“Mia, Mia, Mia,” my mother would say, wagging her finger at me, “when will you just get over yourself?” I didn’t mind the finger-wagging, but I hated the implication that I was being selfish in some way. That just wasn’t me then or now, but that was never what she was really trying to say.
Mom knew that I lived in my own head. That I live in my own head. That I obsess about how I look, how I’m perceived, who I am deep inside that no one, I mean no one, can ever know. Does that make me selfish? Did mom have a point? I want to sit and talk about it again over a big platter of loaded nachos and sweet tea, like we used to. All those times I wanted to run away from these awkward conversations, and here I am, wishing I could feel that discomfort one last time. Of course.
My hands still shake a little when I imagine the warm feeling of my mom’s arm around my shoulders the night I finally confessed to her that I wasn’t normal. I guess I knew deep down that she wouldn’t disown me or hate me, and maybe that is why I finally told her. And she loved me even when I couldn’t love myself.
And now she is gone. It’s just me and Aunt Janet, alone. I feel like I will never not be alone.
For example, sitting at the back of the room in chem class, I’m totally ok with being alone. I make sure to partner up with Dane when we have to do labs, but Mr. Muller is pretty lame and prefers the sound of his own whiny voice over any activity that might actually lead to us learning something.
Dane caught me looking over at him, and he crossed his eyes. I shook my head and turned away quickly. If anyone could ever get me in trouble in class, it’s Dane.
His goofy grin and free spirit are enviable, but his kindness has never wavered. We were sat next to each other back in second grade, and now, eight years later, I would sit next to him in every class if I could. Dane makes school tolerable when nothing or no one else does. He is a good friend, but he doesn’t know everything about me.
Sometimes I think about telling him the truth, who I really am, this girl who will never look at him the way he looks at me. He would probably even understand, but every time I try to squeeze the words out, my throat zips itself closed, and my tongue stops working until the impulse passes.
And what if he couldn’t keep being my friend? I would be miserable without him. Sometimes it feels like this school is filled with faceless, nameless, robots with no real substance or unique thoughts, and it’s just me and Dane vs. everyone else.
Well, there’s Natasha Garcia, but that isn’t so simple. And even Dane doesn’t know who I am deep down and what that has to do with Natasha. He may not even know Natasha exists, but I’m sure he does. How can any normal sixteen year old boy not notice Natasha? How can any abnormal girl, like me, not notice Natasha?
Ms. Winton has changed the seating chart for the first time in forever, and Natasha is right behind me, like right now. I can smell her vanilla perfume when I really try. I can also smell my Oh, So Ocean Breezy lotion so I have to really concentrate. Without turning around, which would be totally uncool right now, I can picture Natasha putting on her Carmex, Natasha combing her caramel waves of hair with her fingers and discarding the stray hairs on the floor like no one will ever notice (but I do), Natasha tapping the lidded end of her blue pen on her forehead as she reads O Captain! My Captain!
I can see Natasha in my dreams too, and that’s that annoying abnormal side of me. Mom would say, “Be proud of you, be you. You’re gay, and that’s ok. You’ll find love because you are an amazing person who deserves love. It’s that simple.” It isn’t though.
She would also say, “Say you’re weird or abnormal one more time, Mia. I swear I brought you into this world, and I can send you right back out.” She would always have a smile on her freckled face when she said it, and her Southern drawl would almost take me from tears
to laughter. But… I could always see in her eyes that it hurt her when I would get on one of my I’m a sucky freak rants. She loved me. And now she is gone.
A gentle tap on my shoulder jolted me out of my memory and back to a slideshow on Emily Dickinson. Fact #6: It is widely believed that Dickinson suffered from SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.
Perhaps I should have been paying more attention. This Emily chick is one of the most interesting poets we will study this year. I get her, I thought.
Another tap, and this time I knew it isn’t my imagination.
I turned and reality hit me like a dozen arrows all aimed at my heart. Ok, that’s dramatic, but you get the point.
“So, did you read those assigned poems last night? I totally forgot, and I’m trying to not freak out.”
Wait, we were supposed to read some poems last night? Damn it, Mia!
I didn’t even know what to say, what to think for a moment. I needed some time! But that isn’t how this whole conversation thing works, is it?
“Honestly, I didn’t read them either. I forgot too,” I finally responded. I suck so bad at talking to people who aren’t my mom or Dane or Aunt Janet. Or myself.
Natasha smiled her perfect white smile. “Thank goodness I’m not the only one. I mean, this Emily Dickinson poet is really interesting, but with softball practice and… all these other things, I just didn’t get it done.”
I blink, I think. I lamely nod, for sure.
Natasha didn’t seem to notice. “I feel so bad. Well, not so bad now. I’m sure lots of these other idiots in here didn’t read it, right?” That smile, again, followed by a stern shush from Winton between two slides.
“Yeah, like she was so heartbroken over this best friend marrying her brother. It’s kind of…weird,” I stammered. Mia, shut up! What a weird thing to even say out loud! I had immediate regrets.
What was I thinking? I had been listening to my mom in my own head so much over the past two years, and her words keep sinking in even when I don’t want them too. I watched for Natasha to recoil, but she didn’t. She leaned in, glancing quickly at Winton and then back at me.
“Right?!” she dropped her voice even lower. “My theory is that this best friend was way more than a friend. But can you imagine, like back then Emily could have never come out! How sad is that?”
Can she read my mind, see into my soul, something crazy like that? I felt naked suddenly. I grappled for a moment to find the right words, not wanting to insert my foot again, not when this is the most Natasha has ever, ever even talked to me.
“Yeah, it’s awful,” I squeaked out.
That night, I piled some potato chips on a plate, dumped half a bag of shredded cheddar on them, and popped the plate into the microwave. I found one last Pepsi in the fridge so I took that as a sign. The resulting meal was nothing like what I would have ever enjoyed with mom, but it was close enough.
“Mia, you can’t keep yourself closed off to the world. The world can’t embrace you when you refuse to be open. Get over yourself.” If she were here, this would be where mom would reach out and tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ears like she knows I prefer it. Then she would cup my chin like I was some tender little girl. I never minded that, not one time.
“Mom, you’re a broken record with this,” I say out loud to no one but a plate with leftover chunks of burnt cheese that I start picking at with my fingernails. Burnt cheese is the best, but we have established that I am a strange one.
Mom and I talked throughout the night, and I realized that she was right. She has always been right. I need to live my life and get over this stupid crap I have have going on in my noggin.
I’m not going to ask Natasha out on a date or anything wild like that, but surely I can have a conversation. Surely I can think, for one class period, that I might have something to offer. That I might be able to make a friend at the least.
So today I will plop down like I always do in seat 5, row 7 and turn myself around and look that girl in the eye. We’re going to talk Dickinson. Or something. I don’t know yet, but we will talk. I made a promise to my mom.
Thank to you Reedsy.com for the prompt that inspired this piece. The focus was on the idea of transformation.