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 One About How Girls Treat Each Other (sort of)

(Also, this is about how boys treat girls.)

(Okay, it’s about how people treat girls.)

(Fine. It’s about being a girl.)

In the context of my high school narrative, Delilah is like this constant, uncomfortable mirror, held up to the person I was at fifteen. Mostly, a mirror that illustrates the numerous and fundamental ways that Sophomore-me was nothing like Sophomore-Delilah.

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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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I’ve thought a lot (lot lot lot) about this post.*

I’ve thought about the point of it, and the importance, and about what I want to say, because I think I’m about to bring up something that would be good to talk about and I don’t want to screw it up.

The autumn of my senior year of high school is pretty dismal (maddening? miserable?), because I hate how I look.

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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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Right before the start of senior year, a troubling thing happened. Not shocking, but grave and disappointing all the same.

What it was was this:

“I’m not coming back in the fall,” Jane said as she and I sat in Denny’s, drinking coffee and eating pie respectively.

I mashed my pie with the back of my fork. “I thought you were going to think about it.”

She gave me a bored look. “I did think about it. What I think is that it’s bullshit, so I’m not going to go anymore.”

The way she tilted her head and popped her eyes wide was calculated to make me laugh, but the actual sentiment was a little too grim. I didn’t really have anything to say to that, so I didn’t say anything.

The fact that Jane drops out is not even that surprising. She’s never really been too good about passing her classes, and at this point, I’m pretty much used to people leaving and not coming back. In fact, so many of the juniors dropped out last year that by the middle of April, I’d started keeping a log of it in the back of my American Lit. binder. It’s funny to think that in tenth grade, it seemed blatantly impossible that anybody would ever drop out. Now it seems commonplace and kind of inevitable.

School is a little bit lonely without Jane. It would be a lot worse, except that now all the teachers and hallways and upperclassmen are at least vaguely familiar, and I have other friends, and even if I didn’t, I’m marginally less weird about just biting the bullet and talking to people. And it’s not even like Jane is really all that absent from my life. Sure, she’s never waiting for me outside English anymore, but we talk on the phone a lot, and sometimes she walks over at lunch to meet us.

The thing that happens next turns out to be a sort of catalyst—the first rumblings of a long, stupid landslide.

At the time though, I have no way of knowing that.

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Irish Goes to Jail

For the first few weeks of my senior year, I am completely obsessed with the idea that whether I like it or not (and mostly not), I’m almost an adult. Whatever that means.

I keep tiptoeing up to the idea, acknowledging very reluctantly that it’s happening, and then scampering away again.

This impending adulthood is still largely hypothetical, though. In the main, senior year is not that different from junior year. As usual, Little Sister Yovanoff and I are pretty much inseparable. We’re locker partners. We eat lunch together and have all the same friends, and we’ve even arranged our class schedules so that we’re taking most of the same electives. Really, the only difference is that now we have a car.

Our last class before lunch is PE, with a focus on team sports. Irish is in the same class, but we don’t really talk to him. Or else, he doesn’t talk to us. We mostly stand with some quiet girls who don’t bother anyone. Irish stands with a bunch of drug dealers.

I’m privately surprised he’s there at all, even though when I saw him filling out add/drop forms in the cafeteria last year, he said he would be, and once I ran into him downtown over the summer and right as we were saying goodbye he told me he’d see me in August, and I’m still surprised.

Thor, our gym teacher, is this relentlessly wholesome viking of a farmboy, who looks like he probably played football in college. We are his first class ever, and he has absolutely no idea what to do with us.

He keeps trying to get us to behave like a little army of avid sports enthusiasts, which is confusing because the kids in our class are mostly the worst kids in school, and not really primed to be avid anything. The general consensus is that Thor is trying way too hard to be a fascist.

Later, he will relinquish his desperate need for order. This will happen sometime around the middle of the sand volleyball unit, and will be so acute that I actually witness the moment in which it occurs.

He’ll be standing on the edge of the parking lot, trying to supervise three courts at once, and failing dramatically. In the background, Patrick and Holden are passing a cigarette back and forth, and the slacker girls are sitting in the sand with their shoes off, working on their tans. Arlo is viciously hungover and doesn’t want to move, so to help him out, Jason keeps throwing the ball into the creek, which is an incredibly effective diversionary tactic because then we have to spend the next fifteen minutes fishing it back out.

Thor will be watching all this unfold, with his shoulders squared and his chest stuck out, and something will break inside him. He’ll press his hands against his forehead and look up at the sky like he’s wondering if maybe he should just quit now, just cut his losses and walk away.

He’ll turn his back on us for a second and then inform us with tragic dignity that we’re done for the day and can go change out.

After that, he will let us do pretty much whatever we want, which is all the class was really looking for in the first place. Once Thor has given up, everyone will adjust their behavior and even follow the instructions occasionally and line up without having to be told five times, and actually show him some respect. Or at least, they will stop smoking on the volleyball court when they’re supposed to be serving.

Later in the year, one of the sophomores in my literature elective will remark upon what a completely awesome teacher Thor is, and Holden will respond, with very little irony, “Yeah, we did that.”

But that particular change is still weeks away and at the moment, we’re in the middle of the baseball unit, which is the first unit of the semester.

I am fabulously bad at it. Also, my badness totally doesn’t matter, because everyone else is fabulously bad too.

What follows is a transcript of my last-ever on-school-grounds conversation with Irish. Also, thanks to my complete lack of responsiveness, it only qualifies as a conversation is the very loosest sense.

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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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