The Ice Girl, Redux

It’s February. Which is another way of saying that it is brutally, unreasonably cold. In fact, it’s so cold that I’m perpetually obsessed with how cold it is.

In Drawing, Dill lets me wear his fingerless gloves. They’re too big and make me feel like an imaginary creature with very small hands. Which I like, because every imaginary thing is more fun than actual reality. Especially in winter.

He leans his elbows on our table and says, so casually it sounds fake, “Hey, me and Greg and Vee are going to a movie tonight. You want to come?”

And when I look back at him too long, it’s because I’m considering all the things I like best—the blue of his eyes, the width of his shoulders, how he never talks down to me, never treats me like I’m stupid. He drew my picture like I was a doll-version of myself, but so what? He’s interesting and fun. Handsome. Dependable. (Actual, when everyone else is just hypothetical.)

“Sure,” I say, wiggling the gloves so they flop like puppets.

“Cool. I’ll pick you up.”

We’re in the middle of the Self-Portrait unit and everyone has mirrors, but mine is broken into jagged shards. Every day, I arrange the pieces in order on the tabletop, matching them up to a map of pencil marks. It’s easier to think of my face as a series of individual features. Mouth, cheek, forehead. One dark, furtive eye. I don’t know why I decided to do it this way except that otherwise, everything starts to seem too complicated.

I don’t even ask what movie we’re seeing.

“Are you crazy?” said Catherine after lunch. “The last thing you need is to start dating him again. And anyway—” She cut her eyes significantly at Jane.

“What do I care?” Jane said.

“I’m not dating him,” I said. “It’s just a movie.”

“Yeah, and then another one and then—oh, great.” Catherine rolled her eyes grandly. “Now here’s your other helpless victim.”

Brody had broken off from his friends and was heading straight for us. He looked like several adjectives, but helpless wasn’t one of them.

“You want this?” he asked, coming in very close and grabbing his crotch.

I stood looking up at him. Sometimes, at the strangest moments, I can tell that my expression is inscrutable.

He lifted his shirt and pulled a Coke out of the gap behind his belt buckle. “It’s still cold. So, you want it?”

“Maybe,” I said, tilting my head. “It hasn’t got cooties on it or anything, does it?”

He cracked the can open, took a drink and handed it to me. “Now it does.”

I smiled at him, sly, coy, demure, pick-a-word. It was easy. He kissed me lightly on the forehead and walked away.

Jane gave me a dubious look, but didn’t comment.

Catherine said it was disgusting. She said it was repulsive. She said he wants to have sex with me. But I don’t even know what combination of those things is true.

“You’re not going to drink that, are you?” she said as we watched him go. “It’s contaminated.”

I just shrugged. It seemed a shame to waste it. He was right, it was still cold.

Passing over the wisdom of drinking from the same can as someone who makes out with a lot of girls, we need to address a more serious concern. (Even more serious, I mean.)

Right now, we’re going to talk about the wisdom of participating in an ongoing interaction where the entire dynamic involves increasingly bold and inappropriate attempts to be shocking, repeatedly countered by blank indifference. Meaning, wisdom? What wisdom?

And hey—while we’re at it, let’s talk about agreeing to go on a date with a guy who you’ve already established time and again is hugely inappropriate for you and also just dumped a girl who is rapidly becoming one of your best friends. Let’s talk about that.

And by talk about, I really just mean let’s take a minute to acknowledge it. Think about what is right and what is fair. Because this? This is not it.

To recap: Dill asks me to the movies. Brody gives me a Coke and tries his best to scandalize me, or at least make me blush. And somehow, with a speed verging on sorcery, these two events become the concrete embodiment of all that teenage Brenna believes you can expect from boys. Meaning, I make the kind of error in calculation that, from a scientific perspective, is pretty much unforgivable.

I jump to the conclusion that my choices are limited to boys I find attractive but totally unacceptable, and boys I admire for their intellect, appearance, and general fun-ness, but don’t want to make out with. My options, boiled down to two. Why? Because life is so simple that way.

And I refuse, with a flat, stubborn refusal, to acknowledge the presence of a third option, and that is, Boys I Think I Might Kind of Like, But Firmly Believe I Am Not Allowed to Have. (If you want to really talk about dysfunction.)

Since the end of the fall semester, I haven’t thought about #4 all that much.

Which is a lie. I do think about him, but only in the abstract, slightly-literary way of 19th Century poems and bad love songs. Like, sometimes when I can’t sleep and it’s a clear, cold night and the moon is out, I put on my running shoes and two pairs of socks. I go tearing around the neighborhood, and afterwards, I lie in the snow and look up at the sky and wonder what he’s doing right at that moment, which is both whimsical and cinematic.

