November 24, 2014

Chapter One: The Book of Dawn

stepsChapter One: The Book of Dawn

The winding road edged past antique colonial structures, carefully preserved remnants of another century. An old woman, dressed in gray overalls and workboots, raked the ground beside the stone wall. Down a steep incline on the opposite side of the street, people gathered around a large duck pond. The sound of sea gulls and geese splintered through the air.

Since our jeep towered above neighboring cars, driving it always provided me with a special panorama. In the distance, brake lights glared, igniting the red beacons in back of every vehicle like an endless series of falling dominos. The traffic came to a complete halt. Trapped in this log-jam of metallic dinosaurs steaming and hissing in place, I jumped from our truck, then sat atop the front fender. The sun solarized halos around the edges of the trees as it descended over a rooftop.

A group of high school students, busily chattering to each other, passed by. A tall, thin girl separated from her friends and walked directly toward me. Her electric-blue eyes danced in their sockets.

“Hi, it’s me,” she said. A slight challenge filtered through the matter-of-fact declaration. I smiled, remembering a telephone conversation of almost two years ago which began with those exact same words.

“Hi, it’s me,” the voice barked at the other end of the phone.

“Well, hello, ‘me.’ I don’t recognize your voice, so would you like to tell me who you are?”

“Come off it. My mother told me to call at five.”

The clock indicated five forty-five. I flipped through a small pile of papers, chuckling to myself, amused by my own lack of organization and my caller’s demand for instant recognition. After leafing through a collection of torn pages and folded notes, I quit the search and asked: “Can I help you?”

“No.” Her voice seemed less self-assured.

“Do you want to help me?” I asked, aware my question sounded comical though my intent was serious.

“No,” she replied.

“Oh, then why are you calling?”

“Because I have to!”

“What do you mean by ‘have to’?” I asked.

“It’s very simple,” she lectured. “If I didn’t call you, my mother was going to turn me over to my uncle who threatened to ship me off to some shrink. So I had no choice.”

“Oh,” I said, realizing the identity of the caller. “I guess you could have decided to be ‘shipped’ off to a shrink.”

“I didn’t want that, obviously,” she said. “That’s precisely why I’m calling you.”

“Then did you ‘have to’ call me or did you want to call me?”

No immediate answer to my question. I could hear her swallowing; then she cleared her throat. “I guess I wanted to,” she whispered.

“Okay … what now?” I inquired.

“sh*t! This is stupid. You know damn well why I called.”

“Do you really think so? I know why your mother wanted you to call. She had her reasons, but what are yours?”

“I’m supposed to make an appointment,” she said.

“Are you asking for one?”

“Yes, damn it!”

“Okay,” I answered. “Knowing and asking for what we want can be a beautiful experience.”

“Sure, sure!” she said. “Before we set a time, let’s talk about something. My mom called you very accepting. I want to see how true that is! I don’t intend to sit in any room staring into somebody’s face for an hour. Can we meet at the duck pond in the old town?”

I had had many sessions with some of my students in that same park. My response came easily. “Sure, if you’d like.”

“On my terms,” she continued.

“It’s your session.”

“Good,” she said.

“Wednesday, at four,” I suggested. “Is that okay for you?”

“Uh-huh. what do you look like?”

“Six feet, three inches tall, stocky, bearded, longish brown hair, large nose.” I found myself laughing at my own description.

“Are you that funny-looking?” she said.

“To some people, perhaps. And you, how will I know you?”

“Well, now,” she teased. “I will wear a black jacket with a lily-white collar.”

“Fine. I’ll be sitting on a bench just beside the lower pond.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes,” I said. “Unless you want to ask or say something else.”

“No.”

“Okay, then, I’ll see you Wednesday.”

“Wait,” she said. A long pause. “My name is Dawn.”

“Hi, Dawn. Many people call me ‘Bears,’ a nickname my wife and children gave me.”

“I’ll call you Kaufman, or do I have to call you Mr. Kaufman?”

“Whatever you’d like,” I said.

“Okay, Kaufman. I’ll see you Wednesday.”

Entry in Dawn’s Diary, May 3

Called the f*ck yesterday. He sounded much softer than I expected, but I won’t like him. His wife and kids call him Bears – how touching. Maybe he was the head keeper at the Bronx Zoo. I hate this! I hate this! I don’t want to talk to anyone, I don’t need to talk to anyone. Nothing’s wrong with me. Damn her. My father was willing to forget it, but she had to keep pushing. Between her and Mr. Potter, you’d think I use the needle. Tina and I must’ve looked pretty stupid sitting together on the john puffing away – we couldn’t stop laughing all the way to the principal’s office. All I could think of was ice cream and Goober’s Chocolate Covered Peanuts. Noah asked me out Friday, I sure know what he wants. Chubby Dawn or is it fat Dawn. I don’t really look at myself in the mirror any more. Only Allen’s my real friend. I think. The lecher, Mr. Thomas, keeps looking at Jill’s tits, he’s afraid to stare at Lisa since she told him to buzz off. Someone ought to cut off his prick and hand it back to him in a shoe-box. I passed Karen in the hall after gym. I couldn’t look at her. I made believe I didn’t see her, but I know she knew I did. I’m so mixed up about Karen.

The sky hovered low over the park as I waited for Dawn for that first session. A thin silver mist enveloped the open meadows, obscuring sharp edges, muting bright colors. I gazed across the field leading up to the road. I scanned the area around the pond. No girl with a black jacket topped by a lily-white collar. I sat down on one of the wooden benches hesitantly. Within seconds, the almost imperceptible haze penetrated my pants. The winged population, flitting about, drew my attention away from my moist skin. Two boys threw a Frisbee back and forth. A group of small children charged across the meadow toward an old wooden bridge. Ten minutes drifted by. Still no sign of Dawn. Again, I searched the entire park area. I suppressed an inclination to leave. “On my terms,” she had said, and I had agreed.

