I participated again in the Indie Ink Writing Challenges. For some reason, this week's writing was a difficult task. I was having one of those writing moments where every word was like pulling teeth and I would go back over it four or five times, but still found myself unsatisfied with the end result. I loved the prompt and had all these ideas, but I couldn't focus properly this week. I tried, though, and pushed through, no matter what, and that's definitely something. This week I challenged the awesome MyPlaidPants (the response is here) and my challenge - it just doesn't get any better - came from Barb Black.
Conversations with my mother should be outlawed. The woman had an uncanny knack for taking an already-frustrating situation and making me feel ten times worse about it. Her pep talks ended with me wanting to slit my wrists because she didn’t get it and I became even more convinced that I was a freak of nature. Maybe someday I would appreciate her efforts to bond and be there for me, but today wasn’t that day. I was too busy trying to make sense of our most recent conversation.
“Laney, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade,” my mother said, leaning in close to me as though she was imparting some great wisdom instead of throwing random clichés at me until one stuck.
“Right. Okay,” I said. I wasn’t sure how that helped me with my current situation, but it was best to smile and nod where my mother was concerned.
“You worry too much. You’re sixteen! High school is the best time of your life! You need to enjoy it!”
I stared at my mother blankly because really, what could I say to something like that? If it was true, my future was obviously doomed – filled with contracting the plague and driving a Volvo – because I couldn’t wait for high school to be done.
“Seriously, sweetheart, it just doesn’t get any better,” she replied. She brushed her hands through my hair and added, “You’re such a pretty girl. Why do you always hide behind this mop of hair? Why don’t you wear make-up?”
“Mom,” I groaned. “You really need to work on your pep talks.”
She shook her head and said, “Just think about it.”
I nodded and plastered a small smile onto my face until she left my room. Once the door shut behind her, I grabbed my pillow and screamed into it. My day had already been crappy enough, what with humiliating myself in the cafeteria and realizing that I might have creepy-weird-lovey-dovey-feelings for my best friend, but I was even more depressed at the idea of having reached the pinnacle of my existence. Was my mother right or insane? Did she really think life didn’t get any better than Calculus tests, stupid jocks, and cheesy dances where said stupid jocks got drunk and felt up anyone with a pulse?
The familiar sounds of Lady Gaga filled my ears. I dropped the pillow and reached for my cellphone without thinking about it. “Life sucks and then you die. How can I help you?”
“This bodes well,” Mike said.
I sat up on my bed and glanced around the room as though someone was there to help me through this, but I was alone. I knew I was being ridiculous. I had a million conversations over the years with Mike and even when we fought, I was never at a loss for words. But I was scared. I had known Mike since pre-school and if I wasn’t careful he would figure out why I was avoiding him. I would have to move to Russia and I didn’t look good in fur hats. I took a deep breath and silently repeated that I was not in love with my best friend. I tried to make my voice sound cheery, “What’s up?”
“What is going on with you? First, you face plant in the middle of the cafeteria and run off like a lunatic—”
“—I wasn’t looking where I was going and an idiot football player tackled me and my skirt went up and everyone was staring,” I said in one quick breath. It was another reason to hate school uniforms. It was never pleasant for girls when they fell down or a strong breeze hit.
“So you thought you’d make it better by running off?”
“Shut up. I’m already humiliated enough.”
“That still doesn’t explain why you would avoid me.”
“I wasn’t avoiding you, dooface.”
“I know you heard me calling to you after school, but you ran off before I could catch up.”
“I didn’t hear you,” I said. I was totally lying, but there was no need to go into that at the moment. There was no reason for both of us to feel weird.
Mike sighed, the kind where I knew that he knew I was lying, but he wasn’t going to push. He was always good like that. My mother used to say his mellow personality was a good match for my histrionic one. He said, ““I wanted to check on you.”
“I’m fine, but I can’t talk right now. I’m pondering my existence.”
“My mother wanted to talk,“ I replied. When Mike laughed, I said, “It’s not funny. She told me that this was as good as it gets. High school is the ultimate and everything else is crap.”
“I don’t think that’s true.”
“I sincerely hope not.”
“It sounds like your mother is projecting her nostalgia for her lost youth onto you.”
“That’s the problem with nostalgia. It makes you forget the bad and then you ruin your daughter’s evening,” I said, letting out the breath that had been stuffed into my chest since my “talk” with my mother.
“Always bites you in the ass.”
I laughed and my stomach churned slightly and, ugh, when the hell did this happen to me? I wasn’t this girl and I definitely wasn’t this girl when it came to Mike. He was my best friend, not some momentary high school fling. I shook my head, silently berating myself and trying to get a grip, and said, “Thanks Mike.”
“You’re still a spazz.”
“Takes one to know one.”
I didn’t have to be in the same room to know he was rolling his eyes at me. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, it’s just stuck on repeat play in my head - it doesn’t get any better than high school. Ew,” I replied with a shudder. “High school should never be the highlight of anyone’s life. That’s like looking back on your life and be excited about waiting in line at the grocery store.”
“It’s not all bad.”
“I’d like to think that there’s much more to the world than ugly plaid uniforms and homework.”
“Taxes and mortgages?”
“More like traveling the world.”
“Don’t forget the kids and nine-to-five job.”
“I prefer marrying a rock star and saving the planet,” I replied. I tried to swallow down the fear and unease I was feeling, but I was never good at hiding things from Mike. I continued, “Do you ever freak out when you realize we’re right on the cusp of a whole new time in our lives? It felt like it took forever to get to high school and some days it feels like it will never end, but lately, I dunno, it’s all moving way too fast. Everything's changing and I can’t keep up.”
“You’re losing it.”
“Slightly. I blame my guidance counselor and his it’s-time-to-make-the-most-important-decision-of-your-life spiel I got yesterday about choosing colleges to apply to.”
“How about we get you through junior year without injury before freaking out about college applications?”
“And not everything has to change, Elaina,” he said.
Mike was lucky I couldn’t reach into the phone and hug him because I might not ever let go. Even if I wasn’t in love with him – stupid feelings I didn’t understand – I loved him. He always knew how to talk me down and make me feel better. I hoped I did the same for him.
I said, “Thanks for checking on me.”
“It’s what I do.”
“And thanks for reeling me back in. I was coming unhinged.”
He snorted. “That’s one word for it. Are we still on for tomorrow night?”
“Not even death by humiliation or panic attacks interrupt our cheesy movie night,” I replied.
“Try not to take out any football players between now and then.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow at school, klutz.”
“Seriously. So funny,” I replied.
“Night Mike,” I replied. I dropped my phone on the nightstand and collapsed on my bed. I shut my eyes and smiled. I couldn’t explain it logically. I was no closer to understanding what was going on with me and everything in my life was changing as adulthood quickly approached, but I felt optimistic about the future. No matter what happened, whether this was as good as life got or not, I had a friend who could make me laugh and that had to be worth something.