I am, if you get right down to it, a fairly awkward person.
Also, this isn’t a disparagement or a complaint, but more of just a general observation.
I’m vague and slightly erratic. I talk too fast, or else too slow. I give awkward hugs, I say awkward, out-of-context things even when I know I shouldn’t, even when I can actually feel myself starting to highjack my own conversation. I ask nosy, inappropriate questions that no one should have to answer, and even though I’ve been wearing high heels on a semi-regular basis for literally more than a decade, and should totally know how to walk in them by now, I still sometimes just … fall off.
But the thing is, even though I can recognize my awkwardness on an intellectual level, I mostly don’t feel that way. (Which might account for how I’ve managed to maintain this particular status quo for so long—no real incentive to change.) Even when I can watch myself behaving in ways that run counter to what I know to be the social ideal, my internal monologue is usually something along the lines of, Lalala, doing this now, all done, aaaand moving on.
Over the course of my life, there’ve really only been one or two notable exceptions. The big one was during my senior year in high school, when I felt awkward pretty much ALL THE TIME.
There are a lot of reasons for this, and the main one probably has to do with the fact that at almost-eighteen, adolescent Brenna is undeniably in the process of growing up, and is kind of scared of it.*
What’s scary about it, you say?
Let’s start with this horrific eventuality: Suddenly, for no apparent reason, I have a brand new body. Which—I cannot stress this enough—does not mean any of the lies, lies, and damn lies that they tell you in books or movies. The new one is not like where the girl takes off her glasses and is suddenly all seductive and womanly and boys start to notice her for the first time and wonder what planet she magically appeared from.
I have not become taller or curvier or more endowed. The only appreciable difference is that after years and years of lagging behind my peers on the pediatric growth chart, I’ve finally started to develop my adult musculature. Also, it takes up exactly zero-amount more space than my previous, vaguely childlike musculature.
Which is to say, I look exactly like myself, if myself were an ad campaign for veins and tendons and joints, garnished with gigantic hands and feet. I’ve essentially gone from fragile little wood-nymph to wiry, violent-looking engine of destruction, and not to put too fine a point on it, I am absolutely distraught.
(Also, I may be overreacting just a little. Just tiny.)
In retrospect, the whole situation seems overblown and aggravating and kind of hilarious, but at the time, my brand-new set of edges and angles has a profoundly demoralizing effect on me.
Which sounds insufferably vain. And it is.
But it’s also way more complicated than that. The truth is, I don’t feel like myself anymore. Myself used to mean Little Wax Doll. It used to mean super-feminine. Now, myself doesn’t even feel like a recognizable concept.
And to make matters worse, all this new insecurity is directly exacerbated by #4. I mean really, it is all is his fault. (Except for the part about me not being a doll anymore, because he didn’t do that.) (Or anything else.) (At all.)
Really, the only thing he’s done is get taller, sturdier, prettier. Which just serves to underline all the ways that he is progressing toward adulthood like a real person, while I am progressing like a double-handful of steel wire mashed up to look like a girl.
Or at least, I insist this to myself like it’s a stone-fact, like I am doing science. The reasoning is deeply flawed, but I don’t care. My personal box of neuroses has been opened, and even though my teenage-self is ordinarily a good observer, and should be able to deduce from anecdotal evidence that there’s a good chance #4 probably feels every bit as awkward as I do—or at least take heart in how none of his clothes fit right anymore and every long-sleeved shirt shows an inch and a half of wrist whenever he picks something up or opens his locker—I am deeply, irrevocably convinced that he is much, much prettier than I am.
Little Sister Yovanoff and I share a locker in one of the bays with a skylight.
#4’s is in the same bay, diagonal from us. He changed over the summer, or I changed, or something. His shoulders are wider, forearms more defined. He’s taller. He doesn’t look cautious or worried anymore, just blank.
I drop things now. This is a new development. I used to be so composed, but now I look up, see him looking at me and it’s like someone touching your face or the back of your neck when you aren’t expecting it. It short-circuits the part of my brain that’s in charge of fine motor skills. Notebooks, pencils, loose change, it all just goes flying out of my hands.
