The flaked-paint post office by the river is on Princeton Street. The dead-end behind the gas station connects to Dartmouth Avenue, across from the church and funeral home. Harvard is the road leading to the lumber yard, in the summers so dusty you can’t see the sunlight or your hands in front of you. No one in Lydison remembers who first came up with the idea, and I always wondered at who, what misplaced dreamer. But when I think of the people in my town, in August afternoons driving slowly from Yale Street to their homes, I imagine them all with white paint brushes and steel plates, dreaming of better houses, better roads. After painting the signs, they named their children Rich, Cash, even Princess, hoping painfully for their sons and daughters what they themselves never had and which in the end would haunt them; when a sink-washed glass shattered on the kitchen lino, when a light-haired girl stumbled on a loose porch plank. When a man died, suffering a stroke on a broken lawn chair on Brown Street. My mother named me Ivy.
MY SIBLINGS AND I ALL ATTENDED THE INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE PROGRAM AT A HIGH SCHOOL TWO HOURS AWAY FROM LYDISON
For my mother, it meant working three jobs to pay the tuition fee and frequently quoting from the IB website that her children would “acquire a high school education of an international standard, recognized at institutions of higher learning around the world”. For me it meant being overlooked by the children of foreign diplomats and hoping the librarian didn’t notice that I ate my lunch behind the biography section. For my sister it meant writing ‘baccalaureate’ twenty-five times on her notebook so she’d remember how to spell it, as well doing her senior year over and over as her not having spoken a word since she was fourteen years old proposed problems for the oral components of her subjects. For my brother, it meant a wide selection of FuFoFems.
FUFOFEM: FUCKABLE FOREIGN FEMALE:
Pronounciation key: [Fu-foe-fem]
Definition: A rare species of female specimen, not of American descent, between ages 16 and 18. Possesses the following traits:
1. A skin tone at least three shades east of mocca beige
2. Dark hair reminiscent in texture of a black silk scarf
3. A selection of stories from her native country, told with an adorable child-like accent, preferably Spanish or Russian in origin.
4. The type of physical beauty which makes people involuntarily swallow their chewing-gum, leave their wives, develop teenage anorexia.
5. An irresistible attraction to the mysterious American boy at their high school who with bedroom eyes and his right hand on his guitar case uses his left to stroke the crease between their collar bones.
6. A malleable outlook on pre-marital sex.
MY BROTHER ONLY FELL IN LOVE WITH FOREIGN GIRLS
The South African exchange student. The vice-president of the Latina club. The twin Russian-Italian transfer students (Lita in the spring, Tanya in October). He only loved an American girl once. She was blonde and fair-skinned and born and raised in Maine. At school the seniors said my brother didn’t really date her, only almost; but when she moved back to Maine with her father he kept her picture in the pocket of his favourite jeans and almost broke our drier when he thought mom had washed them. She hadn’t. Once, I picked the picture gently from his pocket. It was not a very good photo of her. You couldn’t see how little her waist was, or the blue in her eyes. She was playing in the winter football field, laughing at something the photographer did. Snow melted on her cheek and in her hair. Her nose was pink from the cold and I noticed that one of her teeth were smaller than the rest. I put my finger on her red coat and wished that she would come back, marry my brother, be my big sister.
MY BROTHER WAS BETTER LOOKING THAN I WAS
He was tall and pale in a good way, the opposite of my pale, and he had dark brown hair that looked like he didn’t comb it, which he didn’t. His eyes looked sleepy, like he didn’t care about anything, which he also didn’t. He sometimes carried his guitar case with his school bag, and the girls at school would slip him glossy magazine looks and when he was standing far away they’d whisper “so sexy” and “he’s beautiful” and “HisNameIsTom,Right?DoesHeHaveAGirlfrien
MY START OF SENIOR YEAR STATS
• Name: Ivy Linden
• Age: seventeen, but not a reader of Seventeen.
• Address of permanent residence: The most miserable town in America, (i.e Lydison, PA).
• Appearance: Far from ugly. Far from beautiful.
• Preoccupation: Making constant neurotic changes to her Harvard application, waiting to send it.
• Sexual experience: scarcer than the US petroleum supply.
• Hopes for the future: to get far, far away from the school she goes to, the place she lives in and the people of both.
WHY HARVARD UNIVERSITY?
I’d been pondering what to answer when they ask me this question in the interview. I intended on pointing to the longstanding quality of their English faculty and that my commitment to the English language and its literature was of such immense passion that I saw no other way to turn than to a program which undoubtedly would be able to give me the crème de la crème challenges and quality teaching experiences I so yearned for. But that was of course just bullshit. Why Harvard University? Because it was something that that was “top rated, the best, the bomb”, but yet couldn’t be bought for FuFoFem daddy money.
MY SISTER WAS ALLERGIC TO BEES
She had to carry little needles and fluids in her purse, and if she got stung by a bee, she had to press the needle into the softest part of her wrist without looking away. If she didn’t, she would stop breathing. It would take twenty minutes, and she will stop breathing.
MY MOTHER CRIED WHEN SHE FOUND OUT
The doctor showed Leighla how to put the needle in the liquid cases and how to pinch her skin before pressing it into her wrist. But Leighla shook and almost fainted when someone touched her wrist, and when the doctor said Leighla should try it herself, her eyes flickered and she sat still. After seven tries, she still wouldn’t touch her wrist or look at it. Eyes moist and grey from running makeup, my mother grabbed Leighla’s shoulders. “You have to learn how to do it, Leighla. You have to! Don’t you care? Don’t you care if you die, Leighla?” Her lips were trembling in the creases but Leighla didn’t look at her. The doctor said quietly that maybe if my mother and I stepped outside, Leighla would feel more comfortable. I knew that she wouldn’t be, because Leighla didn’t like to touch her wrist no matter who was watching. Mom was staring straight ahead when Leighla walked out of the doctor’s office, and I noticed but didn’t tell her that I thought she had the prettiest and longest legs of any of the girls in school. My mother asked the doctor if it had worked and he said yes, but he looked at Leighla instead of my mother when she wrote out the check.
