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The Pity Project
I wrote this piece in the hope that people will read this piece and know that there is no such thing as being perfect. Perfect is just a word, with as much meaning as "good" or "wonderful." We are all perfect in our own ways.
The sun is shining today! It's so beautiful and keeps me warm. Hard to believe something so gorgeous can cause so much damage. Sunburns, skin cancer, wrinkles, aging, cataracts, to name a few. The sun is especially dangerous to me. With pale skin and green eyes, the sun will target me more than those with darker skin. I better put on a squirt of sunscreen (not too much, that creates pimples, not too little, that creates sunburns, aging, skin cancer, just read the third sentence again. I will not waste time repeating what has already been said.) So I open my backpack with my name embroidered on it (high-quality backpacks get stolen so often these days I will need evidence that the backpack was once mine before it was stolen. Then I can report this to the police and justice will prevail) and pull out my sunblock.
The sun actually weaving its way around the enormous gray clouds is a rarity here in Augusta, Maine. Usually you'd look up and get spattered with an army of cold raindrops or a big gray mass. But I don't look up when it’s raining. I'd make a mistake. And you know I strive to never make them. I have my pride, you know.
Each time the raindrops fall I am careful. Every crack, bump, and puddle on the road swamped with muddy water I avoid because cracks, bumps, and puddles result in tripping, falling, and slipping. And I'm almost a hundred percent sure (because no one can be fully a hundred percent sure) that avoiding these small natural disasters (yes, they are categorized as natural disasters. For once, go and read Science Today) will reduce the chances of me making any careless and unwanted mistakes. So today I am jumping, carefully, over the brown puddles on the sidewalk, galloping gracefully around the black bumps on the road, and you think I look like a complete idiot when my feet skadoodle around the many, many, cracks on the roads of Augusta. But I'm not a complete idiot. I know that. You don't though.
You think you know everything about me just by looking at my face and scrawny body. Just a scared little nerd with no life or hope. First of all, nerds are intelligent at school but completely clueless at life, and I am definitely not clueless. How dare you insult me. For shame.
Second, I have a life or else I wouldn't be telling you this. I would be sprawled on the ground, dead.
Third, I have hope. Hope is a desire for a certain thing to happen. I desire knowledge. Boom.
You try and insult me, but you are no worthy component. Jumbled and mismatched words of hate spit out of that round hole on your face, and your red cheeks inflate and deflate in only milliseconds. A chicken has better pronunciation and grace. A coward has more confidence. I smile at you calmly, tell you to take a deep breath, give you three solid facts that contradict every gobbledygook statement you've said about me, and walk away with bravado. Though I've never had to actually "burn" (or so they call it) someone yet, I am safer prepared. Thankfully, no one has ever tried to insult me (but you). However, I don't think you qualify as a person. A person is a physical being. You're just living in my head.
I finally skadoodle myself to exhaustion as I quickly sprint into school (Eduard's Middle School. Still don’t know who Edward is), passing by the soccer field and lunch tables as I go. But, please, don't go through all of that trouble trying to imagine how gorgeous my school is. The lunch tables used to be beige but now they're sort of a brown rust color. The soccer field is full of dry and scratchy weeds with two rocks on each side as goal boxes. A perfectly horrible place for young minds to mature and develop (but let's not forget, in middle school there aren't just minds developing.)
If development was a glass of water, Ashley Smith's mind would receive a single droplet. The rest of her would be hydrated completely, if you comprehend what I am articulating. I am the complete opposite: my mind would chug down the whole glass of water, but my body is dying of thirst. Don't take that literally though, I fill up my black insulated water bottle five times a day not including before or after school. I suppose all of my body's energy goes into brainpower and not puberty. Every time I look downward all I see is the cement ground. No two big mountains or even small hills stand in the way. Ashley looks downward and she most likely doesn't even see the ground. She sees her two Appalachian Mountains covered by a tight pink crop top. Modest, that's her.
I have always had a mutual dislike with Ashley, you see. Maybe its because of her beauty (blonde hair, blue eyes, two mountains, you get the picture), maybe its because of her confidence (raises her hand in class, flirts too often, wears the tiniest skirts I have ever seen), or maybe its because of her exclusiveness (of girls. Boys are always welcome.) Maybe it's all of it.
I have blue eyes like Ashley, too. But that is the only similarity between us. Understand that I don't boast that I make no mistakes and am perfect. Ashley tells every living soul she meets. Another difference is that I actually am perfect and Ashley is not. She may think she is, but I know better. Yes Ashley, even you stumble when your heel gets stuck in the crack on the road. Also Ashley, I've heard some very scandalous rumors about you. Oh, you bad girl.
School is extremely important to me. Unlike those who think school is an obstacle course in which one can never complete. They believe such hogwash, and therefore they arrive in school with their pajamas on. Yes, you heard correctly. They look like they just rolled out of bed. Now there’s elegance. Margaret is indeed one of those pajama delinquents. I sit behind her during Algebra Honors (that is the only honors class Margaret takes). I have counted all 39 of her kittens and named them. Some include Fluffy, Luna, and Chloe. This only happens when I finish a test early. I never daydream in class. You can ask Fluffy, Luna, or Chloe. But take into account that they are all near Margaret’s derriere area and talking to fake kittens will make you look like a complete and utter buffoon. So maybe it wouldn’t be the best idea.
As I was saying, school is extremely important to me. It is an amazing opportunity to learn and eventually go to college, receive a well-paid job, and have a successful life. School is my faith. I am more faithful to school than I am to Christianity. I am a diligent student and always strive to be the best in class. Even though I am only in 9th grade, I’m already in favor of receiving valedictorian for my grade. This should be quite easy as I was always a better student than the pajama wearers and populars.
Today, classes are going well. Mr. Todd gave me an A on my research essay presentation and Mrs. Green assigned us three pages of Spanish homework. Esto debe ser emocionante! I am now walking around outside, finding a decent place to sit.
