I stare at the note on the refrigerator door. The penmanship is so curly cute on pink floral paper, it makes me want to puke; even worse, it smells of “Red”. When Dee Dee puts her “signature scent” to her little notes, I always know she’s feeling guilty about something.
“Hey girl!” it says with artificial hearts replacing all the dots and extra swirls on all the lines. “The lasagna is defrosting in the fridge. I am off to my photo shoot! John and I will be home late, connections, connections!” (Smiley face) “Kiss, Kiss” signed “Dee Dee”
This makes the third day this week, not bad really except that it’s only Tuesday. Not that I care, so they come home late and tipsy. It just means no nagging questions over dinner, then they sleep-in… less hassle around the breakfast table. I have enough worries with a new school anyway. I don’t need their song and dance of parenthood.
The lasagna weighs heavy in my hands. I put it down and pick up the empty box. I scan it for cooking directions. Instead I find the ingredients list. It takes up half the box and sounds more like my science book than food.
“Ingredients: Lasagna with Meat Sauce variety: Cooled mini lasagna noodles (water, semolina flour (enriched flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid)), water, tomato paste, Hala beef, mozzarella cheese (part skim milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), onions, cottage cheese, (milk ingredients, bacterial culture, microbial enzyme), beef base (hydrolyzed corn protein, monosodium glutamate, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate), sugar, granulated garlic, salt, basil, fennel, oregano, onion powder, pepper”…
Like I’m going to put all that in my body!
I find the directions and pop it into the oven anyway. I carefully place the box on the counter for later, “Let the ritual begin.” I laugh to myself, just as the phone rings.
“Hi yah, Pip” the voice on the other end of the line chirps.
“Hi.” I reply flatly.
“I’ve been waiting to hear what it’s like at Kennedy High but you haven’t called.” Bunny continues. My mouth begins to go dry. It’s not that I don’t like Bunny, but she’s bad for my image.
Dee Dee always says, “You can’t make connections with the disconnected.” I can’t be seen with an eighth grader, especially one that calls me “Pip”.
“Pip” is my Grammies nickname, just as “Bunny” is the name of her Grandma, along with “Cubby”, my other ex-friend, given the same fate by her Granny. We were the hope for the next generation of “The sewing circle”. Even Cubby, as a seventh grader, has enough sense to know that Fresh man year is a one shot deal. She stopped calling after I snubbed her by quitting 4-H. It was Dee Dee’s idea. “Popular kids don’t do 4-H.” Even though John was a 4-Her when he was a kid, he didn’t protest when Dee Dee said it was time for me to move on. He didn’t protest even when I said I didn’t want to “Move on”.
Bunny persisted in her enthusiastic tone as if the lengthy silence, a sign of my reluctance to talk to her, didn’t exist, “Sooo, what’s it like being the newbie?”
I caved. “It’s O.K.” I said. A part of me wanted to return to my preteen days and break out in exited chatter to say… “It’s great! There’s this cute guy in my science class. His name is Chris. He plays football and his sister, Cassandra, is captain of the cheer leading squad! He hooked me up and I got accepted to try outs tomorrow!” Instead I bit my lip.
“Look,” I said, “I’d love to talk but my Mom went to the spa this morning to have a fish pedicure where Gara rufa, which are carp fish, eat your dead skin, but the spa’s delivery got mixed up with the exotic fish store’s order of Paranha, and the new attendant didn’t know the difference, so she put the Paranha in the foot bath and they bit Dee Dee’s little toe off. Don’t worry though; they cut the fish open before it digested it. The Doctors say they can sew it back on. I have to go to the hospital to visit her so I’ll have to talk to you later. Bye.”
“Oh, O.K.” came the short reply. I am relieved at the sound of “click” and silence.
As I sit at the table, the smell of lasagna fills the room. My stomach makes a rumbling sound. I look over at the empty box on the counter and return to my task. The trash can is half full. Luckily Dee Dee is a perfectionist when it comes to notes. Several pink floral sheets of paper lie crumpled up on top of John’s morning news. I carefully remove these items, brushing off the scrambled eggs and coffee grounds from breakfast. Luckily Dee Dee and John have stopped inviting me to breakfast after my numerous complaints about the fat in egg yolks, cruelty to chickens, preservatives and colorants, grease, oil and sugar. Now however, she cooks too much and I am left scraping them off the much needed resources for my supper exploits. I place these co-conspirators on top of the box for later.
