Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Sequel That Wasn't, Part III


            Samantha Gwynn was outside the Spruces’ cabin, sending her last text.  It was to Charlie—luv u miss u.  She’d only been at camp for ten minutes, and already Uncle Don was taking away her phone, her lifeline.  How would she survive eight weeks?  Just this morning she and Charlie had been in the tree fort in her backyard, fooling around.  Of course, Luke had followed them up there.  Normally, she wouldn’t have minded her little brother horning in, but today was different.  She wanted Charlie to herself.  She wanted to savor every minute.
            Charlie rode the “T” with her into the city.  They kissed goodbye at the bus depot.  “Will you write to me?” Sam said.
            “You know I will,” Charlie said.  He swept the bangs off his forehead and handed her his basketball jersey, number 13.  “I want you to take this.”
            His lucky jersey.  She would wear it to bed every night, she promised.  After all Charlie had done for her, she owed him that much.  She owed him everything.  Did he even realize how grateful she was?
            “Sam!” Evyn was grabbing her arm, snapping her to attention.  “The New York bus!”
            “So?”  Sam said.
            So?  Evyn stared at her.  “The Boys are here!”
            The Boys.  Jono Hollander, Aidan Glass, Benji Steiner, and Seth—“The Dorf”—Dorfman.  The Super Senior Boys.  Their Boys.
            Jono was walking toward them, leading the pack.  It was Jono, right?  This boy with dark hair and faded jeans who looked like Jono—but he was taller and broader, with biceps bulging under his white t-shirt, straining from the weight of his duffel.  
            “Ev!” He dropped his bag and lifted Evyn like she was a feather.  He spun her around while she laughed.
            “What’s up, Iz?”  He fist-bumped Isabelle.
            “Sammy.”  Now he was looking at Sam.  Was this really Jono?  Skinny little Jono Hollander who juggled oranges in every talent show?  Yes.  That crooked smile, dimple on the left.  For the five summers she’d known him, Jono had been smiling.  Even the summer she was a bitch—her angry summer, the summer her dad started drinking again and she was mad at the world—Jono still smiled.
            “Hey,” Sam said.
            “Hey yourself.”
            He was looking at her face, but now he was looking at her chest.  This was not new, because Sam had had boobs since she was twelve and boys were always staring at them.  She was used to it, so why was the heat rising up her neck?  She couldn’t believe she was blushing here, now, in front of Jono Hollander—but a part of her was intrigued that he was so obvious.  He wasn’t even trying to be subtle.
            “Yo, ladies.  Did you miss me?”
            Just like that, the moment passed.  The Dorf was upon them.  Seth Dorfman—with his pink cheeks and crazy curls and Pillsbury Dough Boy body—had Sam, Evyn, and Isabelle in four-way hug.  Then Aidan joined in.  Then Benji.  It was a Super Senior love fest.
            “Who’s the new girl?” Dorf wanted to know.  “She’s hot.”
            There were supposed to be seven of them: Sam, Evyn, and Isabelle; Jono, Aidan, Benji, and Dorf.  All veterans.  All choosing camp over Teen Tours or summer jobs.  Ashley was the surprise—which is to say the shock—Isabelle brought from home.  Sam had heard about Ashley, obviously.  Everyone at camp shared stories from home and taped photos of their friends on the cabin walls.  But Ashley looked nothing like Sam remembered.  She was all Goth and badass, black hair and biker boots.  Who knew?  Sam had tried making conversation on the bus from Boston, but Ashley wasn’t a big talker.  She mostly listened to music and stared out the window.  Which was fine with Sam, who mostly texted Charlie.
            Now, on the patch of grass between Boys’ Side and Girls’ Side, Isabelle made introductions.  Boys, this is Ashley.  Ashley, these are The Boys.  
            Dorf was already working his moves, throwing an arm around Ashley, asking what she did for fun.  Was there anyone Dorf didn’t hit on?  Sam had to laugh.  The Boys were so sweet and harmless, like puppies.  Everyone at camp loved those four.  There would be hookups this summer, for sure, and drama, too.  But Sam wouldn’t miss being part of it.  She had Charlie, and that’s all that mattered.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Sequel That Wasn't, Part II