SOMETIMES I THOUGHT LEIGHLA DIDN’T CARE IF SHE DIED
My father was a dentist. When Leighla and Tom and I were little, he didn’t allow us to drink soda. He said our teeth would rot away and fall out, and that we needed to realize the importance of taking care of our dentals in the preteen years. When I went to birthday parties, he would stick a yellow or red straw in my backpack along with the gift, telling me to use it so that the liquid touched my teeth as little as possible. I thought it was silly. But the other girls were fascinated by what seemed like my endless supply of straws. When dad left I bought a two-litre of Pepsi and drank it slowly, swirling the liquid around in my mouth. Then I felt so guilty that I threw up, and I cried because I knew stomach acids were worse for teeth than Pepsi was.
SEPERATELY THEY WERE BEAUTIFUL
But sitting by the lake, two pairs of legs, two sets of clear blue eyes, they were breathtaking. In a literal sense for me, watching them watch me ascend and lower my head in the water, up and down in childhood meditation. They smiled at me, like clockwork identical, making me forget for a moment that they were alive, human girls, sun sweeping across bikini bodies, pale skin blending with blonde hair; bright land-mermaids, maybe angels. Gazing, gasping for air, wet hair sticking to my cheeks, I searched in their faces, underwater haunted, wondering where in their bodies they hid the darkness.
MOM SAID WE COULD GO FOR A TREAT, SEEING AS LEIGHLA HAD BEEN SO GOOD AT THE DOCTOR’S
As Leighla didn’t speak, I was the one who got out of the car to get the ice cream. I got us cones of strawberry every time. I didn’t know if strawberry was Leighla’s favorite too, but she always finished it and she kept the pink plastic spoons in a drawer in her bedroom.
THERE ARE A MILLION THINGS I NEVER KNEW ABOUT MY MOTHER
My father told me seven of them before he left. Each moment surprised me, chillingly reminding me of the simple fact that my mother wasn’t always my mother. I froze in wonder each time, mesmerised at the things he casually told me. That she was the prettiest girl in the sophomore mathematics class. That she skipped her classes in Shakespeare Studies to sit beneath the campus birch trees, reading Shakespeare. That she was president of the university’s film noir club. That she hated wearing shoes. That she adored sweets and could at any time be seen balancing a strawberry cupcake or a bag of chocolate cherries on top of her books. That the first time he saw her, she was wearing a bright yellow dress and trying to make a frightened freshman boy sign a petition against increased military spending. That he fell in love instantly.
JESUS WEARS LIPGLOSS AND A C-CUP
I didn’t care about my appearance before I was twelve. I might never have cared at all if it hadn’t been for Melissa, the most glamorous of the Italian girls my brother had bedded since the age of 13. Melissa, Mellie to friends, emerged from my brother’s bedroom a gloating goddess, triumphantly smirking and covered merely by a skimpy underwear set, the color of a freshly fabricated communist flag. She ignored my pyjama-clad self as she slid elegantly into the bathroom, keeping the door ajar as she examined herself in the mirror, not with worry or discontent, but with a certain unconcealed conceit, stretching a gloriously tanned Italian leg across the sink, smearing it glossy with pink lotion. Her eyes caught mine in the mirror. She smiled at me, somehow flashing every tooth in her top row of opaque whites. I believe it was that day I learned the difference between the Heartfelt Impulsive Smile and the Spectacular Joyless Grin. “Come here, little sweet”, she said, her voice implying that yes, she was in fact aware of the endearing quality of her accent. I shyly stepped inside the bathroom and felt suddenly as if we were sharing a secret, she and I, Mellie and Ivy, the belle du jour and the sister debating their viewpoints on the high school legend that was Tom Linden. “You would be so beautiful if you put your hair like this” she said, twirling a lock behind my ear with her slender fingers, sending chills down my spine which for years made me question my sexuality. She placed a pink nail against my cheek. “Will you let me have a moment alone now, little sweet? I’m trying to make your brother realize I’m the second coming of Jesus and have a multiple orgasm before the school bus gets here”. Mellie Schmellie.
I SOMETIMES HAD A DREAM MY BROTHER WAS EATEN BY A BEAUTIFUL BLACK PANTHER AND SUDDENLY THERE WAS ONLY ME AND LEIGHLA LEFT
When they knocked on our door or called, I’d sometimes be rude to them, and then tell my brother that it was the wrong number or a member of Jehovah’s witnesses or a 40-something beer-bellied man selling life insurance. Once, one of the girls came back, and walking to the kitchen, having spent five hours in my brother’s bedroom, she threw me a swift look, tearing open one of the granola bars my mom told me not to eat because they were for Leighla. “You little cunt” she said, her accent making the phrase sound more humorous than cruel. She was 6 feet tall and Russian and so pretty I almost dropped my teacup. Suddenly my brother was standing behind her. “What did you call her?” He was only wearing boxers, black cotton. “What the hell did you call her?” I’d never seen my brother angry before. The baby giraffe supermodel shrunk to the size of a crouching cat. “I was only joking” she said in a whimper, somehow cramming the entire spectre of apologetic tones into four words. My brother looked at her steadily, saying No One Calls My Sister That and a second later she and her purple Prada bag were gone. He didn’t say anything else.
BUT I WAS THE HAPPIEST I’VE EVER BEEN
© Avaleighmarissa 2008