Chapter 1 1997

I became fascinated with the disfigured character of darkness at a very young age. Back in the day, my parents were famous galivanters, who skipped the streets of world capitols and loved the theater. That might partly be why I became an actress myself. They never wanted me to have a boring life like I do now, but had no idea they'd run out of money for said gallivanting, and before we knew it, we were living in the northwest, hurrying inside from the rain, and watching t.v. at different ends of the house. I never allowed the dreary Oregon clouds to get my mood down though. In fact, I think it inspired me even more to keep my imagination, and create when there was nothing around me.

The stage lights, back in 1997, were dimmed and ominous, reflecting mirrors and black walls rising up to the ceiling. An eight-year-old Lily (myself), was clutching to my Mom's coat-sleeve, and she had no idea what this play was or what was going on, other than that we'd supposedly been excited about it for some time now. Dancing groups, splashed in rich color paraded the stage, and a girl in all white was promptly introduced as the opera's favorite little singer. But every now and then the orchestra would strike an odd, foreshadowing note, and lights continued to grow darker. I periodically glanced up to a glimmering, gold chandelier above the audience, with little crimson and emerald sparkles, cut perfectly into its design. Then, the minute I caught a masked, plotting figure, ominously towering over the window in the darkness, watching the stage and the audience, I couldn't remember if my heart kept beating. I don't even remember the events of the plot besides those which involved that man, and the first time he entered the stage, rowing through smoke and kidnapping the woman, I was terrified and fascinated with him all at once.

I spent many days after the performance looking over my shoulder; waiting; anticipating the phantom to come back, to appear the way he did on the stage in my real life. I was frightened of him kidnapping me, but wanted his face to appear in the mirror, or my dreams, beckoning to me with a glove-clad hand. I didn't want our walk into the icy New York air to be goodbye. I refused to look forward when my mom told me to, away from the glittering lights of the playtimes above the theater. She had to tug at my arm for me to pay attention, and the car ride was silent with reminiscing.

I can only remember so well the kind of infatuation I had with the phantom after that. True, I knew little about him other than that he was hurting for being a freak of nature, of living only in people's shadows, and loving someone so angelic, who he could never have no matter how hard he tried. But I held on to that memory for a long time before things started to fade. I forgot why I'd become so entranced by the story, and as a kid, I didn't feel the need to persist if I didn't know why.

Yes, I forgot the phantom for several years. Little things would trigger my memories of it, but it was all a blurred concept. He became only the suited, masked man who conspired in walls, and underneath the floor.

Then, when I entered high school, I was reunited with him, solely by chance. The Phantom had somehow worked himself into the school curriculum, and we ended up reading Gaston Leroux's novel as our winter book project. Admittedly, I didn't much like the beginning. It was running slow, and I was wondering when the real action would begin.

Concluding the book, I had tears running down my face. I had never known who Erik really was, and in ways was ashamed that I'd treated him only as a mysterious man instead of one who needed someone to love him. I didn't like the ending- not one bit. But no matter what it was, it wasn't satisfying enough for me.

I started renting every possible rendition of the story as I could over at Hollywood Video. My mom thought it was totally bizarre. Well, ok, she didn't say so, but every time she brought a new one home, the look on her face seemed a bit perplexed with my sudden interests. By the end of winter break, I had associated myself with Lon Chaney, Claude Rains, Charles Dance, and even Julian Sands. (And let me tell you- that one was weird.) At this point, I didn't know what version to believe. Which I could hold on to the most with confidence. None of them seemed even close to what I remembered back at broadway.

Then I discovered the infamous Andrew Lloyd Webber. Well, ok, not infamous.
But he was responsible for this stage production. And quickly after, I introduced myself to a man named Michael Crawford. He was absolutely my favorite phantom of all. His voice was soft and powerful all at once…his expressions, his sensitivity at some times, but grandeur at others. I knew there was no way I could ever see the Phantom of the Opera the way it was intended unless I was caught right in the middle of the storm. Feeling his presence linger near the curtains. Hearing the tremble in his voice, and the great rush as the chandelier descended above my head.

With this great concept dancing about my mind, I decided to start saving all my money solely for its purpose. I became so intent on traveling to New York and heading to its broadway production that I started selling little things in my room for money because nothing I was making by doing little things around the house for my parents was cutting it. Then I figured "why not sell my desk? I don't use it", and there it went, to a girl down the street for fifty bucks. Soon after the shelves, and a lot of things I used to play with that I was keeping for memory's sake started disappearing after I realized I didn't need them either. I sold almost everything. To this day, my room is extremely lonely, but I've been relying on my imagination to take care of me, as I said earlier, and it's been working out all right. The money's all in a box in the bottom of the dresser. All $430 of it. As if that's even enough.

