0

It’s Such A Bad Habit

The night of Sandys first recital, Derek was nowhere to be seen. She was nervous, she couldn’t stop chewing on her bottom lip. As she stood backstage and watched these little girls she’d been training for weeks get ready in their tutus and stockings, pulling their hair up into tiny buns one by one, she just knew this had to go right. She needed this to go right. Her fingers tangled in one little girls hair, she had zoned out, and had stopped tying a bun and instead just been petting her for minutes now. The girls voice finally broke through the haze and awakened her.

“Miss Price?” she asked, and Sandy snapped back to reality, realizing she only had scant moments left before they went on.

“Oh god,” Sandy said, stating to actually put the girls hair up now, “I’m sorry, I got distracted.”

“By what?”

“Just remembering the first time I danced,” Sandy said. A few seconds went by and the girl reached up and touched her face.

“You’re not smiling,” she said.

“What?”

“People usually smile when they remember things that should be good. Dancing should be good, and the memory should be good, but you’re not smiling. Was it not good?” she asked, and Sandy was impressed. Sometimes kids were really smart.

“It was fun, actually,” Sandy said, “I got to wear a pretty outfit and those little tap shoes, and I was so excited. I went on stage and had the best time, and afterwards, I learned my mother hadn’t even been there to see me. She’d gotten held up at work. I stood outside in the rain waiting for her to pick me up, but she was stuck in traffic, and this was back before every kid had cell phones so she couldn’t call me. When she finally got me, she apologized so much, and she took me to get fast food for dinner. I had caught a cold waiting outside.”

“You couldn’t wait inside?”

“They closed the studio down. Everyone assumed all the kids left with their parents. Nobody bothered to check,” Sandy said as she finished the girls hair, “There you go, Maisy, that looks pretty.”

A few seconds later, the announcers voice rang out through a microphone, and Sandy took Maisy by the hand, led her to the other girls and they got into formation. As she headed to the back of the auditorium to watch, she found Derek leaning in the back against the wall, arms crossed. She sidled up right next to him, wringing her wrists nervously. Derek glanced at her and took her face in his hands. He pulled a corner of his shirt up to her face and wiped the blood away.

“You’ve been chewing on your lip again,” he said, and Sandy blushed.

“It’s such a bad nervous habit,” she said softly, “I’m going to ruin my lip if I keep doing this.”

“Nothing can ruin your lips,” Derek said, as he leaned in and kissed her quickly, “You look great. When does the show actually start?”

“A few moments,” Sandy said, pushing hair back behind her ear, “God I really hope this goes well. I worked so hard on this, trying to make it perfect.”

“Nothing can be perfect.”

“I’m aware. Doesn’t change a perfectionists problem when it comes to their work,” Sandy said under her breath, “Haven’t you ever worked on something that you wanted to come out just right, only to have it come out entirely wrong and make you miserable?”

“Yes, it’s called my entire life,” Derek said.

“Shut the fuck up, you know what I’m talking about. This is important to me. Didn’t you ever have anything important to you?”

“I guess, maybe when I was in school. I was a pretty good student, but it didn’t carry over to anything outside of the academic field,” Derek said, “I guess I just sort of gave up on anything being perfect after that. But in school? Oh man, I made sure everything I typed up was perfectly formatted, spelled correctly, you name it. I was the teachers pet.”

“You nerd.”

“I was, and I’m not ashamed of admitting it.”

“So what changed?”

Derek shrugged, “I don’t know, I guess I just realized life isn’t as simple as turning in a perfectly formatted, grammatically superior paper. Perfection doesn’t come at the end of an assignment in the ‘real world’, as the ‘realists’ like to say.”

“The realists?”

“The people who ‘keep it real’.”

“The people who keep it real never want it kept real for them,” Sandy said.

“You got that right. Anyway, once that realization was solidified in my brain, I knew that it was pointless to try and achieve perfection from something as messy as reality. School doesn’t prepare you for the real world. If anything, it does the opposite. School tries to teach you that hard work pays off, and you’ll be greatly rewarded. That’s not true. You can be the hardest working employee and still have the lowest level job. Probably why so many perfect students falter so fast once they’re out of school. They don’t know what to do without someone telling them how to do it. A teacher gives you instructions. Nobody’s giving you instructions outside that school.”

“God you make me depressed.”

“That’s what I’m here for.”

