Archive for August, 2008

They made a movie in my town

August 18, 2008

Early in Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer, Binx Bolling describes a chance meeting he has with William Holden. Nothing particularly interesting happens during the encounter, but Binx walks away feeling like his life is somehow more real than it was before. Padadoxically, crossing paths with a movie star validates his existence in a way that years of living with his family and friends could not.

I experienced a number similar moments while watching American Teen, a documentary about high school life that was shot in Warsaw, Indiana, the town I’ve lived in for the past 15 years. I don’t know any of the main subjects in the film and I didn’t even go to Warsaw High School (I was homeschooled), but I recognized nearly all of the locations used in the film. Seeing the park where I like to read and jog projected on a movie theater screen was a surreal feeling; I also drove home from the theater on some of the same roads used in the movie.

Like Walker Percy’s narrator, there’s no logical reason for me to feel more important or recognizable simply because my hometown was the anonymous setting for an indie documentary. But for whatever reason, I do.

What I mean by “anonymous setting” is that, in the overall scope of the film, where it takes place is not especially important. Director Nanette Burstein could have chosen to shoot her movie in any small Midwestern city and ended up with more or less the same film. That, of course, is a large part of American Teen’s appeal; you feel like this could have been your high school.

At least, that’s the impression I’ve gleaned from other reviews I’ve read. The only time I’ve really spent inside Warsaw High School was when I took the SATs there.

American Teen centers on 4 students going through their senior year of high school: free-spirited artsy girl Hannah; funny, likable basketball star Colin; popular Megan; and socially awkward band geek Jake. (If you’re reading this and don’t know me, imagine Jake without band and you’ll have a pretty good idea of my personality.)

Hannah, who reminds me of Julia Stiles, lives with her grandmother because her father has a job in Ohio and her manic-depressive mother isn’t equipped to raise a daughter. She hates “conservative, Christian, red-state all the way” Warsaw. Her dream is to go to film school in California and then to make movies that will change people’s lives. I haven’t asked him specifically, but I’m pretty sure my brother, who just got back from a year in Chile and now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, would echo a lot of Hannah’s sentiments. And while I’m probably even more “indie” than he is, I’ve never felt the same drive to escape and see the world. A large part of the explanation for this difference lies with my best friend, Netflix.

Hannah’s best friend in Warsaw is Clarke, a quiet, supportive guy who wears knit hats. (You really don’t learn much more about him than that.) When her long-term boyfriend breaks up with her, Clarke is the first person she tells. Other than Jake, Clarke is the character I identified with best.

Colin’s dad, Gordy, is an Elvis impersonator. One of the movie’s best scenes shows him entertaining at a senior citizens’ center while Colin looks on. (Coincidentally, my mom briefly worked with Gordy.) The only way Colin will be able to go to college is if he gets a basketball scholarship; as his father repeatedly reminds him, it’s either a scholarship or the army. His segments feel like watching highlights from Hoosiers if Gene Hackman was a minor character.

Megan is, essentially, a Plastic (the generic popular clique from Mean Girls): Rich and popular, seemingly a part of every afterschool program, immature, able to get away with whatever she wants to, and a bitch. (The guy in the row in front of me said so out loud.) She has friends she abuses repeatedly, forwards a topless photo of a girl whom her male friend Geoff likes to the entire school, vandalizes a student council member’s window, and never shows remorse beyond the “I’m sorry if you feel that way” type. When Geoff starts dating Megan’s best friend Alli, she becomes jealous that they’re leaving her out and slaps him.

Jake’s only social clique is the school marching band. Other than that, he is either ignored or picked on at school. He spends his free time playing video games and wishing he wasn’t so lonely. Jake also has a rather impressive “stuffed animal” collection, i.e., taxidermied animals populate his walls and desk.

In his one-on-one interviews, Jake is well aware of how awkward he is, and also of how powerless he is to change his standing at the school; to me, he came across as the most reflective and self-aware, as well as the funniest, of the four students. His social shortcomings, though, do not stop him from asking out every new girl he gets a crush on. The results are alternately heartwarming and painful.

