JoAnna Novak

Assignment 1: Life and Death

I come alive when I see a rack of clothing. I love, really love shoes. I'm not your average twenty year old. I'm not organized like my sister, and I'm not studying architecture. I am taking a break from school right now. I have never met Christian Louboutin but Karl Lagerfield admires me. I am not ashamed to tell you I never wear clothes around the house. I am not ashamed to tell you I used to worry about spiders creeping into my mouth when I slept. I am not ashamed to talk about my learning disability. Leonard, my bodyguard, makes me giddy when I think about him alone. I avoid commenting on my love life, though I will remember the photos. Because I believe that if you can see it, you can believe it. Believe in my sporadic interest in sporting events, basketball and tennis. Never baseball, hockey, or football. I have never been stung by a bee. I dyed my hair dark brown for high school graduation. I consider my past-self with disbelief. When it rains, I miss my father and being thirteen. My therapist told me that a dog would help me take care of myself. She told me having an animal depend on me would provide a model; I would be happy to model in Karl's spring ad campaign. I have perfect vision, many vintage dresses, and a baby blue espresso maker from Italy.
      If I come alive when I see a rack of clothing, am I dead the rest of the time? Someone tells me that I love, really love shoes, will that influence my relationship with the man I will marry? Will we both love, really love shoes? Will we have better sex than other couples because of the shoes? Will we start conventionally—me in a pair of Christian Louboutin black leather slingbacks, four inch heels and peep toe? Red soles pointing to the ceiling, will I sit on a dark cherry desk in his den with my legs spread into a V? Will old flip-flops turn me on? If my looks go, will I to go back to school? Because I don't know a thing about flying buttresses or the Duomo, will my house collapse? After the catastrophe, will I be forced to buy t-shirts in packages of three or five, rescue my shoes from the rubble? Will I wear men's button-downs for the rest of my life because they remind me of my father? Will I be able to remember the color of his eyes, the way he took his coffee, what he told me as we rode in a limousine to my high school graduation?
      My father taught my sister and I how to think smart, think sharp before we'd lost all our baby teeth. Except for when he played tennis, he always wore a button-down. I used to marvel over the fact that one of his eyes is green and the other is blue; I never could remember which was which. He took his coffee with two sugars and plenty of milk. In the back of the limousine, I swear he told me he loved me more than my sister. Throughout our childhood, he'd insisted he could never choose. He had no favorites. My mother picked happily, easily. The furniture in our house changed with the season. She bought my sister and I perfect, slim noses for our fifteenth birthday. She could say yes and make decisions like a yes-man executive. Yes, we'll spend the summer in Italy. Yes, the girls will get new ponies. Yes, the new Blahnik stilettos, a pair in each color. Yes, Ashley. My father told me, Mary-Kate, you are my favorite. He looked me in my baby blue eyes and told me, little girl, little girl I come alive when I see you.

Assignment 2: On Crying

Mary-Kate never cries in restaurants, cafés, or clubs. Since diapers, crying worked like an easily-reached switch. On and off, not now but later. When she begins crying during an Adam Sandler movie, she thinks: I've been crying like a light switch for twenty years. Now, she tells Leonard she's getting really old. To look at him, Mary-Kate must tip her head back. She's feels a strain beneath her chin, a stretch of the throat. Leonard, who dwarfs her five feet by a foot and a half, just shakes his head and laughs. Upon further insistence, he says always, aw no, no, no. During this particular movie, her crying begins when she considers Leonard standing at the back of the theater. Her therapist told her to talk about her concerns but other girls don't listen so Leonard hears the brunt of her burdens. Her sister calls from New York and the phone ices everything. Mary-Kate listens about her sister's boyfriend—he's thirty, owns a restaurant, a club; she bites her tongue when the spotlight shifts to her own life.
      If she's at her apartment, sometimes she lets herself tear up. In the movie theater, she laughs before she cries when Adam Sandler instructs the audience: family first. At first, she swallows the sound, but then her body is caught by the force, and she doesn't usually mind a good cry during a movie but she can't find anyone else this worked up and what a baby crying now, here. Leonard doesn't follow her as she rushes up the aisle and out the doors. She mouths bathroom, even though he'll stay still without it. In the light of the corridor, she feels the air conditioning trapped on her skin: Goosebumps prickle her arms, even beneath a black cashmere cardigan. Her cardigan is unbuttoned, so she pulls it taut around herself and heads towards the restrooms, staring at her feet. Her toenails are painted red and the color has chipped off. She only needs to go around one corner. Even in the middle of the afternoon, plenty of people fill the hallways and she is thankful when she arrives at the bathroom without being asked for an autograph or a picture. Maybe no one even said her name. No one ever said her name. In the bathroom, a row of stalls stretches on for what seems like the length of a swimming pool. She heads to the end, always opts for the handicapped cushiness when she can do so discreetly. Her reflection blurs the way iodine changes an onion: I am wearing pale blue sateen shorts. I am wearing a white camisole made from the softest cotton. I swim in my black cardigan. Inside the stall, walls gleam gray. From its perch, a secret camera watches me cry. Leonard is thirty-five. When I was a child, I crept into the walk-in closet in our parent's bedroom. I huddled in the corner with my sister and told secrets, protected by the fort of our mother's Ferragamo pumps and Tod's loafers. If the house was chilly, we brought a giant satiny comforter with us, so light the tag read Canadian Cloud.

