Fiction

All I Want

The more imperfect you are, the less likely I am to lose you.

Last Halloween, Leonard and I took the bones from the forest, strung them on a string, and wore them like tribal necklaces. This year, Abigail, Izzy, and I are the Chipettes. Abigail is Brittany, the selfish, pretty one; Izzy is Jeanette, the clumsy, smart one; and I’m Eleanor, the pudgy, loveable one. Leonard is wearing a dress and has a folded pillow taped to his stomach. He wants me to smudge purple eye shadow on his face so that he’ll look like a pregnant woman who gets her ass kicked by her trailer-park husband every night.

“This is a really insensitive costume.”

“OK, can you, for once, just relax? Try not to take everything so seriously, and you might be in a better mood, for once.”

“Who said anything about being in a bad mood? I’m saying that this is fucked up. There are actual women who get their asses kicked every night and you’re taking their shitty lives and turning them into something to laugh about.”

When we get to Izzy’s Halloween party, we’re still not talking. I feel stupid wearing my dad’s tie and people keep coming up to me and asking me who I’m supposed to be.

“A fat midget,” I tell them. “But my sisters love me.”

On my way to the bathroom, I see Leonard dancing with Kathleen Mitchell to the Cure. When the song’s over, he walks up to me and asks me if I want to touch his pillow baby.

“It’s ours,” he says, grinning.

“Did you have fun dancing with Kathleen?”

“Her swan costume is the best thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Why? Because she happens to have super graceful arms and a neck like a swan?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow,” I say. “You just admitted that you’re insanely attracted to Kathleen.”

“Didn’t I say earlier that you’re in a shitty mood tonight? Look at yourself. You look like you want to fight me and all I said was that I liked her stupid costume.”

“Answer me,” I taunted him. “Answer me.”

“Let’s talk when you’re not insane.”

“I’m not insane,” I say. “I’m already not insane.” Leonard walks away from me and I follow him for a second before feeling disgusted with myself. I find Abigail and ask her if she knows where we could get some drugs.

“Drugs?” she repeats. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you seem sort of crazed out. Are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” I say. “I just need to find Izzy.” I find Izzy and ask her if we can shut down the party as a pretend thing so that we can kick out Kathleen Mitchell, and then we can totally start the party again, and Izzy looks at me like I just strangled ten puppies.

“You’re joking, right? We don’t hate that girl that much, do we?”

“Where do your parents keep notepaper?”

Izzy pulls some out from a drawer and hands it to me. I scrawl the words, “WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO MAKE YOU CARE” on piece of paper and crumple it up into a ball. I find Leonard sitting in a corner, putting scratch-and-sniff stickers on Kathleen’s knee, and I throw the crumpled piece of paper at him and run out the door.

Chase after me, motherfucker, I say to no one as I’m running past the houses with all the Halloween lights. The jack-o’-lanterns that looked so cheerful this morning when I thought I had it all now look positively disturbing, and all I can think of when I run past them is how someone cut the top off of all these pumpkins and tore out their insides and tossed them in the garbage like it was no big thing. Chase me, motherfucker, I say to the houses on Izzy’s block that all look like one another, but also don’t look like one another, because who knows what goes on inside these houses? Who knows what’s really there, in those old Dutch Colonial houses that might be home to families who, against all odds, were created to create more families, and I wonder how many of those families began with a girl like me—so lonely even ghosts won’t follow her?

***

Halloween is over and there’s smashed pumpkins everywhere. It’s Saturday afternoon and there’s already a sliver of moon in the sky. In an hour, I’m taking my brother to a birthday party for a kid in his third-grade class. My mom ties a little-kid bowtie on my brother, and he looks so cute that I decide I want him to stay little forever, or if that’s not possible, then I want to one day have a son exactly like him on exactly the day that he’s no longer cute and little, and when my son grows up, I want to have another son also exactly like Dennis to replace my first son, who is no longer as cute as Dennis, and when my second son grows up, I want my first son to get his wife pregnant and have a baby exactly like Dennis, and the cycle can basically continue in its perfectly conceived way until I’m dead.

I brush my brother’s hair to one side to make him look like a mini mogul. “He’s so little,” I say to my mom, and immediately Dennis says, “I’m not little. Hey, I’m not little,” and my mom, who I think is afraid that we’ll one day see ourselves the way other people see us, says, “You’re not little. You’re big. Your sister is not saying true things.”

“We should change your name to Walter Benjamin Maximilian the third,” I said.

“Why?” he said.

“Because it’s funny and you look like such a rich kid in that bowtie. Richie Rich.”

At the party, my brother is the only one in a bowtie and sports jacket. All the other kids have dirty fingernails and grass stains on their jeans.

“See, you’re gonna have fun,” I say to Dennis. “Go be hyper with your friends.”

“Can you stay here and watch me, Christine?” my brother asks.

“What do you need me to watch you for?”

“Can you watch me dig a hole?”

“You don’t need me to watch you. I’m going to go see my friend, and you go with your friends.”

