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by Danny Fisher on December 19, 2010

julia 3

I have never won an Academy Award, but there were a couple of times that I had hopes of being nominated – and was seriously disappointed when I wasn’t. I was privileged to be a friend of Gregory Peck and his lovely wife Veronique, and the closest I came to Oscar was holding both of Greg’s Oscars – one in each hand – for “To Kill a Mockingbird” as well as his Lifetime Achievement Academy Award. That was in Gregory’s study at his palatial home in Beverly Hills, and the stunningly beautiful Cecilia Peck, whom I had cast in my first movie, placed them in my hands – I was terrified that I would drop them. I came out of his study and Greg said to me in his deep, iconic voice: “You will win one yourself someday.” I protested his flattery, but he was sincere and I felt truly humbled.

Whenever I would think about the possibility of being nominated for an Oscar, I would inevitably think of my acceptance speech. And when I would think about standing at the podium wearing a stiff, uncomfortable tuxedo in front of hundreds of millions of viewers – trembling with regret that I didn’t consume at least two or three extra milligrams of Xanax – I would think of Julia. Winning an Academy Award was the only thing in the world I could think of that might impress the girl I was in love with when I was sixteen, and maybe fill her with regret.

All day, all night, in high school and at home, I thought about Julia. Her face was warm and round; her eyes were blue-green and inviting. Her dimples shone brightly when she smiled. Her light brown hair was cut in shaggy layers, a popular style in 1970. We were good friends, and I fell in love with her hair, her eyes, and those sugary dimples. She was not skinny, but that was ok, because then there was more of her. We were together in some after school clubs at Lincoln, and we became friends. I wanted more than a friendship, and I didn’t know if she did. But I was madly in love with her and I had to do something about it. I would ask her out on a date.

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Julia liked me – I could tell. She liked my company, appreciated our talks together. I wanted to fall into her arms, caress her hair, kiss her lips, and more! But I could not just lunge at her in an after school club. I would have to date her. If I asked her out on a date, and she accepted, that would mean that she saw me as something more than a friend.

I agonized for weeks. At night I sat on my bed and stared at the black rotary dial desk telephone in my room. What if she said no? Could I live with the embarrassment and the humiliation? What if she said yes? Would I know what to do, where to take her? I would ask her to go out to a movie. Yes, I would be casual, and just ask her if she wanted to go see a movie with me. That way, it wouldn’t really be like asking her out on a date. It would be just asking for her company. It would be just like we were in school together – only it would be the weekend, and it would be night. I would be very matter of fact, so that it wouldn’t be obvious. Julia, I was thinking of going to the movies Saturday night. Would you like to come with me? That doesn’t sound like a date, does it? Well, maybe it does.

I dialed the phone. I stopped, out of breath, and put the phone down. My heart was racing. I took a deep breath. And another. I dialed again, with courage and determination. She answered the phone. She did not sound warm. Although I could not see her face I could tell that there were no dimples – her expression was undoubtedly frozen. I hesitated. I fumbled. I forced words into a question. “Julia… I was thinking of going to the movies on Saturday night, and… you know… I was wondering if you… basically… wanted to come with me.” Her response was quick, and was like a boxing blow to my head – like when my brother and I bought boxing gloves and tried them out on ourselves and he hit me real hard on my head and it pounded and throbbed and the world became dark – that was what it felt like. “No, I’m busy,” she said frostily. “Oh, I said. All right.” Maybe she’s just not available that night, I thought, or pretended to think, even though my quivering, queasy stomach knew what she was really thinking. But I had to go the distance and make the rejection definitive. “How about the following weekend?” I asked, with a forced pretense of cool and casual hopefulness. “I don’t want to go out with you. I don’t think of you… that way.” There. She said it. Such finality! There was no ambivalence, no equivocation and no hope. She was not interested in me that way. I mumbled “Ok” and hung up the phone. She tore my heart in pieces. It is now four decades later and I am still not over it, but maybe writing this will help me get there.

After that, I saw her at school, and my longing did not decrease, but rather increased. I wanted more than ever what I now could not have, what had been unjustly denied me. I saw the rosy roundness of her face and the way her ample thighs filled her denim jeans. I could not accept this rejection by her. My relationship with Julia would now be confined to fantasy. And there was no end of fantasy.

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As the cruel trick of fate would have it, Julia went to the same college I went to in upstate New York. We were no longer friends and traveled in different circles. Every once in a while, I would see her at my college, and the painful feeling of regret and emptiness for a romance never begun would fill my heart. There was a very popular professor at my college, an internationally famous British playwright, in his forties, who taught writing and acting for the theater. The students in his classes were swept away by the professor’s charismatic, sexually charged intensity. I rather thought he was pompous and pretentious, but all the girls talked about him, and rumor was he slept with many of his female students, especially those in their first year. I saw Julia walking on campus with him, and it scalded my soul to see them, knowing they would soon be together in bed.

Near the end of my first semester, I learned that this British theater darling died of a heart attack while having sex with one of his students. Serves him right, I thought, having no sympathy, as I saw memorial leaflets posted all over the campus. Just then I spotted Julia walking by herself on the lawn of the campus, her eyes sunken and looking like a ghost. I suddenly realized: she was with the playwright the night he died!

The thought that Julia fucked her professor to death will hound me to the end of my days.

* * *

Excerpt from a novel I have been writing called “White Sand Falling.”

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