My father encouraged me to go to law school. I’d have to get to the point. I’d learn to think in outlines. I’d sit in lectures and imagine what my professors were like at home, if they had sex with their husbands or wives, or with hookers. Toothless old hookers with bunions. With six-fingered hands. I’d extrapolate and pray I didn’t get called on.
On Friday nights, when my classmates were at The Leg Room on Division Street clinking cheers with vodka sodas and discussing prima facie cases, readying for the Torts final, I was creating their fake bios. Adam wasn’t a law student. He was a gay porn star with a wife in Tallahassee. It was why he was so tan in Chicago mid-winter. They had twelve kids, and he refused to pay child support.
And Judy, the peppy blond from Memphis, didn’t want to be a litigator. She’d become a famous pastry chef to the stars. I saw her in an apron icing cupcakes with pink and purple frosting. Adding nonpareils in the shapes of hearts and flowers.
In college, I was an English major, wrote Features articles for the GW Hatchet and helped edit the school literary magazine. It wasn’t uncommon for me to read a novel in a day. Or have a Kenneth Branagh film festival in bed. I wrote my first one-act play about a girl who did too much cocaine. She was a composite character.
In high school, my summer job was editorial intern for an environmental magazine. While my friends were busy lifeguarding or babysitting to earn cash for beer, I was writing my first published article, Confessions of a Teenage Vegetarian. My father used to tease that beer was made with beef.
When I consider the little girl who started that habit, that weird, insatiable, crazy-making habit of typing letters in the sky and recreating peoples’ lives, I see myself in the basement of the old brown house my grandfather built in Oak Brook, Illinois having conversations with a doll. A life-size toddler doll named Mikey. He had white horse hair and a soft body. He looked so real. I would cradle him, stare into its beautiful plastic brown eyes, and ask him if he wanted to hear a story. He always did.
My adoration for Mikey worried my mother. My sisters had had each other. She felt sorry for me, being the youngest and always alone. She would bribe them with shopping sprees to play Barbies and board games with me and pretend they were having fun.
But I never felt lonesome. I had a captivated audience. Mikey never interrupted or talked over me. He didn’t order me to shut up. With him, I felt free.
After dinner, Dad would retreat to his den where he’d watch the Bears game or an action movie or yell at people on the phone. I’d often eavesdrop from the stairs and hear words like shit, bitch and motherfucker, but I wasn’t afraid. Dangerous words were thrilling.
At bedtime, Mom would stack the pillows and rest her head beside mine, and we’d read novels out loud. She’d read a page, and then I’d read a page. The next day, I’d tell Mikey all about it, ad lib, and change the endings. I’d add words like motherfucker.
My parents recently put the house up for sale and asked me to clean out the basement. It still smelled like the housekeeper’s unfiltered cigarettes. I dug through bins full of non-biodegradable toys, children’s books and baby clothes, where I found Mikey, boxed up and concealed. Just then I felt sad and vacant, like I owed him a story.