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April 26, 2001

"Don't suspect a friend,
Report him!"

The ads are plastered to the sides of the Muni trains I take downtown. "Brazil!" they scream, in a font that seems disturbingly close to that for the title of the Terry Gilliam movie of the same name. It struck me as more than a little odd, an ad campaign that conjures images of tiny offices, bureaucracy run rampant, and duct work. Not to mention the shoe-hat. I wonder if the marketing department has any idea?

It's not dystopia they're advertising, evidently. No, it's Macy's 55th Annual Flower Show. Yes, it seems a bit odd to me too, a department store hosting a flower show. I'm expecting motives hidden somewhere, perhaps in the 30 some Brazilian flags snapping gracefully in the breeze outside the store. The last time I saw this many Brazilian flags in one place, I had made the mistake of trying to drive through Los Gatos after the Brazilian soccer team had just won a qualifying game the year the World Cup was held in United States.

Perhaps the motives are hidden within the men's store, where there are several costumes from this year's Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. The centerpiece is mostly white and pale blue, entirely covered in sequins. The short jacket with the wide shoulders and tight pants look like what you might get if you crossed the space age with traditional Spanish bullfighting. On either side are enormous sequined wings, and suddenly the costume is reminding me of the movie again. An accompanying sign announced that it weighs more than 150 pounds and is symbolic of hope and the future.

I went outside. I know what Gilliam's futures look like.

The women's store is hosting the flowers. The cosmetics and fragrances department are buried under trees, bromilliads, spider plants, dozens of other plants I've no names for, fountains and foam done up to look like stone ruins. At first, it seemed rather magical, something out of one of my dreams, a harmonic fusion of man and nature, with man taking a secondary role. Then a woman at one of the cosmetic counters approached, about to offer me a makeover, I presume, and the bubble shattered. I was in Macy's; this is a commercial environment. The whole thing is artificial, from the foam-stone Aztec-styled "ruins" to the plexiglass enhanced and controlled fountains. Suddenly even the plants seemed fake. The only real thing left was the warm scent of controlled air. I dodged the cosmetics lady, and headed for the door.

Brazil indeed. I kept my eyes down as I merged with the flow of shoppers, tourists, and commuters on Stockton Street. No one should see the horror on my face; they might report me.

April 24, 2001

"Walk me down the aisle, Daddy, it's just about time;
Does my wedding gown look pretty, Daddy?
Daddy, don't cry."

Dear Dad,

I turned 26 yesterday. I had a party last weekend and got drunk on Brazilian cocktails. Grandpa and Grandma sent me flowers, a delivered arrangement, like they have every year since I was 19. The flowers were roses this year, pink and white. I had a birthday yesterday. Did you even notice?

The last birthday card I ever got from you came in a business size envelope. You used the letter wizard in Word, probably, and sent me two sentences formatted in formal business style. You signed it "Sincerely, Jim Willott." Not, "love, Dad." It was my 20th birthday.

Six years later, you don't know my middle name. You don't remember the name of the man sharing my life. You can't tell me apart from my sister, shorter, younger, more married, and definitely more pregnant than I. You don't know and express no interest in my life, my interests, my activities.

In stories, fathers are supposed to be proud of their daughters. They brag about her accomplishments, her refinement and class, her brilliance to anyone who even looks like they might listen. In the movies, fathers are so concerned for their little girls that they grill the men brought home, covering everything from income to ethics: are you good enough for my princess?

I keep trying to cut you some slack. I know you are sick, even if you refuse to admit anything is wrong. I've seen the images from the scans the doctors made, and I've seen where your brain is disappearing. You used to design microchips, and now you spend eight hours a day playing solitaire on your computer, if you can call rearranging the cards until the computer accepts a move as "playing." You can't make the connection between the words "killed" and "dead." You mistake the detergent bottle for the juice jug and don't know what to do when the phone rings. The last time someone left you home alone, you nearly burned the house down.

We can't take care of you anymore. For your safety and our sanity, we need you to move out, move on, to a place that is safer, to people who have training with illnesses like yours. I don't know why am trying to explain this to you; according to you everything is fine.

Yesterday was my birthday, Dad. I heard your voice on the answering machine today, not with congratulations or best wishes, but sounding forlorn and accusing. "Come get me," you said to the machine, the confusion and hurt in your voice so clear I could see it, all sharp edges hidden in a fog. "Come get me," you asked your 80 year-old parents. "Come get me," you said, and I wrapped myself in my anger until I could not feel my heart break.

Happy birthday to me, Dad, happy birthday to me.