Sage Priestly is seventeen, and she longs to reinvent herself -- to strip away the fat, the past, the crazy mom, the unpaid bills. She longs to be her own version of the gorgeous and popular Mona Simms.
Sage starts dieting and exercising. She gets blond highlights and throws away all of her black clothes. Bit by bit she transforms herself. This is deeply troubling to her best friend, Vern, who is secretly in love with Sage just the way she is. But the boyfriend Sage wants -- the popular jock Roger -- suddenly notices her. And when they start dating, Sage thinks her life is turning around.
So why isn't Sage happier? Yes, Roger is a little too controlling and pushy, but isn't that what boys are like when you date them? What is it about the image Sage has created that just doesn't fit?
Smart, honest, and tough, Sage is a teen with more going for her than she thinks, but she still has a lot to learn.
Gr 9 Up-High school misfit Sage Priestly, 17, loses the race for class president to Mona, a golden girl with the looks, brains, and popularity Sage covets. In this "tables are shinier on the other side of the cafeteria" story, Sage wants to be Mona, trying to transform herself by dieting (starving herself) and daydreaming about dating popular-guy Roger (actually a stereotypical jerk jock). Clueless about best friend and boy-next-door Vern's love for her, Sage, in a rare moment of boldness, gets Roger's attention and enters into a relationship with him, ending it only when his emotional abuse turns physical. Meanwhile, she serves as caregiver for her single mom, who fluctuates between mania and depression. Only after Vern's parents intervene is Eve diagnosed with bipolar disorder and given treatment, and both women's lives turn toward healthier directions. Chapters alternate among the teens' points of view-mainly Sage, Vern, and his friend Walter (an intelligent, gay teen struggling with high school culture)-and are filled with easy-to-relate-to insecurity, angst, and desire. Unfortunately, concern for Sage can sometimes be eclipsed by frustration with her; she wonders what Roger sees in her, as readers wonder the reverse. Mona is merely a vessel for Sage's envy. More tell than show, dialogue can be as false-sounding as the second-tier characters. An afterword includes an author's note and resources on bipolar disorder and abuse.-Danielle Serra, Cliffside Park Public Library, NJ Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
November 30, 2009
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from To Be Mona by Kelly Easton
Consider yourself a color.
What would you be? Red? Blue? Tangerine or teal?
How are you dressed?
Did you really pick your own clothes?
Are you wearing a label, someone's stamp on you?
Whose name is it?
What does it mean?
Does it tell you who you are?
I'd rather be wearing green plaid and pink and yellow polka dots...I'd rather have a volcanic zit bubbling on my nose.... I'd rather be locked in a small jail cell with a pissing camel, an angry cobra, and a hungry lion...than be where I am right now, standing next to Mona Perfect Simms in front of the 468 students of Stafford High.
No one told me that running for class president meant that I was up for public dissection, that kids would draw extra body parts on my posters, write obscenities on my banner, and change my pep song to include references to my weight. No one informed me that it was not about making changes at the school, but a popularity contest, like homecoming queen.
And DEFINITELY, no one confided that we would have to stand on the stage like this and hear the vote count read aloud:
Absent -- 2
Mona Simms -- 374
Vernon Goldburg -- 70
Sage Priestly (ME!) -- 22
That 22 is every member of the Thespian Society minus me. I voted for Vernon.
Mona whips around, her blonde hair floating, like in a commercial; she's too beautiful for reality TV.
She cranks Vern's hand like she's pumping a flat tire. Vern's double-jointed. He does this move, his right arm looped through his left elbow. Everyone laughs. Except Mona. It might give her smile lines.
I am standing apart on the stage like a kid peeing her pants at the kindergarten pageant. My body feels like a giant pillar, only I'm not holding anything up. A pillar with nothing to support has a tendency to topple.
Roger Willis jumps up and down in the audience, going "Mo-na. Mo-na. Mo-na." My mouth waters like he's cherry cough drops and I've got a cold.
Finally, Mona turns from Vern and offers me a charming shrug, as if to say, Sorry, loser. She grabs my hand and tugs me forward, hugs me for a century or two. "Good job," she whispers to my hair.
