Nicky Park Memorial Park

by by Deepali Gupta

illustration by by Annika Finne

a play for mostly one person but also another person

1996. Before AOL 4.0, before Titanic came out.
It’s my first day of soccer practice.
We’re in a line, going one by one, trying to kick the ball into the goal.
There’s a girl playing goalie. We’re also taking turns playing goalie.

It’s my turn to kick.

No one’s ever taught me how to kick.

Or rather, I realize that I’ve never kicked a ball before.
I have given it a little tap, I have rolled it a few feet with my foot, simply, slowly.
But what I realize, calmly, clearly, is that I’ve never just kicked a ball as hard as I can, as far as I can.

Maybe, when I kick the ball, it will fly, and it will never stop flying.
Maybe, when I kick the ball, nothing will happen.

Kick. Blood comes out of her mouth.

And the goalie is screaming
The coach mutters, Jesus
Her lip is so bloody
split in all its creases
peeled open into pieces

I kicked the ball square in her MOUTH.

As we exit, I notice a small sign, a placard, that says IN MEMORIAM OF NICKY PARK.
And I think, hmm, that’s weird phrasing.
Or rather, I think that the sign would sound better if it said
Or rather, I don’t wonder who Nicky is.

Mornings hurt sometimes. My mom makes me drink prune juice and then she eats a grapefruit, and I know that if it got in her eyes, she’d start crying too.

This is the scariest story I have ever told. It is the scariest feeling I have ever known. It began ten years ago, but it starts here, before AOL 4.0, before Titanic came out, when we were all virgins on playgrounds.

And that morning was supposed to be just like any other morning.
But as soon as you think, this is how something is supposed to be,
All of a sudden it’s not.

There are reporters at school today.
There are notebooks and cameras and microphones and stands for the cameras and stands for the microphones today.
There are vans and sedans and women in suits today.
Their hair shines and I think maybe the sun is brighter today but it’s just reflecting off the hairspray.
There is a buzz, and I think maybe I’m humming and I don’t know it, but it’s just the sound of the voices of the women in their suits, mature voices, grown up women with breasts and wrinkles talking because they know what they’re talking about, they know so much about their breasts and their wrinkles and what’s happening at school today?

And I see my teacher and she takes me inside and most of my class is sitting on the story rug and I sit next to Gaby, because Gaby knows more about breasts and wrinkles and catastrophe than I do and she is my best friend.

A shift.

Everyone is trading pencils and playing games with each other’s shoelaces
and I want to tell them to shut up
so we can feel the husky drone of the notebooks in our bones, the sidewalk tattoos from the camera stands and grown up women shoes, the glow in the air from yards of perfect, shining static hair, so we can find out—

And Miss Wren walks in the room and everybody shuts up and Gaby turns to me and says,
It’s the anniversary of something bad
because she knew I needed to know.
Gaby often knows so much that she knows all about what she’s going to know before she knows it.

An example:

She becomes Gaby.

What’s the worst word that starts with S?

No, it’s not stupid, stupid.

Shut up is two words.

It’s three letters. It’s only three letters. And none of you know it? It’s only three letters.

SEX. S-E-X. It’s sex, okay? Stupid dimbulbs.

A shift.

Gaby always knows all about what she’s going to know before she knows it.
Most of the time, she tells us, too.
And then we know.
And then there’s no going back.

Afternoons hurt sometimes. I come home from school and my mom wants to know all about every single thing that happened at school today and I don’t want to tell her any of it, and she gives me baby carrots and I don’t want to eat any of them.

Afternoons hurt sometimes because I come home from school and go up to my room and think about the future and plan so hard that when I get up and go to the bathroom or eat dinner, I feel like a robot controlling myself from a satellite or a blimp.

And in the mornings is when I get scared of the afternoons.

She becomes Ms. Wren.

Everyone. You may have noticed that there are a lot of people here this morning. They’re journalists. And what is a journalist?

A journalist is a writer who finds out about things and then writes them down. A nonfiction writer. Sometimes the most interesting stories are true. Sometimes the scariest ones, too. Where the freeze in your nerves lasts longer because you know that you live in the same world that allowed this story to unfold, the same world that propelled it forward, and you are so—
But. Children.

Today is a special day. Which is why all the journalists are here today. Because today, but not today, ten years ago, today, a very bad thing happened, and I have to tell you about it.

Ten years ago, one woman came in and shot ten children, and one of them died.

And all the journalists are here today, because when something like that happens we remember it especially on special days like this one, and sometimes at night.

A shift.

