead, the part of me that feels compelled to run, falls back into the shallow
flirtatious mode that I’m so good at. “Well, I’m clearly at a disadvantage here.” I sink down into the ugly green cushion.
“Depends on how you look at it.”
I want to kick myself because I suddenly feel damaged and unbelievable.
“But just so you don’t feel too invaded,” he says, scratching his head, “my parents are from New Jersey but moved down
here before I was born. My dad went to MIT and teaches at the Med Center. That’s my life in a nutshell.”
“Well, that doesn’t tell me much,” I say, squinting as if it will help me understand who I’m looking at.
“My detailed bio is on a need-to-know basis.”
“What’s the big secret?” I ask. “Do you have a police record or somethin’?”
“You’re tough,” he says, shaking his head.
There’s a long silence; I hear crickets.
Then finally he says, “Somehow I skipped second grade and I’m startin’ med school in the fall.” “Aren’t you young for
“I’m in the six-year program.”
“Oh,” I say, realizing he must be extremely smart. “What is that exactly?”
“You apply in high school,” he says as if it’s embarrassing. “You have to do two years of undergrad and the regular four
years of med school. I’m just finishin’ year two.” He pauses, and then says,
“So far, I’ve made it farther than my sisters.”
“What happened to them?”
“My oldest sister was also in the program but dropped out to get married. That’s when my dad had his first heart attack.”
He pauses again to swat a mosquito on his regal calf. “My other sister was a career college student. She went on and off
for six years and ended up with nothin’. She’s a secretary at the med school now. I don’t think my dad claims to know
her.” He smiles. “I’m their last great hope.” Suddenly feeling smarter, I say, “Well, believe it or not, I graduated from
high school early, too.”
He raises his eyebrows, impressed. “So we have somethin’ in common.” He doesn’t ask for the details and I decide they’
re on a need-to-know basis. I left high school to preserve my sanity. Although I was in the right crowd, a cheerleader, a
good student, none of it mattered. Matt’s right. I have a knack for attracting people, especially guys. But once they
realize it’s a trick, they leave me behind, watching as they search for something real.
I don’t know how to make it real. I don’t know that trying so hard to create reality usually puts a lethal bullet through its
head. Real is supposed to be easy; when it’s not, the question is why not how. “You must be a genius to be in that
program,” I say. “I’m not exactly Einstein.” It’s an apology for not being as smart as I want to be.
His eyes narrow, and he asks, “What was I drinkin’ tonight?”
“What do you mean?”
“Exactly what I said. What was I drinkin’?”
“If you remember that, you’re smart enough for me,” he says, grinning like a kid. Suddenly I think of the old Jeep I
walked past on the way to the frat house. Its crude bumper sticker flashes through my mind. The only parking place I
could find was three blocks away. I managed to maneuver my tiny Honda between a black Nova with flames painted on
its hood and a Jeep with a bumper sticker that read, “Stay back! My daddy didn’t pull out on time either.” The Jeep’s
lights were on and the top down. And although I decided the owner probably deserved a little divine retribution for being
so crude, I couldn’t resist reaching in and flipping the switch.
I knew what it felt like to be stranded.
“You don’t happen to drive a bumper-stickered-up Jeep, do you?” I ask.
He shakes his head, puzzled. “Actually, I came with my friend, Pete. He left a while ago.” The house is now quiet and
still. The music died sometime between our first kiss and the realization that I’m not sure what real is.
“I guess I’ll have to take you home,” I say, excited but a little sad, worried that my past will be repeated.
As we walk down the shabby street to my car, I realize my departure feels much safer than my arrival. It’s an older
section of town, a sore spot. Poor blacks and southern white trash line its streets. But I think it gives Shreveport depth
and character. The people who live in the broken down homes have little means to hide behind, but they have each
other. Grandmas, teenagers, and toddlers sit, run, and stand on dead grass and porches whose peeling lead paint
infects their unsuspecting minds. I wonder what infected mine.
The children make me sad.
|Brings The New York Optimist a
serialized online version of her new book
For the most part, Shreveport gives the illusion of peace. There are truckloads of religious people and we certainly
have enough room to seat them all. There’s a Protestant church on every corner, and a Catholic one here and there.
