Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Hello, everybody! So, as some of you may remember, I posted this story wayyyy back in 2005. Ever since, I've been editing it, but only every now and then, since I've been busy with high school and now college. I want to publish this someday, since a lot of people told me they liked it. I figured 'til then I'd post it for your enjoyment - AND for your comments. This is my latest version but I am far from done. So If you could give me a line or two about what you'd like to see done to my manuscript, fire away!
Love you all.
The Cynic's Creed copyright Louragan 2005-2008
Update 3/9/08: I rewrote the first chapter. I'm afraid I've lost the style I had three years ago, but I'm trying. The emotions are still there.
You cheat on the bio quiz
For an A in the class
Lie about your hobbies
So you'll get into college
Slide your way through majors
To finish with a future
Choose a stale career
To get yourself some money
Marry out of panic
Since you fear being lonely
Bear children one by one
Pressured into parenting
Grow older, grow weaker
In death, it's over
I smile grimly. This is what life will be like for every single person in this room. And nobody will know this, because I hide what I've written in the W volume of the 1994 Encyclopedia Britannica, which nobody reads. Nobody reads anything anymore.
I look up and see some freshmen laughing loudly, calling each other gay. Mrs. Atwood marches her way over to them. "This is a library," she hisses, hands on hips, the chain on her eyeglasses swinging. "Please quiet down."
"Sorry," one of the boys says, smirking, and I know that the second Mrs. Atwood turns her back they're going to start making fun of her. God, I hate high school.
"Oh," she says, stopping mid-step and looking over at me, "would you mind organizing the newspapers before you go?"
"Yeah," I say. Ido mind.
"Great," she replies. "They're in the bin." She shuffles over to the circulation desk. There is a yellow stain on the back of her sweatshirt. Cat pee?
This is the nerd version of a free period: Library Aide. I'm supposed to wear a badge with my name on it. I never do. I'm supposed to help Mrs. Atwood keep this place in order, but I spend most of it hoping I'll never end up like her.
I'm typical, and I know this. I'm your generic angst-ridden teenager, 16 years old. This is Camino Hills Central High, a small, conservative prep school. It's not a pretty place: no Corinthian columns, no marble statues. It used to be a drug rehabilitation center, and before that it was a motel in the 1930s where bookies and jockeys from the nearby racetrack used to stay. CHCH, or Cha-Cha, is dead center in a middle-upper class sinkhole in southern California. The teachers who call our school Cha-Cha are the same ones who say that the only reason the buildings are still standing is that the termites are all holding hands.
I feel heartless sometimes. I cannot stand the girls who try to dress up our boring uniform by rolling their skirts up and putting on thick coats of mascara and wearing Ugg boots, even though we live in California and it never gets below 60. What's worse is seeing their mothers at Open House or school plays. They have the bodies of 15-year-olds and the Botoxed skin of aliens. They all have the same hair, a frosted blonde bob. This community, these rich people are terrifying sometimes.
I try to be unique. Instead of trendy woven belts, I wear my dead great-uncle's ties around my waist. Instead of the Louis Vuitton wallet every girl gets at Christmas, I made mine out of duct tape. I wore Chuck Taylors before they were in. I miss them, but I'll do whatever it takes to separate myself from that herd of grabby, giggling fashion plates. I am a unique individual! I am a snowflake! A snowflake caught in a blizzard of other snowflakes who look exactly as I do - an inconsequential frozen conglomeration of everyday molecules.
Second semester in junior year means Speech class. Speech is probably the most pointless thing I will have to endure in high school, besides watching made-for-TV versions of Charles Dickens novels in English class. Or bringing in homemade salsa on fiesta day in Spanish. For a grade.
"Today," Mrs. Maked announces with an aura of self-importance, "we're going to learn how to give directions."
Mrs. Maked's last name rhymes with "naked." This is her only interesting trait. Mrs. Maked is shrill and oblivious and she spends her time cross-stitching hearts on small, overstuffed pillows to send to starving Tanzanian children. She doesn't know how to work the classroom VCR. She types with only her two index fingers. She paints her short, flaky nails a cheap drug store pink.
"I want you to think of a location on campus that we all know of, and I'll give you a minute or two to think about how you'd give directions to it from this classroom. I want you to use directions like north and south, or right and left. Don't just say, you know, 'Walk outside the door and then go to Mr. Roberts' classroom.' I want you to actually try to participate, all right? Think you can do it? Okay, I'll let you all think for a few minutes." She blinks around the classroom and I wonder who her husband is and if she was always like this. Maybe she used to be like me.
"I'm going to do the urinal in the guy's bathroom," mutters a boy named Logan behind me. Typical of him. "Go south until you reach the wall. Unbuckle your pants and urinate freely." He snickers, and so does the boy who sits next to him.
