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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In the morning, Little Sister Yovanoff dawdles on the porch. Which isn’t surprising. Any time we’re supposed to be in a hurry (to catch the bus, for instance), she’s always a few steps behind.

When I turn to check her progress, she’s still poking around by the front door.

“Come back,” she says. “There’s a thing for you.”

The thing is a plastic freezer bag of Hershey’s Kisses with a note inside asking me to the Homecoming dance. The note is anonymous, and also written in Dill’s handwriting, with his red rollerball pen.

“Did you leave a ziplock bag of candy on my porch?” I say, catching him at his locker.

His eyes widen in surprise, but the truth is, he’s easy to read. “Someone left a bag of candy? Maybe there’s something inside.”

When we get home, Little Sister Yovanoff (ever the pragmatist) gets out a mixing bowl and plunks herself down on the living room floor. We sit across from each other and unwrap the candy piece by piece. We find Dill’s name in the second-to-last one. There are 87.

At his locker the next morning, I say, “Okay, I’ll go to Homecoming with you.”

I don’t say it this way because I’m mean or ungracious. At least, I am never ungracious on purpose. It’s just that I’ve thought about it, and I’ve decided that this is what I’m going to do.

Dill says, “That’s not how it’s supposed to go. You’re supposed to tell me yes.”

“I did tell you yes. Just now.”

“No,” he says, looking mildly aggrieved. “Like with—like I did, with a note. Or . . . balloons or something.”

I think about this. Then, I take a deep breath and say, without any irony or ill will, “That seems kind of complicated.”

Ever since I told him I would go to the homecoming dance, Dill has been bringing me flowers in the morning. A single cheerful daisy—simple, sweet. We are sort of (sort of) dating again.

The first time he brought me a daisy, I thanked him for it. I put it on my locker shelf and forgot. At lunch, Little Sister Yovanoff accidentally set her Spanish book on it.

“Oops,” she said. “Were you saving that for something?”

Later, when I showed up to History without my flower, Dill wanted to know where it had gone. I tried to explain that I couldn’t just carry it around with me all day.

He said, “It was for you to appreciate. You can’t appreciate it if you leave it in your locker.”

So I carried the second daisy with me, even though it got gross-looking and started to wilt. It made my fingers sticky, and left a weird metallic smell, like you get if you hold a handful of pennies. When I showed up to Tully’s class with it, Dill grinned.

“You have my flower!” he said. “That’s so cool.”

“Classy,” muttered Rooster, who still has stitch-marks on his forehead. “Giving your girlfriend dead flowers.”

Across from me, #4 sort of laughed and sort of didn’t. He was looking past me and then he put his head down on his arms. I set the flower on the edge of my desk and tried to forget that my hands smelled filthy and like metal.

I wrapped the third daisy in a paper towel and ran it under the faucet in the bathroom. I came into History with a wilted daisy and a handful of soggy paper. No one said anything.

It’s not that I want things. I don’t care about romance or dating or being given things. Daisies are Dill’s favorite flower. I like primroses and violets. When he brings me something that he likes and I don’t, it’s confusing.

We don’t have to like the same flowers or the same music or movies or gum or anything else. But it would be nice if he recognized that the things I like are different from what he likes. I just want someone who pays attention, who takes into account what other people are thinking and doing.

This whole business of daisies is unsettling. It’s like a really clunky metaphor for the business of relationships, and last year I was naive enough to think that maybe I could demystify romance if I just studied the equation long enough. Now, I’m forced to admit that I absolutely do not understand. Anything.

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Little Sister Yovanoff

I’m not often decisive, and that’s a fact.

But occasionally, I’m marginally organized. This is one of those times, and I’ve decided that before we go any farther, I need to tell you about my sister.

From my junior year on, she’s with me pretty much all the time and yet, in the course of my daily notations, I hardly ever write about her. I mean, I do write about her—I write down her contributions to various conversations, or what she was wearing or funny things she’s said. If we go somewhere together, I mention that she was there.

But the thing is, I don’t study her or plumb the depths of her psyche or speculate on her hopes and dreams, because I feel like I already know her. I never feel disconnected or worry that I’ll forget something important about her, because forgetting her seems impossible, like forgetting my own name, and even though I’m a year older, as far as my particular worldview is concerned, she has never not been there.

Little Sister Yovanoff is both practical and sensible. She inserts herself into tenth grade almost without a ripple, and if she’s troubled by the boredom or the noise, I don’t hear about it. If she ever wishes for excitement or worries about who she is, she keeps it to herself.

maddy laughing

We never have poignant heart-to-hearts or confess things. We don’t tell each other our deepest darkest secrets, but looking at us from the next table or watching from across the hall, you might think we do.

From the outside, we are a united front—the Sisters Yovanoff. We can have whole conversations using nothing but eye-contact. We finish each other’s sentences. If this were a TV show, we would be those quirky, one-dimensional side characters that cult fans quote incessantly and make T-shirts of, but everyone else just kind of finds annoying.

We make up games and then play them, because it’s what we’ve always done, and because school is boring and we think arbitrary rules are funny. The games all have names like 26 Ways of Walking and Word of the Week. We have contests to see who can work nevertheless into casual conversation the most times before someone notices. We make up absurd penalties and elaborate point systems, and then completely ignore them.

I cut her hair and dye it UltraViolent Violet and buy her purple mascara.

She paints my nails glitter-pink and scolds me for improper use of eyeliner and for looking at my feet when I walk.

People are always mistaking us for neighbors, because on the surface, we aren’t even related. In fact, sometimes they think Sisters Yovanoff is just another game we’re playing—that we are best friends who like to trick our classmates into thinking that we’re relatives.

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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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The Brand-New Girl

If Sophomore year was the year of Learn by Watching, then Junior year is the year of Boys. And I mean that in a whole spectrum of ways. It is the year of noticing boys, and of studying them and admiring them and being noticed and of having friends who are boys.

This boy-onslaught is made possible, in part, because the girl I just spent a whole year being seems to have vanished over the summer.

The easiest thing would be to say that in the last three months, I’ve completely transformed. But that’s not really true. Instead, it’s more like I’ve reverted. I’ve simply gone back to being the at-home girl—the one who makes physics jokes and likes Warren Zevon and glitter lipgloss and sewing beads and sequins on her shoes.

Already, I’ve become less pokerfaced and more Mona-Lisa-ish, and I’m actually kind of looking forward to going back to school and trying again. Like Beckett says, fail again, fail better.

I’m particularly excited because Little Sister Yovanoff is starting tenth grade, which means that I finally have daily access to a girl who understands me. We ride the bus together. We are locker partners. We are on the same soccer team. We share shoes and clothes and ice cream cones and coffee and look absolutely nothing alike, which means that I can basically be best friends with my little sister and there are no social consequences.

shoes and stars

On the first day, I am wearing leaf-green Chuck Taylors with gold foil stars sewn all over them and jeans paired with an old-fashioned thrift-store blouse. I’ve cut the sleeves off, tailored the bodice. The blouse has tiny fake-pearl buttons and a high lace collar and a crumbling cluster of dried rosebuds safety-pinned to the shoulder. It makes me look vaguely Victorian and also strangely frail.

Little Sister Yovanoff is similarly bedecked, resplendent in ragged cut-offs and tiny plastic barrettes. With her burgundy velvet blazer and her purple hair, she looks bold and statuesque. She looks much sturdier than I do.

Me and Dad

I spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to find pictures of our outfits, but sadly, it seems the best I can do is the close-up of my shoes (yes, those are soccer socks I’m wearing. What? I had a lot of them), and a shot of my second-favorite outfit from that era—also quite lacy. You’ll notice that my dad has the decency to ignore the state of my jeans. Which are actually his jeans. My dad is nice.

School is anticlimactic. I go to my classes, introduce Little Sister Yovanoff to Catherine and Elizabeth, use up my shiny new free hour by driving around with one of my sophomore-PE friends.

Things do not get interesting until US History, which is the last class of the day. I show up after the warning bell, only to find the room half-empty. Honestly, this should already tell me pretty much all I need to know, but because there’s some stuff I still haven’t figured out yet, it doesn’t.

Ponyboy is there, so I take the seat next to her and congratulate myself on having a class where I already know someone. We play Outsiders for a little, which mostly just means her asking me how prison was and me asking her if she had a good time at reform school.

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