"Good job" is like giving a quarter to an Iraq War veteran with his legs blown off.
Twenty-two votes. Good job.
Principal Chard (like the vegetable) calls into the microphone: "Mona Simms, Student Body President."
Applause. Applause for Mona.
"Well, kiddo." Vern gives me a squeeze. "Back to obscurity."
I force a smile. My lip catches on my braces. "I'm sorry I made you do this."
"Anything for a friend." Which pretty much sums up Vern.
Chard leads us offstage. We no longer belong. Mona stands in the center and waves, little parade hand, mechanical.
My armpits are sweaty and my pants feel too tight. I crave chocolate in a big way. And, in this moment, it strikes me why I hate Mona so much, why I have hated her since third grade. It's because more than anything else, I want to be her. I want so much to be Mona.
"Bear with me." Walter wipes the table with his napkin for the fiftieth time.
"I'm bearing." I shove a tortilla chip into salsa.
"You wake up one morning and everything's changed. Your mom isn't your mom. Your room isn't your room. The things you liked to do -- robotics, Pok�mon, skateboarding, physics -- no longer give you a kick."
"Physics has never given me a kick."
"Strange protuberances appear on your body. Hair sprouts. You don't recognize your own bedroom. I mean, there's a poster with a cocker spaniel on it, for God's sake. Things that used to be normal, like toothpaste and yogurt, seem poisonous and radioactive. It's as if a priest has sprung out of your floor like a tree, and he's giving you a sermon about your life, only it's not your life. You're getting a guilt trip for someone else's life!"
"Where did the priest come from?" I finish the last chip. "I mean, priests don't just grow out of the floor. Are you taking your medication?"
"The priest comes from reality."
"There's no priest in my reality."
"Okay, Vern. A rabbi. A rabbi grows out of the floor."
"You aren't taking your medication, are you?"
Lila, the waitress, appears with a fresh basket of chips. For years, Sage and I have tried to figure out how old she is. She could be eighty, but her makeup...fake eyelashes, red lipstick. Looking at her, you'd swear you were in a bowling alley cocktail lounge instead of a Mexican restaurant. "You want to order?" she says.
"What's the point?" Walter's glasses are so thick, his eyes are magnified. "Food doesn't help anything."
Lila yawns. "No point."
"I'll have a black bean burrito, extra guacamole and sour cream," I tell her.
"Like always," she says.
"Walter'll have a taco."
"I guess this is Walter."
"You're a brain surgeon," Walter says.
"I'm going to spit in your food." She storms off.
"Did you notice her fingernails? They were, like, eight inches long," Walter says.
"She sounds Russian. What's a Russian doing working in a Mexican restaurant?"
"Where was I?"
"Your mom isn't your mom anymore?"
"I used to love my mom. I thought her suffering was touching. But this mom is like a weight on me."
"That's because you're a teenager."
"My point exactly. We've grown up. I'm not me anymore. You're not you. I mean, you used to giggle, Vern. You were all skinny and flexible. Now, you look kind of buff, if you want to know the truth."
"I've been lifting weights."
"That's what I mean. You're not you."
"Maybe that's not a bad thing. Like, I don't think a girl has been interested in me in all my years of high school. But the other day, when I got off the stage, Cassandra Parks rushes up to me and plants a wet one on my mouth! With a tongue! A tongue, Walter. Randomly."
"That's good, right? A tongue is good."
"Cassandra is a babe in this fabricated kind of way. But her voice...Her voice makes me feel like there are bugs crawling under my skin."
"I saw a foreign film where ants crawl out of this guy's hand."
"Let's try to stay on topic. Me."
"Here's your burrito." Lila brings the food.
"Thanks. You're a doll," I tell her.
"And your taco."
"Did you spit on it?" Walter examines it.
Walter pushes the taco toward me. "Why did you run for president anyway?"
"Because Sage asked me."
"Do you do anything she asks?"
"Pretty much. I'm her guardian angel. I've been taking care of her since she was four. I even saved her life a couple of times. And because...I am madly in love with her."
