First, I just want to say that I briefly considered titling this post Brenna Tells a Big Fat Lie. Then I decided that wouldn’t be entirely accurate, so I changed it. (Because I am trying very hard to be truthful.)
Okay, what happens is … the lie is not so much a lie as an omission.
The Holden situation happens because I am patently incapable of showing any sort of preference or desire or vulnerability. Or it happens because I’ve watched way too much MonsterVision with Joe Bob Briggs on TNT, and not enough Meg Ryan movies. Or because something is wrong with my brain. Or because I am a closet-defeatist with a minor in self-sabotage. Or because this is just the way the world works.
Really, 18-year-old Brenna spends what grown-up Brenna would consider to be an excessive amount of time trying to figure out exactly what happened and how things got so complicated so fast. How one seemingly-inconsequential moment can set off a chain-reaction of stupidity that exhibits no signs of slowing or faltering or burning itself out.
(Grown-up Brenna says: the answer is so much simpler than you’re making it. The answer is, you are a huge weenie.)
The first time I ever saw Holden in a way that made me notice him, he was standing in the background, out of focus behind #4, who propped his elbows on the top of the fence, looked at me/looked away. And even in that bright, galvanizing moment, Holden was more of a vague impression than a verifiable fact.
Now though, he is kind of hard to ignore.
Holden is interesting, because he’s the kind of person you look at and think you know, and then they say something and you figure out that you don’t know them at all. At least, that’s how it was for me. I looked at him and saw certain things, the way he laughs out loud, and how he smokes all the time, how he tells dirty jokes and war-stories about how drunk he got over the weekend.
Those things seemed like everything there was to know, but he’s much better than that. He’s friendly and reminds me of how I picture Holden Caulfield, very tall and very Irish. He has smart things to say in class and never seems to care too much about what other people think. For some reason, that always impresses me.
These are decent things to think about a person. Holden is funny and charming. He’s smart and articulate and outrageously self-confident. Little Sister Yovanoff and I have PE with him. We unilaterally agree on his excellence, mostly because he’s friendly to pretty much everyone, and if any of the rough, thuggish boys start to argue or gang up on someone, Holden’s the one who intercedes and tells them to knock it off.* Sometimes when he’s captain, he picks the unpopular kids first.
In the afternoons, he and I have a ridiculously easy elective lit class together. He sits across the room from me, right up near the teacher’s desk, and even if he hasn’t actually read the books (which is always), he’ll still jump in and drum up a discussion and raise interesting points and get the sophomores talking.
See? Nice things.
In addition to having a winning personality, Holden is good-looking in a broad, appealing way that everyone can agree on. Like, you could pick a girl at random and say, “Wow, Holden is pretty good-looking, right?” And they would say, “Well, yeah.”
Except for the fence incident, I never really saw him hanging out with #4 last year, but now they’re together all the time. Holden always does most of the talking—animated, leaning in, gesturing with his hands. Then #4 will say one inaudible sentence, barely changing expression, and Holden will bust up laughing.
So, I like Holden for a lot reasons. But mostly because of how much he likes #4.
Delilah is the one who actually starts the whole mess. Also, it is all my fault, because technically, I do nothing to stop her.
It’s only been a few weeks since we met, but she’s already becoming a pretty permanent fixture, which means that so is her best and only other friend, Cobalt from my PE class.
Cobalt is loud and outrageous and unapologetically flirtatious. She delights in being shocking. She squeals and shrieks and hugs everyone and prances around the locker room in her bra, talking brazenly about various guys’ unmentionable parts.
She’s the kind of girl I never really imagined being friends with, but she and Delilah are basically inseparable, and before long, I’m not even that surprised to find us eating lunch together and walking each other to class and sometimes, on the days I don’t have soccer practice, driving them home after school.
The way the situation starts is like some really screwed-up game of Clue—in the Ceramics room, with Delilah, during my off-hour.
There’s no afternoon ceramics class, so I’m taking advantage of the empty room to work on one of my little clay people. Delilah is supposed to be in her intro-to-art class. But is not there.
Catherine broke up with [her boyfriend] last night, and Delilah was vindictive and pleased. She said all boys are stupid and she hates them. She is only 14 though. I think I thought that too at 14.I kept working on my sculpture and said that I actually kind of missed having a boyfriend.**
She smiled brightly, transformed. “I’ll find you one then!”
I shook my head, laughing a little. “Oh no, I’m afraid now.”
Delilah slapped a yellow tissue-paper rose down on the collage she was making for Cobalt. “Don’t be. I’ll find you a good one. Maybe if Cobalt doesn’t dump her boyfriend for nice Tim, you can have nice Tim instead.”
I looked up from the table. “That’s sweet, but I don’t want nice Tim. I mean, he’s nice and all, but I don’t really know him. Plus, I think he kind of already likes Cobalt.”
“I guess you’re right,” said Delilah thoughtfully. “You guys might not really be that good for each other.”
