Read More: A brief interview with Sarah Gerkensmeyer
I know you want me to say that I killed him. That’s why you keep asking me to write about what I remember from middle school right? Because then something will spark in my mind or something and bam—one minute I’m thinking about how stupid it was to take all that time to wrap clumps of my thin hair around those hot rollers each weekday morning or something bland like that—and then suddenly I’ll remember exactly what happened. When I killed him. Because that’s really the one thing you want me to remember right? I had to get up so early and I’d stumble over to the dresser and plug in the hot rollers and they’d kind of buzz while they were heating up and then my hair always ended up looking like an old lady’s wig no matter what. Maybe if I try to write about what kind of things I ate as an afterschool snack I’ll remember what I did to him. Is that what you think? Baked Cheetos. Plain bagels, not toasted. My favorite might have been potato chips dipped in steak sauce. If I keep listing and kind of get sidetracked in that way will I start to remember killing him? I mean I know I did it. That fact is somewhere deep in my rotting brain I’m pretty sure. But I’m not going to remember any of the details okay? No matter how much sappy journaling you force us to do. I won’t remember it. I swear to you. Young girl kills her first crush. That’s just gold to you right?
Whenever he stood at his open locker he’d kind of crouch with his knees bent a little for some reason. He was a popular kid. People liked him okay. But it looked like maybe he was trying to hide from somebody or something when he was getting books out of his locker. And when his body was all hunched like that he looked small enough to just hop right into his locker and disappear forever. I know that sounds weird. But it was like a fairy tale. Like his locker was the witch’s oven and someone might just shove him in. I don’t even know if he liked me. He sat next to me in pre-algebra a few times. I do remember that. He texted me one time and asked what the homework was. I can see him rubbing his hands down the front of his jeans one time when he saw me walk into the classroom, like he was nervous or excited to see me. I think that’s a real memory. His hair was like little wings above his ears. I think he smelled like chapstick. Cherry or strawberry.
We’re supposed to be writing about school again today. Again. Why school? I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the biggest fan. I can’t stop looking at the backs of the heads of the others sitting in front of me. I mean just look at their glossy, gross heads. The little scraps of hair. The fat, shiny veins. That’s what I look like isn’t it? I almost feel like I could cry about that. Sometimes when we are supposed to be writing about our memories I stare at the backs of these other kids’ heads and pretend that each one of these idiots is an old friend of mine. I pretend that we are planning a rebellion or something. Will I get in trouble for saying that? I don’t care. I pretend that we are planning a revolt from something. Telepathically I guess. Since we never talk to each other. I don’t think I can remember what talking is like. But I pretend we are planning for freedom even though I don’t think we’d know what to do with it.
One time I stopped right next to his locker and pretended to look for something in my bag. I pretended to be real frustrated, hoping he’d hear me huff and then he’d turn around and maybe say hi. And I honestly don’t remember if he did turn around or not. Probably he just stayed hunched there rummaging around in his locker, taking his time. Probably he didn’t pay any attention to all of us loud pre-teens filling the hall like a tidal wave between fourth and fifth period. Was it like meditation for him? What if he did turn and look at me while I was tearing through my bag pretending to look for who knows what? I don’t know. Maybe he waved. Is that what you want to hear? Maybe he said hey and asked me out to the movies or the mall or went ahead and demanded that the two of us run off together to Hawaii or Bermuda, like he somehow knew about all the dumb, horrible stuff that was about to happen to so many of us. Maybe he had a book in his hand or something and he didn’t know what to do with it while we talked. Did he smile at me? What color were his eyes? Was he even that popular? I wish I could go back and tell myself to not care. Just run off with him like in one of the dumb romance novels smashed next to the magazines at Walmart. Just get him out of there and grow up and then figure it out.
How long have we been doing this? You bring us here everyday right? I wish you would write back. Is everyone else in here writing about middle school? This room is like a kindergarten classroom. Am I remembering that right? Kindergarten? The chairs with the desks attached. The alphabet letters hanging over the chalkboard. The sun slanting in from beneath the cheap vinyl blinds. I sound kind of poetic don’t I? I feel like when you take us out of this room and back to wherever we spend the rest of our time we aren’t poetic anymore. Where do you take us? When we don’t have these journals to write in and these desks to sit at we don’t really have any thoughts do we? Or feelings? We don’t have any words. I feel like I’m five again when I’m sitting here. Do I even really have an age anymore? These stupid stickers. Sheets and sheets of them crammed into the cubby space beneath my desk. We’re supposed to decorate what we write if we want to I guess. We’re supposed to congratulate ourselves with rainbows and neon green worms poking out of shiny red apples, just grinning at us. Superb! Well Done! A+ Material! Don’t you know I could use the stickers to cover up what I’ve written? I could get all these thoughts out. Forget about the locker memories. I could write about the deeper stuff and then hide it beneath the stickers. But you’d just peel them back wouldn’t you? And read everything while I’m tucked away or locked away or whatever it is when I’m not sitting here in this room.
