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November 2009 Volume 11 , Issue 11 submit to us!
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The+Wrong+Way
by Nicole Gervasio -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

When I was twelve years old, spraying my hair a radioactive blue with my two best friends in my bathroom, I had no idea that this phase would, surprisingly, be the least fucked up period in most of our lives.

"Holy Christ, we need to open a fucking window in here," Sadie coughed exaggeratedly on the haze ushering from the aerosol cans, as if she'd never huffed similar fumes voluntarily. Her half pink bob of black hair stiffened against her head. She had a heavy Jersey accent, a yarning voice that sounded like stretched-out silly putty looked. Recklessness twiddled its thumbs inside of her like a murderer waiting for parole.

Her pudgy fingers clawed at the single window, and I brushed them away to open up the moldy frame and rusted screen. "Air!" she shrieked and plunged her upper body outside. She was always melodramatic, very Hollywood, but more harlot than starlet on the inside.

"Yuck," Naomi scrubbed her tongue against a tissue. It came out black with hair dye. Naomi was the pigtailed, typically cheerful girl out of the three of us, the Lorna Doone among the derelicts. "This stuff tastes terrible."

In an hour, Sadie, Naomi, and I were heading to our seventh grade dance at our Catholic school. There was something hysterical about our situation. The fumes kept traveling, magenta and blue snot stuffed our noses, and we knew we were doing something completely badass, at least by our standards.

It was probably the first time any of us had willfully broken the rules; our school had a uniform policy for everything, even dances. Do not wear spaghetti strap tank tops. Do not wear open-toed shoes; don't you know that showing any skin will make you a slut by the time you're fourteen? And, on penalty of God's renunciation of your mortal soul, do not dye your hair an "unnatural" color. He gave you that rat's nest of muddy brown fuzz for a reason.

Maybe, if Naomi and I had realized how easily this night would unleash the devil inside of Sadie, we'd have kept her from starting a troublemaking trend that would guide her in and out of prisons, bars, and maternity wards for years to come. Then again, that's assuming Sadie had a soul-- which I'm still not so sure about.

Her reflection in the mirror smiled at me. In our new goth punk wardrobe, we looked like we were getting ready for trick-or-treating, not a school dance. I did feel at home in the black, though. I was a strange, nervous kid who pretended I could hack into computers because I thought it made me look cool. Little did I know that emulating my favorite movie, The Matrix, was not a ticket to the kingdom of chic so much as every techie's masturbatory manifesto.

If it wasn't for our connection to our computers, though, we might not have found our new selves. Sadie had pirated a couple of songs from Kittie, this steel-studded, fang-baring group of tattooed girls. Instantly, we'd found our new role models. I was afraid to admit that I didn't even like their music; the slashing guitars and hardcore screaming gave me headaches. But I did want to look like them: someone shadowy and mysterious, maybe even sexy-- so keen to be cooler than the seventh grade. Naomi was brainy, and Sadie was fat; I had once been both. After our first cautious journey into Hot Topic, the gothic clothing destination in the mall, we realized there were people out there as uncool as us, and they waved their freak flags high. We imagined a world where we could be confident in our brain-dead social awkwardness.

"Pass me that comb," Sadie demanded. She raked it halfway through her hair, now fused with God knows how many carcinogenic dyes, before realizing that there was no hope. The plastic stuck, and she yanked it out, cursing up a typhoon.

No matter how much she stayed around Sadie and me, Naomi was imperturbably innocent. She reproached with her eyes. I always knew she was skeptical of Sadie anyway, only tagging along with us because Naomi and I had been best friends first.

It wasn't difficult to spot that there was something deeply disturbed about Sadie. We joked that Sublime's single was her anthem: Annie's twelve years old, in two more she'll be a whore/ Nobody ever told her it's the wrong way. But it's not so funny anymore.

She sought out Christian chat rooms just to solicit priests for cyber sex. Soon she had a (literally) virtual entourage of unsuspecting adult men who all thought they were canoodling with a five foot, eight inch blonde. Sometime that year, she was almost arrested for distributing pornography after sending photos of some Hispanic guy's genitalia to George Pettito, the class clown.

