in - terminally.
a hundred pages into the Longest Book I've Ever Read - Moby Dick
- Bard Academy's summer reading requirement. If you ask my opinion,
Herman Melville could've shortened this tome by about 500 pages if
he wasn't so long-winded (I mean, 20 pages alone on the color
white? Yeah, I got it - okay? The whale is WHITE. Sheesh. Get on with
glance out the grungy window by my Chicago Transit Authority bus seat
and see jetskiers and wind surfers dotting the horizon on Lake Michigan.
I have to take the bus to work because my driving privileges are still
revoked (see: Dad still holding a grudge about his totaled BMW from
a year ago). Looking at the long stretch of water, I find myself wondering
what it would be like if that whale came to life. I can almost
imagine a wave becoming a giant whale, rising up and swallowing three
bike darts in front of the bus and the driver slams on the brakes, throwing
me forward and nearly making me drop my book. For an instant, I feel
adrenaline running through my veins and my muscles tense up, ready for
a fight. I half expect Moby Dick or some other menacing fictional character
to appear out of nowhere. I have to remind myself that those things
don't happen out here in the real world. My heart rate slows down
and I take a few deep breaths. I'm not at Bard. Not where ghosts walk
the halls and fictional characters come to life. That was just another
Post Traumatic Bard moment.
some of you probably never heard of Bard.
dad sent me away to delinquent boarding school (Bard Academy) for my
sophomore year after wrecking his Beemer. But what he doesn't
know is that Bard is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill boarding school
for delinquents. It's staffed with the ghosts of famous writers, and
fictional characters sometimes come to life and wander the campus. This
is Bard's big secret, but few people know it. Just me and a few of
my friends. And by the way, we managed to save the school (oh,
yeah, and the world) twice from total annihilation. You see, not all
the ghosts there are good ghosts. I found that out the hard way.
close the book on my lap and take a deep breath. At Bard, some books
hold special powers. But out here, away from school, the book is just
another book, I remind myself. Nothing to worry about.
just in case, I tuck the book snugly into my backpack. You never know.
glance out the window and recognize the strip shopping center where
I work. I'm about to miss my stop. I grab my bag and push open the
back door, and step out into a humid August day. There, glaring at me
in hot pink, is the sign I've come to hate. It reads "In the Pink"
and it hangs above the store that belongs to my Dad's third wife,
Carmen. I've been forced to work here all summer without pay to help
"offset my Bard tuition," which is how Dad puts it. I never thought
I'd see something scarier than some of the ghosts I'd come face-to-face
with at Bard Academy, but Carmen's shop is one big horror show. There
are pink plush toys, pink garters, pink toothbrushes - and (serious
ew here) pink edible underwear. It's nice to know that instead of
paying for my college education, Dad has opted to fritter my tuition
away on inflatable Flamingos and posters of pigs in ballet tutus. Clearly,
"In the Pink" (or as I like to call it, "In the Puke") is of
so much more social significance than say, me becoming a doctor and
one day curing cancer. Not that I would. But "In the Pink" definitely
isn't going to.
late," Carmen says to me the minute I walk through the door. She's
snapping pink bubble gum at me as she tosses a pink, furry boa over
my head. This is what she forces employees (i.e. me) to wear. I glance
up at the clock.
I'm an hour early," I tell her, nodding at the giant neon pink clock
in the shape of lips on the wall.
know that clock doesn't work," Carmen snaps.
half of the stuff in here," I mumble, but she doesn't hear me.
Miranda. If you were mine, I would seriously think about disowning you,"
she said. This is Carmen's idea of being warm. My "stepmom" who
hasn't been able to keep a goldfish alive and has the mothering instincts
of a brick, is 25. That's not even a decade older than I am. This
is why I sometimes call Dad a pedophile just to see him get mad. It
works every time.
ignore her and take up my place behind the cash register. I plunk down
my bag and open up Moby Dick. There aren't exactly dozens of
people clamoring to buy broken lip clocks.
Again?" Carmen scoffs. "I don't know what's gotten into you
since you've been back from Bard Academy, but you're reading
way too much. You know reading causes you to have to wear
glasses. And that would just spoil your whole face."
want to tell her that never having read a book in her life has probably
spoiled her whole brain, but I managed to bite my tongue. Comments like
that just make their way straight back to Dad, and then he threatens
to send me off to juvenile detention. As it is, I'm just three days
away from heading back to Bard Academy for my junior year. And while
I used to consider that a punishment, now I can't wait to get back.
some ways, the real world just seems so, well, boring.