I tend to eat lunch by myself. No one really interests me or strikes me as excellent friend material. Well, I suppose you do. But you’re just a fragment of my imagination, so that doesn’t count. It’s raining (big surprise). I knew the sun would leave us eventually. I’m glad I wore my raincoat, dark jeans, and converse. Comfy, warm, and totally ordinary. I am fine “swimming with the tide” and “being invisible” because if I don’t I could make a mistake. I could become a hippie and get put in jail for chaining myself to a sequoia tree. Mistake. I could become really social and make lots of friends but then say something mean accidentally and become the subject of all of my friend’s dirty jokes on Twitter. I could get a boyfriend and (God forbid) become like Ashley!
Ashley. Never know where she and her friends eat at lunch. Not that I want to find out. It is one of the very few things I do not want to know. I finally see a fairly clean table by the art room that looks stable enough to hold my lunchbox and I. I round a corner and almost sit when I stop, abruptly, in my tracks. Ashley and her friends are eating here! Why does the nicest table have to be near the meanest people? Who’s out to get me? You?! You better not be!
I already have enough people out to get me. Like Ashley. Sitting on (ruggedly handsome- or so they say) Dylan’s lap surrounded by her girlfriends and football players. Politely eating some potato chips and taking tiny sips from her Diet Coke. Wearing a pale blue (see-through) tank top with a purple bra and acid washed jeans. A loose braid with her blonde hair. She laughs with her friends, who are smoking. They think they’re so cool. Finding a hiding place to smoke. Good job. Ashley, you’re so smart. And so pretty. How can I ever compare with your greatness? If Einstein were still here he would congratulate you on finding such a perfect spot to smoke. No, actually, Einstein would want to dissect your brain to prove his theory that some minds are just filled with smoke. 100 bucks his theory is correct.
I need to get out of here. I start to walk backwards, slowly, but the smoke is overpowering: I cough. Ashley turns and looks around. Our blue eyes meet. She smirks and flips her hair. She makes me sick. Actually, she could get sick, what with all those potato chips packed with sodium, carcinogenicity sweetened Coke that rots your teeth, and the inhalation of smoke. Lunch and health of champions.
I, on the other hand, try to sit as far away from the smoke as I can and have designed a special lunch that is both healthy and delicious. Lemon tea (vitamin C and strengthens bones), broccoli salad (vitamin K and vitamin C), baked potato (cell building folate, yes folate, look it up), cold salmon (omega 3s), walnuts (omega 3s), avocado (good fats and fiber), and cooked spinach (high in lutein and zeaxanthin. The dictionary is that way). I also eat an apple every night as a special treat. Red, crunchy, and full of natural sugars. Ashley’s coke is brown (appetising color), bubbly, and full of chemicals and sugar. Which one do you think keeps the doctor away?
Finishing my avocado, I walk back into school and to Robotics with Dr. H. Robotics is one of my favorite classes because it deals with both science and engineering. Sitting in my seat near the back of our cold classroom, I see Dr. H come in wearing his usual clean cut coat and tie. It would be so entertaining to see Dr. H and Margaret together. The juxtaposition would be hilarious! Dr. H announces that all 8th graders must miss this class and go to the music room to practice the Christmas carols. He looks at me and says I must go too. Before I started 9th grade the teachers decided that even though I skipped 8th grade, I should still participate in the 8th grade events and field trips. I am usually fine with this, but I hate singing! I’m a scientist and doctor, not a singer! Singing is just saying words in a high or low pitch. I don’t need to talk that often and certainly not in pitches like those. I’ll leave that to Ashley, thanks. Leaving the classroom, I shoot Dr. H a sad look, hoping he will let me stay (I am his favorite student, after all). He only smiles and nods toward the door. My right hand grips my left elbow like an instinct. I bite my lip. To the music room.
The music room is the most loved room at Edwards. It has prized instruments and dim lights, creating a warm environment. I usually find students eating their lunch on the bean bags and rocking chairs. I don’t eat there because I like eating in the fresh air, letting the bitter wind nip my ears and nose. My philosophy is that people who eat in the music room with their friends rely on others bringing them happiness. They are what I like to call dependant variables, people who lean on other people for support. I support myself and I am happier eating outside. I am a independant variable.
The populars eat outside too. Not for their own pure joy, but because they aren’t allowed to smoke inside the school. This week Ashley has not been smoking. Yet another rarity. I suppose she was trying to lay off the cigarettes to save her voice for the Christmas carols. Smoking can cause damage to your vocal cords. Though Ashley wouldn’t know that. That’s a fact only I should know. Maybe Ashley did her research. Rarity.
I inch near the back of the music room and wait to hear Mrs. Mathew’s booming voice. Mrs. Mathews is the music teacher. You may be imagining Mrs. Matthew as a jolly big woman with flaming red hair and a tie-dye dress with a hearty appetite for music and food. You have never been more wrong. Mrs. Matthews is a petite woman, frail and kind, with wisps of gray hair and loose clothes. She’s everyone’s darling grandma. People are always careful around her, one big breath and she’ll blow away. The odd thing about Mrs. Matthew is her voice. It’s the exact opposite of her. Loud, powerful, and strong. Like she swallowed a grown man. Sounds like something the redhead woman you were imagining would do. I don’t know Mrs. Matthews well, as I have never signed up for music, but one day I would really like to ask her about that.
“Hello, my munchkins!” Mrs. Matthew says. “I’m sorry that I had to take you all out out class, but we have to practice the Christmas carols. The entire school is coming Saturday night to watch you cuties sing! We need to be ready for that, right loves?”
I stand in my place and calmly mouth the lyrics. I can’t believe I have to spend my Saturday night doing this. Singing is neither productive, efficient, or useful in any way (unless you’re into theatre). My complainful thoughts are interrupted by Mrs. Matthew.
“Ashley, dear, your voice is fabulous! Come, darling, stand in the front row. Yes, come, I want people to hear your voice! By the way chickadees, I hope you all dress nicely Saturday. Dresses for girls, slacks or suits for boys. Remember, this is a service to excite everyone for Christmas and a halfway point in the school year. Please bring your jolly spirit.” Jolly one right here, Mrs. Matthew.
