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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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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Irish, Leaving

The way Irish gets kicked out of school is not dramatic. In fact, on the surface, it doesn’t even look like getting kicked out. But while sophomore Brenna might have accepted the circumstances at face value, held out hope or at least remained cautiously optimistic, Brenna at seventeen knows exactly what this whole situation boils down to.

He catches me in the halls one afternoon, saying my name like he’s pronouncing a new word. Like he hasn’t said it a thousand times before.

But the thing is, maybe he hasn’t, and what he says now is my real name and not some clever epithet or nickname or private joke. I stand looking up at him. He keeps seeming like he’s about to grab hold of me, and then, not.

“I’m leaving,” he says.


“Yeah, they’re shipping me over to [the underfunded transitional school where kids go when the administration doesn’t feel like dealing with them].”


The two-minute bell rings and we just kept standing there. He has his sunglasses on, so I can’t see his eyes.

He shrugs. “I’m pretty much failing everything anyway.”

“Already? Jesus, Irish.”

“So, I’ll be going next week. But I’ll be back next semester. You’re still taking American Lit, right?”

“What? Yeah, I think so. Why?”

“So, I’ll see you then.”

He says it with a wide, unselfconscious smile, like he’s promising me something just that obvious. I immediately spot the declaration for the bullshit it is. Every semester, a healthy crop of problem students gets sent to the transitional school and we’re told over and over that it’s good for them, that they need the rules and the discipline and the structure. They mostly drop out there. Or they get expelled. What they don’t do is come back.

Irish is working his sneaker against a gouge in the linoleum now. He has stopped smiling. “I wanted to tell you, is all.”

The late bell rings. The hall is empty except for us.

“I have to go,” I say, when I’m really just thinking dammit, dammit,dammit like a song.

Later, I’ll feel bad for how abrupt and chilly I was, and how he kept reaching out to take my hand and I wouldn’t let him, but right in this moment, I am so incredibly frustrated that the idea of him touching me is like a lit match. I am one step off from incendiary. I am that powder keg they talk about when referring to political climates and supermax prisons. I go to US History with my ears buzzing.

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The Accident

This is not going to be a funny story.

I mean, yes—if I tried hard enough, I could probably think of a way to make it seem clever or ironic. But that would be a cheap thing to do, and while I’m shockingly up-in-my-head sometimes, and too glib (inappropriately sardonic), I am not in the business of cheapness.

I don’t have a written account of what happened, and in a way, I’m glad. When you write something down, it’s like that version becomes the official one. It starts to eat away your memory and whatever you left out will slowly disappear, until all you have left is what’s on the page.

So, I remember the little things because I didn’t write them down. And other things I’m almost sure of. I think it was a Friday. I think they were both wearing white T-shirts, but I couldn’t swear to it.

Here are the things I remember:

We were standing in the bus circle, waiting for route 38 to come and take us home. In two weeks, Irish would get expelled and I would not be devastated, or even very surprised. I remember that Irish was smoking, which he wasn’t supposed to be doing, so we were standing strategically, Little Sister Yovanoff and I positioned in front of him, arms linked, while Irish cupped the cigarette in the palm of his hand so the security guard wouldn’t see.

It seems important to point out that in this moment, I was really, really happy.

So happy that I was actually thinking about how happy I was, arm-in-arm with my sister, discussing John Steinbeck and watermelon gummi-O’s and whether or not I should grow out my bangs. (We decided yes. Which is good. Because they were really terrible).

Her hair was dyed a purple so purple it looked black. Mine was summer-bright, strawberry-and-caramel. We were like this perfectly mismatched set—her, and then me. Rose White and Rose Red. We were like this idealized version of us that only ever really existed in pictures.

me high schoolmaddy high school

In my head, I was making up a fairytale, how we went on an adventure. I was thinking how glad I was that we were related but didn’t look like it, how easy that made everything. How strange it was to be standing outside with your sister and a boy who used to tell you all the time that he was your made-up brother and now he only talked to you when none of his cool friends were around.

