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Sloppy firsts, p.16
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       Sloppy Firsts, p.16

           Megan Mccafferty
 
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  The interrogation was long, and relentless: How long have you been sneaking out behind our backs? Who were you meeting? Where were you going? Why in God’s name would you go running in the middle of the night? Is your coach not training you hard enough? Why don’t we see any of your old friends? What’s wrong with you?

  I answered each question honestly, because it seemed to be the path of least resistance. But they weren’t the answers my parents wanted to hear. Sneaking out to meet a boy was something they could understand. Bethany had done that. Sneaking out to go to a rave, they could understand. They’d read about that in the Asbury Park Press. But sneaking out to go running because I couldn’t sleep, that they couldn’t understand. So they grounded me for a month. Total overkill since it’s not like I can go anywhere anyway.

  When they left, I put my CD back on and skipped to my favorite track. Please, Please, Please. I sang along with Morrissey, the depressed pop star of choice for melancholic music lovers in the UK and beyond:

  For once in my life, let me get what I want

  Lord knows it would be the first time.

  At least he knew what he wanted.

  the fifteenth

  Grounded Gimphood

  I. The best things about it.

  A. I get to limp out of class five minutes early to ensure safe passage through the otherwise treacherously bottlenecked PHS halls.

  1. Multiply that by eight academic classes and I miss 40 minutes of useless learning per day, 200 minutes per week.

  2. I miss 5 minutes of Clueless Crew lunch conversation per day, 25 minutes per week.

  a. This slightly ups the odds that I won’t be around when Sara spills the news about the S.O.S.

  b. And spares the obliteration of countless brain cells.

  B. I have a bona fide excuse for my sucky moods that family and faux friends can understand.

  1. The truth is that I’m no more or less depressed than I was before this happened.

  2. Blaming my sketchy ennui on my injury is easier than explaining it.

  a. If I could explain it to myself.

  b. Which I can’t.

  C. I can’t engage in any two-legged activities.

  1. I’m a guilt-free no-show at the Clueless Crew’s hoo-has of the season.

  a. Football games.

  b. Post-football-game keggers.

  c. Post-football-game kegger sleepovers.

  2. I’m out for the entire cross-country season.

  a. Dad can’t strategize the hell out of me.

  b. No bad races for Notso Darling’s Agony of Defeat, Volume Two.

  c. No practice every day.

  i. I can catch The Real World.

  ii. Or "new classics" on TNT.

  iii. Or sleep.

  iv. Or draw up elaborate outlines detailing the pros and cons of grounded gimphood.

  II. The worst things about it.

  A. The goddamn cast.

  1. It hurts like hell.

  2. It itches like hell.

  3. It’s starting to smell.

  a. Like warm, wet puppies.

  b. This is inexplicable and unpleasant.

  4. It’s covered in ugly Magic-Marker graffiti.

  a. It’s an ever-present reminder of how unclever my classmates are.

  i. BREAK A LEG … OOPS! YOU ALREADY DID!

  ii. LIFE IS TUFF!

  iii. GET WELL SOON, SWEETIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  b. If Hope were here, she would’ve painted something cool on it.

  B. My mom hovers over me like I’m a drunk toddler.

  1. I am forced to listen to her complain about how Bethany never visits.

  2. I am forced to endure her lame attempts at girlie bonding.

  3. I am forced to field her annoyingly inane questions about people she thinks are my friends.

  a. She doesn’t understand why I had zero interest in Bridget’s Hollywood exploits.

  i. Even after I explained how Bridget and I are equally skilled thespians (meaning, we aren’t) but you don’t see anyone encouraging me to fly out to L.A. to give acting a go.

  ii. She still thinks Bridget and I are bestest buds.

  b. She doesn’t understand why Scotty doesn’t call anymore.

  i. Even after I explained how he’s gone through three bimbocious girlfriends in as many months.

  ii. She still thinks Scotty is "quite a catch."

  c. She doesn’t understand why I refuse to take any phone calls from Miss Hyacinth Anastasia Wallace.

  i. Even after I explained how being the inspiration for a novel called Bubble-Gum Bimbos is incredibly insulting.

  ii. She still thinks I should give Hy a second chance.