“But you watched me yesterday.”

“Right, but today’s not yesterday. Today’s today. Yesterday doesn’t tell today what to do.”

“Mom tells you what to do.”

“Yeah, and she told me to drop you off at Aaron’s house, and then she I said I can do whatever the hell I want.”

“The hell you want?”

“Yeah, whatever the hell I want. Come on, you little gangster. They’re all waiting for you. Go have fun. I’ll check back in an hour and if you aren’t having fun, we can go home. OK?”

“OK, Christine.” He holds out his hands to let me kiss each finger goodbye. He lets me do it in front of anyone, but sometimes I forget to do it when we are alone, and then I feel sad because I know, one day soon, he’ll let me do it only when we’re alone, and after that, never. But today, I remember, and when I kneel down to kiss his fingers, I notice the big blisters on his index and middle finger.

“Did you touch the stove again?”

“No.”

“Then why do you have blisters from touching the stove on your finger?”

“They’re not from touching the stove.”

“How’d you get the blisters, then?”

“What?” He holds up his index finger so close to his face that his eyes look crossed. “Do you mean this hit?”

“Yeah, where’d you get this hit?”

“I don’t know.”

“OK, let’s talk about this later. I have to go meet the luh-ove of my liee-ife.”

“Can you just watch me for a little bit?”

“Does your hit hurt?” I ask him.

“No,” he says. “A little bit.”

“Then you’re OK to play by yourself.”

“Wait. Actually, it hurts.”

“I’m going. I’ll see you in an hour, OK, Maximilian the third?”

After I leave my brother, I run all the way to Leonard’s house. His mom lets me in and tells me he’s on the phone.

“I love you, man,” I hear him say into the phone.

“Is that Joey?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Jo-Jo, king of kings.”

“That’s nice that you guys say things like that to each other. I usually save that kind of thing for my parents or someone I love romantically.”

He puts his hands over my ears and says something to me I can’t make out.

“What?” I ask. I take his hands and hold them to my chest.

“I am,” he says.

“You’re what?”

“I am in love with you.”

For the next few hours, no one exists but us, and when Leonard’s mom knocks on his door to ask if we want any dinner, I remember my promise to check on my brother after an hour.

Leonard walks me two blocks in the direction of Aaron’s house before I stop him and tell him that this is where we say our goodbyes.

“Let’s always be good on our byes,” I say to Leonard and push him a little in the direction of his house.

“You are good to be by,” he says.

“You are good by the tree where I am by,” I say and then, “Seriously, I have to go,” and I fast walk it to Aaron’s house, the whole time replaying the last few hours in my head.

When I get to the party, Aaron’s mother runs to up to me and tells me that Kenny found my brother sitting on the bathroom floor with his pants around his ankles, holding a pair of scissors, and now my brother won’t stop crying, Aaron won’t stop crying, and Aaron’s little sister won’t stop crying because she cries whenever Aaron cries. I take my brother in my arms and I apologize several times to Aaron’s mother.

“He’s going through some things right now, Mrs. Newman. I’m so sorry you had such a hard time getting a hold of us. My parents are probably still out on their Saturday date thing. I guess this is a pretty good time as any to look into cell phones. I’m sorry for any trouble we’ve caused here.”

I carry my brother all the way home, and by the time we get through the front door, my arms are burning like someone’s roasting them on a barbecue. My parents aren’t home yet, and I wonder what I’ll say to them when they get back. I undress my brother and get him ready for bed. I promise to stay with him all day tomorrow and make sure he doesn’t do anything to hurt himself, and I tell him not to worry because us two, we’re going to stick together. I tell him that we’re going to figure this out, one way or another, that I plan on being the last person he sees before bed and the first person he sees when he wakes up, but I know what it takes to become the person you really want to be, and I know what it’s like to need more time to become that person, and unless all the time I need is tonight, I know that tomorrow my brother will come to my room in the morning and I’ll be gone. I’ll have already walked to Leonard’s house in the middle of the night, looking for him and asking if he really meant what he said, if he really does consider me his best friend, if he really does think he could one day take care of me, if he really does believe we should take acid together, if it really will make us feel as connected to each other as the sea is to the earth, if I really am the most important person in his life, if he really is afraid of losing me, and if he says yes to all that, if he says he can’t believe he didn’t chase after me on Halloween, then I know I’ll have to wait a little longer before I start to become the person I want to someday be. ♦

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31 Comments

  • MickeyMickeranno October 21st, 2011 3:35 PM

    This was awesome, it’s been a long time since I have read something so well written! It made me happy :)

  • kittenpuke October 21st, 2011 3:41 PM

    I love it! :-)

  • Ruby B. October 21st, 2011 4:28 PM

    This is absolutely beautiful! I love it so much!

  • Shutterbug1998 October 21st, 2011 4:30 PM

    This story is so sad, but so well written! Is it going to be continued? Arghh cliffhanger! Is it a true story?