Assignment 3: On Travel

Leonard swears driving is the best way to get anywhere. When I go to New York, I get new bodyguards because he doesn't like to fly. For flying, I never wear great clothes. Last week, I traveled in straight black jeans and a Rolling Stones t-shirt. This t-shirt feels like silken tissue paper. On my body, it's like the ghost of a cat. I never wear a bra because I'm less than an A so I feel the shirt skimming my nipples. On a plane, I need to cross my legs. I have never had sex on a plane but I've masturbated consistently for the past two years. I fly first class and make sure no one is seated next to me. I drink diet Coke already mixed with 10 Cane rum and, underneath a cashmere blanket that I bring on board, I unzip my jeans or slip my fingers beneath the waistband of straight-leg sweat pants. I come quietly and no one needs to know. I have never had an orgasm with a man. When the plane moves through clouds, I keep the view from the window with me. The commissures in the clouds mimic the commissure of my lips.
      Creeping around in myself blacks everything out. I imagine strangers on their knees. I imagine myself pinned like a bug, tortured by thousands of lapping tongues. By the time I'm done with my drink, I'm wearing a schoolgirl uniform, alone in a bedroom. There are actually eight beds on one side and eight on the other, with an aisle down the middle. My school was nothing like this. Our uniforms were sharp-elbowed blazers with gold crests. In the bed-laden bedroom, I am alone in the plaid jumper. The peter-pan collar peeks. It's a short sleeved blouse, and I am looking at myself in a full length mirror when a girl steps out towards me. She tiptoes out of the mirror. No one needs to know. Her hair sways long and brown, hitting her butt. I will never be a punk, but tight leather pants encase toothpick legs well. She wears a faded and holey wifebeater with nothing underneath and her large breasts swell. I keep all my clothes on and caress through her shirt. Her ears droop with piercings and her eyes fall over and over from the weight of black liner. Her throat tilts and I open mouth kiss her. I'm practicing serious restraint. I could come any time, but I wait until the girl has pushed me onto one of the beds. We are naked on white sheets. She says my name and I dissolve. I am gone, watching her, and she's wishing me back. She screams my name again and again—come back—out of luck, and she begins to cry. Then I come. I feel myself tripping. My eyes squeeze shut. I get up to go to the bathroom, making sure my shirt covers my fly.
      I have never masturbated in a car. Leonard and I drive around, though, and the thing about traffic is you can never predict how you'll feel in the midst of it. A traffic jam might have you lazing or it could have you raging. I love that Leonard knows what I mean. I love that we are diplomatic about music. When I drive, I choose. When he drives, he chooses. None of my friends would approve of this and neither would my parents or sister. Leonard says he's never heard of such a thing, either. He knows other bodyguards just like I know other movie kids.
      "Did you want to be a bodyguard when you were a kid?" I ask. We are driving to a salon. I am coloring my hair. For fall, I will be a different girl, though New York and California seasons pretty much negate each other. As soon as I say the words, I feel dumb. Leonard keeps his eyes straight ahead. Today we are both dressed in all black but we didn't plan it. Sometimes cycles line up. When I lived at home and got my period, my mom and sister suffered too. The traffic light turns red, and he brakes so evenly that I barely feel the stop.

Assignment 4: Your Ideal Family Situation

My parents live together but separate. Their house contains a wing for each of them. They are aboard a fantastic bird. Imagine, a divided marble staircase, tongue stuttering serpentine beneath a clacked beak. Imagine feathers the cerulean shimmer of our pool. Imagine a construction lightweight, aerodynamic, transportable, and capable of ruffling. My parents cling like tiny bugs to the house, grasping at those feathers that happen to stick up.
      In pictures, they hold hands and smile, or, at least my mother smiles, and holds my father's hand. My father hates to have his picture taken. He doesn't mind contact with my mother—they say I love you every day—but capturing the moment on film doesn't sit well with him. On his bad days, he worries those pictures will ruin things for my sister and I, that a happy family just won't cut it. For that reason, he's been the worst kind of parent and the best kind of parent: kicking us out of the nest, while still throwing up at feeding time.
      They're not divorced, but I spend some weekends with my father and some weekends with my mother. I will always keep these visits for myself. My sister goes with one parent and I go with the other. It isn't that I don't love my sister, but I like all the attention. Coach says that I need to become more comfortable with self-expression. I am not ashamed to say that I want all the attention. I do want all the attention.
      In fact, I need all the attention. With my mother, this attention would not be much different with my sister present. My mother would still flutter from one cloud to another, now shop now lunch (the verb) now sun (the verb) now this now that. Both verbs. She is a women with concerns, opinions, and, she feels, certain rights. Convictions. With my mother, I need all of the part of the whole she can give me.
      When I am my father's daughter, though, I am the only thing in the world. I know because he told me so. During our weekends together, we watch movies on the television set in the kitchen. We sit on stools and snack on cucumber sandwiches. We drink vodka martinis on the rocks with lime. After two, we eat some olives. My father knows my deepest, darkest secrets. The olives can never be stuffed with blue cheese but I'll sneak one filled with a bit of garlic. I keep my journals in the middle drawer of the nightstand. He knows that even though I live alone, I always cover the journals with my laciest bras and most ruffled panties, frilly pieces so exotic I've never worn them; so tropical that, if I ever did wear them, I'd feel like a bird of paradise. I feel like a bird of paradise in my father's eyes, his tropical swirl eyes, one as blue as our pool and one as green as a bamboo plant, eyes like perfect globes. His eyes show me his world and it is just me, only me, and I swear I heard the words fall right from his mouth.



Happy 21st Birthday.