"So, no Cassandra Parks."
"I don't know. Maybe I should. I mean, Sage thinks of me as this big brother slash next-door neighbor. If she saw me with someone, maybe she'd think of me as date material. What do you think?"
"I don't know. Sage doesn't seem like the other girls. She's completely clueless, which is good. Because what the other girls are clued into is nasty stuff, like celebrity mating habits. Sage is real."
And she's got a thing for Roger Willis, I want to tell him, but I don't want to murder his appetite any further. "Eat your taco."
"Is Sage's mom still a wacko?" he asks.
"Totally. One day she's pleasant and seminormal, the next I can hear her screaming her head off at all hours. She makes you look normal. Eat your taco."
Reluctantly, he takes a bite. "This is pretty good."
"I'm supposed to be applying to colleges and planning my future, and all I can think about is Sage."
"You know what you need?"
"I don't mind if you swallow before you talk."
"Seriously." Lettuce drops out of his mouth.
"A pet monkey."
"You are so random."
"They can cook their own meals and do chores. I saw one on TV that could knit. You gotta put it in a diaper, though. They are not into potty training."
That day, on stage, Vern said, "Back to obscurity." He was so right. Since the election, I've gone invisible again. Maybe that's a good thing. It's enough to see Mona's smug face on every piece of school-related propaganda and to hear her voice each morning, leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance like she's the world's cutest patriot.
If I'd been elected, I would've barred army recruiters from the campus and insisted on a new school menu with nouvelle cuisine. With Mona, it's "same ol', same ol'."
Since last year, everyone has gone on about colleges, but I don't have a clue. The counselor suggested community college, which means aim low. My grades aren't that bad, mostly Bs this year. No money for SATs.
I've got to get my act together! This afternoon, I'll call Johnson & Wales and ask them to send me an application. They've got a great program for chefs. Vern said there's a form to waive the application fee.
Everything is going so fast. I wanted to make this year special, to finally shine, but I hardly have time to think, especially with the jogging and starving myself. There's a reason "diet" contains the word "die"! So far today, I have consumed one hard-boiled egg, three carrots, an orange, two celery sticks, and eight Wheat Thins. My stomach was groaning. My throat was constricted. I felt dizzy. But then I went to the Goldburg's, and Vern's sister, Sophie, made me a giant hot fudge sundae. She's so cute, I just couldn't say no.
Now the Goldburgs are off to temple, and I'm here, slogging through math and science like an elephant stuck in quicksand.
Anatomy homework: Hair is made of the same stuff that makes the nails, claws, and hooves of mammals, the scales of reptiles, and the feathers of birds (and doesn't everyone want to be birds of a feather).
The space bar keeps sticking. I've had this laptop since freshman year, one of those birthday gifts Mom manages to pull out of a hat on holidays, like an annual proof of love.
That's another difference between me and everyone else: the technology thing. I do not have a TV (since Mom smashed it with a baseball bat), a cell phone, an iPod, or Internet. While everyone else is instant messaging, text messaging, and updating their profiles on MySpace, I'm here in the day of the dinosaurs.
If we could just move somewhere where everyone else is poor -- a trailer park in Alabama, say, where kids think it's a big thrill if they get Kool-Aid with dinner -- I could fit in, maybe even be superior. But here, I am in the land of upward mobility. New York City and Boston, a stone's throw away, and I've never been to either (although Vern keeps promising me a day in Boston).
Hair is essentially dead.
My own mousy locks have received some assistance from Cora at Cora's Elegance. She made me sweep the floor at the salon and clean the toilets as payment.
Cora said it would look like angels had dusted gold on my hair, but it looks more like they've driven over my head in trucks, leaving tire marks.
I've also thrown out all of the black clothes in my closet. I would have thrown out the gray, too, but I'd have nothing left. I filched a pink summer dress of Mom's. Hopefully, no Mom germs will rub off on me. I'm going to wear it to school tomorrow.
Speaking of dresses, Mom just entered from stage left in her God-awful job-hunting dress, a baby blue number with raised white dots. She must have inherited it from some dead librarian. I will not be borrowing it.