Mrs. Matthew looks at us and goes on “Oh! I can’t believe soon my chickadees will be in high school. I am so proud, so proud.” Mrs. Matthew starts to tear up. Ashley hugs her. I throw up inside my mouth. Spinach flavor.
School ends and I walk home, avoiding cracks, bumps, and puddles. I walk by Edwards Dam (everything’s named Edward these days! Forget Augusta, Maine. Soon it’ll be Eduard, Maine) and make my way into MiraBelle Apartments. I tell “Just Call Me John the Elevator Guy” 4th floor, and up I zoom into apartment 36. Home.
The cold wood greets my feet as I take off my sneakers, pick them up, and walk through the apartment. I walk out onto the patio and hose them down. The germs fly off. Much better.
I fill up my water bottle (told you I’m hydrated. Physically.) and toss up a salad. I hear keys jingle and heels click. Mom must be home early today. She’s a law professor at a prestigious university and has to attend complex seminars daily. I have to warn you, she’s a bit wound up (and this is coming from me!)
“Good afternoon, Quinn. Was school educational?” (She asks me this everyday)
“Beneficial.” (I answer this everyday)
“Please elaborate, Quinn. You know I don’t have the time to solicit information from you.”
I glance at mom. She is typing on her phone. I don’t say anything. Mom looks up.
“I have to leave soon; there’s another seminar downtown. It will end late. Please don’t wait up. Sleep well.” With that, mom grabs an Evian and apple and clicks out the room.
I take my salad out to the patio and eat overlooking the giant river. Rain starts to fall again. I look down and finish my salad. Taking my backpack, I walk to my presentable gray room and start my homework. Time flies by. My alarm clock strikes and I pack up my homework. I have an omelette and read outside in the cool, calm air. Dad must be working on a hard case again. He’s a lawyer with a notable law firm.
Saturday arrives. I wake up and unsurprisingly find a note from mom and dad. Dad has work and mom has a meeting and they want me to be a “polite young lady” while they’re gone. Ok, when have I not been a “polite young lady”? What does polite mean anyway? Ashley could qualify as polite! (if compared with a rat) I am polite. Sure, I’m not the most social or chatty, but that doesn’t impact my respect towards others! I could respect the president and he’d never know it! Are my parents implying that I not polite! Heck, I single-handedly am raising myself, keeping a tidy room, preparing my own meals, maintaining high grades, and entertaining myself! All my parents have done is provide food and shelter! I know this has nothing to do with politeness. I apologize and especially for my cruel language. But why tell someone to be something if they already are? I am polite and am in the stage of puberty (or so I’ve been told), so I’m already a polite young lady! This bothers me most of the day when I organized my bookshelves by the author’s last name (it relaxes me), read, thought, and watered Mrs. Jandle’s plants (she lives below me). Mom’s keys jingle through the front door at 7 when I was putting the salmon in the oven. She storms into the kitchen, clearly frustrated.
“Quinn, were you a polite young lady while we were gone?”
“Yes, mother.” I am unsure of what to say next. I am always polite, why doesn’t my mom see that? My anger that was running through my veins all day bubbled up to my chest. I have to keep my composure. “I am a polite young lady we you are here, too.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say polite, Quinn. A polite lady should greet her teachers and fellow students in the morning at school. And from what I’ve heard, you have done nothing of the sort. This morning I have had a meeting with your teachers at school. They are worried, Quinn.”
My anger starts leaking a bit. “Since when have you cared about how I am in school? All you ask me is if school was educational and it is!”
“They say you are extremely quiet and have not made any friends. You are too conscientious, Quinn. This will have to change. A proper and civil woman should have friends to talk with.”
“Why will it have to change, mother? Being polite is more that just a pretty smile and greeting. Politeness also centers around respect and--”
“Don’t talk to me with attitude, miss! Your father and I have done nothing to deserve this!”
“I’ve done nothing to deserve this, too!”
“What are you talking about, young lady?”
“I am talking about raising myself! You and father are the parents, you are supposed to be parenting and present! I’m tired of being a pet to you. I’m your daughter! Your perfect, perfect daughter…”(The tears I have been holding in erupted through my eyes)
“Perfect? You are far from perfect, Quinn. Now, there is a concert being put on by the 8th grade, the teachers told me. They say you have been practicing. If you want to try and start repairing the damage you have given me, I suggest you go.”
Suggest? More like force.
I sulk as I slump to my room, carefully picking out a good dress to wear in my mind. I finally decide to wear a royal purple dress with a cross back (which I wore to my mom’s friend’s wedding). After a quick brush through my hair, I go into the kitchen barefoot.
“I don’t have any shoes to wear.”
“Don’t be whiny, Quinn. Fix your hair.” Mom says while typing on her phone. “I will let you wear a pair of my shoes if you promise not to break them. I expect you to be an angel tonight, Quinn.”
I pull my hair back and smooth it with gel. Then I storm into mom’s closet. I am greeted with colors and glistening beads delicately hanging on glass hangers. Turning right, I see mom’s shoe collection. There are about 6 heels on each of the 5 dark wood shelves. I don’t see any flats. I can’t wear heels or else I could trip or fall. That would be a mistake. Unfortunately, it looks like I’ll have to take that chance if I want to try and get back in mom’s good graces. I choose black leather Mary-Janes because they are the ones with the smallest heel.
Mom is pleased. “You look presentable, Quinn. Now come, let’s go.”
“Coming!” I grab a silver purse and shove in an old edition of Science Today. Something to do if I’m bored.
It’s almost 9 when we get to school. Mrs. Matthews looks pleased when she sees me.
“Yes, of course! Gwen! Are you ready, darling? Now come everyone, places onstage!”
Gwen and Quinn. Two names that sound sooo similar.
I get to my place at the back of the group. Everyone is dressed nicely. Even Margaret is wearing a blue pencil skirt and blouse. Ashley, of course, is sporting a glittering black long dress with dangling pearls. Her blonde hair tied up into an elegant knot. About half the boys are staring at her. Oh, brother.
