Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Brand New Thing



I haven't posted anything on this blog for a while because my book Starfish On Thursday is still optioned and I've been afraid to give any information out about that, for fear of jinxing the whole thing. I can only tell you what I've been told: it's a long process.

Meanwhile, I'm very excited to report I've started working on the first draft of a screenplay, also known as a Spec Script, dig my big time Hollywood lingo! I've never written a screenplay before, but then again, before I published Green Shoes, I'd never written a book before, and that turned out okay.

Right now I'm learning the craft and also studying downloaded versions of well written screenplays.  The format is really cool and looks like more fun than writing books. When I was working on my book about Marilyn Monroe, I was kind of hoping she was sending me good vibes, but for this project, I'm hoping for the muse duo of Nora Ephron and Carrie Fisher. Hopefully the force will be with me.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Russians


The most memorable feature of my parents' house wasn't part of the house at all, it was the ferociously steep hill in front of it. A great sledding hill you would think, as you looked at it. You'd have that thought immediately, even in the middle of summer. I don't know how high it was. I can only tell you in kid terms: it took 20 minutes to walk to the top of it and maybe 60 seconds to slide down.
     From the top of this hill you could see it ended in a cross street, like the top of a capital T. Kids sledding needed to prepare, about halfway down, to make a very sharp left or right at the bottom. They couldn't go straight or they'd just end up going down our driveway and crashing into our house. It's been my experience that when faced with dangerous activities, kids are either clueless or wickedly smart. In the maybe 15 years my parents owned that house no kid ever misjudged the turn at the bottom. But because they feared that one might, my parents parked their station wagon in front of the driveway, so that if a sledder went straight, he'd run into the side of this car. My parents honestly believed this made it safer.
     Whereas the hill was excellent for sledding, it was actually a pain if you were on a bicycle. Preparing to turn left or right halfway down was difficult and at the bottom you ran the risk of encountering cars in motion, a hazard not present when there was snow.
     I still wonder why the Russian family couldn't see the danger. Even without being able to speak English, isn't the sight of a steep hill the same? Isn't 50+ mph the same speed if you're zooming straight down a hill on a bicycle? Had they never been on bicycles before? I still don't know the answers to these questions. I also don't know why a drawing of a red cross isn't a universal symbol for first aid. And if it isn't, then what is?
     But I'm jumping ahead.
     I'd moved back home after my freshman year of college and was home alone, typing, when I looked out the front window and saw what looked like a family---a man and a woman and a 12 year old boy--all on bicycles, flying down the hill, already way past the halfway point and going way too fast to possibly make the turn at the bottom. One second I saw them and then they were zooming down the driveway, then I lost sight of them and then I heard a terrible sounding crash as they hit our closed garage door.
     I ran through the house and entered the garage that way and saw two things at once. The first was the family and their battered bikes. All three of the people were standing and looked messed up but the man and the boy seemed like they only had scraped hands and maybe skinned knees. The woman was crying in pain and holding her head with both of her hands. The second thing I noticed was the garage door was still closed but now had a feature I had believed only possible in cartoons: it had a huge, oddly shaped hole punched right through it which I immediately identified as a Wile E. Coyote hole.
     There was a phone in the garage and I asked the man if they were okay, if they needed 911, and soon learned they spoke no English, only Russian. I had finished getting a D in this language only months earlier. The woman was conscious and her head wasn't bleeding but that didn't mean anything. I called 911 and told them what had happened and that none of the people could speak English. No one at 911 spoke Russian and they decided to send an ambulance so the woman could get checked at the hospital, to be on the safe side.
     While I waited for the ambulance to arrive, I tried to make conversation with the man, although my Russian was limited to a handful of words I couldn't quite string together properly.
     "Ye studientka universtyet. Ye studientka Russki," I told him, which (extremely loosely) translated means: I'm a university student. I am a student of Russian.
     The man smiled and nodded.
     "Ye galoopee," I told him. Which loosely translated means: I am a stupid.
     The man and boy both laughed and the woman, still crying, got a little smile on her face.
     Then the ambulance pulled up, which I thought meant I could relax and let the pros handle everything. But the three Russians became hysterical at the sight of the vehicle. As the paramedics walked toward the garage, the Russian family huddled together, all three crying and casting fearful glances at the approaching men. When the paramedics got within 12 feet the Russians began frantically waving their arms in Go Away gestures.
