The showcase of the Second Place submissions for the Second Chance Contest comes to you from New Wave and the Art’s LA tour. Upcoming Memoir Contest Hint #3: Entry may just get you prime advertising space in New Wave and the Art for your website, blog, or e-book, when you download the affliction-memoirs that set the tone of the contest, those by judges Amanda Miller and Sebastian Briglia. Keep checking in for the official guidelines and dates of the upcoming Memoir Contest. The list of Second Chance Contest winners and their rank follows the Second Place submissions we have published below:
by Daniel Lee
Monday stumbled into Benny’s bedroom and threw an oppressive cloak of dread over him. It was a school day, another bloody school day! He writhed under his sheet and closed his eyes tightly, hoping that if he ignored the day with enough determination it might just bugger off and leave him alone. Unfortunately, fantasy does not dictate reality, and his need to pee overcame his desire to stay in bed, so he resigned himself to one more day of the mindless drudgery. Of sitting seven hours in classes he cared nothing for, and patronizing teachers, who he was certain, hated him and treated him unfairly.
An hour later he was stretched out on the back seat of the bus perving at all of the girls in their pleated skirts and tight white blouses. His gaze quickly shifted from one to another, lingering only long enough to catch a glimpse, but it was enough forhim. He continued to do this until one of the girls met his eyes, forcing Benny to stare inquisitively at the floor. He tried to pretend that he hadn’t been checking her out and hoped the girl hadn’t noticed, but girls always seem to know when a boy is looking at them. Benny shifted nervously in his seat. The combination of fantasizing and the vibration from the engine directly below him made a part of him grow to his dismay. He quickly positioned his schoolbag on his lap and tried to think of something else. The bus would stop in front of his school in a few minutes. He absolutely had to get rid of his wood. If he was forced to get off the bus at three quarter mast, then he would never live it down. School-life sucked enough as it was.
He started to picture anything that would turn him off, dead kittens, maths problems, gay sex, Grandma’s titties, and so forth. A bullet train of images shot through his mind and after a couple of minutes he began to feel socially acceptable again. He considered the possibility of relieving himself in the men’s room cubicle during morning recess, and such is the problem with the junk of a fourteen year old boy; it has a mind of its own, in fact it has several. All Benny could do is turn the release valve as often as possible or stand at attention all day. His biology was making him a frustrated, sexual mess, not deviance or deprivation.
His entire existence sometimes seemed nothing more than a worrying bubble of teenage angst and feverish masturbation. With his homework undone as usual, he was dreading being called out by the teacher during class where he would have to offer a weak excuse and be made to meekly accept the tittering and sneers of his classmates. It hurt a little more each time. He spent his morning wandering from class to class, avoiding conversations and eye contact. He chose to skip his maths lesson for fear of death by boredom, and instead chose to leave the school grounds during his recess break and hammered down a couple of coffin nails. By the end of his first semester in year nine, he had missed thirty one of sixty five maths lessons. Yet somehow he had still been given a “C”. He figured either he was some kind of savant, or his maths teacher simply didn’t give a crap. He suspected it was the latter. Most of his other classes were okay but he still preferred to be elsewhere if the opportunity presented itself.
His school day was one of “barely there”. Classes passed him by almost unnoticed. He spent his morning mostly on autopilot, Walking into art class after recess smelling like an ashtray was a careless thing to do, but the teacher either didn’t notice or didn’t care, because she said nothing. He liked art class, it was a total bludge. Sure you had to do stuff but you never got homework and he enjoyed being creative. It was unfortunate that Benny had no talent for it. At the beginning of each class his sketchbook open up to attest that everything he drew was just some drawing exercise, not an actual picture; a practice of a sketching technique. A growing pile of ceramic oddities on his bedroom mantle was evidence of his apathy as everything he made from clay either turned into a horribly deformed coffee mug or frequently devolved into an ashtray. Painting was just as awkward as drawing, only messier.
What he liked about art class this week was the inclusion of an exchange student — Christie Reid, who had the sexiest southern Californian accent. Plus, she was pretty in that – friend of the girl next door – kind of way. She was the kind of girl who is actually only hot when she is standing next to other hot girls, but from behind, which was Benny’s favourite angle on most girls, she was decent enough, so she provided distraction for the hour. Most of his classes were too boring to bare contemplation with Art and German being the only classes he actually liked, and German, only because of the girl who sat in front of him.
Stephanie was her name. Stephanie Weiss — she pronounced it “vice”. She was the daughter of the German teacher, Johann Weiss — Mr Weiss to everyone else. Every day when she came in and sat down in front of him, her sweet floral perfume gently twisted up his insides. She had curly dark brown hair that fell to a bounce in the middle of her shoulder blades. It put him in mind of Pantene commercials. There were times when he almost expected her to fling her hair around in slow motion just to catch the perfect play of light on her chestnut curls. Her eyes were a translucent hazel. In the shadows they were black opals, but sometimes the sunlight would catch them in the right way and their tint faded until it seemed they were almost ethereal. When she turned them his way he hid his own from her. He couldn’t face her if she knew he was looking at her. Her form had the smaller underdeveloped curves of an adolescent, yet spoke strongly of a fine womanhood on the near horizon. Because of this, occasionally when she turned, he caught site of some side-boob, or even a little lace of her bra, and this made him afraid of being called to the black board. She was everything that he called beautiful, every feeling that he called desire.
Always hanging around with the popular girls, she spent every lunch, sitting with them on the football oval in a coven-like circle. Also sitting with them were the more popular boys. Dressed in their checked flannel shirts, black denim, Ripples, and defining what it means to be Bogans, they were in, and Benny was not. Here is where his biggest problem spawned. He was driven by a need to join that group of people that he largely hated. They were just so… they were just so… distant! In the past he had made approaches from various angles but fear had thrown a noose around his courage every time. He felt as though he could never know what lay at the top of the social ladder. It always seemed so high, and when it came to people, especially girls, he was mortally afraid of heights. Eight years of schoolyard bullying had stripped away anything that resembled a sociable or well adjusted boy. What remained was mostly armour and thorns. Whatever Benny did not hate, he tolerated until it went away, then found a way to resent it. He had only a few friends that he spent time with, usually doing nothing more productive than emptying a packet of smokes and a bottle of Southern Comfort.
There she is, he thought, as he ate one of his two vegemite sandwiches. Laughing with some of the boys in the sunshine not fifty meters away from me. Lunch was half over by the time he had wandered down to the back end of the school yard that bordered the sports grounds. He chewed through another bite and felt a resurgence of fear at the thought of going out there. He didn’t have German class on Mondays or Thursdays so he would not get to see Stephanie close up unless he dared into no-boys-land, slipped into the enemy trench, and tried to infiltrate their ranks, but this was not going to happen, not in a million years. He ate the rest of his lunch feeling moderately worthless, and resigned himself to waiting out the day, then tomorrow would come.
Tuesday morning saw Benny lurch into his first class of the day with a head full of mumbling demons. They had come calling overnight. His dreams were filled with self loathing and a pantomime of derision and disapproval from his loved ones. Alanna, his oldest sister, had come to him earlier in the evening and started yet another fight.
“Stop telling me what to do like you have some right!” Benny screamed.
