The Journal

Bernice came over on New Year’s Eve, and we sat around, talking. We both went to Butte High now, but from kindergarten through eighth grade, we had gone to St. John’s Catholic School. It was a small school and got smaller every year as more kids left, especially girls. I didn’t think much anymore about the teasing and the rumors spread by the popular kids there, but Bernice still talked about it all the time.
“It seems to me you should take a look at your own self before you tear down someone else . . .” she said. Bernice and I had always been weird, but I was less weird than Bernice. I may have spent elementary school recesses singing “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” with a cockney accent, and I may have cried when another kid stomped on an ant, but at least I knew I was weird.
Bernice and I were archenemies from fifth to seventh grade. I punched her in 6th grade, something she still reminded me of from time to time. Although in her version of the story, I whammed her repeatedly for no reason at all, and had to be pulled off of her by a teacher.
I left St. John’s after eighth grade, but Bernice spent her first year of high school there before switching to Butte High. . “I got invited to the parties, and because I wouldn’t go, they thought I was strange. But I stayed away. I knew what went on at those parties . . . ” When talking about the popular kids, Bernice furrowed her eyebrows over her raven’s beak nose, and her eyes had a squint that said, ‘There is something seriously wrong with them.’
When the conversation started to get boring, Bernice looked around my bedroom at my books, knick-knacks, action figures. She noticed a little, gold-embossed book lying rather conspicuously on my night stand.
“What’s this?” She held the book up but didn’t open it.
“My journal.”
“Do you have stuff about me in here?”
“Some stuff.”
“Bad stuff?”
“Horrible!” I was partly joking.
“Can I read it?”
“No.”
“Come on. Show me the worst thing you wrote about me.” She handed me the book.
“I don’t know if I’ll show you the worst.”
“The worst, come on. I bet you two dollars I won’t get pissed off.”
I was already flipping through the pages for something to show her. Not the worst. Something shocking enough to entertain her, but that wouldn’t hurt her feelings. Not many people would be so willing to show others their journals, but I desired to be read. I wanted my “secret” thoughts, so interesting to me, to interest someone else. Even so, I wished Bernice had been interested in secret thoughts other than the ones I’d written about her.
As far as I’m concerned, he and Bernice can fornicate in Hell. I had written that after getting over a crush, who had happened to be a friend of Bernice.
Bernice laughed hard when she read it. “God, Vicky! I swear I never liked him like that!”
“I never really thought you did. I just meant that, you know, if you felt like fornicating in Hell, it would be all right with me.”
“Geez! What else did you write about me?”
“Well, let’s see . . .” I showed her a couple of more innocent passages. “What else?” she kept asking.

Finally, I decided that it would be all right to show her a certain passage, if I warned her first.
“Bernice, before you read this, you should know that when I wrote this, a few months ago, I had a little, tiny theory that you might, possibly, be a lesbian. I don’t think that anymore, nor would I care one way or the other . . .”
Surprised laughter. “God, Vick! Let me see what you wrote!”
When will she come out of the closet? I hope that someday I’ll attend her wedding, up in Canada, to a truck driver named Shirley. You’re gay! You’re gay!
“Wow! Well that’s interesting . . . You thought I was gay?”
“Well, yes, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a female friend whom I didn’t think was a lesbian at some time or another.”
“What made you think I was?”
By this time I realized she was a little upset, and I didn’t think it wise to get out my list of reasons. “Oh, I don’t know. Nothing, really.”
“I’ve wondered the same thing about you, you know.”
“I don’t blame you . . . I’m sorry, Bernice. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. It just brought me back to St. John’s for a moment.”
Yes, I should have remembered that rumor about her back in middle school. The rumor was spread about me, too. Ashley Thrubnen once wrote VICKY LOVES BERNICE on the back of a chair in the auditorium. I found out when I saw a teacher talking sternly to Ashley in the hallway, and the girl burst out crying! It was Bernice who had told on her. The teacher made Ashley go to the auditorium after school with a soapy rag, and Ashley scrubbed for half an hour before she realized she’d carved the words into the wood.
“I always stood up for people they said that about,” said Bernice, “because I knew how it felt.”
“But Bernice, I don’t think of being gay as a bad thing.”
“I know you don’t, but it’s against my religion.”
She took the journal after that and skimmed it, looking for her name.
“I’m socially awkward?” she asked.
“Does it say that?”
“Sometimes it frustrates me that annoying, socially awkward Bernice can talk to my former crush as if it were no big deal,” she quoted.
“God! I forgot about that! Well, everyone’s socially awkward sometimes. I’m socially awkward, much more than you are.”
“Geez, Vicky . . .”
I thought things were all right between me and Bernice. We talked about other things, and then we watched TV for a while. Finally, Bernice’s mom came to pick her up, and I said, “Bye. Thanks for coming!” And she said, “Thanks for having me!”as she was walking out the door.
Two days later, my dad and I were buying ink cartridges at Staples. We had checked out and were walking through the automatic doors when a voice behind me called my name. I turned around and saw Bernice’s mom. I waved and was going to continue on my way, but she said, “Vicky, hold on!” So Dad and I stopped outside the store, and Bernice’s mom came up to us.
“It must be serendipity, me happening to see you here. I wanted to talk to you, Vicky. And I’m glad your dad’s here, because I’d like him to hear it too. Bernice told me that, while she was at your house, you gave her a journal to read, and it said some, well, some pretty nasty things. Something like, she should fornicate in Hell, and she should come out of the closet . . . And well, Bernice just cried all night. I have to say that this makes me so sad. You two have been friends for such a long time. And I know you and your folks are good Christian people. I don’t know if you were angry when you wrote that, or–”
“Sometimes people write things in journals that they don’t really mean, especially if they’re upset,” my dad (who is Jewish) said. He had been sheepishly silent until then.
I felt like I didn’t need to explain myself to Bernice’s mom, so I just said, “I need to talk to Bernice.”