     One of the medics had the idea that maybe their vehicle and their uniforms made them look like police. Maybe the family feared they were in trouble. This is when I thought I had come up with the genius idea OF ALL TIME to draw a red cross on a piece of paper. I pointed to the red cross, then to the paramedics. This and this.
     The Russians calmed down a little but seemed to make no connection. I think they found it amusing that the Galoopee girl was drawing pictures for them.
     The paramedics tried calling on their radio to find a translator and had no luck. I tried calling the local university's foreign language department, to see if anyone there spoke Russian. They did and he was on vacation until the end of the week.
     Since the paramedics didn't know what else to do, they called the police department and within minutes a squad car pulled up. Because we lived in the suburbs and the police often had nothing to do, a second police car pulled up behind the first one. The sight of four uniformed policemen got the Russians going all over again. I think the actual police looked more like police than the paramedics had.
     The four police officers and three paramedics all kept 12 feet away from the crying family. I decided I'd better call my mom and have her come home from work.
     "I think you should come home. Three Russians on bicycles crashed through the garage door and now there's an ambulance and two cop cars here and the family's crying and won't let anyone near them," I told her.
     My mom sounded strange. "Say that sentence again," she said.
     I repeated it and she said she was on her way. The only thing she wanted to know was who was going to fix her garage door.
     The Russians seemed glad the men were all keeping their distance. My experience with actual Russians was limited to Gorbachev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Boris and Natasha (who were, technically, cartoons). Thus I probably assumed all Russian people were either serious and severe looking, sexy ballet dancers, or hated Moose and Squir-rel.
     Not knowing what else to do, I brought out a tray of cookies and a pitcher of iced tea for all the people in the driveway and garage. The Russians calmed down enough to smile. Apparently they understood people don't give you cookies if they're planning on arresting you.
     Then, just when I'd practically become a UN Peacekeeper, my mom pulled up and was yelling before she was even fully out of the car. She wanted to know who was responsible for the garage door. The paramedics looked scared of her and also scared as they told her they didn't know.
     "I don't think they're from here," one of the officers told her, "because they're speaking Russian."
     "Really?" said my mother, "You must be a detective! Can I call you Columbo?" She gave him a scary smile full of shark teeth and he stayed quiet after that.
     Interestingly, the Russians didn't seem upset by her at all. Maybe it was because she was wearing regular clothes and not an official looking uniform. They chuckled at her as if they were watching a comedy.
     Eventually one of the Russians handed the paramedics a piece of paper with their host family's name and phone number on it and, once called, they arrived and took the Russians to the emergency room. As to my mother's question, who was going to pay for her garage door, the answer was: No One.
     It turned out the Russians couldn't be held responsible, through some part of their travel visa. The officer she called Columbo tried to explain this to my mom and I knew it was a mistake. My mother was a dedicated shopper and greatly objected to the term visa being applied in any sense except credit card. I had heard her go on and on about it many times. "Why Visa?" she would ask, "Why not MasterCard or American Express? Why must they pick on Visa, can anyone TELL me why?" The only safe response was to shrug your shoulders and agree with her.
     Poor Columbo. Then he had to tell her the host family also couldn't be held responsible.
     "WHAT?" my mother yelled, "Well that's just GREAT, so they get to just go around crashing through people's garage doors and don't have to pay a thing?" She made it sound like something reckless teens might do for fun on weekends. "Maybe I should go to THEIR country and smash through THEIR garage door! See if they like that! But NO, if I did THAT, I'd have to pay for it! Why, it'd be an international INCIDENT! Isn't that RIGHT?" She directed this last toward Columbo.
     "Ma'am, I don't know," he mumbled, clearly a little scared.
     I could tell I'd have an easy week of it because, no matter what I might do, I wouldn't be Russian.
     Columbo tried to cheer her up: "At least, from what it looks like, no one was hurt."
     "My garage door?" my mother reminded him.
******

The Russians is one of the stories in Starfish On Thursday, by Amie Ryan. Available at Amazon at http://myBook.to/starfishonthursday


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Tommy

This story is one of my favorites, although when I first thought about writing it, it seemed like a terrible idea. It's a true story and I think it's a good example of how life can sometimes be very funny, especially when you don't expect it to be.