            Before she left for camp, Ashley dyed her hair.  The label on the box did not lie: this was Blackest Black.  Before, her hair had been the color of whipped butter.  Now, it was the color of tar.
            Ashley’s mother had freaked when she saw it.  Why?  That’s what she wanted to know.  Was this some act of rebellion?  Some adolescent attempt to embarrass their family?
            Ashley felt compelled to give her mother an answer.  I needed a change, she said—the understatement of the century.
            Now, she was stepping off the Greyhound bus with Isabelle, entering Camp Matokwa, where she would live like Laura Ingalls Wilder for eight weeks.  Isabelle hadn’t said much about Ashley’s hair, except to mention her eyebrows, which were still blond. You might want to do something about those, Isabelle said. 
            So Ashley had bought a makeup pencil, a dark, waxy brown.  It made the skin under her eyebrows itch.  She felt like an imposter, a little girl playing dress-up. 
            For the past forty-three days, Ashley had been trying to forget.  David said, “What happens at Sigma Chi stays at Sigma Chi,” so that is what Ashley had been telling herself.  David was Ashley’s brother, a sophomore at Colgate.  Her other brothers, Craig and Jonathon, had gone there before him, and played hockey, and pledged Sigma Chi just like their father.  Before her visit, Ashley had thought she would go to Colgate, too—carry on the Barnum family tradition.   But now she knew she wouldn’t.  She would never go back to that place.
            Every time she closed her eyes, there He was.  She was trying to forget, but she couldn’t.  That night was lodged in Ashley’s memory like a popcorn kernel stuck between her teeth.  She couldn’t shake it.
            And so, she ate.
            Doritos and Oreos and White Cheddar Bugles.  Cookie dough and Cool Whip and whole canisters of rainbow sprinkles.  Food helped, while she was eating it.  Food numbed her senses like a drug.  But afterward, when her stomach was empty and her mind was clear, she knew that she was only hurting herself.  She’d done this shit when she was thirteen.  Bingeing and barfing, the whole vicious cycle.  She’d gotten help and she’d stopped.  Now, she was regressing.  She was, in fact, acting like a baby.
            Cut the crap, Ashley told herself.  So why hadn’t she stopped?  She, Ashley Joy Barnum, had always been lucky.  She had what every girl wanted: she was pretty, she was well liked, and she was successful.  Ashley’s life was a perfect, red, shiny apple, plucked from the highest branch—but then you took a bite and discovered the truth. The apple was brown, rotten to the core.  You gagged, and you spit the whole thing out.
            “Ash?”  Isabelle said. “You okay?”
            Ashley had been so distracted that she hadn’t realized they were walking.  Ashley, Isabelle, Sam, Evyn, and a whole bunch of people she didn’t know, loaded with duffel bags and teddy bears and sleepsacks, shlumping across the field like a herd of buffalo.
            “I’m fine,” Ashley said.
            “You sure?” Isabelle didn’t sound convinced.
            Did Ashley want to lie to her best friend?  No, she did not.  But to tell Isabelle the truth was to tell her about that night, and Ashley did not want to tell anyone about that night.  And so, Ashley smiled.  She willed her pretty lips skyward and opened her blue eyes wide.  She was good at this. 
“I’m sure.”

