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Excerpt from 'Learning to Love You More'

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Learning To Love You More


By Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July

PRESTEL

Copyright © 2007 by Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-3-7913-3733-3


Chapter One

Advice to Ryan, age 15

Don't be afraid to tell boys that you like them (or ask if they are gay). You can always have a good laugh if they reject you.

I was born in Chittagong, Bangladesh, and am the second son of my parents; the first one died the day he was born. My family stayed at a place in Chittagong called Mehdibagh. My mother's eldest sister, Mam, also lived in Chittagong. She had three sons who were like my own brothers. My younger brother was also born in Chittagong. Mam took good care of my younger brother although she was a teacher and already had enough work to keep her extremely busy.

Then we moved to the capital city Dhaka, I am not sure in which year, and stayed at my grandmother's place. I was admitted to a nearby Bengali medium school, but my mother wanted to get me admitted to an English medium school although my grandparents and my father were opposed to that idea. She didn't give up and got me admitted to Maple Leaf International School, a pretty well-known English medium school. My new school was quite far from Dadi's house (I call my grandmother Dadi) and going to school every morning was quite a hassle.

We moved out of her place to a flat that we shared with my uncle (my mom's brother) and my grandparents (my mom's parents). At school, I started to make friends and get good results. But still my mother and I thought I could and I should do better. At home there were frequent rows between the household members, which irritated and also scared me. Although as I grew up I became more indifferent to these family problems, I hated it the most when my parents quarreled with each other. But that doesn't mean we didn't love each other. We were one big and loving family. My aunts and my only uncle (mom's sisters and brother) and my cousins were like my own family. When Mam used to come from Chittagong with her sons, we all had a great time together. And on my vacations I would remain eager to go to Chittagong to Mam's place. My cousins from my mother's side were like my own brothers and sisters.

We moved back to Dadi's place again and I don't know why. At school I became a boy scout and also performed in functions. I won a medal for my acting at a school function.

My Dadi and all her children, except my father, are rich. Dad's career has never been that successful. He had a plastic business in Chittagong, which for some reason had to be shut down. He had unsteady jobs and his earnings were not too big. But I didn't like staying at my Dadi's place; I wanted to have a home of our own. Although Dadi's home was a nice place, the environment was gloomy. I had a dream of becoming rich someday and believed that Dad would soon earn a lot of money.

Taking my brother and me to school from my Dadi's place was quite a difficult task for my mother. She had to wait for us in our school until our school was over whether she liked it or not; going back home and coming back again to pick us up would cost a lot of money. She worked hard and took good care of us.

When I saw my father playing the mouth organ, I developed an interest in music. I started trying to play a toy saxophone, which my youngest aunt had brought me from America. My brother and I soon learned to play songs on the saxophone and the keyboard without receiving any formal training.

A really nice gentleman rented the top floor of my Dadi's house. He lived with his wife and three daughters. My brother and I became good friends with his daughters and used to call them Apu, which means sister. We used to play with them and had a really nice time. It was like a relief in that boring environment in my Dadi's place. Dad and his eldest brother Uncle K started a business together, which ended up as a total fiasco, making their relationship bitter. I learned a lesson: never do business with your family.

Now my grandparents and some uncles and aunts started blaming my father for everything. Severe quarrels at home between my father and his parents and Uncle K always kept me nervous. Everyone seemed to have turned against us. I have always been scared of chaos at home, and that's what I had too much of.

It is report card day at school. I go to school with my mother to collect my report card, and my brother is sick at home with Dad. Uncle K is supposed to come to talk to Dad about their failed business. I dread another conflict. I stand first in my class, but an apprehension of what might be happening at home overshadows my joy. When I get back home, my brother says that anything as far as laying hands on each other could have happened, the environment was so heated. Money can cause relations to break.

Because of this problem between my dad and his brother, everyone else in the family started treating us badly. I heard that my uncles and aunts from abroad were coming to Dhaka to settle this problem. I felt like they are the jury, my dad, the defendant, and Uncle K, the prosecutor. They started arriving one by one with their children. I met my cousins whom I have not had the chance to know closely before. We became good friends and had a great time together. But a constant disquiet was always within me that my uncles and aunts might think that my father is guilty and shun us all. Nothing like that happened but we were insulted by Uncle K and his family on many occasions.

There is a family get-together at Dadi's place. My mother is in the kitchen preparing meals. Uncle K's wife comes in and tells a cook that if my mother cooks she won't eat. Hurt and insulted, my mother leaves the kitchen. Every time we greeted Uncle K's family they didn't reply. Their children didn't even say hello or give Salaam to my parents. They misbehaved with us and no one said anything to them. Only we were made to feel as if we are the guilty ones.