TOMMY


My older sister is not a warm person. Jessie hates the world and wants the world to know. Why that is or when it began, we never knew. Smile at her and you'll get a glare. Say anything nice and she'll ask you what the hell you mean by that. Just exist and she'll probably want to hit you. My mother used to sum it up by saying: it's just her way.

And then, when she was 24, my sister made an exception and liked something: her cat, Tommy, a black and white kitten named for a rock opera. You might imagine we found it nice to hear her speaking softly, to see anything actually bringing a smile to her face. But it wasn't nice. On my sister, it just looked wrong. And since it proved she was capable of kindness, it only showed she was being intentionally mean all the rest of the time.

And so we all carried a little resentment toward the kitten. Not that he bothered anyone. In fact Tommy was as dull as dust while he was alive but after he died he made things very exciting at our house, as you will see.

We had had numerous pets and always felt bad when one of them died but part of the process always involved getting the deceased pet out of there ASAP. For some reason, when my parents discovered Tommy dead in the garage they decided to leave him there until my sister could see him, if she chose.

This horrified me and I told them so. And was voted down.

And so, late that night, my sister came home and did indeed want to go see Tommy. She stayed in the garage for three hours as my parents and I exchanged looks and wondered what she was doing in there. When my sister came back into the house my mother asked her, gently, if it was okay if we "took care" of Tommy and my sister became hysterical.

"DON'T YOU DARE MOVE MY CAT!" she yelled.

And so they didn't.

We lived in Kirkland, a suburb of Seattle, and you've probably heard it rains in Seattle all the time. It doesn't. Sometimes, in the summer, the weather can go up into the 90s and beyond. Sadly for us, Tommy died in the middle of a weirdly hot July. Day One of the dead kitten became Day Two and it was 88 degrees by 10am. My father kept the garage doors shut because, as he confided to my mother and I, "otherwise the neighborhood dogs will smell that cat and drag him all over and we'll have little busted pieces of Tommy all up and down the street."

Day Two became Day Three (90 degrees) and then Day Four (92) and the garage became a scary place. My sister was spending over seven hours a day out there. We didn't know what she was doing and were afraid to guess. When she was inside the house she would wander up and down the hallway, wailing, sometimes in gibberish and sometimes almost coherently. She wailed things to God. She wailed things to Tommy. Sometimes it was unclear which one she was speaking to.

"He's a pinball wizard," my sister told my mother.
"Yes," my mother agreed, "yes."

The family began to organize shifts to be sure one of us was at home with Jessie at all times. Each time my parents said they worried she'd do something crazy, they corrected themselves: "crazier."

Day Five was a recordbreaker (95 degrees), and my sister stopped being aware of things going on around her. She might have still been vaguely aware where she was, we weren't quite sure, but she was disconnected, and didn't seem to see or hear anything going on around her. This was frightening but also convenient as we could now discuss her behavior while standing right next to her without her noticing a thing.

My sensitive parents had stopped being sensitive. "What if I need a wrench or something?" said my dad. "Maybe we need to put her in a place," said my mom, using her euphemism for mental hospital. "I don't know," said my dad, "but we need to do something." It was a serious situation: they had lost access to their garage.

It was my suggestion we take advantage of my sister's altered state by waiting until she was asleep and then just removing Tommy and telling her God had taken Tommy to Heaven. I was voted down.

And then in the middle of Day Six (91 degrees) my sister agreed we could move Tommy. We could put him in a box and put the box in the trunk of my mother's car, but that was it. We couldn't move the box out of the trunk until my sister gave further instructions.

The rest of us all had the same thought at the same time: we needed to call David. David was in the third grade and lived next door. For a long time we all found him creepy until we discovered we could ask him to remove any dead offerings our cats left on the welcome mat. Birds, mice, squirrels, you name it, one phone call and David would say "Sure!" and come running over, happy to do the deed for a dollar.

And so we called him and he said "Sure!" and my mother gave him instructions. Two minutes later he came to the front door and reported the cat was in the box but that he couldn't get the lid of the box to fit. This was too much dead cat conversation for my mother so she told him that was OK and thanked him and sent him home with two dollars, since this was a big job.

