This story started with a photo by the late Mary Ellen Mark. I researched the photo and found that the little girl had grown up to a life of foster care, addiction, and crime. In an interview with NPR, the girl, then a woman, said that when the photo was taken, she had hoped someone would see it, and come get her. I have found that the interior lives of young girls are rarely taken seriously. Having been a young girl myself, this is something that I am interested in writing. I wasn’t sure if what I was going to write would be an essay or a short story. What interested me the most was the photo. This split second captured in time. So I returned to the photo and decided on flash fiction. Flash doesn’t tell a whole story. Flash, like the flash of a camera, captures a moment in time. I chose fiction over the essay because I didn’t want to claim that I knew what was going on inside the girl, though, in a way I knew, because she and I were similar.
Something in this photo, as Barthes would say, wounded me. I understood the girl, why she was dressed like that, why the smoking. I understood she wanted attention, and knew what would get attention, and that just being a girl needing help wouldn’t get her seen. Young girls have a hard time feeling seen. A photo is static, still, the subject will not move or change within the frame. I wanted to give this photo an echo, a momentum, propelled by the girl. The sentence structure goes back and forth from short declarative sentences that cause the story to slow, to longer sentences with clauses that tumble forward in a rush. This pattern mimics longings. The urgency to go somewhere else that makes the blood pump, the stuck-ness that quells it. I wanted to present her essence beyond press-on nails and wet hair. I wanted to reveal her longing. Little girls have longings.
I included the things that nine-year-old girls think about. Like hoping for periods because the older girls all have them, and because most girls have read Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. A few years ago, when I taught middle school, all my girl students had read that book when they were nine or ten, and still loved it. I read it when I was nine. Girls are far more perceptive than what the world thinks of them, and I wanted to capture the interiority, the voice, the way her feelings are deep even if she can’t yet articulate them fully. I named her Lisa, and set it in a rural town near my hometown of Memphis, TN. Lisa is part the girl in the real photo, and partly me, and all the other girls who had to grow up too fast when no one came and took them away to some place better.
KAT MOORE has essays in Brevity, Entropy, Hippocampus, Salt Hill, New South, Whiskey Island, The Rumpus, and others, as well as forthcoming in Diagram, and Passages North. She also has fiction in Hobart and CHEAP POP.