On most afternoons, billowing white clouds hang in every direction. Like angels of mercy, they offer shade to those who
long to recapture what is invariably stolen by our stifling climate.
The people who stared at me earlier are gone now. It’s no longer obvious that I don’t belong, that I should feel guilty for
having more, or that I’m alone.
Matt’s presence in my car is so intense that I can’t speak. I roll down the window letting in the thick, southern air.
Soaking in it together, I’m sure some part of him will mingle with my sin, and perhaps, baptize it away. I don’t consider
that he could become part of it.
The drive is relatively quiet; he finally says, “Turn left at the next light.” The light is green and I drive through the
“Sorry,” I say with a weak laugh.
He smiles and runs his hand over my head until he touches the back of my neck. “You know, you’d make a perfect
dumb blonde if your hair wasn’t so dark.”
“Is that supposed to be a compliment?”
“It’s just that your eyes are so ... babyish.”
“You mean empty?”
“No,” he says. “And everybody loves babies, right?”
“I guess,” I say, but I’m not sure. I realized early that people want to believe the mind behind my eyes is equally naïve
and empty. I hate it, but sometimes it works and I take advantage of it. The dumb act is part of my contrived charm.
I turn the car around, but as we approach the intersection, I drive through it again. This time he stares at me as if finally
questioning my intelligence. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t know what my problem is.” I can’t concentrate. I turn the car
around again, and for the third time, approach the intersection. The light is red.
“Now turn here,” he says, wide eyed, as if speaking to a two-year-old. I laugh, but keep my eyes on the road.
When we finally arrive at his apartment, I stare ahead, afraid to look at him. When I finally do, he takes my head in his
hands and kisses me with open eyes. I’ve kissed a truckload of guys but their eyes have all been closed.
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil.
Sneaking in late makes me feel bad but it’s worth it. Besides, my parents never wait up. They trust me, or perhaps they’
re too busy with their own contorted lives to worry about their teenage daughter.
Somehow we all believe I’m an adult.
I scurry up the stairs to my bedroom but freeze as my hand comes down on the railing. A cockroach nearly two inches
in length teeters on the round wood. I don’t move, afraid he’ll fly at me. I’m used to roaches. They live beneath our
home, climbing through the walls and hanging out inside our dishwasher. As a Southern rule, we have our house
sprayed on a monthly basis, but they can’t be extinguished, only contained. Yet out of sight seems enough and we
relax, pretending they aren’t really there. We’re good at pretending.
In a swift, spontaneous motion my free hand smashes the roach. His guts ooze between my fingers, thick white juice, like
semen. The tiny limbs squirm. I can’t run or cry out. My only option is to freeze. Disgusted. But finally there comes a quiet
emptiness, and after several moments, I wipe my hand on my shorts, decide to pretend it never happened, and tiptoe up
the stairs. As I reach for my bedroom door, I feel something on my neck. Another roach. “Peyton, it’s me,” my
mother whispers as her arms enveloped me. Her coarse, dark hair brushes against my cheek. As a small child, I clung to
her long, hard hair as if it were a rope holding me steady. I reached for it throughout my childhood as it shrank. Now the
pointy ends sting my face. “Are you okay?” she asks, hand on chest as if to slow her heart. “You scared me.” “I’m
sorry. I didn’t mean to be late but I met someone and we were …”
“I’m so thirsty,” she interrupts as if I hadn’t said a thing. “I was just goin’ to get some water. Come on down and we’ll sit a
I follow her through the kitchen and into the living room, thinking I’ll tell her about my night, assuming she’ll want to hear.
We finally sink into our cozy sofa, sitting unnaturally close. “I met this guy named Matt. He’s goin’ to medical school
in the fall. It was weird; he knew thangs about me.”
She stares at me, but looks straight through. “Peyton, what do you think of panelin’?” I wonder if she has a hearing
problem again but I know that’s not the issue.
I squint, looking around the dark room. “Depends on what you’re panelin’. I thought you liked this color,” I say,
squelching my frustration.
“I do, but I’m thinkin’ of doin’ the downstairs hallway, and eventually the stairway and the hall upstairs. The whole kit-n-
caboodle.” She flings her arms out like a backward hug that shoves me farther away.
