MAY 2005

> DEAD ACTOR | hillary boles

My dad's been teaching me how to drive, which is a complete fucking disaster. The first day I wore my blue flip-flops and he made me change because "flip-flops are not driving shoes." Every day for a month we drive around the parking lot of the elementary school until my dad either blows a gasket, or I start to cry. When he finally let me explore the interstate, he screamed in my ear, "THE ON-RAMP IS NOT A LAUNCHING PAD," which didn't make any sense to me but really pissed me off.

I try to think logically about things. Like my not getting along with my parents has to do with the fact that I was property of the state of Kentucky for a full three weeks before my parents decided they did want to adopt a kid. My mom can't understand why I listen to jazz and she says no one in the history of her family or my dad's family has ever intentionally listened to jazz. I have nothing in common with these people, and I finally understood it when I heard the "nature versus nurture" argument Ms. Fendley gave us in third period Psychology.

Also ... and my dad would say this is our biggest difference ... I hate scary movies because when I was four, my dad ruined my crazy obsession with E.T. It was the first movie I ever went to the theater to see, and afterward, my mother and grandmother got caught up in the hysteria, buying me E.T. paraphernalia from legwarmers to a full-fucking-blown E.T.-themed bedroom. Anyway, I guess I was sitting on my dad's lap on our deck right in the middle of the E.T. obsession and my dad made up some freaky story about how E.T. lived under my deck and that he wanted to take me up in his spaceship and make me his sister. According to the story, I believed it and seriously have not watched that damn movie to this day.

So I quit driving for a while and my father, I guess, tried to make it up to me by taking me on a ghost run sponsored by the local rock station—a sort-of treasure hunt for adults. My dad ignored all the directions given out on the radio and the abandoned house was the last stop of the night. Since we had skipped every single other stop, we were the first ones there. He stayed in the car staring up at the house for a long time, giving me an opportunity to silently crave a cigarette and try to understand this unspoken gap we have between us.

When my parents were newlyweds, they were living in a tiny shack with no indoor plumbing and my mom had to take all the dirty laundry to the Laundromat two towns away. One of these days, probably while sorting my father's nasty socks, my mother met Edmon who was obviously displaced. My mother has an affinity for talking to strangers and to this day has a homeless pen-pal in Boston. For her, striking up a conversation with the old man was natural and when my mother told my father she had met one of his horror film idols, my dad thought she was fucking nuts.

My mother and Edmon met in the laundromat every week after—he probably had a thing for her. My mom had quit her job at the Playboy Club as a photographer after my dad came home from Vietnam. Before that cool-ass job, she was a stewardess for Braniff, which was supposedly the cool airline to work for and she was always talking about the Italian–designed uniforms. Anyway, she was probably hot and Edmon probably wanted her in that dirty, old man way.

Soon my dad got suspicious, so he started accompanying my mom to help with the laundry. And there he was, Bela Lugosi's favorite co-star, Edmon Ryan, sorting through his dirty laundry in a tiny town in Kentucky.

I guess my dad had been a horror movie buff since he was a kid when they showed it on the family's black and white TV, and when my dad started driving he took my mom out on dates to the drive-in and watched these same movies starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, but my mom always slept.

My dad likes things ambiguous. Like Vietnam. Vietnam is another member of our family. It's present at our dinner table every night, it goes with us to Wal-Mart to get back-to-school clothes, and when my dad finally falls asleep after a case of Budweiser, it goes to sleep with us too. It's never spoken about, but is always just there.

My dad also keeps stories about Edmon pretty ambiguous. He told me how Edmon taught him how to watercolor and how at that huge antebellum house next to the railroad tracks, Edmon threw my dad's college graduation party where the two stayed up until early morning drinking and watching horror movies. For my dad, it was reliving his childhood, for Edmon, it was probably reliving his good days. But, he never told me why they didn't talk for several years, and why all Edmon's paintings burned after he died.

Looking up at Edmon's old house, I see people throwing empty beer cans on the ground and laughing at each other's Halloween costumes. I ask my dad if I had ever met Edmon. He died of a heart attack when I was four. I guess I just wanted to brag to my friends that I knew a great movie star. My mother was with him when he died. He was in a crappy hospital recovering from cancer and talking about how his father was hit by a train on the very tracks next to where he lived. Then his eyes rolled back in his head, my mother called for a nurse and he died right there, of a massive heart attack. My dad was on the way to the hospital with me so I could meet him because I was named after his daughter who was a great stage actress in London.

Sometimes I come home after a date with the guy from the video store, and my dad is in the den, drunk with Vietnam, watching The Human Monster, not even looking at me, ignoring that I'm over an hour late. And here I am, looking at him from the balcony and for this nonexistent sense of history through a relationship my dad had with a dead actor.

> BIOGRAPHY | about the author

Hillary Boles is an English education major, meaning that she might, one day, teach English to high schoolers. She's supposedly graduating next May, but since she's been in college 8 years now, she's not holding her breath. She's looking at graduate programs in Creative Writing so she doesn't have to go out into the real world yet, and so that she can keep deferring her student loans. She's also a bartender.