I’m pretty sure Susan Cheng is the most boring name in the history of the universe, and if you can’t prove that, then it’s devastatingly common in the phone book. Even without my name, I may well be the most boring of the six. But that’s not the reason I was assigned to begin this account (does boringness connote a lack of bias?). I was assigned to start because I think the least of the six of us.
See, that first sentence. Adam would be like “You can’t say the most boring name, there’s no way to quantify boring,” and then Lee would be like “On the planet Zwork, the unit of boringness is the nanobeeve, and Susan Cheng is worth two hundred and fifty nanobeeves, whereas my name, Liam Feldman – ” and they would totally ruin the flow of the narrative. Already have, as a matter of fact.
I’ll get the explanations out of the way now. According to my mother, this is discouraged as a literary strategy – one is supposed to immerse the reader in medias res – but I really don’t give a shit. It started as three of us: Adam, Lee, and me. We are grouped together because our mothers were all best friends in college – they went to Smith – and somehow ended up in the same city. Given the city is New York, that’s not so surprising. What is beyond us is that they continued to have tea together every Saturday throughout their adulthood – and they brought our little toddler selves to the earlier meetings. We were a regular multicultural playgroup. We could have done a Band-Aid commercial. One black, one white, one Asian. Do the Diversity Shuffle.
But let’s go in order. Start with Adam.
The first thing you have to know about Adam is that he was set up to be valedictorian. Our school doesn’t really care who’s valedictorian, that being one of many academic honors, but Adam was it hands-down. He got like five A-pluses a year. You probably can’t understand how difficult our school was, but even one A-plus was hardcore. Adam was way off the charts.
He was tall and thin, though not unusually so – I think he was about 6’1” – and had very dark skin and an intense stare. He spoke very little, mostly to Mac, whose story I'll get to later. They were besties for a while. Then senior year came and he started speaking to me.
I realized this initial-description thing is actually difficult because I don’t know where to start and what to leave out. I’m sitting in my room on my blue carpet, with my laptop and a box of Pocky, wearing pajamas and my fuzzy panda slippers, and I feel like an inadequate fraud. Besides that I just used the past tense and nobody’s dead.
But onward. Lee. What is there to say about Lee?
It was Adam who started calling him that. His actual name is Liam, but Adam one day decided that “Lee” fit him better and it stuck from there. Of course, Adam also calls him Data. Things you need to know about Lee:
A. He wears pressed khakis and tucked-in button-down shirts to school. With loafers.
B. He has mild cerebral palsy. His mother is keen on stressing the “mild” as much as the human voice will allow.
C. He spends all – literally all – of his free time alone in his room with the door closed, watching Star Trek or reading.
I don't understand Lee, yet, and I don't pretend to. And then there’s me.
I tend to fade into the scenery. I’m average weight and not at all pretty. I don’t wear clothes that normal people consider clothes: mainly jeans, tank tops, long-sleeved shirts in nondescript colors. White and blue and gray. I also tend to notice appearances. Some people are out there like “wtf, she’s describing her clothes, did we pay for this?” but sometimes I think I don’t have an inside to describe. Not like Adam or Lee, anyway. Like I said: boring.
But I’ve got strawberry Pocky. Let’s get this party started.
Our story commenced when I got an e-mail from Adam in October of senior year, at 8 PM. Adam is weird in that he doesn’t IM, or text, or (god forbid) call when he wants to contact you – he e-mails. Formally. With opening and closing greetings, or whatever the shit you call those. Anyway, the e-mail went as follows:
Hai thar Susan,
As you can tell, I’ve been looking at lolcats instead of doing my homework. So as you can see, this is a serious issue. I’m sorry to interrupt *your* work, but I need to discuss an important topic with you. I would like to meet you tomorrow at lunch, 11:15, courtyard. Please show up.
Crumpity crump crump,
your acquaintance, Adam
Now here was the first clue that Adam was hopelessly out of the loop: “I’m sorry to interrupt *your* work”. Anyone with eyes could tell that I never did homework at home, and certainly not with the zealotry that Adam did. I worked during breaks and free periods, squeezed in essays at lunch, sometimes did every assignment in the class directly before it. Or in the class itself, if the teacher collected at the end. Adam, please. Way to guilt me. In a way, though, it was cute: Adam was so naïve he thought everyone worked the way he did.
