Blue Dragon

In the world of high school, the summer between junior and senior year is a three-month interval of massive, massive change. Also, it’s the first time I’ve ever suspected that I might sort of be flailing my way toward adulthood.

The first major change is the fact that I’ve been hanging out with my school-friends almost every day. Which has never happened before. Before, my School Life and my Real Life have always been distinctly separate—these two independent worlds that rumbled along next to each other, but rarely ever touched.

Now, Wit calls me all the time. We send each other long, rambling emails about society and relationships and God. We talk for hours, and on the weekends, I spend the night at Catherine’s, or go to the midnight cult-classic showing at the college movie theater.

Another thing that’s different is, I have a summer job—not the erratic, free-form job of helping my dad on remodels and construction sites, or a standing appointment to babysit my cousins, but a job like normal people have, where I have a work schedule and a pay-stub and sometimes have to actually talk to strangers.

The way the real job came about is another one of those reflections of how my general personality is becoming different or more proactive or less antisocial or something.

There is a terrible little bar up near my parents’ house, right above the reservoir. I mean, on an objective level, it is just pretty awful, but working there is sort of a local rite of passage. All the neighborhood boys have been dishwashers or prep cooks at one point or another, due to the bar’s convenient location and also the fact it pays above minimum wage. (Barely.)

For the last year, JD has been my acquaintance-friend—one of those people where you nod to each other in the halls and maybe talk on the bus sometimes or pick each other for partners in class, but you never really hang out. Also, I spent the first few months of junior year being scared of him, because even though he’s a grade younger than me, he’s self-assured and outspoken in a dark, gleeful way that lets everyone know right out of the gate that he is pure trouble.

He’s incredibly tall, with bony hands and electric-blue eyes and dark hair and a black T-shirt that says Bad M*****f***** on the back. Because this violates the dress-code to its fullest extent, he’s put a strip of electrical tape through the last part. The tape is three quarters of an inch wide. The word is still completely legible.

The first time I actually talked to JD was in Intro to Art because he sat at the same table as TS and me. Even though we saw him every day, we didn’t really pay much attention to him until the middle of the still-life unit. Our particular assignment involved a giant cardboard canister, a checkered tablecloth, and a wide selection of kitchen implements.

“That teapot is really a pain in the ass,” TS said one morning, poking at it with her paint brush. “Goddamn that spout.”

JD didn’t say anything, just unfolded himself from his chair and yanked teapot out of the still-life.

Then he lifted the edge of the checkered cloth, dropped the teapot down inside the canister, and turned to me. “Is there anything you don’t like?”

“The grater,” I told him. “It has too many openings. It’s fussy.”

He put the grater in the canister on top of the teapot and after that, we weren’t really friends, but we weren’t strangers anymore either.

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In the neat little timeline of my high school narrative, there’s a weird thing happening. It starts gradually, then spirals out, taking over my days, filling up the tail-end of my junior year.

The regular soccer season has been over for weeks. The regionals, however, are still going strong.

The seventeen-year-old version of Brenna has … a complicated relationship with soccer. Which really means that she has a complicated relationship with organized sports, and honestly, with group-activities in general.

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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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Jane Comes Back

Okay, wow. It has been FOREVER since I put up an actual high school post!

To reorient: A long time ago, before hyper-productive writing trips and knee surgery and that time I revised a book, we left teenage-Brenna post-break-up, marginally assertive, and newly intent on locating the missing Jane. (And also a little bit of a nihilist—not even a regular, run-of-the-mill nihilist either, but like a fancy one. That’s old news though. She’s already growing out of it.)

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That Time When Brenna Was a Small Angry Nihilist

Last week, we left seventeen-year-old Brenna post-breakup, newly single and increasingly cynical. And I don’t mean cynical in that desperate, idealistic way that her sophomore self was, where the disenchantment really meant just caring a lot about things she couldn’t change.

I mean cynical in the sense of Whatever. This is stupid.

It’s not a good look. It’s not a good feeling. But more than that, it doesn’t make any inherent sense.

The thing is, nothing bad has happened to me. Nothing much has actually changed, and yet I suddenly feel like the whole world is a giant lump of pointlessness. It is completely unprecedented that a non-traumatic breakup with a perfectly nice, perfectly decent boy could turn a girl into such an unrelenting pessimist.