She's going through drawer after drawer, looking for cigarettes, having some kind of conversation with herself at a sprinter's pace.
Aside from the dress, the other problem with Mom's "job search" is that this is a small town. Everyone knows that Mom is the model employee for all of two weeks. After that, come the "episodes."
a. Mom as a bank teller, tossing the money from her drawer up into the air, "to see the sky rain dollars."
b. Mom as a cleaning woman, dressing up in her employer's clothes and jewels, then lying on the couch with a magazine, a glass of champagne, and her feet up.
c. Mom in the day care center, crawling on all fours with the babies, eating their food, and dripping it down the front of her shirt. "I should have worn a bib," she told me, after she was "let go."
d. Mom's diatribes about God and Jesus, sex and sin, that she will spout to anyone who'll listen. Or, if she's in a good mood, about all the men who have been or are in love with her.
When people in this town see my mom, they cross streets or leap into stores. If she manages to corner them and treat them to one of her monologues, there's the look of pure panic, the mumbled excuses, and then the escape.
I avoid going out with Mom at all costs. Even our cat, Selfish, steers clear, streaking out of any room she enters, or hiding in my lap like he is now.
The facts of the matter:
Fact: Dad ran away when I was four, leaving only his plastic-wrapped suits in the closet, like black fish on hooks.
Fact: He has forgotten my existence.
Fact: Mom is into God. Very. And her God is not the sweet-faced Jesus or the wise man in the flowing gown. Her God is one of those fat bigots on TV who wants to bilk people of their money. (Before she was into God, she was into men, so this is an improvement.)
Fact: Mom's moods fly from one extreme to another. Some days it's like she's on amphetamines. Other days, she resembles a depressive pothead on sleeping pills.
Fact: We live next door to the Goldburgs: Peter, Miriam, Sophie, and Vern. They are my saviors.
Mrs. G. remembers when my mom used to wear makeup and drink iced tea, and sneak cigarettes with her on the porch so their husbands wouldn't find out. Mrs. G.'s explanation as to why my mom is such a lunatic is, "Your mom sure took it hard when your dad left."
Thirteen years later: not an excuse.
Vern is my best friend, although lately he's been weird toward me, suggesting wedding dates, and, well, dates.
"Where are my cigarettes? Did you hide them?" Mom opens and closes drawers in search of the ubiquitous smoke.
"You mean your death sticks?"
"It's none of your business what sticks they are. They keep me thin. You wouldn't believe the day I had. I was applying for jobs, but there weren't any parking spaces. Everywhere I went I couldn't find a place. And in Newport. They have parking meters there, but I searched my purse and no quarters. It was like God didn't want me to find a job today. I need a smoke."
"You only have to feed the meters in the summer."
"I really can't deal without a smoke." She's pacing like the tiger at the zoo. I always feel so sorry for the tiger in its small pen, running back and forth, wondering why its life purpose has been thwarted. To hunt. Mom the huntress. Hunting for a life.
"What's to deal with?"
"Unemployment. Single parenting. A sinful daughter."
"Sinful, how?" Just once, I'd like to commit the crime of which I'm accused.
"Well..." She peers around the kitchen for a sign of sin. "It's sinful that you spend all your time studying and none praying."
"Would you rather I be smoking dope or popping heroin?" I ask.
"I should homeschool you; that's what most Christians do. Jesus was homeschooled. In those days that's how they did things."
"And things turned out so stunningly well for him!"
I hate myself. That is the root of my problem. No one else at school seems to hate themselves, but I do. And I hate myself more when I am sarcastic to my mom. But I can't help it. I feel so mad sometimes.
She steps back like I hit her. I can tell she's about to pitch a fit, start throwing things or screaming, but then she finds one, a lone cigarette. Cigarette trumps tantrum. She rushes to the stove and lights it. "What did you do to your hair?" she says.
"You look like a zebra."
"Like, a week ago."
"Who paid for it?"
"Cora did it for free."
"Cora never does anything for free."
"I cleaned the toilets. Okay?"
"Then you can clean the litter box. Right? You can clean up after the devil's spawn."