I’m glad to hear that it isn’t the living room. My father painted our living room six times since we moved in, almost once a
year. He never complained. Not about painting, hanging wallpaper, moving furniture, or about my mother’s obsession with
Simon Taylor, the pastor who delivered her from mental illness when he gallantly exorcized her demons. This exorcism
took place in 1974, a year after the release of The Exorcist. My father was expected to rejoice. “Are you gonna
make Dad put it up?”
“I know he can do it.”
“I guess it’ll look all right but it might make the house dreary,” I say, realizing it’s too late. It’s already dark and sad with the
exception of my bedroom, which I struggle to fill with cheer.
“Peyton, what are you thinkin’ about?” She caresses my neck with her manicured fingers.
“I was just thinkin’ about how much I love my room. I wish Dad could trim that tree outside the window so I can see out
again.” I enjoyed watching the pink Crepe Myrtle grow over the years but now it blocks my view. It surprises me that
something so beautiful grew into an obstruction. I wonder how I can suddenly be so willing to chop down something I love
due to a larger need to see the world beyond
“But it’s gorgeous. You don’t need to see a thang behind that tree,” my mother says, making it a fact.
“I guess you’re right.” My eyes fall and I struggle to shift my attitude. “I wanna tell you about my night.” I know what’s
coming by the look on her face.
“I’m so tired and it’s late,” she says. “Can you just tell me tomorrow?”
“But tomorrow’s Saturday and we can sleep late,” I whine, hoping to change her mind, not because we can sleep in, but
simply because she loves me.
She reaches for the hand that killed the roach. Her narrow fingers feel warm and right holding it. Throughout my
childhood, she warned me about sin, preached of avoiding injustice, and instructed me to turn the other cheek; however,
as I was thrown into the real world everything changed. She evaporated along with her unrealistic advice. I look at her,
holding my hand, and all that I’d once seen in her is gone, partly because it no longer makes sense and partly because I’
m angry about it.
“Okay, tell me all about him but don’t take too long. I’m pooped,” she finally says, grabbing her head as if in pain. She
does this so often that it lost meaning years ago. “What’s his name? Did you say he was gonna start school soon?”
I tell what happened but the words seem shallow, not at all how I want them to sound and nowhere near a reflection of
what I feel.
Suddenly she says, “You know, that’s really how it was with Simon.” I freeze, face blank. “He would never admit it, of
course.” Her voice trails off but just when I’m sure she’s going to stop, it rises again. “The first day I went to see him, he
just stared at me. He practically begged me to come back for more counselin’. He thought we should pray together. Little
did I know! But he knew. He knew exactly what I needed. When I left that day he stood so close to me. You know …
awkward close. He put his hands on my shoulders.” She squirms as if chilled. “He squeezed ‘em and said he’d be there
for me. It was embarrassin’ because I was literally shakin’. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. Nobody ever, ever looked
at me like that.”
As the fairytale pours from her mouth, it ties knots around me. I’ve heard it a thousand times. “It’s not the same,” I say.
“This is different.”
She pats my leg. “I know you don’t like to talk about all that, but you could really learn a lot from my experience.”
I feel sick. “You’re right. I don’t care about that experience.” Neither of us moves, glued together by an unbreakable bond.
One she created and one I don’t recognize as unhealthy.
“Then you cain’t expect me to care about yours. It’s the same thang I’ve been tellin’ you for years,” she says, her eyes full
of concern that looks real. “How do you think any boy is really gonna care when you continue to be so self centered?”
“I’ve always tried to listen,” I say. “I’m just excited ’cause he really seemed crazy about me.”
“Peyton, you’ve had lots of boyfriends. They were all crazy about you. You’re just beautiful, but you’ve got to do right.
God doesn’t bless people who don’t do right. You’ve got to stay under his umbrella. Every time you step out from under
it, he literally mourns for you. Don’t you forget. I have seen the face of God; I know how he feels.”
The crack I can’t hold together grows larger. I know what she means. Don’t call him, and heaven forbid, don’t sleep with
him. “I need someone to love me,” I say as if it’s a burp.
“I love you, Peyton.” She almost sings the words, her arms and body suddenly all over me. Her angular face, sculptured
to the point of hollow, nearly sucks me in.
