August 2003
volume 1, issue 2

Story Stalking

Our coffee talk continues, we’ve slowly gone through my stack of photos and then B. slides a CD case across the table to me, a CDROM of Egypt-era negatives he’s just processed. He says that he’s a bit embarrassed and I can’t imagine why that would be. This is when things get weird. He stares at the case and my gaze presses into his eyes, searching for clues, but he’s too focused on the CD, searching for words, nothing’s coming out. “What?” I say. He opens up the CD jacket, which is a preview, a contact sheet of the photos on the disc. “See these photos?” and he points to a sequence of shots taken in a classroom, I recognize some of the students. “I took these in 7th grade Geography class and this little figure in the background, well…. that’s you. You can’t really see it here, but all these pictures I took of you.” It takes a second for it to sink in because on the contact sheet I’m very tiny, but these are all photos he secretly took, about a dozen, by “resting” his camera on his desk, lens pointed toward me. Click, me doing homework. Click, me dangling a sandal off my foot. Click, me raising my hand in the most eager beaver teacher’s pet kinda way. Click, me diving into my school bag. Nothing sexy or scandalous, but just a lot. Invasive. Surreptitious. Creepy. And so he gives me this, he hands over proof, like a proud confession, his internal hum – a motor revving and I’m starting to get creeped out. His delivery was eerily nervous, lacking the humor that distance could have allowed this kind of strange admission. “Imagine what else I did…” – I take as subtext. “Imagine what else I’m capable of…” – subtext to subtext. And what reaction does he expect from me? He claims embarrassment, but his pride confuses the matter. I feel weirded out, but don’t act upset. By not acting upset, his biggest fear has been laid to rest. I look at him, he’s now beaming, proud. Do I express delight that perhaps I was his adolescent beat off material? My compliments to the chef?! But, I understand also that it’s probably much more innocent than that and say, “Whatever, we were twelve.” I know full well what it’s like to need to impress upon someone that you have beliefs, a body of work, a past and the only way you seem capable of doing it is desperately. ‘That’s what I thought,” he says, relieved.

So, my family is together in our apartment, we have all made it home safely and the drama subsides. The army rounds everyone up as we stay in-home for an entire week. Hour long breaks in the afternoon and evening allow people time to get food or, as in our expatriate neighborhood, meet in the middle of the street and exchange episodes of Growing Pains and Silver Spoons which, upon watching, further pervert my already perverted Anne Frank fantasy/take on the whole experience. That week my brothers and I hung out with the other kids in the building, roaming from boxy gray sofa to boxy gray sofa playing Trivial Pursuit and watching videos – spending too much time together, fighting, getting bored, making up. When we finally went back to school, everything was exactly as it was left – books open, chairs shoved away from desks, and, sadly, Sherman, my homeroom guinea pig, forgotten and dead. And that’s pretty much all I remember. Life returned to normal.

Uncomfortable with the whole CD gift thing, I rapidly change the subject and ask B. what he remembers of the riots. He doesn’t remember much and his details are unsatisfying to me, he is unable to tell me the story I’m trying to write. So I ask pointed questions. “Do you remember the principal yelling at us from the track field? No. Do you remember kids crying at kids crying? No. Do you remember the music teacher going through the Lloyd Weber oeuvre?” No. To all my questions, no. “Was your little sister in Room 18?” Finally something, he thinks, flummoxed, doesn’t know for certain, either way. Pause, hmm, grumble, humming then… tada! Light bulb! He has figured out the correct answer. He says in a metered slowness, “You know... I just don’t recall whether or not she was… but... I remember… WHERE YOU WERE.” His emphasis scares me. Part of me doesn’t believe him, another part of me wants to, but honestly, my first instinct, before noticing the glint of madness in his eyes, his certainty that his tracking and placement of me would –- that he could – please me, is a rush of potential: “Really?!! Great! Where was I? Maybe I can use it for my story! Do you remember where I was on other days?” –- the subtext to which is a pathetic, “Can you tell me who I am now by telling me who or where I was then?” But I know better and determine that he has just convinced me that his obsessiveness is to be feared, it seems delusional, dishonest, lame. If the CD wasn’t pushing it, this did

I decide it’s time to go and start gathering my photos into my purse, but it’s clear that this upsets B.. Gravity pulls him down low, he is sinking,

“You know,” he says, “I just don’t understand… whenever I contact somebody from Egypt, we’ll write a few emails and then it’s over, I never hear from them again. Like with M., I guess we’re not good friends anymore. He won’t write me back.” He sinks further; Egypt is going to fizzle away again.