I'm thinking of getting a job soon.

After all, I'm seventeen years old. It's the least I can do.

With that said, let's talk about how life is two years after the obsession was revived.

Things are boring here in my house. When steady jobs seemed paramount, my parents moved here from Colorado when I was in seventh grade. I spent a year wandering around by myself, lonely for a few friends I'd made in the past and wondering when we could move again. I asked that a lot, and they sort of shook their heads and told me I needed to stop thinking about it and make things as best as I could. Then, when I entered eighth grade, I met Mariam, who turned into my best and only friend, and we seemed to really get along well. She was dorky and curly-haired, and we were both crazy for theater and two of few people who still openly loved cartoons. (By 8th grade, everybody thinks they're too cool to like kid stuff anymore. It wears off when they realize nobody cares.) The only problem is, Mariam's not incredibly intent on meeting up all the time, and neither am I. She spends a lot of time on the internet when she gets home, and me, I like to just think and connect with myself. If it's nice outside or my parents don't want me to bother them anymore, I go in the backyard and toss rocks at the fence, or work on this tunnel I started in the bushes by arching the branches. My parents aren't too happy with it- they say I'm ruining all the plants, but it's not like they ever go outside. Besides, from the front, it looks normal. I guess it's kind of a sanctuary to me sometimes. Regular teenagers go out with friends, get their driver's licenses, and…get drunk…I don't know. But I come home and sit in the bushes, writing bad poetry in my spiral notebook. I also don't do my homework. Well, ok, I do it, but not until it's ten to midnight or the class before it's due. I have a really bad habit of procrastinating.

With that said, it was Monday morning, and I eased into my desk a bit uncomfortably that day. Mariam dared me to wear a mini skirt to school, and of course, someone like me, who'll do anything to get attention, agreed to it. I hadn't thought ahead- you know, about it maybe being freezing cold. The untouched metal chair was brutal on my thighs. I was getting a lot of unwanted stares… not because they weren't used to skirts of this length. I mean all the stupid sluts around school wore them and all, but pride told me they knew I was better than that, so it must've been a surprise. It was odd crossing boys I'd never even seen before, glancing amusedly at me… Were they hitting on me? I really don't know. I don't want to know, because none of them would be good dating material anyway. They're all little mama's boys and fake rebels. Wannabe-punks, boys who walk around in their sister's jeans, and bums with guitars. I kind of liked the whole idea of a wandering musician, but only when they were a good one. These guys fiddled around aimlessly, and it really got on my nerves when they picked a place to do it close enough to me or my classroom. So as I said, this skirt wasn't attracting anything good, and I really started to become disgusted asking myself why I owned it to begin with. I could now promise myself to hang this little number in the back of the closet and never touch it until the day Mom collects thrift store donations to put on the porch.

I don't really think it's necessary that I go into school details much with you though. I think it's safe to say the whole deal sucks, everybody's stupid, and Mariam's the only one who's got my back. And you're going to think this is silly, but I just hate being in close proximity of others. I've never been physically close with others, not even my parents, and I'd never had a boyfriend. The idea of someone being in my bubble just doesn't work out with me. One of my biggest peeves is the fact that desk rows are so close together. I absolutely hated having to squeeze in because two other people that I don't even know. I mean, you can't lean back, because then you might be entering someone else's space, and I'm actually considerate. But you can't lean forward, because some guy's head is right there. And he'll put his arms behind his neck, and lean back to stretch a million times. It really made me want to snap my pencil. Either that or stab it into his hand. To me, most men here were disgusting dandruff ridden idiots…. I tried as often as I could to pick a corner seat where the burden was at least a little bit more bearable.

Now, it all comes down to what the point is of talking to you about this whole escapade. I mean clearly you've gathered that my life is boring, and useless, and I don't do anything productive all day that might justify why I'm using up the world's resources. So here we go.

After lunch, I turned the corner and entered Drama. Mariam seemed to have shifting eyes as she sat at the corner of the couch and waited for me to join her. When she met those eyes with me, her brow flickered up and down, like something was up. When I asked her, she told me she'd found a note addressed to me in the band room. Now, I thought long and hard who might've been in the band room, and would have known me enough to leave a note in there, and I couldn't come up with anyone. I asked, and she was like… "I dunno…didn't say." and she had it stuffed in her pocket. When she dug it out, I expected it to be a folded piece of lined paper; you know, the only kind a high-schooler would have, but it was blank, and an odd texture when I felt it in my hand.