“It’s not the same,” I say. “You have to love me. You’re obligated.”
“You’re wrong there. Mothers don’t have to love their children.”
I look away. “Well, they usually do.”
“What about all those children murdered every day? Nobody’s lovin’ them.” Her voice cracks. “Abortion is murder.”
I feel an excruciating yank in my gut. She’s sucking something out of me, but still I don’t move away. Huge tears emerge,
and I watch as they fall from her eyes. She’s stealing my pain again. “But you just said mothers don’t have to love their
“Well they certainly should.”
“Then you’re sayin’ they are obligated?”
She grabs her head again and I wonder if it somehow helps put her thoughts in order. “I guess so,” she says, her words
barely audible. Confused, I bolt from the couch and head for the stairs. She scurries after me and before I can escape,
she manages to corner me in a full-blown good night hug. Overcome with love for her, I fall limp into the embrace only
she can provide. Nothing in my life ever felt like mother. The soft warmth, the sweet smell, and the deep, mellow pain of
knowing mother doesn’t last forever. Not in the way you want it to.
“See Mom, you do have to love me,” I whisper. She holds me tighter for a moment and then leaves me standing alone in
I fall asleep thinking of Matt Adler’s heart-shaped smile, hoping he’ll be in my dreams. Instead, I see myself lying naked
beneath a tall tree at the center of a field. My head is near the trunk and I gaze up into it, searching for something. The
leaves are the green of new spring.
Suddenly, the branches twist and creak. The leaves begin to turn brown, shrivel, and disappear. The limbs break, one by
one. They are small, almost deteriorated, and as they fall harder and faster, they turn into tiny arms and legs. I scream.
They are grotesque, with pieces of bone, sliced and serrated at disturbing angles. Dangling vessels protrude from them.
The tree is dying.
Thirsting for something I’ve lost, I open my mouth to catch the blood. Accepting my fate, I show no signs of desperation.
The arms and legs grow larger, hurting me as they crash into me, one by one. The grass becomes dark from the bloody
shower. I begin to disappear, sinking into the softening earth beneath me. Blood covers my dream and what is left of me.
I begin to weep as I lose sight of myself.
When I finally bring myself to look again, I’m no longer there. There’s only a mound of bloody, bruised arms and legs,
some tiny, some large, officiated by the dead tree stump. I search for a face, any face. Just before I wake, I catch sight of
something in the heap of flesh. It’s a perfectly manicured set of fingernails at the end of a protruding narrow hand. It’s my
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside the body, but he who sins sexually sins against his
I Corinthians 6:18
“That always reminds me of my dad,” Matt says, pointing to a dirty black and white sign some twenty feet from where we
stand. It rattles against the nondescript building that barely holds it up. “Louisiana Truck Bodies?” I ask, confused.
We stand, hand in hand, on the dusty sidewalk. I can see his apartment in the distance, our long walk nearly over. The
wind pushes me forward but I resist. Two tiny whirlwinds dance in the gas station parking lot that runs into the side of the
body shop. It’s cooler than usual and I smell rain.
Matt begins to walk again and I follow. “Every time I see that sign my dad’s face pops into my head. He’s like a big truck,
you know, powerful but domineering, and irritatin’ as hell. I told you he’s 6’4”, right?”
I shake my head in agreement.
“He thinks he owns the frickin’ road.”
“I’ve never even noticed the place,” I say, looking back.
“You’ve got to use your observation skills a little more.” He frequently throws these tidbits of wisdom at me, like warnings.
Sometimes I write them down.
In a fit of excitement, I jump on his back, wrapping my arms and legs around him. “Matthew Adler, Observer of Life,” I
proclaim as if to knight him with some glorious title. He carries me on his back against the breeze for several yards and
then lowers me to my feet.
Debris hits my arms and legs as it sails through the rising wind. The air is electric. It pulls people out of the various
industrial businesses that line the road. They stand just outside the doors, looking toward the darkening sky. “I make
observations,” I say, glancing back again at the rattling sign. “I just don’t see the same thangs you do.” What I see
usually confuses me so I keep it to myself.
“So what do you see?” he asks.