When it came to Sadie, Naomi had done the smart thing: she had learned to distance herself enough, to revel in that exhilarating, cyclonic tumult without getting personally involved. It meant she could enjoy the comic relief and leave whenever she wanted. The attention that we savored the night of that dance would catapult Sadie into much darker things. So, when Sadie started cutting herself up like a paper snowflake a few weeks afterwards, I would be on my own.

We surveyed ourselves in the mirror. "Well, don't we look fucking hot," Sadie grinned. Her devious Cheshire cat smile unsettled me. An emptiness plunged deep into my gut, because yes, we did look hot, in a very paper doll, pretend way. I guessed this was growing up. Kohl eyeliner, neon hair, chains and black velvet-- we were ready to turn our God-fearing school on its bald head.

When we arrived at the dance in the cafeteria, it might have been the first time we-- or at least, Naomi and I-- were the center of attention. All eyes turned, aghast and excited to take us in: my blue hair and gaudy rosary beads looping into a necklace, black lace rough against my arms; Naomi's normally luminous chestnut hair now a pitch, flat black with a red dog collar around her neck and a glittering dragon blaring from her already busty chest; and Sadie's pink bangs, her shirt resembling the top of a cheerleader's uniform and stamped, "UNPOPULAR." We arrived like we knew we were hot shit. I tried to hide that my feet slid inside my oversized combat boots as we sauntered across the empty dance floor.

Our group of guy friends hustled up to us. "Yo, Naomi, look at you," Chris whistled, his usual suave way of handling women. He was rapidly transitioning from a fiddle-playing geek with side-parted hair to arrogant drug dealer extraordinaire. He and Naomi were beginning a strange relationship; it would end prematurely once she couldn't take any more of the cool guy he'd become.

"Sadie, you're so pretty," Jim said. Jim was known for his Ken doll haircut and his ticking time-bomb mystique (seeing as he staged conferences with imaginary stock brokers inside his coat after school, his mental state seemed negotiable). His torrid, two-year relationship with Sadie would break up all of our friendships by high school. Despite the fact that she was overweight, troubled, and ugly, he would never get over her. Jim's always had a death wish; we all wanted a ticket on that runaway train that Sadie commanded, even though we knew it would inevitably derail. Sometimes, I wonder if we were all catastrophes waiting to happen.

And then there was Nick. "Whoa, Nikki, your hair is awesome!" he said to me. Nick had it hard for me since the sixth grade, and for awhile, we were really close friends. Once at a previous dance, he serenaded me while his Blink 182 cover band rocked the lunch counter. I had stood with my hand over my face, more mortified than moved. I've suppressed which song. I should have taken my disgust as a serious clue about what was really going on inside my estrogen, but I didn't. I wanted to care about him, but I didn't. He had the same sort of rambunctious energy ricocheting in his veins as Sadie, and I envied them both.

Unfortunately, our elation at the dance was short-lived. While we talked, the chaperones had been distractedly staring at us and gossiping behind their acrylic claws. Mrs. Kramer, the school vice principal, had these impalpable eyes as huge and bulbous as avocado pits. She marched in and ordered us all out into the hallway. I didn't yet feel ashamed.

Naomi was the first to cave; considering that she was the most normal, this wasn't even her battle to fight. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Kramer," she blubbered. "I knew I was breaking the dress code, and it was wrong of me."

Nobody could stand to see Naomi cry. Kramer actually consoled her, "Well, your hair is black, which technically isn't unnatural . . .  But it's not your natural hair color, either. You know it's not supposed to be that way. Go home and wash it out."

Now that the whole thimbleful of her compassion had been lavished on Naomi, she turned to Sadie and me. "I expected this from her," Kramer said to me and gestured towards Sadie, who was sulking a few feet away. I expected us to stand strong together, but there was something terribly deflated about her.

She turned to Sadie, "Your mother is one of the chaperones here tonight, so she's going to take you home immediately."

