Catherine Forster is an artist, filmmaker, and writer living in the Pacific Northwest … at the moment. Her art work and films have exhibited in museums, galleries, and film festivals across the United States and abroad. Projects and a love of travel have led her to six continents, including Sub-Saharan African, the source of her childhood fantasies. She stills holds a fondness for Tarzan, but when trekking in the bush, hiking mountain trails, or exploring a new city, she prefers the company of her beloved husband Kevin.
This is an excerpt of her book…
I marveled at my predicament both sublime and laughable: Headly, my boyfriend, a truth as unreal as flying through the jungle picking mangos for a late-night supper. A pinchable moment, how was it possible, me an exchange student, me in New Zealand, me with a boyfriend? Being with him and not seven thousand miles away avoiding Hunter and Steve, triggered a desire to break into one of Sister Brendan’s Irish jigs.
I felt taller, like Alice, but without the magic wafer. I took a deep breath, inhaling the aroma of boyfriend room. It stank, apparently his Mum didn’t open the windows like mine did come rain or shine. Discarded clothes, dust, and a half-eaten apple marked his turf. Towers of books lined the walls, reaching towards the ceiling––a quasi-library with a substantial Russian Lit section. The room was devoid of decoration, no band posters or Hollywood starlets beaming from the walls, just books, clothes, and idle shoes peeking out from under the bed. A stream of light breached the solitary window, rescuing the cramped space from claustrophobia.
He stood in front of his prized collection of Russian novels. The columns of books were reminiscent of precarious Dr. Seuss dwellings. His blue-black hair brushed over his collar, barely adhering to school code. Black T-shirt and trousers fused to his body, a fashion preference during after-school hours. I watched him pontificate, his mouth moving in earnest about a book and author I’d never heard of. His thin body jerked awkwardly out of sync with the dull flow of words rolling off his tongue. An image of a stick-man cartoon on overdrive popped into my head. Stealthily eying him––I didn’t want to appear too eager––I wondered if his erudite prose was original or lifted from the inside cover of his precious book.
I wanted to be the precious one. Begrudging him the book, I wanted him to kiss me, to lock his fingers with mine, to hold me. I willed him to put the book down and imagined touching those dancing cheeks seesawing with each word he uttered. Sixteen and never been kissed, I thought. I’m sitting on his bed. Why wasn’t he sitting next to me? Why wasn’t he running his fingers through my hair like lovers in the movies? Why was I not fighting him off? Maybe he was afraid his Mum might pop-in with tea and biscuits.
“You’ve never read any of the Great Russian authors, writers of the human soul?”
I stared at him blankly. What did he say?
“Tolstoy? Nabokov? Chekhov? Dostoevsky? Gogol? Lermontov? Solzhenitsyn?”
Tolstoy was familiar, but from History class not English, something to do with the Russian Revolution.
He tried again. “Crime and Punishment? Anna Karenina? War and Peace?”
“I started War and Peace, but I didn’t finish it.”
“What was the last book you finished?”
Unwilling to admit it was Gone With The Wind, I sought out English reading lists stored in my brain, searching for a book he’d approve of.
“Catcher In The Rye,” I offered.
I would’ve included the author’s name, but it escaped me.
“Ah … Salinger, teenage angst and rebellion. I prefer the layered beauty of the Russian prose.” Composing his next line, he looked above me and out the window.
I liked watching him recite as if on stage, but eventually it became tiresome. Every sentence spilling from his mouth was important, earnest, or grave, often all three. I followed his lips, they were taking on a life of their own, like goldfish nibbling fish-feed. When he got excited, piranha came to mind, as did Tarzan who only possessed twenty-odd words in his vocabulary. Sitting alone on the bed I ached for his version of Tarzan’s UNGAWAs, and imagined Headly yodeling instead of prattling on about Russian angst. Headly decreed as common the books I knew deeply and could discuss with conviction, popular best sellers transporting the viewer to exotic lands and outlandish adventures, ones that didn’t dwell on the fragility of my soul.
His attention veered to his favorite Russian classic, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The trancelike hum of his voice and the warm sun streaming on my back had my mind drifting and my body aching to lie down on his bed and let the warmth embrace me, since he wasn’t about to.
Chasing Tarzan by Catherine Forster
In the 1960s, a relentless school bully makes Catherine’s life a living hell. She retreats inward, relying on a rich fantasy life–swinging through the jungle wrapped in Tarzan’s protective arms–and fervent prayers to a God she does not trust. She fasts until she feels faint, she ties a rough rope around her waist as penance, hoping God will see her worthy of His help.