It starts with my ill-tempered crisis about dating and relationships and beauty, but quickly grows to encompass All the Everything. And while initially it still seems recoverable, the situation is then worsened by a variety of factors. By the fact that Jane hasn’t been at school for four days.

At first, I wait by her locker, trying to look casual and like I belong there when Rooster and #4 come to get their books.

It doesn’t work.

Rooster and Dweezil laugh and elbow each other and tease #4 loudly about his inability to get a girlfriend. #4 just shakes his head and looks someplace else. Despite my newfound reluctance to take the world seriously, I feel excruciatingly out of place, and Jane does not show up.

After awhile, I don’t even bother with her locker anymore. She is never waiting for me outside my writing class now. I know that when I pass the speech and debate room after second hour, she won’t be there, and I don’t know what to do about it. It’s like she’s disappeared.

“What do you mean you don’t know her phone number?” Catherine says. “We’ve only been hanging out with her every day for the entire semester.”

I shrug. “I don’t know, I just hate calling people.”

This piece of intelligence is absolutely true. At this point in my life, I have never asked a single person for their number, due to my intense dislike of making calls. As far as I’m concerned, the telephone should die in a fire.

Catherine sighs and shakes her head, but by now, she’s very accustomed to my lax social skills. “Well, Dill used to go out with her, right? He’ll know.”

So I wait for Dill after lunch, leaning against his locker until the warning bell rings and he’s pretty much forced to come over and get his books or else be late. I smile and start to speak, but he just reaches around me to turn the lock like I’m not even there.

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The Break-Up

Let me just start by saying, this is an uncomfortable one.

There are a billion things that seventeen-year-old Brenna doesn’t understand. And some of them—okay, most even—have to do with feelings. This makes her (me) feel pretty shockingly stupid, because theories and facts are what you’re supposed to work hard to master, and feelings are the things you’re supposed to be born knowing about. Instead, I eat up books with a vengeance, while struggling to grasp even the simplest emotional concepts. I kind of feel like a cartoon character.

Here is the story of how I break up with Dill, or else, he breaks up with me.

I’ve mentioned before that as a couple, we have a tendency to bring out the worst in each other. I wasn’t lying, and the interaction that follows is one I’m distinctly not proud of. While lacking in drama and vaguely surreal, it’s exactly the kind of break-up one might expect from teenage Brenna. Basically, I’m saying you’ve been warned.


First, he picked me fifty violets. Wove them into my hair and around my wrists. The leftovers, I stuffed into the pockets of my hoodie.

Later, we stopped to get coffee. It was a warm night and I asked for ice in mine. I knew the boy behind the counter, a little. He was older and I’d had Spanish with him the year before. Here’s most of what I knew about him: Buddy Holly glasses, nerdy in an ironic, contrived way—and nice, always nice to me, even when the basketball players and the wrestling boys would sometimes take my things and tease me just for fun.

“I like your flowers,” he said. “Hey, you think you could spare one?” He gestured to his lapel.

So I handed him one and he slipped it through his buttonhole, while Dill stood against the counter and squeezed my hand more tightly than was comfortable.

“I picked those for you,” he said, as soon as we were outside.

“Yes.” (Factual, remember—so, so factual.)

“So, I didn’t pick them for you to give to someone else.”

“If you picked them for me, they’re mine now. Anyway, a flower is not the same thing as affection. I wasn’t giving your affection to someone else.”

We were at Dill’s truck by then. He was shaking his head as he unlocked the driver’s side. “You’re unbelievable.”

I climbed in, tucking my hair behind my ears. The violets were tickling me. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“I mean, I can’t be like you. You analyze everything.”

“Well, it’s a very good way to make decisions,” I said, but I understood suddenly that we were almost to that point where you can’t go back—not ever. “It’s the best way I know of.”

He turned and looked at me, and it wasn’t angry or possessive or aggravated. It was so, so sad. “Are you even into me at all? Because I can’t go through life putting two dollars in and getting a dollar back out. I just need to know if you love me.”

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Arts and Crafts

And now for another narrative detour, in which I attempt to explain several things about my home environment, day-to-day priorities, and general upbringing. Also, my bedroom.