*          *          *

For the past forty-three days, Ashley had been trying to follow Trish’s advice. Trish had been the leader of the eating disorder group Ashley had attended when she was thirteen.  “Don’t eat your feelings,” Trish would say, “write your feelings.”  Journaling was Trish’s thing.  Whatever emotion Ashley was experiencing, Trish told her to “identify it” and “journal it.”  Was she hungry?  Angry?  Lonely?  Tired?  Putting her feelings on paper, Trish said, would let some air out of Ashley’s “stress balloon.”
Trish was a cheeseball, no doubt, but Ashley had liked going to Group. Trish had helped her.  But now, trying to “identify her feelings” was like trying to read Sanskrit or decipher hieroglyphs on the walls of an Egyptian cave.
Ashley felt like she was going crazy, so this was what she had written in her journal.  “I feel crazy.” (Followed by two pages of the word “why” written in purple pen.)  Writing in her favorite color, Trish had said, would help the process.
So far, purple had not helped the process.
The journal was stuffed inside the massive canvas duffel that was now hanging from Ashley’s shoulder, digging into her skin and bumping against her leg with each step.  Whywhywhywhywhywhy?
            Ashley could feel Isabelle glancing at her.  Isabelle, her best friend since eighth grade.  Isabelle, who had been begging her to come to Camp Matokwa from the moment they met.     
Ashley had agreed in a rebellious moment.  It was January 1st.  Ashley had, just seconds before, hung up the phone on her mother, who had called Isabelle’s house to ream Ashley out for leaving the Davenports’ New Year’s Eve party early the night before.  Ungrateful.  Selfish.  Rude.  Those were her mother’s words.  Okay yes, Ashley had left the party without saying goodbye or thank you.  Okay yes, Ashley had realized that Roland and Alicia Davenport were important clients of her father.  But did her mother realize that she would have said goodbye and thank you if she had not mistaken the coat closet for a bathroom and found her father and Mrs. Davenport doing it against the wall?  Ashley had told her mother gently, but her mother had accused her of lying.  (Lying, despite the fact that Ashley’s father had been caught in such positions before, by Ashley’s mother herself.)  So Ashley had hung up the phone.  She was sick of the drama.  When Isabelle suggested she come to Maine this summer, to get away from her parents, Ashley had agreed.  Camp would be good for her, she thought.  Camp would be an escape. 
The strap of the duffel was ripping into her skin, the sun was burning her eyes.  They seemed to be walking forever, like prisoners on a chain gang. 
Looking at Isabelle now, joking, laughing, Ashley barely recognized her.  She was chipper and ponytailed.  She had a bounce in her step.  Every so often she stopped to bump hips with Sam or Evyn and do some complicated hand slap routine that ended in a whoop.  At school, Isabelle would never act like this.  She was serious and studious, a quiet observer, the yin to Ashley’s yang.   The peanut butter to Ashley’s jelly. 
            “Iz?” Ashley said, reaching for Isabelle’s arm. 
            Ashley could tell Isabelle—right here, right now, while the other girls marched on —she could tell her about that night.  But what if Isabelle didn’t believe her?  What if, like when Ashley told her mom about Mrs. Davenport, Isabelle thought she was a liar?  Or, worse, that she’d gotten what she asked for?  Ashley had, after all, gone to a fraternity party at her own volition.  She’d worn heels.  She’d drunk beer.  What happens at Sigma Chi stays at Sigma Chi. Her brother’s words thrummed in Ashley’s ears.
            “Nothing,” Ashley said.
            Isabelle raised her eyebrows. 
“Just thanks,” Ashley said.  “For bringing me here.”

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Why I Never Throw Anything Out

I had to transcribe this: a note given to me in eighth grade.  I just found it in the bottom of a box. This is why I save everything. 

Tasha, Tasha, I want you to know
that the feelings that I show
are not always true
like the times when I'm kind of mean to you

Don't think that I hate you, I'm never mad
and I'd NEVER make you sad
because you're great, not bad

There is no one I place above
it's only you that I love
you're one person I could never hate
on a 1-10 scale, 10 is what you rate
if boys were fish you'd be the bait
every guy wants to be your date
don't ever change because you're GREAT

You, I never intend to hate or mock
I don't mean to come to the door and knock, knock
I'm glad you said you don't hate me because
the love that I have for you is a lock
that could: never be broken!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Sequel That Wasn't

For a writer, there are few things more mortifying than having a book rejected.  For me, that book is Lake Girls: the sort-of sequel to Perfect, Lush, and Bounce, that brings Isabelle, Ashley, Sam, and Evyn together at summer camp.

My ego may be bruised, but my literary spirit is not broken.  So, for my readers who have been clamoring for a sequel, here is the first installment, book deal or no book deal:


            Pulling into camp, Isabelle saw everything through fresh eyes.  There, at the entrance, was the Matokwa sign with its cockeyed “M.”  There was Uncle Don in his khaki shorts and tube socks, fist pumping the air.  There was the soccer field with its bald patch that never, ever grew grass.  Already the drama counselors were dorking out, chorus-lining on the theater deck. 