My dad, who had served in the military and liked to remind us how tough this made him, went into the garage to fix the box problem and swiftly ran back into the house, gagging. On his second attempt he was able to fit the lid on the box but confided to me later this was easier said than done.

"Well the thing is, after six days, there's rigor mortis," began my father, under his breath. He looked carefully to the left and right to be sure my sister wasn't around to overhear his words. "I couldn't fit the lid on. I had to bend him and break him." We both burst out laughing and then immediately stated "It's not funny, it's really not funny," which, as you know, must be said following clearly inappropriate laughing, to undo the bad karma.

So Tommy, dead cooked bent and broken, went into the box and the box went into the trunk of my mother's Cadillac. She said it was like transporting "some guy whacked by the mob."

My dad bleached and bleached the garage floor. My sister seemed to come back a little at a time. "Thank God we have the garage back," said my mother, and then, almost as an afterthought, "and thank God your sister is getting back to normal."

Tommy rode around in the trunk for two days and then my sister let my mother take him to the vet. He was diagnosed with feline leukemia, cremated, and put into an urn, which my sister kept on her dresser. Every day she'd talk to Tommy and every day we'd pretend to not hear her doing that.

But if you asked my sister how she was, she'd snarl "Go to hell!" and that's how we knew she was back to her old self: despising the world, which was her way.


Amie Ryan is the author of essay collections Green Shoes Mean I Love You, Starfish On Thursday, Secrets From The Star Jar, and the Marilyn Monroe biography Marilyn: Loved By You. Tommy is one of 23 stories found in Starfish On Thursday, available at www.amieryan.com


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Very Exciting News


Two months ago I was able to put two of my books, Green Shoes and Starfish, in the Netflix/HBO procurement catalog, which is where producers go to look for fresh story ideas for films and TV.  Last night I checked my email and learned an international film studio has expressed an interest to option the Film and TV rights to my book, Starfish On Thursday. Next week I'll be speaking with the company to discuss negotiations.

As a relatively unknown author, there will be a limit to how much they'll offer me for the initial option--I won't be on the Anne Rice plan quite yet--but as far as I understand it, there's a payment for the option, along with contracts, and during the period of time the option is (12 months-5 years) they decide if they want to purchase the full rights and make the film or tv show. If they decide to go ahead then there would be more money and more contracts, and probably an agent.

I looked up the company and noted they seem to have a bunch of big name stars in their projects. I saw Colin Firth and Laura Dern and Alec Baldwin and Selma Hayek and Ben Kingsley, so this sounds like a serious company indeed.

I'm not sure yet if they have specific stories in this collection that they're interested in, or all of them, or just one of them. Anyway, it should be interesting to find out the details and I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

VALENTINE FOR MY MOTHER


This is from my first book, the essay/poetry collection GREEN SHOES MEAN I LOVE YOU. It's a poem based on my mother's memories of what it was like during the Cuban Missile Crisis when she was a new mother of 19 and my big sister was a year and a half old. For more information about this collection, please visit www.amieryan.com

Friday, October 26, 2018

The First Time My Mom Was Dying

In each of my three essay collections I tried to add something extra. In Green Shoes Mean I Love You I added a recurring funny bit called ACTUAL QUOTES BY AMIE'S MOM. In Starfish On Thursday I added a series of fictional letters. For my third collection, Secrets From The Star Jar, I made the extra a longer story told in installments. I'm including the first installment here.

THE FIRST TIME MY MOM WAS DYING


My mother asked me if we should go get a treat. "How about a sundae at McDonald's?" she asked me. "Yeah!" I squealed. I was six. I already knew which kind I'd get, too: hot fudge.

Later, we sat in the middle of that sunlit McDonald's, the hum of cashiers at one end, the happy chatter of kids all around. My mother sat on one side of the table and I sat on the other, my legs too short to reach the floor. I swung them, happily, back and forth as I dug into my sundae.

And then my mom said she had something important to talk to me about. Even with that odd beginning, I didn't sense anything wrong. The sundae still tasted good for a minute.

"I'm not going to be alive much longer," she told me. "I'm dying." She said this with a relaxed smile on her face. If you hadn't heard what she had just said, you might have described her as looking happy.

I paused in my eating, not having an emotional reaction yet but organizing what I'd just heard. My mother looked normal: hair fixed, red lipstick on; she looked the same as anytime we went out. My mind ran through the different ways someone could die: an accident, a murderer, disease. But with an accident, you wouldn't know in advance. Same thing with a murderer.

