Posted by: steveonfilm | January 13, 2008

The Tools of Character – Exercise Six: Part Three, Michelle

Michelle’s Biography:

February 17th, 1972 at the Stardust Lanes bowling alley two teams were tearing it up. The Pinhouse Pets, led by the lovely Lisa Piper, were in first place and heading into the league finals. There was only one thing stopping them from the coveted league championship, Jose Perez and the Las bolas de Cristo (Balls of Christ).

By all accounts, the Las bolas de Cristo shouldn’t have put up much of a fight. Jose was good, but he wasn’t good enough to carry the rest of his four man team. Lisa on the other hand was coming off a career high 275 in the previous game, and the average score of her all woman team was 232, the highest in the league. It was their year, their time to win.

The fates had other plans. These two teams had never met in the regular season. They’d never faced off. They had been scheduled to, but the freak Arizona blizzard that January prevented that match from taking place. Maybe if they had, Lisa could have built up a tolerance for what she was about to encounter. Because when she saw Jose for the first time, she’d never known a mans ass could look that good in a pair of jeans, and she couldn’t take her eyes off it.

But there was more to Jose than just a great ass…and Lisa couldn’t put her finger on it. She just had this animalistic attraction to him. It completely destroyed her game. Every time she looked down that lane, starting at the pins, Jose’s ass kept popping in her hear. She bowled a 120, 113, and 97 in her three games. It was the lowest score on her team. Jose and the Las bolas de Cristo
went on to win the game, and the league championship, Jose completely unaware of Lisa’s attraction to him.

After the game was over, Jose decided to have a beer with the rest of his team to celebrate. Lisa came in with Sheryl, one of her teamates, and sulked in a booth. When Jose got up to use the pay phone, Lisa came over to him. She mentioned she’d didn’t think her team could lose. Jose quirked that while you can smack around the Las bolas de Cristo you can’t beat them. Some small talk later lead to a heated encounter in an El Camino.

Nine months later Robert Miguel Perez was born. He was 9 lbs. 3 ounces of chubby half caucasian, half latino love. Robert and Lisa were married three months later. The early years were hard. Neither had planned on being parents, and their love didn’t have much time to grow before the routine of being parents stepped in.

Jose was a horticulturalist for a large vegetable farm, having received his degree from Arizona State. Lisa worked as a receptionist at an aerospace engineering firm, although she’d never really been satisfied with her career path. They both decided that instead of going back to work after her maternity leave was over, Michelle would stay at home with Robert. The original plan was for her to stay at home until Robert was old enough to go to school. But plans change, and so would this one.

One morning while watching her soaps a commercial for stay at home education plans came up on the television. Maybe it was the blonde haired woman on the aid walking through a classroom full of little kids, saying how she couldn’t have done it without SAI Inc.’s help….maybe it was Robert holding a large plastic book in his little baby fingers, but at that moment Lisa knew she wanted to be a teacher.

The decision was made that Lisa would go back to school to become a teacher. It took a long time, as she mainly did night school. Then, as unplanned at Robert was, Lisa was pregnant again. Nine months later, on June 18th, 1979, Michelle Maria Perez was born. Things got more hectic around the house with two kids, but fortunately Robert was in kindergarden by then, so Lisa still had some time to study during the day when Michelle was napping.

Michelle was a quiet child. From the very first day she was never really cried. She cried so little that Lisa actually brought her to the doctor to have her looked at, as she didn’t think it was normal, and Robert had cried so much. The doctor gave Michelle a full check up but found nothing wrong. Michelle was just one of those quiet babies, and Lisa should be lucky.

Michelle never got into playing with toys. Lisa and Jose would bring toys home from time to time, Robert loved his, but Lisa wasn’t usually interested. By the age of three she was more interested looking out the window then playing with dolls. She had a small brown stuffy bunny rabbit she took with her everywhere named Herman. Why she named it Herman is beyond Jose and Lisa, but that’s what Michelle named him and they weren’t about to tell her to name it something else.

Robert was quickly becoming the star athlete and student at his school. Jose was thrilled, and Lisa enjoyed going to his games, be it teeball, soccer, or whatever else he was into. It didn’t seem like there was anything the kid couldn’t do. Lisa on the other hand, didn’t show much interest in anything, except maybe grass and bugs. They’d go to the park to watch Jose and she’d wander off with Herman and look at ant hills, moths, spider webs, flowers, unusual weeds..anything and everything organic.

Michelle’s first day of kindergarden was uneventful. She didn’t say a single word the whole day, but did everything as instructed, almost to the amazement of the teacher, Mrs. Anderson. Michelle would continue to be completely obedient, or that’s what Mrs. Anderson though. The reality was that Michelle figured out that if you did as you were told the first time, you tended to blend into the background, and didn’t draw attention.

Michelle never made a whole lot of friends in school. By first grade she only had one, Becky Martin, a short, chubby, blonde haired girl who’s father ran a chocolate factory in town. Becky didn’t like to brush her teeth, and her parents never made her, so she always had terrible breath. Michelle didn’t mind too much, because Becky liked looking at bugs too. During recess they’d talk about how they were going to start a butterfly farm in the back of the school.