Then I realize that it’s two in the morning and he’s not doing anything interesting because he’s sleeping—it’s a school night and all normal people everywhere are sleeping. So I get up, shake the snow out of my hair and go home.

It’s a semi-weird behavior and kind of lame, but not a big deal. Right? After all, I am definitively Not Ophelia.

However, the realist in me is forced to admit that I’m changing—only a little, though. Barely. Just tiny.

I’ve never really been what you’d call a creature of habit. I’m vague, unpredictable, capricious in my wanderings. Between classes, it’s difficult to say where you’ll find me. Some days I’ll strike out for the vending machines or the library. Others, I meet Catherine at her locker or go down to the cafeteria for a donut or a cup of coffee. The passing periods are ten minutes long, and if you put your mind to it, you can really accomplish quite a lot in ten minutes.

It takes me almost two weeks to realize that I’ve been following the exact same route to the Art wing every single day, even though there are three different ways to get there, and one of the ways is actually faster.

And even then, I refuse to acknowledge the reason for it. But the reason is this: every morning, Dweezil, Rooster, and #4 are always at the same place in the Art hall, because they are creatures of habit.

I just … like walking by them. (Him, I mean. Really just him.)

I like that he’s shy and watchful and far away. I like that when he looks at me, his gaze could mean almost anything. He could like me or hate me or barely even notice I exist.

By now, I’m beginning to understand that the things I crave are not what other girls are looking for. Most of them seem to prefer melodrama and romance, actual heartfelt declarations. Or at the very least, some kind of basic social interaction. But as we’ve already established, I’m not all that much like other girls.

To be clear, we’re talking about a Brenna who never expresses an opinion or a preference, never commits to anything, never says a single thing she’s actually thinking, and sometimes feels so wild and claustrophobic in her own skin that she climbs out the window in the middle of the night and takes off running, sometimes for hours. So before you feel obliged to make the observation that any of this is messed up, let me just say: I know.

But I don’t know what to do about it.

I don’t even know #4. Really, all I have is a nagging sense that he’s a fundamentally decent human being, who sometimes looks up when I walk by. Which is a thing, but also not a thing, and I don’t trust my brain to know the difference between a boy who is generally aware that I exist, and a boy who is actually interested in that fact.

This is the first time in my life that I’ve ever wanted advice. I just want someone who will listen and commiserate and then tell me how to proceed. And there’s not really anyone I can ask.

Little Sister Yovanoff is no help. She’s recently been navigating her own romantic entanglement, which involves being pursued relentlessly by Golden Boy—Sophomore! Class! President! (and captain of the JV football team).* Any problems she might have are basically the complete opposite of mine.

And Catherine is an even less likely candidate. In the arena of liking boys, she’s one big cautionary tale. She falls headlong into crush-mode like she’s been bewitched. Cursed, even. If she likes someone and he doesn’t return the compliment, she’ll quickly begin to hate him. She’ll resent his lack of interest and take it as a personal attack.

17-year-old Brenna does not understand this. Simply looking at #4 makes her happy. Despite almost two years at the same school, he’s still an unknown quantity, and because mysteries are her stock-in-trade, she enjoys this about him. He is like her treasured Mandelbrot fractals—fascinating and meticulous, but unresolved. Infinite.

More than anything, she doesn’t want to risk destroying the secret sense of exhilaration she gets from walking by him every day (more than anything, she doesn’t want to be publicly embarrassed), and so she stays quiet. Thankfully, because she’s a little bundle of black coffee and rationality, there’s very little angsting, lamenting, or hair-pulling, even within the pages of her private journal. This is because seventeen-year-old Brenna is, in fact, the ice princess her mother warned her about . She is a stone-cold pragmatist and has never in her life seen a problem with this. Hand to God.

Just to be perfectly clear, she is a total idiot. She is, in her own way, equally as dysfunctional about boys as Catherine. Just with less angsting/lamenting/hair-pulling.

And trust me, the lack of angst is only because she has not yet entered the Land of Consequences.

*****

So, I’ve asked you about crushes before—having them, revealing them, pursuing them. The question I have today is different. What I want to know is this: do you wish you had someone to talk to about things? (Anything.) Do you have someone to talk to? Or is it easier to just suck it up, bite the bullet, and go it alone?**

*Ultimately, all that happened was, we had to stop going to the particular sandwich place he worked at.