Mouthing the songs was not fun. Shocking, right? But it was entertaining to watch the audience’s faces as they coo over how well we sing. After the performance, I squeeze around parents and teachers to find my mom. Everyone I pass congratulates me over how well I sang. I guess my mouthing trick worked! I don’t see mom, though. I walk back to the stage and ask Mrs. Matthews if she has seen her. In her booming voice, she tells me she hasn’t. 20 minutes of searching comes and goes. I still haven’t found mom. You whisper to me “It will all be alright.” I hate when people say that! How do you know it will all be alright? You don’t! You know just as much of what’s going to happen as I do! So keep your mouth shut and let me focus. I check the bathroom, walk through the theatre again, and start peeking into classrooms. Each door I open creaks as I peek through (our school needs a repair job. Or better, a complete makeover.), but all I see are empty chairs and desks. Maybe she went to the office? Maybe she’s in her car? The office was locked and dark as I peered through the window. I hustle to the parking lot on my heels with great difficulty to find mom’s car there, but mom not inside. Where did mom go? She was never one to wander off. Scratch that. She was never one known to wander off without me knowing. I lean next to mom’s car and catch my breath while my sweat starts to form.
I suppose I should just wait here. I call dad. He picks up.
“Umm, good evening father.”
“Quinn, why are you calling me? I’m working on a difficult case. You know that if you need something you should call mother.”
“But father, mother’s--”
“Young lady, call your mother. Good bye now.”
He hangs up. Good one on you, dad. Thank’s for your help.
I slip my heels off and massage my feet sitting on the black rubble next to the car. Then I start reading Science Today. Yes, I start reading. Do you have any better ideas?
A half hour goes by. Parents and kids walk to their cars and leave.
An hour. Margaret leaves with her dad. And slips on her pajamas in their car. Typical.
An hour and a half. Teachers and staff leave. Mrs. Matthew waves and calls me Gwen once more. Do I look like a Gwen to you?
2 hours. Ashley’s crowd hops in a taxi. Good riddance.
2 and a half hours. I hear crickets.
1 o’clock strikes. It gets cold and starts to rain again.
“Hey girl, whatcha doing here?”
I look up, startled, and see Ashley in her black gown and pearls, now wearing a puffy white jacket and holding an umbrella, staring at me. For a second I thought she was Marilyn Monroe. I mean, she certainly has the figure and blonde hair. But then I remember that Marilyn Monroe is dead.
“Waiting for my mother.”
“There’s nobody here. I was the last to leave the building when the school locked.”
“You must be mistaken.”
“I could be.” Could be? Must be, Ashley.
She holds the umbrella over my head as she sits beside me. Ashley sitting beside me! Her perfume stings my nostrils and overpowers my senses. Uumm, Ashley? Be a dear and get lost? No, I can’t say that… could I?
“Don’t you have to go home now?” I decide on asking.
“Nah. Marcey and dad don’t really care what time I get home as long as I get home.”
“Marcey?” Curiosity gets the better of me.
I can’t talk with Ashley! She’s a monster that smells like Channel. A beast with blonde hair. A creature that drinks Diet Coke! I scoot away from her and her umbrella into the rain. I keep my head down, don’t worry.
“You’re going to catch a cold if you stay out in the rain too long.”
“Why do your care?”
“I don’t,” she says “I’m just warning you.”
“Thanks but I’m fine.”
I am still unsure why Ashley is here, talking with me. Doesn’t she have better things to do? I mean, it’s Saturday night. Shouldn’t she be at a party or something?
“Why are you sitting here, with me?” I ask. “You don’t even know me.”
“You just looked like you could use a friend.”
“You’re not my friend.” I snap.
“You looked like you could use someone.”
“Well, you’re wrong. I don’t.”
“What? Are you just going to wait here all night?”
“You’re nuttier than a fruitcake.”
“Nobody says that anymore, Ashley.” Ashley. The letters A-S-H-L-E-Y sound strange together coming out of my mouth. I smile slightly.
“I know. It’s just fun to say because it makes no sense.” Ashley says.
“Yes it does.” I say.
“Fruitcake has nuts in it. And being ‘nuts’ means being crazy.”
“Well then, you’re nuts.”
We sit silently. I scoot closer to her because I was getting cold. She may be a beast, but she’s a beast with an umbrella.
“I forgot your name. What did you tell me it was? Sorry.”
“I didn’t tell you. My name is Quinn.”
“Nice to formally meet you, Quinn. By the way, how did you know my name is Ashley?”
“Everyone knows your name is Ashley.”
She giggles and then we listen to the crickets. My mind whirls. Ashley, the one person whom I hated, was being nice to me and making me laugh. Has the universe flipped? Am I in Antarctica? (I wouldn’t be surprised if I was. It’s cold enough to fool me.)
Ashley breaks my thoughts.“I’ll help you, Quinn.”
“Finding your mom.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I want to.”
We walk around the school. Past the weedy soccer fields and rusty tables and around the back near the bathrooms and basketball hoops. We talk and use light from our phones to find my mom, huddled under her umbrella. I feel so rebellious. This feeling needs to stop.
“Want a cigarette?” Ashley asks me a few minutes later.
I knew it. I knew this was wrong. I am in Maine, not Antarctica. Ashley is a smoker, rebel, scandal, and popular girl. We have nothing in common. Zero. 10 bucks we don’t even have the same pinkie toes! I don’t know why I was talking to her in the first place. I run, barefoot in the rain, to mom’s car. Ashley calls and runs after me. I look behind me, see her struggling with her umbrella (guess big ol’ Ashley isn’t that strong) and finally seeing it soar out of her hands, become distracted, and then trip and fall. Um, ouch. Ashley kneels beside me. We both breathe heavily and shiver in the flooding rain. And to think a few hours ago I was putting salmon in the oven. Now I have my wet face in black rubble, freezing, sprawled next to my arch nemesis, Ashley. I envy the salmon.
“Are you okay?”
“No, but I’ll be better when you leave.” That’s right, Quinn. Give her some smart sass!
“Hey, you don’t have to be mean. I’m just trying to help you.” Ooh. Too sassy? Nah!
“Don’t try. Go away” Take that, Ashley.