Dinner had not gone well so far. His father had gone to his weekly folk music jam session this evening and it left Alana, Amelia, and himself at the dinner table. The argument had started over unwashed dishes…again! Alana had made a lasagne and was expecting Benny to do the cleaning up, but Benny had fallen back onto a comfortable belligerence.
“Someone needs to!” Alana returned fire. “You never bloody do them.”
“I’ll do them when I want to, not when you want!” Benny banged his fist on the table and stood up to glare at his older sister. “Stop telling me what to do!”
“I just want you to do the dishes like you are supposed to do. That’s what you get an allowance for.” Alanna’s voice was shrill and grating as she matched Benny in volume.
“Stop telling me what to do! You are not my fucken mother!”
Alana shook her head and clucked in disgust. “No.” She said, forcing herself to respond more calmly. “I am not your mother, but since she isn’t around anymore, someone needs to be.”
Benny felt like wrapping his hands around her throat and squeezing. How dare she? How fucking dare she? “How dare you say that? You’re not my mother! You’re not anybody’s mother! You’re only three years older than me!”
“I am the only responsible person here, someone needs to be.” Alana replied with all of the righteous self-importance that only a teenage girl can muster.
Amelia buried a chuckle beneath her hand. Benny had no problem laughing out loud. “I can’t believe you just said that. I simply cannot believe you just said that!” His voice had reduced to match Alanna’s. “So, this responsibility of yours…do you feel it when you are getting shitfaced on the weekends with your loser druggy friends or is it when you are sharing a bed or couch or back alley with every boy that looks in your general direction?” Alanna stood shocked. Benny had nailed her to the wall with that shot and she knew it. It was an exaggeration, but not much of one. She may be seventeen to my fourteen but she doesn’t have the right to… “You are NOT Mum!” He raged. “You will never be Mum!”
Alana threw daggers into him and tears began to swell in the corners of her eyes. “I’m not trying to be…” She trailed off into a silent whimper.
Benny felt like shit for hitting her with that reality. He sure as hell did not want to look at his reality, he was sure Alana didn’t want to look at her own reflection either. He knew he had already hurt her, yet there was a part of him that couldn’t let go. It was an uncontrollable impulse and Benny let his ego slip its chain one more time for good measure. “I mean, did it hurt when you fell from the top of the whore tree and banged every guy on the way down?”
Benny lost a few seconds of time. One moment he was hammering in the final nail and the next, he was on the floor, in a lot of pain, with a fork sticking out of his abdomen, and Amy was in a squealing panic. When Benny stood up, the fork wobbled a little but didn’t hurt as much as it initially had. When Benny was on the floor, Alana had taken opportunity to scarper into her bedroom, locking her door behind her. He looked at the fork as it stuck out of his side. It had not gone in very far, only a few millimetres, but he was surprised it had gone in at all. He did not remember Alana throwing it and a strange curiosity overtook him, bleeding out his anger. How had she managed to throw a fork end over end and make it stick? Benny was pretty sure it was a one in a million throw. If he hadn’t been the victim, he supposed it might have been impressive. His sister could join a travelling sideshow. “Roll up! Roll up! Come one, come all. Come take a look at the horror of the undefinable, the unfathomable, the inconsolable… Fork! Throwing! Super-Bitch! Only two bits a gander. No entry to children under twelve.”
It was becoming a common sight. Their fights ended up with Alana throwing something and if she scored a hit she would run, if she missed, he would throw something back. Several weeks before, she had thrown a coffee mug at him and connected with his head. Before that she had thrown a brick and hit him in the shoulder. He had thrown his ten speed bike at her in retaliation, but he’d missed as she ran away. The worst time was when they had all been drinking a little and Alana had attacked him with an aluminium bat. He had managed to block every strike with his arm, despite it remaining unbroken, it had swollen into a purple balloon. He couldn’t even remember what that fight had been about.
He had gone to bed feeling as though life sucked just a little more than usual. He often dreamed of being chased and unable to run. At times he would find himself in a horror movie where he was able to escape the slash of a killer’s knife by a hair’s breadth, and always at the last possible moment. He would be chased and barely escape, or he would be chased and mired in wet concrete, or most often, he would be chased and forget how to run. His legs would not coordinate and he would stumble into a running crawl to escape whatever horror was taking a run at his psyche on any given night. His only recurring dreams that had lasted beyond his early childhood were that one, and the Nightmare on Elm St dream. Freddy Kruger never managed to slice him with his claw but he tried it every couple of weeks for years. Freddy had yet to give up the chase, but this night saw worse for Benny.
He was at a Christmas BBQ with his family. They were all there. There were his grandparents, his Pop smoking like a ham and his Nan fussing over the salads. They looked through him like he was a cloudy window, trying to judge what lay underneath all of him. They faded to a dreary mist and were replaced by his two sisters, Alanna and Amelia. Beautiful and terrible, they were vampires. Their needled teeth showed through their hungry sneers. They looked into him and saw what they could devour. They faded also and were replaced by his mother. She sat at the table and drank her wine and laughed. She didn’t look at him. It seemed as though she didn’t even know he was there. She was laughing and talking with everyone else, but every time Benny called to her she did not hear, she did not stir, she did not fade. At the head of the table sat his father. In an instant, the BBQ disappeared, and he found himself washing his father’s car. He would get done scrubbing one side and his father would peer over his shoulder with a disapproving scowl. “No.” He kept saying. “Do it again.” So Benny would do it again. This went on and on until finally his father would take the sponge from his hand in frustrated disgust and do it until Benny understood what he wanted. Everything Benny did was met with reckless derision from his father, who hovered around him waiting for the next mistake, like a gaoler rattling his keys.
The dream dwindled away as Benny woke in the darkest hour. Dawn was still some way off. He felt heavy, weighed down and chained. The moon shone through his slightly parted curtains and lit his bedroom with ghostly convenience. He rose and walked bleary eyed over to his window and stared upwards. He remembered the times back in his old house when he would wake up in the middle of the night as a full moon was overhead, and stare out of his window at the bright night sky. Being asleep had adjusted his eyes to the dark and the luminous moon shone in through his window. It had seemed almost as though it were daylight, it had seemed…magical! He had often woken up at this time, and for the first few moments of wakefulness, he would think it was past dawn. This night he wished it was past dawn already; he did not want to go back to sleep. His nightmares were too cruel tonight.
The day waxed bright and cheerful for most kids, but Benny had his arms wrapped around a knee that was raised to his chest and his foot on the seat. He looked at the other passengers between slitted eyes with a fuck off scowl on his face, and did his best impression of a black hole at the back of the bus. Lack of sleep and his dreams had sapped his will to smile. He had only one thing to look forward to and that thing hardly knew he existed.
Homeroom came and went and then maths class, followed by recess. During the morning break he sought out Aveon, the closest of his meagre collection of friends, and in the same year as Benny. His accepted nickname was Alien, because, Benny figured, teenagers rarely have the imagination to match their cruelty. Avi was sitting at the edge of the football oval beneath some low hanging willow trees. He was out of site to anyone who looked in his direction but he, Benny, and various friends could often be found in this spot sneaking in a cheeky cig. Benny was confident Avi would have deodorant and breathe freshener in his school bag to camouflage the smell. Benny often forgot to bring his own.