So that left disease. I understood a little bit about diseases, mainly from watching movies on TV. Only a few months earlier I'd seen a movie called Love Story and the lady in that movie looked pretty too, right up until the second she died. Love means never having to say you're sorry. In fact the lady in that movie didn't even know she was sick until the doctor told her so. That's how it worked: a doctor told a person they had a disease and then the person said "How long have I got?" My mother looked pretty, just like that lady in the movie.

"Do you have a disease?" I asked her.

Her smile stayed on as she answered me: "No, I don't have a disease."

I detected something wrong then. I wondered if she was lying to me. I had stopped eating my sundae.

"I just always knew that someday when I was 32, I'd die," my mom began. "I can't explain it. I just always knew. And I turned 32 on my last birthday so that means it'll happen sometime this year."

I sat, listening.

Still with a smile, my mother began to describe how hard this would be for me. How much I'd miss her. How I'd remember every time I had sassed her or not eaten all my dinner and I'd wish so hard I could go back and be better, but it would be too late.

"Because I'll be dead, and you won't have a mother anymore."

She described all of the times when I would especially miss her: when there was no one to brush my hair or iron my clothes or fix me lunch. Imagine Mother's Day! Oh, she told me, that would be hard and sad. And Christmas. And my birthday! Easter. Halloween. Thanksgiving. She wouldn't be there for any of those days, ever again, for my whole life.

My TV knowledge was protesting this idea. "Can't a doctor do a surgery or give you medicine?" I asked her.

"No," she said, and she was definite. "If it was a disease then maybe they could, but this is a mystery so there's nothing they can do."

I was all done with that sundae.

That night in bed, and the next day at school, and for a year of nights and days, I imagined my future life without a mom. I wondered which day would be the day it happened.

And I did regret not being good every second. It never occurred to me to wonder if she would regret anything, like how often she hit me. My mother spent that year acting normal and reminding me often about how her time was almost gone.

And then it was her birthday and she turned 33 and we had presents and cake.

The next day I came to her, confused. She wasn't 32 anymore. She hadn't died. I wasn't sure what that meant.

"I know," she said. "I guess I'm not going to die right now after all. I guess it's just a mystery." She smiled at me.

I felt so angry. I'd cried about it a lot of times and she was staying alive. It was confusing. I wanted her to be alive. I should have been happy, not angry. I wondered if this was proof that I was a bad kid.

I wondered if my mom had been lying about it the whole time.
I wondered why she'd do that.


Amie Ryan is the author of Green Shoes Mean I Love You, Starfish On Thursday, Secrets From The Star Jar, and Marilyn: Loved By You. For more information, please visit www.amieryan.com




Friday, August 3, 2018

Marlo Thomas Is An Actress


In 1974 my family loved watching Marlo Thomas on her TV show, That Girl. My mother would always refer to her as 'that darling Marlo Thomas' or by her longer name, 'that darling Marlo Thomas I just love her'.

We also loved I Dream Of Jeannie and Bewitched. Jeannie had a master who stoppered her into her bottle when she was bad and Samantha wasn't allowed to be her true witch self unless her husband couldn't fix his ad campaign and then she was allowed to do magic, so he could take the credit. These things we accepted without question. For awhile, when I'd daydream about what kind of a grownup I'd be, I thought of only these two choices: a Jeannie or a Samantha.

That Girl threw us for a loop because the star of the show (Marlo) was a career girl who had a handsome man who wanted to marry her (which is usually where the story would end, with happily ever after) but That Girl loved her boyfriend AND her career, and she wasn't ready to get married. She had stuff to do and so handsome man would have to wait. It was the strangest thing I'd ever heard. I was five.

And when Marlo Thomas (not as That Girl, just as herself) went on TV and told everyone to watch her special, Free To Be You And Me, we made sure to watch. Marlo and her famous friends sang and did skits about new ways of thinking about men and women. My favorite part was when Marlo sang a song called Parents Are People. It featured Marlo doing all sorts of things I had thought of as being Man Jobs: Marlo as a cab driver, Marlo as a police officer, Marlo as a baseball umpire. Marlo sang "Mommies can do almost anything" and the world felt bigger when I heard her sing those words.