Little Sister Yovanoff and I leaned against each other, laughing at Irish’s jokes, at the plume of smoke drifting up from his hand. The sun was so bright and the grass was so green that for weeks afterward, I kept dreaming about it.

Here is what happened next:

They came across the parking lot together. The other boy, Rooster, was much bigger, and the way they were hanging onto each other, it was hard to tell who was holding up whom. Except Rooster had a hand against his face. He was putting most of his weight on #4’s shoulder, and every time he stumbled, I thought they would both fall.

And still, no one really noticed. No one looked at them, not really, not even me. (Before this happened, I’d always been so unshakably sure that I saw everything.)

We kept talking, quoting lines from Tommy Boy and debating the usefulness of the word “circumambulate.” Little Sister Yovanoff was teasing Irish about the cigarette, pretending she would slap it out of his hand.

Then #4 dropped Rooster on the grass in front of us and straightened up. His T-shirt was splattered red.*

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Life after Dill is much like life before Dill. Except, now that my boyfriend-curiosity has pretty much been satisfied, I spend a lot less time thinking about kissing. And somewhere in the middle of dating and soccer and needlessly complex term projects, Irish has kind of stopped being my friend. Not because of Dill or school or soccer, just simultaneous to those things.

We still say hi to each other in the halls. As long as we are both walking alone. We still communicate using our own private vocabulary, which consists largely of inside jokes, and sometimes he catches me at my locker and presents me with an open package of gummi strawberries or half a bagel for no apparent reason except that he’s hungover a lot and also, he knows that I am pretty permanently ravenous.

He still borrows a dollar so he can buy a Sprite, and he still makes it a point to always pay me back the next day, even though his open tabs with other people are verging on actionable.

We nod politely and smile, and if we miss each other, we do not actually say it.

Because we’re on the block system, Geometry is over, but I still see him most days even, though we don’t sit together anymore. All the sophomores have to take a class called Critical Skills, and my desk is situated somewhere in the middle of the room, while Irish is at the back. With the other drug dealers.

Now, I know I’m supposed to be a professional at this whole writing endeavor, describing and all that, but some things (such as Critical Skills) just seem to defy description. Let’s see—okay, basically this: the class alternates between cripplingly boring and unintentionally hilarious. It involves a lot of activities intended to Prepare Us for the Real World. But Brenna, you say, Be fair. That doesn’t sound so bad.

Let me finish.

When we’re not watching our teacher’s vast collection of uplifting 80s movies and practicing shaking hands, we are performing skits about job-interview hygiene and learning to fold several varieties of origami bird. We are being presented with The Internet. Really.

Between the skits and movies and the handshaking and the origami birds, we are subjected to a barrage of personality tests. And every time we’re handed a new bubble sheet, I sigh and fidget along with everyone else. However, as much as I hate to admit that anything about Critical Skills makes me think, the personality tests kind of . . . do.

The things I learn about myself are not surprises. My Myers-Briggs results indicate that I’m solidly an INTP. So, a walking, talking cortex. With eyes. The Big 5 agrees that I am basically a robot, and I knock it out of the park in the categories of Inquisitiveness and Emotional Stability. My career aptitude test reveals that I am analytical, abstract, self-possessed, indifferent to physical risk, and ranks my most promising employment options in this order:

  1. Stunt person
  2. Probation officer
  3. Novelist

It turns out that Irish is ideally suited for the FBI. We would laugh about this, except for the part about us not really speaking to each other anymore.

For the final, I give my mandatory presentation on stunt performers. Standing at the podium, I’m careful to gesture vaguely and often—make sure everyone gets a good look at my fragile hands, my delicate wrists. Every time I smile demurely or sweep my hair out of my face, it underscores how ridiculous the test result is. I get an A. I never mention to a single soul that my absolute dream job in the whole entire universe is to be a novelist.

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The Second Thing


Well . . .

Well, it’s been quite awhile since I sat down and wrote a good solid blog post. What was the hold-up, you might ask?