“Oi! Oi!” Benny called out as he approached. With lightening speed, and without looking up to see who was coming, Avi ripped the guilty cigarette from his mouth and palmed it, pinching of the lit end and extinguishing it between thumb and forefinger. It must have hurt, but he was quick. He looked at Benny as he stepped into view. Avi flashed him a relieved yet exasperated look and relit his dog end. Benny retrieved a cigarette from his pocket and leaned closer so he could light it from the glowing end of Avi’s. They both stood quiet for a minute, perhaps two, before Avi spoke.
“So, I got invited to a party on the weekend.” He said unceremoniously. “It’s a sixteenth.”
Benny could not have cared less, but he pretended anyway. “Who’s?” He took a long drag and blew out several smoke rings, destroying them with the final blast of smoke.
“Candy Parker’s.” Avi replied.
An image of a drop-dead-red with powerful curves jumped up and said hello. Candy Parker was well out of Avi’s league, so Benny found this unlikely. “Does she even know who you are? I’ve never seen you talk to her.”
Avi smiled through bright white teeth that had yet to suffer the effects of nicotine. “Her little sister knows me.” He said, running his hand through the curly golden mop that was threatening to make him look less like a cherub and more like a Labrador with a perm. It always hung in front of his sky blue eyes. Why he would want to hide those eyes from girls was beyond Benny’s understanding. Chicks love eyes when they are of that rich azure, which only seems to be attached to tropical blondes and everyday gingers. Mugs like Benny had to settle for blue green eyes that he always thought of as muddy.
“Her little sister asked you to her party? She asked as…like in a date?” Avi beamed a smile at waggled his head brashly. “Fuuuuck!” Benny hissed, reddening with jealousy. “Really?”
“Suck it!” Avi teased, still grinning like a ghoul. “She asked me yesterday on the bus home…said I could bring a friend.” He took a last drag of his cigarette then tamped it out against a tree trunk, tossing the butt over the fence. “Wanna come?”
Benny felt his despair disappear as excitement ran through him. “Does The Pope shit in the woods? Yeah, I wanna come.” Benny tossed his smoke onto the ground and crushed it underfoot. As they emerged from the tree-line, the bell rang for the end of recess.
Avi slapped some camaraderie into his back. “Now you have to find yourself a date.”
A date! How am I going to get a date? Benny was tumbling headlong into a panic on his bus ride home. He had never asked a girl out before. He understood the basic premise; you just ask. But how could I just ask? I can’t just walk up to a girl and ask. She’ll politely tell me no, with a pitiful look on her face and then laugh with her friends when I am out of sight. If I’m lucky. Every time he looked at the challenge, it turned into a raging, spitting beast, which growled at him when he approached it. He thought of who he might ask, who would be the least likely to say no. A visual nomicon ran through his mind, complete with faces and figures, as best his memory could provide. He immediately dismissed all of the most attractive ones because they had never looked at him twice. With his unremarkable eyes, broken teeth, boring brown hair, and doughy physique, he saw no point in trying.
The middle grouping of girls was the normals, the plains, the average ones. Not ugly, but not pretty either. He considered his everyday experiences with those girls. The first thing that came to mind was how these girls wouldn’t come physically close to him. When he was hanging with his friends and there were girls around, Benny felt as though they went out of their way to avoid being near him. The signs were subtle, small behaviours. Sometimes it was not sitting next to him at a table and instead moving two chairs down. Other times the girls would be talking and laughing together, when they would suddenly stop and look at him as he walked into the room. He had tried to convince himself that he was just being paranoid, but it kept happening. He hated all kinds of teasing but that passive aggressive shit was infuriating! The problem was that there was not a single thing that he could nail down as the reason for his suspicion. He had a long list of random female behaviours to feed off of sating him long before he reached its end. Goddamn, girls could be so fickle and superficial!
This left only the fuglies, the fatties, and the freaks. His own class of people, a class he could most relate to, a class he least wanted to be in, and a class he was most a part of. “Hmmph!” He sagged, as he rolled his eyes and resigned himself to the inevitable. He would have to ask out some chick with less self esteem than himself and hope she took pity on him. Sometimes reality could be a big shit-sandwich!
That evening he sat on the couch and watched television with his sisters. That was the way with his siblings. They could rage or love equally and randomly. A resentment never lasted more than a day or two. The needed to make space for the next thing to fight about. They were watching Star Trek – The next generation, Benny’s favourite. Every few minutes he would look sideways at his sisters. He spent most of the show trying to work up the courage to ask the question. As the Enterprise flashed into warp and the credits rolled, he pushed his fear aside and bit the bullet. They will help me or ridicule me. Sometimes it was a toss of the coin with older sisters.
“I need to ask some advice.” He tossed the coin at both of them and waited for one
to pick it up.
Alanna spoke first. “What advice?” She turned to Benny, pushing her charcoal hair from her eyes.
Benny closed his eyes and tried to hide a nervous swallow. “I need to know how to ask a girl out.” He waited in silence and waited for the onslaught of derision and scorn that sometimes erupted from her, yet it did not come, instead she responded in a soft voice, gentle and loving.
“Haven’t you ever done it before?” She asked, her brown eyes showing an unusual compassion. Benny shook his head, feeling even more uncertain. Was she mocking him? Was she about to? Confusion, his boon companion, flooded through him and twisted him up, fear following close on its heels. “Well there is no real secret to it Ben,” She was being kind; it was so disconcerting. Her base state always seemed to be a nonchalant self righteousness. This felt wrong…Just wrong! “You need to find a girl you like and start a conversation.”
“About What?” He demanded.
This time Amelia jumped in. “About anything.” She smiled warmly. Amelia was usually the peacemaker in the family. She could fight and argue with the best of them, but she was never actually mean to him, however she sometimes enjoyed making him the butt of her jokes. She and Benny had been extremely close when they were growing up two peas in a dysfunctional pod. Still, it felt awkward to be talking about this with sisters, be they mean or kind. He needed a brother for this stuff, but he was an only boy and the youngest of three.
“Anything? Like what? Every time I try to talk to a girl I get this brain freeze. I look like a tard.” Alanna chuckled. “Ah, just forget it!” Benny snapped. He stood up and made to leave, but Alanna grabbed his wrist.
“I didn’t mean to laugh Ben. I was just remembering when I used to do that, s’all. I didn’t mean anything by it. Please sit back down.” She had suddenly become very disarming and warm; it was hard for Benny to fathom. He felt like a mewling kitten who had just received an affectionate lick from a snarling Pit-bull. The hell was going on here?
Benny returned warily to the sofa and asked “How did you get over it?”
Alanna thought on this for a few seconds and quirked a smile, “Practice I guess. At some point it just became easy to do it. You have to stop thinking of them as someone you want to get with and just talk with them about normal stuff. Let your personality do the work for you.” While Benny stared at the coffee table, thinking about this, Amy gave Alanna a grim look, a look that said ‘perhaps it is not a wise thing to let his personality do the work for him.’ Alanna gave her sister a slight nod. “The best idea is to get them talking about themselves.” She added. “Girls love to talk about themselves and are more attracted to guys who want to listen. Be a good listener and let the girl speak. It’s important not to be fake in any way, a girl will see right through that.”