The loud hawking cries of sea gulls surrounded a teenage girl who systematically threw handfuls of popcorn high into the air. Her body moved gracefully, though her face appeared curiously fixed. Her denim jacket rippled around her waist. Her thighs pressed against the seams of her jeans. Obviously overweight she had tried to push her body into clothes made for a more slender form. Although she stood several hundred yards away, I detected her glancing in my direction several times. Curious, exploratory, secretive glances. Dawn, I thought to myself, instinctively identifying her.

In response to my steady gaze, she turned her back toward me, then proceeded to move down a path hidden from my vision. Another twenty minutes elapsed. Suddenly, the same young girl appeared directly opposite me on the other side of the pond. This time, she pulled a bread loaf from a large paper bag. With each three pieces thrown to the ducks, she stuffed one piece into her mouth. Even now, my image of her chewing the white bread remains vivid. Her mouth moved mechanically, as if disconnected from her body.

As I rose from the bench, she looked directly at me, extended her arm, then pointed to her wrist. She held up what appeared to be seven fingers. And then I knew. Seven more minutes remained in our session – or non-session. I sat down again and watched her continue feeding the ducks. In exactly seven minutes, she turned and left the park.

Entry in Dawn’s Diary, May 10

The smug bastard just sat there on the bench, looking so cool. But I knew he must’ve felt like a jackass, looking around for the black jacket and white collar. What an easy mark! I think I’m going to like this … it’s like leading a dog around by the nose. I knew it about noble Noah. He was all hands. He’s so gross with all those pimples. All he had on his mind was f*cking, but I don’t f*ck, not any more. Boy, was he surprised when I slapped him. So was I. Janet and Darleen are running a course on women’s lib in the free school – they keep pushing me to attend. I’m not interested in their flag waving. Besides, Chris said Janet and Darleen are homos. Suzanne went on and on about her big-deal fabulous Saturday night with Howie. And if it’s not Howie, it’s Craig or Marsh or Jimmy. She must have the most experienced t*ts in the whole school. What a cock-teaser! I told her to shut up. She called me jealous. Disgust was more like it. But she was right, I was jealous. Besides Allen, who doesn’t count, pimple-face Noah is the only person who asked me out in two months. It’s kind of sad spending Saturday night masturbating in front of the television set. Dragon lady Doris is still on my back, even after my session (ho-ho) with Kaufman. I do what she wants and it’s still not good enough. First she asked me about Noah, then when I said I didn’t want to talk about it, she asked me what I was hiding. You should have seen her face when I told her I was out f*cking telephone polls.

Our second session began much like the first, with the exception of my choosing a different bench to sit on. Dawn returned with bags of popcorn for the birds and another loaf of bread for the ducks. No hello. No good-bye. Yet our awareness of each other had grown more intense.

Entry in Dawn’s Diary, May 17

I did the whole scene with Kaufman in the park. I thought he’d come over and start bitching about how we’re supposed to talk or something …but he didn’t. I wonder what his game is – well, I can hold out as long as he can. Funny, but he does look like a bear. And he still puts on that cool, relaxed, just-sitting-in-the-park bit. I haven’t seen Karen lately. Maybe she’s sick, but I don’t want. to call her. Sometimes I think I’m going crazy. I had a weird daydream in class yesterday. Noah was standing by the window. I imagined him telling everyone how he f*cked me. He made up this whole big bullsh*t story. All the kids laughed. Then he said he put a Coke bottle up me because I couldn’t get enough since I was so oversexed. So I ran up and pushed him out the window. I was glad when I heard him scream, glad when he went splat on the sidewalk. But then, when I looked at his face on the ground, it wasn’t Noah at all, but Jonathan, my first boyfriend. I can’t stand Jonathan, I can’t stand Noah, and I can’t stand the Dragon Lady.

During our third meeting, Dawn drifted within ten feet of the bench. Her blue eyes locked with mine. Defiant, yet soft. Angry, yet sensitive. Wanting to run away, yet wanting to come close. I smiled at her, genuinely touched by her special presence.

Immediately, she turned and walked away. At the end of our time period, from across the pond, she looked at me and did something amazing. Dawn waved, though her face remained fixed, expressionless. She reminded me of the journey with our son, Raun, where even the most simple actions had been undertaken with great difficulty.

Entry in Dawn’s Diary, May 24

I don’t know why I did it, but I waved to him today. Charity – I didn’t want him to get too lonely. Oh, who the f*ck cares! Kaufman said on my terms – well, he’ll have to suffer through it. When I came close to him, he sat there smiling like some big idiot. He almost felt genuine, like he liked me. I wanted to kick him in the face and hug him at the same time. Who would have believed anyone would have put up with me. The Dragon Lady keeps pressing about the sessions. I wish she’d just bug off. My father complained I’m not making any progress. That’s a laugh! Now he even wants me to see a shrink. My mother said I needed a loving friend not a doctor. A loving friend? How the hell would she know? Maybe I’m a lot crazier than anyone knows.

The fourth time we met in the park, our session began in its traditional manner. I sat on the bench alone. She wandered leisurely across the field beside the road. But instead of feeding the birds at a distance of two hundred yards, Dawn strolled over to the bench and, without ceremony, sat down. I watched her face, noticing an almost imperceptible fluttering in her eyelids. Her lips were sealed tight, as if locked closed so they would not betray her.

Then, without facing me, she said: “This is stupid, isn’t it?”

“What do you think?”

“Hey, Kaufman. I know your game. Answering my questions with your questions.” A talking Renoir painting. Statuesque against the treed background, Dawn’s large full form seemed light, almost buoyant. Her unusually rosy cheeks displayed a natural elegance tempered only by the strain of anger.

“It doesn’t matter what I think… it’s your session,” I said. “What do you think?”

“I think it’s absurd,” she said, smiling. She jumped from the bench and began to walk away. She stopped, hesitated, then returned. Looking at me as if she were about to cry, Dawn asked timidly: “Is it okay to do what I’m doing?”

I nodded and said, “Sure, but is it okay with you?” Regaining her composure, she sat down again. Her face hardened, her lips curled at the edges. “You’re a funny egg, Kaufman,” she said, flaunting a sarcastic grin. “I’d thought you would have had the smarts to leave by now.” She scrutinized my face carefully, searching for anger, annoyance, disapproval … anything to substantiate her fears. “Well, aren’t you going to respond?”