That Jose was laid off from his job. They had closed the research facility that Jose worked at and shipped it off to Mexico. Jose was offered a job transfer, but never really considered it seriously. Unsure what to do, Jose said it was important that Lisa finish school, and not dwell on this. She did, and three months later she had her BA in education, specializing in English. Lisa started to look for teaching jobs in and around the area where they lived, but didn’t have much luck.

Then, as if out of no where, she received a phone call from a recruiter in Michigan. Her name was given from one of the counselors at her school. They needed teachers badly, especially English teachers. Jose and her decided that they’d better take the chance, as Jose wasn’t having luck finding a new job. They packed up, put the house for sale, and headed out for Michigan.

Robert was not happy about the move. He was starting Junior High and was Mr. Popular at his school. He wasn’t interested in starting all over again socially. The move was especially rough on him. Jose was able to get a job, but it was only as a garbage man, a very demeaning thing for a college educated man, but he needed to take it as Lisa’s salary wasn’t going to be enough for the family to get by, and their moved taxed most of their savings. They moved in eight houses down from Tom.

Michelle’s interest had moved from bugs and insects to horses that summer. She also started to open up a little bit, using horses as her ice breaker. Maybe it was the change in atmosphere, maybe it was something else, but the move made Michelle act differently. GOne was the little girl who didn’t talk, in her place was a new little girl, bent on making friends at her new school. Unfortunatly, the kids there had other plans. Scotty Hamilton’s father was the city’s sanitation department head, and he knew taht Michelle’s father was a garbage man that worked for his dad, and he made sure to tell all the kids that.

No one cared about the things Michelle tried to tell them about horses. All they wanted to do was tease her. Michelle realized quickly that there wasn’t going to be a new beginning here, there weren’t going to be any new friends, any new Becky Martin’s. Then Michelle saw Tom in the park behind her house. He was playing in the sandbox and talking up a storm, except, there wasn’t anyone there. Who was he talking to? It seemed like there were at least two, or three people there he was speaking with, but she couldn’t see anyone but him.

Michelle watched for the better part of two hours. One day during lunch Michelle took a seat next to Tom on a bench. They didn’t say a work or look at each other. They just sat in silence, eating. And it felt good.

Michelle watched Tom quite a bit when he played in the park. He was always alone, but always seemed to be talking to someone. This would have appeared weird to most people but Michelle didn’t think anything of it. She liked watching him. When he was in the park he seemed so happy, which was a drastic contrast to how Tom looked in school when she saw him. She always managed to sit close to him when there was a meeting gin the gym, or when they had fourth grade together.

They never talked though. Michelle didn’t so much as ask Tom his name, but she knew it. She knew a lot about Tom. She knew his favorite color was green. She knew that his parents had died in a plane crash. She knew his favorite superhero was batman. She knew a lot. Tom became a hobby to her, a case study…she wanted to learn as much as she could about him without having to ask him anything.

Little did she know that Tom had been watching her as well. He knew that she liked horses. He knew that she would count the clouds when she sat near the window. He knew that she hated her freckles. He knew that she only did her hair in pigtails because she was too lazy to learn how to do it a different way. He knew a lot about her, but would never, ever, think about talking to her.

Robert never achieved the level of greatness at his new school that he thought he was owed. He always walked around, as if he was bitter about it. Three weeks before he was to graduate high school he died in a car accident. He had been out drinking at a party and got behind the wheel of his friends car. They hit a tree after trying to make a 90 degree turn too fast. Lisa and Jose were devastated. Lisa took a month off of school to grieve, Jose didn’t have much time to take off, and held a lot of his sorrow in. Sometimes, Michelle would sneak down and listen to her father cry in the basement when he thought everyone had went to bed.

Michelle was sad too, but indifferent at the same time. She was never close with Robert, but she didn’t think he deserved to die. She would miss him, but not as a lovable big brother. She was always a nuisance to him, he never too time to pay attention to her, or show her anything, he only wanted her to stay out of his way, and for the most part she did. She would miss him though. His humor always made her dad laugh, and she loved listening to her dad laugh.

Michelle felt bad for her father, such a smart man, stuck in a dead end job. She adored him for what he did, working the grind so that his family could make ends meet. Michelle was never close with Lisa after Robert’s death, not that they were very close to begin with. Lisa knew from an early age she wasn’t going to be able to show Michelle a lot of girly stuff. While it bothered her, she soon learn to jstu accept it any more on, regardless of the things she always wanted to teach a “daughter” of hers. The fact is, she through herself into her job as a teacher.

Maybe it was to make up for the inadequacies she thought she had with her own kids, maybe it was because she felt so bad about what Jose was stuck doing, maybe it was because she felt that at any moment it could all be torn away. Whatever the reason, she was quick to move up the ladder in school, going to assistant department head, and soon department head. Ms. Perez could always be counted on as a volunteer for school activities. So much so that Robert, when he was still alive, and Michelle both secretly wish that Lisa showed as much interest in their schools as she did at her own.