“But girls don’t like me. They don’t look at me, or they do…but not like that.” He complained. “I always feel pathetic when I try to talk to them.”
“Well you’re not pathetic, and you’re not ugly either.” Amy interjected with a bright smile. He always liked her smiles. They were wide and white and she had the bluest eyes that shone beneath her short strawberry blonde bangs. They were always genuine. It brought back memories of years before when they had been as thick as thieves and a united front against the thunderstorm that was their older sister. “You’re actually really handsome.” As she said this, her face told him that she had only just noticed it as she spoke, but she had the good grace to hide it from her voice. “There’s no reason why a girl wouldn’t find you attractive. You just need to be nice and learn how to shut the hell up and listen. But don’t ever think that your looks are getting in the way. You’re not ugly Ben, you just think you are.”
Benny couldn’t accept praise from his sisters. His ego had him torn to ribbons and nothing as simple as a few words from Amy was going to smash his personal funhouse mirror, but he listened anyway. He heard their advice, he nodded when he thought he was supposed to nod, he made all the right noises, but for the most part he was playing a out a farce. He never truly believed anything good could be done with him, feeling like a lost cause more often than not.
Day flowed into day and the weekend, like a stalking tiger, was upon him before he knew it. It was Friday morning and Benny had no date. He wore despair like a tailored coat. He had tried to approach several of the lower tier girls throughout the week, yet every time he worked up the courage to approach, they would look up at him and he would lose his nerve. Fear was the key. He was always so afraid of them, this alien species called girls. Whenever he made eye contact with a girl he would see no one but himself. In all of his short life he had never considered that maybe girls did not see him either. It had never occurred to him that girls only saw themselves as well, and were even more self conscious than he had ever been. He was simply too self absorbed to exist outside of his tiny and depressing little Universe, so the realities of other people had no bearing on his personal disposition. He was ugly. He was boring. He was invisible. He had no idea how completely unremarkable he was in that regard, and how much like everyone else.
Recess came and went but he could not find Avi. Benny had to tell him that he was not going to come to the party after all. He would make some excuse, some less than pathetic reason for running away. Though, he hadn’t thought of any yet. He went back to classes with a negative enthusiasm. He just wanted this day to be over. Let the weekend come and go and so he could go on hiding behind his fear, and he knew it was fear that held him back. He believed he was ugly and worthless but they were not the real problems. He was a coward, and knowing this drove him to swim in shame every day.
English class seemed to drag out like slowly removing a bandaid over forty five minutes, ripping out one hair at a time. Lunch came on him suddenly when the bell woke him from his self-indulgent reverie. He meandered his way through the swelling crowds of squawking teenagers, all of whom seemed to be engaged in the simple act of socializing, a concept that he had thrown out and forgotten so long ago that he wasn’t even sure he had ever known it. He walked past the tuck shop and right through the cloudy aroma of meat pies that was floating across the schoolyard. Looking left and right at the kids as he passed, none of them looked back or even noticed his passing, making him bitter and vicious, an angry green viper, spitting venomous cynicism at them, but only in the muddy vortex of his mind.
He found Avi in the usual spot behind the tree-line on the edge of the football oval, a cigarette hanging carelessly from his mouth. He seemed lost in thought, staring across the oval at nothing in particular. “Oi, fucken oi!” Benny called out as he approached.
Aveon did not look up, instead he drew deeply from his smoke and a cheeky smile crept onto his face. “Get a date yet?” He teased.
“Piss off!” Benny spat back.
Avi’s eyebrows shot up and he turned sharply to face Benny. “Really? You only got rejections?”
“Not a one.” Benny felt pathetic as he said this.
“Aw mate…” Avi took a moment to find the right words. “If you haven’t even asked a girl yet, then what are you doing?” Avi knew him well enough that he often did not need to speak in order to communicate. They spent so much time together doing the same things and talking the same nonsense in the way that only best friends can do. Benny often felt uncomfortable having a friend who knew him so well, who held so many of his secrets, even though Aveon had never shown anything but loyalty and mateship. “Stop being a little pussy and ask one.” Avi did not like being abrupt with him, but Benny was behaving like such a wimp that he couldn’t resist.
“I tried man.” Benny explained. “They don’t even know I exist.”
Avi gave him a long, flat stare that seemed to become an uncomfortable mirror, making Benny want to look away. “Try harder. If they don’t know you exist then talk to them and show them that you do. Just talk to them. Jesus Christ!”
Strangely, Benny felt just like Jesus right now, thoroughly crucified. His friend had only said the simple and obvious truth yet Benny felt as though a heavy hood had been lifted from him and realization made him dizzy. God, is it really that simple? He thought. There was nothing complicated about talking to girls. There was nothing frightening about it either. There was just me, telling myself bullshit stories. Why have I done that? His head spun with the new spaces that were opening up in his mind. He had finally come to terms with one clear truth. He was so full of shit! For a moment he felt bathed in light, but as it turned out, it was only cigarette smoke. Benny coughed a couple of times and looked at his friend with a newfound sight. “You’re right.” He agreed with a definite nod. “I’m being a complete pussy-manchild.” Avi smiled and nodded back. “Well, enough of that crap!”
“Enough of what crap?” came a deep male voice that could not have belonged to anyone but a teacher. As one, Benny and Avi choked and shat, finding themselves caught by the duty teacher. Mr Wooley, the deputy principal, was sticking his head through the foliage and grinning like a Cheshire cat who had just found two tasty mice. Avi dropped his dog-end, stamped it out and had the decency to look guilty. Benny just stood still and made a choice to not give a fuck. Mr Wooley stopped smiling and tried to be serious. He adopted a morose expression and tried to growl without making any noise. To Benny, it looked like the funniest thing. He chose to not be afraid of the suspension and grounding that he knew were coming. Instead of letting a childish panic infest him, felt himself beginning to smile. He knew it might get him into more trouble but he no longer cared for the minutia of educational regularity. He cared not for rules, nor punishments, nor the opinions of others. “Alright then,” the deputy said in annoyance. “You two are a couple of smartarses aren’t you?” Benny and Avi looked at each other as if to say “I didn’t know you were a smartarse. When did that happen?” When this failed to have the desired effect, Mr Wooley gave up. “Fine. Get yourselves up to the office. I’ll be up there after lunch.
Benny felt light and breezy, almost as if he could float all the way to the deputy principal’s office. The sun was shining, the students all over the school yard were laughing and playing, and he was in trouble for standing next to Avi while he smoked. He could not help himself as a short, sharp laugh escaped from his mouth. That laugh turned into another and then another. Soon he was laughing hilariously and Avi found himself desperately trying to hold back a laugh, but after a few seconds he was laughing just as hard. The teacher had no answer and his anger at the disrespect was making him look for all the world like a man who could explode his own head at will.