I did not respond to the e-mail. I continued playing Tetris.
Exactly two hours later (ten on the dot), I got another e-mail:
what up su.cheng,
i was trying to make you a name like j.lo, but s.cheng doesn’t sound right (because the “ess” sound begins with a vowel) and this new one rhymes with wu-tang. so i hope you don’t mind that. also, as you can see, i am experimenting with writing with no capitals. this is what my friend makram (and like, a lot of people) do on the internet. it bothers me. but anyway. RSVP please. i would really like an answer. i know you kind of dislike me but if this is any help please remember your friendship with Wendy.
I was like, what the fuck.
Wendy was Adam’s mother. He did have a point there. I’m pretty sure Wendy is the most brilliant and kindest person in the universe, not to mention beautiful – Adam gets his ugliness from his father – and certainly better to talk to than my mother, who has Artist Angst and as such is no help at all. So I did go over to Adam’s apartment, every so often. When he wasn’t there. I met Wendy to chat and eat cookies and not be stressed by her crazy crazy son.
But he had a point that Wendy would want me to help out an acquaintance in need, even if said acquaintance was batshit insane, whether he was her son or not.
I had to follow the Wendy Code of Common Sense.
In the meantime, the most baffling thing about Adam’s e-mails was those separate opening lines. Prior to the greetings. Crump it and then just that list of authors. He was probably doing a paper on them, or one of them, or just reading them for fun or extra credit, but I didn’t care enough to figure it out. At the same time I was too intrigued not to do some desultory thinking. This annoyed me. In addition, Adam actually did say things like crump. He was too much of a geek to curse.
If I did meet him at lunch, I was going to swear like a sailor.
I literally rammed straight into Clara Delgado this morning. It was not an auspicious start to the day. I mean, first, there's my own painful awkwardness which need not be increased by mishaps in the hallway; and second, it was Clara Delgado.
Like, she was coming out of Counseling and I was going into Counseling and the office door swung and there was this collision. Which ordinarily wouldn't be too horrid. But Clara you know dropped her stack of books and then started twisting her hands in front of her the way she does, and repeating Sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry. And I had no idea how to react. It doesn't help, in a situation like that, to know exactly what's wrong with her and to empathize since there's an equal amount of stuff wrong with me. It's different stuff, and Clara carries with her a stigma, and even I am not immune to that.
“Sorry Zellie sorry,” she whispered, her hands contorting, not picking up the books.
Also I was wearing a dress. It was a bright orange sundress, cheap as shit, but I thought I looked rather nice in it. I bring this up because wearing a dress makes me feel twice as self-conscious. If you understand my normal level of self-consciousness, this should alarm you.
I don't know why I wear dresses, anyway, then. Pushing my own boundaries? It's not like I can pick up cute girls. My appearance will never scream “dyke” and my position in the proverbial closet is just short of Narnia.
So, like, me. Clara Delgado. Slam. Maximum awkward.
“It's okay,” I said, and bent to pick up her books. My head was mumbling, This is how the two main characters in my Spanish textbook first met. Then I mumbled back at myself, Shut up. I handed Clara her books. She gave me this stiff little head-nod and scampered off down the hallway. I feel bad saying “scampered” – she's a person, not a mouse – but that was the movement.
Anyhow then I went in to the counselor and talked about my stuff, blah blah my mother hates me blah blah I like girls blah I stole seven lipsticks last week. (No, seriously, it was impressive.) And she nodded sagely like that was going to help any.
I forgot about Clara until that afternoon. (It staggers me, actually: this day was normal until roughly 4 PM. I went to lunch, gave the cafeteria my stupid coupon, ate some disgusting mac and cheese, took my meds, brushed my teeth in front of the first-floor bathroom mirror. I fixed my hair, adjusted my glasses. Well, maybe I was being unusually vain. My hair had come out of the shower looking good – it's my best feature, blond and wavy and halfway down my back – and I'd maybe been elaborately precise about my ponytail. Relatives keep telling me I could be a model; if you ignore the fact that I'm 5'4'', it's unfortunately semi-realistic. I'm thin because metabolism and blond and blue-eyed and nice face if I got contacts and blah blah dumb. You don't understand what it's like to be misleadingly pretty. People look at me and think, oh it's a girl, it's a hot girl, and then we talk for five minutes and they gradually recoil, as it dawns on them, oh shit no it's a monster. And it's the differential that matters. If I were ugly, at least inside and outside would match.)
