In the morning, I get ready for school.

I brush my hair and do my Spanish homework and put on my makeup, but the whole time, I’m thinking about what happened to Gatsby. I want to understand the situation (the circumstances), but I can’t seem to get it figured out, so I stop trying.

This is actually easier than you’d think. I have a lot of practice at ignoring anything about school that I find upsetting. All year, I’ve been entertaining myself by pretending things, like the door to the math wing is really a portal to Hell, or time has stopped and if I can draw three perfectly round circles, it will start again.

Mostly though, I pretend to be someone else. Not like wittier or more confident or cooler, but someone else like Morticia Addams or Joan of Arc or Marilyn Monroe. I pretend to be Tinkerbell. I pretend to be Alice in Wonderland, because if this is Wonderland, then it doesn’t even matter that nothing makes sense.

I go to school as Queen Elizabeth I, because maybe her natural complexion is buried under an inch of foundation, but at least she knows how to run a country.

Later, things will sort-of/kind-of be okay. Gatsby will show up to US History—the scrapes on his face scabbing over, his bad arm strapped against his chest. He’ll smile around the room and joke about this being the only time he’s ever been arrested that resulted in him not being punished, either by the court system or his dad.

He’ll grin and say, “I guess that’s the big secret. I just have to stand there and get my ass beat.”

The morning is for worrying though, and wondering. It’s for impeccable deportment and Queen Elizabeth.

In art, I sit across from TS and Brody. The semester is almost over, and we’re working on our final sculpture assignment, chipping tiny pieces off blocks of plaster and sanding down the edges. Everything is dusty and the fact that my chisel is held together by duct tape is ruining my sense of monarchical dignity. I don’t like how the plaster dries out my hands.

I don’t like that something mysterious has taken place and I don’t have answers, but TS proves to be is an invaluable source of information. She was smoking in the back parking lot when it happened and saw the whole thing.

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The Good Girl

Junior year is something flashy and fascinating and altogether new. Worlds better than I could have expected.

By now, it’s solidly autumn, and even though I don’t like November, and school is confusing and Dill has effectively deserted me for Jane, I’m having a surprisingly good time.

My schedule is a mix of easy subjects and hard ones, and I have at least one art class every quarter. Each morning, I shuffle sleepily into the art wing to sit across from TS and draw charcoal still-lifes or make sculptures out of clay.

TS is wry and clever and easy-going. She’s the girl I wish I could be. She never gets mad or takes anything too seriously, and she’s kind and funny and sarcastic. She has this hilarious, hardboiled way of talking, like nothing matters and at the same time, like everything matters. She makes even the simplest things seem grim and monumental. She lives life like a noir detective.

At the beginning of sophomore year, we were sort-of/kind-of friends, but I haven’t had a class with her since then and I’ve missed her. Last fall, she was soft-spoken and shy—almost as shy as me—but now she talks easily, reaching across the table to smear glitter on my eyelids or providing a running commentary on X-acto knife safety, and her hair is a bright, outrageous color called “Enchanted Forest.” She hangs out at her older brother’s house parties and smokes behind the school during passing periods.

We laugh a lot and talk about art and music and sociology. She shares her headphones with me and quotes Clerks and Mallrats and My So-Called Life.

She’ll peer into my face sometimes, with a false, doe-eyed earnestness and say, “Why are you like this?”

I always look back at her, shaking my head. “Like what?”

She leans in across the table, so serious. Close to tragic. “Like how you are.”*

I know she’s only saying it to be ironic, but sometimes I think about it anyway. Why am I like this?

But maybe the more pertinent question is, what am I like?

When I picture myself in my head, I’m still the awkward, antisocial girl of last year. The one with hunched shoulders and shaggy bangs, pathologically incapable of having a conversation with anyone she doesn’t already know.

I keep forgetting that’s not me anymore. Intellectually, I understand that I’ve changed, but I don’t know exactly what I’ve changed into.

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Inside-Out and Backwards

Sophomore year was the year of Learn by Watching, and this worked out, because watching was what I was good at. I learned about rules very quickly, mostly because I have always had an unhealthy obsession with them. And what I learned was this: even though they told us that the rules applied to everyone, it was not actually true.

That fall, I went through an ill-advised phase where I borrowed my dad’s clothes a lot—especially this one particular T-shirt from Flying Dog Brewery, with a Ralph Steadman drawing advertising Road Dog Porter. Due to the shirt’s alcohol related message, coupled with Flying Dog’s PG-13 marketing slogan, the dress-code violation was twofold, but I was never once told that I needed to cover the shirt or turn it inside out, or even to stop wearing it in the future.

So yes, I’d begun to suspect that rules did not apply equally, but I didn’t know it for a fact until this happened:

The scene – As with most of the more dramatic scenes that first semester, it takes place in English class.

The star – A boy who sits at the back of the room and typically sleeps through class. Apart from spotty attendance and a general lack of involvement, he’s remarkably well-behaved. He rarely does the work, but is never unruly or impolite. He holds doors for people. He never draws attention to himself, which is something that sophomore Brenna identifies with to an excessive degree. The class is the last one of the day, and is basically an exercise in chaos.

Other players in the drama –

  • Nick has the desk directly behind our reluctant star. Nick is very tall, very loud, and can usually be counted on to be the one instigating the chaos.
  • TS sits next to me. She likes Punky Colour hair-dye, Vans skate shoes, and Kevin Smith movies, and is the closest thing I have to a real friend.
  • Lucas, who early on cemented his role as resident humanitarian and classroom advocate, is unable to resist getting involved, and in a misguided attempt to secure justice, kind of makes things worse.
  • M is still M, but becoming more so every day.

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