Rating: PG-13 (ffn's Teen)
Warnings: Maybe a bit of a sapphic tinge, but not provably.
Summary: You don't know it now, but all your lies are going to fall apart. Don't fear losing, Joanne.
Author's Note: From an unclaimed challenge on the myriadwords lj community. I looked at it, and thought about it, and forgot about it for a few months, then I went back to the website and I wrote it. Probably too quickly, but I couldn't stop; I have so many beginnings in my folder...
66. Theme: There are parts of me I'd love to lose
Simply and irretrievably
As a coin clatters down a manhole's spine,
Vanished in one thin chain of sound
Characters: Joanne, Nita
You don't know it now, but all your lies are going to fall apart. You think you've protected them; you think they're safe behind a wall no one can penetrate; you think you've perfected your art of bricklaying; you think those things because you have to. We all have our foundations.
The end began when you met Juanita Callahan. Well, that's inaccurate; it didn't have to begin then; you could have walked past her and maybe you'd never have had to face a thing. But you didn't walk past her. You saw her in her shabby clothes and her lunch in a neatly folded paper bag, glasses sliding down her nose, cringing away from a couple of older kids in a way only a bully would ever see, and you made your choice.
And it was easy like candy, wasn't it? She was so easy to intimidate. Hadn't yet learned the arts of self-defense. Not just the martial arts her damn bratty little sister would later wield to such effect, but the mere spirit of resistance. She was so shocked when you attacked her that she couldn't figure out what to do; and the next time after that; and by the time she could have learned some of your tricks and turned them against you, she was convinced you had some brutal sort of power she couldn't match. And didn't want to; that was the part that kept you coming back. Somewhere under all that fear and hate was a spark of contempt, and you couldn't stand that. Not from her.
And you continued; for months, years you continued; but something was changing, you could feel it, even if nothing was showing. Callahan went down as easy as ever, but she'd rise to take the bait these days; she'd just give you your excuse, instead of making her old and invariably futile attempt to smooth it over; she'd tell you exactly what she thought and run like a squirrel. Never fast enough. You'd find her. You always found her, no matter how long it took.
Then came the day Callahan made a friend. He was as much of a loser as she was-- Rodriguez, another dork-- so you didn't think much of it. She had a beating coming to her, so you gave it to her.
To this day you don't know how she did it. You think it was some kind of witchcraft, when you think of it at all, which you do your best to avoid. You beat her, and she stood up, unharmed. Not even any grass stains. You'd swear it. It was eerie as hell.
"It's not going to work anymore," she said, and the witch from hell was right; because she said "Boo!" and you ran with everyone else. Some hellfire in her eyes, you said later. There's a part of you that knows that isn't true. There's a part of you that knows a lot of things.
You ran because something impossible had happened, and because there wasn't any fear in her eyes. Not anymore.
Your friends (for lack of a better term) refused to go anywhere near her again. You didn't argue because it wouldn't work anymore anyway. You knew instinctively that your power came from fear; and maybe you could beat her still, but she wouldn't care; and she'd probably hit back.
She could hurt you now.
And she hadn't even changed, damn it. She invited you over to her house. Why the hell would you want to go over to her house? You didn't even like her! You never would! Just because you couldn't beat her anymore didn't mean you wanted to be friends!
But that's the kind of person she was; still is; still will be. She lives in a different world than you. In some way, you knew it the moment you saw her.
When you saw her this morning, trudging through the halls looking miserable and blank, all you felt was exultation. (You're starting to realize there's something a little wrong with that.) It served the bitch right. With her crappy little clothes and her homemade lunches and the way she thought she was better than you: it was about damn time.
(Something in you is thinking there was something else there below the exultation.)
When you went to the bathroom after fourth period, she was in there, standing in front of the mirror, leaning over the counter like it was an anchor to her.
"Hey, Callahan," you said.
"I can't do this today," she said, voice oddly flat.
"Do what? You can't even talk to me now? I'm not good enough? God, you're such a bitch."
"Why the hell are you even here today if you're still so damn whiny? Go home. It's not like we want you here. This whole Boo-hoo thing is getting so old."
She turned and stared at you like you'd grown a couple extra heads. You knew you were in danger, but you really didn't care. "Joanne, just go away. I know you're human. You have to be. Don't do this to me today."