Chances are you’ll see yourself in at least one of the American Teens in the movie. Indeed, They were selected for just that purpose. Paradoxically, the universality of the characters is both the strength and weakness of American Teen. They are instantly relatable and generally likable, but in the end, and they all feel so normal and familiar that none of them are especially unique or memorable. I suppose, though, that that’s the point: Burstein succeeds in making her subjects so real that they don’t feel like characters in a movie.

It’s probably because I watch too many movies and read too many novels, but sometimes real people are a little boring to me.


The Resurrection Machine

August 3, 2008

David Merton was a cliff-jumper. He started four years ago, and since then, there had been only a handful of months when he did not make a jump. The wind was often strong enough for him to lean into it like an ephemeral mattress; he needed a running start on those jumps to ensure he would clear the rocks. The complications of landing short were obvious.

His first jump had been the most frightening. He was nauseous the entire morning, but as soon as he was knifing through the air, all the fear and apprehension in his body was crowded out by exhilaration. He had found his hobby.

His jumping partner was his son, Rick. He had not been able to watch his father’s first descent, but once he saw that everything worked flawlessly, he could not wait until the next weekend, when it would be his turn to jump and David’s to drive.

David approached the edge of the cliff and looked down. He had been born with a fear of heights–though he had preferred to call it a “healthy respect”–but cliff-jumping had so conquered his fear that he could not even remember how it had once felt. His pulse did not even quicken until he was in the air.

He waved to his son at the bottom of the cliff and gave him the “good to go” sign. He waited until Rick backed the truck away to a safe distance before he got into his jump position. He had chosen this cliff because one corner of the summit had an overhang that allowed him to jump backwards; actually, it was more of a fall than a jump. The swirling winds beneath the overhang created a strong updraft about thirty feet into the jump. Though of course it did not slow him down, David swore he could feel the air trying to push him back. Free-falling through an air current was one of the most peaceful sensations he had ever experienced.

On the ground, Rick watched his father fall. He was still surprised by how fast it seemed from the bottom. When he did a night jump, he felt like he could count the stars in those three-odd seconds before impact. Watching from the ground, though, the whole event was over in less time than it took to sneeze. He had missed seeing some of his father’s landings because of his allergies.

Rick pulled up to the impact zone, put on his elbow-length rubber gloves, and picked up the pieces of his father. This landing had not been especially violent, he noticed, and the splatter zone was not as wide as it usually was. He actually broke apart some of the larger pieces to make them easier to carry.

Once the load of his father was secured in its container in the back of the truck, he started the engine and drove back to the highway. The nearest hospital was thirty miles away. Sometimes he still wondered what this drive was like for his father, but the conjecture never lasted long, because of course he knew firsthand what it was like.

Hospitals became much smaller after the implementation of the Osiris process. Where before they housed labyrinthine corridors manned by squads of medication-wielding doctors and nurses, as well as radiology departments, operating theaters, diagnostic labs, and morgues, there were now usually four or five identical rooms, each equipped with a resurrection machine. Hospitals in densely populated areas housed more machines, because even though medical care was no longer urgent, friends and families were still anxious to be reunited.

Rick Merton parked the truck, pulled out the ramp in the back, and wheeled the container filled with his father’s remains into the reception area. He yawned as he came up to the desk. “Any rooms available?” he asked.

“Hi, Rick. Three and four just opened up,” the intake nurse answered. “Take either one. The usual?”


The most difficult part of the process was removing the remains from their container and placing them inside the resurrection machine. Not only was it tiring work to move two-hundred-odd pounds of person from one place to another, but if the person had been dead for any significant length of time, the smell could be overpowering. Some of the better hospitals employed grunts–former orderlies and nurses, mostly–to do the work for you, but here, Rick had to unload his father on his own. Ambulances were maintained as transport vehicles. After double-checking that the transportation container was empty, Rick signaled to the Osiris tech to begin.