One day Dad asked what happened to my face and why had the left side of my face swollen. I looked in the mirror and realized that my left side is actually looking swollen and my face is looking a bit lopsided.

As I grew older the left side of my jaw grew bigger than the right side, and the deformity became more and more noticeable during my teen years.

After reading up to Class 5 in Maple Leaf International School I took admission in Siddiquis Tutorial in Class 7 skipping Class 6. Some of my old friends also came with me to Siddiquis. I met new people in the new school and started liking it. But I noticed some gradual changes in my old friends: they started calling girls, smoking, telling dirty jokes and avoiding me. They called me a guilty man and avoided me because they thought I might inform their parents about the things they did. It hurt me a lot, so I tried to change myself to be a part of the gang again. I shared dirty jokes with them and tried to make them laugh. Although they stopped calling me guilty man, I still felt we were not as close as we used to be.

As my family was no longer tolerable to my Dadi we moved out of her place to one of my aunt's place. She was my mother's youngest sister and loved us very much. Dad started a new business in her home. My mother and sometimes my brother and I had to work all night. We then rented a flat for ourselves, and moved out of my aunt's place.

In 1998, a few days before the Oscars, I had a dream that I won two Oscars. From then on I have been craving to make this dream come true.

When my O level examination was getting closer, I left school and started going to private tutors. I made new friends there and realized that I had been a fool trying to change myself for my old friends.

One day, I had a picture of mine taken at a photo studio, as it was required with my O level exam form. When I saw my picture I was very much displeased with it as I was looking so ugly and the deformity of my face was awful. I kept complaining about the picture when my mother asked me if I really meant to say that I was not beautiful. At that time I realized that I was ugly.

After my O level exam I took admission to another school for my A level examination. At school I tried to avoid looking face to face at people so that they would not notice the deformity in my face. I was having difficulty coming to terms with the problem in my face, so I went to a doctor. He said that it could be corrected with surgery, but not totally, and that the surgery would cost a lot. Instead of having the surgery, I had to learn to accept myself as I am. It doesn't bother me much anymore.

It is my brother's birthday. My parents and I present a Spanish guitar to him. But the guitar is for right-handed people and my brother is left-handed. So I start learning to play it on my own. Within a year I learn the basic chords and can play many songs. Playing the guitar helps take my mind off problems and refreshes me.

After my A level exam I decided to go abroad for higher studies. I started preparing for the SAT I and II and TOEFL, but was only able to take the SAT I because of financial constraints. I decided not to apply to the UK or Australia, as the cost of studying there was too high for me. When I applied to universities in the US without taking the TOEFL, they put my application at a disadvantage and eventually rejected me. Once, one of my uncles who lived abroad came to Bangladesh and gave me the money I needed to take the TOEFL. I scored high in the TOEFL and applied to two Canadian universities. Both the universities accepted me, one even offering me a scholarship. I asked my uncle if he would sponsor my education. Although he agreed at first, he didn't send me the documents I needed to apply for a student visa. I could not go to Canada, as it was not possible for my family to bear my cost of education in Canada alone. I decided to apply to US universities and took the SAT I again. In the meantime I started tutoring students. My first student was an O level candidate whom I taught Chemistry. At the same time I was also tutoring two girls of Classes II and III, and a financially disadvantaged boy for his O level English Language test. I applied to local private universities but found out they were too expensive for me. Then I applied to Dhaka University and flunked the admission test, as I was not that good in Bangla.

One day a close acquaintance of mine, who was a teacher at a school called Mastermind, called me in the morning and asked me to be her temporary replacement in that school as she was going to take a leave for three months. I took the offer because it was better to earn money than to sit around. I was supposed to teach History and Poetry to Class IV students. Later that month she also gave me another job, where I had to work as a translator for a man who worked at an NGO. And I was also tutoring a student at the same time; my very first student, who had completed his O level exam and was now preparing for his A levels. So March to May of 2003 had been a busy three months for me, but it was wonderful and of course lucrative as well!!

When introduced to the Class IV students of Mastermind for the first time, I felt I was not welcome there. The students didn't want their previous teacher to go and besides I looked so young that they had difficulty accepting me as their teacher. They looked so naughty that I was quite intimidated. I was wondering how I would control them. Boys of Class VI, who looked bigger than me, shot satirical looks at me. I wondered whether my decision to work there was right. My colleagues, the administrative staff and the Vice Principal were extremely friendly and helpful, and I began to adjust quite soon. The students were naughty but cute. One day there was a teachers-parents meeting when I had to stay at school till 7 p.m. from the morning and talk to the parents about their children. At first I was not sure whether I would be able to handle this job properly, but it went pretty well. I was beginning to feel that I could cope with the workload. I was beginning to enjoy it.

