May is coming to a close and in the grand scheme of the high school narrative, things are actually going really well. Jane is out of the hospital, I have three English classes, and the soccer team keeps winning playoff games. The semester is almost over. Summer is almost here.
We’re two weeks from finals, and teenage Brenna is surprised to realize that despite her general lack of enthusiasm for public school (also, that right there is a gross understatement intended for comedic effect), she’s not really all that impatient for the semester to end.
This time last year, I was restless, annoyed, unsatisfied with pretty much everything. (I was probably a little insufferable.)
But now, I feel strangely light. I want to dance around and put lilacs in my hair, and toy animals and feathers and tiny paper cocktail umbrellas. I want to roll in the grass like a puppy. I’m just not the same girl I was at 16.
The change is mostly apparent in little ways, like how the underclassmen on the soccer team will sometimes look to me when it’s time to organize ourselves for relay drills, and the way my teachers have started treating me like they expect me to take charge of projects or volunteer answers, and the fact that my hair has grown more than five inches and comes down almost to my hips when I wear it loose.
Also, now I sometimes wear my hair loose.
I have a whole closet of eclectic DIY clothes, some of which are disastrous, but some of which are excellent. I have a sister who looks like a best friend. I have pastel-pink fingernails and cinnamon lipgloss and I get picked for things, group presentations and committees and teams in PE. People say hi to me in the halls—sometimes people I’ve never even talked to. They nod and smile when they see me, and even though I’m still marginally terrified of strangers, I keep my chin up and work hard to smile back.
I am (sort of/kind of) someone-in-the-real-world, and I don’t even know exactly how it happened.
Since my 3-D Design class last semester, I’ve been getting more and more interested in sculpture—specifically ceramics (which, up until I actually took the class, I was convinced I hated). Drawing has always been one of my hobbies. I enjoy it. I am proficient at it. When I draw a picture of something, it mostly looks like the thing it’s supposed to represent. However, while my drawing ability is passable … it’s not really anything special.
Turns out, sculpture is what I’m actually any good at.
Lately, I’ve been hanging out in the art wing during my off hour, even when I should be spending that time filling out all these mind-numbing worksheets on figurative language or doing the reading. Instead, I sit in the empty ceramics room, amassing an army of little clay people. It’s time-consuming and labor-intensive, but weirdly enjoyable in a way that Whitman’s “Song of Myself” is definitely not.
It’s pretty much my new favorite thing.
I left in the middle of English* today to go down to the art wing. I wanted to pick up a figure I’d done in my spare time. Tock had said he was going to fire it yesterday and that it would be cool by this afternoon.
In the ceramics room, the cart was out and everyone was sorting through the pieces, looking for their own. I stood back and waited for the crowd to thin.
Suddenly, Dweezil said, “Ho-ly shit.”
A few people raised their heads, then went back to whatever they were doing.
“Would you look at this?” Dweezil said to the boy next to him. “This is $%&@ing awesome!” He was holding my figurine in both hands, turning it carefully. “It doesn’t have a name on it. You know who made this?”
The other boy just shook his head.
“It’s mine,” I said very softly from the other side of the ceramics cart.
Dweezil turned to look at me, kind of like he’d never seen me before. Then he set the piece very gently in my outstretched hands. It had cracked in all the places I’d expected it would.
“That’s really good,” he said.
I ran my finger along the cracks, feeling how rough the edges were. “It’s $%&@ed-up though, look.”
Dweezil squinted down at me over the top of the cart. “Are you kidding? It’s bitching. You know that, right?”
I just shrugged and looked away, which is not a gracious thing to do. My mother would tell me it’s rude, but honestly, I’ve got no idea how to act.
I wanted to tell him that his spoon self-portrait was my favorite thing anyone in our whole drawing class had done. I wanted to tell him that I saw his wire sculpture** in a glass case in the library and that it was amazing. My voice was gone though. He called it $%&@ing awesome.
It’s weird to think that I have somehow occurred to Dweezil. That he’s noticed something I’ve done, taken the time to appraise it, and then just announced that it was good. Like, without being embarrassed for having a damn opinion. I mean, if someone were going to notice me for something real, I wouldn’t have expected it to be him. I always sort of believed he doesn’t notice anything.
Except, when I’m actually honest, I know that’s not true.