The opaque glass doors slid closed, and the numerous machines involved in the process rumbled into action. Rick left a set of clothes on the floor for his father. The first machines typically took an hour to complete the process, and even longer when the decomposition was advanced, but now the process had been so refined and streamlined that it rarely lasted longer than ten minutes. Rick read an adventuring magazine in the reception room while he waited.

“Ready to go, son?”

David Merton was standing in front of Rick, showing no effects from his recent massive full-body trauma. He had set his resurrection age at forty-five, which made him appear to be only ten years older than his son. The transformation had upset Rick the first time he saw it, but now he could barely remember the age difference between them; the Osiris process reduced a person’s age to an aesthetic choice.

“Yeah, Dad. How was the jump?

“It was fine. You know, though, it’s almost gotten to where I don’t feel it anymore. I guess you can only fall through the air and splatter yourself on the ground so many times before it gets boring. I still like doing it, I guess, but it’s not the same. It’s hard to remember how the danger felt the first few times.”

“I’ve thought the same thing. Maybe we could try something new.”

“Any suggestions?”

“Well, while I was waiting, I read a story about skydiving. It sounded like it could be fun.”

“Just sounds like more falling to me. Any other ideas?”

“I don’t know. I’ll try and think of something, though.”

“Well, we should head home for dinner. Are you eating with us tonight?”

“Sure, Dad.”

“Glad to hear it. Mary will like that.”

“You know what Mom’s making?”

“No, I don’t. I guess it’ll be a surprise.”


The architects of the Osiris process had initially proclaimed that access to the program should be universal and unrestricted; they were pure scientists, brilliant in their own way but short-sighted regarding the implications of their discovery. It was soon realized that, from a sociological point of view, universal perpetual resurrection was an impracticable doctrine. The resources of society simply could not tolerate an ever-increasing population. The questions then became what situations and transgressions warranted lasting death, and whose responsibility it should be to decide. When death as a finality became a human determination, the Department of Mortality was created to determine and enforce the criteria by which a person could be rendered ineligible for resurrection


Naturally, no one was exempt from the Department’s jurisdiction. In order for their decisions to be meaningful, they had to be absolute. Initially, some objected to the Department’s power, saying that the keys of death were meant to be held by God alone. Strictly speaking, these objections were never refuted. The necessity of the Department’s mission simply overpowered them. {}{}{}

Lydia Cortez walked out of her hearing. Though of course she had allowed herself to hope, the ruling did not surprise her. Ever since the advent of the Osiris process, only the best and most famous doctors had been able to maintain productive employment; where previously a hospital might employ a hundred or more doctors, now only a handful were needed to run and maintain the resurrection machines. Although doctors in the less-visible fields, such as radiology and pathology, were theoretically better qualified for Osiris training because their expertise already lay in manipulating machines, the coveted resurrection technician positions invariably went to high-profile surgeons and experienced emergency room doctors. The Department of Mortality had decided that was how it would parcel out the positions.

Lydia was forty years old. It was likely that she still had more than half her life to live, but when a life span could easily become synonymous with eternity, her remaining decades felt like little more than the smoke trail from an extinguished candle. It was fortunate that she had put away so much money for her retirement before the announcement of the Osiris process; it would be enough for her to live on until her death. She had no societally-valuable skills–she would not have been denied resurrection rights if she did–and it was nearly impossible for a branded person to find anything but the most degrading and insufficient employment. The brand was actually a microchip implanted in the forehead, coincidentally in the same location as the Hindu third eye. Though invisible to the naked eye, a body scan–standard practice in any interview–would detect it at once. Additionally, the brand was designed to neutralize the effects of the Osiris process, a safeguard against the possibility that a branded person could try to force their way into a hospital.