“Fine!” Ashley looks at me, huffs, and starts to walk away.
“Wait,” I say weakly. My knees are scraped and my hip hurts tremendously. I realize I need help getting on my feet. So much for sass.
“Ugh!” And with that, she helped me up.
With the umbrella gone, we keep looking for mom in the rain. I am slightly leaning on Ashley to help avoid the pain and swelling.
“Uh, Quinn?” Ashley asks me.
I don’t talk for a second.
“Why should I say thank you?” I finally ask Ashley.
“Because I helped you when you fell.”
“The only reason I fell was because I was running from you.”
“Why were you running from me?” Ashley looks genuinely hurt.
“You, uh, were offering me a cigarette.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No, uh, well…”
“What?” Ashley stops walking and faces me, her hair wet and her mascara running.
“I just, uh, realized, er, came to the conclusion of…”
“Get to the point.”
“You’re a popular and cool girl, Ashley. Everyone loves you! You think you’re perfect, but there’s a lot more to perfect than just being loved. And you’re not perfect. You smoke and stumble and swallow your words like every other human in this world! And you, you, um, binge watch!” I don’t know why I said that. Sounded better in my head.
“And what do you know about being perfect?! And binge watching?!”
“I am perfect! I never make any mistakes! And I do my research on binge watching!”
“You said every human in this world makes mistakes.”
“Every other human! Other than me!”
“Would a perfect girl trip and cut up her knees?” Ashley asks.
I jaw falls open. Realization hits me. I made a mistake. Perfect me made a mistake. My successful life has a bump in the road, an obstacle in the course, a big fat F. Failure. I am now like Margaret. Margaret! My whole reason of being here was to not make mistakes and live a purposeful life, but I failed that. What have I done? What did I do?!
“I need to go.” I mutter to Ashley. I want to sprint to the parking lot and hire a taxi. Mom can be found later. My right eye starts to form a tear. My hands shake and my head spins and makes me nauseous.
“Oh, no you don’t.” Ashley grabs me as I starts to run.
“I need to go. Please let me go!” I say while struggling to break free.
This goes on for about 5 or so minutes before I finally stop struggling and sit down.
“Now, take a deep breath.” Ashley instructs.
“Quinn, it’s not a big deal. You made a mistake. So what? The thing is, I see you everyday at school. You’re always in the corner, thinking and serious. Having no fun. Is that being perfect? You work yourself too hard. Is that being perfect? Being rude to me. Is that being perfect? You don’t sing. Do perfect people not sing? Perfect is just a word, not a task to complete and check off. It’s not your duty to fulfill perfect, Quinn. Nor is it anyone else’s. Being perfect is as real as saying “being good.” Good is just a word. Humans invented that word, among thousands of others, to communicate with one another. Good is not a lifestyle. Perfect isn’t either. And being perfect won’t make you a better person, Quinn. If you think you’re perfect, then you can’t learn from things you’ve done wrong. Perfect, I understand, isn’t just a word to you. It’s your guide. But perfect can’t help you become a better person. All throughout the years of your life, you’re changing mentally and physically, though you may not know it. You start understanding more about the world and act accordingly. But you, Quinn, will not progress. You will stay stuck in your “perfect” mindset. Your world will not expand or grow. And being only a teenager, it will affect you when you’re older. So please, Quinn, don’t try to be perfect. Because if you do, you will be 14 forever.”
I stare at her.
“Ashley, you’re smart?”
Ashley smiles. “Is that all you’ve gotten out of my meaningful speech?”
“No. I understand what you’re saying.”
“So… you’ll stop being perfect?”
“I don’t know, Ashley. Being perfect helped me find my way in the world. It would help me achieve my goals, have a successful career, be a good person. Who’s going to help me now? Who’s going to show me a new path?”
Ashley grins. “You look like you need a hug.”
“Hug? No, I’m not a hugger.”
Ashley ignores what I say and hugs me. I feel warm and calm in her arms. The fur on her coat tickling my skin. While we hug, Ashley says “I’ll show you a new path, Quinn.”
Great. A new path paved by Ashley and a perfect life destroyed. Merry Christmas.
I Uber home. Once home, I collapse on my bed, still wearing the purple dress. The next day I hear a knock at the front door. Mom! Ever since last night, I’ve been feeling lonely without my mom. Even though she isn’t the greatest, I realize that I love her and look up to her. I smile when thinking that she’s the only person (besides my dad) that has more drive and perseverance than I do.
Still groggy from sleep, I stagger to the door, my hip swollen, walking past dad’s note saying he went to work. I never really got to telling dad about mom missing, I told you, I just when to my room and passed out. And I doubt dad realized mom wasn’t there when he came home from work or left for work this morning. Work, work, work, work. And why a note telling me where he went? Like I have no clue where he goes every single day and brings back money? You say when I put it that way, he could be gambling. No, gamblers don’t walk around with a black leather suitcase and wear slacks everyday. Drunk gamblers could, you respond. Okay you. Try imagining my dad drinking a mojito while gambling the bundles of cash in his pockets, a few girls oooohing and aaaahing. You can’t? Go figure.
I get to the door and am surprised to see Ashley.
“Hey.” She says.
“Hi. Um, what are you doing here?” I’m a little embarrassed.
“Oh, just wondering if you had any plans today.”
“No, I don’t.”
“You do now. We are going to find your mom.” Ashley tells me.
I invite her in and quickly throw on my usual jeans, black converse, white shirt, and raincoat. I walk in the living room and see her looking around.
“Your home is very clean.”
“Yeah.” Too clean, I think. “ Do you want something to eat, Ashley?”
“I’m good. We can grab something later.”
“Where are we going?”
“First I need to know everywhere your mom goes.”
“More or less.”
“Okay.” I think for a moment. “The college she works at, um, er, I guess the market and um…” I realized that other than work at the college, I have no idea where else my mom goes. But then again, the majority of her time is spent at the college.
“Cool. We can check out the college, and then take the subway around town and scan the area.”
“Yeah. Fastest way to travel around in a short amount of time. My friends and I practically live on the subway.”