Here is the short version: I turned in the latest revision of Book 2, then fell into a sleep resembling something out of a fairy tale only my hair didn’t look as good and I was wearing mismatched socks. After a week or so, I woke back up, made the bed, did the laundry, and now things are starting to return to normal.

There’s still work to do, of course. Next will be line-edits and copyedits, and hopefully a cover reveal pretty soon here, but things are definitely moving along. Also, I put this on the calendar weeks ago and then when it actually rolled around, I completely spaced it—but The Replacement came out in the UK yesterday! It has a British book-birthday! I’d somehow gotten used to the idea that it would be released there in the future and then failed to grasp that the future is now the present. This is an example of how I am very bad with time.

Here is another: literally months ago, I said I was going to talk about how I stopped being completely passive—specifically these three defining things that happened in close succession. I’m going to talk about the second thing now, but since it turns out that the posts themselves are not remotely in close succession, you have to imagine these events taking place within days of each other.

The second thing that happened did not happen to me. (Not that Dweezil getting yelled at happened to me—it just happened near me. But, you know.)

First though, to set the stage for my next mini-revelation, we have to go back in time.

A few weeks before the second thing, the Hobgoblin pulled me out of the lunch line one day and told me he was worried about me. I assumed that he must be confused, misled by my timid demeanor or my silence or the fact that I was standing in the lunch line alone waiting to buy two slices of terrible pizza—all of which could be construed as very worrying things. I hastened to assure him that I was fine. I was spectacular. I was fan-freaking-tastic. Really.

He regarded me gravely, then told me that I needed to stop hanging out with Irish.

I was immediately gripped by crushing despair. Or, what passes for it in Adolescent-Brenna World. So, moderate perturbation.

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The Curtis Brothers

Being almost-friends with Irish meant inside jokes and laughing all the time and singing harmony to “Yellow Submarine” and getting written up for stupid things like how many times we sharpened our pencils, and feeling like I actually existed. But it also meant spending a fair number of mornings sitting alone next to an empty chair because he was hungover or missed the bus or just didn’t feel like showing up to class.

I missed him on the days he didn’t come, but I wasn’t one to take his absences personally. I considered them to be the result of a kind of social impasse. He was not the kind of boy who felt obligated to attend Geometry on a consistent basis just to see a sometimes-friend, and no matter how many times he invited me to come with him, I was not the kind of girl who ditched class.

I started to notice the times I spent alone, though. It’s a strange phenomenon, but when you are used to being alone, the outside world starts to blur into the background. Alone means no intrusions, no distractions, and the page in front of you is the realest thing.

But when you are sometimes not alone, it gets hard to slip back into the trance you inhabited before, staring at the board while everyone else is giving each other French manicures with Wite-Out and flicking paper footballs. The sense of isolation was still there, but it had stopped being comfortable. It was with great reluctance that I came to a realization: I needed some more almost-friends.

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For the first three months of school, I had no friends. I realize how unbearably tragic that sounds, but it really wasn’t that bad. This is partially because I was so preoccupied with the novelty of my new environment, and partially because I was just a very un-tragic person. In fact, for the most part, I didn’t even realize I was lonely—I honestly assumed that what I was feeling was a general condition.

And to be fair, I did nothing to facilitate making friends. I had a different paperback for every class. I lined them up in order on my locker shelf and read them under my desk. When people tried to talk to me, it took all my mental faculties just to respond, and the effort of making small-talk was exhausting (since then, I’ve realized that it’s not strangers I find so exhausting—it’s small-talk).

No one was mean to me, or if they were, I didn’t really care. They ignored me, and I concentrated on my books and on writing things down as they happened. Once, a boy in my Spanish class licked my face, just to see what I would do. My reaction underlined the very thing that had made him want to shake me up in the first place. I did . . . approximately nothing. I turned in my seat and said in a dazed, dreamy voice, “Oh my God, that’s disgusting.” I still can’t picture the look I gave him, but I remember how it felt—quizzical, wondering. My heart was beating so hard I thought it might burst like a balloon, but none of the underlying shock was apparent in my face or my voice, and after that, he left me alone. Everyone left me alone. Then, this happened:

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