A few months later, I used that show to almost win an argument with my mother and that was when she started referring to Marlo as 'that damned Marlo Thomas'.

When I wasn't at kindergarten, I did what a lot of kids did back then: I got shooed out of the house and told to Go Play. This was partly due to the fact that times were safer then but it was also because my mother had no interest in spending time with me. "Amie entertains herself very well," my mom would tell other grownups and I'd know this was supposed to be a compliment. It never felt like one.

One of my mother's favorite phrases was "find something to do" and that was how, one day, I decided what I'd do would be to go see how my rabbit was doing. We had buried her four days earlier.

Actually she'd only been my rabbit a few days when my mother decided living in a cage was making my rabbit sad and that being set free to live in the woods behind our house would make my rabbit happy. When I disagreed, my mother sang the Born Free song and said it would be SELFISH to make my rabbit live in a cage and GOOD to let her go free and asked me which I wanted to be: selfish or good. So I was stuck. I had to say Good.

So we set her free (as free as the wind blows) and the next day my rabbit was dead in our vegetable garden and my dad said "Oh look at that, the slug bait pellets look just like the rabbit food we were giving her" and that was the end of my rabbit. We had a pet funeral and my dad said serious words and I played my kazoo. Solemnly. Kind of.

I can only guess the death process had not been clearly explained to me. I wasn't sure what I'd find when I used my mother's garden shovel to dig up the shoebox. I thought either it would be empty because my rabbit would be in Heaven or she'd look like she was sleeping.

What I found was a LOT more interesting. I had no idea any of it was supposed to be icky and so none of it was. I looked and looked and felt like a scientist (I thought maybe I already was one). My rabbit was all bones but she still looked kind of rabbit shaped, just like dinosaur bones were dinosaur shaped and Halloween skeletons were people shaped. A thing's bones on the inside looked like the thing's outside. I felt smarter just thinking about it. After a while I reburied the box and ran in the house to tell my mom all about what I'd learned.

She was washing dishes, a cloud of suds under her hands. When I told her I'd seen my rabbit, she asked me if I was pretending. Once I started describing the worms (great big fat ones that wiggled but didn't seem to be going anywhere, and how did they get in there?) she turned and vomited into the sink. Right on top of the soapy dishes.

Have to wash those again, I thought, but did not say.

Once she recovered, she was all voice. It was disgusting. I was disgusting. "Everyone knows you don't dig up dead things and LOOK at them!"

"What about dinosaurs?" I asked. "People dig them up and look at them and then put the bones in museums and people go and spend money to look at them."

"That's different," my mom tennis whacked the argument right back to me. "Those are scientists that do that."

"Then I'll be a scientist!" I announced. This was becoming a great day.

"You can't," my mom said, and she was wearing her mean smile. "Only men can be scientists. Ladies can't, they don't let them. It's a rule."

I paused, hearing this wrong thing. And then I said the thing that would forever cast a pall over Marlo in our house. I said "What about that Marlo Thomas song, Parents Are People? She sang Mommies can do anything."

And then my mom's smile went a little bigger as she went in for the winning point: "She said ALMOST anything. And don't forget, Marlo Thomas is an actress. Actresses say made up things all the time."

I hadn't figured that one in. I had forgotten about that word: almost. ANYTHING, that word was as big as the whole world but that word ALMOST was a tricky one. It could erase stuff at the last minute. I dropped my mother's gaze and studied the pattern of the green tile floor and felt small again.

My mom reminded me we were going to my grandma's later and told me to get cleaned up. Grandma was my mother's mom. "And use a lot of soap!" she reminded.

I liked going to see Grandma. She wore her hair in a beehive (some of it real and some of it bought at the store and clipped in) and bright lipstick and sparkly earrings. I'd always draw her a picture and she'd always make a big deal over it. It was our thing. This time I spent a lot of time on the picture. I wanted it to be really special: a grownup picture, a scientist picture. I took a big piece of white paper and began by drawing a line down the middle. I would draw two pictures and I would call it: My Rabbit Before And After. It was going to be great.

My parents were used to me bringng a picture along so neither of them thought to look it over. They would later regret this decision.