“I don’t know. Maybe we should just take a cab. The subway’s pretty dangerous. There are lots of robberies there. And lots of germs. Did you ever think that every time you put your hand on the subway’s railing that millions of other people’s hands touched it before you? Doesn’t that kind of scare you?”
Ashley thinks for a second. “You’re right. We should take a cab.” she says. “I’ve never really thought about it that way.”
“Most people don’t.”
Ashley smirks. “But you’re not like most people, are you Quinn?”
“Correction. Most people aren’t like me.”
We laugh out of the apartment.
As Ashley and I hop into a cab, I am still in shock that Ashley is here. Helping me. While I may look cool and excited for the adventurous day ahead, in my head I’m panicking. Is Ashley trying to prank me? Why was she nice to me last night? Why did she give me advice? Why is she going to spend her Sunday with me? How does she know where I live?! But what I really think is bugging me is the lingering question: why am I spending my Sunday with Ashley? Why am I spending time with her at all? And my mom! Where is she? Did she even come home last night? Was it for work? I HATE not knowing the answers. Makes me feel nauseous. Don’t mock me. Different people have different triggers for nausea. For some it’s car rides, or food poisoning, or boat rides, or pregnancy, or infections, or viruses, or bulimia, or making mistakes, or heart attacks, or Ashley, or not knowing the answers. Stop laughing.
The cab ride isn’t making my nausea any better too. The car was hitting all of the bumps on the road and spinning this way and that. I tell the driver to open the window. If I do throw up, at least it won’t be in the cab. But the cool air outside calms me, and my nausea slowly fades away. Ashley is concerned, though.
“Quinn, you alright?”
“Yes. I just felt like I was going to throw up.”
“You’re not going to throw up.”
“How do you know?”
“There’s nothing in your stomach to throw up. You didn’t have breakfast, remember?”
“No.” I say. “I could throw up digestive enzymes. Or mucus. It doesn’t necessarily have to be food.”
“Fine, but can we please stop talking about this. It’s making me feel nauseous.”
“What makes you nauseous, Ashley? Car rides, fear, food poisoning, pregnancy?” I smirk at Ashley.
“No comment, Quinn.”
Ooh, Ashley is sooo busted.
We drive up to mom’s college. It’s huge! White columns, blurs of stained glass, bright green freshly trimmed grass, and modern glass structures catch my eye as we drive by to the parking space. I pay the driver and nervously walk in with Ashley. We are stopped by a security guard.
“And who are you girls?” He asks suspiciously.
Ashley grins “I’m Ashley and this is Quinn. We’re here to see Quinn’s mom.”
“What might your mom’s name be,Quinn?” He looks at me.
“Um, Jennifer Parker. She teaches here. Sir.” I add.
“Jennifer Parker…” He looks at a list. “Don’t see any Parkers.” He says after a minute or so. “I am going to have to give you some papers to sign, if you’ll come with me…”
“But my mom really does teach here!” I say.
“Sure kid, if you can follow me…”
“Nope!” Ashley yells and grabs my hand. We run into the school.
Woah. There are windows with gold frames, plush red chairs on a emerald rug, a bookcase, and a front desk with two women typing on their computers. I see some students who smile as they pass by us. They are all wearing a uniform: black pencil skirts or slacks, and a collared white shirt and tie. The whole area just feels fancy. I wonder why my mom has never taken me here. It’s amazing. I look behind me and see the security guard running closer to us. I look at Ashley and ask, “Where should we go?!”
Ashley yells, “Just run!”
We run past the bookcase and front desk and into a long hallway. We find a broom closet and lock the door.
“Whew!” I say. “We almost were caught!”
“See, Quinn. Wasn’t that fun?”
“Fun? No, Ashley. That was everything but fun. That was fear. Fear of getting arrested for SNEAKING INTO A COLLEGE!”
“You’re such a worrywart.”
“Maybe, but you’ve never seen me in jail, have you?”
“No, but you haven’t seen me in jail either.”
“The day is young, Ashley.”
“What should we do now?”
Ashley thinks for a moment. “We should change into the college uniform to fit in so that mean security guy can’t find us, then ask teachers and students what they know about your mom.”
“Okay, but where do we get their uniform? It’s not like we can sneak into the dormitories.”
Ashley’s eyes gleam.
“No, Ashley. That’s illegal.”
“Do you want to find your mom or not?”
“Ok. Let’s go.”
We open the broom closet a little and peek outside. A girl walks past us. Ashley whispers to me, “It’s now or never.” We walk up to the girl.
“Hi!” Ashley says. “I’m Clara, and this is my friend Bryn.” Bryn, Ashley? Seriously?
“Uuh, hi? I’m Liberty. Er, Liberty Presley.” The girl says.
“Hi Liberty! So, like, we, like totally locked ourselves out of our dormitory and, like, need uniforms right now to take a test. But we don’t have time to get new keys. May we, like, please borrow two of your uniforms?”
“Um, how old are you?”
Ashley smiles, “Sixteen and fresh out of high school.”
The girls gapes, “Sixteen?”
“Yep. Being smart has it’s pros, you know. How old are you?”
“Older than you.”
“Well?” Ashley says. “Can we borrow some of your uniforms? From one wise master to the rookies?”
“Yeah, okay.” The girl says and smiles. “My dorm is this way.”
We follow Liberty to her dorm and walk inside. It’s cozy: three beds, a big desk, gray walls, a small sofa, and a closet. There’s a One Direction poster on the wall that faces the school. Maybe to show her the “one direction” to her classes. Not funny? Well, you try crack a joke! I don’t know. What do you get when you cross a fish and elephant? Oh, come on! Swim trunks? I’m laughing so hard.
Liberty reaches into the closet and pulls out two pencil skirts, two colored white shirts, two ties, and two black flats. “Here you go.”
“Thanks, Liberty!” Ashley exclaimed. “Can I call you Lib?”
“If you want.” Lib says. “I need to go. You can change in the bathroom down on the right.”
“Thanks!” Ashley says.