    • Jenny October 21st, 2011 4:48 PM

      Hi ya, it’s fiction (thankfully, for me!) For now it ends here, but I like to imagine that Christine and Leonard are still out there in the world, trying to figure out how to be.

  • Maddy October 21st, 2011 5:12 PM

    Dennis makes me sad, and I want to know that he is taken care of. Well written.

  • dreamyj October 21st, 2011 5:16 PM

    That was stunning. I haven’t read a story that’s kept me so absorbed in a long time.

  • Angie Bitchface October 21st, 2011 5:17 PM

    this story was amazing. it reminds me of me and my boyfriend even though he’s nothing like Leonard — how difficult it is to be in love. or just to be.

  • maya October 21st, 2011 6:23 PM

    Ah! That was fantastic. I was glued to that story.

  • donutsundae October 21st, 2011 6:27 PM

    It’s like all my high school relationships layered on top of each other and held up to the light, and the last sentence is exactly perfect.

  • Chimdi October 21st, 2011 7:03 PM

    This is so good! I was expecting it to be cheesy as most fiction meant for girls to read is, but it’s not! The parts about the brother are especially touching, and written so very poignantly.

  • Sphinx October 21st, 2011 7:32 PM

    Jenny, I really love your writing, it feels very honest. Your characters are just really human , and when I read your last story I didn’t realize it was fiction until I finished the first page!

    • Jenny October 22nd, 2011 6:19 PM

      Oh, thank you so much Sphinx! I’m so just so happy that Rookie publishes fiction <3

  • diny October 21st, 2011 7:34 PM

    jenny, i like this! i always like what you write. xx

  • kellie October 21st, 2011 7:46 PM

    you are a beautiful writer. it’s inspiringly original, like joan didion’s dialogue and miranda july’s storytelling, but original. you should write a screenplay (if you haven’t already). thanks for writing this.

    • Jenny October 22nd, 2011 6:12 PM

      That’s an amazing compliment! Thank you!

  • Lucy October 21st, 2011 7:55 PM

    This was so messed up in a way, but it was beautiful too. When she was running past the houses, it made me feel scared and alone too, and I felt physically sick and teared up at the parts about her brother. Only truly great writing can do that to a person:).

  • Lilly October 22nd, 2011 5:06 AM

    This is so amazingly written, it’s so real. It’s beautiful.

  • Motherfunker October 22nd, 2011 9:05 AM

    beyond beautiful.

  • mirandab17 October 22nd, 2011 4:09 PM

    that was incredible. i was absorbed within maybe five sentences.

    i think the part that hit me so powerfully was the relationship she had with her younger brother, because the whole time i was imagining my own younger brother, his innocence just starting to slip away as he’s a year from being 13, and remembering how little time i have to be with him just as he is now. and that in a few years there’s a possibility, once i’m away in university and he doesn’t see me every day anymore, that he won’t find my jokes as hilarious and that he won’t tell me a few of his secrets, or a few of his crushes, and that he won’t tell me what he’s really upset about. He might just be like my brother who is 15 right now, with a wall up that is nearly impossible to take down and the thought of that just makes me want to cry so much.

    so this story acted as a reminder, perhaps a warning, that he won’t always be the same boy as he is now and that every little moment is absolutely crucial to where we will be in say five years.

    thank you so much for this story, it was brilliant.

    • Jenny October 22nd, 2011 6:11 PM

      Oh, thank you for your sweet comment! I have a little brother who’s 9 years younger than me and when I was in college, I used to get so sad thinking that I was missing out on his life, that he was going to grow up and I wouldn’t be there to see it. And for a long time, we weren’t as close as we were when we were kids. Man, it’s hard to grow up!

  • fake french October 22nd, 2011 5:07 PM

    I can’t help but cringe at the use of ‘gay’, but a beautiful piece xx

    • Jenny October 24th, 2011 11:45 PM

      I know what you mean! We’re supposed to cringe a bit at the girls’ ignorance.

  • Hedwig October 22nd, 2011 8:09 PM

    Speechless

  • k.a. October 23rd, 2011 3:30 AM

    that was brilliant. really powerful characterization, and the sentence structure gave this piece such an amazing quality – don’t even get me started on the narrator’s viewpoint. it’s like pastpresentfuture all at once and gah!

    let’s just say… I loved it :)

  • Rebekka October 23rd, 2011 11:40 AM

    That was truly amazing. So well written! I have a little brother who´s ten years younger and I could relate to the parts about wanting him to stay little forever…

  • Jenny October 24th, 2011 11:46 PM

    Thank you so much, everyone! Thank you a million times. Your comments make my gloomy days happy!

    • victoria April 10th, 2013 6:35 AM

      this is so amazing jenny i adore your writing you are the best pleaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaase write a book or a HUNDRED thank you with love

  • Weeezy April 20th, 2012 8:10 AM

    love love love, makes me think of my relationship with my older brother.

  • Quistiadess April 9th, 2013 6:39 PM

    It makes me so sad that this is fiction. I felt normal!

    *great writing* :)