My Omar

posted Jan 24, 2012

The first film I ever saw was Dr. Zhivago. I was in fifth grade, and my mother took my me to the movies, something she never did back then. She believed in books, not theaters. But she said it would be good for me to understand communism, war, the Bolshevik Revolution. A former schoolteacher, she thought of it as a history lesson. And besides, she was suffering from cabin fever—we all were—because it had been raining ice for days. All the schools were closed, and the power was off in our house. We were tired of being cold, huddling around the wood stove. Dad suggested a movie might heat us up.

I had never seen sex or romance on screen. (I had never seen anything on screen, for that matter.) I had never chewed pencils either, but I sat in the theater chewing a pencil stub I found in my jacket pocket. For weeks after, every time I closed my eyes, I saw Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, embracing in an unheated apartment, and I'd want to bite something fast. (I don't know why it made me hungry to see them, but it did.) I'd eat Jujubes or Oreos, and think, if only I were pretty like Julie, I'd have men like Omar, who would of course be married to women like Geraldine Chaplin. How sad it all seemed, even then. A world of irresistible men like Omar Sharif. But, of course, I only wanted one. Please? I bargained with God. Just one Omar? His name still tastes like pencil paint on my tongue.