The Second Thing


Well . . .

Well, it’s been quite awhile since I sat down and wrote a good solid blog post. What was the hold-up, you might ask?

Here is the short version: I turned in the latest revision of Book 2, then fell into a sleep resembling something out of a fairy tale only my hair didn’t look as good and I was wearing mismatched socks. After a week or so, I woke back up, made the bed, did the laundry, and now things are starting to return to normal.

There’s still work to do, of course. Next will be line-edits and copyedits, and hopefully a cover reveal pretty soon here, but things are definitely moving along. Also, I put this on the calendar weeks ago and then when it actually rolled around, I completely spaced it—but The Replacement came out in the UK yesterday! It has a British book-birthday! I’d somehow gotten used to the idea that it would be released there in the future and then failed to grasp that the future is now the present. This is an example of how I am very bad with time.

Here is another: literally months ago, I said I was going to talk about how I stopped being completely passive—specifically these three defining things that happened in close succession. I’m going to talk about the second thing now, but since it turns out that the posts themselves are not remotely in close succession, you have to imagine these events taking place within days of each other.

The second thing that happened did not happen to me. (Not that Dweezil getting yelled at happened to me—it just happened near me. But, you know.)

First though, to set the stage for my next mini-revelation, we have to go back in time.

A few weeks before the second thing, the Hobgoblin pulled me out of the lunch line one day and told me he was worried about me. I assumed that he must be confused, misled by my timid demeanor or my silence or the fact that I was standing in the lunch line alone waiting to buy two slices of terrible pizza—all of which could be construed as very worrying things. I hastened to assure him that I was fine. I was spectacular. I was fan-freaking-tastic. Really.

He regarded me gravely, then told me that I needed to stop hanging out with Irish.

I was immediately gripped by crushing despair. Or, what passes for it in Adolescent-Brenna World. So, moderate perturbation.

Until roughly this moment, Geometry had been my favorite class even though I disliked the Hobgoblin immensely and also hated math. Which is really too bad, because on a certain fundamental level, I was a perfect candidate for math. There was nothing I liked more than drawing three dimensional shapes. I was obsessed with fractals and actually went so far as to photocopy them from books and then tape the copies to my binders and the inside of my locker door. In fact, if my high school teachers had been anything like Vi Hart and her infinitely decreasing elephants—if we had discussed, as Vi says, just how dense infinity can be—I would have loved math. But we didn’t. So I didn’t.

The thing about Geometry was, it was easily the best part of my day because I got to spend an hour and forty minutes with Irish. We played strategy games and had interesting conversations. We made up secret codes and invented postulates and theorems to describe the various behaviors of our classmates. When I was with him, I laughed all the time and never felt like my brain was about to melt from sheer inactivity. Also, he could almost always be prevailed upon to do at least some of the homework, so technically he wasn’t a bad influence on me—I was a good influence on him.

Okay, so it wasn’t like I needed him. By that point in the semester I was managing at least, eating lunch with a lot of very nice and very socially conservative girls who hadn’t yet become irreparably shocked by my bohemian values and bad language. I wasn’t a complete loner, but Irish was still my only real friend. It was fundamentally impossible to stop hanging out with him. So I didn’t. I thought that would be the end of it.

However, I’d failed to give the Hobgoblin the credit he deserved. He was a problem-solver. He took stock of the situation, then moved Irish to the front of the room. Suddenly, math was terrible—as bad as every other class.* It stretched on forever, boring and mind-numbing and repetitive.

Being an Outsider was just about the only thing left that made it salvageable. Pony and Soda still sat behind me. They were still dry and understated and ironic, and because I enjoyed them and because I was finally starting to recognize that I was lonely, I talked to them.

They turned out to be very different from the girls I ate lunch with. For one thing, they never acted like I was strange. Also, they had actual opinions on things and thought Irish and earnestness and made-for-TV movies were funny. They read books and never declared with grave, tragic expressions that anyone was going to hell** unless they were joking. Because they were always joking, even when they sounded serious.

The best part about being Outsiders wasn’t the most obvious—being brothers or belonging to a gang. It wasn’t comparing battle scars from past rumbles or arguing over who would walk Cherry Valance to her locker. It was how they said goodbye, hands clasped, overly sincere. They stared into each other’s faces with wide-eyed urgency and said “Stay gold,” like it was some kind of existential condition and we really could, and also like everything was going to be terrible. The whole procedure dripped irony like Soda’s Carrie costume. I loved it.