Without Robert around the family dynamic shifted a lot. Jose would come home, eat, and just sit in the living room watching television. Lisa spent even more time at school, working and doing whatever she could. Michelle stayed to herself, taking full advantage of the local library. She started to read. She read everything. Romance. Adventure. Mystery. Thrillers. But one gender of books, more than any other, made her sit up and smile, and that was fantasy.

She was reading in the library when one of the Librarians came over and said, “Here, you should try reading this. I loved it when I was your age.” It was a copy of The Hobbit.

You know what? I don’t really like any of this. The more I’m having to put into the background of Michelle the less I’m finding her interesting, and not in a good way. I’m having problems making her background work instead of inventing it. I wanted Michelle to be mysterous…a buit off kilter, but always keeping Tom guessing. The more I fleshed her out the more normal she became, and I felt like I was losing the essence of her character. It might sound odd, but in her case, at least for me, less is going to be more with her. I have a great idea of what she’ll like and dislike, and I find that I’m putting too much time in a character that is secondary to Tom and John, even though she’s playing a major part.

Here are the details that I want to stick with for her…

…she’s quiet. She’s always been quiet. Her older brother was the loud one of the family, so it was just natural that she took on a more submissive element to her personality. Not submissive in a “knowing her place role” but more in a way that she was smart enough to realize that there was only room enough in her family for one loud mouth, not two.

…her father worked construction in Arizona, outside of Phoenix. That was what I originally have him doing, not the stuff I have above. I want to stay with that. He got laid off and was having a hard time finding work. So when they moved for Lisa’s teachign job, that’s when he became a garbage man.

…Robert dying when he did will stay the same. However, it’s going to crush her, as well as her family emotionally. Before she was a little indifferent. I want her to be the opposite of how Tom has learned to deal with death. Robert was her big brother, and treated her like a little princess. I want her to still feel that hole in her heart. I also want his death to be the catalyst for driving Jose to drink, and becoming a functional alcoholic. This will also be the route of driving Lisa to be come a workaholic. Neither ever really faced the issues behind Robert’s death, and are trying to compensate with moving to other vices.

…I still want her to be obsessed with horses. She’s always loved them.

…she never went to college. There wasn’t any money for it. Her grades weren’t good enough for scholarships.

…Michelle is smart, but not intelligent in a scholarly way. She speaks well, and doesn’t sound ignorant, but she’s simple, and never places a whole lot of emphasis on education for the sake of education. To her, being happy and doing what makes you happy is what’s important. If education doesn’t make you happy, there isn’t a reason to pursue it unless it’s to open doors for what, at least to you, makes you happy. For example, she likes horses. THe only reason for her to go for more education would be to work directly with, say, horse medicine, or some other aspect of horse care.

…she’s worked at the super market since high school. She also has a part time job at the library, which she does on weekends.

…I still, interestingly enough, want her to be a voracious reader. However, mainly fiction, and specifically sci-fi and fantasy, as I’d hinted at above.

…Michelle eventually made three friends after her silent lunch with Tom. The first was Amanda Stevens, who had thick rimmed glasses and a bad lisp. She plays trumpet in the band. Craig Kiplinger, who was big into the drama club, and knew Tom from that. Craig was the kid who hadn’t yet realized that he was gay in high school, but would eventually find himself and be much happier once he got to college. Jennifer McMillian, the chubby fat girl who didn’t realize she was chubby and fat and tried to dress like the skinny girls. Jennifer was always trying ot give health tips to everyone, even though she never followed them herself because, in her eyes there wasn’t any need to since she was to “healthy.” Basically, she couldn’t see the reality of what was in front of her, and in the end, maybe that made her happier since she never dwelled on weight like to many other girls her age. Ignorance really is bliss.

…Michelle lives in a small two bedroom apartment with Jennifer, who has a boyfriend named George, who constantly tells everyone about his BMW M3, which is actually several years old and not that great.

…Michelle watched Tom because to her, he represented what happens when the hero of a story doesn’t step up to the challenge laid before him. In many of her fantasy books the young son had his parents murdered, and was cast out. The son then steps up to the challenge and become king and whatever. To her, Tom represented the things that the books never went into, he represented when the son gets too scared and runs away, letting the bad guys win, and thus preventing a story from happening in the first place. That’s why she always watched him. Eventually, falling for him, even though she didn’t know it. There was an honest sadness in his eyes, a loss of hope, and to her, she knew what he was going through, and wanted to help him like she’d been helped by her therapist…but she never said anything to him, because she was scared? Maybe, maybe not. But she didn’t say anything.

There, I’m satisfied with that. That gives me what I need to know for her character. Maybe I’ll go back and add more in when I need to figure out how she’d react to something. But in the end, I know enough to know why she’ll react to the big things that go down.


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