She goes into a rant about the cat, how my dad brought him home without even asking her, and now she's stuck with him (stuck with me). I cover Selfish's ears, so he won't be insulted.
I have memories of Mom and me when I was little. I remember picking pumpkins with her, taking them home, carving them, toasting and eating the seeds. I remember having plants in milk cartons along the windowsill and watching them grow. And Mom baking cookies, pies, and cakes, and me helping her. Maybe it's why I have such a thing for baking now.
I don't remember my dad at all. But, I remember Mom, when he was here.
"God will punish you if you're vain," Mom says.
The milk cartons are still there, filled with cigarette butts.
"He already has," I assure her, then I go to the closet and dig out a package of Chips Ahoy. I've already had the sundae. Why not sabotage myself completely?
What if you were on Survivor or American Idol? Who would you be? The fat slob who sings like an angel? The chick who's cute but doesn't know how to move? The gay guy who's booted off the first week but gets his own show anyway? On what episode would you get voted out? Or would you win? Would that be you jumping up and down next to the campfire, pouring champagne into your mouth, living the myth? Hoping to be something in the land of nothing?
Who are you? is what a journal is asking. And what most people put in are lies. But I don't lie. That's the difference between me and everyone else: the Monas of the world, even the Roger Willises. I don't have a mask to hide behind.
Still, I don't mind stripping down for you, a notebook, a piece of paper. We are both made of trees. Peel off my bark. Chop off my branches (the crazy mom, the crappy house, the heavy body), then build me into something new. Make a mask of chicken wire, papier-m�ch� for the skin, a painted smile. Reinvention. To be Mona, my own version, so that life becomes LIFE instead of a dress rehearsal.
"Next stop: the outlets," the bus driver calls out. I slide my notebook into my purse, trying not to wake the old lady who's fallen asleep on my shoulder. I thought I'd take the car this morning, but Mom had disappeared with it. No note. Just the coffee pot left on, and her coffee mug filled with cigarette butts.
I could've asked a friend, but I wanted to come alone. When I go with the other girls, I feel like a dweeb with my empty wallet, pretending I don't want anything. And they always stop for coffee and lunch.
I am losing weight, finally staying on my die-t. It's like a drug, I guess. You lose some, you want to lose more. Bye-bye to poundage.
My next step is to try and be fashionable. Well, it's not really a step. A step would entail money. This is more of a fact-finding mission. Like, What if?
There's Prada, Dior, Roberto Cavalli, Coach, all the good stuff at the mall. I can fantasize about what I'll buy when I get a job, a paycheck.
Actually, I think the designer thing is a little weird. I mean, I know girls who spend three hundred dollars on sunglasses!
Still, it's inevitable. If you want to fit in, you wear the labels.
The bus pulls into the massive shopping center. I gently shake the lady awake. She stares at me with bright blue eyes. "Is it time to shop?"
"Aren't you the prettiest thing I've ever seen," she says, which is nice, except that right after, she digs glasses out of her purse and puts them on.
The first thing I do is head for Lord & Taylor. Part of my diet is eight glasses of water a day, which makes me a total pee-body. The department stores have the bathrooms.
I'm just washing my hands when my plan for peace and solitude gets blown up. Caroline Kennedy and Reenie Carrot barge in, their arms laden with shopping bags.
"Oh-mi-God. Sage!" Reenie squeals.
I used to hang with Reenie a lot, even though she's a rich girl. For one thing, her name is weirder than mine. For another, she likes me. She invites me to her parties and she belongs to the Thespians, although Madame Thespian never casts her in anything. Well, I liked Reenie until she talked me into running for class president.
Caroline's more of a foreign specimen. At every opportunity, she reminds you that, although she's not JFK's daughter, she has the same name, which means (she hints) she is somehow related to the Kennedys.
"I didn't know you shopped," Caroline says.
"It's a regular hobby of mine," I lie.
"We just got Halloween costumes," Reenie says.
I thought those were for kids. "Oh?"
"I'm going to be a bottle of ketchup."
"Not. I'm going as the Little Mermaid."