  C. My dad still isn’t talking to me.

  1. His grunting is way more annoying than his strategizing the hell out of me.

  2. This just confirms the sad truth about our non-relationship.

  a. Running is all we have in common.

  b. If I don’t run, I don’t exist.

  D. Marcus Flutie still isn’t talking to me either.

  1. This has hardly anything to do with my temporary gimphood.

  a. His silence is more painful than my throbbing ankle.

  b. His silence drives me crazier than the unscratchable itch on the ball of my injured foot.

  2. I have more than enough time to think about it.

  the eighteenth

  My injury forces me to spend more time with my mom than I have since I was a zygote. Since my sister is too busy being Mrs. Grant Doczylkowski to set foot in Pineville, guess who gets to be Bethany by proxy.

  Every day after school Mom plops down beside me on the couch and tries to get me to engage in girl talk, which really is her and Bethany’s specialty. I think she is trying to brainwash me so that by the end of my thirty-day prison sentence I will be the second daughter of her dreams.

  When Mom isn’t pretending I’m her beloved firstborn, she is giving me lectures on life. One of her favorites is called, "Get Some Perspective." My mom has always been very big on perspective, even more so lately. She’s constantly telling me that I need to get some perspective. If I put things in perspective, I wouldn’t make such a huge deal out of the teensy-weensiest things and I’d be a much happier person.

  What always pissed me off about her whole perspective spiel was that she was writing off my feelings at that moment. If something crappy happens—say, when someone I thought was a friend betrays me for a book deal—my negative emotions are legit, right? It may not be as vivid as the crappiness one feels after contracting the Ebola virus, but it’s just as valid. It’s not my fault that these are the problems I’ve been put on this earth to deal with, right? They’re petty, they piss me off, and they’re all mine.

  Besides, I’ve got perspective o’plenty. And to prove it, here are a few heretofore undocumented events that—in a less agitated stage of my life—inspired pages and pages worth of angst:

  UNDOCUMENTED EVENT #1

  "Bonjour, mademoiselle!"

  It was the first day of school. The voice was unfamiliar. A baritone instead of a castrato. I turned to see who it was.

  This wasn’t Pepe Le Pew. No, this was a different guy altogether. One who had grown four inches and gained twenty-five pounds of muscle in less than three months.

  This was Pepe Le Puberty.

  "Pep—I mean, Pierre!" I gasped. "You grew up!"

  He puffed up with pride.

  "Thanks."

  "En français, s’il vous plaît," singsonged Madame Rogan. She didn’t care if we talked before class started, as long as it was in French.

  "Comment était votre été?" ("How was your summer?")

  "Eh. J’ai travaillé sur le boardwalk." ("Eh. I worked on the boardwalk.")

  "Moi aussi." ("Me too.")

  "Vraiment? Où? ("Really? Where?")

  "J’étais … Le Geek." ("I was … The Geek.")

  Jésus le Christ!

  Pepe Le Puberty (né Le Pew) a.k.a. Pierre a.
k.a. Percy Floyd a.k.a. The Black Elvis … was The Geek! The one who singlehandedly made the boardwalk’s most degrading job into the coolest position ever! My appreciation of Pepe had reached a whole new level.

  Our conversation was cut short by Madame Rogan’s ramblings about her Francophilic summer vacation.

  When the bell rang, I wanted to give Pepe props for being the best Geek of all time. Plus, I wanted to ask why he let himself get pulverized by paintballs that one depressing night. What had gotten him so down? I really wanted to know. He seemed invulnerable to that kind of sad resignation.

  But I didn’t get the chance. Pepe bolted from his seat, sped out the door—and into the arms of a tiny, freckle-faced freshman gymnast named Drea something-or-other. The only reason I know her first name is because I overheard Burke and P.J. pointing her out and calling her a "spinner," as in, Sit on my dick and spin. Ack.

  Just then I realized that Pepe’s voice and his bod weren’t the only things that had changed. Pepe hadn’t called me "ma belle." And that’s because I wasn’t anymore.

  Undocumented Event #2

  Bridget doesn’t know about Burke and Manda’s S.O.S. and therefore, when she gets all mushy-gushy, she’s totally unaware of how ridiculous she sounds.