But that all pales now. This afternoon, we – six of us in total, including Clara and me – met in a hallucination, and I may be crazy and I may depersonalize like fuck but visions don't happen to me. I thought it signaled the end of the world.
God, my little sister is slow. If she didn't take so fucking long to get her shit together, or better yet if I didn't have to pick her up from school every day, I would have hours more to do my homework. I'm exaggerating, but only slightly.
Parveen is a little diva, that's why. She'll be eleven in November but has already figured out how to manipulate every single adult in her life. I see through her bullshit, but can rarely do anything about it. So I'm standing like a loiterer in a pack of elementary school kids watching my sister organize her hairband collection. Which she needs to do before we get on the subway.
Clara Delgado, who's standing by the curb waiting for the light to change, turns around and fixes me with one of these creepy stares that she sometimes gives people. I know she can't help it, she's probably just staring in my general direction and thinking about whatever she thinks about. Fuck if I know. But it's still creepy, like, forgive me if my natural reaction to that kind of intense stare is to freak out and back away slowly. I stick my tongue out, experimentally. Yep, she has no idea I'm in her line of vision.
There's a tug on my shirt. “Mac,” says Parveen. “Can we get ice cream? Please? I have leftover money from lunch. This is like, the last week the Mister Softee truck will ever be out. It's gonna be cold from now on.”
Even her signing has this obnoxious little diva tone. You can tell. Her fingernails are painted pink. OK, so I don't like my little sister much. Sue me.
“No,” I say. Except I sign, Fuck no. She rolls her eyes at me. One advantage of Parveen is that you can be obscene with her and she won't tell the parents. (Look, I found a good thing about her.) She values the freedom of all adolescents to curse up a storm when not on parental territory. Or something. Whatever it is, we sometimes have swearing contests.
“We're going straight home,” I tell her. “The A is fucking clogged by now.”
She sighs dramatically. I glance back at the crosswalk, to check on Clara Delgado's whereabouts. Occasionally we'll end up on the same train. I realized back in freshman year that we both live in Washington Heights, which is weird because one, our school is nowhere nearby, and two, the neighborhood is mainly Dominican now. Which neither of us are. Clara's Puerto Rican and I'm, you know, whatever they call it when Mom is Iranian and Dad's Pakistani. Potential terrorist? That's a bad joke, but according to the government, it's probably not far from true. You have to make fun of the post-9/11 world somehow.
I feel pretty detached from reality right now. I might still be in the coma that eighth-period history induces.
By the time we get to the station, luck dictates that we end up in the same subway car as Clara Delgado. So much time has passed since I saw her standing at the crosswalk that I wonder if she purposely arranged this. She follows people around sometimes. I'm not just being paranoid: once I had this entire conversation with Zellie Maddox in AP Bio about how we think Clara has followed us places. Zellie was like, I turn around and she's just right there, and I was like Oh god she does the same thing to me.
Like I said, creepy.
Parveen and I grab a pole in the center and hang on as the train lurches. I glance over at Clara, who's hunched in a corner seat. Her backpack is clasped on her lap and she looks miserable. I mean genuinely sad, not just the standard New York subway face. She's wearing this ratty blue hoodie and a plaid skirt that looks like it belonged to her grandmother, and you know how on some girls that would be an obvious hipster outfit? Not on Clara. She just has no idea how to dress herself. The difference is immediately evident. In a way, it's refreshing: I for one get tired of girls who think that kind of outfit is remotely attractive. It's not. Clara at least knows that.
I close my eyes and let the rhythm of the train relax me. It's pleasantly rumbly, the vibrations beneath my feet constant and soothing. I'm thinking about my history paper and how I have Pop-Tarts at home when the entire subway crashes to a halt.
There are people sliding violently and smashing into each other and way too disturbed to apologize and a tangle of bodies and in the commotion I see Clara's face, clearly, her lips moving in a sentence that must be Spanish and then a single word, “Fuck.”