I called six times, once every forty minutes or so, before I got an answer.
“Hi, Bernice. This is Vicky. I am so sorry.”
“Yeah, well . . .” I hadn’t expected her to use that tone of voice. It was the tone that went with her “There is something wrong with you” squint.
I think I apologized wrong. Her tone threw me off. “The gay thing was just one of my stupid theories. And the “fornicate in Hell” thing was purely a joke. I don’t believe in Hell, but if I did, you’re one of the last people who would go there. I mean, fornicating’s fine, but I wouldn’t want you to do it in Hell. Anyway, I shouldn’t have shown you that journal. I’m so, so, so, so sorry.” I actually said “so” more times than that–at least twelve.
“Why did you show it to me?”
“Well, because you asked me to.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“I don’t want to argue. I’m sorry I showed you the journal. I wasn’t thinking.”
“What bothers me isn’t that you showed me, but that you wrote it. Were you mad at me?”
“No, not at all. You see, Bernice, we have different views of homosexuality. When I said I hoped to attend your wedding in Canada, what I really meant was, I hope you find love and happiness.”


“So I says to the guy, ‘Do you want to go to prom with me?’ And then - you’re gonna love this . . .” Her audience was all the girls at the lunch table except for me. It was three months past New Year’s Eve, and in that time, Bernice had hardly said twenty words to me. “I asked the second guy out, and he said yes, and then the first guy said yes too. But I was already with the second guy. One guy at a time. That’s my motto. What d’ya think about that?”
You’re overcompensating.
“Do you have plans for prom?” A.J. Ryans had asked me the weekend before.
“I don’t know.”
“I’m trying to ask you if you want to go to prom, with me. I’m trying . . .”
“Oh, yeah. Sure. Great. Yes. Thank you for asking me.”
“Thank you.”
A week later, he asked if it was all right if his friend, Max and Max’s date went along with us.
“Sure. Who’s his date?”
“Bernice Merrill. You’re friends with her, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, kind of.”
“Don’t you like her?”
“Yeah. Yeah, Bernice is great. She’s the type of person who, if she came to school with a full box of Twinkies, by the end of the day, she’d have given all but one of them away. She can be funny too. Once she told me that when she grew up she’d start a restaurant called Frickin’ Chicken, and their specialty would be flipping the bird.”
He laughed.
I dreaded prom night, but I needn’t have, because on that night, Bernice suddenly got the stomach flu, as bad as she’d had in elementary school when she was invited to a pool party or a sleepover. It was yet another wrong I’d done her: robbing her of her prom.

One day, when we were at the lunch table before anyone else, I mumbled, “Bernice, if I’d taken that bet, I’d be asking for my two dollars.”
“What?” I don’t know if she didn’t hear me or didn’t remember the bet.
“Never mind,” I said.
It was less painful to be angry, to justify myself, than to feel guilt. But Bernice made me believe in Hell, and that it had a special place for people like me. I had been complacent, assured that God was on my side in everything I did and believed. But God must have hated me, because Bernice was my friend, and I’d hurt her. And I’d hated her.





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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

squidzinkpen said...
Aug. 23, 2010 at 4:41 pm
I hope the other comment I left showed up! If not, just reply to this and I'll do it again!                                  
 
moosemitts replied...
Aug. 24, 2010 at 1:00 pm
Wow! Thank you so much! This is really helpful. I'll definitely have to rework this story and use some of your suggestions.
 
squidzinkpen said...
Aug. 23, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Welcome to girl world man! This is like the story of every teenage girls' life and I love that!

I'll be a bit more general with this critique than usual because I think it would fit better here than going through every single line and telling you what to change. In your case, I feel that I would be taking away your voice as an author, and that's not what I aim for.

 

In the first paragraph, second sentence, don't bother explaining all of that at once. I mean, you can... (more »)

 
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