  "Going to L.A. didn’t get me any closer to being an actress, but it was like, the best thing that ever happened to my relationship with Burke," she says. "Like, he’s so much sweeter now."

  Manda doesn’t know that I know about the S.O.S. Thus, when she gets all booey-hooey (whenever Bridget is out of earshot), she’s totally unaware of how transparent she sounds.

  "Burke needs a strong woman," she says. "Bridget has been so clingy since she came back from L.A. Puh-leeze."

  Sara doesn’t want Bridget to know that she and I both know about the S.O.S. Hence, when she gets all friends-to-the-endly, she is totally unaware of how on-the-brink-of-spilling-her-guts she sounds.

  "Omigod! Let’s make sure junior year rocks," she says. "Let’s make more time for each other. Friends are forever!"

  I don’t want anything to do with Bridget, Manda, Sara, and the S.O.S. So I say even less at lunch than usual, totally aware of how alone I am.

  Undocumented Event #3

  Scotty dumped his summer chauffeur and is now dating a cheesy freshman cheerleader named Cory.

  Kelsey. Becky. Cory. Apparently a cutesy-wutesy name is what Scotty looks for most in a sex partner. (For the record, I hate being called "Jessie," the diminutivization of my name favored by senior citizens and my parents.) The ironic thing is, Scotty doesn’t go by the cutsified version of his own name anymore. At some point this summer, Scotty Glazer died and a sex-machine named "Scott" was born. (It’s no coincidence that Robbie Driscoll was similarly replaced by "Rob" two Augusts ago.) If I had reason to say his name (and I don’t), I know I’d flub up and call him Scotty. I have trouble remembering names of people I don’t know.

  I didn’t bother to write about these events right after they happened because I was too preoccupied by the Bubble-Gum Bimbos and Marcus the Genius episodes. Then I busted my ankle. Compared to that triple-whammy tsunami, the aforementioned trials were mere toilet swirlies.

  Perspective.

  Then I started thinking about the downside to perspective. Perspective basically guarantees that there’s no such thing as a pure emotion. Every emotion is based on how sucky (or not) something is in relation to something else that has already happened. I realized that Hy and Marcus and my ankle wouldn’t be so huge if I had experienced a Hiroshima-size disaster.

  Hope’s moving doesn’t even count. I say this only because I remember her reaction to the news. She was upset by it, but she didn’t have a tear-out-your-hair hissy fit like I did. True, she’s more laid-back and go-with-the-flow by nature. But I think the real reason she didn’t act like her life was ending is because she had already experienced what that really meant. Heath’s death gave her perspective, and that made it possible for her to see that things weren’t really as bad as I thought they were.

  It kind of makes me wish that the worst thing that will ever happen to me will just hurry up and happen already. That way I could live the rest of my life in bliss, if only because I know how much worse things could be.

  the twenty-fifth

  We’ve been in six out of eight classes together every day for a month and Marcus will talk to everyone in class except me. Or anyone I associate with. For the latter, I can hardly blame him.

  To his credit, Len Levy was the first person in our class to go out of his way to talk to Marcus. I don’t think his motives were all that Samaritan, though. I think Len was threatened by Marcus’s intelligence and was following the Godfather keep-your-enemies-closer philosophy. I don’t know if Marcus is a genius, but he has definitely stunned everyone with his ability to always have the correct answer whenever any teacher calls on him, even if he’s spent the entire class period doodling in his notebook. Regardless, Len and Marcus have become kind of tight in the past few weeks.

  At first, I didn’t mean to mooch in on their conversations. I literally couldn’t help hearing them, though. I mean, Marcus is in back of me and Len sits next to me in every class. I was right there. Then I figured that listening to their conversations could have a therapeutic effect on me. I thought that as soon as I found out anything about Marcus, I’d stop being so psychotic about him. The real Marcus—not the reformed rebel/genius I’d created in my hyperactive imagination—would be sure to disappoint. Then I could stop being such a girl and just move on already.