            Isabelle felt Ashley’s fingers on her knee, squeezing, digging.  Was she nervous?  Excited?  For years, Isabelle had been begging her to come.  Eight weeks in Maine!  No parents!  Cute boys!  Every time, Ash would say no.  She wasn’t a “camp person.”  (Translation: Ashley Barnum couldn’t survive a day without a blow dryer.  To which Isabelle would say that no one cared about hair at camp.  You just wore a baseball cap, and anyway, half the time your hair was wet—an argument that got her nowhere.)  But back in January, Ashley’s dad had another affair, and she and her mom started fighting all the time.  Ash practically lived at Isabelle’s house, which was when Isabelle embarked on a full-court press.  She brought out the Matokwa photo albums. 

            “Listen,” Isabelle had said, as the two of them sipped hot chocolate in Isabelle’s kitchen, “your parents are crazy now.  Imagine how much crazier they’ll be by June.  Camp is the perfect escape.  You’ll love it, I promise you.  While they’re tearing each other’s hair out you’ll be canoeing and bumper tubing and kissing boys in the woods.”  Isabelle swept her hand over the photos, like a QVC saleswoman. “This could be your summer.”

            “I couldn’t live with all those people,” Ashley said, and Isabelle had to laugh.  Ashley Barnum was captain of the field hockey team, secretary of the student council, and homecoming queen—as a sophomore.  You didn’t get those things just by being beautiful.  You had to be a people person.

            “You don’t have to live with everyone,” Isabelle said.  “Just me, Sam, Evyn, and Coop.”

            Isabelle was referring to her two closest camp friends, Evyn Linney and Samantha Gwynn, and Meredith Cooper, the best counselor ever.  Coop wasn’t just Uncle Don’s niece, Isabelle explained to Ashley; she was a legend in her own right.  Inventor of Smack the Rat.  Winner of the pie-eating contest at Carnival.  The best M.C. of a Matokwa talent show Isabelle had ever seen.

            “Won’t I be a fifth wheel?” Ashley said. 

            “Are you kidding me?” Isabelle said.  “They’ll love you.” 

Ashley was so pretty, so high achieving, that you wanted to hate her, but you couldn’t.  She was too nice to hate.  It was one of life’s great paradoxes.   

            Isabelle had tried to explain their relationship to Coop once.  How she’d idolized Ashley all through elementary school, and how, in eighth grade, when they finally became friends, she felt so lucky.  But the genesis of their friendship was like a bad TV movie: Popular Girl and Fringe Girl meet in eating disorder therapy group, barf together, bond.  Suddenly, there was a confidence between them.  Ashley Barnum had secrets no one knew about but Isabelle.  Ashley Barnum threw up her lunch, Ashley Barnum took Ex-Lax, chink in the armor, chink in the armor.

            Not that Isabelle should talk.  She had flaws, too.  Who didn’t?  For starters, Isabelle wasn’t the best sister.  There was the time she had taken a pair of scissors to April’s favorite mohair sweater and sliced the arms clean off.  She had done this for revenge, pure and simple, after April had taken a pair of Isabelle’s earrings without asking and dropped one down the drain.  Had the violation of the mohair sweater been justified?  Possibly, but still, April was her little sister.

            When her mother had first started dating Jim, Isabelle had behaved horribly.  She had accused her mother of desecrating her father’s memory.  She had told Jim to go to hell.  As soon as the words left her mouth, Isabelle regretted them.  She thought, I am the worst daughter ever.  I don’t even want my own mother to be happy.  Over time, Isabelle discovered that Jim was actually a good guy; he was good for her mom.  But those first few months had not been Isabelle’s finest.

There was the time last summer when Isabelle had slutted it out, sneaking into the woods with Benji Steiner and dry humping him against a tree while the rest of the senior campers roasted marshmallows.  For the last two weeks of camp Isabelle had ignored Benji completely for no other reason than that she was embarrassed by how much she’d enjoyed their time together. 