I walked so slowly back home that day. I soaked in the grease and shine, waded through all the microphones speaking at each other. I imagined myself in the background of every picture, walking so gracefully, soundlessly through the frames of every camera.

I came home and told my mother every little thing that happened. And she inhaled, and went to go see if the dog was outside, and if not, where was he? And I was left by the kitchen counter expecting baby carrots, or closure, both of which had clearly been forgotten about.

She sits.

This bench is where my friends and I sit during recess. One day we looked at the tire swing and the jungle gym and the seesaw and we decided that we’d really just like to sit on this bench.
So we do. And we look at everyone, and they sometimes look at us.
And when they look at us, they realize that we are looking at them.
That we are looking at each other.
We don’t look at the bench.
Or we didn’t, at any rate.

She swipes her hand lightly across the underside of the bench. Blood.

In Memoriam of Nicky Park, 1975-1986.

Of course, it all made sense, then, after five minutes or so.
The park, the bench—we dedicated ourselves to Nicky, that day.
We resolved to always sit on that bench, for Nicky.
As if we weren’t going to sit on it anyway.

A ghost is the boy in your class with a hearing aid wearing a white sheet over his head.
A ghost is the inexplicable creak in the dark.
A ghost is the thing you once were.

One day, we’re sitting on the bench, and I notice that Gaby has this look in her eye. She’s scanning what’s in front of her like my father does, before he makes a left turn onto a busy road. Her little black eyes moving from the seesaw past the jungle gym past the skinned knees and back to us, all of us. So I know, right away, Gaby’s about to make a left turn. Gaby’s about to do something crazy.

I feel funny, she says.

She becomes Gaby.

I feel really strange.

You guys, I think something is happening to me.
I don’t know what—oh!
Oh my God
It’s Nicky. Nicky’s here, Nicky is trying to—he’s speaking to me. Nicky?

He says...hi.

Hi Nicky. Hi from all of us—
We all say hi, don’t we? Don’t we, guys?

He says, he’s glad to be talking to somebody.
He says, he really needed somebody to talk to.
He says, he’s glad I’m here.

He’s glad to be talking to somebody.
He really needed somebody to talk to.
He’s glad I’m here.

He’s glad to be talking to somebody.
He really needed—every DAY, she says it, for
And any time somebody else, anybody else wanted to talk to him

I’m the only one who understands him.
Aren’t I, Nicky?
I’m the only one who understands you.

For months.
I forgot how to operate a seesaw.

1999. Before honor became so important, before, or, during, Y2K, before a Burmese python got to feel Britney Spears’ sticky, sweet skin against his own scaly belly.

After we stole Gaby’s dad’s Newsweek one afternoon and read everything we could about, you know, President Clinton, and Monica Lewinsky, oral sex, podiums, we started impeaching each other.
Sometimes one of us would be Monica Lewinsky impeaching Bill Clinton
Sometimes Bill Clinton impeaching Monica Lewinsky.
Sometimes it would just crescendo
and crescendo
sweaty and bug-eyed
Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky would impeach each other at the exact same time.

Gaby always wanted to be Monica Lewinsky. So I would have to be Bill Clinton. I didn’t really enjoy being either of them. I felt more like the woman who turned in the tapes, shadowed and ashamed,
hateful and aroused.

2002. Everything’s changing and nothing’s surprising, because I’ve read all the Judy Blume books and the Babysitter’s Club, and I’ve been hiding my used pads in a plastic bag underneath my bed and throwing them away in the school dumpster so my mom never knows that I know what she knows, what we all know, what I knew that I’d know someday and researched so heavily until I found out all about it. Years seep on and I wonder if the amount I’ve bled so far would fill my kitchen, or a concert hall.

A shift.

He visits when I am walking.
I see his small hands stretching out from the shoots in between the sidewalk.
He rises from the warmth of meadows
from the groove of concrete benches
from the space between the letters in all my magazines.

Don’t you?

Nicky appears.

I love what I imagine to be the smell of your skin.
I wish you were my son.

They stare at each other.

I keep things charming by telling people that I know somebody who knows somebody who knows a man who caught his wife fucking Bill Clinton

We laugh about how funny it is that Bill Clinton is still fucking somebody
We laugh about how funny it is that Bill Clinton just doesn’t give a fuck
We laugh about how funny it is that we give a fuck about Bill Clinton

Nicky: Nobody even has any pictures of me. My mother keeps them in a box inside another box and had to have another son because her breasts became depressed about the things her wrinkles told them and I can’t blame her because I know what it’s like to swallow a watermelon seed and worry for the rest of your life that it’s growing inside you.

You never hurt any of us, Nicky.

Nicky: I never got the chance.