Thirty more minutes tick by. I pull the lasagna out of the oven and my mouth waters. I cut an extra large piece and put it on a plate. I sit down at the table with fork and knife in hand, staring at the huge heap of pasta, oozing with red meat sauce and dripping with layers of cheese. I put the knife and fork down, turn the plate a quarter ways around, and then proceed to cut the entrée into smaller than bite size pieces. The procedure takes another fifteen minutes. It now looks like a pile of regurgitated road kill. I get up and scrape the whole nasty mess into the bottom of the trash can. Success! I didn’t take a bite. On top of this I toss the newspaper and pink floral notes. With a great sense of accomplishment, I perch the empty lasagna box on top like a trophy. I put the left over’s in the fridge for John and Dee Dee’s late night nibbling.
Free from these dinner time hassles, I whip through my home work. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough. I head downstairs to Dee Dee’s exorcise room. She always has the latest equipment and fad accessories. It’s the one benefit of having a model for a mom. 700 calories on the cross trainer, then weights, the exercise bike for my whale thighs… I don’t even remember going upstairs to bed.
I get up extra early. This is the big day, my one chance to make a good impression. The squad only has one space open for a fresh man this year. I have to be the best and the lightest. I take the midriff flex, form-fit uniform with matching skirt out of my closet. It is made of red and black glimmer fabric with “wildcats” displayed across the breast, size 4. Dee Dee had bought it two sizes too small last spring, saying if I really wanted to make the team it would fit me by try outs. They must have made a mistake in sizing because it seemed to big now… I might have small hips but my belly bulges out like a cancerous tumor. My fat arms don’t help either. I take it off and pack it in my bag.
I am surprised when I go down stairs and Dee Dee is sitting at the breakfast table.
“Hey sugar!” She says with a beaming smile followed by a stifled yawn. “My shooting star! Going far! Today is the big day huh? Oh, you look great. I am so glad you took my advice and cut down on all that junk food. Chocolate just ruins your complexion you know.”
I don’t bother to tell her that they rebutted that myth years ago.
“How about some breakfast? We have all natural low fat goat cheese on Melba toast, 100% juice, fresh from the press with no added sugar, and a free range hard-boiled egg, minus the yolk.”
“No thanks.” I say. “I promised Cassandra I would have breakfast at school with her to go over the routine.”
“Go over the routine!” Dee Dee shrieks.
She is so temperamental when she’s tired.
“Haven’t I always told you that being unprepared is like being under privileged, success is nothing more than a dream for both. Is that all your going to do with your life, dream? The least you could have done is told me before I went out and spent money at that natural foods market to get this stuff. You’ve been harping so much lately about the ingredients in this and the chemicals in that. I try to do one nice thing for you, spend a little quality mother daughter time, and this is how it turns out? Why bother!” with that she turns and storms upstairs to her room. I just roll my eyes. Oh the melodrama!
Just then Dad comes down stairs, dripping from the shower. “What have you done now?” He asks. “Don’t you know Dee Dee has an important interview this afternoon? Why are you always stressing her?”
“Me?” I protest, “What about her? She’s stressing me and I have tryouts today. I don’t need her guilt trip. Maybe she should go into acting instead of modeling; she certainly has you tricked into this pity party.”
“Do not talk about your mother that way. She planned this breakfast especially for you. We had to go out of our way yesterday to find that hippy marketplace. Why can’t you go on a normal diet like most people anyway?”
I didn’t wait around for the rest of John’s lecture. The last I heard was something about “this isn’t over…” and “when you get home…” as a grabbed for my book bag and headed out the door.
When I got to school I went straight to the locker room to weigh in. 98 pounds. I was hoping to get down to at least 95. I’ll have to continue my fast until after tryouts and ditch my vitamin drinks, maybe I can lose some water weight before this afternoon. My stomach feels really tight but it stopped hurting awhile ago.