  Here, with as few editorial comments as possible, are

  The Top 10 Things I’ve Learned about Marcus Flutie from Eavesdropping on His Conversations with Len Levy with One Ear While Sara Buzzes On and On about Nothing in the Other:

  10. Marcus was diagnosed with ADD in elementary school. (This helps explain why he is always in motion. He never stops jiggling his foot, drumming his fingers on his desk, twirling and letting go of his tie, and so on.) He thinks this is a bogus condition designed by fascist headshrinkers who want to destroy any spark of individuality and foster conformity at a young age.

  9. Marcus thinks the medications that doctors prescribe for his ADD (Ritalin, etc.) are worse for him than some recreational drugs, namely, pot, E, and ’shrooms.

  8. Marcus had to do community service at an old-folks’ home as part of his penance. After his 200 hours were up, he got a job there because he likes "kickin’ it with the old fogues."

  7. Marcus is teaching himself how to play guitar. He bought it not because he wants to be a rock star (let’s face it, the only reason guys want to be rock stars is so they can get play from hot chicks, and Marcus already gets more play than he can handle) but because it gives him something constructive to do with his hands instead of smoking.

  6. Marcus is trying to stop smoking. Tobacco, that is. He figures this will be harder to kick than all the illegal substances combined because he was never addicted to all that other stuff. He just did it because he was bored, which he now realizes was a sad lack of imagination on his part.

  5. Marcus adopted his semiformal jacket-and-tie dress code in order to better look the part of a goody-goody honors student. (Besides, what could be more subversive in a world of casual Fridays in which Internet gazillionaires dress like skater punks?) Now he does it because the chicks are digging it.

  4. Marcus is currently "chillin’" with a senior named Mia. She’s six foot two, which makes her the first girl he’s ever been able to look in the eye. This, he has found, makes it much harder to lie to her. He hopes this will stop him from hurting her feelings, which he always seems to do with girls he’s chillin’ with, but never intentionally. Mia is not that bright, but she has a cartoonish Saint Bernard named Bubba that Marcus likes to play with.

  3. Marcus spends a lot of time alone now. When he got out of Middlebury, he knew that he had to ditch anybody who knew him only as Krispy Kreme, which was everyone.

  2. Marcus often has the urge to ta
lk to people in the middle of the night. He tried chat rooms, but he found the idea of talking nonsense to a worldwide web full of strangers extremely depressing. He thinks we’re losing the ability to touch each other in a personal, human kind of way. (Me too!)

  1. Marcus writes—in longhand—in a journal when he can’t sleep. Usually this helps him fall asleep. (ME TOO!!!!!!!!!!!!)

  Do I even need to tell you that my plan royally backfired? I thought that learning about Marcus would demystify him. That I’d find out there was nothing more to him than tired, nonconformist clichés. But he’s more like me than I ever imagined. I listen to Marcus talking to Len, and I wish he were talking to me. This punishment for peeing in the yogurt cup is far worse than anything the administration could have come up with.

  October 2nd

  Hope,

  Exactly one year ago today, I sprinted the last 100 yards to win a cross-country meet against Eastland and nailed a new PR (19:32) in the process. I was feeling proud and happy. I rented Heathers at Blockbuster and was looking forward to what new insights/analysis we would come up with in our tenth VCR viewing. I got ready to make two bowls of Chubby Hubby—mine topped with Cap’n Crunch, yours without—when you arrived for our Friday Night Food and Flick Fest. You wore the slouchy gray Old Navy cargo pants I’d persuaded you to buy and a white Fruit of the Loom T-shirt you had embroidered with pink and aqua daisies. You didn’t burst through the kitchen door cracking a joke about the Clueless Crew or doing a dead-on imitation of one of Christina Aguilera’s white-girl soul riffs or bearing a construction-paper-and-glitter gold medal that you’d insist I wear on my chest all evening. Your face was sad and serious in a way that I hadn’t seen since Heath died. I knew something was wrong. Then you said it.

  "We’re moving to Tennessee."

  As horrible and impossible and all-other-ibles as the news was, I knew it was true. You put the ice cream back in the freezer so it wouldn’t melt, and I cried for hours.

  Today I dug past layer upon layer of microwave dinners and foil-covered leftovers in the freezer. I found that pint of Chubby Hubby covered in flowery frost, unopened, uneaten. And I cried all over again.

  I still miss you.

 
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