"Oh, come on! You're just trying to manipulate the teachers and they're all falling for it! They're all like, oh, I'm so sorry your mother died Nita, you don't have to do anything, I wouldn't be surprised if you made up the whole damn thing--"
At which point she leapt at you. There was something weirdly comforting about it, for the first few seconds at least. It occured to you that you'd meant for this to happen, had sought it out, and you weren't at all sure why.
The infuriating thing was, she still wasn't good at it. Half the shots she aimed at you missed and the ones that did barely hurt at all. The bitch didn't know a damn thing about hitting. That infuriated you all over again.
(She doesn't know anything about)
Then someone else walked in and ran crying to the teacher-- oh, Lisa Mayer, Most Likely to Become a Lesbo in College, you were going to get her after school anyway-- and the idiot wasn't even hitting you anymore, she was just staring at you with that stupid blank look in her eyes, and then the teacher came, and her mother was dead so clearly it was all your fault. You thought it was unfair even though it was, you admitted to yourself, perfectly true.
Which is why you're sitting outside the counselor's office, staring at the wall, feeling like you're in third grade again, about to see the principal because you broke the stupid lizard's cage. You weren't scared of the principal because he was a clueless loser, but he was going to call your parents, and that you were afraid of.
(what real life is like)
"I'm not gonna sit here and talk about my stupid feelings," you say, trying to think of a good insult that rhymes with "Millman". At the moment all you can think of is "Dillman", which is just lame.
"Okay," he says. Oh, god, he's one of those. Those "I am hip to the adolescent game!" smug idiots. Who're so proud that they understand the younger generation that they can't see the younger generation hates their smug asses. "Then will you tell me why you wanted Nita Callahan to hit you?"
How the hell did he know that? You barely know that. "Why the hell would I want someone to hit me? That's stupid." You fold your arms. You aren't playing this game. You're playing your game or nothing.
"And yet you provoked her into hitting you. In the girls' bathroom, no less. And don't try to tell me she just attacked you without warning; I've met her, and I've met you, and I'm not an idiot."
If that last bit were true it'd be quite a surprise to you. The guy sure dresses like an idiot.
"She's just all bitchy 'cause her mother just died and all."
"Isn't that a good reason to be bitchy?"
"My mother left years ago and you don't see me in the halls all whiney. 'Oh, I'm so sad, but I'm coming to school anyway so you can all see how sad I am and be nice to me even though I'm the biggest dork in the universe.' She doesn't have the right."
His eyebrows raise, and you know you've just given something away, so you start frantically trying to figure out what. "Doesn't have the right? Why not?"
You don't want to talk to him, but frankly, you're kind of curious yourself. It can't do any harm. "Because she's always had everything. Now one bad thing happens to her and she's finally like everybody else and she acts like it's some big deal."
(she has no idea what she has)
"There are a lot of people here who think you have everything, Joanne. What is it she's got that you don't?"
The feelings behind the anger suddenly rise up, stronger than ever, and you begin to realize what they are. Envy. Good god, you're jealous of her. And something... hurts, and you're still not sure why.
(she had everything)
"Her family's so damn lovey-dovey," you say. "At least the way she tells it. I think she's lying."
(she still does, she just hurts too much to realize it yet)
"Yes, her family did have a rather strong bond. It kind of hurts to see something bad happen to that, doesn't it? It's like if something bad happens even to them, then maybe it isn't possible to be happy. Like when my best friend and his wife divorced. I thought they were going to be together forever. They were the perfect couple, they always seemed so in love. So it shocked me when I heard they were breaking up. At the same time, though... it also made me just a little happy. Because they'd had what I didn't have, and even though I tried not to be, I was jealous. Now he was going to be single like me again. Now we were even."
Oh, god, he really isn't an idiot, is he?
"Is it a little like that?"
You fold your arms (though your first impulse is to shove something fragile off his desk). "I said I'm not gonna talk about my feelings."
He's going to say something else now, and it's going to break. He knows. He has to know. You've given it all away. You've given it all away and he knows and he's going to--
"Well, I still want you to see me on Wednesday." He's filling out a strip of paper. He doesn't know. "Even if you don't talk about your feelings. They do pay me either way, you know."
He doesn't know. He doesn't know. You're safe.
He hands you the sheet with your appointment on it. "And I believe you'll still have to sit a detention. But you'll have to ask the assistant principal about that."
"Okay," you say, feeling almost weak with relief.
You don't want to turn, but you have to, or else he might still find out. "Yeah?"
"Jealousy is universal, but that doesn't make it any less dangerous. You're going to have to find some way to deal with it that doesn't involve making someone beat you up in the girls' bathroom."
"I wouldn't call it 'beating up'," you say. "Nita Callahan couldn't beat up a toy poodle."
And then you leave, quickly, so he won't find out. But he won't find out, now. You're safe.
Or you think you're safe. But you're going to realize, you're not. You've seen a little of the truth, now. The supports are gone from the foundation and sooner or later the entire artifice is going to collapse under its own weight.
In a few years, he'll raise his hand to hit your (step)mother and you'll realize what it is you've been training for all this time.
You'll try to get her to follow you, but she won't come. You won't like it, but you'll understand, and you don't know where you'd go with her anyway. You take the money out of your account and forge his signature to access your trust fund and you run away, like you'll realize you've been planning to for months. You'll be on your own, and you'll be safe.
And you'll still love him. And you'll still hate so many people. You still won't be able to see anyone "happy" (you don't believe such a thing really exists) without feeling that stab of jealousy, without wanting to go over there and beat the secret out of them until they're as lost as you are and you get what you deserve and what they never have.
You'll still hate Juanita Callahan from a thousand miles away.
And you'll begin to hate that about yourself.
But you'll work on it, and you'll say you've forgotten it; you'll pretend you're all right as every relationship you try to strike up crumbles around you. And you'll look for help, and you'll get a little, and you'll graduate, so clearly you'll be okay.
And you'll go to New York for an internship, and you'll be in the line trying to get an espresso (so many damn coffee shops, you'd think the line wouldn't be so long). The woman in front of you will drop her purse. You'll pick it up, and she'll thank you.
And you'll look into her eyes as you're smiling politely and you'll realize it's Juanita Callahan.
But surely not.
"Joanne?" she'll say, astonished, destroying that theory.
"Hey. Nita Callahan. God, it's been forever!" You'll pull on your best false cheerfulness like a warm old coat.
"It really has. I heard you moved."
"Yeah, I came back for an internship. It's very prestigious."
"Ah." She'll nod. She won't seem intimidated. "I'm glad that's working out for you."
"Yeah, with all the money in my trust fund I've been doing fine."
She'll just smile. Every dig you make at her weaknesses, she'll just smile. She'll be exactly the same. She'll be more like herself than ever.
And suddenly you'll find yourself loving her for it, because that's been at the bottom of it all along. A sudden, wild, hopeless passion, because it's beautiful, what she is. And you've never been anything like that-- or if you were, it was stomped out of you so young it's impossible to remember or get it back-- and you've hated her for it, and you've beaten her for it, and you've been jealous of her for it, because you've loved her for it so.
"How about you?" you'll say, with a stupid smile, helplessly longing because you know she's fine, and she always will be, and that's-- she has everything.
"Oh, I'm doing fine. Still in school." She'll seem a bit surprised. No wonder. She'll brush her hair behind her ear and you'll see the gold band glinting on her finger.
She has everything. And you never will.
You'll try to hate her again, but you can't do it anymore. That wall's fallen down, finally, like all the other ones, and the enemy at the gates can come flooding in: despair.
You deserved it as much as she did. But she has it, and you don't, and what they've been saying to you is true: hate doesn't help you, and it doesn't hurt her, and it doesn't fix anything, and...
"That's good," you'll say. "I'm happy for you."
That look of surprise again, and you won't be able to help yourself. "And I'm sorry for being such a bitch when we were kids."
"Really? I mean-- yeah. It's okay. I understand."
She won't, not really, because she has everything, and she doesn't know this hate; but it'll still be absolution, and you'll accept it anyway. And then it'll be her turn at the counter, and she'll order her black coffee and be gone.
You'll buy your coffee and you'll go to the dinky but clean bathroom in the back. You'll close the stall door and lean against it, and you'll cry, because she's everything you ever wanted and everything you ever wanted to be, and you'll never have any of it. Not ever.
All your walls will crumble, Joanne, and you'll think there's nothing left. But you'll be wrong. You have foundations, Joanne, under it all, in spite of everything, that nothing in the world can wash away. Thinking you're broken, you'll walk out of that coffee shop and keep on walking, your head held up, to the third day of your internship. You'll do everything they ask of you and do it well. And you'll go home, and you'll lay in bed staring at the ceiling, and you'll realize: you're still there. You've lost your hate and you've lost your jealousy and you've lost everything you wanted to become, and you're still there.
You won't realize it even then, but it's that day your life will begin.
So stay strong and try to believe it. And don't fear losing, Joanne, because that's the only way you'll ever win.