My first class is music appreciation-the Italian opera. Luckily all we have to do is watch an opera in class as a backdrop for a paper next week. It’s an opera that was written in the 1600’s. I laugh as I think to myself, “Hey, I wonder if they recorded this way back then.” Yeah it’s a lame joke but it still makes me giggle. Or maybe I just need a nap. As the opera singers move across the stage, all I can think about is flips and cheers. I imagine the fat tenor doing a cart wheel and have to cover my mouth to hold back a chuckle.
When the lights come on the teacher comments, “I didn’t realize that Orfeo, as an Italian version of a Greek tragedy could evoke a comic response. Maybe the individual who found such humor can use their unique perception in next week’s paper.” I duck out hoping no one inadvertently glances my way and exposes me.”
Next is Science-the physical properties of flight. Yesterday I was paired with Amber for team projects. She’s actually really nice but I’ve held back on getting to know her ‘till I find out where she fits socially. Dee Dee always says you have to pick your contacts carefully.
Amber is cheerful as usual as she says, “I was thinking we could do a visual project showing the flight pattern and wing structure of the swan. I found this great resource at the library on the mute swan. I have already read it so you can borrow it tonight.”
“Yeah, that sounds great.” I say. “I like swans.”
As we flip through the book together for rough ideas, I can’t help but warm up to her small talk. Every day she makes a point to say hello, even though I ignored her for the first week of school. Someone said she wasn’t cool and I didn’t want to take a chance.
On the third day of school she came up to me in the hall and said, “I notice you get to school early every morning, I run a prayer group before school, would you like to join us tomorrow?” Although I never went, it felt good to be invited. She kept inviting me every day since. Today was no different.
“I have a flyer I printed up for prayer group that explains it better.” She smiles as she hands me a piece of paper with a picture of a man on his knees. His hands are raised and tears run down his face. The picture makes me feel awkward but at the same time, I wish I was that man. Something about him seems…happy.
“Maybe I will.” I smile as the bell rings. Maybe I will.
As I jump up to leave I run right into Chris in the doorway-Literally. The impact almost knocks me over. My heart stops. He is so cute.
“You’ll need better coordination than that if you’re gonna win at tryouts this afternoon.” He says “You look good in those jeans though, I can’t wait to see you in the midriff flex.” He smiles with a wink. I shove the flyer deep into the pocket of my skin tight jeans. I hope he doesn’t notice my big butt. I swear I am going to faint. “See you this afternoon.” He says and strolls out of the classroom.
In social studies class we study about the Ozark Mountains. My mind seems a bit to fuzzy to really concentrate. I feel like I’m floating on a cloud. I imagine the Ozarks drifting underneath me. The ticking from the clock on the wall seems louder than the teachers lecture. To keep from dozing off I keep watching it as the hands get closer and closer to third lunch. I don’t know why I’m so tired.
Instead of going to lunch, I sneak into the library without a pass. Usually the librarian just assumes I’m from study hall. So she doesn’t get suspicious, I always check out a book that looks interesting. Today I find, The Interpretation of Dreams, by some guy named Freud. What’s so wrong with dreams anyway? Dee Dee is always saying she doesn’t believe in dreams, only realities. “Dreams are for people to lazy to work to get what they want.” She says. I try to listen to my Mom but sometimes I just don’t agree.
Physical education is my last class. Finally! The after school tryouts are just 80 minutes away. My locker is covered in pictures of models. Not middle age Sunday flyer models like Dee Dee but skimpily clad teen models, real motivators. This is my last chance before I have to weigh in for the squad. ‘Time to work up a sweat. As always Mrs. Prada uses me as a class example of enthusiasm. I ignore her as I pass the slowest guy in class for the fifth time to take another extra lap. Then everything goes black.
I wake up in the nurse’s office. “Your Mother’s on her way.” She says just as I black out a second time.
I don’t know how much time passes. Then I hear Dee Dee’s stressed voice in the outer office. “She does not have a weight problem! She happens to be physically fit.” She says. “I can’t believe you pulled me away from an important interview for this!” Her voice is growing higher and louder, but the Nurse keeps rattling off numbers and statistics. When the nurse says the “A” word, Dee Dee goes silent. Then the Nurse mentions the “B” word, like gross. Dee Dee freaks at the word vomit.