We change in the bathroom. I was a little self conscious changing in front of Ashley, but I’m not perfect anymore, so what do I have to lose? You say I’m losing my dignity. I say you’re right. Ashley puts my hair into a low ponytail with some stands framing my face and spritzes some of her perfume on me, saying it’s “the college girl fragrance.” And how does she know that? She’s not even in college! I style Ashley’s hair into a quick bouffant bun and show her how to put on a tie. While I show her, Ashley tells me she wants us to have nicknames.
“Nicknames?” I ask. “Quinn doesn’t have enough letters to be shortened more.”
“I can call you ‘Quie.’” Ashley says.
“‘Quie?’ Elegant, Ashley.”
“Fine. No nickname for you. But you can nickname me!”
“I guess I can call you… er… Lee? To rhyme with Quie?” I ask.
“Lee. I like it!”
After changing, Ashley, I mean Lee, and I start walking back to the front desk.
“Do you want to talk this time, Quie?” Lee asks me.
“Um, sure.” I say.
We get to the front desk.
“Er, hi.” I say, nervously. Can you help me and not just bug me and make jokes about swim trunks?!
“Names?” The woman asks while she types.
“Oh, um. Bryn and, er, Clara. F-freshman.”
“Hello there. How may I help you?”
“I, um, we...er, were wondering, um…”
“Yes?” The woman raises her eyebrows. Never a good sign.
“Don’t worry Quie. She’s just a person. You got this.There are worse things than a women raising her eyebrows. Like the rainbow loading wheel that pops up on a Mac.” Ashley whispers to me. Rainbow wheel?
I take a deep breathe. “We were wondering if you knew where Jennifer Parker, er, Mrs. Parker is.”
The woman smiles “I’m sorry. Mrs. Parker is unavailable right now. She’s at a meeting.”
“Where?” I ask.
The woman looks at us. “None of your business.”
“Please?” I ask.
“Why are you so desperate in seeing Mrs. Parker anyway? I don’t think she teaches any freshman classes.”
“Lee!” I whisper. “Help now?”
Ashley chimes in “We were interested in the summer internships for pursuing a career in law.”
“I see. Mrs. Parker is in room 1B55F.”
“Thank you.” Ashley says and we’re off.
“My mom’s here Lee! I don’t understand. Why is she here? What about last night? Where was she last night? Did she ever go home? How did she get here?”
“Quinn, calm down. I don’t know how your mom got here. But we’ll know soon. 1B55F… 1B55F…” Ashley looks at a map. “We’re on the 2nd B floor. So we need to go down. Stairs!” We race down the stairs and through the halls.
“Ashley!” I say. “Here! 1B55F!”
We were about the open the door when a bunch of teachers walk out. After the last one leaves, Ashley whispers to me “I’ll be here. Go.” and pushes me inside. Sure enough, there was my mom, typing on her computer, as if nothing ever happened last night.
Mom looks up.
“Good morning Quinn. Why are you wearing a uniform? You don’t attend school here. Take it off.”
It’s so nice to hear her voice again. And her loving character.
“What are you doing here?”
“I didn’t know where you went last night. After the show I couldn’t find you.”
“I had a last-minute meeting.”
“Did you take a taxi?”
“No I took the car.”
“But when I came to the parking lot after the show, I saw your car.”
“It wasn’t my car, then. You are mistaken.”
Jeez. What is it with me and mistakes now?
“Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving?”
“I told your teacher, Mrs. Matthews.”
“Mrs. Matthews? But I asked her if she knew where you were and she said no!”
“She said she didn’t know where you went!”
“Strange. Well, you made it home safe, I presume?”
“It’s yes, Quinn. None of that ‘yeah’ buisness.”
“Go on home then, Quinn. I shall be working late.”
“Yes, mother.” Then, as I leave, I quickly hug mom. She flinches, but doesn’t say anything. I hope she feels loved and appreciated. “Tell Liberty Presley thanks for me!” I tell mom.
Once out of the classroom, I tell Ashley mom’s alright.
“Good.” Ashley says. “So, where should we go now?”
“It’s okay, Ashley. Thanks for helping me with my mom, but you don’t have to waste your Sunday on me,”
“First of all, it’s Lee. Second, I’m not wasting my Sunday at all.”
“What about your friends?”
“What about them?”
“Don’t you want to be with them?”
“No. Today I want to be with you.”
I stare, hard, at Ashley. And, suddenly, everything clicks. The whole reason Ashley wanted to be with me. She just wanted to help me find my mom. Forget spending time with me, she just wanted to look good in her friends’ eyes. And the thought actually makes me feel sad, for some reason. “Lee, it’s fine.” I say to her. “The pity project to help a weird nerd find her mom is accomplished. You can go back to your life now.”
“And you go back to yours?”
“I guess.” I look down at my converse.
“Do you want to go back to your regular life? What about all those bad things I told you about being ‘perfect?’”
“I know! I remember what you told me. I also know that good things, fun things, like this adventure we had, never last. Sure, it’s been great. But I don’t want to get my hopes up for nothing.”
Ashley smiles. “Hope that we stay friends?”
“How about friends?”
“I don’t know about friends.”
“Why can’t you just say friends? Being a friend is not a bad thing. Why are you so afraid to commit to a friendship?”
“Because friendships never last!”
“So you’d rather not have a friend than to have one that maybe doesn’t last?”
“Yes. Sort of.”
“That’s bad, Quinn! If you avoid the bad parts of life, you have to avoid the good parts too. Both are intertwined together. They balance each other. If you don’t experience anything good or bad, then you just are. There’s no bumps or slides in the road. No adventure. Nothing at stake. No emotion. Do you want to live your life with no emotion, Quinn?”
“What you don’t see, Ashley, is the risks and danger of emotion. Though it may bring great joy and goodness, it can only do that against sadness, anger, despair. You have to live through both to understand which is which. I don’t want to live like that, Ashley. So I’ve learnt to never make any friends. One because no one, I thought, would be amazing friend material. Two because whenever there is good, there is bad. I don’t want to lose someone, Ashley. I already have gained my family, I don’t gain anyone else. If I don’t gain anything, I have nothing to lose. And if I have nothing to lose, I have nothing to be sad for.”