“Why does it matter?”

“Because it does, it does.” Her forehead furrowed. She tapped her fist on the bench mechanically. “Say anything… anything, but not another stupid question.”

I wanted to ask her why questions disturbed her so, but I didn’t. Somehow, I found myself searching for one clear statement. “Okay, Dawn. We each do the best we can, which is precisely what you and I are both doing at this very moment. Each in our own way.”

A soft smile broke through her fixed facade. Then, quickly, her face clouded as she applauded weakly. “That’s very good … very, very good. I give it at least a C plus. I’m big on rewarding effort,” she heckled, nervously rising from the bench. “Now I’ll tell you something equally profound. I’m leaving early today. Ta-ta.” Without once turning back, she walked steadily away.

Entry in Dawn’s Diary, May 30

It’s hard to stay away from the stuff. I think half the students in school are high all the time. Between periods, you get stoned just walking into the bathroom. Tina and I shared another joint. f*ck my mother. Darleen was stoned out of her mind. When we got back to health class, she flashed her t*t … just pulled the big sloppy thing right out of her shirt, even with Mrs. Freed standing there. Everyone was on the floor. Freed was so embarrassed she made believe she didn’t see it. I got cramps this morning, guess I’m getting my period. What a pain! Oh, yes, dear paper, some news about my sessions with the Bear. That big creep got me to talk to him, but I turned it around and he fell for it. I’m not going to get sucked in. Dumb! They think you’re dumb! I can’t stand his eyes, they’re so soft….

The fifth session began very differently. Dawn walked directly over to me, sat down and grinned slyly. Though still stiff in her body movements (she folded her arms across her chest like an indignant general), she, nevertheless, seemed more vulnerable, more willing to show herself. “You know what, Kaufman? I don’t even have a black jacket with a white collar.” We smiled at each other. Dawn began to giggle, a silly, beautiful little-girl giggle. As I began to laugh with her, she stopped herself, almost choking in the process. She skillfully threw another internal switch, displaying the dazzling control she always exercised over herself

“I thought about what you said last week, she said. “You know, about how we all do the best we can. I decided to change your mark; it really rated a B plus.”

Shifting her position, Dawn turned her back toward me before continuing. She stretched her arms, then folded them over her head. “I wanted to sit on this bench from the very beginning.” Her voice deepened. “I really did. Somehow, I know you knew that.” Releasing her arms, she leaned back, squeezed her eyes tightly and blew noisily through her lips. “Okay, Kaufman, what do we do next?”

“What do you want to do?”

“Well, we might as well get on with it.”

“On with what?” I asked.

“Doing what you do. Finding out what’s wrong with me,” she said.

“I don’t find out what’s wrong with anyone. That’s just a judgment. What I know to do is to ask questions… questions which come from what you say. In a real way, they’re really your own questions. And you can do with them what you choose. There’s no place to go, Dawn, except where you decide to go.”

“Come off it, Kaufman. That’s a crock of sh*t. You want to reshape me into my mother’s silly vision of the good little fifteen-year-old virgin who never smokes, never stays out late, never disagrees, Well, too bad, I like being me!” She began to cry, but quickly stopped herself “Damn, damn!”

“What are you angry about?” I asked.

“About you, about me, about letting myself sit here, about talking to you!”

“What is it about being here on this bench, about talking with me that gets you so upset?”

“I don’t know.” She pivoted on her thigh, again facing in the opposite direction. Her body rocked back and forth in a slow rhythm.

“Well, why don’t you guess at an answer,” I suggested.

“Somehow, you’re different … I think. But, maybe it’s a trick.”

“What’s a trick?”

“Your being here, letting me decide about these sessions, not criticizing the way I spent all the time feeding the birds. It’s really scary!”

“What is?”

“To have it left so open. Maybe I’ll do something terrible, maybe I’ll say something unforgivable … that’s what the Dragon Lady is afraid of!”

“Who’s the Dragon Lady?”

“sh*t! It’s just a private thing, between me and myself. Forget I said it.”

“Okay,” I continued. “Before, you said if it’s left so open, maybe you’ll do something terrible. What do you mean?”

“It’s my mother.”

“What’s your mother?”

“The Dragon Lady, of course. That’s my nickname for her,” Dawn said sheepishly. “I don’t know what I really mean by terrible. All I’ve ever heard is that I don’t know. ‘You can’t let Dawn decide, because she’ll f*ck up.’ I always lose. I’m either too young or too stupid. Like I’m a complete assh*le. So maybe when I finally get the chance to do whatever I want, maybe it’ll be true.”

“What will be true?”

“That I don’t know anything, that I’ll just do stupid, awful things.”

“Do you believe that?”

Dawn cried again. This time she allowed it. Hard, dry sounds echoed from her throat as her shoulders trembled. After a minute, she straightened her back and busily wiped the tears from her eyes. “I guess I do believe it. It’s like thinking something is twisted inside.”

She rose to her feet, then put the palm of her right hand in front of my face; a gentle gesture, edged with unspoken desperation. For the moment, this little girl/young woman wanted my silence. After taking three deep breaths, she withdrew her hand and said: “Could we walk as we talk?”

As we moved down the path, Dawn broke from her sluggish gait into a full run. Her excess weight dragged at her arms and legs. At a distance of fifty yards, she looped gracefully around a cluster of pines, ungracefully lost her balance and fell face down into the grass.

Bouncing to her feet within seconds, she charged back, finally rejoining me. “One minute,” she panted, holding her index finger in the air. A thin film of perspiration lacquered her forehead. “Now, let’s go on.”

“We often have reasons for what we believe, Dawn. Why do you believe if you just did what you wanted, you would do awful things?”

“Because I’ve already done them!”

“Done what?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because I just don’t want to.” Glancing at her watch, she said, “Besides, the session is about over. Goodbye, Kaufman, I’ve got to get home.” Without looking at me, she jogged down the path and disappeared over a small hill.