Even the tourism industry had been affected by Osiris. Since the urgency of only having time to visit the most famous destinations had been abolished, every place under the sun was now a vacation spot. Indeed, many people had stated intentions of visiting every country on earth, often in alphabetical order. Similar claims had been laid in the realms of literature, films, and music. Lydia had always enjoyed traveling and said she would explore more extensively when she had the time. Paradoxically, now that she had all the time in the world, it was swiftly slipping away from her forever.

It was decided: Lydia Cortez would become a world traveler, and her mission was to experience as much as she could before she died. The certain knowledge that she would not see everything did not discourage her–on the contrary, it cast the entire proposition in a refreshingly absurd light. Her life would now be a race without an opponent, in which the finish line followed her wherever she went. The prize was the scenery.

The terminal nature of her pursuit dictated that she move in a downward slope–that is, by visiting first the places that interested her most–because although statistics indicated she had forty years or more to explore the globe, there was the ever-present possibility that her plane would crash, or she would be sacrificed by primitives, or she would take a wrong turn and be mugged and brutalized in a back alley of some nameless neighborhood or barrio or favela, and it would all be over. This, she realized happily, was danger.

If she traveled at the pace she was now contemplating, Lydia would exhaust her savings well before her theoretical forty years were over. Even this eventuality did not deter her from her plan, however. Once she had spent all of her money, she would find the highest point she could–be it a bridge or a skyscraper or a cliff–and jump. She was going to die anyway, she reasoned, so why drag out her life after it stopped being enjoyable?

The only problem that concerned her was where she should go first. She had always enjoyed tropical beaches, but she had been to so many already that the next one she visited would feel familiar as soon as she arrived. Beautiful and relaxing, certainly, but still familiar. Lydia needed the first experience of her new life to be exhilarating. She thought she should climb a mountain.


The Department of Mortality revised its list of irredeemable offenses on a weekly basis. It was not an ever-expanding list: crimes that had been on the list for months might disappear suddenly. The stress of their responsibility sometimes led them into rash decisions, and the scope of their jurisdiction meant that it could take months before they had an opportunity to revisit them. Branding, however, was irrevocable; people who had been condemned a year ago might have gone free if their hearing had come up later. The Department refused to repeal brandings on the grounds that it would make population control chaotic.

At the inception of the Department, there had been outcries that their rule would become tyrannical. The argument ran that absolute population control would devolve into eugenics, with the Department passing laws to condemn its enemies whenever any opposition was raised. The Department never abused its power in this way, and their responsibilities were so wide-ranging that a targeted extermination agenda would have been impossible to execute.

Of course, crimes were not the only reason someone could be branded. In fact, a minority of hearings dealt with actual transgressions; far more numerous were the cases of individuals with obsolete jobs and skills being forced to argue for the perpetuation of their lives. Their arguments were pitiful and hardly ever dramatic. A hearing summons was commonly regarded as a death sentence.

The suicide rate among the branded would have been shocking at any time before the Osiris era. Technically speaking, incidents of suicide by those with access to the resurrection machines were far more prevalent; for them, though, it was merely a new form of recreation. Dueling enjoyed a renaissance, as did stunts involving wild animals and heavy machinery. With the consequences of failure removed, death-defying became a new international pastime.




Dean Wilton’s wife died when he was thirty years old. He and his colleagues introduced the Osiris process to the world when he was thirty-five. He was now thirty-seven, and he had not been seen going on a date in the last seven years. For him, completing the project successfully had been as much a matter of personal desperation as scientific inquiry. When most of the other creators sold their stake in Osiris and retired for a time to enjoy their wealth and fame, Wilton stayed on to direct the project. Though the defining breakthroughs had been achieved, there were numerous improvements and refinements that required continued attention.

At least, that was the explanation he gave at press conferences and in interviews. He worked late every night, often for an hour or two after all of his colleagues had left the Osiris compound and gone home. When he finished his day’s work, though, he did not leave the compound. During the intense final weeks and months of the project, most of the Osiris scientists converted a corner of their office into a bedroom, or even a miniature apartment. Wilton was the only one who had never taken his bed out of his office.

