The Curtis Brothers

Being almost-friends with Irish meant inside jokes and laughing all the time and singing harmony to “Yellow Submarine” and getting written up for stupid things like how many times we sharpened our pencils, and feeling like I actually existed. But it also meant spending a fair number of mornings sitting alone next to an empty chair because he was hungover or missed the bus or just didn’t feel like showing up to class.

I missed him on the days he didn’t come, but I wasn’t one to take his absences personally. I considered them to be the result of a kind of social impasse. He was not the kind of boy who felt obligated to attend Geometry on a consistent basis just to see a sometimes-friend, and no matter how many times he invited me to come with him, I was not the kind of girl who ditched class.

I started to notice the times I spent alone, though. It’s a strange phenomenon, but when you are used to being alone, the outside world starts to blur into the background. Alone means no intrusions, no distractions, and the page in front of you is the realest thing.

But when you are sometimes not alone, it gets hard to slip back into the trance you inhabited before, staring at the board while everyone else is giving each other French manicures with Wite-Out and flicking paper footballs. The sense of isolation was still there, but it had stopped being comfortable. It was with great reluctance that I came to a realization: I needed some more almost-friends.

The problem was, I had no idea how you did that—made friends.

However, as had happened with Irish, the decision was essentially made for me:

The girls who sit behind me in Geometry are always having a much better time than me. Or anyone, really. They play a lot of games, the make-believe kind, like it doesn’t even matter what other people think. They have actual names, but they never use them. Instead, they call each other Sodapop and Ponyboy, like The Outsiders.

For Halloween, Soda wore a pink taffeta prom dress and a blond wig, and painted red dye all over herself.

Irish didn’t come to class, so I was by myself. I got out my notebook and drew pictures.

“Tap her,” I heard Soda say behind me. “Tap her, turn her around.”

And then Pony’s hand on my shoulder.

“Do you know who I’m supposed to be?” Soda asked when I looked back at them.

I told her I thought she was Carrie, and she nodded and asked if I’d ever read The Outsiders.

She said, “We have this game we play, and we were thinking you’d make a good Darry. Do you think you can be Darry?”

“Please, we’ve needed a big brother for so long,” said Pony, who has glasses so thick that her eyes look magical, like they’re windows to someplace else. “Please, be our brother?”

“I guess so,” I said. “What would I have to do?”

Soda grinned. “Not that much. Yell at us a lot. Smack Pony around when he gets out of line. And be a total badass when we rumble with the Socs. Think you can do that?”

I said yes, because what else was there to say?

Today, they both turned around when Irish and I came into class, and called out, “Hey, Darry.”

Then Soda pointed to Irish. “Does he want to play?”

Irish looked at me. “What are we playing?”

Outsiders. Maybe they’ll let you be Two-Bit or something. Can Irish be Two-Bit?” I asked Soda.

“No,” she said. “I’ve got a better idea. He can be Cherry Valance. Look, he even has red hair.”

“Cherry Valance,” Irish said. “Is that the girl?”

I nodded. “So, you want to?”

Irish shrugged. “Why the hell not?”

“Okay, see this?” Soda pointed to our side of the room. “Everyone on this side is Greasers. And over there, they’re the Socs.”*

Our side is mostly kids from my neighborhood, or else from the trailer park and a couple of the more run-down housing developments. People on the other side of the room are on the soccer team or the football team or student council. They all look like they’re from an alternate universe, or at least some other country.

“Hey,” said the boy who used to sit with Watch-Thief, before Watch-Thief got kicked out. He’s right across the aisle from us and has slick hair and a black leather coat. “Hey, can I be a Greaser? Look at me man, I’m no Soc.”

“Yeah,” said Soda, “yeah. But you better be careful over there. You’re in enemy territory and they want to kick your ass any chance they get.”

I wasn’t good at being Darry. In fact, I was pretty terrible.

I had no experience at being a total badass and also, I was smaller than both of them. But the thing was, it didn’t really matter. The game was basically rigged to be unplayable, and Soda was terrible at being Soda and Irish was terrible at being Cherry Valance. And anyway, the actual point of the game was that it didn’t involve a game at all. We didn’t actually have to do anything. The only one who remotely fit their part was Ponyboy, and that was only because she was 15, which meant she resembled the character by default, noble and shy and idealistic—she didn’t have to fake it. Mostly, it was just nice to be invited to something.

