Monday, May 23, 2016
1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Walters Rev 2
Name: Julie Walters
Title: Confessions of a High School Survivor: The Freshman Reinvention
Genre: Young Adult, contemporary
Pubic-Head, Jew-Fro, Big Brown One. If Jennifer Arnold knew how to make her classmates stop bullying her, stop breaking her with each nasty name and rumor, she’d do it. If only she were strong enough to believe in herself, but a lifetime of emotional abuse from home and bullying from school have left her hollow and splintered.
Just when she needs her most, Jennifer meets Becca. Beautiful, self-assured and fearless, Becca quickly becomes her new best friend. At overnight camp for the summer, Becca teaches Jennifer how to begin to find her inner strength, tackle her body image issues, and accentuate her outer beauty.
In the fall, when her friendship with Becca evolves into a secret romantic relationship, Jennifer grapples with understanding her sexuality and morals. Her Reinvention plan works though, and nearly all bullying at school ceases. Jennifer confronts her burgeoning fortitude when debating sharing her clandestine relationship with her best friends. If she can’t, she will be forced to hide what is quickly becoming the most life altering relationship she has ever known. However, her secret being divulged and resuscitating the now defunct abuse scares Jennifer into a claustrophobic silence and traps her in a cocoon of lies.
“Have a great summer, Pubic Head,” he yells at my back after I pass him on my way out of this god forsaken hellhole of a school.
“Yeah B.B.O. Maybe you’ll learn how to tame that Jew Fro,” sneers one of his cronies. Their gang of goons erupts with laughter. “Or just shave it off and save yourself from looking like my jock.”
They can’t see my beet-red face or smell the sweat that dampens me instantly or feel the tremors wracking my body. Nor can they see my desperate soul leaking out through the fresh wounds ripped open by their words, bleeding me dry.
This is what I know about life at fourteen: It Sucks. Capital S.
But the way I see it, I can continue spending my time wallowing in my misery, focusing on nothing except the epic Greek tragedy that is my life, or I can play an active role in my own reinvention and try to forge a new path. A path that leads to a life not filled with self-loathing or urgent wishes to be born into a different body or a different family in a different town in a different state where people aren’t assholes.
“Jen, anybody home?” Mara snaps her fingers in front of my face, eight days into summer break.
“Sorry. Lost in thought,” I mumble as I pick my cuticles bloody.
“Does it have anything to do with your nightmare last night?” Becca questions as she tosses her long, blond waves from her shoulders with a graceful shake of her head, her mesmerizing bright green eyes beckoning my atman to liberate itself.
Becca’s spent the past four days with me at Mara’s before we head off to overnight camp for the summer together. Eight non-parentally supervised weeks in the Poconos with Mara, my best-of-the-best friend since third grade and Becca, who has gone from stranger to confidant after barely one hundred hours together. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime and it’s my chance to do the impossible, to metamorphose. If I fail, if I can’t instigate a hiccup in the social disaster of my life, if I can’t get people to stop making fun of my hair, clothing, Jewish face, I know I won’t survive 9th grade.
When I first met Becca I felt shy, snatching quick glances before averting my eyes to the floor, not wanting to get caught gawking at her beauty. But her kind spirit ripples away from her in a fog-like wave, a constant blanket of warmth that makes me feel comfortable, less awkward. Accepted. We’ve become close in these past four days, and although she climbed into my bed last night when I woke up crying, wrapping her arms around me to soothe my desperation, I still couldn’t tell her about my last afternoon at school. Nor any of the miserable days prior, for that matter.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I mumble, walking toward Mara’s bathroom.
“Are people at school still being assholes, Jen?” Mara asks my back, but I ignore her as I close the bathroom door.
Walking out of Mara’s bathroom with my toiletries bag tucked under my arm, struggling to wrangle my massive helmet of frizzy hair into a ponytail, I see Mara and Becca sitting on the bed with my yearbook open between them. Their faces masks of horror. I abandon my hair as I rush to snatch the book from them, blood rushing to burn my cheeks.
“Please. Don’t,” I choke as I close the book with trembling hands, sweat beading along my forehead and above my lip instantly. I know it’s too late. I can tell by their expressions that they saw it. All of it.
Mara pats the bed next to her indicating that I should sit with them. “Jen, why didn’t you show this to me? Did you show this to a teacher, your advisor, anyone? This needs to stop.”
Flaying my cuticle from my pinky with my central incisors, I whisper, “No. Whatever. It doesn’t matter.”
Becca reaches across Mara to hold my quivering hand, saving my cuticles from further massacre. “It matter, Jen. How long has this been going on?”
“Feels like forever,” Mara croaks.
“Don’t we need to leave for the bus soon? Let’s grab a muffin on our way out.” But my diversion tactic falls on deaf ears.
Becca slides off of the bed and moves to sit next to me, wrapping an arm around my shoulder and pulling me against her side, her temple resting on my head.
“I’d like to help you Jen, but you need to bring me up to speed. I won’t judge you,” Becca starts but I cut her off.
“I don’t want your pity, Becca.”
“I wouldn’t dare. Just talk to me. When did this start?”
But I can’t. I can’t force my vocal chords to produce sound or my lips to form the words.
“Listen, we’re already friends and we’re about to spend eight weeks together, inseparably if you ask me. I’m not gonna let this go so you might as well save us both and tell me now.”
“You can trust her,” Mara encourages.
Trusting Mara’s endorsement implicitly, I take a deep breath before sliding from the precipice’s edge.
“5th grade but it didn’t go grade-wide viral until 6th. Now it’s of epidemic proportion. I’ve asked them to stop, but…” My voice trails off as my stomach clenches and threatens to explode even though it’s empty.
“They call you Pubic Head? Jew Fro? And those pictures. How could someone draw that in your yearbook?” Becca asks, her voice thick with incredulity. She squeezes my hand, forcing me to look at her exquisite face as my eyes fill with liquid despair.
“It’s my fault,” I offer as I attempt to reign in my emotions, to force them back into the tightly lidded compartment of my heart. “I mean look at me. I’m a mess. My hair, my face, my clothes. I make it easy.”
“Bullshit, Jen. They don’t have the right,” Becca states with the bravado of a politician.
We sit in silence for a few moments before Becca suggests the very thing I want desperately. “Jen, how about if I help you with a makeover. We have all summer to perfect it before the start of 9th grade.”
“Yes! That’s exactly what I want but don’t know how to accomplish, transmogrification. Steal their ammo like a summer thief.” I feel almost giddy with excitement, but the feeling is fleeting. “But how?”
“Makeovers are kind of my thing. We’ll start with your hair and eyebrows. Those are quick fixes but they’re invaluable life-long lessons. Then we’ll talk fashion. You’re hiding under way too much clothing. And you’ve got to stop mauling your fingers.”
I nod, extricating my thumb nail from between my teeth.
“Also, we need to work on your nonexistent self-esteem.” Mara adds sympathetically. “It’s paralyzing your potential and you’re too amazing for this shit.”
“First thing’s first. Let’s fix your appearance. It’ll take, like, an hour. Then we can move on to the tough stuff, digging through your issues, the causes and workable resolutions. That’s the real project for the summer, but it’s where I excel.” Becca says as I bite my lip and I turn away.
I know she’s right but I also understand how traumatic it will be to expose my psyche for examination. Mara smiles, but there’s guilt clouding her eyes. Or is it jealousy? Or something else?