"I'm Cinderella," Caroline says. "We're all going as Disney Princesses. Mona's Belle, and Frida is Snow White."
"What are you going to be?" Reenie says.
Alone? "I usually just...hand out candy."
"No way!" Caroline says. "You've got to come to one of the parties. Bob Corney's is awesome. He makes this punch that has everyone so drunk, they're, like, puking within an hour."
"So Reenie, are you going to pee or what?"
Reenie goes into a stall.
"How long have you been here?" I ask Caroline.
"Just an hour. But I actually scored some good jeans. Gap is, like, the only company that understands my kind of butt." She turns to show me. "See, I have a bubble butt. Most jeans are for banjo butts. Let me see your butt."
Big fat butt, I think, but I turn to let her give me the verdict. "Your butt is kind of disappearing, Sage, if you want to know the truth."
"I had it when I left home," I joke.
"Seriously. Are you on a diet or something?"
"I guess it's a tennis racket butt." Answering that question is like an admission of fatness. "There's holes in it."
"Help!" Reenie calls. "I don't have any toilet paper."
I grab some from another stall and drop it over the top. "You know who has a great butt." Reenie comes out. "Roger Willis."
"They're hot cross buns," Caroline says. "I'd like to take a bite out of them."
Which makes me pretty nauseous. "Well, see you guys," I say.
"Where are you going?"
"Uhhm." Anyplace alone. "Coach?"
"You need Coach," Caroline says. "Your purse is so..."
...battered, from Target, sling bag, five bucks on sale two years ago.
"Retro," Reenie says kindly.
"Yeah, you are so retro in your style, Sage. And roots are so in."
"If you just wait long enough, they come," I offer helpfully.
"We'll go with you," Reenie volunteers. "I love Coach."
"Great." I follow them to Coach, feeling both annoyed and happy to be part of a group. The truth is, I'm not an insider, but I'm not an outsider, either, probably because at any occasion, I bring treats: the best fudge brownies, lemon bars, and cookies on the planet. Someday I'll write my own cookbook.
Inside Coach, Reenie starts draping purses on me.
"I can't wait to throw that thing in the trash." Caroline tugs on my purse.
"I'm attached to it." I tug back.
Most of the purses are locked in glass cabinets, but in the middle of the room there's a display of purses built into a pyramid.
"Look at that one at the top." Reenie points. "That's to die for."
So far, the purses have not tempted me...that much. Some are just plain plain; others have a pattern resembling the spermatozoa we studied in health. But this one is gorgeous, beige patterned with a zebra stripe down the middle, like my hair. My mouth actually waters.
"Go get the guy," Caroline orders.
Reenie dashes off and returns with the guy, who wields what looks like a giant fishing pole. "The Hamptons Zebra Stripe Satchel." He hooks it. "This is the last one. That's why I put it at the top."
"The last one!" Reenie swoons.
I try not to drool on it as I examine the price tag. $368.00!
"I don't like it," I say.
"But it's so you." Reenie is right: the size, the shape, the colors.
"Try it on!" Caroline demands. Still clutching my own piece of junk, I loop the work of art over my shoulder.
"It looks awesome with your new blonde hair with the roots showing."
I want it so much, but it is impossible!
This mom comes in with three kids, one about six, and the other two in a double stroller. She parks the stroller practically on top of us.
"Just take up the whole store, why doesn't she?" Caroline whispers.
"Watch Bim and Bip," the mom tells the six-year-old, and takes off.
"Bim and Bip?" Reenie mouths.
I take the momentary distraction to shed the purse.
"You have to buy it, Sage." Caroline picks it back up. "Doesn't she have to buy it?"
I don't know why she's so persistent!
"Definitely," Reenie says.
"I forgot my credit card," I offer lamely.
"No sweat," Reenie says. "You can use mine and just pay me back tomorrow."
"Oh-mi-God, he's picking his nose," Caroline says.
With one hand, Six is shoving the stroller back and forth in the aisle. With the other he is excavating his nose.
"Ewwww," Reenie says. "I hope he doesn't get boogers on the purses."
