The following short story is based on characters created and/or copyrighted by Glenn Eichler, Susie Lewis Lynn, and MTV. All other characters were created and copyrighted by Roland Lowery.

The author gives full permission to distribute this work freely, as long as no alterations are made and the exchange of monetary units is not involved. Any questions, comments, suggestions, or complaints should be sent to esn1g(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thank you.


"Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves."
-Nathaniel Branden


Is It Self-Esteem Yet?
by Roland 'Jim' Lowery

"Hmm hmm hmm-mmm . . . keep driving on through the night . . . hmm-mmm hmmmm hmm-hmmmm, hmm-mmm hmmmm good-byeeeee . . . "

The girl stopped her off-tune humming and shook her head ruefully. "I'll tell you one thing, Jane," she mumbled to herself, "you're no singer."

Having summarily dismissed her dismal singing career before it even began, Jane turned and schlepped into Mr. O'Neill's classroom, the bag of art supplies hanging from her shoulder ready for yet another half hour of ignoring everything the teacher had to say. Sketching and doodling in a classroom was a horrible way to spend her time after school, but she had to admit to herself that if she were at home right then, she wouldn't be doing anything much different.

After taking her usual seat near the back, she glanced up to the front of the class and then did a double take. Instead of the perpetually wet rag that was Timothy O'Neill, a girl was standing in front of the teacher's desk. It took Jane a few seconds to recognize her as Daria Morgendorffer, the new kid from History class that Mr. DeMartino had tried to simultaneously humiliate, adore, and crush the previous day.

As the rest of the students in the sparse class filtered in, Jane continued to look around the room, half-expecting Mr. O'Neill to come jumping from behind a desk or drop from the ceiling at any moment. But when everyone was in and seated, Daria walked over, closed the door, and then walked back.

Daria slowly swiveled her head back and forth to take in the whole class. Though her eyes were outwardly just as expressionless as the rest of her face, Jane thought she could see something calculating behind them, something bright and alive that was ready to reach out and devour anyone stupid enough to try getting too close to her. It was right on the verge between interesting and frightening.

Without preamble or any further delay, Daria held up a small stack of papers and started reading from it in a brisk but monotone voice. "'Esteem. A teen. They don't really rhyme, do they. They don't quite mesh. And that-'"

Frowning slightly, she stopped mid-sentence and read several lines ahead. Finally, with a snort of contempt, she pointed at the pages and asked, "Is this really the kind of crap they try to sell you in this class?"

After a few mutterings and sideways glances, the general quiet assessment was that yes, that was really the kind of crap they tried to sell them in that class. Daria shook her head disbelievingly and started sorting through the pages, lightly skimming the text and sighing at what she found.

"Um . . . uh, miss?" one of the seated students said trepidatiously as he raised a shaking hand in the air.

"Yes, the kid with the obscure pop culture reference on his shirt," Daria said without looking up.

"Oh! Um . . . heheh . . . uh, sorry, but . . . are you a teacher?"

"What?" Daria's nose crinkled ever so slightly in disgust, as if the boy had hurled a minor invective at her. "No. Definitely not. I'm just a student. And this? This is complete nonsense."

With a deft flip of her wrist, she tossed the batch of papers over her shoulder, causing them to fan out and scatter all across the desk and the floor behind it. She then sat on the desktop and crossed her arms.

"For those of you who haven't already heard it already, my name is Daria," she said. "Normally I wouldn't be so free with that information, but I am unfortunately obligated to teach all of you self-esteem for the next six weeks. Why? Because I took some stupid psychological test yesterday, and Ms. Manson is apparently under the impression that my refusal to play along with that so-called 'test' means that I have a strong sense of self that doesn't require anyone else's approval or disapproval other than my own. Hence, I must have great self-esteem.

"Further, she apparently has a rather low opinion of the former teacher of this class. For one thing, some of you have been in this class up to six times already without making any progress whatsoever, and since I actually have Mr. O'Neill as my Language Arts teacher myself, I can see why.

"These two happenstances collided in her brain, and so here I am. Technically speaking, I'm officially listed as a 'teacher's assistant', but it was decided that Mr. O'Neill could best be assisted by not actually being here. Yes, obscure pop culture boy again."

"Oh!" the kid with the Head t-shirt exclaimed softly as he lowered his hand, sounding surprised to have been called upon a second time. "Um, so, if you're not going to use the notes . . . what are you going to teach us?"

Daria put her fingers under her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose for a moment before answering. "Look, I'm not much for teaching," she said. "Or, come to think of it, much for teachers. Or other students. And I'm not good at lying. So let me say that, in my experience, life sucks. Things are unfair, people are rotten bastards, the system is generally against you, and sometimes no matter what you do, things go wrong.

"However, given the unalterable fact that life sucks, I'd like to add that if you take the right attitude, it doesn't have to suck quite as much. And no, I don't mean that wishy-washy touchy-feely kind of attitude O'Neill was foisting on all of you. I mean something true. Something true to yourself. And no matter what anybody else tries to tell you about what's 'normal', everyone has something different that's true to them. And though it wasn't my choice to be put in this position, I'm going to do my best to help each of you figure out just what that something different is over the next few weeks.

"But for now, I think we're going to just cut things short because I'm already tired of sitting up here and blathering on like I know what I'm talking about. My final piece of advice for the day is: Stand firm for what you believe in until and unless logic and experience prove you wrong. Remember, when the emperor looks naked, the emperor is naked. The truth and a lie are not 'sort of the same thing'. And there's no aspect, no facet, no moment in life that can't be improved with pizza.

"Now go on, get outta here."


"Hey."

Daria looked up wearily to see a skinny girl with short black hair and a severely red overshirt standing just in front of her. She could see that the rest of the class had actually left, and she felt a brief flash of irritation that her few moments of peace and rest before having to walk back home were being interrupted.

"Yes?" she said flatly.

"Sorry, didn't mean to bother you," the other girl said as she nervously hitched the bag strap up on her shoulder. "I just wanted to say that everything you said . . . well, it was actually kinda cool. I'm, uh, one of those multi-timers you were talking about, mostly because I just don't have anything better to do with myself in the afternoon, but . . . I think this is the first time I've actually bothered listening during this class."

"Hmm," Daria murmured noncommittally. "Gold star for you, I guess."

The girl chuckled and shuffled her feet a bit. "I'm Jane, by the way," she said. "Jane Lane. Sooooo . . . were you serious about the pizza thing? 'Cause I just happen to know a great place nearby."

"Are you asking me out on a date?" Daria asked, quirking an eyebrow.

Jane laughed, then gave her a mock leer. "Only if you think I might have a chance, baby," she said in a deeper tone.

Daria couldn't help but smile back. She picked herself up off of the desk, brushed some non-existent dust from the front of her skirt, took in a deep breath, and then let it out explosively.

"Oh, what the heck," she said. "As long as you don't mind getting it with everything but anchovies."

"Why, Miss Morgendorffer," Jane returned, rubbing her belly with one hand as they stepped out the door, "you are speaking my kinda language!"

END

Roland 'Jim' Lowery
esn1g(at)yahoo(dot)com

July 28, 2010