“Well,” I say, trying to figure out how to respond kindly, “that was a long time ago. It’s nice to get in touch with people from back then because it was such a wonderful and unique experience, but there’s only so much you can say.”

He perks up. “I could talk about it forever!”

It’s hard to believe he could be so rooted in junior high and it’s shocking and hard to realize he can’t get how off-putting and limiting his “Egypt 4-ever” attitude is to other people – he’s like a grown man who still believes what people wrote in his yearbook or something.

“People move on, that’s life, people move on, there’s only so much to say,” I tell him and I can’t believe I’ve just said this; I’m a hypocrite, perhaps as obsessed as he is, at least with trying to put these riots into narrative. Maybe I’m trying to convince myself.

He’s sad now. “I guess so, but I could talk about it forever.”

I stand up and lead the way outside the shop. I look at him and he looks very confused, distraught.

“Well, it’s nice to see you,” I try to muster politeness and repress the fear.

This isn’t good enough. He gets a little angry and says he still has all these questions for me, “There are some mysteries I was hoping you could solve.” He has warned me, but I’m not sure what of, “Mysteries?” I say.

“There was this weekend in 7th grade when I was supposed to meet somebody… a girl, at the pizza place on Road 9 and supposedly you were engineering the whole thing, but I never showed up because I wasn’t going to be made a fool of.”

Did I do that? What the fuck is he talking about? This is crazy. “What?” I say.

“You don’t know what I’m talking about?” he’s shaking.

I’m backing up wondering why it’s so hot, close to 90 degrees across from the Ross in Burbank at the end of January. My legs are sweating. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

He’s getting angrier, the internal hum vibrating in his throat now, “Like I said, I never showed up because I wasn’t going to be made a fool of.” He wants to make sure I know that he knows he’s not a fool by virtue of what circumstances he doesn’t place himself in. Okay. I’ll believe it.

“I really wish I knew what you were talking about,” and I mean it – this isn’t the kind of thing I would forget, does that mean I was mean to him or really liked him and repressed it or his he totally nuts? “Really, I really wish I knew what you were talking about.”

He doesn’t believe me and very passive-aggressively states, as if it’s a gift/curse, “Well, now you’ll have something to ponder.”

“Believe me,” I want to say, “I ponder over plenty of wasteful, fantastical garbage.” But I don’t want to get into a “Who’s the Craziest?” competition.

It’s time to go. I start looking around and the sidewalk is empty, a prospect that scares the shit out of me, no witnesses for what might happen if he follows me. I don’t want him to look at me anymore. I extend a very stiff arm to avoid a potential hug and he squeezes my hand with a vampiric grip. “We’ll email right, I hope we’ll be in touch?” he says and I lie, wanting to get out with the least amount of effort, “yes, take care.”

And I walk away really scared, looking over my shoulder every now and then, making sure he’s not following me, trying to make eye contact with the men driving all these mini-vans that suddenly appear out of nowhere.

And I walk away really scared, looking over my shoulder every now and then, making sure he’s not following me, trying to make eye contact with the men driving all these mini-vans that suddenly appear out of nowhere.

I get an email from B. eight short hours after our meeting. He thanks me for the great time and apologizes for not wanting it to end – for behaving like a kid who couldn’t heed to the call to come home. He knows that he can’t let his memories of Egypt rule his waking life, and seeing me was essential to figuring that out. Now he feels like Cairo is a caboose cut off from the rest of his life, the train that must move forward. He proclaims closure. I’m skeptical. He wants to keep in touch and suggests we talk about who we are now. Thank god, I think, our coffee talk was so stuck in the past; he knows nothing of who or what I am now. I am intact.

I don’t respond. I think about sending him a brief “thanks, we’ll never be in touch again” message, but I determine that his ideas of closure are not as finite as mine and it would be best to be that supposed caboose he’s cut loose. He writes again a week later asking if I’ve been to his website, that he’s posted more photos. I’m curious, of course, but scared to go to the website, as if the minute it opens on my computer he’ll suck me into a vortex of delusional obsession or that he’s got sophisticated surveillance technology that will start observing my electronic movements for the rest of my life. His ability to make me feel such discomfort – that’s what it is more than anything, I fear that it’s permanent and contagious, that he will erase that line I want to bold between nostalgia and obsession.

B. writes me one last email about a reunion for anyone who went to our school in Cairo. He gives me all the information, it’s in a month and there will be people from all decades there. He reluctantly admits that he hasn’t fully let go of Cairo, as stated in his “closure email,” that’s he’s excited and will attend. Will I go? It’s at the Luxor in Las Vegas. Perfect, I think, just what he’s after. Maybe it will be a simulacra kinda thing.


The author would like to thank the Hansens and the El Samahys, and B. May, 2003

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