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Fiona Helmsley | Electric Cereal

Author: Fiona Helmsley

Fiona Helmsley is a writer of creative non-fiction and poetry. Her writing can be found in various anthologies like Ladyland and Air in the Paragraph Line and online at websites like Jezebel, Junk Lit, The Hairpin, and The Rumpus. Her book of essays, stories, and poems, My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers is forthcoming in 2015.

Black Dogs

Diana Vreeland wore Vaseline on her eyelids like shadow;
Franz Kafka stuttered around his father, and no one else.
I finally turned on Allen Ginsberg once I had a child.
Ginsberg would brag about getting Jack Kerouac drunk.
Wasted, Kerouac was more susceptible to his advances.
Towards the end of his life, feeling fat and unattractive,
Kerouac would refer to himself as “Gordo.”
This is the Kerouac Ginsberg took advantage of—
Gordo.
The older kids in Tompkins Square Park would tell stories about Ginsberg trolling the park looking for dope sick boys to pay for blowjobs,
And I would say things like
“I would be so honored.”

People at the library where I work ask for fiction recommendations.
I feel like a turd saying I only read non-fiction and biography, but it’s 99.9% true.
So I’ll reach into my bag of tricks, and pull out a suggestion—
Gone Girl.
But it’s never much help.
Over three years since its publication, the book is always out.
I did read Gone Girl.
My favorite part of the book was a few lines about how much you can tell about a man in his reaction when a woman starts to cry.
For the rest of the day, I asked every man I came in contact with how seeing a woman cry made him feel.
Don’t worry, that day I didn’t come in contact with many men.

Yesterday was the anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s death.
Frieda Plath wrote a poem about Gwyneth Paltrow’s desire to make a movie about her mother:

Now they want to make a film

For anyone lacking the ability
To imagine the body, head in oven

Orphaning children.

I understand her anger.
Her choice of that last, deliberate line—
A black mark on her mother’s character.
Didn’t you love us enough to fake it, mom?

My boyfriend’s mad I’m depressed.
I suspect he’s not really angry, more ashamed.
I knew right away he had stolen that line about “the black dogs of depression” from Churchill.

Mr. Hale

Had I known more about fucking when I was thirteen, the age I was when I first met Mr. Hale, I would have wanted to fuck him, because that is what I do with older men, relate to them like surrogate fathers, or fuck them. The best relationships I have had with older men have been a melding of the two, because then I get to fuck, and I get to rebel, my two favorite things. But, being that I just thirteen years old, and didn’t yet know that outlet, my interest in Mr. Hale was less prurient. I only craved his attention and approval. Mr. Hale was my seventh grade English teacher. He smoked Lucky Strikes cigarettes, the outline of the circle insignia on the packaging always visible through the pocket of his button-down shirt, like a bull’s eye over his heart. Susceptible to great spasms of rage, I once watched in awe as he threw a male classmate into a row of lockers. He probably should have lost his job for this, but I suspect the boy’s parents didn’t care enough about him to raise a stink.

Mr. Hale was the first person to ever encourage my writing. During my seventh grade year of school, I read a lot of Stephen King and true crime, and was interested in suicide and Satanism. One day during math class, I was sitting in the back of the room, bored, and decided to write a poem:

It was so cold,
The world.
It felt like a thin sheet of ice
Strong enough to hold him underwater,
But easy enough to break.
And no one noticed,
Not his mom, who just drank.
And he’d think
Of nothing.
There was a crash.
A bottle broke.
His mother complained,
“You’re a clumsy pig!”
And he picked up the pieces
Of his life.
The sharp glass twinkled in the sunlight
As it passed his wrists the first time,
Then it turned red
Like an eclipse of the sun.
And no one noticed.

I cringe reading the poem now, but back then, Mr. Hale loved it. I’d never had a person gush like he did over anything I’d done. He suggested a few minor edits (“How about we change the last line from ‘no one noticed’ to ‘not one noticed,’ it will give it more gravitas,”) and made copies of the poem, handing them out to all of his classes. The poem was fast-tracked for publication in the school’s monthly writing magazine. I’d never been particularly good or bad at anything, and suddenly I was being told I had this thing: a talent. I was such a gifted writer, Mr. Hale prophesied, that if I kept at it, one day he would be able to buy a book of my poems. Dedicate them to me, he said.

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