It's so incongruous with her freaky childlike appearance that I keep my eyes locked on her a moment longer, as though I must have lipread wrong and she'll repeat herself.
Then I'm in a different place entirely, and there's this woman there with her fingernails painted blood red, and she's signing at me.
First you should know that it's all a sham.
Me, that is. The whole straitlaced, geeky, militant-crip persona. I get nauseated just typing that. Not that I'm not a bit of a square, or geeky, or occasionally militant about my status as a second-class citizen; it's just, all that is background noise. Footnotes in the story of my life.
Ha ha. I spazattacked five minutes ago and Mom is asking me what I want for dinner and there is some seriously dirty fanfiction open on my computer. I think it's Sulu/Uhura; I didn't actually bother to look at the pairing. Surprise! Never reading labels is a terrible habit of mine.
I exit my room sometimes and my mother is walking around the apartment dusting, mumbling, praying for me. I'm her only child, and I came out wrong. Not because of the CP; whatever else there is. Even she can tell I'm a funky sort of person. But she prays for the wrong reasons.
When I was like eight I bought a ham sandwich with my allowance because I thought breaking kosher was like, the rebellious act that would guarantee me badass status for life, and I only got spanked.
I was shocked because I thought the world would fall apart at the seams. Now I keep kosher just for the hell of it.
If no one cares what you do, you might as well follow the rules.
Except that time I went to Victoria's Secret with Susan and she paid for my stuff. We were about fourteen; she wasn't supposed to be there either. I doubt she remembers the incident by now.
It's a pretty cool place: I like all the perfumes. I like to smell specific fragrances. Every apartment has a smell, every subway station. Once I realized that smell sensitivity is also a trait of Hannibal Lecter, I admittedly got scared. I examined myself carefully to determine if I might be a serial killer. I'd watched the movie at a friend's house but then I got the book. I combed it for clues. It was, surprisingly, reassuring. I learned I was unlikely to be violent.
But for years I had nightmares about Jame Gumb finding me, and proving me a fraud. He was deranged. But he might see through me anyway.
Anyhow, that's when it happened. In my unremarkable apartment, 5:00 p.m. on a Monday, recently spazzed out and Mother asking me would I like leftovers or Chinese takeout. We live on the Upper West Side. Our apartment is comfortable, shabby, marked by years of frugality and visiting relatives. There's a mezuzah on the door which, when I'm in my power chair, my aide touches for me. With crutches or a cane I can just barely reach it myself.
I don't know why we haven't set it lower. I think Mother believes that one day I'll just stand up by the grace of God and grow proper muscles and also decide to be a rabbi.
I'm not entirely opposed to being a rabbi. I like God. (Weak, I know, but our relationship isn't nearly close enough to say love yet.)
I don't mean to stereotype my mother. At heart, I'm just another whiny teenager prone to exaggeration about my familial woes. I have no complaints and I could make a respectable list of ways in which my parents aren't typically Jewish.
But I'm not here to discuss that. I am here to discuss the Event. I, Liam Feldman – except I cringe at “Liam” and am better known as Lee – have been privy to an Event. An extraordinary one. It's difficult to describe.
Basically my mother was saying the words “Chinese food” and then I was transported somewhere else.
I don't want to say there was a flash of bright light, because that's standard material, but there was. It was blindingly white and I thought I'd gotten a spontaneous concussion. I was like, do I have cancer? Do I have AIDS? My knee-jerk tendencies are irrationally hypochondriac. Then I wondered, is it 9/11 all over again? Is it the nuclear apocalypse? And then, a stunningly white room.
A bare bulb hung from the ceiling and it smelled faintly of hospital. But coupled with the sick sterilized blood scent of the biology lab when we did sheep heart dissections. And almost, inexplicably, a hint of ground coffee.
Don't ask me to explain it.
We were all standing in a circle and there were five other people there. Adam and Susan, which made sense. Then Mac Khoury, which was logical since he and Adam were like BFF for a while. They've grown apart this year but still, Mac's presence was within reason. Then Zellie Maddox and Clara Delgado, which I didn't understand at all.
In the center of our circle stood a woman.