Still, when I actually thought about how it had happened, I was filled with unease. Something about the whole situation scared me, and the thing that scared me was this: there was a time where I would have said no instead of yes. I would have shaken my head mutely when Soda asked if I knew who she was dressed as, even though I loved Carrie and had seen it six times. I would have turned around and stared at my notebook, and then wondered if I would ever have friends.

So, I was scared by whatever had just happened, but I couldn’t tell if it was the old me that scared me, or the new me. My induction into the Outsiders was the first indication that Irish had changed me in a way that was true and significant. For better or for worse, I had stopped being invisible. Now, I just had to figure out what was actually there . . .

*It’s important to note that Soda wasn’t wrong about the way the class was divided. In fact, she was kind of alarmingly right.

21 thoughts on “The Curtis Brothers

  1. Isn’t it weird how that works?
    I had a sometimes-friend in art last year. She was the type to skip and go to the bathroom to fix her hair every single day. And whenever she got back from one of her excursions or was about to go off on one, she asked me if her hair looked poofy. And I, having extremely frizzy hair, had to kinda guesstimate on this. And we talked about art, gave each other advice on colors and details and whatnot, and somewhere in there, I listened to her talk about her latest crush/boyfriend/admirer. And I didn’t really know what to say to a lot of this (except for the art stuff). Really, I just smiled and nodded my way through this.
    And it always seems odd to me, that when you want to talk to someone and have them listen and try to be a friend in general, that that is sometimes the hardest time to be heard.

    • And whenever she got back from one of her excursions or was about to go off on one, she asked me if her hair looked poofy.
      It’s funny, I have an eerily similar memory of one of the tattooed stoner girls stopping me in the bathroom to ask if her hair was frizzy and I was just thinking, Compared to what? I had—and still have—days where I look like a very small lion with dreadlocks. I told her it was fine, because yeah, next to me she looked absolutely sleek.
      And it always seems odd to me, that when you want to talk to someone and have them listen and try to be a friend in general, that that is sometimes the hardest time to be heard.
      I love this. I don’t think there’s much more to say about it, except I just love it—it’s very true. Have you read the Ruby Oliver books by E. Lockhart? Your description of your art-friend reminds me a lot of the dynamic between Roo and Megan, how hard it sometimes is to actually be friends with girls, how they each have their own all-consuming world.

  2. So like you’re probably getting sick of me saying this over and over. But can you get all of these vignettes together and put them in a book and sell it so that I can buy at least two copies? Because it is AWESOME.

    • I’m still just thrilled and fascinated by the responses I get to these! It’s a way-long-way off, but I have to admit I’ve been thinking more about what a book might look like, how it could be structured, all that. I’m particularly bemused when it comes to an arc or through-line. Maybe consistent change is a big enough arc?

      • Well, I recently reread House on Mango Street and reading your little snippets of high school life reminded me of that novel, at least structurally. And from what I’ve read so far of your snippets, it seems that the character starts out rather shy and introverted, sort of a hyper-observant fish-out-of-water type, and then slowly comes out of her shell as she gets to know other people her age by observing them and figuring out what makes them tick, and by noticing their little quirks and realizing they’re not that much different from her. With The Curtis Brothers, you can definitely see her evolving into someone who’s finally taking the leap to bond with others, albeit still rather tentatively.

        • I should reread that too—it’s been a long time, and it’s always been one of my favorites. It was a *huge* influence for me in high school. I had a bunch of my favorite vignettes memorized and for a long time, I felt like it was the perfect form and tried ridiculously hard to emulate it.

  3. How do you get experience at being a bad ass? I went to an all boys high school, and the year below me wanted to be my sometime friends. I skipped a year and left a lot of those kids behind. I don’t remember being scared. Lonely. Lost. Never scared. I was like a chameleon, fitting in with the nerds, the rugby players, and the Maoris. I’m not good at holding onto friends. I was filled with unease letting friends come home. I love your writing. I hope everything’s going well. Talk soon, Simon.