Besides, at Bard, I'm someone special. Turns out, I'm part fiction,
distantly related to Catherine of Wuthering Heights fame. At
Bard, I'm more than just my dad's child support payment or Carmen's
surly employee. I really am someone. Someone who saved the school. Twice.
Here, I'm just one more underappreciated adolescent taking the bus
and working a grunt job.
I've told you a million times that you can't read while we
have customers," Carmen scolds, as she wraps a long piece of her newly
highlighted hair around one finger.
glance up and around the store. There are no customers. Not unless you
count the 80-year-old woman who's been nosing around the fifty percent
off bin. As I look up, she picks up a pack of edible underwear, sniffs
it, and then drops it back in the bin.
reading while we have customers," Carmen says. "We have an image
can think of a million smart things to say here. Like the fact that
I'm sorry to be reading when we've got such a stampede
of customers lining around the block to buy pink post-it notes that
say "Queen of Pink" on them. Or the fact that I can't see how
Moby Dick would do anything but improve the image of a store in a strip
shopping mall stuffed between a dry cleaner's and a Dunkin Donuts.
I settle with, "Oh, yes, we're the model of sophistication," while
I hold up a pink roll of condoms in a package shaped like a lollypop.
up," she snaps, because Carmen never can think of anything smart to
say back to me. Dad certainly didn't marry her for her sparkling personality,
that's for sure. She grabs the neon condoms out of my hand and puts
them on a nearby shelf.
more days. Only three more days. And then I am out of here,
and back to Bard, and toŠ my complicated love life. In one corner,
there's my ex, Ryan Kent. State Championship Basketball Player. Gorgeous.
Smart. Sweet. And totally uninterested in dating me any more. In the
other corner, there's Heathcliff. Brooding. Mysterious. Serious Bad
Boy Mojo. And, completely off-limits because he's a) a fictional character
and b) did I mention he's fiction? He is the original bad boy from
Wuthering Heights and the Bard faculty told me explicitly that I
couldn't date him because he doesn't belong in this world.
girls my age have to worry about whether or not the boy of their dreams
knows they exist. I have to worry whether or not my boy actually
does exist. It's a strange, strange world.
put my hand to the locket I wear around my neck, the one that contains
a bit of a page from Wuthering Heights. It's the one thing
that's keeping Heathcliff in this world. If it were destroyed, he'd
be sent straight back to his fictional world. That he gave it to me
speaks volumes about how much he trusts me - especially since Heathcliff
normally doesn't trust anyone.
shop bell dings, and my dad walks through. Reflexively, I frown. Dad
and I do not get along. That's because Dad has the emotional maturity
of a fourth grader. And I like to point this out. Often.
my baby!" he says, in his exaggerated enthusiasm reserved only for
Carmen. He gives her a leer which makes him look like a lecherous old
man. His bald head gleams in the pink fluorescent lights of the store.
bear!" she cries, and she runs over to give him a sloppy kiss. Tongue
is involved, and I feel like I'm going to vomit. I wish for the days
when Dad and Carmen fought. That was before Dad dropped 100 G's on
In the Puke. That's paid for probably a lot more than French kisses.
The thought makes me want to wretch. There's only one thing worse
than imagining your own parents having sex, and that's imagining them
having sex with someone else.
doesn't acknowledge my presence at all for a full five minutes while
he and Carmen exchange sickening sweet baby talk. Just when I feel like
I'm very close to putting my own eye out with one of Carmen's pink
fuzzy disco ball pens, Dad looks up and sees me.
my little worker today?" Even Dad can't manage to keep the
sarcasm from his voice. "She hasn't caused you any trouble today,
has she Carmen?"
haven't caused trouble the whole freakin' summer. Not that Dad would
notice. Even now, he's already distracted by the edible underwear
display. He doesn't even have the attention span to listen to Carmen's
answer. Not that I want his attention. If he's not ignoring me, that
means he's threatening to send me off to juvie.
been fine, although you know she's reading too much," Carmen says.
