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How to Be Perfect
Quickly, button up your plaid kilt in the chill of the wintery room. Like a scene from any coming of age movie, stumble into the bathroom to brush you teeth. Brush your hair mindlessly tugging at the bottom knots and tie it into a tight ponytail with a braid. Add a bow. Stare in the mirror. Smile.
Slide into you desk next to the window with care, opening up your book bag and reaching for your neatly scribed notes. The room is filled with morning noises. Groans. Yawns. Girls whispering about their weekend. Engage in a brief conversation with Brittney next to you. Ask her how Friday night was.
Brittney is polite. She says, “Jane, it so much fun. So much went down.” Her voice is sweeter than sugar, “You should have been there.”
Don’t roll your eyes at her pathetic response. You know she would never have given you the real gossip. She’s your friend but she’s not your friend. She knows you would never have gone.
Say: “I wish I could have come.” Instead, you had to finish Ms. Jackson’s Bio homework.
Before she can reply Mr. Hamilton opens the stiff wooden door with a creak, briskly walking in. When he asks a question be the first to raise your hand, but do so in a nonchalant manner. Amaze people with your attention to detail by adding in that Hitler’s favorite artist was Hans Thoma. Mr. Hamilton is impressed, your classmates will compliment you later on how you are so smart. Don’t let them see you shake your head as you glance out the window. You looked that up last night. It wasn’t in the book. When Mr. Hamilton calls you out for an excellent essay, be bashful. Turn red and look at your desk. Then compliment Brittney’s essay, which you proofread for her.
Never stop smiling.
At lunch you sit with the “popular girls,” but half way through the conversation about Jacob Bradley, the vice president’s nephew, and hot shot at your brother school, make your way over to the “nerds” and engage in a conversation about “Dr. Who.” The nerds compliment you for not being like the “other girls” and the “populars” compliment you for being able to have such a variety of friends. With a laugh, take another bite of your salad.
In the hallways you pass Ms. Jackson, politely ask her how her day is going. She says “Fine, thank-you, Jane. How have you been?” You cross your hands together tilt you head to one side and tell her you’ve been “magnificent as always.” You try not to fidget with your kilt. It’s become itchy. Ms. Jackson smiles. She’s impressed by your maturity, your ability to charm adults. She compliments you on your Bio homework. The Bio homework you missed Brittney’s party for. With a kind nod, continue down the gray hall.
Wonder about the party.
Seat yourself at the head of the meeting table, and pull out your planner. Not everyone is here yet, so talk to Katherine. Katherine is sweet. She says, “You didn’t miss much at the party. Jacob got drunk again and then ‘disappeared’ with Brittney.”
“Same old, same old.”
You both laugh.
“But I actually talked to Jacob for a little. He’s a really cool guy. He gave me his number. I mean, I know he’s a total tool, but still it’s kinda fun talking to him.”
Look down at Katherine’s shoes. You like them.
Two more girls walk in, apologizing for their lateness and at 2:00 you commence.
Student Government Agenda
• Review kilt length proposal draft.
• Ask Penny to print out the minutes from last week
• Discuss Computer Usage Policy and its affects on the student body
• Draw up theme’s for the Winter Formal
• Leave time for suggestions, questions, and concerns
At the end of the meeting Katherine tell you she likes your shoes. Ask if she wants to switch, drawing laughter from the whole room.
When classes end quickly race to the pool. You are swimming the 100 freestyle at the meet today against the rival school. The damp air reeks of chlorine, but your endless hours of practice have made the stench barely noticeable. Your race isn’t until the end, of course, so you cheer on your teammates, holding up the signs your made for them in your free time and giving each girl a hug as she exits the pool. They love you for it. The meet comes down to your race. You wish Katie were swimming it. She is much better than you. You’re the third best on the team. You didn’t have time to be as good as Katie and Callie. Wish you had practiced more. Slide down your goggles, squeezing them tight. They hardly affected the life-long headache. Swim. Win. Your team huddles around you. They can’t see you amidst the chaos, so you don’t have to smile.
From the pool, run across the lawn to rehearsal. You didn’t have time to dry yourself and your hair has frozen at its tips. Apologize profusely to the director, Mr. Ash, for being three minutes late, despite the fact he does not mind. Hop on the brightly lit stage, high fiving Ben, your co-lead from the brother school and the boy you’d have to kiss in act three. You’ve been laughing about the scene all week, because you are such good friends. He would never kiss you in real life. Maybe because he’s gay. Maybe because he’s not. As he sings his ballad, in the most beautiful voice, you’ve ever heard, question whether that kiss counts as your first.
Lug the heavy canvas you painted in art onto the bus. You won an award for it. Jamie sits across from you and says, “That is amazing, Jane. I don’t know how you do it! You are so smart, and you are the lead in the play, you are an amazing swimmer and singer and don’t you play the guitar? You’re the head of five clubs and student government, and now I see you’re an artist. Come on you’re perfect!”
Don’t cringe. Smile and recite, “there’s no such thing as perfect, and if there were it would be you.”
Spend the rest of the bus ride reading The Stranger by Albert Camus. Take breaks between chapters to gaze out the window and think about how much you hate Meursault––the crazy man, who threw his life away, just because. Hate Meursault as much as you hated Holden Caulfield. They needed to pull it together.
Your mom is in the kitchen when you get home. Your dad isn’t home from work. She comes to the door to greet you with a kiss. You pull off our plaid kilt and place it on the steps to be washed with extra fabric softener later. You are not smiling.
“Hi T!” She has abbreviated Cu-T-ie-Pie over the years.
You sigh. “Hi.”
“How was your day?”
“It was fine mom. I have to go do my homework.”
She flounces around the kitchen with a grin.
“Okay. What’s that?”
“It’s that painting I was telling you about.”
She gets excited. “The one you one that award for? Let’s see!”
With a huff you turn the canvas around as she “Oooos” and “Ahhhhs”
“We will put it next to your other awards. Do you want some cheese and cucumbers?”
“No. Mom, I really need to go study. I need to do a lot of work tonight and I probably am going to skip dinner.”
You hate yourself for the look that crosses your mother’s face. She has so much patience. She really does and she tries so hard, but you just don’t have time.
You climb upstairs. As you pass your younger brother’s room you hear him talking to some girl on the phone, a classmate from his free-spirited co-ed school. Roll your eyes and think of how he will never get into Harvard. Grab your pens, paper, and books galore and study till 1:00 AM, looking up more useless facts about Hitler. Listen to the silence of the house. Stare at your bare feet and think of Katherine’s shoes.
It would be outside after the party, waiting for your parents to pick you up. In your long sleeve, flowy green velvet dress you would say, “Hey, you’re Jacob right?”
He’d smile and run his fingers through his hair, “Ya, you’re Jane right. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
He’d notice you were shivering and offer you his navy jacket. When you didn’t stop shivering, he’d ask you how you planned on surviving the winter, and you’d reply, “Hot chocolate.” He’d laugh you’d continue to talk, he’d give you his number and you would hang out next Saturday.
Spell out some profanity on the steamy glass door, starting with “Bull” and ending with the letter “T.” Turn the shower off and think of how he actually would never talk to you. You are far too smart, too feminist, too artsy, too sporty, too perfect for Jacob Bradley. Plus he’d never date a girl who didn’t drink.
Stumble out of the bathroom like a scene from any coming of age movie, your hair, wet and wild, your retainers in, your arms crossed, holding your fuzzy, button down PJs close to your body. Turn off the lights. Curl into bed. Stare at the clock: 1:33 AM.
Wake up the next morning and smile.