Too Much

Oh, high school, you crazy, crazy diamond.

So, it’s been a really long time since I’ve done one of these posts. And I can make tons of excuses—book stuff, holiday stuff, constant travel—and they are even legitimate excuses (insofar as excuses are ever legitimate), because all those things actually happened.

If I’m being honest though, those are not the reason I haven’t trotted out teenage-Brenna in awhile. The truth is that I’m just moving very slowly now. The reason for this is that by November of senior year, the eighteen year old version of me has become a creature who thinks waaaaay too much.

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The Pink Cardboard Camera

It probably goes without saying, but by the end of first quarter, High School Brenna has plunged headlong into total infatuation with #4.

Also, as usual, from the outside this looks approximately similar to if I were plunging headlong into a recipe for craft glue.

Everyone has new [elective] classes now. Cobalt has something called “Integrated PE,” which is with the special ed kids. She mostly just helps them play games and work in the weight-room.

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Liking Holden

The autumn of senior year, most of my free time is spent pretending to be giddy and lovestruck over Holden. It turns out that I am a very good pretender.

Or, I can’t actually tell if I am. I might just be an average, or even a bad pretender, but everyone else is so prepared to see exactly what they’re looking for that it doesn’t matter.

As regards the whole Holden Situation, Delilah is running this show like a champ. She has completely memorized his schedule, allowing us to strategically position ourselves in all the places he will probably walk by. (This is pretty much fine by me, because he will also probably be with #4.)

But why am I even going along with this, you ask? The truth is, there’s no easy answer.

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The Riot

This is Yet Another of those bizarre and kind of improbable stories that came into my possession because once again, I just happened to be in a certain place at a certain time.

The high school soccer season is only during the spring, and so every fall, I play on the city travel team. We practice three days a week, in the public park right down the street from my school, because it’s relatively central to all the girls coming from other schools.

Usually, I get there and the back lot is deserted. I’ll change clothes in the car, which is both convenient and private, because Blue Dragon is not only the size of a small house, but also has tinted windows. Then I wander over to the soccer field and put my cleats on and wait for everyone else to get there.

This time, though, the parking lot is almost full, and so even though Blue Dragon is like a small house, I have to change sitting on the floor because I don’t like the feeling that anyone might possibly be able to see me. Nearly every spot is taken, and there’s a huge crowd of boys standing around in the fire lane, laughing and smoking.

Ordinarily, I’d be anxious or disoriented or sort of confused, if this exact same thing hadn’t already just happened on Monday. I’d gotten to practice and the back lot had been completely full of boys, and there’d been a big stupid brawl, which was one of those kinds where everyone makes a lot of noise and no one ever really hurts each other because they have no idea how to actually fight, and so they swing these giant, clumsy haymakers that never connect, and mostly just wind up looking off-balance and totally stupid.

What I’m saying is, even though I realize that the forecast calls for assault, I am wildly unconcerned.

When I’m done changing awkwardly on the floor of my car, I pad across the parking lot in my socks, over to where Caitlin is sitting with her windows rolled up even though it’s ninety-five degrees out. This is because Caitlin is scared of things—of bad grades and making mistakes and of boys, but particularly of boys with an unhealthy enthusiasm for fighting in the park.

Jinx, who is scared of zero things is flopped down in the grass by the picnic table, yanking on her shin-guards. She waves me over, but eighteen-year-old-Brenna is finally starting to develop a slightly more active concern for other people, so I stop at the edge of the parking lot and eventually manage to coax Caitlin out the car. I do this by rolling my eyes a lot and making flippant faces and pointing around at various boys and telling her various embarrassing things about them.

(Also, even though teenage-Brenna is finally starting to be more conscientious and socially engaged and also friendlier, she can still be just the smallest touch totally judge-y and caustic. Just a tad.)

The three of us sit on the picnic table and wait, and the boys in the parking lot smoke and stare at us and wait, and more keep showing up all the time.

A few more girls from my team join us at the table. #4 arrives with a dark, angry-looking boy called Odd, followed by Dweezil and Rooster in Dweezil’s Blazer, and we wait.

When something does happen, it’s very sudden. A bony, unfamiliar sophomore clips this big, thuggish guy named Romeo under the chin. They do the usual dance—staggering around on the grass, falling down and getting up again. Around them, the other boys are having the time of their lives, grabbing handfuls of each other’s shirts and shouting a lot.

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The Holden Situation

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.)

So, Holden.

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.

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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.)

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Dweezil, Drawing, and Why the Hell Am I Not Capable of Eye Contact?

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.)

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The Fence

This is the story of how I did not behave honestly or say anything useful or kiss #4 over the fence, even though I kind of wanted to.

This is the story of how I eventually decided that whatever was happening between me and Dill had to end, and how it still took two more weeks for me to actually do anything about it.

This is the story of how I knew once and for all that I was a bad girlfriend.

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Boy Friends

My sister and I grew up surrounded by boys.

Okay, so we don’t have any brothers, and hardly even any boy cousins, but still, our childhood was distinctly boy-heavy. When we first moved to Colorado, the kids in our neighborhood were mostly guys, and back in Arkansas, I didn’t have even a single friend who was a girl. (Holly lived close by and was my age, but she wasn’t my friend because she only liked relentlessly pastel things like My Little Pony and I was always accidentally making her cry.*)

What I’m saying is that in the course of my life, I’ve built a lot of forts and bridges, shot a lot of air rifles and BB guns and homemade bow-and-arrows. Gone off bike ramps balanced on the handlebars, poked dead things with sticks, chased the cows in the pasture, walked out on the ice.

I’ve done all the fast, reckless, dangerous things** that girls left to their own devices almost never do. Because yes, you might think of it, but thinking of something is still a universe away from thinking it might be a good idea to try it.

And now, at seventeen, I feel a little bit like something’s missing. I look around at the boys I know and think how weird it is that I only ever talk to them when we’re sitting in class. I have this mute, sneaking suspicion sometimes that it shouldn’t be like this. That I should still be running around in the scrub brush, making up ridiculous games and pulling crazy shenanigans.

It’s not that I don’t love my girlfriends—I DO—but even when we’re all hanging out together, laughing and teasing each other, sometimes I get this mysterious sense of restlessness, like I’m missing some deep, integral part of me. Because even though I babysit and go grocery shopping and spend my spare time baking cookies and customizing my clothes and making lacy headbands and fancy barrettes, on the inside, I’m still a little bit (okay, a lot) of a tomboy.

I design elaborate princess hairstyles that have the structural integrity to stand up to the rigors of sledding or cross-country capture the flag. I keep cigarette loads in my wallet and a buck knife in my backpack. I jump off roofs onto trampolines and shoot bottle rockets and climb anything that looks like it needs climbing. I paint my toenails to hide all the places they’re bruised purple from soccer.

Dill is my friend. He is a boy.

Wit is also a boy. And even though I’ve only known him for a few months, I’m already starting to understand that our friendship is something rare and valuable. But Wit is also less aggressively boyish than Dill. He likes to get coffee and talk on the phone and dissect his feelings, all of which I’m delighted by, but none of which is familiar from the friendships of my childhood.

So when April rolls around and I find myself spending more and more time with Dill, it’s sort of not even that surprising. After all, the good things about Dill are obvious.

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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.)

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