I give a withering look to my friend Dana, who sits next to me even though her assigned seat is in the front. We are victims here, surviving this only by complaining to each other and laughing about Mrs. Maked.
"Like we don't know how to give directions," Dana scoffs. She uncaps her pen and begins to draw on one of her dividers in her binder. "Come on, we've been driving for like a year. This class sucks butt." Dana has always been incredibly eloquent.
"I think I'll give directions to this classroom," I muse, scratching off the enamel on my desk. "Go north and exit the classroom. Walk north three steps, then turn a hundred and eighty degrees and walk south for three steps..." I imagine my classmates' reactions and see blank faces in my mind. If anyone else did it, they would probably laugh, oh how clever. But no one ever laughs at me, because I'm too serious. Oh, no, not her. She completely lacks a sense of humor. She spends all her time reading serious novels and listening to serious music...
Instead, I choose to give directions to Mr. Roberts' classroom. I play it safe. I play it boring.
As a freshman, I deplored the lunch table social system. It was so stereotypical, so like a poorly made movie about high school life. But it's natural. People have groups of friends. You can't be friends with everybody. Why even try?
The shy February sun peeks out overhead. I sit down next to Janice, who's talking about the SAT. "It's not an intelligence test. It only tests how well you can take it, if you can get into the minds of the test writers. It's classist, too, you know that? The rich kids can afford SAT tutoring and can take it multiple times, but the poor kids can only afford to take it once, stone cold."
Juliette speaks up meekly. "I think it tests your reasoning, at least a little bit."
"Give me an example," Janice demands. She's almost infuriating when she gets like this.
"Just, like, basic stuff, you know?" Juliette says. "Like in the reading section, if you can understand metaphors, like what the hell the 'heart of darkness' actually is."
"And that's intelligence, to you?"
"It's something that's standard in every high school curriculum," Dana puts in. "You know, finding symbolism and–"
"And there's only one way to interpret what the 'heart of darkness' is." Janice raises her eyebrows.
I give her a look. "You're supposed to choose the best answer out of five."
"Is that what life is like? Do you always get five solid options whenever you get to a dead end?"
"What's going on?" asks Nelly, who plunks herself onto the end of the bench. She's got white girl dreadlocks. She's probably the only white girl who can pull it off and look good."Janice is ranting about the SAT," Riana says, peeling the silver foil off the top of her yogurt.
"Is that all you're eating?" Janice asks her.
"Yeah, but I ate my lunch last period, in yearbook," she says. She laughs breathily, desperately. She is stick-thin. But Juliette, who is also in yearbook, corroborates her claim.
I'm not really sure why Riana hangs out with us. She tries too hard sometimes. I feel sorry for her, but not enough to be nice.
"So," Nelly says, "I've got a new life goal."
"Yeah?" I say. I think Nelly is going to be an exception to the poem I wrote this morning.
"I want to retrace the 'On the Road' route. Like on a roadtrip."
Janice's eyes light up. "That would be amazing! Like what, during the summer?"
Riana nudges Juliette, and I can see her ask something. Juliette replies quietly, "It's a book by Jack Kerouac."
"Let's do it," I say. "Let's save up and go in two cars."
"Can't," Nelly says. "My dad wants me to get a summer job."
A pause. All of us will probably have to work this summer.
"Sucks," I say. Nods in agreement.
"Today," Mr. Lasteller informs us in Advanced Placement English, "we'll be doing practice AP test essays. I want you to be sure your arguments are sound! And I want three, count 'em, three solid examples. More things you should not forget: topic sentences, people! You want to hook your test reader into your essay and keep 'em reading."
He drones on but no one is listening. Can't you see the glazed expressions on our faces? We're like donuts sitting here, melting onto our desks.
He hands out the essay prompt. Analyze how Emerson conveys his attitude toward society by his use of rhetorical devices such as diction, syntax, allegory, paradox, etc.Below, there's a paragraph from one of his essays.
What if I just scribbled, "Emerson wrote stuff about society. But that was then, and now he's dead. Thousands of other people since then have made far more insightful comments about Emerson's writing than I ever could. What's the point? Why waste time and ink and words creating something only you, Mr. Lasteller, will ever read? How about I do something productive, like cross the border thirty minutes south of here and build shelters for the homeless?"
But instead I analyze Emerson's attitude by commenting on his forceful diction, repetitive syntax, and utilization of allegory. At the end of the class period, I skim over the two full pages I've scrawled and realize that I have actually said nothing.
Seventh period Math Analysis ends. I turn off cruise control and put away my notes, which are more doodles than formulas. I find Juliette at her locker.
"Hey, you," I say, "are we still up for taquitos?"
"Heck yes," she grins. We've been looking forward to this all day.
"Question is," I say, walking towards my car, "Roberto's or Rico's?"