Entry from Dawn’s Diary, June 2

I almost did it, almost told him. God, I can’t tell anyone. Somehow that’ll make it even more real, more terrible. My session with Bears went quickly this time. I guess that’s because we talked. The crying didn’t feel too good. He deals pretty straight (I think, I hope). He never flinches – I like that. There’s something so easy about his voice. I think he likes me. I must be careful, very careful. I don’t even tell Tina about the sessions. I miss Karen. She’s back in school now, but we haven’t talked. Another run-in with the Dragon Lady. She smelled pot on my clothes when I came home from school today (she still never explained how she became such an expert in smelling marijuana). Bang! Off she went. Didn’t even ask, just assumed I smoked my head off all day. She wanted to know if I discuss my problem during my sessions. I told her there wasn’t any problem to discuss. That jerky, spaced-out bus driver, Randy, didn’t say anything when Greg lit up. In minutes, everyone sucked on their weeds. The bus reeked of the stuff. And I didn’t touch a thing. Well, next time, damn her, I will. What’s there to lose, I’m always being accused anyway. I wish she’d trust me. I hate her f*cking guts sometimes. Big laugh this week on Jill. She’s nauseous every morning. Guess what that means! Noah asked me out again. He doesn’t give up. Next time he tries to feel between my legs, I’ll piss on his hands. Darleen did another one of her bits this week. This time in Chem. 302. She told Mr. Sawyer she had been working on an experiment for several weeks and wanted to show the class. At the head of the room, she bent over, put a match to her ass, and farted. Wow, what a flame! Far out! Everyone got hysterical. So now you know what they do at the women’s lib meetings, besides … Angie said she once saw Darleen mouthing it with Pam. A group of dancers performed in our Humanities class. One of them was terrific. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. She had such a beautiful body, she moved so … Oh, God, I don’t know what I’m saying anymore.

Prior to our next session, Dawn called. I barely recognized her voice, even after she identified herself A soft, humming quality permeated her words. “Where do you usually Option with people?” A direct question. My first response, though accurate, was just a bit too glib. “Everywhere. Wherever I ask questions with a loving and accepting attitude. In the kitchen. At school. On a subway. In the park.” Her forced laughter protested the commentary. I then described a favorite place; a little one-room glass house sitting on top of a hill behind the house in which my family and I live. My daughter, Thea, our impish eight-year-old resident artist, lettered a sign for the building as a surprise gift for me. Delighted with her own handiwork, she taped it squarely in the middle of the front window. “Big Bear’s Happy Option Home … love Thea.” Dawn wanted her next session on the hill. I agreed, although I had developed a fondness for the park as a place to explore and share.

When she arrived on Wednesday, her face seemed sallow again. Looking around like an interior decorator, Dawn affected a haughty British accent. “Not bad, my dear Kaufman, but certainly not great. So this is where you do it. Not as middle class as I thought it would be. I give it a B minus.” Dropping the pose, she pointed excitedly at a photograph of a war-weary soldier, vintage early 13th century, holding an infant in his arms. “Wow, is that you?”

“No. But I took the photograph. It’s a favorite of mine.”

“Oh,” she smirked, “some hidden talents.” Tapping the typewriter on a side table, she asked: “Do you write your books up here, too, or just rent yourself out for secretarial work as a side-line. No need to answer, wouldn’t want to embarrass you.” She ground her teeth absentmindedly. Her eyelids fluttered nervously.

“Where do I sit?”

“Wherever you want,” I suggested.

Dawn dropped heavily onto the couch opposite me, threw her shoes on the floor, and placed her bare feet theatrically on the coffee table between us. Her toes quivered, dancing to a hidden electrical current.

“Okay, Kaufman, I’m ready.”

I nodded.

She ground her teeth together again before speaking. “I wanted the session here because I feel more serious about it.” An awkward smile rippled across her face.

“What do you want to work on? Is there something you’re unhappy about?”

“You get right to the point, don’t you? Let’s talk about fat.”

“What about fat?”

“I can’t stand this any more,” she said, fingering the flesh around her waist. “I can’t stand the way I look.”

“What is it about your looks that upsets you?”

“I’m unattractive. Nobody gives me a second glance, except Noah, of course, and that’s like being desired by a leper. What a sh*tty way to be.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s like with Allen. We’ve been friends for years. He always tells me about his love-life problems with Tina or Lisa. I’m like his sister, and a go-between. He never once looked at me the way he looks at them.”

“And how do you feel about that?”

“f*cking miserable.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Then all I do is end up thinking.”

“What do you mean?”

“I keep thinking about when I wasn’t fat and when I wasn’t alone.”

“What about that time, Dawn?”

Her hands rubbed her thighs nervously. She kept wetting her lips. “Well, I might as well go through it. If I don’t do it here, I’ll do it when I leave. About two years ago, I met this boy, Jonathan. He was older than me, had great looks … something very special about him, at least I thought so. We went out several times. The petting got pretty heavy, I got scared, but he wanted to go further, to do everything. He said it would be all right. All I could remember is how much it hurt. He seemed cold afterwards, said I wasn’t very good at it. I couldn’t stop crying. I asked him to talk to me, but he just walked away. I know you’re going to think this is stupid, but I went to him the next day and told him I’d be better, that I’d read this book on how to make love. He smiled – boy, what a sucker I was for a smile – and said he’d give me another chance. I must’ve been out of my mind. Begging him to do it. Well, I lied to my mother that weekend so I could stay out until twelve. We parked along Shore Road. And,” she stopped. Her voice quivered. “And, he put on the inside dashboard light. I was too scared to ask him what he was doing. We both pulled down our pants and he pushed it into me. It hurt so much, I thought I’d go out of my mind. I tried to move up and down like the manual said, but he had me pinned against the steering wheel. I kept praying it would be over.” As Dawn talked, tears flowed down her cheeks. “He kept pushing against me. Finally … finally, he stopped. Suddenly, oh God, I realized there were faces pressed against the windows of the car … familiar faces!” She moaned. The cry erupted from some dark, hidden place. The blood drained from her face as she hyperventilated.

“Dawn, watch me,” I said, as I cupped my hands in front of my mouth. “Breathe into your hands, like this. Go ahead, it’ll help you catch your breath.” In a couple of seconds, she regained control of her breathing.