She once stole a copy of Forever from the library.  She avoided green vegetables.  She hardly ever flossed.  She still cried for her father every few weeks, even though he had been dead for five years.  And then there was this: the sad fact that while she loved Ashley so, so much, she recently—only recently—wished they had never met. 

            No, Isabelle wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot, but at least she could admit it.  At least she wasn’t pretending to be someone she wasn’t. 

            If Isabelle were to be very honest right now she would have to admit that inviting Ashley to camp might have been a mistake.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Mortification Survival Guide

These five easy steps will come in handy when you are, say, riding your 10-speed through the school parking lot and the cute boy you have a crush on waves to you and you crash into a school bus (true story):

1) BREATHE.  Before you say or do anything that will mortify you further, oxygenate.  Take a moment.  Regroup.

2) LAUGH.  A little self-deprecation goes a long way.  If you can’t laugh at yourself, smile.  The simple act of smiling will make you look better and feel better in the face of humiliation.  (This is not your mother talking; this is a scientific fact). 

3) QUOTE SOMEONE AWESOME.  “I am not having a day of power.”  -Anne Lamott . “Jump into my nightmare; the water’s warm.”  -Jerry Maguire

4) OWN IT.  Yes, you are the girl who rode your bike into a school bus. 

5) MOVE ON.  No one act defines your life.   In the words of the late, great F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”  Some day, this singular, mortifying moment may jumpstart a great cocktail party conversation—or even a best-selling Y.A. novel. 

P.S.  The 5 Steps to Surviving Mortification also apply nicely to parenthood.  When you go to pick up your daughter from school and she is, say, on all fours under the snack table, barking like a dog while the other nice little children are sitting in a circle (true story), breathe.  Smile.  Say, “Yup, that’s my girl.”  Give her a hug.  Take her out for ice cream (or a dog biscuit).  This is the good stuff, people.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Prize-winning Challenge

Be the first person to match each mortifying moment with the correct character, and I will send you a Perfect, Lush, or Bounce t-shirt.

Mortifying moment:

1)   “I am left in the dust, still holding a brown bag with my name on it.  I would feel like a loser right now if anyone in the cafeteria were looking at me.  But no one is.”

2)   “My tongue feels like sandpaper.  Suddenly, my Saturday night feels just as casual and meaningless as all the other grist for the rumor mill.”

3)   “I am painfully aware that I am wearing a reflector vest and a bike helmet.  And everyone else arrived in cars.”

4)   “I was on speaker phone, listening to my friends talk about how they didn’t want to talk to me.”

5)   “Staggering through the woods like a rabid bear, unzipping my jeans and squatting, before I even find a tree.  Making noises that no human being should make.” 

A)   Isabelle (Perfect)

B)   Sam (Lush)

C)   Evyn (Bounce)

D)   Josie (For Keeps)

E)   Lexi (My Life in Black and White)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Dear 13-year-old self

Dear 13-year-old self,

I know that eighth grade is a torture chamber.  Trust me; I was there.  I remember the movie date with M.S. where a certain unmentionable event took place and he told everyone.  The next day your locker was decorated with toilet paper and the words “Pepe Le Pew” written in black sharpie.

I remember the night T.W. plied you with half a purple passion wine cooler, a certain unmentionable event took place in your backyard, and he told everyone.  The next day the hockey team serenaded you, in front of the entire cafeteria, with “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys.

I remember the school dance to which you wore a homemade skirt (intentional) and a see-through shirt (unintentional).  When H.H. pointed out that he could see a certain unmentionable body part, you announced, “I’m not interested in sex.  I’m interested in romance.”  It took years for you to live down those words.

Oh, 13-year-old self, your moments of mortification were plentiful.  It’s a wonder you survived.  But guess what?  You did.  You are still here.  And while life as a grown up hasn’t become any less mortifying, it has become a whole lot easier to laugh at yourself.  In fact, some of the coolest, smartest, most functional adults you will meet have the most cringe-worthy stories from their youth.

So my message from the future isn’t so much “it gets better” as “it gets funnier.”  Please don’t burn your Judy Blume diary.  


Your older, wiser self