** Sadly, for some of us, it is.

18 thoughts on “The Ice Girl, Redux

  1. Like, sometimes when I can’t sleep and it’s a clear, cold night and the moon is out, I put on my running shoes and two pairs of socks. I go tearing around the neighborhood, and afterwards, I lie in the snow and look up at the sky and wonder what he’s doing right at that moment, which is both whimsical and cinematic.

    Then I realize that it’s two in the morning and he’s not doing anything interesting because he’s sleeping—it’s a school night and all normal people everywhere are sleeping. So I get up, shake the snow out of my hair and go home.

    ——————

    I officially adore 17 year-old Brenna. This is the best thing ever.

  2. I sometimes wish I had someone to talk to about Stuff, on the grounds that talking about whatever problem I’m having usually solves it, but this being so, it would have to be someone whose memories of our discussion I could instantly erase afterwards, so that they wouldn’t go around thinking of me as That Girl With The Problem – as opposed to That Girl Who Just Solved Her Problem And Now Would You Please Forget I Ever Mentioned It – and thereby causing me further emotional angst.

    • it would have to be someone whose memories of our discussion I could instantly erase afterwards

      This is the best solution ever! Why does it not exist already? (I think in high school, an Amnesiac Confidant was all I was really looking for.)

  3. I can pretty much talk to my mom about anything but I try not to as much anymore because I feel like I’m burdening her with my issues. I don’t want to ruin her life as well. See though, I have this problem of being vague when I tell people how I feel. I’ll tell them I’m sad but I won’t tell them why because sometimes I don’t know and most of the time, I don’t know how to explain myself. I also am afraid of talking to people because I like to fantasize about how they respond, mostly to get the courage to say something in the first place, and I don’t react well to people not responding the same way I fantasized about, so sometimes it’s easier to deal with things myself. I have people I can talk to but sometimes I make it so they can’t talk to me.

    • I have this problem of being vague when I tell people how I feel

      because sometimes I don’t know and most of the time, I don’t know how to explain myself

      It literally took me *years* to start identifying emotions accurately, and then even longer to start expressing them. I think writing things down helped me a lot though. I could take as long as I needed to figure out what I wanted to say, and then devote plenty of time to picking out the words I wanted to use.

      Senior year, my friend Wit and I wrote each other letters a lot, even though we were already together pretty much all the time. I drove him to school most days and we hung out at school and on weekends and talked on the phone almost every night. It was like a different kind of communication when it was in writing, though. It made me think a lot harder about what I wanted and felt, and what I wanted other people to know about me. Which was good. Because otherwise it was like what you’re saying—I made it so people couldn’t talk to me.

  4. This took me a while to figure out.
    I talk to my friends when I’m giddy. If I’m super excited about a guy, or if something else good has happened. But it takes a lot more for me to admit anything that may be… embarrassing. Like, if I like a guy, and he doesn’t feel the same way, or is taken, I just never mention him again. Ever. He disappears. And I’m very good about not thinking about things that make me unhappy, let alone talking about them. So I just move on. For me it took one heart break to never get sucked into an unrequited love again. So I handle it on my own, because my friends would only tell me not to give up, and that he has to like me because I’m amazing, or that I can do so much better. Non of that is particularly helpful.
    If I ever wanted advice I would talk to my mom. But with her you have to be SURE you want advice.

    • it takes a lot more for me to admit anything that may be… embarrassing.

      I like to think I’m about a million-billion times better these days, but man, when I was in high school, everything having to do with feelings seemed embarrassing. Even feeling giddy seemed embarrassing!

      I handle it on my own, because my friends would only tell me not to give up, and that he has to like me because I’m amazing, or that I can do so much better

      I had these friends too, and they are a very good kind of friend to have, but yes—not all that helpful in a practical sense.

      If I ever wanted advice I would talk to my mom. But with her you have to be SURE you want advice.

      Hahahaha! (Also, this is my mom, too.)