Half an hour later both boys were sitting quietly on the hard orange plastic bucket chairs that caused childhood back problems, severe arse cramps, and seemed to be the mainstay of every public school in the country. They were waiting for Mr Wooley to write up the notes that they would have to take home and show to their parents. Apparently the students at Marion High School were required to rat on themselves. Benny saw a fundamental flaw in this but chose to keep it to himself. He no longer cared. He would get the note and tear it up when he was out of sight. Yes, his dad would find out, and yes, he would have to wear a grounding, but Benny knew he could drag this out until next week. The weekend would still be his to play with and he was going to get himself a date. He just felt so free of everything that had kept him trapped in the dark. Sure it was only one self-realization, but it was a big one. He felt daring, and eagerness overtook his self control. He felt that if he was going to look fear in the face, and do what, until now, had always been impossible, then he may as well shoot for the stars. He was going to ask Stephanie out.
Abject terror turned his world into molasses as Benny trundled into German class later that afternoon. He moved slowly and deliberately, finding his desk and avoiding eye contact with anyone. He was sitting upright and proud, trying to keep it together, and having found a new sense of self worth and confidence, but the voice that told him she would say yes, was drowned out by the voice that had always told him how much he sucked. He had to hold it together.
German class was held in one of the small portable gyprock buildings that had infested Australian public schools nationwide since the 1950’s. Clothed in the smell of decades of sweaty, horny, frustrated adolescents, it was overlayed by the subtle scents of underachievement and eternal chalk dust. This miasma was replaced by a graceful intrusion of jasmine as Stephanie floated in wearing a white summer dress; it shone in the afternoon light and so did she. She is so beautiful.
Fear shot him in the gut, making him retreat into his safe place, the hole in the dark that hid him. It was a mental duck under the covers as he contemplated how to deal with the monster under the bed. He sat for a long moment and let the fear tear shreds from his will before Avi’s voice sounded a klaxon over his self-indulgent pity party. Stop being a little pussy and ask her! It seemed to call. Just ask her! Stephanie sat down, unconsciously fanning her dress across her seat, sitting primly with hands folded, yet somehow she seemed to make it look as though she were lounging on a divan. It took a particularly easy grace to achieve that.
Benny was so impressed by that, he drifted into a brief fantasy of him and Stephanie in a Jane Austin garden setting, walking hand in hand, as they pass by a running brook in the warm summer sun. Stephanie twirled her parasol and Benny admired the shape of her hips in a corset.
He was brought back into the moment as the class started. Mr Weiss strolled in late and started to write conjugational verbs on the blackboard. Inwardly Benny groaned. It was going to be a grammar class. The worst kind! They were thoroughly boring. There was nothing to do but put your mind to the task and hope some of it sticks. That’s what always pissed Benny off. He was a white, English speaking kid, in a predominantly white, English speaking country, surrounded by Asian countries. What the fuck is the point of learning German? he pondered. And it’s compulsory! It was a choice of German, French, or Italian, but I am nowhere near Europe! It was a question he had pondered for more than a year now but it still made no sense. It was like algebra.
The class drew out like a needle going in. The anticipation was murder and Benny felt the gathering pool of adrenaline loosen his bowels, while the rusted white clock above the blackboard ticked off the minutes in seemingly reckless abandon. Benny hated that clock, and not for the first time.
Once more Benny drank her in. He let his mind run free as his eyes washed over her, taking in every ounce of her essence and beauty. She wore her hair in a thick braid today and let it hang carelessly over one bare white shoulder. Every now and then she would twist the end when her father was talking. Her nails were painted in a soft shade of pink and they were real, not press-ons. He liked that about her. She was natural. He could tell that she wore very little make up and her perfume, a subtle jasmine, and wonderfully attractive, only accentuated her natural scent rather than hiding it. He admired the soft nest of fine, almost blonde, hairs on the back of her neck. They thinned out as they descended into a fine golden trail, disappearing into her dress. He wanted so much to kiss that neck. He felt his boyhood rise at the thought and it brought him back into the moment, forcing him to spend a minute thinking away his tumescence.
As he relaxed back into his chair, secure in the knowledge that he could get up and answer a question on the blackboard if he was called, the bell sounded for the end of class and the end of the school day. Benny fell into a controlled panic as reality rose up and bit him like a zombie. The time was now. It had come. It was now or never! All of the things in his life that had gone wrong, all of the issues that repeated on him, all of the slights, the insults, the teasing, the drinking, the smoking, the self hating, the self destruction, all of the chains that had held him down and pegged him to his past, suddenly, and tranquilly, fell away, leaving only Benny and the girl who sat in front of him. No fear, no doubt, no road blocks, just him and what he wanted sitting right in front of him. He just needed to reach out and…
“Hey Steph?” He croaked. Adrenaline shot through him, making him feel as though he might dump out right in front of her.
“Yeah, Ben?” Stephanie replied distractedly, in a musical voice that seemed to be played a little flat. She was packing her books into her bag and didn’t turn to look at him.
Benny swallowed and plundered on. “Are you going to Candy Parker’s party?”
Stephanie spun in her seat and shined a broad smile at him. “Yep. Of course. Are you?”
Benny was so surprised by her reaction that he was sure she must have read his face, but if she did, she had the good grace to pretend otherwise. “I’ve been invited but I don’t have a date. Do you want to go with me?” There! It was out there now. It can’t be unsaid. She would either laugh in his face or let him down kindly, then…
“Sure” she exalted in excitement. “Let me give you my number.” “She warmed him with a more than friendly smile and dove into her bag for a pen and paper. After writing it down, she folded the paper and slipped it into his hip pocket. “Call me tonight to arrange things.” She then popped out of her seat like a meerkat and floated out of the classroom, slowing once to throw a smile back over her shoulder, and then she was gone.
Benny was left in his chair to contemplate just what had happened. It had been so
gloriously goddamn easy. Why have I been so afraid of that? He saw what a monumental waste of time it had been letting fear lead him around. He understood something profound in that moment; the fear was never real, it was the greatest liar. This new understanding gave Benny a whole-body smile. It was only then that he noticed Mr Weiss was still in the room, looking at him.
Benny was so distracted that he missed his bus and decided to walk home, warmed all the way by his own little ray of sunshine. He felt energized and giddy from the result of his endeavour, so much so, that half way home he broke into a jog. He felt himself bark out a laugh from time to time through his heavy breathing. The sun burned hot on his unprotected head but he did not care. The smells of summer filled him, the outback scent of rustling gum trees, the sweet hit of eucalyptus in bloom, the earthy breath of fresh grass cuttings, and the acrid smell of tar as it bubbled up from between the cracks in the concrete.
He ran for home and he ran for joy, leaving his troubles and failures behind him. He was not running away, he was running towards a new future, one that he could never have envisioned.
The dinner table conversation was boring and superficial. Benny spent the whole meal on the edge of his mental seat. He wanted to tell everyone that he was going to a party and he had a date, but he felt reserved around his family about this. It felt like something that was entirely his, as though sharing it might remove some of the pleasure, if not jinx it all together. He held his tongue through the meal and several hours of television. He went to bed feeling like a kid on Christmas eve. Just as he began to drift off, he realized that he had forgotten to call Stephanie to make arrangements. He rolled over and snapped his eyes open, staring into the darkness. “Shit!” he whispered.
The next morning he ploughed through his Wheaties and waited for a more appropriate hour to make the call. Stephanie would not be impressed if he woke her up on a Saturday morning. He sat in front of the TV watching the clock until it was after ten-thirty. As soon as his watch ticked past the half hour he almost ran to the phone. Attaching the extension cord to the phone, he took it into his bedroom for privacy. Stephanie’s friendly voice answered after a single ring. Thank God! He was worried it would be her father.