Crying, pounding her fist on the table, she continued. “You know what that bastard did? He had invited his friends to watch… that’s why he put the dash lights on. The rest is such a blur. I wanted to kill him. I wanted to kill myself.” Dawn stood up and leaned against the glass door. “Two days later, right in front of the school building, he tried to apologize. Do you believe that? It’s like saying, ‘Gee whiz, sweetheart, I’m sorry I cut your throat.’ So I kicked the bastard in the balls.”

“What about that experience disturbs you most right now?”

“I think …” She stopped herself, swallowing noisily. “Every time I think about it, I hate myself I got sucked in so easily. I’m so damn gullible.”

“Why is that disturbing?”

“I asked for it. Literally, I did. I even went back for more. That’s scary.”

“What’s scary about it?”

“Kind of proves the point, doesn’t it?” Dawn concluded.

“What point?”

“My mother’s always worrying about me like I’m an idiot, always reminding me. And she doesn’t know half of it. Oh, God, there’s got to be something terribly wrong with me.”

“Do you believe that?”

“How else could that have happened?”

“What do you think?”

“Anyone who’d let that happen to them can’t be all there. A screw is missing. Something’s out of whack.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t quite explain it,” she said, “but I scare myself.”

“How?”

“I keep going over that incident with Jonathan. No matter how I try, I can’t make it all right … like I’m sick or something.” Clasping her hands tightly over her eyes, she continued. “His f*cking smile. The dashboard lights. Those squashed faces against the window.” Suddenly clenched fists slammed on the table.

“Why are you so angry?”

“I hate them, I hate them, I hate them, I hate them, I… hate me.”

“Why, Dawn?”

Tears flooded her eyes. “Why didn’t I know? Why didn’t I see it coming?”

“What would your answer be?”

“Oh, no,” she yelled, waving her hand, “it’s a little too pat to say I was a dumb thirteen-year-old, naive and all that sh*t.”

“Why is it too pat?”

“Because there’s got to be something more, something wrong with me,” she insisted.

“Can you find that ‘something’?”

“No.”

“Then why do you believe it’s there?”

“I don’t have any reasons. I just do.”

“I don’t have any reasons. I just do.”

“Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? But I still feel unhappy about it.” She sighed.

“What are you afraid would happen if you weren’t unhappy about it?”

“Oh, Christ, maybe then I’d do it again, get taken again and again.”

“Why do you believe that?”

“I don’t know. I can’t ever forget how I felt, how I hate him.”

“What are you afraid would happen if you did?”

“It’s the same answer. Then it might happen again.”

“Are you saying by being unhappy or in pain, you somehow protect yourself from letting this happen again?”

“Yes,” she said, “if I let it be okay, then maybe I won’t be as careful as I should.”

“What are your reasons for believing that?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t.”

“Do you think you can be comfortable with yourself about what happened and still watch out for yourself?”

“I’m not sure.”

“You want to think about it?”

She closed her eyes and spoke in a whisper. “I guess I could be relaxed and still take care of myself. I know much more now, especially right now”‘ A faint smile creased her face. “It Is getting clearer and clearer. It’s just amazing!”

“What is?”

“To realize maybe I don’t have to be unhappy or angry and drive myself crazy to take care of myself. To know, when I took a look, there really wasn’t anything wrong with me. Really, that’s weird. I kind of feel free. It’s not scary any more.” She stretched like an infant just awakened, filling the room with a loud, throaty sigh. Her arms grabbed at the space around her, then fell completely relaxed by her sides. No fluttering eyelids. No quivering toes. “We sure moved a long way from where we started. What does all this have to do with my being fat?”

“What do you think?”

Dawn laughed.

Dawn laughed.

“Uh huh! I just realized I’ve been heavy for almost two years. I started gaining all the weight not too long after that night with Jonathan. I guess it connects, but I don’t know how. Can we go through it again?”

“Sure. What is it about being fat that makes you unhappy?”

“That I won’t be attractive.”

“And why would you be uncomfortable if you weren’t attractive?”

“Then boys won’t ask me out.”

“And how would you feel about that?”

“Awful. Because then I’d be alone. sh*t, we’ve come a full circle; we’re in the same place!”

“Are we? Before you said that when you were alone, you thought about the incident with Jonathan and how painful it was. Right now, if you were alone, would you still be thinking about it?”

“No. And if I did, the pain’s gone. It would be okay to be alone now.”

“Then if fat meant unattractive which meant being alone – and now being alone isn’t an unhappy place any more, would you be unhappy about being fat?”

“I guess I wouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean I want to be fat. I still want to be thin.”

“Sure, but there’s quite a difference between them. Being unhappy about being fat is trying to move away or run away from what you fear. Focusing, doing what you can to be thin, is moving toward what you want. Away versus toward.”

“I understand what you said, but as I listened, I realized I can’t really see myself thin.”

“Why not?”

“Maybe my metabolism has changed.”

“Do you believe that?”

“Not really.”

“What are you afraid would happen if you were thinner?”

“Nothing. Well, that’s not true … I mean I didn’t say the first answer which popped into my head. I was going to say prettier. But that’s stupid. Why would I be afraid of being prettier, especially since that’s what I’ve said I wanted all along?”

“What might be frightening about being prettier?”

“It’s crazy. I just saw myself thin – a lot of guys would start asking me out.”

“What about that would frighten you?”

“Oh, wow! The more invitations, the greater the risk of getting sucked in again.”

“Do you believe that?”

“No, not any more, not now.” Tears filled her eyes. “I see. I see. So Jonathan and my fat are very much connected. What a crazy way to protect myself”

“Crazy? I don’t think so. Painful – perhaps, Remember what I said to you that first time we talked? That we each do the best we can? Maybe now that becomes clearer. Your anger, your fat, represented the best way you knew how to take care of yourself.”

“I don’t want to do it that way any more,” she said. “I don’t need to do it that way any more. I feel so, so un … un-angry.”

The intensity of her smile energized the room. Her clarity dazzled me. Sometimes we dismiss the insights of a child or teenager because of his or her age, but whether we’re five, fifteen or fifty, we all know. To witness that ‘knowing’ come to life is an awesome experience.