She takes a look through my CDs. I pull out of the parking lot, and she chooses the Kings of Convenience, a band from Norway.
"So, how was math?" she asks.
I consider it. "Juliette, do you ever feel like you're in Groundhog Day? Like you're living the same thing over and over again?"
"Yeah, but," she says, "that's high school. Come on, one and a half more years of this and we're out."
"What about now, though? Why should we have to sit through crap classes all day? Shouldn't we be having a good time now, too?"
I consider it. I turn up the volume and roll down the windows and we coast down the 101, sunlight blowing through our hair.
"So tasty," she says through her taquitos. "So good."
"Yeah. Hey, so what was up with Janice today? She seemed really pissy at lunch."
"Isn't she always?"
I click my tongue. "That's not nice, Julie-O. Seriously, though, what's up with her?"
"She got a bad grade on her history test," she concedes. "You know how she gets."
"Urgh… Four taquitos was way too much. God, I feel fat." She takes a sip of water.
"Are you kidding me right now? You sound like Riana."
"Yeah, but Riana is a frigging pencil neck. I dunno, I've been trying to, like, be healthier lately. You know, go running. Eat salads."
I make a face. "Salads?"
She frowns a little. "Hey. You're lucky, you know? You can eat anything you want and you're still skinny. The rest of us have to think about these kinds of things."
I feel bad but what do I do? "Well. I'm pretty sure that once I hit 30, I'm going to balloon out. I'll be huge. I'll have to roll to work in the morning." She doesn't laugh. "But, um. I think the running's probably a good thing. Maybe I can come with you sometime."
"I mean, I haven't run much at all since PE last year. Do you remember freshman year when we could run eight-minute miles? That's like, impossible for me now. I think maybe my limbs have atrophied. Heh."
"Yeah…" She looks out the window. "I mean, we should get in shape before summer, you know?"
"Why, we'll be picking up hotties on the beach?"
She shrugs. "I don't know. Beach parties and stuff. I just want to look good, you know? I'm 17 years old, for God's sake. These are supposed to be the best years of my life. Why should I worry about how fat I am, you know?"
She's so honest with me. I feel like I've been handed a jewel, her secret, worried ruby. It's too fragile for me. "Well, let's run, then. But you shouldn't have to worry about your weight. Come on, Juliette, you're what, a size 5? Look at yourself. You're gorgeous."
"I'm a size 9," she says. "When my mom was my age, she was a 3. I just – look, let's forget about it for now, okay? We'll go running sometime."
I let it drop. "So I hear Winston Gomez is already thinking about Prom."
"W-Winston? Isn't he busy deriving formulas and building trebuchets?"
"Apparently not. Nelly told me he's dating some girl from another high school. Weird, right?"
Juliette smiles. "Good for him, though. Winston with a girlfriend!"
"But I mean, what girl would go out with him? He seems so… awkward."
I sigh. "I guess I'm being a jerk. I guess I'm just a little depressed that Winston has a girlfriend before I have a boyfriend."
She pats my hand. "It's not like any of us have ever been kissed, either. I know I won't be anytime soon."
"I just don't understand how Winston has a freaking Prom date, and I can't even speak to guys. Feels a little unfair."
"Whatever. When we hit college, it'll be different. Right?"
"Better be. Ready to go? I'll drop you off at your car."
I come home to an empty house. Toss my keys onto the table and flip on the TV. I have a choice: a Telemundo soap opera or a makeover show. I choose the second.
A woman's grown children have approached the show's creators, claiming their mother dresses so poorly, she needs professional help. The mom is sabotaged in her own house, dragged into an SUV, and whisked to a boutique in LA.
"What would you normally pick out here?" the pretty hostess asks, judging.
"Um, probably this?" the woman answers, knowing it's the wrong choice.
"Are you kidding?!" the girl shrieks. "That looks like the dress my godmother was buried in! Let's try for something a little sexier, shall we?"
The woman laughs, strained. "Okay." Later, she steps out from behind the curtain in a low-cut, high-slit number, her hair a pyramid of fake curls. She totters out on four-inch-high heels, unbalanced. Her husband has his hands over his mouth. Her daughters have tears in their eyes. The audience applauds.
This is the world we live in. Where women step out from behind a curtain, unable to walk. We accept what the pretty hostess says because she has perfect teeth. Okay, we say. All right.
It's not all right. But I sit here, on my leather couch, watching it, watching myself, thinking about the things I do, the things I buy.This is going to be the thing that makes me likable. This is going to be the turning point. I am going to become somebody special.
It never works. The stretch jeans, the $75 sandals, the ties around my waist, the opinions, the awesome music collection – it's pathetic, what I'm trying to do. Who I'm trying to impress. I want to give up, to not care, to skip class.
But I know that I can't, no matter how much I want to. No matter how many poems I leave in library books.