Nose-picker gives us a dirty look. Then, with a massive shove, he sends the stroller, toddlers and all, into the display. Caroline, leaning against the table, falls, the pyramid-o-purses tumbling on top of her.
It is a beautiful moment. Caroline Kennedy lying on the floor covered in thousands of dollars worth of Coach purses.
"What did you do?" The guy rushes toward us.
"Get me out of here!" Caroline shouts. Reenie and I each grab an arm and yank her up.
I give Nose-picker a big grin as we rush out the door into the cold free air.
I have got to get over my hostility toward other girls.
If you were a pickle, what kind would you be? Sweet or dill? Kosher? Would you come in slices? Or whole, soaking in briny fluid? Would you remain a cucumber? What if you were a sandwich? Would you be pastrami and Dijon on rye, or would you be the white-bread-and-mayonnaise type? Would you be the lunch meat: turkey? Bologna? Or one of those tomatoes that don't taste like anything, a manufactured tomato that has never seen the sun except through a glass ceiling, has never really lived at all?
If your body were an object, what would it be? That was Bernstein's hypothetical question today. I wonder where he gets this stuff. Probably off the Internet; some teacher site like howtotortureyourstudents.com.
I actually like Bernstein's journal prompts. I keep up with them every day, unlike most kids, who write all of their entries at the end of the semester, then fudge the dates. A journal is something to trust, like an aunt you call for advice on makeup. Wish I had an aunt like that. Any relative would do. I would bake cookies for them. Mom must have a relative stashed away somewhere, an address in a drawer, a phone number, someone I could demand an explanation from: Why is she like this?
But I've just got the Goldburgs, a couple of once-in-a-while girlfriends, and this journal, my confessor.
Yesterday, at school, Reenie stole my journal entry.
"Sage!" She rushed up to me at my locker. "Bernstein is collecting our answers to the hypothetical questions today. Can you lend me yours? I have it next period and I'm desperate."
"Yeah. I never can think up anything original."
I opened up my notebook. The question was If you were a country, which one would you be? "We can't both have the same answer."
"I know. But you don't have English till fifth. You'll think up something else before then. You're brilliant at this stuff." She grabbed my notebook and ripped out the page. "I'll copy it over. Don't worry. He won't know the difference."
I was going to say no, but then I saw something that left me dumbfounded. The purse, my Coach Zebra purse, draped over her shoulder like no big deal.
"Thanks!" She was off before I could yank it off of her.
"But I wrote I was Sudan," I called after her. "Bernstein will never believe you're Sudan."
My journal and my purse; kind of like identity theft. Maybe that's why I had writer's block today. I looked at the question on the board and thought, The blank page is a snowy mountain and I'm a downed skier. But that wasn't the question.
If your body was an object...
Now, I can't stop thinking of answers. The body is an appliance, a map without borders. The body is a vessel of embarrassment: butt too big, hair too mousy (even highlighted), feet too wide. The body is a blob of Silly Putty, a whale, a bag of manure, a Dumpster, a floating barge. Only the hands are okay, long and thin, capable of kneading dough and decorating cakes. And maybe the legs. Yeah, the legs can hold their own.
I would like to say I feel better. I would like to say that there are rewards for my efforts, which is what teachers and school counselors try to instill in you. But Mom's life dispels that myth. What is she if not one big failed effort? I wish I could stop thinking about her, feeling like she's my fault.
It's true that I am thinner by seven pounds. I can see that on the scale. It's just I still feel fat. I feel nothing like Mona, with her tiny waist and big green eyes, the way she walks through the hall and says hi to everyone, remembers their names and things about them -- like they broke their elbow last summer, or they went to the Bruce Springsteen concert, or they love mangoes and she's brought them one.
When I walk through the halls at school, I keep my eyes on the floor, especially since that stupid election.
The only time I look up is when I hear Roger's big voice. My eyes are drawn to him like a paper clip to a magnet.
That's how I think of Roger. Big. Everything about him. His voice. His curls. His popularity. His muscles. His thick neck. A guy can be a barge. No problem. Then, if you're drowning, you can grab on to him. He would be unsinkable. He could save you.