In the figure drawing unit last quarter, he was the one who volunteered to sit for the long pose. He spent three days sitting up on one of the art tables with a sheet tacked behind him.
I drew him on a big piece of gray construction paper, using charcoal and white Conté
Every day, we got a short break partway through the class period, and then he would climb down from the table and wander around the room, looking at all the half-finished drawings.
Mine wasn’t good. I hadn’t figured out how to build up the Conté in layers so that I was actually modeling facial features. I didn’t understand how to use contrast and highlight to imply depth, and in the end, the only part I got perfect was his hands.
Every day, he would stand at my easel, arms folded over his chest. The way he looked at the drawing was sharp and brutal, like he saw all the flaws and the inaccuracies, but thoughtful too, like maybe he also saw the perfect hands.
I would stand somewhere off to the side, not looking at him because when you’re not that good with people, even just looking at a person can be a very awkward thing.
He never spoke, just looked at the drawing like he saw everything there was to see.
It’s increasingly weird to me, this idea of looking. Of seeing.
Anytime I consider #4 (which is an embarrassing lot), I’m pretty sure that I’m doing it wrong. I’m being obtuse or missing something important, and so I keep telling myself I simply need to be more observant. Like if I just gather enough information and enough raw data, the details will eventually add up to a person.
The truth is, I’m afraid of #4. And not in one of those obvious ways where I think he will make me feel stupid or be mean to me or laugh at me or anything.
I’m just … afraid. And so I spend just a ridiculous amount of time jogging around the practice fields after school with the rest of the soccer team, trying to reconcile the fact that I’m Having an Actual Feeling, and also, I don’t know what it means.
Since that day at the fence, I literally cannot look at him. Even when I pass him in the halls and actually have to turn my head at an awkward angle to avoid it. Even when he’s not looking at me.
My bizarre impulse to avert my gaze makes it kind of hard to implement data collection, so in the absence of any new information, I mostly wind up revisiting the things I already know. Also, this is kind of just what you do when you’re seventeen and you like a boy you’ve barely ever talked to.
I’m stupidly charmed by the fact that he blushes. It’s just so fantastic and so novel and I’m endlessly intrigued by the biology of it. I’ve never been a blusher. Sometimes if I’m happy or excited or it’s really cold out, my mouth and cheeks get pink, but that’s about it. I wonder if blushing feels like anything, and what purpose it serves, and whether he just views it as a peculiar tic, or if he hates it, or if he even knows he does it.
(A quick note from Grown-up Brenna—A few years ago, I read an article that talked about the evolutionary advantage of blushing. For real. And what the advantage basically boils down to is this: blushing makes people trust you. It makes them like you. It tells people that you are deeply attuned to the expectations of others, and so you probably won’t violate the social contract because you’re too aware of how other people will judge you. Also, Darwin called blushing “the most peculiar and most human of all expressions,” which I find apt and kind of delightful.)
So, what I’m saying is, thanks to the magic of being a 17-year-old girl, I successfully gloss over pretty much all-the-everything. I make #4 into this blushing fictional construct that only really exists in my head. Pretend-#4 is all the things I wrote down so blithely on my list in 10th grade—shy, sweet, smart, strange (secretly sentimental?).
Which kind of seems like taking the easy way. Because it is.
Do you feel like people notice you for the true things—the ones you actually value about yourself? Is that weird? Gratifying? Do you wish it would happen more?
Also, are you a blusher? If so, what does it feel like? Can you tell when you’re doing it? And if you do blush, do you mind it? Because according to science, you shouldn’t. You should embrace the fact that you are evolutionarily making people like you!
Which is sort of like a superpower.
*Let me tell you about my American Lit teacher. He is spectacular. He’s the polar opposite of M and her obsession with order. To the point that if I finish my reading early, he lets me get up and leave. He doesn’t write me a pass, he doesn’t ask me where I’m going or tell me when to come back. He just … lets me leave.
**Re: Dweezil’s wire sculpture, I still totally consider it to be exceptional. As I remember, it was this round little man, nearly spherical, sitting with his feet splayed out and drinking from a bottle, with a whole mess of other bottles scattered around him.
No one else really tried anything exciting with the project. They took their wire and then made these long, flimsy, wiry things with it. This was the opposite of that. Just like with his spoon self-portrait, Dweezil zeroed in on the most obvious parts of the assignment, and then ignored them entirely.