This is the story of a father who is estranged from his daughter.
|At about the same time Stephen’s daughter, Jessica Hill, was sitting in a classroom at the Ayn Rand High School in Queens. She was doodling her way through chemistry class. Instead of listening to her teacher, Mr. Rearden, who was explaining the driving forces of a reaction, she was drawing the heads of various Manga characters into her notepad. Jessica was sitting in the back of her classroom, so Mr. Rearden wouldn’t notice what she was doing. But even if he had noticed, he probably wouldn’t have bothered to reprimand her. To Mr. Rearden, as to almost all the teachers that had the pleasure of educating her, Jessica was virtually non-existent. The problem with her was mediocrity. Teachers generally have an eye either for the excellent and loquacious or the obnoxious and devious students, but the masses of students who just meet the minimum requirements are almost invisible to a teacher’s eye. They surf from one year to the next on a regular wave of Cs, they never pose any educational problem, but they never enlighten anyone around them with brilliance either. They just sit through high school in order to get a decent education that will enable them to get a mid-level job at some mid-level company, a job that pays a decent wage and facilitates them to have a family and a house with a huge mortgage on it. And what’s worse: They don’t mind. They are not eager to develop, they don’t want to boldly go where no one has gone before, they don’t want to explore, to learn or to dare. They just want to survive and they don’t want to get hurt. That’s it.
Now Jessica fit this pattern, but then again, she didn’t. She didn’t have a knack for any of the regular subjects. She just scraped by at Spanish and German, she only knew the basics when it came to chemistry, biology or physics, she got Bs and Cs on her English papers and she was neither very musical nor particularly artistic. And let’s not talk about sports, please. So, in a nutshell, education-wise, she was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But then again, she had one talent that for some reason went unnoticed by the teaching staff: she had eidetic memory. She could remember scenes from her private life as if they were photographs. For instance, she could remember what everybody wore at the time in the place where you know what happened. She could also remember scenes from Manga comics she had read more than a year ago and put them on paper in excruciating detail. Of course, she could have used her eidetic memory for things that would help her in school, but she didn’t. She just drew Mangas.
When the bell finally rang, Jessica took a last look at her drawings before she packed her things. She had spent most of her time on a character named Yûri Katsuki, a 23-year old ice-skater from a Japanese sports Anime TV series called Yuri!!! on Ice. Jessica was partly satisfied with the outcome of her efforts. The eyes, the nose, the entire face was exactly like she remembered, but something was wrong with the way she had drawn his bangs. But she had no time to redo the sketch just now.
“Did you draw that?”, said one of the girls of her class on the way out.
First, Jessica just nodded. Then she looked at the girl. It was Hannah, a rather unpopular girl that always wore Birkenstock sandals and had dreadlocks. A German-Jamaican, kinda.
“You really have talent”, Hannah added, staying where she was.
When Jessica had packed her bag, she got up. She was polite enough not to ignore Hannah, but not that great a conversationalist to know what to say to her. So she said nothing.
“Wanna grab a bite at the cafeteria?”, Hannah asked.
“Sure”, Jessica said after a short pause, not knowing what else to say in a situation like this. At times like these, she wished to be more brazen, she felt like saying ‘Get lost’ or something else, but she just couldn’t. So before she knew it, she found herself walking down the hallway to the cafeteria with Hannah Colson.
“Chemistry sucks, right?”, Hannah said in order to strike up a conversation.
“Yeah”, Jessica replied, “Mr. Rearden is such a dork.”
They both chuckled.
“His corduroy pants really turn me on, though”, Hannah said, going out on a limb with her insolence.
“Especially the brown ones”, Jessica took her up on it.
They queued up for some coffee and brownies at the school cafeteria and got to talk about various topics. They talked about where they lived in Queens, which schools they had gone to before and what they would like to do once they had their degree. All these topics made them find common ground and gradually Jessica reassessed her opinion on Hannah. She looked like and was considered a wackadoo by many, but she seemed quite level-headed as far as Jessica could tell. And although Jessica would never admit it to herself, she had been looking out for a real friend. So maybe, just maybe, Hannah was the kind of girl she could socialize with.
“Where did you learn to draw like that?”, Hannah asked, returning to their original topic after they had sat down for twenty minutes.
“It’s not as difficult as it seems”, Jessica said, “you start with the eyes and then you work your way around from there. At the beginning, all my drawings were skewed, you know, cross-eyed faces, hook noses, dinghy lips and whatnot. But now I think I got the hang of it and it really calms me down. It’s become a form of meditation”.
