|GATOR SPRINGS GAZETTE|
a literary journal of the fictional persuasion
|A QUESTION OF BALANCE(page four)|
She is a freak.
She's the girl at school who sits in the back of the room, who dyes her hair and wears too much eye makeup. She's the one who walks through the hallways with her head down, who listens to angry boy music, who wears mostly black and reads Sylvia Plath. She writes poetry during art class and draws pictures during English class and looks bored during everything else. She thinks the words 'I hate myself' at least once a day. She hears what the other kids say about her. She knows that the boys look at her boobs and the women call her fat. She lives in the perpetual shadow of her freakishly perfect older sister, who is thin and pretty and got good grades and goes to an expensive college nearby. She promises herself that one day she will move to a big city where there will be lots of people who are bigger freaks than her.
On Monday mornings she comes to school late; her face is puffy and her are eyes red. No one knows why. No one from school sees her on the weekends. No one has been to her house. They don't know the freaky stuff that goes on there. She says she doesn't like high school kids. She says they're too immature. She says her friends are older and more sophisticated. She has no real friends. She is occasionally seen in the company of some local teenage delinquents, boys who are old enough to know that girls don't like being called freaks. She sits on an amp to keep it from buzzing while they play the guitar and dream of being masters of the universe. She lets them buy her drinks and listens to their explanations about the mythic future that lies in front of them. She lets them touch her in ways she doesn't like but which always seem appropriate at the time. Afterwards she gets freaked out and the boys leave. She sees them later on and they look away. They make jokes and act so deliberately casual that she knows something must be wrong. She drinks rum and cokes and sleeps on the sofa, dreaming of a wonderful life of excitement where no one ever remembers the way that she is now.
She graduates from high school, 75th in her class. She gets an A in art, a B in English, and a C in everything else. She takes one of the teenage delinquents to the prom. They smoke pot in the parking lot and ask the DJ to play weird music and drive off early, parking their car on a cliff and molesting each other until the sun comes up. She tells the delinquent she'll write him when she gets to college, even though she knows she never will.
She goes to a liberal art school in New York City. She thinks it will be wonderful. Land of the freaks. She majors in art history and studies impressionist paintings. She meets strange people, strange strange people, trying to outdo each other's freakish quirks. She goes to parties and makes friends and studies hard and thinks that everything should be so so happy; only when nobody is looking, she goes to her room and cries and wishes that she could go home. She wants to return to her own private land of freakishness where everything is normal and where she can count on people to react to her familiar freaky charms. She is the girl who calls her sister on a Friday night. She is the girl who sits in the second row of the lecture hall and takes notes but never says anything. She is the girl with short hair, who wears no makeup and plays quirky music on the college radio station. She's the girl who always wears cardigans, who always makes it to breakfast in the cafeteria on Saturday mornings, who decorates her walls with fabric and bakes marijuana brownies with her roommate. She goes alone to the Museum of Modern Art every Sunday. No one knows that she's there. She touched a Matisse once. She has a crush on a senior art major, but ends up dating a sophomore named Chuck. She goes on birth control. She thinks that she is opening up to the world, opening up at last, until one night her roommate drags her to a party with loud music and a large supply of alcohol. She drinks a rum and coke. She drinks cheap beer from a plastic cup. She doesn't know what happens next. When she wakes up, she is in a strange place, being molested by some freak. She tries to get away. She tries to get away. She freaks out. Freak Freak Freak. She runs back to her dorm room. She locks the door, turns off all her lights and stays in bed for two days. She packs up everything she owns into two dog-eared suitcases, but she doesn't leave. She finishes the year, passing in all of her papers at the last possible second and skipping as many classes as she can get away with. She never breathes a word of what happens to anybody before leaving New York forever.
She goes back home, tells her parents that New York was too much stress and then goes to sleep for a week. She's really freakin' tired. She has dark circles under her eyes. She tells her sister she had a fight with her boyfriend. She volunteers at the old folk's home, takes English classes at the college down the street, and plants an herb garden in the backyard. She writes letters to Chuck until her roommate calls to say that she's wasting her time and that Chuck's sleeping with some new girl with skinny legs. She reads James Joyce and learns to cook. She gains ten pounds. She thinks of all of the girls who used to call her fat in high school; she thinks that they are probably thin and perfect and dating law students. She starts to grow her hair, and to wear long skirts and baggy sweaters. She thinks that boys don't notice her anymore. She doesn't notice the quiet look in the eyes of the boys she meets. She doesn't realize that in her own freaky way she is at her most beautiful. She is dark haired beauty that lights up their dreams when they go to sleep at night. She is the girl who sits in the coffeehouse and reads Hemingway. She is the girl who sits on the grass at school and draws pictures of flowers in bloom. She thinks she will spend her life alone. She is the artist and she is the muse of the story of her own freakishly desperate life.
She falls in love for the first time. She is amazed at how easily it happens, she doesn't have time to freak out, she gives herself to him almost completely before she even knows what's happening or why. She meets him at a play her sister performs in. She doesn't understand how it's possible that he doesn't fall for her sister- that he talks to her, that he asks her opinions on the things that matter, that he is courteous and receptive to courtesy. She is impressed by his plans for the future, by his knowledge of art and music, by the fact that during their first three dates he talks as much as he listens. She takes him to the art house movie theatre on Fridays. She doesn't freak out. She takes him to meet her freaky parents. She is the girl who talks about her boyfriend before each class. She is the girl who keeps his baby pictures in her purse. She moves out of her parent's house and gets an apartment with another girl so they can have more privacy. She thinks she has come into the world at last.