My jaw unhinged as I watched Sadie climb the stairs to the foyer where her mother was waiting. She mouthed, "Sorry," back to me and shrugged, just glad to be off the hook. From that point on, she would believe that she could do no wrong. I would like to blame Mrs. Kramer for at least some of what Sadie ended up becoming; her mom had married a rich coroner after her dad went to prison, and I imagine that our school thrived on their donations to the church. Maybe if somebody had cared more to say no to Sadie, she would have learned the meaning of the term by the time puberty became irreversible.

"Now, as for you," Kramer swerved her head towards me like Freddy Krueger. I didn't know why this woman always had it in for me, but I braced myself. "What do you think you're doing? I expected better from you. You knew better."

But how could I know any better than the other two girls? Even though this didn't end up being one of my more heroic moments, I refused to give up at first. "I was only wearing what I wanted to wear."

"Excuse me?"

"The hair isn't permanent."

"Do you think that's the point in all of this, young lady? Do you think I care whether it washes out?"

I pursed my quivering lips while she broadened her shoulders. "You disobeyed the rules without regard to what consequences they would have. And now you are in more trouble than all those girls."

"Trouble" was a word that our antennae had been trained to panic. No matter how many times I could pretend to be a badass, I was a goody two-shoes at my core. My resolve collapsed. I stuttered, "W-why me?"

"You're wearing a rosary around your neck."

This took me off guard. "It's just part of my outfit!"

"It's sacrilege."

"I bought it in a store!"

"You DARE talk back to me?" Her ire had boiled over now, and the black pits of her eyes were about to pop out of her face. "Young lady, you will apologize to me this instant, unless you want a suspension to tarnish that perfect record of yours."

And so I apologized. "Suspension" was the ultimate magic word: we thought it carried enough gravity to suspend not only a few days of school but also the natural course of the rest of our lives. I apologized and promptly dissolved into a trembling, sodden, shameful mess in front of her. I carried the rude kick of her evident satisfaction like a cross in my gut for the rest of that year.

Maybe worst of all, my surrender to the man sent me right back to the land of geeks and freaks. I played with the punks but knew I'd always stop short of breaking the law. Sadie got bored with cutting, got into drugs, gave up on Naomi and me, and dropped off my earth. We all ended up going to the same Catholic high school. Sometimes she still talked to Naomi just to spite me.

After I grew out of the maudlin clothes and fishnets stockings, I accepted that my freakishness would always be the nerdy, unredeemable kind. I only crossed paths with Sadie once during my freshman year of high school. I was reading Shakespeare at lunch when this darkly attractive, punk rock boy tapped me on the shoulder. "Do you rave?" he asked.

I wasn't used to desirable boys ever approaching me. I stammered with surprise, "N-no."

"Then why do you wear all these bracelets?"

I'd taken to wearing a sleeve of beaded bracelets as some kind of misguided, indie fashion statement. I blushed. I looked over at the table next to ours, and there was Sadie, laughing hysterically and jabbing her finger at me. Ironically, my future girlfriend of five years was one of the girls guffawing next to her, so I guess I should thank Sadie for the introduction.

Naomi made it out alive, but the rest of our futures remain questionable: Jim and his string of undeserving girlfriends, Nick resigning himself to a career in accountancy, Chris dealing ecstasy behind the ice cream shop, my years of wading through various mood disorders and suicides, bandaging all the broken birds I've known. And Sadie. The last few online photos I've seen of her make it seem like she's reached the pinnacle of her rollercoaster ride and has her hands held high for the downturn. One shows her finally thinned out, courtesy of a cocaine addiction, slathering her tongue against a bottle of PetrĂ³n and fanning her cleavage with an array of twenties. In another, she is touching tongues in a weirdly suggestive way with her newborn son; her love child with some beefed up African American man in a wife beater. Her profile updates tell me that she has dropped out of cosmetology school, and I can only imagine where she gets all that money.

By all accounts, she's become the ultimate fuckup-- the stuff of MTV reality shows and Maury Povich. Yet, my friends and I still can't help but talk about her. Sometimes, I hear a tinge of envy creeping into our conversations. Maybe, bound as we are behind our desks, we are begrudgingly afraid that, in her mania and her utter lack of normalcy, her defiance of all things desirable and that uncontrollably addictive personality that spurs her to live so unapologetically, she really is the most free.

 
 
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Features -- November 2009 -- Beginning Month Issue