The lights dimmed, and across the theater, the bright lights of video cameras and cell phones blinked on as parents prepared to capture their childs performance. Derek shook his head and nodded at everyone.

“See, this is another example. Nobody is content with just experiencing it. They need to record it.”

“They want to have something to remember it by, dude. It’s their kids, you can’t bemoan parents making memorabilia of childhood. What if your mom threw out everything you drew in kindergarten?” Sandy asked.

“I’d probably be thankful. I’ve gotten a lot better since then. I don’t need some crappy evidence of how bad I used to be dragging me down.”

Sandy laughed and started biting her lip again.

“I’m just saying…people don’t know how to do anything without being told what to do. It’s like the old saying of ‘well, nobody invented a handbook for being a parent’, because it’s true. That’s why some parents think they’re doing the right thing, even when they’re being clearly abusive. Everyone thinks that what they’re doing is right because there’s no upper level person around to tell them they’re wrong, to give them an ‘F’ and tell them to try harder next semester.”

Derek looked down at Sandy, who was looking at her tap shoes, and not up at the stage. He sat down on the floor with her and touched her shoulder.

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t even argue with you, because you’re right. Just backstage, I told this girl a story about how my mother didn’t come to my own recital and then tried to make up for it with fast food. Instant gratification, because we know that’s how a childs brain works. I know she thought that what she was doing was the right thing, and I know that she didn’t mean to miss my performance, but it still stung and oversalted french fries isn’t going to fix that.”

“…so I’m right?”

“In a sense. There’s no guide for anything. There’s no such thing as perfection. We’re all just sort of flying by the seat of our pants, even the ones who seem qualified,” Sandy said, taking her shoes off and rubbing her feet, “I guess I just would rather believe in a world that’s run well, always on schedule, and disgustingly perfect. I don’t want to think that everyone on earth has no idea what they’re doing and we’re just floating on a ball of dirt in the middle of buttfuck nowhere in space with no help whatsoever.”

“Well nobody said you had to listen to me. You can still believe that.”

“It’s stupid to live in a fantasy.”

“Not when that fantasy helps you cope,” Derek said, and Sandy looked at him.

“Isn’t that unhealthy?”

“You bite your lip because you’re nervous and it helps calm you down. It’s the same as that. Anything that helps get you through day to day life is good if it keeps you going. So if you need to believe the world is well run and we’re all doing what we’re supposed to be doing, then believe it, because frankly, the alternative is terrifying.”

Sandy smiled and leaned her head on Dereks shoulder.

“They seem to know what they’re doing,” he said, motioning to the girls on stage.

“It’s because I told them what to do.”

“Exactly. Order. You brought some control to an otherwise uncontrollable universe. That’s something to be proud of.”

“…we should probably never have kids,” Sandy said, “We wouldn’t be good parents and the world’s overpopulated enough as it is.”

“I agree. Having kids is a really bad habit.”

0

Everything They Didn’t Teach You In School

The bird, which couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old, had been laying there for a few days now. Long enough for ants to start marching in and burrowing deep inside it. Derek Fisher and Sandy Price were standing over it, in Derek’s parents backyard, as he poked it casually with a stick. Sandy took a puff off her cigarette and then tossed the butt to the ground, stomping it out with her hiking boot.

“School didn’t prepare me for anything like this,” Sandy said, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her dark blue windbreaker, “School doesn’t teach kids what they need to know about death or anything important. Everything they teach you is a lie.”

“I guess there’s some things that are bets left to parents, but even then most parents don’t want to take that initiative,” Derek said, “But could you imagine if schools did teach that kind of thing? Parents have a hard enough time with letting their schools teach kids about sex, I can’t imagine they’d even let them touch death.”

“Both those things are natural and inevitable!” Sandy said, “I mean, unless you’re asexual, but god dammit, why do people have such a hard time talking to their kids about stuff? Why did I have to learn from a dropout uncle that we killed the Indians and took their land, whereas school just taught me that we got along and were all friends and ate the first thanksgiving together? What the fuck kind of world is this? We’re just going to LIE to children, and then expect them to believe everything, and then get mad when they call something that’s clearly bullshit out on its bullshit?”

“I’m on your side, remember, don’t yell at me,” Derek said, kneeling down and turning the bird over with the stick. Sandy put a hand over her mouth, coughing a bit. Derek looked back at her, “Does this disgust you?”