She was – I cannot stress this fact enough – flipping gorgeous. Pale flawless skin, short auburn hair in a wavy coiffure that perfectly framed her face. Deep red lips and nails the same color. Her features were delicate and her eyes were welcoming, warm and brown. She wore a tricolored skirt suit: stripes of red, gray and black. Sheer stockings and a type of formal leather shoe I'd never seen before. Not merely hot, but put-together as fuck.
Essentially, I wish I looked like her.
I am also 100 percent positive she was a hologram.
“Greetings,” said the hologram. “Congratulations. You have been selected at random to participate in a program for the gradual acceleration of Earth residents. New York group, Youth class. We understand that this process may be difficult and alarming for you, but I assure you, the benefits far outweigh the risks. It is a great honor and you will be compensated accordingly. We believe it is essential for Terrans to participate in Channel activity, if you are to be productive members of this civilized arena. I am the Magpie, and my role here is to welcome you.”
Her red mouth smiled, I was further dazzled, and I ceased to hear words.
I'm gonna stop now because typing this has made me realize its insanity. You probably think I'm a schizophrenic, or something. You probably think I watched too much science fiction and cracked.
The latter may be true, and I can't prove you wrong. But I'm just telling it how it happened. The others will corroborate me, to the extent that they're able. Clara's account has the most detail, since she's the one who copied it down. I'll let them all fill in the blanks.
Once the woman's voice faded I was back in my room and had to pretend like nothing had happened. Luckily I zone out a lot, my facial expressions are subject to spazzing anyhow, and Mother thought it was just my normal strangeness at work.
Renata Acevedo is not a bad bitch.
This clarification is necessary. A long time ago, in a galaxy known as ninth grade, you tried – with great trepidation – to explain Renata to a friend. “She's that person in my head who I become so I can do things,” you said; realized that sounded stupid, backtracked, stumbled through a few sentences of nonsense. And your friend said, “Oh, so you pretend to be a bad bitch instead of the mousy little freak you are?”
Then she laughed and patted your arm and said, “I was just kidding.”
Regardless: the answer is no. Renata is not a bad bitch. Oh, not that she can't be intimidating on occasion, armed with her arsenal of razor-sharp knowledge. Not that she doesn't stride down hallways with a severe expression and the clickety-clack of heels. Not that she doesn't convey purpose in her every move. But a 'bad bitch' must be cool, of necessity, and Renata is the polar opposite.
No, she's rigid and serious and concentrates solely on her studies. Renata Acevedo walks the clean white hallways of a space station, orbiting a colony of Earth, attending the preeminent science academy for youth of the future. She's quiet and collected but far from calm – beneath the skin every muscle is tightly wound, every nerve on edge. No assignment turned in late, no comma out of place.
She's a parody of perfectionism. Her classmates make fun of her: dork, suck-up, teacher's pet. Sourpuss. But it's okay; she doesn't need friends, only colleagues. You know how this goes.
Renata most likely needs someone to shake her up – to whirl into her life and disrupt her perfect routine. Get her to wind down, loosen up, smile every so often. Life is more than deadlines and impeccably crafted essays. Look outside – there are the stars! The universe is infinite! Now kiss me.
You know how the story goes. No, seriously – don't you?
But it's okay. That person will never appear. Renata does the usual, keeps her lockstep in the march of learning, pines over a few peers who will never notice her. It's fine. It's fine.
She looks like you, of course – but a shred taller, a shred thinner, a shred more polished. Her glasses don't sit crooked. Renata's limbs don't wiggle and bounce and twitch of their own accord. Renata wears heels not sneakers, so no one can tell she walks on her tiptoes. Renata exists so you don't have to inhabit this life, this you. Clara Delgado, who wears jeans to school every day – because her mother bought them for her, because her mother wants her to be a Regular Girl – but then changes into sweatpants or yoga pants or skirts in the bathroom, every day before first period. You're stuck in this short lumpy body, this dull brown acne-scarred face. Your hair that can't decide whether to be straightish or frizz up completely – and either way you pull it into the tightest bun possible, so tight you get near-constant headaches, but it's better than the texture of hair on your neck. Your jaw that shifts at random between 'clenched painfully shut' and 'half-open to the point of drooling' – either option impermissible. Your utter lack of friends.