They are together a long time. She is the girl who bakes lasagna and garlic bread on Saturday nights. She is the woman who buys him shoes, who tells him when to get his hair cut, who gets angry when she catches him staring at the breasts of other women in restaurants. She has come to accept his dreams as her own. She listens to him talk about sports, about his life after college, about everything and anything for hours and hours on end. She deals with the disconnect between the two of them by trying to manage his life, coaching him like an overprotective mother. Whenever they go out, she tells him what to say, what to wear, who to talk to and what he should feel about talking to them. She watches television as he goes out with his friends on a Saturday night and comes back to her place drunk and smelling of cigarettes and perfume. She doesn't want to tell him that she doesn't approve. She tells him that she doesn't approve. They have the biggest fight she's ever experienced, she tells him that he's throwing away their relationship. He tells her that she's suffocating him. She says that he's worthless and mean and he doesn't treat her with any respect. She says a lot of things, until he throws her into a wall. Her shoulder leaves a hole in the wall the size of a grapefruit. She freaks out, calls him names, cries until she hyperventilates, locks herself in her room and won't come out until he leaves. Later on he calls to apologize, but it is too late. He's exposed himself for the freak that she is.
She doesn't leave her room for almost three days. She loses contact with reality, freaking out, unable to confront even the smallest details of her freaky new life. She cries on the phone for hours with her sister, unable to understand how all of this could happen, how she could have ended up like this, where her life is going and when, if ever she will stop feeling like such a freak. She takes a leave of absence from school. She buys a cat. She gains ten pounds. She is a giant fat freak. She starts working at the old folks home full time. She is the girl who takes the old ladies for walks, who reminds them when it's time for their medication, who tells them when it's time for dinner, when it's time for bed, where they can find the phone number of their children, and how to work the remote control on the TV. She learns all the correct terminology: 'elderly' instead of old, 'delicate' instead of frail, 'terminal' instead of dying. She loves her job, even though she barely makes enough money to pay her rent and bills and her mother always asks her when she is going back to school. Old people don't mind freaks. She is the young woman who drinks coffee every morning on the number fifteen bus. She is the pretty lady who eats lunch every day with an old woman named Ester and an old man named Rudy who says he's her boyfriend. She knows the patients love her and thank her for all of the trouble she goes to. She is the young woman who goes to bed at ten thirty on a Friday night, who gets up early on Saturdays and cleans her kitchen, who spends Sunday afternoons eating lunch with her sister and buying herself shoes. She decides that she is on her own and that her life belongs only to her. She will always be a freak and there's nothing that she can do. She is on her own two feet, secure with her own freakish existence. She is so secure that when she meets a new boy, he manages to throw her off her feet.
She meets him at a Christmas party. His name is Carl. He is the desk clerk at a local police station. He wants to be a detective and goes camping on the weekends. He gets his hair cut every other Thursday by an Italian barber who used to coach his little league team. He seems so freakishly normal that she wonders if he was born wearing pants. He takes her to an Italian restaurant and a movie. She doesn't kiss him goodnight but he doesn't seem to mind. She calls him the next night, and she talks to him, telling him about art and books, explaining her long sorted freakish existence, telling him how she ended up dropping out of school twice and working in a retirement home. She tells him about her sister and her family. She is glad that he listens but is afraid to tell him some of the freakiest stuff. She doesn't want history to keep repeating itself over and over again. She takes him to meet her sister, hoping that her sister will tell her that he's just a giant freak and that she should run away. Her sister likes him, tells her that he's nice and that she should stop being such a freak. She lets him move his stuff in, hoping that she doesn't freak out, suppressing her desire to run away and hide where he can never find her. She learns to sleep next to another person every night. She is surprised that she feels better waking up next to him. She tells him about her hopes and dreams for the future. She even tells him about the freakiest stuff. She makes coffee and breakfast for both of them in the morning before work. She makes him do the dishes every night. For the first time in her life, she doesn't know what other people are thinking of her and she doesn't care. There is a dark void in her life as the sound of a thousand critical voices inside of her head finally subsides.
He buys her a diamond ring. She is the girl who buys bridal magazines every time she goes to the grocery store, who talks to her mother every night about china patterns and bridal shower locations, and shows off her jewels to everyone she meets. She is the woman who seems to radiate happiness every time she walks into a room. She books a church for the third weekend in May, plans the reception for the old folks home, orders the flowers, and buys herself a dress. She is the blushing bride. Her sister is the maid of honor, her father gives her away and her fiancÚ is the handsomest man she's ever seen. She is amazed by the relatives and friends who come out of the woodwork to see her on her special day; even the delinquents show up to play music at the reception. They are the handsome young couple admired by everyone. She takes all the money given to them at the wedding and saves it for a down payment for a house. She knows that they can't afford much but she'd like something with a yard. She wants something in a nice school district where kids can play ball in the middle of the street and not have to worry about getting hurt every time they leave the house. She can't believe how old she is. She actually starts going to church with her husband. He wants to have kids right away. Little baby freaks. She is scared and terrified. She stops taking birth control. She doesn't know what to do. She is three weeks late. She is in her first trimester. She turns the guest bedroom into a baby's room, paints it yellow and buys a crib. She wants to be a good mother. She hopes she can be a good mother. She doesn't want to be so scared, but she just can't help it. She is a freak.
© David McLain 2005
David McLain (firstname.lastname@example.org) continues to write in obscurity in Western Massachusetts. His novel, The Fourth of July, will be published by Anosmia Books.
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