“Well it’s not like you’re playing with a puppy.”

“Did your parents ever have ‘the talk’ with you?” Derek asked, making quote marks with his fingers when he said that, and Sandy smirked.

“Don’t do that,” she said, half laughing, “And yeah, they did. They didn’t have it with my brother. They figure it’s ok to give it to the girl, because it’s her job to be responsible, make sure to use protection. Apparently men can’t be bothered.”

“That is some serious patriarchal bullshit,” Derek said, “My dad had ‘the talk’ with me when I was, I don’t know…maybe 15? Like 3 years after already jacking off constantly. A little late to the game, dad, but whatever. I was happy he did though, like, sure it was uncomfortable at first but in the end, his advice came in handy. My parents never talked to me about death though.”

“No, like, I had an aunt that died when I was like 11, and we went to her funeral and everything, and they told me she was sleeping. Like, I was 11 for christ sakes, and they still fed me that bullshit. Why would they give me the talk, and then just gloss over death. Like, of those two things, death is the way more important one, I think. Sex is a decision you make. You CHOOSE to participate in that. Nobody chooses to die. I mean, I guess suicidal people do, but still.”

Derek stood up and wiped his hands on his pants, then looked at the glass door on the wooden porch that led to the kitchen, where he could see his mother and mentally challenged sister sitting at the kitchen table, doing a puzzle together.

“While my mother was pregnant, they learned that the baby might have some brain damage. They were given the option to abort her, in case they didn’t want to have to deal with that. It was never in the baby’s favor, by the way, it was always ‘in case WE, the ADULTS can’t handle it’ not ‘let’s spare this child pain and misery’. Anyway, they obviously didn’t, but that’s how they explained death to me. They talked about, ya know, aborting her and what that would mean, and they asked how I felt about that. I was like 9. The thing is, all I got out of that conversation was that my sister hadn’t even been born yet, and was going to have mental instabilities that she wasn’t to blame for or could control, and they might kill her. I’m not pro life by any means, but as a 9 year old, that set a really weird standard in my head. Your child isn’t even born and they might not want or love you. Certainly made me try and be perfect in their eyes from then on, cause I was a kid, and I didn’t want them to abort me somehow.”

“That’s fucked up dude,” Sandy said, as they sauntered over to the picnic table in the backyard, next to the plastic playground, and took their seats at the table. Derek watched Sandy fidget, clearly a bit cold, and he took his scarf off and wrapped it around her neck, holding onto the ends of the scarf and pulled her close, their foreheads landing on one another. Sandy smiled and shut her eyes.

“They also never teach you in school what to do if someone hurts you,” Derek said.

“No, they don’t. I imagine because everyone deals with it differently,” Sandy said, their eyes opened and locked now, both breathing somewhat heavily. Derek leaned in and pressed his lips against hers, his warm breath making her shudder. A few seconds into kissing her, the backdoor opened and his mother and sister came out. The kiss broke apart, and they went back to sitting there.

“Derek,” his mother said, approaching the table, “Are you staying for dinner, or do you have other plans?”

“I guess we could stay,” Derek said, glancing at Sandy, who was blushing and nodded, affirming his decision. As his mother smiled and walked over to the playground where his sister was playing on the swings, Sandy looked at Derek.

“If one of us dies, can we promise to haunt the other?” Sandy asked.

“I think we can swing that,” Derek said as he pulled out a cigarette and lit it for her. Sandy took it and placed it between her lips. She smiled and blushed as she exhaled the smoke into his face and he laughed.

“I wish they had taught me more useful things,” Derek said, “I don’t know how to balance a checkbook, but thank god I know what the volume of a cylinder is. How to handle heartbreak, how to deal with death, how to be careful with sex…none of those things are important, apparently.”

“Sometimes it takes another person to teach you, not an educational facility,” Sandy said, coughing, and Derek looked at her, then looked back at the bird, and sighed.

“Let’s take him home, clean him up and make him part of the family,” Derek said, “He might be dead, but he doesn’t have to be alone.”