“Hello?” She said through a little yawn.
“Er, hi. S’Ben. Sorry I didn’t call last…”
“Oh cool!” she interrupted. “I was waiting for you to call.”
“Yeah, it’s ok that you didn’t call. It wasn’t a good idea anyway. If my dad had answered you would have gotten an earful. Man, he gave it to me last night!” Her words spilled out in a tumbling rush.
“Ah!” was all he could think to say, remembering the look he had gotten from Mr Weiss the previous afternoon. Clearly he had heard their exchange and did not approve. “Glad that was avoided then. So…what do you want to do for tonight? Should I come over and pick you up or should we meet there?”
“No I don’t think coming to my house is a good idea. My dad really doesn’t like you.” This was not news to Benny. “Candy’s house is near mine so I’ll walk over. Meet me at the end of the street and we can walk together.”
“Yeah, cool! Where and when?” She gave him her address and told him meet her at seven. They said their goodbyes and then it was done. He had a date. All that remained was to dress up, show up, and make out, or so he hoped.
Breath? Benny blew into his hand. Check! Hair? He looked at his reflection in the mirror of a nearby parked car. Check! Clothes? He looked himself over, smoothing away the ruffles from his black cotton-blend shirt. Crap! He noticed a spot of food on his trousers and attacked it with a thumbnail until it was barely noticeable. “That’ll have to do.” He said in a low voice. He was alone for the moment as he stood at the end of the street waiting for Stephanie. Adrenaline raced around his body and settled in his bowels, threatening to loosen them. Every thirty seconds he turned to look down the street to see if she was coming; it was ten past seven and Benny was getting anxious. The confidence he had felt before had been enervated by his own dismal sense of self worth. He hoped that since he had jumped off of that cliff the day before, that he would not have to feel this way again, but here it was, tapping him on the shoulder like a needy friend begging for a hug. He could do little now but try to hide it, and hope.
Stephanie tapped him on the shoulder, breaking him from his dreary repose. He flashed a smile which she returned, making his heart flutter. She’s so pretty! She stood under the street light, poured into a midnight blue dress that fit her form perfectly, and looking like a gutter-schlepping angel under the light of heaven. It fell over her body in ways that must have made her father apoplectic. Benny felt just as uncomfortable, but in the finest of ways. The dress was sleeveless, coming to an end as it flared at her knees, leaving her smooth, white legs exposed. They were beacon lights, to draw in the other boys, like moths to the flame, but for tonight, if he was really lucky, that flame would be his. She was wearing her hair in a cute double braid that she kept draped over her left shoulder, as she absentmindedly played with the ends.
Unexpectedly, she slipped her hand into his and began to walk, making Benny stutter forward until he levelled with her. “Hi!” Benny could not think of anything else to say.
“Hello.” Stephanie seemed very relaxed. It was not long before she was having a sedate effect on him, draining away some of his self doubt. His bowels began to settle, and after walking half a block in silence, Benny felt some of his confidence returning.
“How’s your dad?” He said with his tongue in cheek.
She poked his ribs with her elbow and grew a cheeky grin. “I really wish you hadn’t asked me out in class. My dad overheard you and served it to me last night!” She punched his arm in a very flirty way.
“Sorry ‘bout that.” said Benny, looking at the ground for a moment, before he lifted his eyes to meet hers. “I was just nervous and didn’t think about what I was doing.” Stephanie raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Your father gave me a filthy look when I walked out.” In truth, it hadn’t been that bad, Benny just wanted to carry his end of the conversation.
“Yeah!” She agreed. “He does that a lot. Especially when ever a guy calls or he sees me talking to any guys at school. Sometimes I think he wants me to stay a virgin.” It took most of his strength to not react at her words.
She turned a serious look on him as though she was expecting a proper response. She is so goddamn pretty! Was the only thought that came to mind. It seemed to dominate his world at that moment so his mouth worked for him, dodging around his good sense filter. “Sucks to be you.” As soon as the words were out he wished he could reach out and snatch them back. His shock showed on his face and Stephanie began to laugh hysterically. She kept looking at him as she did, but it did not feel humiliating to Benny, it felt friendly, encouraging. She stopped for a moment, with a hand over her mouth then laughed again with genuine pleasure.
“Do I really make you nervous?” She asked kindly, but smiling, like she knew the punch-line to an unspoken joke.
Benny shrugged and raised an eyebrow, “A little.” He said. “More than a little.” He conceded.
She reached up with her hand, softly touching his face. “I’m not so scary, am I?”
“No.” Benny could smell the palest hint of jasmine perfume on her fingertips. “I’m just a dork.” It was a statement that he hoped she would refute.
And she did. “If you were a dork, I would have said no, but I said yes, so deal with it!”
Benny smiled, and they began to talk comfortably as they walked the five remaining blocks to the party. The conversation was light and easy. It had no real depth, but it was fun for Benny and he could feel himself getting more comfortable with his date. Stephanie was gracious and easy going. She made it a pleasure to talk with her, and once Benny had gotten her to talk about herself, there was no room to interject. By the time they reached the party, Benny felt he knew half of her life story.
They soon came upon a riot of teens spewing forth from a middleclass suburban house that seemed to be a mirror image of the rest of the street. It was a McMansion in baize, the same as a thousand others in the inner suburbs of Adelaide. The booming pop music and laughing school kids that were flitting around like drunken hormone bombs, were all he needed to know that the ‘rents were not home. The difference between a chaperoned teen birthday party, and a parent free affair was polar. Benny had not been expecting it to be the latter, so the night had just gotten better. Now there were no rules, there would be booze, there would be weed, and many guys would be going home with stinky fingers. If I’m really lucky, Benny thought, I’ll be one of them.
He felt Stephanie slip her arm around his waist. This took him by surprise and he flinched, then immediately relaxed and returned the gesture. This night was going so well, he could not believe his luck. Everything seemed to be coming up aces and he had only just arrived at the party. He and Stephanie threaded their way through the front yard crowd, and upon entering the house, lost the ability to hear. Stephanie indicated that she wanted a drink, so he nodded, and they went in search of something, the kitchen seeming the best bet. Having acquired a beer for himself, and a strongbow cider for Stephanie, Benny found himself at a loss for what to do next. She waved a hand in front of him to get his attention. He could not understand what she was saying and her brow creased in frustration. She looked around quickly, and grabbing his hand, led him out into the back yard where the music was muffled enough to have a conversation. His ears were ringing.
They found a place to sit amongst a dozen or so year elevens and twelves who were sitting around a half-drum fire, passing bottles of liquor between them. He and his date were only grade nines so they seemed more than a little out of place in this crowd, but Stephanie was relaxed and got smiles of recognition from many in the group. Benny had forgotten that she was part of the in crowd and age meant nothing on that tier. Her attitude to him, and the way she was open and forward. had confused him and made him forget about the social order of things. It was as if that stuff made no difference to her. Her demeanour made him relax, and the beer helped too.
