Lulu in the Year of Gatsby


AT FIFTEEN I loved a girl.

There was no one to talk to. My older brother was dead before he turned ten. My sister Joan had moved out of the house. She fought with my father over the latest American war raging overseas. There were pitched battles during the CBS news with Walter Cronkite. For her troubles he beat her senseless. I agreed with Joan about Vietnam but didn’t know how I could stop it when I couldn’t stop the war in our living room.

But this girl. Her name was Lulu. I hadn’t looked for her, but she found me.

We met at a ninth grade dance on the freshly waxed floor of our high school gymnasium. I was hanging out with my basketball buddies. Lulu came up and asked me to dance.

It happened like this: I had held hands with Lulu’s best friend and next door neighbor, Melanie King. I knew Melanie from Chorus. On the night of our big concert she was on crutches with a broken leg. We stood next to each other, soprano and tenor. She asked if she could hold onto my hand during the performance. For support. Sure, I said.

This was new. I couldn’t remember the words to any of the songs. We exchanged glances throughout the performance, between bursts of applause from the audience. Her touch as we interlaced fingers made me sweat, then shiver, but Melanie already had a boyfriend, my basketball teammate Danny (whose brother would die in Vietnam six months later). Melanie turned me over to her neighbor after that evening of hand holding, in some kind of womanly transaction (I never got the details), and the next thing I knew, Lulu was in my arms on the floor of the gym., and at fifteen, I was plunged into the mystery of girlhood.

My father and Joan fought constantly, terrible rows that would begin at dinner and last long into the night, ending only when he would try to stop her screams by grabbing her and holding on. He was not a violent man, though he had crawled up Omaha Beach in June, 1944, watching his mates cut to ribbons by machine gun fire. The suburbs of Westchester must have seemed like his leafy reward when he came home from the war and fathered his first two children. But now his first born was dead and his only daughter was calling him a murderer. His third child was me, watching.

When Joan resisted his hugs he shook her. Then hit her with an open hand, and finally pounded her into a puddle of submission on the living room carpet. I got to watch all this.

Things would be quiet for an hour or so, and then she would start up again (she was fearless), going into new territory, from Vietnam to the Nixon bombing of Cambodia, with accusations that bundled Kissinger, the CIA, the State Department, and the local New York State police—how was it that my brother died, father? Enraged, he would resume beating her while our mother cringed in the corner, waving the New Testament.

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About Gary Percesepe


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Gary Percesepe's dog died a few months back. He was a white standard poodle named Dylan, RIP. And while that sux, he wants you to know that he is otherwise OK. Well, except for that girl in SOHO that got away from him the next month. And well, OK, last week. He teaches at the University of Dayton. His work...read more has appeared in lots of places, if you want to know, and like that-- Gary Percesepe is Associate Editor at New World Writing (formerly Mississippi Review) and a Contributor at The Nervous Breakdown. Author of four books in phi¬los¬o¬phy, Percesepe’s fic-tion, poetry, essays, and inter¬views have appeared in Story Quarterly, N + 1, Salon, Mississippi Review, The Millions, Brevity, PANK, The Brooklyner, and other places. His collection of short stories, WHY I DID THE GROCERY GIRL, is forthcoming from Aqueous Books.
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