One of the first refinements he completed after the initial project was a genetic material extrapolation process. No longer was it necessary to place the deceased’s entire body in the resurrection machine; a hand, a toenail, even a lock of hair was enough. Wilton used the urn filled with his wife’s ashes that he kept on the shelf behind his desk. It was the only advance he never publicized, and he had installed it only in his private resurrection lab.

Through experimentation he had learned that leaving the ashes in the urn caused complications and deformities. His rationale for not taking the ashes out and scattering them in the resurrection machine had been that he did not want to risk losing them forever if something went wrong, but after his beginning experiments resulted in a monstrous bronze hybrid, he refocused his efforts on improving the extrapolation process until he only needed to use a portion of the ashes for each test. He scattered the entire urn in there now because he did not want to have any excess ashes at the end of the night. Adding a new urn to his shelf every day would look suspicious.

He hung a dress for his wife outside the door of the resurrection machine. He started the process and then went back to his office to fix dinner. She knew to find him there.

Her resurrection age was set at twenty-seven, her age the year before she started to get sick. Her face was still full and her red hair firmly attached to her scalp. The sleeveless dress was printed with roses that matched her hair; it flowed and flounced over her knees when she walked into the room. She kissed his ear from behind and asked, “What’s for dinner, Dean?”

“Just a salad. I didn’t have time to make anything more today. Hope you’re not disappointed.”

“I’m the one who doesn’t need to eat anymore, remember? Whatever you want to make for yourself is fine with me. I’d be happy just watching you eat.”

“But I put almonds and mandarin oranges in it for you. That’s how you like it, right?”

“Well, in that case, I guess I might as well have some. It’s not like I need to watch my weight, after all.”

“You know I don’t like it when you joke like that, Eileen.”

“I still don’t see why it bothers you so much. I mean, sure I died, but that was almost eight years ago. I thought you’d be over it by now.”

“Could we talk about something else, please?”

Eileen helped set the table while she said, “Has anyone figured out why we don’t remember anything from when we’re dead?

“Most people say it’s because there isn’t anything. Last week, though, I read a paper about this by a Christian that was really pretty interesting. He said that since God is omniscient, he knows when someone’s going to be resurrected, so when you died, for example, it wasn’t a real death. He said that they just go into a kind of suspended eternity. But if you weren’t going to be resurrected again, God would know, and then you’d go to heaven or wherever after you really died.”

“That’s interesting. I guess it explains everything. I mean, if you believe in God it does.” She waited for him to respond. She knew he did not like metaphysical subjects, though, so after a minute of silence she said, “What was the weather like today?”

“It rained all morning. It was cold for this time of year too. Pretty unpleasant, actually.”

“You’d think someone would’ve figured out how to control it by now. Death is easy, weather is hard, I guess.”

They split a bottle of wine between them every evening, Dean normally drinking two-thirds of it. In addition to the almonds and oranges, the salad had grilled chicken strips marinated in a vinaigrette dressing.

“I just thought of something,” Eileen said.

“What’s that?”

“You know how you only need a little piece of me to bring me back, and then you throw the rest away? Well, what if you did that with a chicken or a pig or something? You could eat the whole thing except for a wing or a foot you’d pull off to resurrect, and then stick that in the machine. You’d have a whole new chicken. Couldn’t you solve world hunger like that? I mean, you’d have an endless food supply, wouldn’t you?”

“That’s not exactly how the process works. And besides that, you know I can’t let anyone know about the extrapolation process. They might start asking questions. I could get myself branded. You know that.”

“Oh, yeah. Wasn’t thinking about that. But what did you mean about how the process works? Is there something you haven’t told me?”

“You don’t want to know, Eileen.”

“Why not? Is it too morbid? Said the walking corpse to her husband.”

“You won’t like it if I tell you.”

“Just tell me, please.”

