//end of the world//
We were refugees, fleeing across the country, broke and broken but clean as a whistle. Even as we packed the storage boxes, Mom made sure the lawn was mowed and even. Dad tried his hand at landscaping in Ohio, insisting that the job was impervious to decline. Even an unsold house has to be kept up for appearances. We never sold our old house, though. Just left it empty. It was all apartments from there, and small ones too, though larger than my dormitory suite.
When I think of Minnesota, I see a frozen parking lot, asphalt cracked like a vase. It would snow in October and then you wouldn’t see the ground till April. Snow burns and sticks to your skin, cadaverous and raw. Some years it got so bad we had to leave the car running at the supermarket just so we could get it to start when we returned with our groceries.
What I couldn’t do was work. A particular shame, because my parents, despite their finances, were always diligent. I’d come home and sit in my room staring at the computer, not even browsing, just clicking. Sometimes I’d watch Seinfeld – not the show (which is good), but the stand-up (which is great). Damn it, damn it, damn it. I didn’t want to move.
I knew it even when I sat in Victor’s basement drinking whiskey on my last night in Minnesota. The alcohol roiled my stomach worse than Chinese food. Two teenagers finished an entire bottle of whiskey in the span of 15 minutes. I don’t even remember passing out. Just sitting down on the plastic green couch. Or maybe I tripped onto it… Woke in bright darkness, eyes sealed like a freezer door.
She’s awake, I could hear the doctor say. I felt like I was made of clay. Couldn’t move my arms, wrists tight with chafe. Honestly don’t remember where my dad was but soon I opened my eyes and he looked relieved.
At .4 BAC you go brain-dead, the doctor said.
Dad left so they could take out the catheter. A black female nurse peeled the medical equipment off and out of my body, emotionless and expressionless. I wonder if she’d practiced that face. It’s the same one you see when you buy a pregnancy test at Duane Reade.
I was still drunk when I woke up. I remember crying in my father’s arms begging him not to take me away. Even a hospital in Minnesota was better than an apartment in North Carolina.
My mother never mentioned the incident. Just gave me an article about famous celebrities who died from alcohol poisoning. She always had articles for everything. Stacks piled neatly in drawers where clothing belonged.
I couldn’t breathe on the car-ride back to my packed and mostly empty home. Maybe asthma, probably lung damage from the drinking. They’d found me unconscious in the basement, covered in vomit and spilled peach tequila, Victor later told me. He’d been semi-conscious, lying on the stairs. Medics tore my shirt, my new shirt, from my first concert, a screamo death metal concert, a gig I’d have skipped if not for my drum teacher in the band. He had cute eyes though, and I really liked that shirt. It was blacker than pepper, with “BLACK VEDALIA” scrawled across the front.
For a month, I left medical stickers on my chest. Part from fear of unsticking pain, part from inability to scratch the scab. They peeled off in the shower a month later of their own accord, black with grime and adhesive residue. I let the sticky paper wash down the drain.
Essays started at 2 AM the night before they were due. No research done, no writing scrawled. I’d type till 4:30, lie down on the floor of my bedroom with the tv playing, wake up at 6:30, and drive my neighbor Laura to school. Arrive, not remembering the trip over.
One time, I crashed the car. I didn’t even remember the impact, just the police taking down information, staring inquisitively into my puffy eyes. Only a fender bender, but insurance is non-discriminating. My relationship with my mother imploded like a car collision in a commercial. I didn’t say anything when you drunk yourself near dead, but now you fucking crashed the car. The three teenage sins: alcohol, car crash, sex. Sex only came later on my bed in freshman year, eyes closed beneath Joshua.
But, the work still wouldn’t come. English was the one that got me. I’d try to write essays and journal entries for Dr. Erica Stevens (BA, PhD Princeton), but the pages would stay clean as a whistle. Sometimes I’d even skip class because the essays wouldn’t come and the books wouldn’t read and I didn’t want to show up empty-handed-and-headed.
Untouched assignments piled up. Excuses did too, like creased printouts shoved into a faded blue backpack. My guidance counselor told me she felt betrayed, when it was me who was fucking up my grades and my life and my composure. She stared coldly at me, containing anger. She’d caught me skipping English, chatting with an older guy. I lied to her that I had very bad diarrhea and had been on the toilet all day. Figured it was too embarrassing a lie for her to doubt. It was all shit, though, the whole thing.
Laura lent me her homeworks. I didn’t even have the heart to properly plagiarize them. I just put my name on the top and handed them in, despite knowing Stevens had read the same six homeworks word for word within the last month. When she confronted me I pleaded desperately and even threatened her, in so many words, not overtly of course, but in the deadly cool tones of a teenager trapped in a corner. Do you really want to be the person who keeps me out of college I don’t even know if I can go to community college if I have plagiarism on my transcript I’ll have to go to a technical college even though I’m a girl and I’m mechanically challenged.
All the homeworks were zeroes, six fat zeros, fairly small but incredibly dense. I stole my report card from the mailbox and hid it in the bottom of a box in my closet that later turned out to contain my mother’s college transcript. C+. I’d catch myself saying it during prayer services, C+. My new mantra, I’d mumble it under breath in class like a homeless person…
In retrospect, I realize that my high school was extremely determined to brag in brochures about college admissions, which mattered more than ruining a teenager’s career prospects, so they let me off relatively unscathed.
After I got into UCLA, I went to visit Erica Stevens’s office. She’d died in a terrible hiking accident, or at least that’s what I imagined as she showed me the slide show of her recent trip to the Himalayas. The acceptance letter hung limply in my hand. Stevens didn’t say anything, just clicked through the slides, and I just kept nodding. True story.