Their conversation began effortlessly. Words just seemed to erupt from him without the need to think of something interesting to say. Every now and then he would lean toward her as though he was leaning in to hear her over the music, but he would use the move to take a deep breath and steal a hit of her perfumed aura. Intoxicating! Stephanie had a gentle way of drawing him out of his head. Benny found himself telling her the better part of his life story before long, dropping all of his pretension and just being Benny. Stephanie must have liked this new guy who just showed up after a mere fifteen minutes and a single beer, because she was laughing at his stupid jokes and stroking his hands and arms in familiar and flirty ways. He kept looking for an opportunity to get her talking about herself again but one just did not want to present. When he finished telling her something, she was ready with another question. It was frustrating, because he felt like he would run out of interesting things to tell her about himself, yet she carried on asking and he continued to pour himself onto the ground at her feet, for her acceptance or disapproval.
Their comfortable connection was broken when a bottle of Old Crow bourbon was thrust into benny’s hands from behind. Avi stood looking down on him with a huge grin that slipt his face. Beside him was Missy Parker. They looked like an odd couple. Avi had chosen the formal bogan attire of a checked blue-flannel shirt, over of clean black jeans and black boots. Missy had rich red curls that massed around her shoulders and across the neckline of her pretty white dress, a dress that was hemmed so short, he could almost see her panties. She looked like a flatter, shorter version of her older sister. Eyes as blue as Avi’s were the only match that he could find between them. Each to their own. Benny thought. Avi grabbed two nearby chairs and pulled them around so they could sit together. With new company, the conversation took off in new directions, and Benny felt relieved.
The bourbon was passed between the four of them until it was almost empty. With every swallow, the girls screwed up their faces while the boys tried to play it Bogart, remaining stoic. When Benny looked at his watch, nearly two hours had passed and he was decidedly drunk, and so were the others. For a time they sat watching the fire, talking about silly nothings, and laughing. Stephanie took it upon herself to slide over and recline into his lap. Benny put his arms around her waist and she placed her soft hands over his. He was glad for being drunk and not stoned. He was certain he would not have been able to prevent an erection if he were high. Weed had a boost to his libido, where alcohol had the opposite effect. Sure, he was horny, but he was at ease and in control. Time stretched out and minutes felt like hours. People began to drift away from the fire circle as they paired off and went off search of a private place to do what couples did. Eventually that left Benny, Stephanie, Avi, and Missy, sitting quietly in front of the flames. The bourbon took the chill from his nerves, the fire and summer night air made him sweat, but it was Stephanie shifting on his lap that made him hot.
Benny had a one AM curfew and that meant that he would have to leave at midnight to get home on time. Looking at his watch, he felt his heart sink. It was eleven twenty eight. If anything more is going to happen, I’ll have to make my move soon. Call it fate, call it synchronicity, Benny called it dumb luck, but immediately after he had this thought, Avi stood up and with a departing grin, thrown over his shoulder in typical style, he led a smiling Missy away. Where he went, Benny could not have cared less. The time was now and he knew it, clearly, so did Stephanie.
She turned around on his lap, lifting one leg over so she could straddle him face to face. They were looking right into each other’s eyes, closer than he had ever been to a girl. Her scent was overpowering. It made him giddy and all kinds of pleasurable chemicals had a party of their own inside of him. Her hands traced the lines of his form, down over his shoulders, along his arms, and across his chest, where her fingers traced the dip in his collar bone so lightly that they might have been spectral, until they reached up to hold either side of his face.
The feeling of a girl’s hands on him robbed him of clear thought, and he nearly forgot that he also had hands. In that instant he felt the safest place for them was her face or her hips. She already had his face so he reached down and wrapped his fingers around her hips, down low enough to feel the gentle curve of her backside. Her eyes widened at the pleasure of this and she began to breathe deeply. The feel of her heaving breasts aroused him more than he thought possible. The time is now! Their heads moved together at a snail’s pace, gently brushing noses and feeling the heat of each other’s breath, smelling the bourbon, the sweat from the fire and warm summer night, the perfume of her, the soap and water of him, a nebular for the senses that came together into a singular experience of pleasure and certainty. Their lips met softly and Benny ascended to the heavens. He stayed in that place of peace and indulgence for years, decades, eons. And then the kiss was over. Their faces stayed very close for some time. They took each other in and lingered long in that feeling. Benny tried to hold the feeling and burn it into his memory. The feel of her body pressed tightly against his, the warm wetness of her mouth, the electric softness of her hands on him, and the tingly tickle of touching tongues. He had never felt the tangible desire of a girl until now and he would never forget it. There was nothing else in life quite like it. He pushed in for another kiss and Stephanie accepted.
They sat in that position and macked for a long time. By the time they came up for breath it was past midnight, well past. Benny swore as he looked at his watch. He was going to be grounded anyway, what was a little more time in penalty box for what had happened tonight?
“I have to go or I’ll be in the shit!” He said with a sigh of regret, as he lifted her off of him and stood up. “I’m sorry. I want to stay.”
Stephanie shrugged and smiled. “I understand. See you Monday?” She leaned in and kissed him once more, deeply.
“Don’t you need to get home?” He asked “You don’t have a curfew?”
She shook her head. “I am sleeping here tonight. I can’t go home drunk. What about you?”
“Hopefully my dad will be in bed and he’ll just be pissed off about me being late. I can sneak in so he won’t know I’ve been drinking.” He smiled and gave her a parting kiss. Then they walked through the house and out to the street. They both indulged another kiss and then Benny was stumbling home. He was drunk but the long walk home had a sobering effect. Once again he found his way home on autopilot, lost in thought and memory of a beautiful girl who had shared herself with him, a girl who had been kind to him, a girl who had made him feel wanted and desired, a girl who had said yes.
Daniel Lee’s Short Bio: “I am a South Australian writer working in the modern-day, realistic genre. I also love to write poetry for myself, not for publication. Sometimes, I have been known to write a blog or two but I love fiction the most and always try to write stories that explore the peak human experiences.”
“A Period Piece”
by Rekha Shankar
Becoming a teenager terrified me, because it meant making lots of mistakes. Bad mistakes. And since “blending in” was my family’s unspoken rule, anything else was cause for attention. Bad attention.
My overachieving, healthy-haired brother was a pro at blending, mostly because the boyish teenage activities he could have done (robbing arcades, farting) were foregone for honor roll and bocce ball – neutral hobbies for a harmless child. So to be great, I, too, had to minimize all differences between me and my straight-arrowed family. No parties, no makeup, no boys1 – because in order to be praiseworthy, I had to detach myself from everything that could identify me as a rogue, possibly alcohol-poisoned teen. I had to be genderless.
But then came my period. I was now a teenaged girl, unmistakably, irreversibly. And before I knew it, I was sinking into that pulsating cesspool of puberty:
Since my family doesn’t mention anything related to the pelvis, I had never been given the “talk.” How could no one have given this to me? I was given a Tamogachi and a Nanopet at one point, but was always short on talks. I knew what a period was, but I also had the emotional maturity to think that all pads looked like diapers. But this was really it. Biologically, I had no choice. I was about to rock the boat that had never even left shore. I was about to become … not neutral.
Reluctantly, I told my mom, because I figured it made sense for her to know based on similar body parts. She gave me a brief rundown on using pads (we did not speak of “tampons,” and never would), and asked me if I was in pain. I was fine, but I told her not to tell anyone because it was embarrassing, and I didn’t want people to know I had a functioning uterus. She agreed.