“All right. It sounds like you don’t understand precisely how extrapolation works. It doesn’t just synthesize you out of thin air. That isn’t physically possible. What the process enables me to do is to take other physical matter and infuse it with your genetic code, and reform it into you.”

“What do you mean by ‘other physical matter’?”

“It’s what I use to resurrect you.”

“I know, but what do you use?”

“Are you sure you want to know?”

“I guess this is the part you thought I didn’t want to know. Just tell me. I won’t be able to stop thinking about it now.”

“Well, it can be anything, really. Any natural materials, at least. So-”

“-Wait a minute, Dean. Are you saying you make me out of cows and birds and grass clippings?”

“I don’t check what the machine uses specifically, but that’s essentially correct. Do you see why I didn’t want to tell you?”

“Okay, just let me make sure I get this: When you kiss me, it’s like you’re kissing a dead animal?”

“That’s a very crude way to look at it. In this state, you’re genetically indistinguishable from yourself when you were originally alive. And more importantly, you feel exactly the same to me. You’re just as beautiful to me now as you’ve always been.”

“Thank you.”

When they were done eating, Dean said, “I have an important project that I’m working on right now, so would you mind if we turned in early tonight?”

“Again? We’ve been doing that a lot more lately. Sorry, I didn’t really mean that. I guess I just miss you. But it’s okay.” She sighed. “How do you want to do it tonight?”

Dean kept the bottom drawer of his desk locked. Additionally, the drawer had a false bottom to conceal its more incriminating contents. He opened it and took out a syringe filled with insulin.

“The needle? Man, you must really be distracted. I mean, sure it gets the job done, but there’s no drama to it, no action. And besides, you know it takes a while to work. Aren’t you in a hurry to get back to work?”

Dean put the syringe down. “Okay then, you choose.”

“Smother me.”

Dean Wilton led his wife to the bed and laid her down. She did not resist or even flinch as he held the pillow over her face. He held it in place and waited. The twitching started a few seconds later. He knew it was an autonomic reaction to the oxygen deprivation and not her struggling against her fate, but he still looked away until it was over.

Eileen had always been a small woman, and even before disease had emaciated her body, it was easy for Dean to carry her. Unconsciously parodying a groom taking his bride over the threshold, he carried her into the resurrection room. Because he used this room for experiments, it was equipped with an incinerator to dispose of test subjects. He deposited her in the incinerator and turned it on. It would take several minutes for it to heat up, and much longer for her to burn completely. He put the urn in place to collect the ashes and went back to work.


There was no window of opportunity for resurrection. As long as the person’s remains could be located, he or she could be brought back to life. Thought it stopped short of outlawing this practice, the Department of Mortality imposed strict rules on the raising of pre-Osiris humans. The previously deceased could only be resurrected for a short time and only for a public event, such as a school assembly, a concert, or a committee meeting; private pre-Osiris resurrections were forbidden. In order to keep the resurrected from becoming curious about their revived status, anyone who attempted to explain the Osiris process to them would be immediately branded. There was no inherent danger in their knowing how they had been brought back to life; it was simply recognized as unnecessarily cruel. Early pre-Osiris test subjects had become excessively nostalgic and jealous, even resentful, when the process was revealed to them. It was especially difficult with geniuses and great leaders, who argued that they deserved to still be alive, that they were in fact more deserving even than those who had resurrected them. Additionally, two (or more) pre-Osiris resurrectees were never allowed to meet during their revival: It was feared that they could unite and try to stage an insurrection. The final, and most sacred rule, was that the resurrectee be murdered immediately upon completion of his or her purpose.



Randy Wickman was dying. He oscillated between calm acceptance of this fact, even of welcoming it, and terror that he was too weak and deranged to realize what he was doing. If he allowed any visitors besides his family and the members of his church to see him, they would have laughed in horrified bemusement. For someone in Randy’s physical state, the standard, if not universal, practice was to commit suicide and then be put into a resurrection machine. When he emerged only minutes later, all traces of his present ailments would be gone.