0

The Early Bird Gets Hunted

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photo credit by coyotefugly

When I was about 12, my stepsister and I went to stay with my aunt for the summer, and a family friend had enrolled us in “Sports Camp”. As a nerdy, shy teen starting to question her sexuality, this was not the sort of thing I was cut out for. My stepsisrer could be athletic. She was on cheer in high school later on, and she was always very active as a child, playing soccer on a local team and doing karate too. I, on the other hand, preferred to stay in my bedroom and read and fantasize about what it’d feel like to kiss a girl and then feel ashamed because I was a girl and everyone and everything around me said that that meant I was broken. We didn’t exactly see eye to eye. I failed sports camp, needless to say. I was downright miserable. Then, a year later, we stayed with her again and this time our family friend enrolled us in art camp. Now this I could handle!

Until I started realizing that “art” meant something entirely different to everyone else than it did to me. To me, art is personal; an expression of who’s making it, a statement they wish to say or an outlet for their pain or happiness that they want others to witness visually. But to other kids, and because kids are especially cruel and competitive, they turned it into a competition. Who could be the best artist. I failed that as well. I didn’t enjoy making art for a while after that. That school year, 8th grade, I took an art class, and I failed that too because I refused to simply become a shell of what the teacher thought we should be; an embodiment of her failed achievements as an artist herself, so she could live vicariously through her students. So far, my track record was 0 for 3, and 2 of those in something I enjoyed. After that art class, I didn’t make art for a year. However, that teacher liked a flower painting I did so much, she entered it into a local gallery contest for our town. I lost that too.

0 for 4 now.

A pattern was starting to emerge to me. I was no good at stuff, especially stuff I thought I liked and maybe could be good at. I stopped trying. The way I saw it, why bother? I clearly had a 0% success rate, so why continue to humiliate myself simply by participating. Soon this began to leak into every aspect of my life, and by middle school I’d stopped caring about homework, believed I was truly stupid and that I wasn’t someone anyone would want to be friends with. Failing at everything you do isn’t good for your self esteem. Things started to look bleak, and I was starting to become unsure of my future in any sort of career, especially an artistic one. Plus, it’s not like I was trying to succeed to impress everyone else. I was doing it to make myself feel better. If I couldn’t even achieve my own pathetic low standards, then why continue trying, right? I became apathetic and depressed beyond help, to the point of waking up everyday and wanting to be dead. It’s a weird feeling when you really decide you want to not exist anymore. It makes everyone else more uncomfortable than it makes the person contemplating their soon to be nonexistence, which I find odd, but that’s how it is. I enrolled in film classes at a trade school during high school, and things got even worse.

When you have siblings who outshine you (sometimes in hobbies they thought were stupid originally then stole the spotlight from you in later on), and then classmates who steal ideas for the film work you wish to do and then your film crew who tells you they’ve had enough of your work and are tired of doing what you’re doing, and when your parents split up, and your grandmother and your dog die at the same time, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve hit rock bottom. That’s where I was; rock bottom. I moved to a new town after graduation and I stayed in my bedroom and snacked and watched netflix and read and played video games for about 4-5 years solid. Only this past year did I really start to make art again, and have I been happy with it too. I’m happy to say I’m no longer at rock bottom. But when you get pushed that low, low enough to the point where you stop trying, caring and waste 5 years of your life doing nothing but watching crappy b movies and eating fritos, it’s a tough road to recovery.

See, I wasted a lot of time that could’ve been used to create things. I won’t blame the others around me for hurting me. I’m not going to do that, I want to be responsible, and mature, and accept the blame for my own problems. I was damaged, but I was also the one who reacted in an exceedingly negative light towards my own self worth for the next few years. I essentially wasted 5 years of my life doing absolutely, literally, nothing. I surfed the internet for 5 years solid, essentially. I’m not proud of that fact, believe me. But I’m trying to pull myself up from that, and I’m doing a pretty good job, especially with the great support system my girlfriend has become, who constantly believes in me, helps me edit my work and tells me how much she loves what I do. I have a positive support system now, instead of one that consistently told me that I wasn’t good enough even if they didn’t say it directly (ie; school, family, friends). If I want to get better, if I want to heal, I need to start accepting that while others hurt me, I was the one who should’ve reacted better to it. Sure, it’s only human nature to want to recede and disappear and feel terrible when people hurt you, but I’m at a point in my life where I can’t spare that expense anymore. I need to be strong. I need to be happier. I may need some help along the way, who doesn’t? But in the end, if I want to catch the worm, I may not be the early bird, but I’ll get there around brunch time.

I’m growing. Or at least I’m really trying, and that has to count for something.