“Dawn,” I said as she put her shoes on, preparing to leave, “you once said you didn’t think you could make it all right, that you were sick or ‘something’. Perhaps, from what you’ve discovered for yourself today, you can know there is nothing sick or unapproachable or unchangeable in any of us – not in you, not in me. Those are just beliefs, judgments; they’re only true as long as we believe they’re true.”

“Thanks for today,” she whispered.

“There’s no thank you due to me, not in the way you might mean it. Whatever happened for you today, you did. I could tap your shoulder to show you a sunset. If you were busy, you might just ignore it. But then, again, you might turn and be thrilled by a glorious sky. Well, what you did when you watched the sunset, you did for yourself. If you turned, you chose to turn. If your body tingled, if you felt joy, that’s how you responded to what you saw. All I did, all anyone can ever do, is tap you on the shoulder.”

Her eyes glowed. Her lips parted in slow motion, but emitted no sounds. She kept nodding her head. Very quietly, she left the hilltop house.

Entry in Dawn’s Diary, June 10

Can’t possibly describe my session with Bears yesterday. I feel so different, so high – higher than I ever felt on grass. Hope it lasts. Wanted to tell him at the very end of the session, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it. My voice disappeared. I knew it wouldn’t make a difference to him (I hope not), but I still wanted to say it. Maybe next time I’ll be ready. Funny how he’s always ready. Last night my mother did her usual hysterics bit. I did a really weird thing – a first! Instead of screaming back, I just felt like kissing her, which is exactly what I did. She looked at me flabbergasted (I think that’s how you spell it), then stormed out of my room. This morning, Noah stopped me in the hallway before my second class. You know, if you really try, you can find some clear skin between all those pimples. He kept asking me if anything was wrong because I treated him so nice. I pushed myself to watch Karen get off the bus this morning. I still have trouble looking at her. I think she has the same problem because she never looks at me either. Chris said Jill isn’t pregnant. Who cares!

Entry in Dawn’s Diary, June 14

Finally made up my mind about the hilltop house and called Kaufman today. Switched my sessions back to the park. He never asked why, but I wouldn’t have told him anyway. I think I say too much on the hill. Thought about Jonathan today, it’s weird to feel so different – finally!!! I let Noah kiss my nipples. He’s so darn serious that I couldn’t keep a straight face. When I kept laughing (it tickled), he said I blew his concentration. You’d think he was taking a test. Jill’s nauseous again, everybody – she’s a regular one girl soap opera. They invited those dancers back to our Humanities class. I couldn’t watch that girl, the one who was so special and terrific last time. Kept looking away. Told Mr. Jenko I felt sick, spent the rest of period with Tina and Chris in the lunch room.

Warm sunshine mixed with a cool northern wind. The trees arched, their limbs dancing in the breeze. Once again we came back to the park. Dawn gave no reasons for choosing to have her session here again, but I imagined she wanted to change gears, to slow the process down. It would be her way of making this work. So many of us rush to judgment; labeling what we see as resistance, regressions, steps backward. When we hike, then pause to rest or even backtrack to find our way again, the pause and the backtracking are integral aspects of the hike. Clearly, the pause is part of the movement.

My early arrival allowed me extra time to squat on the grass and face the hot sun with my eyes closed. Images of the parched, sun-baked face of Thomas Eagle Feather, an old Black Foot Indian I met in western New Mexico, surfaced beneath my lids. We hammered silver together in the shadow of a sacred Indian mountain. He talked of shaping his life to the flow of nature, orchestrating his movement in harmony with the elements. Eagle Feather would have applauded this moment.

Suddenly, a dark shape blocked the sun. I waited for it to pass, but it persisted in hovering over me. It felt natural for my eyes to open, but somehow they remained closed.

“Perfect. Don’t move, Kaufman. Your eyes, keep them shut,” Dawn said. “I like you squatted on the grass; it’s more natural than the bench though I do think you’re getting a pot belly. I want to tell you some things, but you can’t look at me. And don’t ask me why you can’t look at me.”

“I’m very comfortable with my eyes closed. So go ahead, I’m all yours.” From the rustling of her clothes, I knew she had sat opposite me on the grass. The familiar sound of grinding teeth reverberated in my ears.

“Last time,” she said, “I told you about Jonathan and me – remember?”

“Yes.”

“I watched you. You didn’t blink an eye. Well, I have some other things to say. First, five days before the incident with Jonathan, I gave Stephan Kelb a blow job – he said I was great. Second, I not only smoked pot, but I sniffed coke once. Third, I used to think about killing my mother with a kitchen knife. Fourth, I used to think about killing myself. Fifth, I think my father’s an assh*le. So is God.” Dawn paused, allowing for the reaction which never came. “Sixth, I once hit my younger sister with a stick from behind and told my parents she fell. Seventh, I called Maria Sanchez a spic. Eighth, I tell a lot of lies. Ninth, I … I. There is no ninth. I’ve told you enough. Well?”

“Well what?”

“What do you think?”

“You seem to be talented at making lists,” I observed.

“Come on, Kaufman, do your thing!”

“Oh, I thought that’s what I’ve been doing.”

“Bull … sitting here with your eyes closed while I vomit at the mouth. All you’ve been doing is listening.”

“Not just listening Dawn … accepting. Maybe that’s what you’ve been doing too.” My eyes opened. Dawn avoided my gaze, bowing her head slightly toward the ground. Then, in a jerking spastic movement, she snapped her head erect and smiled; a warm, open, infectious smile.

The remainder of the session focused on her relationship with her mother. She realized her anger stemmed from the fear her mother might be right. Working that through, she then questioned the nature of her mother’s love … anger as a statement of caring. Dawn concluded unhappy people act in unhappy ways, which says nothing about her mother’s loving her or wanting to love her more.