I then went up to my room to do homework. Because work was a good distraction. Homework asexualized me again, because both girls and boys did homework. Math is great! I am great!
But before I could turn a page or even pretend that sitting felt normal, I heard hushed tones from down the staircase. Peeking out of my room and over the banister, I saw my mom talking to my brother.
Rekha had her period today, okay?
And there it was. Done. Just like that, I broke our un-gendered bonds of siblinghood. I gave him a sister. A girl. With eggs – something he could not relate to or advise about, that would have to be unspoken of, that would live in our Jack-and-Jill bathroom’s trashcan forever. Um.
Okay, embarrassment over. He knew, it was out, great. I went back to doing homework, because now that people knew about it, I was becoming an adult, and being an adult meant persevering in the face of feeling awkward.
I ran out of my room and looked over the banister (nothing great ever comes from this) to see a load of bags from the supermarket. I headed downstairs and began to unpack them.
As I was doing so, my dad, a metallurgist, an engineer, a man whose only known preferences were North versus South Indian food, a man who served as an inspiration for me to keep all those metaphorical boats un-rocked for thirteen years, pulled from a grocery bag a bouquet of red roses. He gave them to me.
What was happening? When – I can’t – my dad knew I was a girl too? But I’m just like you, Dad! (Except for this.)
But okay. Sure. What wonderful recognition for my womanhood! (Is that the term?) Yes! I was fine. It was fine. I could take it.
While my dad silently put the rest of the groceries away, my mom had a little moment with the flowers, telepathically establishing a connection to me now that we both shared the bleeding thing. I then took my totally-normal self back upstairs to finish more homework. I was not nauseous!
Then came dinnertime in the basement, where my grandparents lived. Now this was a neutral safe haven. In the eyes of my grandparents, I was certainly neither girl nor boy: I was a loyal Scrabble companion and a regular curry-eater. Simple. But when I entered the kitchen to the smell of cumin and mustard seed, my grandmother pulled me in for a hug, reciting a prayer to herself.
She then placed a chain with a Ganesh-emblazoned pendant around my neck.
May God bless you.
Okay! Great. Wow. Cool. Yes. This was … This was not fine, actually.
A period necklace. A necklace that I was to wear everyday, as a reminder that I had had my period. As if having my period wasn’t enough of a reminder that I was having my period.
Apparently this was a thing that people did. A thing that I was supposed to uphold, because it was a thing that people upheld. My parents had also come down by this point, because that was also a thing, along with the flowers thing, and the other things. But I was croaking. Sinking. Who bought this necklace? Who sold this necklace? Vikram never had one!
I had only wanted to be left alone, to exist without fuss, and now I felt like my entire body was on display. Boys could go through puberty with just a voice crack, but I had to be tailed by a chorus of Tamil Wisemen. Were they still looking at me? I hoped they stopped looking at me. Everyone just needed to stop looking at me because I was trying to do homework …
Fortunately, this marked the final leg of my family’s menarcheological exploration of my pubescence. And after that, things did really become fine. In fact, everyone basically forgot about everything the next day, and I happily slipped back into my pseudo-androgynous cloak. I still had my baggy pants, frizzy hair, and unshaven legs. I continued gracing the line between “biologically female” and “socially null-set.” I felt more at ease, even. Sure, puberty meant that every part of my body needed a CVS product in order to maintain, but I guess that would be good for the economy. Would I start to care about the economy, now? That didn’t sound so bad!
And now that I had gotten the beginning over with, everything was out in the [temporary and sometimes-closed] open. Being noticed was fine [except when it wasn’t], being a girl was great [except when I was around boys], and I had nothing to be embarrassed about [except that my dad had to buy me pads]. And, most importantly, everyone around me was very supportive and would see what I was going through [because I had to wear a period necklace to school for a year].
I had stumbled into adulthood.
Winners of New
Rekha Shankar –
A Period Piece
Tara Le Reynolds –
Sticks and Stones
Breed Wilson –
Geography of a
L.S. Engler –
Michael Farley –
to a Homeland
Tamara Harpster –
City Mouse, Country Eagle
Tara Le Reynolds –
FAQs: A Summary of
Amanda Miller will be at the Rochester Fringe Festival performing One Breath, Then Another: An Interactive Yoga Show, based on her memoir, from September 18th to September 27th. Tickets are available by clicking here. On September 30th she will host Lyrics, Lit and Liquor, a music and literature party in New York’s Lower East Side where Sebastian Briglia will do a reading.
Amanda Erin Miller is an actor, writer, yoga instructor and massage therapist. She is intrigued by the ways these practices inform each other. Amanda recently published her memoir One Breath, Then Another about her quest for healing to avoid her father’s self destructive path on her own Lucid River Press.
She has adapted the book into an interactive solo show about studying yoga on an ashram in India, which premiered at Dixon Place in New York City on March 9th, 2013. Excerpts from One Breath, Then Another have been featured in Underwired Magazine, Om Times, Love Your Rebellion, Runaway Parade and So Long: Short Memoirs of Loss and Remembrance, a memoir anthology. Her writing has also appeared in The Rumpus and UC Riverside’s Cratelit.
She hosts and books the monthly literary/ music series Lyrics, Lit & Liquor at The Parkside Lounge. She has also created a two-person comedy show called Please Don’t Let Me Die Alone with her collaborator Shawn Shafner about the perils of love and dating. They have performed this show around Valentine’s Day every year since 2010 in New York City at The Tank Theater, The Magnet Theater and The People’s Improv Theater. Amanda earned her BFA in Acting from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. For more information, visit her website http://www.onebreaththenanother.com/.
AS A CHILD Sebastian Briglia wanted to be American, and luckily for him at the time, so did his parents. They emigrated from Bulgaria in 1991, not long after the fall of communism. As an adult, he wanted to be Bulgarian again, mostly because of his mounting legal troubles in America, though unfortunately for him at the time he was estranged from his parents and Bulgaria as he remembered it did not exist anymore. Later he began to suspect that Bulgaria as he remembered it never existed.
He has attempted to reach a balance between what he thinks he wants and what he thinks he needs by exploring spirituality and materialism both on and off drugs and new wave music, in urban as well as rural environments. All of this, of course, has been to no avail. His New Wave and the Art of Heroin Maintenance series reflect this struggle.
Two excerpts of New Wave and the Art of Heroin Maintenance, “Raven on Heroin” and “Raven in the Motel Room,” have been featured in Horror Sleaze Trash Magazine. As a journalist, he has only written under his real name at The Italian Tribune News in Newark, NJ, where he worked as a staff writer over a decade ago. The rest of his journalistic and feature writing has been published under a pen name. He currently works in public relations and plays guitar in the New York band Like Herding Cats. Their eponymous EP had just won The Deli Magazine’s NYC Artist of the Month Award when he joined.
Rejection can be the most exhilarating roller coaster you can be on emotionally, provided you remain the ultimate judge of your own failure.
Maintaining awareness during the working process can be very helpful in keeping rejection in perspective. Below is a post written by Sebouh Gemdjian that delves into some meditation techniques that can be practiced while working: