How can some people's lives look so good when they're so foul underneath? That's the question I ask when I leaf through this photo album Macy gave me for my sixteenth birthday. I got it at my surprise party in October of sophomore year, three weeks to the day before Lani Garver showed up on Hackett.
It's full of pictures of me and Macy and our other friends, and we've got some wild and happy parade of the teeth going on. And it's not like we were faking happiness for pictures. That's what terrifies me most. If anyone had asked, my friends and I would have said in a heartbeat, "We rule the cule," and would have believed ourselves.
Macy scrawled titles by each picture in her pretty handwriting that slants backwards. The one most likely to rip our sides was "Uh-Oh, The Umbrella Ride," because of the disgusting story behind it, but like all "true brew stories," you find a place for it in your heart.
The summer after freshman year, Macy's big sister, Mary Beth, decided it was time to introduce us to Oleander's whiskey, better known by Hackett's fishermen as Old Sweat Sock. She felt we were getting too cocky about our alcohol imbibement tales. Mary Beth was eighteen but had a fake ID. She bought a good-sized bottle of Old Sweat Sock at the Rod 'N' Reel. The six of us passed this bottle around in her car as she gunned it down Mariner Road to Fisherman's Wharf for some general goofing around.
Myra Whitehall, who sat in the passenger seat, announced that she suddenly wasn't feeling so great. Mary Beth didn't want to slow down, because this Jeep full of Hackett's finest studs was bumper smooching her Mustang, and she didn't want them to see hurl flying out of her passenger window. She kept saying, "Deal with it, Myra!"
Myra couldn't help rolling down the window, and to our disgust from the backseat, the ocean breeze was blowing in-way hard. Macy rooted through Mary Beth's stuff and came up with an umbrella. She snapped it open and shoved it up in front of the four of us in back. When Myra's stomach said, "No more," we screamed some combo victory chant/barnyard noises, completely protected from impending doom. The Jeep passed us with all-too-embarrassing curses and loud requests for car wash reimbursement. Geneva Graham snapped this picture on the wharf right after we got there.
I was smiling so completely. Except for Myra-who had just been ruined socially for at least a week-we all were.
Right next to that photo there's "Lesbian Hayride," which happened around Halloween of freshman year. I don't even remember how we lucked out so well, but Macy and I ended up in a hay wagon with about a dozen guys from the fish frat-that's the sons of Hackett's commercial fishermen, who are sometimes lifeguards and usually very hunky. We were trying not to act stupid, but also to act like we could care less about these breathtaking studs. As Mary Beth had lectured us, the only way to catch a guy in the fish frat is to pretend you don't care.
Macy and I were standing in the middle of this cart, baying at the moon, or something acceptably retarded, when the wagon jerked and I fell on my back. Macy fell on top of me-with my spider legs all sprawled and her in the middle of them. I tried to tell her to get off, but I was like a jellyfish-major embarrassment laughing fit in process. And I could hear her laughing just as hard in my ear. I didn't know this at the time, but supposedly watching lesbians is some hot thing for upper-classmen. And these hunks were joking, all "Go, ladies! Be ladies!" Macy loved the attention. I was paralyzed with shock, like I was every time my naiveness caught up with me.
It wasn't exactly a big secret-just something we rarely talked about-but I had missed a year and a half of junior high school. My knowledge of sex was full of holes-everything you'd learn in seventh grade and the first half of eighth.
In this bonfire picture, we're surrounded by upperclassmen fish frat, and my smile is plastered on due to information overload about lesbians. Two of these guys actually asked for our phone numbers, and I wasn't even upset when they never called. The fact that they even asked was, like, too amazing. I figured they probably heard we were a couple of freshmen convent queens in disguise. The picture was good enough for me.
"March," "April," "June," "September" are four pictures on the same page. The first three were taken by my mom, of Macy teaching me a back handspring, each getting a little more graceful. "September" is my junior varsity cheerleading photo.
Great stuff. "Not a cloud on the horizon," an outsider might say. I can see a few clouds in some pictures, but only because I know my own life.
My mom, the former Coast Regional Homecoming Queen who never grew out of it, took a picture of me after my first day at Coast, all excited. She thought I was on my way to becoming her-I only had to add the cheerleading pom-poms and studly boyfriends. Macy called this picture "Claire Still Has No Friends But She's Getting There."
I was sprawled out in a chair in our living room, with my head on my hand. My hair, miraculously, had grown past my shoulders in the six months since I went back to eighth grade. I no longer had "chemotherapy cheeks," as my dad called them, which are the color of half-dried rubber cement. I see my hair, my complexion, and I can read some sort of magic determination in them: Get rid of the past. And my eyes caught the flash so they seemed to shine with hope.
Coast Regional High School was a huge place, where girls with problems could remake their lives. New faces poured in from four other barrier islands, which meant that to four-fifths of these kids, you did not have a past. There was a kind of hope whizzing around the corridors. Joe Hunk could ask you out tomorrow, even if you had been a dork-breath yesterday. You could work your way into a seat in the cafeteria at that fourth table from the door-which around here is known as the Queen's Table-even if you were shoveled off to the corner with the invisible unknowns during the first week. Some eighth-grade science nerd could save up for a foil job, come into school a raving blond, and totally believe her life would change.
I tried to tell myself just to forget about anything like becoming outrageously popular. I felt at a serious disadvantage even to a science nerd, having heard my last dirty joke at a sixth-grade pajama party, and then dropping into Homeschool Hell for the Sick for a year and a half. If you start eighth grade in January, completely naive, looking like something the cat dragged in, you can only hope for a huge high school like Coast to help you disappear a little better.
But even my brain couldn't help figuring out which crowds were going to have all the fun. A group of girls sat at the fourth lunch table from the door in the cafeteria, and they were so cute, and so not shy, and just mean enough that nobody would dare pick on them. Despite that cheerleading tryouts had not been held yet, they were starting to be called the Freshmen Cheerleaders, and their table was nicknamed-in mumbles from girls who didn't sit there-the Queen's Table.
I didn't doubt that these girls would be cool around here. In fact, they were all from Hackett, so I knew them from grade school, and they had been popular since about fifth grade, or whenever it is you start to think about stuff like that. Most had swapped jokes with me at a bunch of sixth-grade slumber parties.
The second week of high school, I was going past them into the girls' bathroom, and Eli Spellings didn't keep her voice low enough.
"Look, there goes that leukemia girl. Her hair grew back way nice, at least. Remember her from January? She looked like she'd been nuked in a microwave. Was that sickening, or what?"
I went into a stall and leaned against...