  5. When I was in 11th grade, I decided that I really liked a boy on the fencing team (which I also participated in). I’d been on the team for 2 years by then, and when I noticed him, he was tall, a good fencer, a good student, and seemed like a nice person, so I decided I liked him. Also, he was a senior, and what with only a month or so before summer, time was running out.
    I didn’t consult many people, but I did have an interesting conversation with my dad about whether or not a girl had ever asked him out when he was in school, and if he would have, or did say yes. When I heard a satisfactory ending to his personal experience, I made another decision – I had to tell this boy how I felt.
    So I stewed in my own juices for a while, until I couldn’t take it anymore. I also knew which way I had to walk in order to run into him before English, and so I went that way, with one of my friends as back-up – she would wait in the classroom for me while I went boy hunting in the hallway.
    I told him very bluntly that I liked him – I don’t remember the wording, but I know I only used one sentence to tell him, and he certainly looked surprised. He very politely informed me that I seemed nice, but that he wasn’t interested in me that way. I went to English class, and sat through the whole period with a blush that wouldn’t retreat past my neck. But to this day I’m still not sure I feel badly about it. It was just a crush that I acted on. I almost remember my friends’ reactions better – they thought I was brave, even though I felt a little childish. My mother thought that I should have consulted her first. But the thing was, I knew she would have advised me not to tell him, and today I would be one awkward teenage story short when I flip through the memories of high school.
    So this story is kind of circling around the question that you asked. But I think what I did then, and what I do now, is very carefully pick the people I talk to about things like this. If I had talked to my mother then, as I talked to her about everything else, I might not have gone through with it. It’s a little difficult to admit to myself, but if I really think about it I could probably pick out which of my friends are better at talking about things like this, but it’s just so much easier to pick the ones I think will tell me what I would like to hear about the situation.

    • I told him very bluntly that I liked him – I don’t remember the wording, but I know I only used one sentence to tell him

      While I was never actually brave enough to just go around announcing things, this is definitely how it would have looked if I had been. (I was such a factual creature.) I never thought of myself as being brutal or direct, because I hardly ever was, but when the notion struck me to say what was on my mind … look out.

      she would have advised me not to tell him, and today I would be one awkward teenage story short when I flip through the memories of high school

      Hahaha—this is really the best way to think about it! I kind of treasure my awkward high school stories these days (obviously), but at the time, I was just so devoted to avoiding them.

      if I really think about it I could probably pick out which of my friends are better at talking about things like this, but it’s just so much easier to pick the ones I think will tell me what I would like to hear about the situation.

      This is really interesting to me, because especially in high school, I think I was kind of the opposite. I mean, my main goal in not telling anyone anything was just to avoid being embarrassed, but I also had this deep paranoia that because my friends were good friends and wanted me to be happy, they’d just tell me what I wanted to hear and then I might believe them, and then I would be WRONG. Which, looking back, is a kind of silly fear to have, but there it is.

  6. Regarding your feelings about #4, I might be missing something. This doesn’t sound dysfunctional to me at all. There’s something kind of gorgeous about enjoying where you are when you’re there even if where you are is no where–even to the point of clinging to it. It’s sort of like the feeling of not wanting a book or a movie to reach its resolution because you just love being in that space. I’ve been in relationships/nonrelationships like that too. I think they’ve been the most significant learning experiences I’ve ever had.

    As per the wisdom of engaging Brody and Dill, oy. I keep waiting for a developmental psychologist to write a book about teen girls’ false perceptions regarding teen boys. Far, far more useful that this endless studying of mean girls.

    • I might be missing something. This doesn’t sound dysfunctional to me at all.

      You know, you are absolutely right—I try so hard to be a reliable narrator, scientific and unbiased. Except that I am totally biased, especially since next to Brody and Dill, my #4 fixation was really normal. (The situation does actually get very dysfunctional, and in a way that I still find crazy-fascinating to this day, but not until I hit senior year.)

      It’s sort of like the feeling of not wanting a book or a movie to reach its resolution because you just love being in that space.

      This is a wonderful way to describe it, and a huge motivating factor behind everything I did (or didn’t do) to address with having a crush. Just having the experience of it was really the gratifying part.

      I keep waiting for a developmental psychologist to write a book about teen girls’ false perceptions regarding teen boys.

      I would read this book in a heartbeat!

  7. What I want to know is this: do you wish you had someone to talk to about things? (Anything.) Do you have someone to talk to? Or is it easier to just suck it up, bite the bullet, and go it alone?

    I have a variety of different people I can talk to about different things, but when it comes to crushes, who I ask for advice depends on both the situation and what kind of response I want. My best friend isn’t the kind of person I talk to about guys (she helps me more with family issues), but I have two other close friends that I talk to about specific issues with my crush, and one additional friend who I can talk to about generalities. Also, I make full use of Hannah Moskowitz’s formspring. I love that she lets all of her fans ask her odd questions. There are definitely times when it’s better to go at it alone, mostly when I need to make a choice and don’t have time to consult my friends, or I know basically what they would all advise me to do ANYWAY, so then I just think about what they would say, and who I would actually agree with, plus the variables of the situation, and figure out an answer. I also HEAVILY rely on what fictional characters did in similar situations. I used to think that once my sister was in high school, we’d be like those television siblings who talked about boys together and shared clothes and etc. Well, we’re different builds, for one, so sharing clothes is out, but I never feel comfortable telling her about my issues, because she has less experience with boys than I do. (Not saying that I’ve had legit experience, but when you’ve had a guy as one of your best friends for nine years, you tend to pick up on how guys behave and think.) But also, she sucks at reading people, and I am good at that, so I can generally guess what’s going on with her and make her talk. And I don’t feel too bad about not reciprocating, because I think I’m the only one she can talk to, so I need to just shut up and let her vent/spill. 