We were quiet. I kept sculpting, trying to smooth out the edges. Delilah was making a sun.
Suddenly she looked up again. “I know exactly who would be good. Holden.”
She nodded earnestly. “Just think about it, you’d be so perfect for each other! You’re both so sweet and easy-going. And you’re so nice to each other.” She was smiling now. “And he’s cute, too, you know he is. Oh, you two would look so good together. So, that’s decided. Holden is exactly what you need.”
Delilah wastes zero time advancing her new matchmaking agenda. She announces the scheme to Wit and Cobalt and Catherine and Little Sister in the car after school. The exchange sounds essentially like this:
Delilah: Hey, all you guys need to help me find a boy for Brenna to date, okay? I was thinking it should probably be Holden.
Little Sister Yovanoff: Personally, I think Holden is an excellent choice. He’s quite vivacious. And also nice.
Delilah: “Oh, I know! That’s exactly what I said! Cobalt, wouldn’t that be so perfect?
Cobalt, interrupting her wild flurry of slam-dancing to lean over the back of Delilah’s seat: What’s perfect?
Delilah: If she goes out with Holden. Wouldn’t that be so good of a pair?
Cobalt, screeching loud enough to puncture someone’s eardrum: Oh my God! They’d be perfect!
Teenage-Brenna doesn’t really know how to take control of the situation or set the record straight, or even what she’s supposed to do next. No one has ever expressed such a loud, vested interest in anything she has ever done or wished for or planned on.
So she does what she’s always done, which is to hold perfectly still and wait for it to be over, too blindsided to step back and get some perspective and consider the distinct possibility that Delilah’s enthusiasm for fixing her up with Holden might actually be just another type of misdirection.
Which is not to say that Delilah’s the one who might have an actual crush on him. But kind of.
I do my best to go along with it, like it’s a game we’re playing. The Brenna-Likes-Holden game. I participate just enough to score the exact minimum number of points necessary to avoid raising suspicion. I talk to him in class sometimes, and I’ll wave to him in the halls (when he’s walking with #4), or occasionally draw his picture while he naps on the floor during our lit class, which is colloquially referred to as Sleeping Skills.
And there are times when I try to convince myself that maybe if I draw enough pictures, admire enough admirable qualities, I will start to like Holden in the way that Cobalt and Delilah and Catherine and even Little Sister think I do. The way that I’m supposed to.
I don’t draw him any more often then I draw the window blinds or the bookshelves or our teacher’s impressive collection of peace lilies and geraniums, though.
I don’t draw him more often than I draw Beth or Emily or SugarRay.
I have no illusions that he’d actually be interested in dating someone like me, which makes the whole subterfuge that much easier, because I’m basically guaranteed to never have to deal with an actual consequence.
And that is how the lie, which is still not a lie, but more of an omission, comes to take on the proportions of something solid, the accepted reality of my life. Due to the simple fact that it’s much, much easier to have people believe something about me when it isn’t true, than to actually put myself in any sort of position where I might have to admit the way I feel about #4.
The thing is, I’m not embarrassed by the fact that I like him.
As far as 17-year-old boys go, #4 actually makes excellent crush material. I mean, slacking tendencies aside, he really has a lot working in his favor—he’s good-looking and truly nice and he always just seems very clean, which I appreciate. Not to mention, he is so pathologically shy that I never, ever have to actually talk to him.
Sure, he might be a little private, a little strange, and yes, he mostly only smiles that bad, fake smile that looks like he’s waiting for the bomb to drop. Sometimes, during the passing periods, I study him intently, trying to pick out the very worst things about him, to figure out how bad they are. All I can really come up with, though, is that there are times—maybe when he’s tired or anxious about something—when he seems moody or stubborn or overly sensitive. Which, in the grand scheme of things, is just so trivial. That’s the kind of flaw that’s not even really a flaw, it’s just a personality trait.
So, no. I am not embarrassed that I like him.
I’m embarrassed by the fact that I like anyone.
Okay, so. What I want to know today is, has anyone done anything remotely like this? Ever? Even a more reasonable, less weird version? Have you ever thought of yourself as an unfailingly honest person and then discovered that you’re not? Have you let people believe something about you that wasn’t true, simply because at the time, it seemed so much easier than anything else?
Also, I have to believe that someone else has done this. At least partially or sort of. At least one time.
Because otherwise, I will be forced to consider the possibility that I was not, in fact, a teenager at all, but an extraterrestrial.
*Except for this one time when some of the super-thugs were shoving around this other kind of nerdy boy in our class and one of them called him a f****t, and I looked over at Holden and waited for him to jump in and end it, but instead he just kind of winced and looked incredibly uncomfortable and didn’t say anything, which made me deeply disappointed in him. Which is outrageously unfair, because I also didn’t say anything either. So.
**This is totally true. I mean, as far as it goes. Which is to say, in a casual and mostly hypothetical way that has nothing to do with crushes or specifics or wanting someone to be my actual boyfriend. Much.