"It's a distraction for the customers."
yeah, and that isn't?" I mumble, glancing over at Bachelorette section
with the giant blow-up pink penis. You know, because little old ladies
who are shopping for pink stationary and pink ballpoint pens are also
in the market for a giant pink pecker. Only Carmen would think those
two go together. And maybe for her they do. She was the one, after all,
who would have sex with my dad on the office copier back when he was
married to his second wife. Maybe she just associates sex with office
hmmmm," Dad says, clearly not listening, as he picks up a packet of
edible strawberry thongs. Serious ew factor. "By the way, where's
my other daughter?"
mean, Lindsay?" I say. I wonder if he's temporarily forgotten my
sister's name. I wouldn't put it past him. He's always forgetting
our birthdays. Our names wouldn't be much of a stretch.
thought she was with you," Carmen says.
shrugs. "She's not with meŠ"
sigh. "I don't suppose either
of you remembered to pick her up from tennis camp? It ended this morning."
had insisted on going to some tennis camp this summer. Lindsay had never
hit a tennis ball in her life, but that didn't stop her from signing
up. Apparently, all the cool kids from her school went, because the
most popular girl in her class also happened to be on the varsity team.
Lindsay was always chasing after the popular kids. It was so sad and
pathetic, really. She never really fit in, but that didn't stop her
from sucking up to them all the same. And that's why they kept her
around, as far as I could see. She was their personal slave - doing
their homework, running their errands, at their beck and call night
Dad echoes, memory starting to dawn. "Was I supposed to pick her up?
Or was your mother?"
said it was your turn," I say. I glance at my watch. If nobody remembered
to pick her up she'd been staring at empty tennis courts at Northwestern
for close to five hours. Poor Lindsay. "Didn't she call you?"
I ask Dad.
haven't had my phone on," he says, shrugging.
Am I the only adult here? If Dad hadn't confiscated my phone as punishment
for talking back to Carmen in June, Lindsay could've called me.
told you you were supposed to go," Carmen tells Dad, who frowns.
couldn't you pick her up, then, if you remembered?" he snaps
at her, his good mood suddenly gone. "How am I supposed to remember
got a business to run, in case you haven't noticed," Carmen
then, while Dad and Carmen are arguing about who's responsible for
this latest child-rearing debacle (I swear neither one of them are responsible
enough to raise gerbils), I hear a tap on the glass at the front window.
look up to see Lindsay standing there, looking peeved, her hands on
her hips, and her hair a bit of mess. I don't know how she got here,
but chances are none of those popular kids gave her a ride. They usually
just ask for favors. They don't grant them. Maybe she took the el?
In any case, I guess she got tired of waiting.
sticks her tongue out at me, like she's always done since she was
five. Lindsay doesn't like the fact that I don't approve of her
desperate attempts to be popular. That is so not my scene. I'm the
artsy, thrift-store girl, not the buy anything with a Hollister label
kind of girl. Still, I keep trying to tell Lindsay she's better off
not being a popular drone, but she won't listen to me. Even now she
looks like she's trying too hard in her head-to-toe Lacoste tennis
ensemble. I don't know how she ever convinced Mom to buy it. But Lindsay
always gets whatever she wants, including a $125 tennis skirt that she'll
only wear once. Lindsay typically always tries to play the "good kid"
card, by pointing out how bad I am, and she usually gets the parentals
to buy her whatever she wants. In a word, she's spoiled.
jangles keys in the window. They're Dad's spare car keys that he
keeps in a magnetized tin box underneath his bumper. I'd recognize
the key chain anywhere. It's one of Carmen's. It's a pink furry
guysŠ" I say, trying to interrupt Carmen and Dad who are still going
at it. Those two argue as crassly as they make out. It's really kind
I watch, Lindsay flips Dad off (although Dad can't see) and then climbs
into the driver's seat of his brand new shiny Land Rover. I don't
know what she thinks she's doing. She's fourteen. The most driving
experience she's ever had is playing Mario Kart.
I say, starting to worry now. She looks like she's turning over the
engine. I hear his Land Rover rev. "Lindsay's over there. She's
in your car."
what!" Dad shouts, just as Lindsay sticks out her tongue at the three
of us, and then turns around as if she has the car in reverse. But she
doesn't. She's got the car in drive, and faster than you can say
The Fast and the Furious she's run straight into the window of
In the Puke shattering glass everywhere, and nearly running over the
little old lady by the sales bin. The front bumper of the Land Rover
comes to a screeching halt about a foot from the counter where we're
standing. Lindsay has a look of surprise on her face, too. I'm guessing
she didn't quite mean to actually run through the store. She meant
to steal Dad's car, only she didn't know which gear was which.
the first to recover from my shock, and I glance over at Carmen, who
looks like Macaulay Culkin from the original Home Alone movies.
She's got both her hands on her face, and her mouth in a big, round
"o." Dad is turning various shades of red and purple. He
can't even form words he's so mad.
can't be good.
Dad, this is like totally Miranda's fault," Lindsay sputters,
pointing to me. "She's a bad influence!"
back to top