When You'll Have It All Together
This is where I'm safe.
I'm in my Minnie Mouse pajamas and nestled into our couch that smells of barefoot Julys. The Land Before Time blurs through black that kisses and warms. Mom is sunk in beside me, grazing the tips of her fingers along my back.
My eyelids fall like a first snow, then half-rise like an uncertain spring. I watch Littlefoot and his friends through the broom of my lashes. If I sleep, Mom will carry me to bed.
Yes, this is where I'm safe. This is where I know.
My 7-year-old feet dangle off the office chair. It swivels but itches my thighs.
The computer's blinking cursor scorns me for not spilling my story in seconds. It should just flow. I've been imagining it since breakfast.
My lead character, Stacy, gifts the world everything. She's gorgeous, flawless, and 12. Her sunshine hair waterfalls down her back and she walks to school everyday, on time, where she's greeted by dozens of friends, girls and boys. Her confidence and kindness skip into pockets like rocks across a pond.
And me? My shadowy hair spurts into a mullet. The back and bangs flip wildly with cowlicks; I'm basically a prepubescent airplane. I'm more at home clinging to Mom's hand than hugging anyone hello. There's nothing done about me.
If Stacy stood beside me, she'd know how to paint beauty with a keyboard. She'd glitter me with the wisdom of 12 and overnight, I'd stop memorizing the linoleum at school and raise my hand. I'd grow roots at my desk instead of seeking shelter at the nurse.
But Stacy isn't real. And the story won't come. I'll have to wait, wait, wait until I'm 12. Middle school. That's when things will start.
I'm 12 and in fourth period social studies.
The fan rustles the flag and my neighbor drums on his desk and my teacher's heels click clack like a hostile swan and I'm here.
I'm fixated on the "S" I wrote at the top of my worksheet. Its curves should be smoother, rounder. I'm fixated on it as though it's a car crash -- so much wreck paved into a quarter inch that I can't say no.
"It's okay," Kind Side of my mind coos. "The S doesn't matter. Move on. It looks great."
I know Kind Side tells no lies. I know it just as I know my reflection and I know my behavior maps insanity. I know it and still I'm unable to breathe.
The S haunts and taunts like a poisonous shadow. It claws and bawls, "FIX ME. Then I'll stop."
I rewrite it.
"Not good enough! Fix me. FIX ME NOW. You can't answer the questions until you do."
I'm paralyzed except in my ability to obey. I erase and rewrite, erase and rewrite, erase and rewrite. Again, again, again.
Kind Side pleads, "please. This is good enough. Let her stop."
But the S's curves should be smoother, rounder. It claws and bawls more and my mind floods with the tears I'm not crying.
"FIX ME. NOW."
There's nothing more I can do to obey.
I hear the fan rustling the flag and my neighbor drumming on his desk and my teacher's heels click clacking like a hostile swan and I'm here, unable to melt myself to join.
All I can do is welcome the wreck because I'm bankrupt of perfection.
I won't care about an S when I'm older. High school. That's when I'll be okay.
I'm crouched in the back of my closet; my ninth grade yearbook and town directory fan at my feet.
In Mom's eyes, the worst that can happen is he says no. In my eyes -- reality -- the worst that can happen is he laughs. That slow dancing with me is such an insane notion that his vocal chords cannot muster politeness and he instead bursts into a thunderous cloud of laughter until he slams the phone down.
And yet... he could say yes. It's possible. The blur of a yes sways out there, shaking its hips and seducing me into dialing his number.
"Hello?" A mystery woman.
What do I say?
"I can hear you breathing."
WHAT DO I SAY?
Click. Well, that was atrocious.
I bet they have caller ID and Benesi now scrolls through their phone and he's mocking me to his friends and oh my God, this is horrible, I'm compressing into a Tootsie Roll with laundry from two weeks ago. Oh my God. I must call back. To explain, if no other reason.
Maybe a script would help. I cannot be trusted to talk and seem cool at once. I'm not Britney Spears.
I scribble, "hi, this is Sarah Benesi. We're in math together. ...I'm good, how are you? So we have this dance, and I was wondering if you'd like to go with me? It's okay if not." Sounds better than me. Let's do this.
"Hold on, honey," Mystery Woman chirps upon me introducing myself. Weird how she's friendlier when I'm not a breath monster.
Then all too quickly, his voice -- "hello?"
Okay, Me. You're up. You got this.
"Hi! This is Sarah Benesi. We're, um, we're in math together."
"Yeah! Hi, Sarah. What's up?"
What's up? That's not in my script. What do I say? What's cool? You're way out of my league. "Oh, um. Not much. You?" Nailed it.
"Sweet," I giggle. "So we have this dance... and I was... I was wondering if you'd, um, like to go with me? It's okay if not or if... um, yeah..."
"Okay. Yeah, sounds fun. Thanks for asking me!"
You're thanking me? More like thank you! I won't let you down. I'll be outgoing and fun and -- Sarah! Say something! "You're welcome."
"I have to go. Bye!"
"See you in math!"
He said okay. I crawl out of my closet and squint into the lemony blaze of late afternoon. He said okay. I gallop and pelvic thrust and flail my arms like a helicopter. He said okay.
But wait. Tomorrow. How should I act? Should I talk to him? What is up? Are we friends now? Are we dating? No, you're not dating. I think you know that.
He said okay. I grin. Okay.
One day, I'll sweat brilliance and boys will form queues. Someday. That's when I'll be cool.
It took 30 years to smash the code, but I've finally learned there is no "that's when."
No age or life stage contains the answers. We're experiments. We never stop being experiments. We grow roots and confidence, lessons and wisdom, and we're experiments still. Beauty is born in the questions, not the answers.
Accepting our imperfections, learning, and launching forward -- that's what we have. Maybe we won't ever have it all together. But maybe that isn't the point. Maybe the point is to kick life's ass with every ounce of ourselves, despite not seeing a script. Maybe that's bravery.
This is where I'm safe and strange and a puzzle piece drowning in dust under the bed.
I'm in a worn hoodie and nestled into my couch that smells of buttered popcorn. Friends blurs through black that smacks with loneliness.
My eyelids fall like a first snow, then half-rise like an uncertain spring. I watch Monica and Rachel through the broom of my lashes. Before I sleep, I roll off the couch and carry myself to bed.
Yes, this is where I'm safe, strange, and lost. This is where I am.