“Is that what you think, Quinn? No joy, no sadness? You’re crazy, Quinn. You need to leave that world, the world in your brain. Experiences aren’t on a T chart labeled bad and good. It’s not that simple. Experiences are like an S chart, if that even exists, with one experience leading to the next.”
“I don’t even know what I’m saying, Ashley! I don’t know if I want to be your friend! NO ONE HAS EVER ASKED ME BEFORE!” I scream.
“No wonder.” Ashley walks out. Leaving me with you in my own lonely world, no food, and the astonishing surprise that I had made a friend and didn’t even know it.
I hail down a cab. I cry myself to sleep at home. My life is a mess. Oh my goodness! I sound like a teenager! That’s scary.
Three days fly by and Ashley doesn’t speak to me. On the fourth day I decide to eat in the music room and ask Mrs. Matthew why she didn’t tell me where mom was Saturday.
“My dear,” Mrs. Matthew says, “I am so sorry! I was so distracted with the show, darling. Oh, my dear! I must’ve caused you so much trouble.” No offence, Mrs. Matthew, but yes, you did cause me a lot of trouble.
“It’s okay, Mrs. Matthews. You didn’t cause me trouble.” Woah. Did I just lie? Huh. Not so bad for a rookie, you say. Thanks! “I made a, um, er, sort of a friend because of you.”
“You did! That’s wonderful, sweetheart! Who?”
“Well, we aren’t really friends now. But it’s Lee, I mean Ashley.”
“Ashley?” Mrs. Matthew’s face brightens, “Oh, what a girl! Ashley’s a dear! Simply a dear! Wait. Did you say you’re not friends with her anymore? How come? What happened?”
“We had a… falling out.”
“I’m so sorry, love. Do you want to talk about it?”
“It’s okay. I just, er…” I start to feel small and vulnerable. The waterworks erupt once again. Some kids turn to look at me, but I don’t care. I just cry into my tiny hands. I guess Ashley gave me too much emotion now.
“My darling baby! There, there. It’s alright.” Mrs. Matthew pats my back and gives me a tissue. “Look at me Quinn.” I look into her eyes. They’re blue. “It will all be okay.”
“H-how do you know?” I choke. “Scientifically, n-no one knows if anything will be okay. The future is s-still a mystery to them.”
“It’s not to me, Quinn. Scientists can disagree with me all they like, but in my heart I know everything will become better. In my heart I have hope. And to me, hope is more reliable than science. I have hope for you and Ashley.”
More tears fall. “I don’t.” I say to Mrs. Matthews.
“You need to take your mind off of this. Come into one of the practice rooms. I want to teach you to sing.”
“What?” I’m taken back. The tears stop. I can’t sing! It’s a waste of time, hurts my voice, and drains my energy. And do you want to see Quinn Parker drained of energy? Mm-hm. Thought so. “Mrs. Matthews, thank you for offering, but I’m not a singer.”
“Darling, don’t be silly! Just try, please dearie? Think about this,” Mrs. Matthew takes my hand and walks me over to a practice room, “Everyone who has the ability to talk can sing! Sure, some will be better than others, but, in life, there will always be those better or worse at something than you. And in the end, at least you tried. So, please, angel, try?”
“Yay! Who-hoo! You made me so happy!” Mrs. Matthews dances around the room and finally sits down next to the piano. I can’t help but smile.
“Now, dear, let’s see how big your range is. I’m going to play up the scale and on every note let’s sing… how about ooh-waaah-oooh. Ready, sweets?”
“I think so.”
“A little louder, dear. You’re doing fabulous!” Mrs. Matthew says over the piano.
The notes started becoming too high and I couldn’t reach them. My voice was shaking. You tell me to stop and take a break or else I might get hurt. I ask Mrs. Matthews.
“Of course, my dear. Remember, your voice will get stronger every time you sing. But you have a lovely voice, Quinn. Sweet and soft. Lovely! I think I’ll widen your range a bit, strengthen your diaphragm to sing louder and project, and teach you a bit about music. That way, you can practice at home.”
Are we really doing this? Me, a singer? Why not. What’s a few more mistakes anyway?
“Okay. Thanks Mrs. Matthews.”
“Can I see you everyday after school then, dearest?”
“Yeah. Thanks, Mrs. Matthews.”
A week went by and every time I saw Mrs. Matthews I found myself liking singing more and more. There was something about Mrs. Matthews’ enthusiasm and hope for me that made me feel special, like I was the most unique singer that ever walked the Earth. Keeping a secret that I was singing made me feel like I was a part of something bigger, like every living singer was on my side (except Adele. She was just saying hello from the other side. Ha, ha! See, you? I can be funny!) And the more I liked singing, the better a singer I became, at least that’s what Mrs. Matthew said. When I sang, your voice fades away and I start trusting my decisions and choices more than yours. My own voice, in my head and out loud, was getting stronger and more powerful. That is why I’m in front of Ashley’s house. I have decided to apologize and tell her I want to be friends. This is a first for me, so I’m really ne-nervous.
Ashley opens the door and I take a de-deep breath. I c-can’t talk. What d-d-do I say? Maybe I sh-should sing? D-dorkish, but fine. Here w-we go:
“Ashley, I’m v-veeee-rrrrryyyy s-sorrry about what ha-happened
Th-three weeks ago. Three weeks aaaaa-ggooooo.”
“I w-w-want a fr-friend. I want someone t-to t-t-tell secrets t-t-t-to.
Like I’ve b-been t-taking singing lessons fr-ooooom Mrs. Math-Math-Math-oooo!”
“And I m-miss yoooouu. Do-do-do-do-dooooo!” Doo-doo? Wow. I could not sound more stupid and idiotic. Worst. Idea. Ever. Honestly, what the heck was I thinking? I start walking away.
“I MISS YOU, TOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Ashley belts. Woah, she has an outstanding voice. Woah, maybe Ashley can also teach me to sing. Woah, I think I now have a friend. And not one in my head! Bye, you!
Pick on someone else! Because Quinn Parker is a force to be reckoned with!