At my grandma's, a lot of relatives were there: aunts, uncles, and they all fussed over me. I was everyone's darling, even more so when I told them I had a picture to show them. I remember my grandma clapped her hands together and said "Oh! A picture! Oh Amie I can't WAIT to see what you've drawn for me!"

I stood in front of the group and began my presentation. The left side of the picture was my rabbit Charlotte, the way she'd looked when she was alive. The right side was labelled with words (in careful capitals) and arrows pointing to what I was describing. I had labelled WORMS and EYE HOLES and MORE WORMS. You get the idea. For some reason, my audience looked strange. I took this to mean my presentation needed more pizzazz.

"You may be wondering about the worms. I did too. My dad explained it to me, these worms are called Maggots and a maggot is a worm with a really important job" (cut to my mother shooting a lethal look at my father). I explained my father's theory to them: how maggots are like garbagemen who do an important job and we're glad they do (I had pounced on my dad the instant he stepped in the door and asked him about the worms. He'd be in trouble later, for 'helping').

Still silent, my audience. I pulled out the poem. "I've written a poem too and this poem is called The Maggots and My Rabbit." I began the first few lines and suddenly my mother was yanking me by the arm, hustling my butt into the kitchen. This made me very upset, not the arm yanking but having my poem interrupted when I wasn't even done.

"NO MORE," she ordered. "No more talking about the rabbit. No pictures. No poems."

I got a thought in my head and my mother read my mind and squashed the thought: "And before you say it, no SONGS, either."

She meant business. And there was more. I wasn't allowed to say the WORD rabbit for a whole month. I tried for a loophole (the Easter Bunny) and another loophole (Bugs Bunny) and my mother said if I said Bunny or Rabbit even one time in the next month, the Easter Bunny would be told not to come to our house ever again.

I was ordered to sit at the kitchen table and think about what I had done and then to apologize. I sat there awhile, thinking about how unfair it was I should have to apologize for making my grandma a really good picture. I sat there a lot longer than my mother expected so when she came back in she had a piece of cake on a plate, a bribe she set down in front of me. When I apologized, I could get cake. Also I should draw my grandma another picture, "a nice picture" my mother specified.

She had more: I shouldn't even know the word Maggot, it was a yucky word and no one should know it. I told her it was the right word, that it was in the dictionary so somebody had thought that worm was important enough to have its own name and to put it in the dictionary so people could know it.

My mother glared at me and I stopped talking then.

I drew another picture. I drew it really badly, on purpose. The lines were all over the place and I colored outside the lines and it was a yucky mess and I was glad. It was a brown scribble with a dash of gray scribble. It could have been anything. I took the picture into the living room for my grandma and told her "Here, it's a picture of a cat. It's just a cat. It doesn't do anything."

My grandma had gotten lots of my pictures and knew how well I could draw. Even though this picture was an on purpose mess, she said "Oh I love it, oh Amie I like this picture" which proved that either my grandma had no taste and didn't know a good picture from a bad one or that she was just a big liar.

"And what else?" my mother reminded.

"I'm sorry you didn't like the special one I made for you," I told her. I thought maybe if I reminded her it was special, she might act nice. I was wrong.

My grandma continued to ham it up. "Oh Amie, that other picture! OOH it scared me!" She made an elaborate scared face to demonstrate. I wondered if she was lying some more or if my grandma could really get ooh scared from a kid's crayon picture.

And so I was forgiven. And offered cake. I said "No thank you" to the cake.

When it was time to go my mom helped me into my coat and handed me my rabbit drawing. "Oh you forgot my drawing!" I said to my grandma, and tried to hand it to her.

"Oh no Amie, I like the other drawing you did. I'm scared of THIS one."

I responded as my mother's daughter: I gave her a guilt trip. "You don't have to keep it. If you really hate it, you can throw it in the garbage can." I looked so pitiful, I thought I had her for sure. No way would a grandma ever throw a kid's drawing in the garbage can in a million years.

But my grandma was a master. She bent down so she was at my eye level and said "Amie, I wouldn't want THAT picture even in our garbage can!"

My mouth fell open. And before I could recover and say anything else, my parents got me out of there.



This story originally appeared on the website SMITH: The Moment, and can be found in my first collection, GREEN SHOES MEAN I LOVE YOU, available at www.amieryan.com 

PS: I happened to send this story to Marlo Thomas herself and was delighted to get this response: