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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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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Treaty of Paris

Things go back to normal.

This is the stabilizing force of the universe, the first rule of high school. For three days, everyone gossips shamelessly and compares stories and buzzes about Rooster’s impressive and bloody header into the windshield. And then, things go back to normal.

For my part, I babysit my cousins and turn in my homework and go on with my life. I still dream about the blood sometimes, but only in a cool, incidental way. I (almost) stop feeling guilty.

Rooster is absent for awhile, and then shows up one day in the middle of the week with bruised eyes and a pad of gauze taped across his forehead. He smiles and performs a little monologue for our History class on how awful it was being stuck at home with nothing to do but watch TV, how he couldn’t watch anything except the weather, because otherwise he might start laughing and any time he changed expressions, the sutures would pull and he would start to bleed through his stitches.

#4 is the only one who doesn’t even pretend to find this funny.

(Graceless transition: None of the above has anything at all to do with the next part, but I recognize that I ended on a very dramatic note last week, and I didn’t want to leave you hanging.)

The autumn of my junior year is a good season, even when it’s crazy-making or confusing. I’m steadily becoming more approachable, and even though I’m still not great at smiling, I’m getting better. At least, I’ve stopped doing the blank stare when someone tries to start a conversation. I’m delighted to think that I may in fact be turning into a real girl.

Out of the blue, people start talking to me.

I don’t mean the smalltalk or the saying hello in the halls, although there’s some of that too. I mean, they start really talking, telling me their secrets—their failures and humiliations and their crushes and wishes and triumphs and all the things that scare them.

At first, I think it’s a fluke, an isolated incident. Then, it’s two isolated incidents. Then I think I’m misinterpreting or blowing things way out of proportion. Then, it just becomes commonplace. By November, I will be dispensing advice on conflict resolution, matchmaking upon request, and helping total strangers write break-up letters.*

A quick note from the present: A few months ago, Catherine was over. We were drinking tea in my living room and being our grown-up selves, and she said, “Do you remember in school, how strangers were always confessing stuff to you? God, they used to tell you everything.”

“Why do you think that was?” I said, because it’s the kind of thing I’m perpetually curious about, and not really because I expected her to tell me.

But she surprised me, even though I don’t think she thought her answer was surprising. She just shrugged and said, “I don’t know, maybe because you looked like you’d actually listen.”

When I was seventeen, this would have seemed like an impossible reason. Simple. Reductive. Blatantly implausible. But now I think it’s the right one.

Even after I started having opinions and inventing outfits and doing a better job of smiling at strangers, there were certain things about me that just didn’t change. I was small and tentative, but resilient. Vague, but unblinking. I seemed harmless, but also unshockable. I had what my cousin M*alice once informed me was a Secret Face. And if you’re going to go out and start confessing things to someone, even a stranger, that stranger should probably be someone who looks like she can keep a secret.

Later, I was different and people never talked to me quite the same way again, but that fall, it was like my expression promised impartiality. Attentiveness. When people told me secrets, they did it like they were throwing pennies down a well.

secret facesecret face 3secret face 2

Senior year, my friend Delilah will compare me to a sphinx and I will laugh and wave her off. I will roll my eyes and smile, and secretly, in my notebook, I will worry that she’s right—that I’ve somehow built myself into a stone girl, someone impenetrable. Not mysterious or enigmatic, but truly unknowable.

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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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