Except Adam Walcott; he counts as an acquaintance, maybe. Renata spoke to Adam once. This was back in tenth grade, shortly after a chemistry test, your class sprawled in the locker hallway trading grades. You're discussing, lazily, your strategies for academic success. How did you study for chem, have you started that paper yet. “I mean,” says Adam, “I try to put in as little effort as possible. Least amount of work that'll get me the highest grade.” He's cavalier and cynical and, to Renata's mind, blasphemous.
In return, you're shocked and petulant. “I like effort,” you respond. “I guess that's the difference.”
Adam chuckles and concedes. Different strokes for different folks. You're positioned as equals – his 96.2 GPA, your 93.5 – but you'll always clash on this particular point. Renata is at school to learn. Adam is only there to skate through until he gets out.
That's all, folks.
You were diagnosed as a little kid, but your mother failed to inform you until you were fifteen, about a year after Renata began to exist. Your mother's rationale: if we never tell Clara she's a tragedy, she won't become one. It was admirable logic, mostly, except for the part where your mother still thinks you're a tragedy to be prevented.
Regular Girl. You pretend to wear jeans so she's placated. The texture and waistline of jeans make you feel like you're suffocating, but it's not so bad for two hours every day – one on the subway to school, one returning home.
The epitome of Regular Girl is your younger sister, that mystifying creature. Your sister who can wear tank tops and short-shorts, whose hair is always straightened and streaked funky colors. Green, purple, ice blue. Your sister who can switch in a second from pretending she wouldn't be caught dead speaking Spanish, to pretending she wouldn't be caught dead speaking English. You've never understood the difference – language is a marker of community, and both shut you out. The playground kids didn't like you when you were five; the high-school kids don't like you now, either, but they do afford you a grudging respect.
It's an upgrade.
Renata Acevedo cries herself to sleep sometimes, curled into a ball beneath her covers. Tension drains out of her shaking shoulders and she wonders what she's doing with her life. Is it worth it, this endless Sisyphean struggle? Am I merely overcompensating, via academic prowess, for my other deficits? You know the story.
Clara Delgado has no idea how to cry. She dry-sobs to Ravel and punches the couch with her fists. Still one hell of a cliché on Valentine's Day.
You spend your extra money on Starbucks. You spend your extra energy on staying close to sane.
The woman in the white room, for the record, is the most beautiful woman in the world. Clara doesn't see her; Renata does. Renata scribbles down every word she says. Once it's over, once the A has been revived and lurches its way home, they commune in Clara's room. “Magpie speaks,” says Renata. “It's time to listen.”
Her face is serious, but she's making a joke. She can do that: rise above her problems, soften the blows with humor. You've got little patience for such methods. “Shut up,” you tell her. Renata shrugs, uncaring. She's already made the decision to do your math homework, file the Magpie away until your deadlines aren't so pressing.
Except you can't get the chanting repetition out of your head. Magpie speaks, it's time to listen. Magpie speaks, it's time to listen. Magpie speaks – Aughhhhh.
You have little half-moons in the center of your palms from clenching your fists so tight.
My mother wants me to be President.
While I have only circumstantial evidence to support my claim, and I've been called a conspiracy theorist more than once, in this case I am positive. It's this disturbing glint in her eyes, when she sends me off to school by saying “Learn something new!” Yes, Mom, I will. I'll learn that it's more interesting to cut class and sit in a janitor's closet than it is to cohabit a room with twenty-five of these morons I call peers. Not that I actually do the former – can't ruin my GPA – but class invariably leaves me wanting to gouge my eyes out with a hot poker. And my mother thinks I like school. No, Mom. I get good grades because I know how to put in minimum effort for maximum results, because the system is easy to game, because I am the worst Machiavellian to ever grace the halls of this fine institution.
If I could speak to my mother plainly, I'd say things like: Stop telling my IQ to strangers. Stop asking if you can read my papers, look over my math tests. Stop it with the Talented Tenth bullshit, even if you refuse to call it that, because by this point I've read more post-colonial theory than you and you can just stop insinuating that I have obligations to my people, stop insinuating that I have any obligations at all, just stop. I'm a fucking teenager, for Christ's sake.
Dad may be constantly immersed in his work, and sometimes I wish we interacted more frequently, but at least he isn't breathing down my neck all the time.