“If you are not going to take action then as the school nurse I will have to refer her myself.” I hear the Nurse say.
“No, I’ll take care of it. I’ll have to call my Agent. I expect discretion from the school. I don’t need this kind of publicity.” Dee Dee grumbles.
“Of course.” The nurse replies curtly.
After 30 minutes of Cell phone conversation Dee Dee walks into the nurse’s office with my book bag and cloths. “Let’s go.” She says with a stern face.
“This is no big deal Mom,” I try to reason. Her sharp eyes remind me not to call her Mom. “”Mom” is for housewives not models.” She would always say. She didn’t have to actually say it now, the words echoed in my head without her making a sound. Oh, how I hated some of her “Hundred rules to live by” quotes. They seem to have grown into a thousand over the years.
“I was only dieting for the try outs.” I continue to protest. “We can’t leave now.”
“You have no choice.” She explains. The school nurse is going to call the department if I don’t take you to see someone. I don’t have time for this! I had to leave in the middle of my interview! It took my agent months to book this opportunity. Do you know what you have cost me?” By the bright red complexion on her perfectly powdered face, I knew my protests were futile.
We get in her car and drive away…away from my one shot at high school success.
After about thirty endless minutes of silence I ask. “Where are we going?”
“My agent made a few phone calls and found a place out of town. In a week this will all blow over and we can say you came down with a severe case of walking pneumonia.”
“A week, I can’t go away for a week! What will happen to my grades? I won’t get high honors. I’ve already missed my chance at the cheer-leading team. How am I supposed to make a good impression in my fresh man year if I’m in a hospital for a week? I’m not even sick!” I shriek.
“Oh get over it! You think you’re the center of everything don’t you? It’s not a hospital anyway. It’s called “The Youth Foster” or something like that. They help kids with lots of different problems… which jogs my memory me… I got a call from Bunny’s Mom who said she has her whole church praying for my quick recovery and how thankful I should be it wasn’t a facial.”
We drive for another hour. My face is hot from whipping away tears. Mom never listens to me any way, why do I even bother and I can forget about Dad, he always takes her side. According to him she’s the next best thing to Madonna. If I could I’d tell him, “Hey Madonna isn’t a sex goddess any more, she’s just old and so is Mom. Stop treating her like a princess. I’m your Daughter. I’m supposed to be the princess. Mom is more like a wicked step mother than a Mom anyway. I hate them both. I wish I had been adopted or better yet, never born…
The car pulls up to a big brick building. It looks like an orphanage from and old English movie. As we approach the entrance the “old” perception wears off quick. We stand in front of a camera, state our name and are buzzed in through big steel doors.
Mom talks to the reception staff as one person sits me down and asks me a bunch of questions off a clip board. “Have you ever been arrested? Convicted of a felony? Do you smoke? Have you ever taken drugs? Do you drink alcohol? Have you ever been hospitalized for mental illness? Have you ever had thoughts about suicide? Are you sexually active? Do you have any communicable diseases? …”
I sit, stunned, looking like an idiot in my tea shirt and gym shorts and I stink. I’ll never complain about taking a shower after gym again…
Finally Mom comes over. “I called John,” She says. “You’ve really disappointed your Father. Maybe this will give you an opportunity to think about how you treat us.”
“You’re leaving me here?” I ask. I can’t believe it. What did I do wrong?
“Just for a routine evaluation, we’ll see you in a couple of days.” She says. She acts so casual I want to slap her face and scream at her “A couple of days! Why don’t you just ship me to a third world country, sell me into slavery, make a profit while your ruining my life?” instead I just stare at her. I can’t speak. She walks away without even saying goodbye.
“Turn your pockets inside out and lift your hands above your head.” A woman says sternly. I do so as if in a dream. She pats at my sides like I’ve seen in cop shows on T.V.
“This way.” The guy with the clipboard says.
“What about my things?” I ask.
“You’ll get them after they’re searched and cleared.” He says back. We walk towards another set of steel doors. A buzzer sounds and the door opens. I glance back at my back pack on the table. A man is going through the pocket of my jeans. He pulls out a crumpled piece of paper, reads it and tosses it into a trash can. The flier Amber gave me earlier. “I guess I won’t be going to prayer group.” I think as the door closes behind me.