Randy, however, had grown up believing that death was not the end of his existence. On the contrary, death was a kind of gateway that led to eternal communion with God in heaven. Before his illness, nothing had caused him to waver or even to question his beliefs. Now that his death was days if not hours away, though, the choice was excruciating. Thinking of death as a choice, which to him sounded perilously close to suicide, was not even the most difficult facet of his situation: his daughter Chloe was.

Chloe was twelve years old and mature enough to appreciate, at some level, the conundrum facing her father. She wanted him to pick her up from first day of middle school, teach her how to drive, interrogate the first boy who picked her up for a date, go on college visit trips with her, and hold her hand at the back of the sanctuary on her wedding day. But she also knew that none of that might be part of God’s plan for her, or for him.

She did what she could to take care of him. After the introduction of the Osiris process, hospitals began to resemble tanning salons, and pharmacies only concerned themselves with remedies for everyday ailments and recreational concoctions; and though no medication that could have cured Randy had ever existed, he would have had access to professional hospice care and pain management. As it was, though, he had little more than aspirin and his daughter’s comfort to console him. He did not drink.

She was up and ready for school before seven every morning, a full hour before the bus arrived. While she waited, she tried to make him as comfortable as she could.

“Want anything for breakfast, Dad?” she asked.

“I wouldn’t be able to keep it down.”

“But it might feel good going in. You know, before it came back up and everything. We could try, at least.”

“It’s all right, Chloe. I don’t think I’d be able to swallow anything that would taste good anyway.”

“Well, isn’t there something I can do? I feel kind of dumb just sitting here with you.”

“You know that having you with me is the only thing that makes me feel even a little bit better. You do more than enough for me, really.”

His physique had shriveled to the point that he resembled an impoverished child. When Chloe laid her head on his chest, she did it slowly and carefully. “But it’s not enough, Dad. Nothing is. You’re dying. You’re too sick to do anything anymore.”

“I know, Chloe, but we’ve talked about this. There’s nothing we can do about that. This is the life God gave us, and we have to be content with it. His ways–”

“–Are higher than ours. I know the verse, Dad. But it isn’t fair. I mean, what’s going to happen to me? It would be easier to accept it if Mom was still here. Then I’d still have someone to take care of me.”

Randy’s wife died in a car crash two years before the first resurrection machine was made. “You’ll be okay, Chloe. You know how many people at church have offered to take you in. And besides that, you’re a very mature girl. You’re very grown up for your age.”

“Yeah, Dad, I know I’m mature. I have to be. But I’m still a girl too. I guess God doesn’t think I deserve to have fun.”

“Chloe, you know what I’ve told you. I love having you here with me, but only if you want to be here. I want you to be happy. And if you’re not happy here, if you need time to go away and be a girl again and have fun and not worry all the time, then that’s what I want you to do. You know I mean that.”

“Yeah, Dad, I do. But I couldn’t be happy somewhere else if I knew you were still here. I couldn’t just leave you like that. I love you way to much to do that.”

“I know you do, Chloe. But I don’t want you to feel like you’re obligated to be here, that you’d be doing something wrong if you left.”

“I know, Dad. But I want to stay here with you. I want to spend as much time with you as I can.”

Randy tapped her on the elbow, his signal for her to get off of him. She jumped lightly back and said, “Sorry, Dad. I guess I didn’t realize how much I was leaning on you.”

“No, I’m okay, Chloe. Actually, I think I’d like to try and eat something now. Do you still have time to fix something before school?”

She smiled at him. “Of course I do, Dad. And I’d still do it even if I didn’t. What would you like to try?”

“Nothing too heavy. How about just a piece of toast with some jam on it? Do we still have strawberry?”

“I think so. Wait, yeah, I’m sure we do. Mrs. Larson brought some with the groceries yesterday. I’ll be back in a minute.”

As soon as she was out of the room, Randy pushed himself into a sitting position. With a desperate exertion, he swung his legs over the side of the bed. On the night stand there was a pad of paper and a pencil; he kept it there in case he thought of anything he wanted to tell her while she was gone. He wrote three words on it and dropped the pencil.