A couple years ago I wanted to jump off a bridge, but I'm too chicken and then classes got better (more difficult) and I became friends with Mac. So. Life worth living, for now. Mac and I were partnered in tenth-grade chem lab and hit it off immediately once we discovered we both spent most of our time exhausted. In a psychological sense. People have expectations for you, and it's tiring whether you meet them or subvert them. We had this whole discussion about the capitalization of identities, and how it makes us want to snap people's heads off. (Okay, that was my wording. Mac was more generous.) People keep trying to get him to capitalize the D in deaf and he hates it.
In short, “identity politics” can go fuck itself and die in a fire.
Now that that's over with: to the day in question. (I get that I come on a little strong. Even Mac says I spend too much time irritated, and I acknowledge that. In my defense, the world is really fucking stupid.) Anyhow, it was a Monday in September, the day of the Event. I was midway through Central Park, walking home from school. I was irritated (heh) at the prospect of my history paper. It was due Friday but I planned to chug a few energy drinks and bang it out in one night, preferably Wednesday. That night my mother works late and I can do rebellious things like put rum in my Red Bull. Don't worry, gentle readers, I'm always careful.
I will spare you my description of the event itself. Lee and Clara have proven themselves impartial witnesses, and I have nothing salient to add for now. Mysterious robot lady, blinding light, et cetera. I did not enjoy it in the least. If you think I should spend time recounting an experience I hated, you can fuck right off.
But once home and recovered I spent a full four hours debating who to e-mail. Of the five others present, that is. The five other faces in the white room. I was not prepared to send a mass e-mail – the very thought made me shudder – but I intuitively grasped that I'd have to take charge, gather us together, because the rest of them lacked initiative. So I'd e-mail one person who could pass the message along. We'd meet up, discuss it. We'd figure out if we needed therapy or lobotomies or training for interstellar war, or what.
So who to e-mail? Mac was out of the question; our friendship was too tenuous as of late. Zellie was a complete fucking wild card. Lee was – well, Lee. Hah.
I was so, so tempted to make it Clara Delgado. I sort of like Clara, as a person; more than the rest of our grade does, anyhow. When we do similarly well on tests we exchange this subtle smart-person nod. I don't bother her if she can't figure out how to open a door or interpret a joke. We're mutually civil. And – it sounds impossibly dorky, but – I'd like to be her friend. If Mac perfects his abandonment of me for cooler folk, I'll require someone else, and Clara strikes me as an acceptable candidate. I don't want to date her, or anything; if you knew Clara, you'd know the idea of her in a romantic relationship is borderline unfathomable. No, but it'd be cool to do homework together, and shit.
Given these facts, I forsook logic and e-mailed Susan. Okay, so maybe I think she's hot.
There's another problem: since people perceive me as a nerd, they assume I can't be shallow. Fuck no. Sometimes I think I am the shallowest teenage boy on the face of this planet. I don't even know if I like Susan, I just know that she seems to hate the world as much as I do and she is attractive in the “shaves twenty points off that aforementioned IQ” sense of the word.
I used my pseudo-curse word, crump, in my request to her. My mind is an undoubtedly profane place but I have trouble cursing in conversation. I may have included some bizarre stream-of-consciousness in those e-mails. The entire afternoon is fuzzy. She didn't reply until fucking eleven o'clock. I was distraught with waiting.
When she finally responded, it was a single line: k, sure, why?
I was so addled by that point that I banged out this weird telegram-like thing. It was the e-mail equivalent of desperate screaming. YOU JUST NEED TO IT'S IMPORTANT. ALSO PASS THIS ON. YOU NEED TO ASK ZELLIE M AND CLARA D AND MAKRAM K AS WELL. IF NO QUESTIONS REPLY WITH A SMILEY. IF QUESTIONS REPLY WITH A FROWNY FACE. HELP ME, SUSAN CHENG. YOU'RE MY ONLY HOPE.
I quote Star Wars when I'm stressed.
She sent back a smiley. Operation Explicate the Event was a go. It was midnight and I was starting to believe I should be locked in a padded room. I ate two packs of Pop-Tarts, which reminded me of Mac which made me sad, then took a dose of my mother's expired sleeping pills and crashed facedown on top of the covers.