I run into things. I have to look someplace else if I want to accomplish anything throughout the day. Everything out of my mouth suddenly becomes embarrassing, inane, moronic. I laugh for no apparent reason. Opening my locker, I forget to stop at the last number and have to turn the whole combination over again. This must be how Catherine feels all the time. It’s absolutely horrifying.
About the dropping things.
I wish teenage-me were exaggerating, but she’s not—not even a little. Yes, I’ve never been the most coordinated person, but now, without any warning or explanation, my clumsiness has essentially become … neurological. Like, I can literally be holding a book and telling myself over and over very consciously to please, please not drop it, and my hand will still let go—it is that bad.
It’s sort of surreal though, which is a reassurance that I cling to. I tell myself that this is all just some stupid, stupid dream, because that’s how it feels. Also, I don’t even know if that’s really how it feels, because I’m spectacularly bad at identifying feelings and then uniting them with their meanings.
Okay, how it feels is like this:
My brain feels broken. Which, since I am absurdly attached to my own cognitive process, freaks me out.
However. The very thought that I could be fundamentally undone by a boy is also insanely fascinating, and when I’m not being histrionic and panicking over the way my cortex seems to be melting, I apply myself to the problem, trying to make the facets and the nuances come clear. (Also, because it’s me, Brenna-freaking-out looks essentially identical to Brenna-wondering-if-snakes-appreciate-the-way-they’re-portrayed-in-the-media. So, it’s all relative, is what I’m saying.)
The whole experience is just so interesting, and when I’m not feeling insecure and disoriented and totally like a moron, I’m intrigued by the sheer number of Feelings that I’m having. Mostly, the feeling that there’s a small bird living in my chest, beating its wings furiously against the inside of my sternum at inopportune times. Also, sometimes it climbs up into my throat and then it makes my voice too loud and too high-pitched. The bird is a real jerk.
Okay, yes. I realize that I basically just said that the reason crushes sometimes suck is because birds are jerks.
Regardless, the progression of what has happened—birds not withstanding—maps out like this:
Over the course of the last two years, I have gone from being unaware of #4 to being aware of him, to being actively interested in the fact that he exists. I’ve transitioned from finding him objectively attractive to finding him personally attractive to kind of sort of liking him, to just plain liking him outright.
And now, at the age of almost-18, with my heart fluttering like wings and my hands tragically unresponsive, I’m forced to admit (at least to myself) that I like him an awfully alarming lot. Like, a LOT. With cherries on top.
Which is unequivocally the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me. Also, one time I almost drowned, and it’s still the scariest thing that’s ever happened.
Also-also? This is not normal. Just so you know.**
The question of what’s normal is immaterial, however, because it doesn’t change the fact that I stand fifteen feet away from #4 five times a day, pretending with ferocious conviction that he doesn’t exist, and throw books, hoodies, classroom handouts, and Wild Berry Skittles on the floor whenever he gets too near.
At this point in a truly reasonable person’s life, that truly reasonable person might say enough. They might do any number of things. For instance, they might smile and wave, or start a conversation, or behave in some other way that invites interaction. They might say, “Hey, I like you,” and, “Would you be interested in hanging out sometime?”
Instead, because although I am a decidedly geeky person, I’m beginning to suspect that I might not be a reasonable one, the only conclusion I arrive at is that if I were a superhero, my fatal weakness would probably be shy, pretty boys with translucent skin.
Wait, I lied. The other conclusion I arrive at, after devoting almost a full week to the problem, is this:
I like #4 a lot lot lot whole-hell-of-a-lot, and it is also None of His Business.
What about you? Is it strange to start a new school year? Do you feel different? Do you miss your old self?
Do hopeless crushes make your brain break, or do you simply understand that they don’t constitute any actual threat, and therefore you should not be dropping your English homework all over the floor?
*Terrified. I am terrified of it.
**Seriously. Even if you like someone a lot, don’t freak out. It’s not nearly as life-threatening as drowning, no matter how similar the two things might feel.
… She said, from a comfortable vantage point of adulthood.