His question catches me off guard, as if I talked big and now have to prove it. “It’s obvious that you have a problem with
your dad.” I stare at the ground and try not to step on the cracks in the sidewalk so I don’t break my mother’s back. “You
usually talk about him like he’s perfect, but you’ve got somethin’ against him.”
He stops so abruptly that his feet seem to be stuck in the black tar dotting the sidewalk in splotches. He leans toward me
as he often does when preparing to say something profound. His eyes narrow. “My dad means well, but he’s either slow,
burdened by his preconceived ideas, or he’s barrelin’ down my neck like there’s no frickin’ tomorrow.”
I feel uncomfortable and pull his hand but he doesn’t budge.
“Sometimes I just wanna say, ‘Get the fuck off the road. Just get off the fuckin’ road.’”
A slew of cars zoom past and an odd, falling sensation comes over me. I think he’s mad at me. That somehow I’ve
caused him to yell. It’s a sick familiar feeling. “Come on, don’t be mad. My mom’s like that, too. She carries a load of
ideas and mistakes and sufferin’. Maybe your dad does, too. I just feel sorry for ‘em.”
“Everybody and his brother has an excuse. They’re just jerks.”
“I don’t think they’re jerks. Some people just have strong convictions, for whatever reason, and they don’t have a very
big range in which to express ‘em.” I smile inwardly, pleased that I’m beginning to sound like him. “Their range is too
narrow. They cain’t see the big picture. That’s what I try to see—the big picture. I try to understand people so I can
He turns and hollers, thinking I’m further behind. “Maybe you’re too forgivin’.”
I’m startled by the lack of distance between us.
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“But I don’t feel very forgivin’ most of the time. That’s why I keep tryin’ so hard.” I look down into the crack I’m standing
on. “Little thangs are easy to forgive.”
“To err is human, to forgive, divine,” he says. “There’s a reason why that line keeps livin’ on.” “But some people are
born with a deep, narrow hole that gets filled up too tight. Probably gets hard to manage,” I say, still trying to defend my
right to be forgiving. “I’m startin’ to think we’re all born that way, with that big hole.”
He shakes his head. “I don’t know about that, but I’m not thrilled about bein’ at school with my dad every day. He’ll fill up
my hole all right. He’s gettin’ to be a pain in the ass.”
I look away, embarrassed, and say, “But he’s not teachin’ your classes is he?”
“No, but he’ll know exactly what I’m doin’ every second. He’s like that. When I started at LSUS I had to do gymnastics just
to get my own apartment; he wanted me to live at home. I convinced him I could study better on my own. He’ll do anythang
for a frickin’ grade. He said, ‘First B and you’re comin’ home.’”
I feel compelled to say, “Yeah, my mom would do anythang for God. First sin and you’re headed for hell,” but can’t bring
myself to say it. Instead I say, “Well, Louisiana Truck Bodies doesn’t look like it’s hurtin’ for business.”
“The place is always packed with trucks. Sometimes you cain’t even see the sign. It looks like a junk yard.”
“At least some of ‘em got off the road,” I say, smiling as if it could cheer him up. Rain is falling in the distance and I know it
will soon be overhead, so I run and wait for him at his apartment door.
“What took you so long?” I ask, smiling, as he approaches moments later.
He doesn’t answer. Instead he sits down beside me, looking worried. “My dad doesn’t know about you, but when school
starts he’ll find out.”
“Would he rather you have a boyfriend?” I ask, laughing. He sits, stone faced and I feel insensitive. “Why does your dad
care about your love life anyway? You’re not ten ... and we’re not engaged.”
“He’s got reasons.”
“Are you breakin’ up with me?”
He looks up at the sky and half whispers, “I don’t really care what he says.” Then he stands up to unlock the door. “He
can pack up that big truck body of his and get the hell out of my life.” His keys jingle as they drop back into his deep plaid
I follow him inside, smiling again like a dumb puppy when I’m not. Just as I get through the door he pulls me against him. It’
s the closest to that warm, soft mother love I’ve ever felt. The sinking feeling that it may not last forever is there, too. “My
dad and I were always a team,” he says. “He spent a lot of time helpin’ me.” He shakes his head; there’s sadness in his
gesture that confuses me. “He knew I was smart and he pushed me, and I wanted to be pushed. I owe him a lot, but I don’t
think I need his help anymore. Not like that.”