Wednesday, January 10, 2007

the storytellers

At the beginning of the school year, my mother would buy me two or three spiral notebooks. By the end of the first week I'd have used up the first one with drawings of girls. I always drew girls. I refused to draw boys. Wouldn't even try. Apparently, they didn't exist.

I drew all the girls the same way. I'd draw a U for the face and a J in the middle for the nose. Their hair would always be long and they'd smile in a closed kind of way, as if they knew secrets but wouldn't tell them.

I filled those notebooks with crowds and crowds of beautiful women, serene but silent. I drew them incessantly. It was sort of a mania with me. I left them everywhere, even in the backs of books I'd read. I'd imagine they were my friends, people I'd meet now and again along my travels.

When I didn't draw girls, I imagined myself the star in a feature film. I practiced walking up and down the front staircase with my right hand trailing behind me grandly, my chin bravely aloft. I'd imagine the cameramen cueing me from right and left.

Someone with a deep, strong voice would be narrating my life in a knowing, understanding way, illuminating at last with complete and total empathy my heartfelt feeling and touching courage.

"She looked out the window, grim with determination," the narrator would explain.

I'd blink bravely and draw the curtain back, eyes shimmering with emotion.

I lived in an imaginary world.

If something lacked I embellished to make it fit, as manicurists will add filler to make a fingernail look smoother and longer.

I told my classmates that my house was not haunted -- as was rumored -- but enchanted. I told them that the mirror in my bedroom not only showed my reflection, but took me into the future and showed me what I'd look like when I grew up.

(In the future, I assured them, I wasn't so skinny that a notched bone showed through my skin in the middle of my ribcage. My hair was long and beautiful, and my eyes were long-lashed and luminous.)

Well, the not-skinny part came out true, at least.

Most of all I loved telling stories to make people laugh. When we huddled together on class projects and someone told something funny that happened to them, I had to think up one that would be twice as good.

After I said my prayers and crawled into bed that night, I'd feel a spreading rush of guilt for my lies -- the heavy, sinking aftertaste of boasting. But I meant well, I'd whisper as a postscript to God. I just wanted them to laugh. It's not really a lie if it's entertainment.

When I meet other storytellers I feel both a spark of empathy and a twinge of sadness. I wonder if they ever made up worlds to live in when the real one got too wearing, like I did. And if they ever felt ashamed, like me, for getting lost there sometimes when the allure of kinship became irresistible.

But I never ask.