The following journal entry marks a critical point in my own ongoing transformation, and also the one time ever that Pony was actually serious about anything:

The boys on the other side of the room have been leaving trash under Ponyboy’s chair in Geometry. At first, I think it was an accident. Someone aimed for the wastebasket, missed. Later, Hobgoblin lectured Pony on respect and decency and picking up after one’s self.

The boys leave stuff under Pony’s chair all the time now, because they think things like that are funny. Today, when Pony went up to sharpen her pencil, Andy leaned across the aisle and tossed an empty Powerade bottle onto her seat. Usually it’s Soda who gets all militant and self-righteous, but today, Pony came back blazing. She picked up the bottle, carried it across to the other table like a wicked queen carrying someone’s heart, and dropped it in front of Andy.


Then she stalked back to her seat and bent over her notebook, gripping her pencil hard, but not writing anything down.

“Oh come on, Pone,” Soda whispered. “Just ignore them.”

“Shut up, Soda.”

Andy set the bottle on the floor and kicked it so it rolled under Pony’s seat. She stood up so fast she knocked her chair over. Then she grabbed the bottle and bounced it right off of Andy’s forehead.

“[Pony’s full, actual name],” Hobgoblin said from the front of the room. “That is completely uncalled for. Take your seat right now.”

“@#$% you!” yelled Pony, sounding like she was about to cry. She grabbed her books off the table and slammed out of the room with her hair hanging in her face.

Soda reached down and turned Pony’s chair right side up. “She’s excitable today, sir.”

Around us, everyone was staring and whispering, but I looked down at the table, at my open book. It bothered me that I never knew how to describe these kinds of moments. I wanted to find the perfect words, the ones that would say how it really was—that Pony wasn’t excitable, what she was was pissed off. It was startling to realize that being pissed off was an option, that people could just be angry in public, and suddenly I was embarrassed.

Not for Pony—she’d done something definite and loud, something I only wished I could do. No, I was embarrassed for me, because I knew that I wouldn’t have done the same thing. I’d have put up with it, just kept my head down until they got bored or the bell rang and I could make my escape. I’d have come back every day and sat quietly and never said a word.

Mostly, I was filled with admiration for her because I wanted to scream at the Hobgoblin.** I wanted to stand up too, admonish him for being patronizing and smug. For trying to protect me from Irish, which was utterly laughable, while at the same time, not trying to protect Pony from anything.

*Except PE, which I had turned out to be awesome at.

**A lot of hell-talk at my lunch table. A lot.

***At this point in her high school career, 16-year-old Brenna is pretty much infatuated with the idea of making noise, but due to her complete inability to shout, she understands that this is impractical. (I am not and have never been a confrontational person.) Realistically speaking, it’s not even the noise that’s so attractive, but rather the personal freedom that noise represents to her. If there were a way to get the same effect by distance-running or drawing really symmetrical pyramids, she would be all over it.

7 thoughts on “The Second Thing

  1. I keep telling myself that when I get upset enough, when I snap I’ll snap and then it’ll work, but somehow it just never happens.
    I used to tell myself this too, and even though I was sometimes so sure of it—I could almost feel it there, right on the tip of my tongue—it never quite happened the way I thought it would. I never exploded or said any of the things I was thinking about how stupid or mean or unfair people could be, and a lot of times, I didn’t say the nice things either.
    What happened instead was a feeling like my volume progressively got turned up. Not all the time and not always when I wanted it, but by the time I was 17 or 18, I had a voice. It wasn’t a loud one and a lot of times, I was still kind of plagued by things I wished I’d said (by then though, it was mostly the times I wished I’d complimented people or thanked them or told them I respected something they’d done).
    At the time, I felt stupid for having such a huge disconnect between my brain and my voice, but I think now that it’s okay. That there are people who stand up and say exactly what they’re thinking and are good at making others listen, and there are people who write it down and if they’re passionate and if they care about what they’ve written, they can do the same thing. We need the Watchers because they’re the ones who will preserve a moment long after it’s passed, and because the subtleties are important too.

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