Entry in Dawn’s Diary, June 17

Hadn’t realized how much I’d changed, how differently I saw my mother, until last night. She wouldn’t quit, ranting and raving about my irresponsibility. I didn’t say a word. I just listened. She looked so sad, so miserable. When she finished, I asked her what about what I did made her so unhappy. I couldn’t believe my voice. It sounded like his. And I wasn’t playing a game, I was really there. Wow, she answered me – right off! I asked another question. We talked until four in the morning! She talked about her mother for the first time. She’d been an alcoholic who died in an institution before I was born. My mother cried. We cried together. It was the most beautiful night of my life.

We continued the dialogues in the park. From time to time, she tested my attitude with provocative statements, stretching her imagination to be as vulgar as possible. Sharp four-letter words appeared as little delicacies, sprinkled occasionally throughout her descriptions. But her belligerence had dissipated; the anger had almost disappeared.

In a discussion about Noah, the question of responsibility for someone else’s unhappiness arose. Could she make Noah unhappy? Reviewing the genesis of her own feelings with Jonathan and her mother and how she felt completely different when she changed her beliefs, Dawn reaffirmed that only she could make herself unhappy, thus only Noah had the power to make himself unhappy.

She mentioned a girl named Karen for the third time in two weeks. Dawn strained to soften her voice, almost successfully camouflaging her anxiety. Only once did her references to Karen generate a direct question, one which centered on her discomfort about avoiding her friend or former friend. She flatly refused to answer, choosing instead to redirect the dialogue.

Entry in Dawn’s Diary, Aug. 14

I keep trying to enjoy it with Noah. No luck. It scares me. Darleen pushes me to join her women’s group. Why me? Everyone started to notice the weight I’ve lost. Tina wouldn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t dieting – I could hardly believe it myself. And wouldn’t you know it – Allen, old platonic friend Allen actually asked me out. I told him he’s losing his marbles. He said I act differently now. We had a fight in the lunchroom. I accused him of being a chauvinist, into my ass and t*ts now that I’m thinner. He laughed in my face, said I looked just as huge as ever, said I’d have to lose a lot more than six pounds to get his vote for having an acceptable body. f*ck him! Funny, but I can now observe myself becoming unhappy – like I’m outside of my body. Yet so many of the old situations don’t bother me any more. My mother and I had such a fabulous weekend. She’s so different with me. I’m so different with her. And we’re both so different with my father. Even he’s changing. Angie and Chris asked me to their party on the 22nd. I had a great talk with Jill, but she’s so f*cked up about sex. Look who’s talking! Karen keeps slipping into my conversations with Bears. I look forward to the sessions. They really clean out my head … I mean (sorry, teach), I really clean out my head. He’s great, he let’s me pick it up and leave it anywhere I want. Maybe it’s time to go back to his little house on the hill.

 

The sliding glass door squeaked as she slid it open. Dawn smiled weakly, while remaining outside. I could hear her teeth grinding. She did that every time she was about to allow herself to make a new discovery. Without coming inside, she closed the door again, sat on the floor of the deck and stared at me through the window. Then she disappeared, only to return minutes later with flowers in her hand. Making a bold entrance into the room, she immediately grabbed my empty tea cup and used it as a vase. Dropping onto the couch opposite me, Dawn removed her shoes and whimsically placed her feet on the coffee table. An instant replay of our former meeting within these walls.

“Now to business,” she said. “I want to talk about Karen.”

“Okay, what about Karen?”

“It’s hard to begin,” she sighed. “Karen has always been my dearest, dearest friend. We used to go every place together … shopping, the library, the movies, the city. We could talk for hours and hours and hours. There’s nothing we couldn’t say to each other. I told her everything, even about Jonathan. We were real friends. Tina’s nice and so is Suzanne, but with Karen, it was special. And now I can’t look at her.”

“Why can’t you look at her?” I asked. Several minutes passed without a response. “Dawn, what are you feeling?”

“Very uncomfortable.”

“Why?”

“Because of what I am,” she hissed, her voice raspy.

“What do you mean?”

“This isn’t just anything, you know.” She eased herself off the couch and leaned against the window. Suddenly, she whipped around with clenched fists. I thought she was going to scream, but then, in a hushed tone, she said: “I’m a lesbian.”

“What do you mean?” I questioned.

“sh*t, Kaufman, you know damn well what I mean,” she shouted. “A dike. That’s what I am, a di ke, a homosexual, a lesbian!”

“Those are words, Dawn. They mean different things to different people. What do you mean when you call yourself a lesbian?”

“Well, I’m not talking about when two girls hold hands.” She paced the room nervously. “Three months ago my parents went to Chicago for the weekend. Rather than get shipped off to my aunt, they agreed to leave me home if Karen slept over. We stayed up talking till three in the morning. Then, we decided to swap backrubs. I did hers first. Then she did mine.” A long pause. Her breathing became labored, her throat tensed. “It felt so good, so damn good. Suddenly, I realized she had slipped her hands under me. When she touched my breasts, I thought I’d die. I didn’t move. She kept at it. One thing led to another. There we were, naked, hugging each other, touching each other – everywhere.” Blood flushed her face.

“Dawn, what is it about that experience that is so upsetting to you?”

“I don’t want to be a lesbian!”

“Then why do you believe you are?”

“Doesn’t that prove it? I slept with a girl,” she said, “not a guy.”

“If you smoked a joint or sniffed cocaine, as you once mentioned you did, does that make you a junkie?”

“No, of course not,” she declared.

“Okay, then if you are sexual with another girl, why would you call yourself a lesbian?”

Dawn sighed. “There’s more. When I watched a ballet company perform in school, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the lead dancer – and the lead dancer was female.”

“What do you think that meant?”

“That shows me I must really be gay.”

“How so?”

“It’s not natural to be attracted to women, to people of your own sex.”

“Why do you believe that?”

“Are you kidding? Because… because that’s I what I’ve been taught, that’s what everyone believes.”

“Sure,” I said, “someone taught it to you. And, perhaps, many others believe the same thing. But each of us would have our own reasons for believing it. So the question remains the same. Why do you believe it’s not natural to be attracted to women.

“You mean it is?”

“What do you think, coming from you?” I asked.

“I guess when I think about it, I don’t really believe it. Before this happened with Karen, I could watch Billie Jean King play for hours and enjoy looking at Gracie Slick wiggle her ass all over the stage. Then, it seemed okay.”