I think he kept packs of gum in his locker and we weren’t supposed to chew it at school. I think that’s why he’d take his time pressed into his locker, so he could chew a big wad of gum before the next bell rang. Maybe that’s why he smelled like chapstick. He could have been worried about having bad breath. What I should have done is just assumed that he liked me at least a little and pulled him away from that locker and just kissed him. But I couldn’t do that with everyone watching. So let’s say I was late to school one morning because I missed the bus because the dog had run off or my alarm didn’t buzz or I left the hot rollers plugged in and had to go home to unplug them so I wouldn’t burn down the entire freaking house. And let’s say he was late that day too for his own reasons. The hallway was empty except for him and I kissed him and he was like Oh man oh man oh man. He was like that without saying it out loud and he ignored my old lady hair. It was so good. And I never killed him.
We are all really quiet when we’re in here writing. With these stupid markers. I’d rather have a pen or a pencil. I’m only going to use green. The entire time. If it dries out I’ll need another one okay? We’re all quiet but I feel like there’s some kind of vibe in here. We never make eye contact or get to share our work with each other or anything. But still I think we would miss each other if we were separated. If the sessions had to stop. Is that what they are called? Sessions? Treatments? What are we called? An experiment? I think about my mom sometimes. Or the idea of having one. Because I’m sure I did. And I’m sure sometimes I remember her. But right now I don’t. And I worry about how much I think about him standing next to his stupid locker, loving him, when I should be missing my family even more. I’m relieved it’s him that I mostly remember instead of my own family. And that’s pretty terrible if you ask me.
I have no way of knowing. But maybe I never kept a journal before. Maybe it wasn’t cool. Now it’s the coolest thing in the world.
He was beautiful. Brown hair let’s say. Chestnut. Brunette. Bronzed. Coffee. Dusky. I still have words. He had big brown eyes. He had rosy cheeks, the kind that are okay for a guy to have. He had two hands and two feet and a belly button. He texted me and asked what the homework was. He could have texted anybody. There were so many ordinary things I bet. Letting him borrow a pencil in pre-algebra when his broke. Telling him his shoe was untied. Sitting behind him one day so I could stare at the tops of his ears. His voice was reedy. Probably it was different from the voices of all the other guys. I’d listen every time he said something like, Can I borrow a pencil? Or, I think Mr. Roberts said turn to the problem set on page ninety-six. What if he hummed or even sang quietly when he was pressed up against his open locker? And his voice kind of echoed in there and it was like his own private concert while he chewed his gum and sorted his notebooks. Before everything happened and I went nutso along with almost everyone else, he was going to ask me out. He had it all planned out and I was the one. I could make that real and true. Because I’ve got nothing to lose.
When I’m in here writing I think that’s the only time I’m really me. This is me. My diary self I guess. Is that what you would call it? I’m not real wherever else you take me, whatever you do to me. I’m only real when I’m hooked up to my writing voice. It’s like something medical. Like you hook me up to an I.V. and pump me up with my own words. But all there is is this journal with the faint blue lines and the markers and the stickers and the other glossy heads with their own patchy hair and their own bent, skinny necks. Writing. When we are somewhere else we don’t know about these sessions do we? I don’t remember him at all then? I can’t decide if that’s cruel or a very good thing.
What do you feed us? […]
Subscribers can read the full version by logging in.
Sarah Gerkensmeyer’s story collection, What You Are Now Enjoying, was selected by Stewart O’Nan as winner of the 2012 Autumn House Press Fiction Prize, longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and chosen as winner of Late Night Library’s Debut-litzer Prize. A Pushcart Prize nominee for both fiction and poetry and a finalist for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction and the Italo Calvino Prize for Fabulist Fiction, Sarah has received scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Ragdale, Grub Street, SAFTA’s Firefly Farms, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her stories and poetry have appeared in American Short Fiction, Guernica, The New Guard, The Massachusetts Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, B O D Y, Hobart, and Cream City Review, among others. Her story “Ramona” was featured in a Huffington Post piece on flash fiction and also selected by Lily Hoang for the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology. Sarah was the 2012-13 Pen Parentis Fellow. She received her MFA in fiction from Cornell University and now lives and writes in her home state of Indiana, where she is a winner of the Indiana Authors Award.
Read More: A brief interview with Sarah Gerkensmeyer