“I wish I could find something useful to do in the chemistry lessons. Maybe I should start knitting”, Hannah said jokingly.
“Well, if you want I could show you how to draw Mangas”, Jessica offered.
“Nah, you’re the artist”, Hannah replied. “I really think it’s knitting, maybe crocheting. Either that or Origami.”
They chuckled again. This time, it was a conspiring chuckle.
“Seriously, I’m not really an artist”, Jessica said. “All my other drawings in art class suck, I can barely a draw a stick man.”
“I find that hard to believe. And you can say what you want, to me, you’re an artist.”
Jessica was flattered, although she knew that Hannah had no idea. On the Internet there were thousands of chat groups where young students like herself drew millions of Mangas at a level that it was difficult to tell amateur from professional. And although she liked drawing Mangas it was nothing but a pastime, she had no intention of making this her profession. But, anyway, it was nice to have someone tell you that you are good at something and it was nice to have someone impressed by what you do.
Jessica checked her watch.
“Ah, crap, I had better get going.”
“Why, what’s the rush?”
“My favorite TV series will be on in three quarters of an hour. And my ride home takes thirty minutes.”
“Oh, I see. Okay”.
Hannah and Jessica got up. They put their trays in the rack closest to them. They didn’t say a word. They were both pondering the question whether they should meet again. And Jessica knew it was her job to tackle that question first.
“This was nice”, she said vaguely, dodging Hannah’s gaze.
“Yes”, Hannah replied curtly.
“We should do this again…”, Jessica said. She had wanted to add ‘some time’, but she didn’t want to sound too non-committal.
“Yeah, let’s swap phone numbers”, Hannah said, fetching her iPhone from her bag. Jessica did the same.
“Just give me your number and I’ll ring you up”, Hannah suggested.
Jessica gave Hannah her number and she typed it directly into her phone. A few seconds later Jessica could hear her phone ringing.
“Okay”, Hannah said. “That’s that. Well, enjoy your show.”
For a moment they were uncertain about how to say goodbye to one another. A simple handshake seemed too formal, but a hug was a bit too American-cheerleader-like. Oh, what the heck, Jessica thought and opened up her arms. Hannah walked right into them. But she leaned over a bit so as not too get too close. As a consequence, both of them were happy to get out of this unnatural posture. The other problem was that now that they had said goodbye to one another, it would have been awkward to leave the cafeteria together through the same exit. Therefore, when Hannah said, “I’m headed this way”, pointing towards the exit they had come in through, Jessica was sure to point towards the other exit and leave the cafeteria that way. When they walked away from each other, they were determined not to turn around. Contact had been made, there was no need to overdo it.
Jessica took the Astoria Line from Ditmars Boulevard to 36th Avenue. From there, it was a ten-minute walk on foot back to her and her father’s place. Their flat was quite a spacious apartment at the top floor of a six-story building right next to a Starbucks. Fortunately, they had built in an elevator a few years back, so Jessica virtually never took the stairs. When she turned the key and opened the door to her apartment, she saw no light. Apparently, her father hadn’t come back from work yet, but even if he had, Jessica wouldn’t have behaved differently. She had never been the kind of daughter who would shout, standing in the hallway: “Dad, it’s me, I’m back!”
Once her father had admonished her for this behavior and as a consequence she had grown more and more reluctant to say anything at all on her return, let alone shout. She was aware that this behavior was enhancing their estrangement and sometimes she felt a whiff of remorse, but didn’t change anything about it.
In her room, Jessica flung her backpack into the corner, closed the door, threw herself on the bed and grabbed the remote control from the bedside table. She switched onto the Cartoon Network and already saw the opening credits of Sailor Moon. The main character of this show was a girl named Usagi Tsukino, aka Bunny, a clumsy little middle-school student in Minato, Tokyo. For American viewers, however, they had changed the name from Usagi to Serena. One day Serena meets the talking black cat, Luna, that gives her a magical brooch enabling her to become the titular character Sailor Moon: a pretty guardian destined to save Earth from the forces of evil. The reason why Jessica identified with the main character was that Usagi was such an imperfect character in her real life, but had these hidden talents and powers that would only show in an alternate world. Jessica secretly believed to be very much like Usagi: a girl that was underestimated by everyone but would soon be a star in a parallel universe. The only problem was that Jessica hadn’t managed to find her ‘alternate universe’ yet. Instead, she was stuck in an apartment in Queens, New York, with her father who never saw her for what she really was: a bright, talented and beautiful teenage girl.