    • In a lot of ways, I was a chameleon too. By the end of that first year, I seemed to drift here and there and was pretty nimble about finding new places to go.
      For most of my life, I haven’t been good at holding onto friends either. I’ve been lucky in the sense that a lot of my friends have been good at holding onto me. I’m still in touch with most of the people I knew in high school, largely because they’re patient with me when I wander off.

  4. I swear, Brenna, you put the best contemporary writers to shame. I would skip rehearsals and deadlines and even Deadliest Catch to read a whole novel of your high school/contemporary anecdotes and still be sad when it was over.

    • Hahaha—Jackson, you’re making me blush! Skipping Deadliest Catch? Let’s not get crazy! I do sometimes daydream about a nonfiction book, though. B&N’s Nonfiction YA section keeps getting bigger (meaning it now comprises about ten books). Maybe if I figure out an actual format, there’ll be a market for it one of these days.

  5. I love when you write about High School Brenna. You put it in such a perfect way that anyone could be entertained – whether they relate to it or not. Although I think most can relate in some way regardless.
    I’m with everyone else commenting. I wish you would publish a book with all of these tales in it. I can’t imagine it not being a big hit!

    • They’re definitely becoming some of my favorite posts to write (and not just because I’m obsessed with reading through old journals).
      It always feels totally weird to talk about myself, and then the responses I get are what really make the posts, because other people talk about themselves and I just absolutely love it.

  6. You’re so good at talking about the personalities of your high school friends that the part about you seems almost slipped in … but by far the most interesting part to me is watching Brenna emerge. In a way, having been reading your blog for a while, I feel like you’re already describing the arc … from the homeschooled girl who got licked in Spanish to your obsessive, anthropological curiosity to now the formation your first friendships. It’s just wonderful, and I find myself rooting for you every time you post a new anecdote, that Teenage Brenna will take another step toward unraveling the Gordion knot of her own passivity, that she will engage. And you never disappoint. I love these posts.

    • I’m glad you like these posts, because I’m having a really good time writing them (sometimes an uncomfortable time, but never in a bad way). And I really appreciate how much other people are willing to share in the comments. There’s something to be said for having an honest, ongoing dialogue about adolescence. Now, I don’t necessarily know what it is, but definitely something to be said :)

  7. heureuse de me joindre a vous
    Très favorable journée à chacun des membres de cette communauté ,
    Pour débuter , donnez-moi l’occasion de vous montrer mon appréciation pour toutes les très intéressantes connaissances que j’ai découvertes sur cet beau forum de discussions .
    Je ne suis pas convaincue d’être au meilleur endroit mais je n’en ai pas vu de meilleur.
    Je demeure à White river, canada . J’ai 36 ans et j’élève 4 très gentils enfants qui sont tous âgés entre deux et 16 années (1 est adoptée ). J’aime beaucoup les animaux de compagnie et je tempte de leur donner les articles qui leur rendent la vie plus à l’aise .
    Je vous remercie d’avance pour toutes les très “à propos” délibérations à venir et je vous remercie de votre compréhension pour mon français moins qu’idéal : ma langue maternelle est le vietnamien et je tempte d’apprendre mais c’est très complexe !
    Bye bye
    Martha

  8. Salon de coiffure
    Très favorable soirée à toutes et tous ,
    Pour débuter , offrez-moi la possibilité de vous montrer mon appréciation pour toutes les formidables informations que j’ai trouvées sur cet excellent phorum .
    Je ne suis pas assuree d’être au bon endroit mais je n’en ai pas trouvé de meilleur.
    J’habite à Port alberni, ca . J’ai 40 ans et j’éduque cinq agréables enfants qui sont tous âgés entre sept et 14 ans (1 est adoptée ). J’adore beaucoup les animaux de compagnie et j’essaie de leur garantir les accessoires pour animaux qui leur rendent l’existance plus confortable.
    Je vous remercie dès maintenant pour toutes les très pertinentes débats qui suivront et je vous remercie surtout de votre compassion pour mon français moins qu’idéal : ma langue de naissance est le mandarin et je fais de mon mieux de m’enseigner mais c’est très ardu !
    Bye
    Arthru

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