    I think I answered the question… Also, I love the idea of running out at 2am in the winter. It’s nearly midnight here, and nearly freezing, and I desperately just want to run around in it, but I have to be up at 7am, so.

    • I know basically what they would all advise me to do ANYWAY, so then I just think about what they would say, and who I would actually agree with, plus the variables of the situation, and figure out an answer

      This is so delightfully mathematical! (And also reminiscent of every decision I’ve ever made.)

      I used to think that once my sister was in high school, we’d be like those television siblings who talked about boys together and shared clothes and etc.

      I never wound up sharing clothes or confessions with my sister either, and sometimes now I’m kind of sorry about that (not the clothes, though—it just wouldn’t have worked out). Not because I think anything would have really changed externally, but I feel like maybe we would have gotten to know each other a little better. Although honestly, I can’t really fault our relationship because I had a really great time with her in high school. So … maybe this is just how it had to be.

      I love the idea of running out at 2am in the winter. It’s nearly midnight here, and nearly freezing

      It’s really weird to look back at myself from this vantage point, because even though I was there, I only partly recognize myself. I was such a skittish, frantic person in a lot of ways, even though I had no concrete thing to be frantic about. There was just all this wild energy with no place to direct it, so I wound up channeling it all into sports and writing and insomnia. Or maybe I just loved the whimsy and the general aesthetic of winter. Even now, I don’t really know why except that there seemed to be no other way.

      • It’s kind of funny, how analytically I actually think (when I translate from thoughts into words — I often don’t think in words) when I’m so terrible at actual math things. I have the perfect brain for math, but I don’t like it. (Unless I’m doing such ridiculous things like figuring out how long it takes to go 4.5 light years in space if you’re going at a steadily decaying rate.) English is so much easier to deal with when written, in my opinion.
        But while thinking through things, its all very, ” If A, then most likely B, but if A causes C, then…”

        It often strikes me how strange my relationship with my sister is. We aren’t close, we don’t know much about each other’s inner thoughts, half the time we’re engaged in screaming matches across the house… And yet I don’t mind having to see her every morning and night and occasionally in the halls at school. It’s just weird.

        Winter is just the best time for running around. Day or night, it’s just better. Something about the air quality and how even though it feels like someone’s jabbing a knife into my esophagus with every breath, each breath is capable of fully filling my lungs and I don’t tire as easily.

        • I’ve always just loved terms like “steadily decaying.” And then always felt like they turned out to not be as exciting as they sounded …

          while thinking through things, its all very, ” If A, then most likely B, but if A causes C, then…”

          Yes, very orderly! Although, I confess that I’m so baffled by the idea of not thinking it words—my sister and my mom both swear they do it, and I can’t even imagine what it would be like!

          And even though I hatehatehate being cold, I love winter at night and I don’t even know why.

          • I’ve only very recently — like a week ago — realised that I don’t really think in words. I love writing, and writing (either fiction or in my journal) is super easy, but talking is hard. The best way I can describe my thoughts is like bubbles. You know how they have those premade sudsy things with the bubble wand? And the bubbles that come out are shining and rather iridescent and purple? That is what my thoughts are like. (It’s sort of like that one montage in the Disney Cinderella where she’s cleaning the floors and there are hundreds of Cinderellas in the bubbles.) And all of these bubbles (some containing feelings, others still-images or specific memories, and a few with scraps of phrases) are just floating around in my head, connecting together and separating and sometimes combining. Of course, this way of thinking is strictly in normal life. While writing, I think in words, since that’s all I have to express my ideas.

            I’d be interested to see if anyone else thinks like this, but its kind of weird, so I doubt it. :D

            • And all of these bubbles (some containing feelings, others still-images or specific memories, and a few with scraps of phrases) are just floating around in my head

              That is wonderful! I’m always so fascinated by brains, and how ideas work and how they manifest differently for different people. I’ve always thought in words, as far back as I can remember (which, perhaps not coincidentally, is as far back as when I learned to talk). Even feelings show up in words—it’s like until I think of the word, I have no idea what it is I’m feeling. Because of this, I always think that everyone should write things down. But then I realize that I probably actually benefit from it slightly more than other people who don’t have to label everything in order to understand it.

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