In the episode Jessica was watching, two hunters from the so called megaverse come to earth and try to absorb energy from the planet by using creatures from a deck of cards. The hunters highjack a movie audition which happens to involve the sailor scouts. Sailor Moon comes to the rescue, but can't do it on her own. So Luna has to give the sailor scouts their memories so they can save sailor moon.
The episode was dragging on a bit and so Jessica decided to do some dual-screening. She got her laptop from her backpack, booted the computer and logged on to the net, more specifically to a chat group called Sailor Moon Room. She had an account there, her avatar was naokohill, which was a combination of the name of the author who had created Sailor Moon and her family name. She entered the chat room and saw that only two other members were online.
(naokohill entered the room)
naokohill: Hey, where is everybody?
shoichiyokoi: Watching the show, I guess.
naokohill: What’s wrong with him?
hirooonoda: (left the chat room)
shoichiyokoi: Good riddance ☺
naokohill: So why aren’t you watching the show?
shoichiyokoi: I’m Japanese, actually, and I prefer watching the original version.
naokohill: You’re Japanese? Wow, your English is really good.
shoichiyokoi: Lol! I’m American, actually. My parents are Japanese, but we live in Philly.
naokohill: Oh, okay! Must be great to be able to watch the show in OV.
shoichiyokoi: ‘Tis! Where u from?
naokohill: Queens, NY!
They chatted on for the rest of the episode. They didn’t exchange any vital information about themselves, they just did some small talk and tried various inside jokes about Sailor Moon on each other. At the end of the episode, shoichiyokoi asked her if she watched any other Animes or read any other Mangas. It was during this chat that Jessica ended up being impressed with how much schoichiyokoi knew about Mangas and Animes. He virtually knew all the names of all the characters of any Manga or Anime ever written. He could recite their entire life story, he could establish connections between different authors or creators and also differentiated between different drawing techniques. Twenty minutes after the episode had ended, they were still chatting away until finally shoichiyokoi made an attempt to wrap it up.
shoichiyokoi: Hey, gotta go!
shoichiyokoi: We should do this again sometime.
naokohill: sometime = never?
shoichiyokoi: no, sometime = next week, same time, same place
shoichiyokoi: cu round
And on that note, their little chat ended. With shutting it down, Jessica closed her laptop and put it beside her. The TV was still on, but it was now showing an episode of Power Rangers. A character named Rita Repulsa was just talking to one of her minions. It was at that moment, that Jessica heard some noise coming from the entrance door of their apartment. It was her father.
“I’m home”, he shouted into the hallway.
“I’m hooome”, Jessica parroted him silently, protected by the closed door and the darkness in her room.
Knowing that he would knock on her door in less than a minute, Jessica braced herself for another heated argument. She knew that he hated it when she was watching this junk, as he called it, she knew that he had hoped for a little obedient girl that would be as thrilled by foreign languages as he was. She knew that she was a big disappointment to the high and mighty Stephen Hill, master of education and la langue française. And whenever he talked to her, she felt like it was the teacher in him that felt nothing but resentment for the letdown she was. And that made her angry. And her anger showed in the way she talked to him. Everything she uttered in his presence was laden with subliminal contempt.
There, the knock. Jessica didn’t react, hoping that he wouldn’t have the courage to enter. After all, she could be naked or making out with a guy his age. And he sure would have the decency to…
The door opened. The light from the hallway flooded her hideout of a room immediately, accentuating her father’s dark silhouette on the threshold.
“What you’re up to?”, her father asked, switching on the light in her room.
“Nothing”, Jessica gave back, averting her eyes from the glaring light. When she eventually looked at her father, she felt the pent-up anger rising inside of her.
“Have you been watching that crap again?”, he said, pointing his finger to the TV.
Jessica said nothing. She hoped her scornful looks would do the talking.
Her father noticed the looks. He stood there for a moment, obviously unsure about what to do. And his insecurity began to show, to the extent that Jessica realized she had gained momentum.
“Please leave me be”, she mumbled.
And her father obeyed. Without further ado, he stepped into the hallway again and closed the door. Jessica’s feeling of triumph subsided rather soon and was replaced by a twinge of remorse, but again she was unable to react on it. More than that: She stayed inside her room for the rest of the evening and only went to the bathroom after she was sure her father had gone to bed.
She only had an inkling of how cruel her behavior was and how much it hurt her father.