Unwanted Desperation

April 5, 2008
By Quinn Gilman-Forlini, Lake Peekskill, NY

“Authors are so dumb. Why can’t there ever be stories about people who aren’t desperate to change?” Reece asked. She was sifting through another novel about a girl who needed reassurance, needed to be loved, and needed to be saved. Same old, same old.

“I don’t know; ‘cuz then there wouldn’t be a story,” Josh answered. He pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose and squinted through the windshield up ahead. This was his first month driving without an adult, and he was extremely cautious about anything and everything that came his way in the road. “Do you think I can make that green light, or should I slow down?” he asked.

Reece rolled her eyes. Josh was her best friend, and had been for years, but he was way too careful. “You ought to have more fun, Josh. Now, answer my question seriously,” she said matter-of-factly. Josh smiled. He knew he couldn’t get past a Reece-Question with an answer that included ‘cuz’.

“Wait a second,” he breathed, nervous about the cars behind him and the traffic light in front of him. He slowed down the closer he got to the light, and the cars got angry, their large metal bodies making strong sights and sounds controlled by the impatient brains within them. Reece, sitting in the passenger seat with no shoes on, leaned so far forward that the seatbelt stopped and the front of her legs, which were poking out of her favorite pair of pink shorts, scraped the carpeting on the car floor. The touch was tickling and soft, and she let her toes fling backward so the tops of her feet lay against the carpet too. Her head fell against the dashboard, and she shut her eyes and dropped the trashy novel out of her left hand. The car suddenly jolted to a stop, and Reece’s head jerkily snapped back and forward again, banging against the hot plastic.

“Get up,” Josh said. “What if a cop saw you?”

“What if he didn’t?” Reese heaved her body back into the seat, but then tucked her legs underneath one another in a criss-cross position. “You could have easily made that light, you know.” Josh tapped his fingers on the wheel.

“Anyway, to answer your question, I’m really not sure. I’m not an author, and I never will be one. But I suppose a story wouldn’t be interesting if the character didn’t need to change. You know, there would be no plot. Nothing to work towards. And besides, everyone changes.”

Reece leaned her head against the window and shook it on the glass. She thought about how she had always been the same person for as far back as she could remember. Things around her had changed, but she was always the same. And she liked being like that. “But why does every hero have to be unhappy at the beginning? There are plenty of happy people in the world. Write about them, authors.” She shook her fist up at the sky, addressing all the writers in the world. Then she sank back into her seat, limbs limp. Suddenly she was cold, angry, and felt like laughing. All she did was put a frown on her face, though.

The car started moving again. Josh took a peek at her, trying to be discreet, but Reece saw. She pretended not to notice, and faced the window again. She wished soft rain drops were plopping down against the car’s outside; she dreamed of snow twirling from heavy clouds and catching on surface’s around her; she burst into violent laughter. Picturing Josh driving in snow! It was more than that, she knew, and yet she didn’t know what anything was. So she was happy for no reason, and at the same time miserable in sunny weather. Nothing could stop her laughter now, as her stomach began to burn and her eyes watered. It felt as if her brain was squishing up into a compact size and the images around her were no longer real. Funny things seemed to be replacing the real world, erasing her life that she loved, and sketching comedy in its place. Everything was wonderful, hilarious, and never-ending. This is what books should be about, she thought in the second that she caught her breath from hiccupping and brushing tears away from her cheeks.

“Reece?” Josh’s voice was just a shape floating around the space. Was she crazy? Well, she adored being crazy. It was bubbly and carefree in crazy-land. She grasped the edges of her stomach, wanting more. Her eyes ached and her hands felt weak against her rumbling body.

She stopped. It wasn’t the gradual kind of stop she usually did after laughing. It was an abrupt, meaningful stop like the way Josh started moving a car. That hadn’t been a usual laugh, and she cherished all the feelings she’d felt, especially the one’s that didn’t have an English word labeled on them.

“Are you okay?” Josh asked her, not looking at her, but examining the road like a hawk. “You’re insane, by the way,” he added. Reece smiled, feeling that remark spread out all over her skin, like a cover or a shield. She could be defined like that, protected like that, known for that. For that word: insane.

“I’m fine,” she said, and shrugged her shoulders as if nothing had happened. “You drive like a grandma. My hands smell like soap.” She felt lightheaded and dizzy.

Josh laughed. It wasn’t a real Josh laugh, the one that made you feel courageous and excited. Instead, it was a Josh chuckle, but Reece accepted it. She’d laughed enough for the both of them today.
“Seriously, what was that?” Josh pressed. Out of the blue, Reece’s mood swung around. She was irritated at Josh. Why should he know what it was when she didn’t? He didn’t know anything about her, and yet he wanted to. He had no right to.
What was wrong with this? She was being completely irrational about a stupid question her best friend had asked. What has wrong with her? She realized, then, that she was just as content being angry and confused as she was being giddy. Being content was not drawn from happiness, like she had thought all along. It was taken from emotions. From being something. She had gone from being typical and indifferent, to insanely happy and crazy, to mad and irritable, and finally to realizing everything that had raced through her mind. She looked at Josh, still driving like he always had been. What was he right now? He probably didn’t know himself, so there was no point in Reece guessing. She could only define herself, with maybe a little help from others. You’re insane, by the way.
“That was change, Joshy, my boy,” she told him. “I just changed.” She surprised herself by knowing what it was. But that was the change. She knew everything now. He looked at her incredulously.
“You’re the strangest person I ever met, Reece,” he said back at her. “And I’m the hungriest,” he pulled into a Burger King. “Are you coming in?” he asked her as he unbuckled his seatbelt and swung his door open. She nodded.
Reece reached into the backseat for her shoes. As she stuffed bare feet into sweaty sneakers, she spotted the book she had been questioning before, still lying unwanted on the carpeting.
“Come on, Miss Change,” Josh said impatiently from outside the car.
“I guess authors aren’t stupid, after all,” she mused.
“Maybe you should become one yourself, then. I don’t know, just get out of the car. I want a hamburger.”

“No, I couldn’t write. There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe what I feel. What any humans feel. They are simply too complicated.” Reece finished tying her sneakers, and then sat up in the chair, bewildered. The old Reece wouldn’t have said something like that. She peered out the window at Josh, knowing he would pick up on her choice of words, but he was already walking toward the Burger King and hadn’t heard her.

Change happens to people, Reece thought, but I don’t think it just pours over them suddenly like it did to me. I just changed in a matter of five minutes. Five minutes ago, I would have wanted a hamburger, too, but now, I couldn’t even eat one.

Before Reese had changed, she had hated authors for making their characters unhappy and desperate. Now, she didn’t understand herself anymore, she knew she had changed, but she didn’t know how. It must be impossible to change like this; no one would ever believe her. Yet inside of herself, at the core of herself, she was different. She was more aware. And she didn’t like it. She wanted the old, naive Reese back.

Authors were wrong again. Change wasn’t something she had looked forward to, and when it occurred, it wasn’t something she wanted anymore. Reece ran out of the car and into Burger King and ordered herself a hamburger, with extra ketchup on the side, like she always longed for.

The meat felt dry in her mouth, and the ketchup made her gag. She couldn’t even swallow one bite of it.

All the way home, she cried. Josh didn’t know what to do. Reece needed to be reassured, needed to be loved, and needed to be saved. But she’d changed too much to tell him.

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