The thing is, if someone were to attempt to assemble a clear picture of teenage-me using only my journal, they’d most likely assume that I never did anything but go to school, be at school, and think about school.

This is remarkably not true.

In actuality, I pretty much only ever bother with the journal when I’m at school, because at school, I’m very, very bored.

Because of this desperate need to entertain myself when I’m in class, the entries are often recorded in real-time and capture the at-school portion of my life fairly accurately, but they don’t really reflect my home life at all, since when I’m at home, I’m busy doing stuff.


*Except in this shot, where I am doing nothing

Home is eclectic, full of interesting things like baskets of miscellaneous bones, and animal skulls and vintage chemistry sets and forty-year-old dissection specimens in jars of formaldehyde.

Really, as far as bedrooms go, my bedroom is a very morbid one, and when I’m not watching hyper-violent crime movies, staying up all night, sewing beads and sequins on my clothes, or making buttermilk waffles, I spend a lot of time there.

To be perfectly clear, it’s not actually my room, because it’s also my sister’s room. And the animal room. And the craft room.


*You can’t really see, but the wall behind me is absolutely covered in homemade masks. Some are for Halloween. Most are Just Because.

The room is huge and drafty, with insanely high ceilings and terrible carpet, furnished with assorted bookshelves, a homemade work table, a store-bought tool bench, and a record player from the 1940’s. Also, two ladders, three aquariums, several hamsters, toads, salamanders, ferrets, and one rope swing.

It is basically the perfect environment—part cozy playhouse, part menagerie, part free fall.

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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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Girl Friends

Before I started high school, I had this big tight-knit group of really awesome friends. We grew up together, were homeschooled together, spent weeks and months and years together. It seemed like I’d known them forever, and when you’ve known someone forever, everything starts to seem simple and easy. Even the squabbles and the disagreements and the petty jealousies are just so incredibly easy.

You can lie on your back in the grass with your heads together and look at stars—spend your weekends hiking and camping, paddle around in canoes and catch snakes and toads and crawdads, swim in the river, play hide-and-seek in the train yards, sneak out after curfew, eat popsicles on the curb in front of Safeway, build tree forts and sleep out on the trampoline and pick all the worms out of the gutter when it rains and throw them back on the grass. You can understand each other without ever having to say anything.

So, I had all these really awesome friends. Who I’d grown up with. Who I’d known forever.

And then school started and I realized that I had no idea how to make new ones.

This wasn’t a social emergency or anything. Or, it was, but it didn’t feel like one. On the very first day, I was adopted by a group of very nice girls who let me eat lunch with them and always talked to me before school and between classes. Nice girls who gave me fashion tips involving stores I couldn’t afford, and admired my hair, and who put up with me. Because no matter how nice they were, that’s how it always felt—like they were putting up with me.

I knew early on that I wasn’t a good fit. Too detached and too silent, I had no patience for things like stress or homework or senior boys who didn’t know we existed. Sometimes when I was with them, I started to feel like I had no patience for anything.

The last straw came somewhere around mid-January of my sophomore year. We were all sitting at one of the circular cafeteria tables for lunch, and I don’t even know why it was the last straw, just that it was. We were talking about sports and activities, and how you need a well-rounded transcript to impress colleges, and they asked me what extracurriculars I had.

I said soccer, and one of the girls suggested I rethink that, since it only really counted for colleges if you played for your school, and I nodded and said, “I’ll play for school in the spring.”

The look she gave me was tender as she carefully explained that in high school, a lot of people tried out but they didn’t all make the team, and I should probably have at least one choice that was more dependable, like Spanish Club.

And like that, I was done.

It was strange, because nothing about the conversation offended me. I wasn’t hurt or mad or even very surprised. It was just that in that moment, I understood that none of them knew me at all, not even a little, and more than that, even if they did know me, they probably wouldn’t like me that much.

The next day, I sat alone, with my sandwich and my book, and Catherine came and sat down next to me. She asked why I was by myself, if I’d had a fight with the girls I usually hung out with.

I shook my head and said, “I don’t think I belong there.”

And she just shrugged and got out her lunch. “Well, I can’t help with that. They’ve all hated me since eighth grade.”

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