"Well…where'd you find it?" She told me it was stuffed between the cabinet door next to the files for Mrs. Vardega's drama and choir classes. Then it all kind of came together for me, because she and I liked to wander around in there a lot during lunch or if class was starting late, and sometimes sneaked into her records to see how well we were doing in Acting 3. It seemed likely to assume that it was someone else in class. So, I opened it up and was alarmed by a messy black pen which had written it. Mariam seemed equally intrigued. I scrolled across the single line, read it over several times, and was still confused. I had no idea what it was supposed to mean. "Lily…which is better: being alone, or being together?" Immediately, I thought to myself "It really depends on whom I'm 'together' with." I rose my face from the note and surveyed the room, looking for possible suitors who could have written this note. Nobody really seemed in sync with it. I mean there was Michael, but he was more of a straightforward kind of guy. He wouldn't leave notes like this. Plus he never paid any attention to me. Not even the kind where they don't talk to you but you know they're looking at you all the time for some reason. Like, Michael didn't even know I was in the class, so I shook my head a little and kept searching. Then there was Ryan and Toby, who always spent class together. Both were aspiring play-writes, who wore coats and scarves to school during the fall and didn't find anyone else in the class worthy of their presence. Then Sascha passed by, and for a minute I dismissed her, but then asked myself why it couldn't be a girl. The note wasn't leaning so strictly towards romanticism, even if it could be taken that way. No… no no no…nobody, at least, nobody in the room at the time seemed right. Mariam was scanning a bit as well and we simply shrugged at each other as soon as Mrs. Vardega came in, shuffling her papers and striding on high heels. She seemed in a hurry to start practice, so I put the note in my backpack and forgot about it.

In fact, I don't think I remembered I'd even received it until later that night when I was hanging around in the computer room, forcing myself to pump out a president Nixon project. You all know about my procrastinating issues, and the printer was out of paper. I would've been more inspired to find some more if I even cared about the project to begin with. I like history, okay?! But now was not the time. I opened it and read it, then folded it back, made it do tricks over the table, then opened it and read it again, still trying to fathom who could have written it when I had the ingenious idea of responding and leaving my note in the same place. Er… shut up! Of course the note's context meant I was supposed to do that. If I want to call it an ingenious idea, I can. I took out a pen and a yellow sticky from my father's desk, and actually wrote the same thought I'd been having earlier. "Depends on who this second party is. Hm?" I folded it up and grinned like I'd been clever, then stuffed it back in my backpack. What was the use of thinking about it now, anyway? Sooner or later, whoever it was would be figured out.

Seconds later, I heard the front door open, and I knew my parents were home, both at once, as their chattering broke the house's silence. I wandered out of the computer room, still with no completed project in hand, and saw my mom scurrying around the kitchen, sliding paper-bags over the counter.

"Lilian, help me with the groceries, will you?" I shrugged and put my flats by the door on and came out to the car, curtly retrieving a bag and heading back to the front door when I stopped and smelled the October atmosphere. The dead leaves and dying summer were prominent in the air. I looked up the street at a setting sun, then down to the slick pavement where new rain had hit earlier that day. I already mentioned this, but man, did I love being outside. It sucked that winter was approaching and I wouldn't be able to hide out in the backyard anymore. I came inside and found Dad with his fingers in his hair, sitting at the counter as mom stored away the vegetables.

"What's up, Dad?"

"Long, long day." Dad was a chef. He worked from morning to evening at a restaurant called Nheka's. We've been there a few times before and I'm not quite sure if I remember liking the food. My mom says if Dad had made it, it would've been superb, and I tend to agree because the rare cooking he does at the house has always been pretty tasteful. And when I said rare, it wasn't an accident- he does so much cooking, it's the last thing from his mind when he gets home. Yeah, I'd pretty much have to say, despite having a chef in the house, we're pretty much all off on our own when it comes to meals. Cereal boxes and t.v. dinners went by pretty fast around here. He stood up and headed towards the stairs.

"Uh-, Dad-"

"I won't use up all the hot water, don't worry…" He trailed off and left, and my mom giggled at his lethargy.

"And what are you laughing about, mother-dearest?"

"Your father's a martyr, Lily."

"He needs a new job."

"Maybe. Could you put all that stuff in the cupboard?"

"Sure, sure…"

And that's how most weeknights go. I spent an hour or two after that hanging around the house, trying to convince somebody that we needed a family trip to Europe. I don't think I could have persuaded them to spend hundreds of dollars unless it was to get me out of jail. Eventually, it all seemed pretty hopeless so I returned to my room and fell on my bed in a manner as if I'd been shot, with my face into the pillows, huffing to breathe through the thick fabric. Do you see now why it was totally pointless to write a story about me? I'm not good at anything, I don't fight monsters, I don't have oddly colored hair or eyes, and I'm not hooking up with a sexy Italian man I met at the train station. I'm lying in bed, in a bare room, and I suck.