Next he opened the top drawer and slid off the false bottom, revealing the compartment he had never shown Chloe. Inside was a gun with and a box of bullets. He loaded it while she was searching the refrigerator for strawberry jam. It was a coincidence that the toast popped up the same second he fired.

Chloe ran upstairs, the jar in her hands. She dropped it when she saw him; bits of glass and globs of jam splattered over the floor. She had not put on her shoes yet, but she hardly felt the cutting and squelching as she hurried over to him. It took her several minutes to notice the paper on the night stand. He had written, “Call the ambulance.”

“The Moment”

August 1, 2008

Earlier this week while I was sitting in Boston’s Logan airport waiting for my plane, I was reading Jeffrey Overstreet’s book Through a Screen Darkly. I was in the middle of a section where he writes about the power art has to impact and change our lives. You know what he’s talking about: Those moments and instants when you’re transfixed by what you’re seeing or reading, where you forget everything else in the absorption of the moment.

Overstreet describes his experience while when he watched The Story of the Weeping Camel:

“The moviegoers in Seattle’s Guild 45th cinema are breathless with what they’ve seen. Some of us who have ventured into air-conditioned darkness–the local film press, the publicists, the “line people” who picked up giveaway tickets and waited on the sidewalk for an hour–are experiencing what we always hope to find, never quite expect, and will remember for years to come.

That Thing…

Sticky seat cushions, talkative teens, annoying bigscreen commercials–it’s all worth enduring for those occasional moments of revelation. It’s like waiting through a season of disappointing baseball just to be there at that magic moment when the angle of the pitch and the timing of the swing meet with a crack that will echo in your memory for days. And yet, unlike a home run, this occasion on the big screen doesn’t merely change the score. It changes you.”

Even as you’re reading this, a few of your “moments” are probably resurfacing in your mind’s eye. Maybe it’s from that Disney cartoon you watched five times a day as a kid until the tape wore out, or an old hymn you remember singing in church. Usually, there’s an emotional component to it; some event or time in your life that was important to you is reflected the artist’s presentation, and it enhances and deepens your connection to the art. Art, after all, is inherently subjective.

I don’t form emotional connections quickly, and when I do, it’s usually after a period of thinking and reflection. Only very rarely am I blindsided and overwhelmed by an emotional experience. There are, though, some moments in movies and music that I can point to–the funeral in Lars and the Real Girl, the final shot of Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Rosie Thomas’s song “Death Came and Got Me”, Brave Saint Saturn’s album The Light of Things Hoped For–but they’re rare.

Strangely, though, it takes me awhile to come up with any examples from the many books I’ve read. Part of the explanation for that comes from the fact that seeing and listening are more visceral activities than reading, but I think there’s more to it than that: I understand books too well. I’ve had too many classes about them and practice tearing them down and putting them back together again (if there’s time). When I’m reading, I’m so intent on deciphering how the author’s use of point of view, word choice, structure, metaphors, etc., even down to what tense she employes, that I forget that maybe all I should do is read and react. (I think this is partly why it’s especially hard for me to respond to poetry.)

I have absolutely no musical talent, though, so the process of how the guitars and bass and drums and pianos and horns and keyboards and singers all manage to coalasce into something melodic and beautiful is a mystery to me. I don’t understand it, and that gives it power. It seems that understanding and overwhelming awe are inversely proportional forces.

I understand the process of how movies come together a little better, but I’ve never wanted to create one of my own. I’ve never been especially interested in watching all the DVD extras that explain how they did everything, and I just connected that maybe that’s because my ignorance makes it easier to believe it’s all magic.

In the background of all this is my dream career. I want to write books and stories that guide readers into discovering “moments” of their own. But in order to be able to write that way, I need to understand how structure and metaphor and all of that works. Do I have to bypass the awe in order to understand it well enough to be able to replicate it?