“What’s the difference now?”

“I know something about myself that I never knew,” she said.

“Which is?”

“That it’s in me, the lesbian thing. And what about Noah? I let him touch me and rub me and kiss me. I wanted to love it, but nothing happened.”

“What do you mean?”

“I didn’t get excited. I do much better masturbating.”

“Why do you think you don’t get excited?”

“Because I’m not into guys?”

“Is that a question or an answer?”

“Both, I guess. I don’t know,” she said, “if I’m into men any more.”

“Why don’t you use Noah for an example, since he’s the one that doesn’t excite you?”

“Oh, this is stupid, the whole discussion. Noah’s a lousy example. He’s kind of a nice slob, but I’m not into him, his head or his body. It’s so uncomfortable.”

“What is?”

“To try to turn yourself on to someone who doesn’t interest you.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

A smile momentarily surfaced on her face. “That’s a good question, Kaufman. If I made it with Noah, it would change what happened with Karen.”

“How?”

“Well, it would show me that men do excite me. But look what happened, I can’t get turned on by a man.”

“Why do you believe if Noah doesn’t turn you on, then no man can turn you on?”

“I guess that really wouldn’t follow, Maybe if Greg or David asked me out, it would be different.”

“So are you saying it doesn’t mean that?”

“Yes. It doesn’t follow. I could still like other boys and not be excited by Noah. But that doesn’t erase what happened. That doesn’t un-make me a lesbian.”

“How do you feel when you call yourself a lesbian?”

“sh*tty. Unhappy.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want it this way,” she said.

“Not wanting something to be a certain way is very different from being unhappy about the way it is. What are you afraid would happen if you weren’t unhappy about what you and Karen did?”

“Then we might do it again.”

“Oh, are you saying by being unhappy, you’ll make sure you won’t do it again?”

“Yes. Starts to sound silly after a while, doesn’t it?”

“Let’s follow it through. Why do you believe you have to get unhappy to prevent yourself from doing what you don’t want to?”

“I don’t believe that,” she sighed. “But I guess I did when I said it. It’s the same thing I did with the experience with Jonathan. Drove myself crazy, so I’d take care of myself. I certainly don’t have to do that.” Dawn nodded her head. “It’s getting clearer, but I’m still confused.”

“Okay. What are you confused about?”

“Why I did it?”

“Can you answer that?”

“No, not really,” she said. “No more than I can answer why Janis and I used to play doctor and feel each other up when we were seven. No deep, dark reasons. I guess we were exploring.”

“Why is this different?”

“Because I’m older.”

“And why would that make it different?”

“It wouldn’t, I guess. Maybe it’s just the word. Lesbian. It’s like calling it bad.”

“Why would you do that?”

“It’s the whole thing again. If it’s bad, it means: don’t do it! But deep down, I don’t think what Karen and I did was bad.” She nodded her head and smiled broadly. “I can’t believe I said that. What we did wasn’t bad.” Her eyes glazed over. “I thought if I admitted that, it would confirm I wanted to be with women. But it doesn’t. Even after the experience with Jonathan, I’d like to still try to be with a boy. Not to prove anything, like with Noah, but just to relax and give myself a chance.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Remember when I realized there was nothing wrong with me… that’s how I feel. Freed. I want to see Karen and tell her I’m no longer afraid to be her friend. I missed her. Don’t ask me why, but I really feel happy.”

I put my hands up in a surrender gesture and smiled.

“Kaufman,” she said, “I think I’m done. I mean finished. I don’t know how to say it. I feel clear, happy. For the first time in my life, I trust me. What do you think?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I want to know if you agree with me.”

“Will it matter whether I do or don’t?”

She began to laugh. “No, not really. Do you have to talk to my mother first?”

“Do you want me to?”

“No, I don’t think it’s necessary. Right to the end, huh, Kaufman. Having me make all the decisions.”

“You always decided anyway. Only now you’re happier and more trusting of yourself in making those decisions.”

She inhaled a deep breath and stretched her arms above her head.

“Well, since there’s no diploma, how does it end, I mean, how do I leave?” she asked.

“It’s customary to leave through the door,” I volunteered.

Dawn’s laughter ignited mine. We stood there like two little kids, shaking our heads at each other.

“Okay,” she said, “but I won’t say goodbye,” She squeezed my hand tightly and left.

To face Dawn for the first time after two years was an exhilarating experience. Everything about her sparkled. Her thin statuesque body accented her considerable height. Her eyes danced merrily.

“I never forgot anything,” Dawn declared. “I wanted you to know that; it all really stuck with me.”

“I can see that in your eyes,” I said.

“Thanks for tapping me on the shoulder,” she whispered. We both laughed.

“Now I know why there was a traffic jam here today.”

Her group of friends, waiting impatiently for her on the sidewalk, suddenly became very vocal. They called to her. Dawn motioned for them to join her. As they approached, a young man took her arm with obvious affection. “I’d like you all to meet – to meet Bears,” she said as she winked. Then Dawn introduced Jesse, her boyfriend, Cal and Ted.

The girl beside Ted smiled warmly at me. Her eyes seemed moist. She glanced at Dawn, then shook my hand. “I’m Karen. It’s very special for me to meet you.”

“For me, too, Karen,” I said.

“We really got to go,” Jesse insisted. “Nice meeting you.” We exchanged good byes. Though the group moved toward the sidewalk, Dawn lingered another moment.

“Karen and I use your book all the time. I even got Jesse reading it. He’s really a beautiful person.” Her lips parted to form a word, but she hesitated, frozen in the midst of her thought. Then she released herself. “I have something I want to send you.”

Jesse shouted for her in the distance.

“Hey, thanks for sharing these couple of minutes with me,” I said.

She squeezed my hand and left. I watched her walk briskly with her friends. In an uncharacteristic gesture, she looked back and waved to me. I also waved, but my focus was rudely interrupted by blaring horns. The road had been cleared and the cars had started moving. I slipped off the fender, prepared to continue my journey into the village.

A week later I received a small package from Dawn, a very special gift. It contained copies of all the entries made in her diary during the time we talked together.

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