One day I was asked to conduct a literature class in Class VI, section Pink as their literature teacher was absent. I would have to read and explain Macbeth to them, which I, myself, had never read before. On my way to the class, I met the Vice Principal. When she heard that I was going to Class VI, she gave me a smile and said, They'll eat up your head. I was a bit scared but didn't lose hope. I said a prayer and entered the class. When the students saw me, they started asking my name, and which class I read in, as if I was not their teacher but only a senior student. I told them I was going to write my bio data on the board, and that if I had been a school student I wouldn't have been teaching there. They then warned me in a friendly manner that they were the naughtiest class. And I am the naughtiest sir, I replied. They seemed to be amused. I asked them to quickly and briefly explain to me up to the part they had already read as I had not read Macbeth before. They turned out to be helpful. After a brief summary of what they had done till then I started reading and explaining the rest. They liked it because I made them laugh. After the class was over they thanked me for coming and said they had enjoyed it. They asked me to be their literature teacher, which gave me a great feeling of success. From that day whenever they saw me they asked me to come back to their class. When I said I was teaching in the school only temporarily and that I would leave soon, they pleaded with me to stay. I realized I would miss the school severely.

As my days in Mastermind came towards the end, my students requested me not to leave more and more. They asked for my autograph. When I told them that I felt like I was a star, they said, You are our star. It is really a great feeling to think that they liked me so much.

I was offered a place at Mastermind as a teacher for the next session as well. They said they'd put me in Class V for English Literature. Well, at least they thought I was competent. But unwillingly I had to reject the offer as my dad was planning to get me admitted to a university. The university was quite cheap and affordable for my family, but I was not sure about the standard of education there.

On the last day of school, I receive a deluge of gifts, self-made cards and requests to stay. The students seek my autograph and turn absolutely wild and treat me like a star. A few lines from the cards they have given me are quoted below without any correction for grammatical mistakes.

One, two, three Garden has trees Four, five, six Mountain has peaks Seven, eight, nine The pride of Mastermind It's you Please don't leave us. You were one of the path shower of our life. You are best teacher in this world. I will miss you so much.

And I'll miss them too.

Grandmother (91): She spends a lot f time cooking, and she brings me food and candy and Tylenol. She goes through my room cleaning a lot. She is always washing my bed.

Mother (65): She isn't doing much of anything right now.

Son (7): She plays with me and goes to Hollins University and does experiments in labs there. She plays computer games and reads books all the time. She takes me to the park and to Ian's house.

Me: Hey, wuddup fool?

Spencer: *worriedly* James?

Me: Yeah, what's the matter?

Spencer: I ... I need to know something ...

Me: What, what do you need to know? I'm here for you.

Spencer: I know, that's why I need you to answer this for me ... D ... Do you love me?

Me: Yeah, I love you, I love all my-

Spencer: No! Not like that, do you love me?

Me: Why?

Spencer: Because ... I love you ... and I need to know if you, love me.

Me: Spencer ... you love me?

Spencer: *crying* Fine! I'm gay! I'm sorry for-

Me: No! Don't be sorry, you haven't done anything wrong ... and besides if you were wrong, then ... I would be too.

Spencer: *silence* You mean ...

Me: Yes, and I've loved you for a while now ... ever since you and me became friends.

Spencer: Yeah ... That's when it started for me too.

Me: Really?

Spencer: Yeah, but why didn't you say anything?

Me: I was to afraid that you would hate me if you knew, and besides why didn't you?

Spencer: That's how I felt too, but I love you too much to hate you.

Me: Yeah, I know that now. *laugh*

Spencer: *laugh*

Me: You wanna come over tomorrow?

Spencer: Yeah, when?

Me: It'd have to be after *beep* ... Call my house phone, my cell phone is dying.

Sent to: The Tico Times, Now Magazine, and The Hamilton Spectator

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: EMILY HOLTON EATS TOO MUCH PINEAPPLE AND LIES AWAKE, IMAGINING HEARTBREAK 2006-11-03 Toronto, ON

Toronto artist says her health is stable and that she is in good spirits following a mild citric acid overdose.

Ms. Holton made the comments Friday morning in a statement to her friend Ms. Rebecca Silver Slayter. The two women were walking south together down Beverly Street at approximately 11:45 a.m., on their way to lunch.

Holton also noted that Mr. Darren Yearsley, Holton's boyfriend of eight months and current inhabitant of the Alberta Avenue residence where the overdose occurred, has said too that he feels perfectly fine.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Learning To Love You More by Harrell Fletcher Miranda July Copyright © 2007 by by Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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