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Please ignore vera dietz, p.16
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       Please Ignore Vera Dietz, p.16

           A. S. King
 
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  “Let’s just see, first.”

  “But it makes a difference on the application, Dad.” I waved it in the air toward him, rudely. “I have to tell them the make and model and insurance company.”

  He looked surprised, and confused, and he went into his office and pulled out the car’s manual.

  “It’s a ’99 Sentra.”

  “Make?”

  “Nissan.”

  “Color?”

  “Geez, Vera. You know what color it is,” he said.

  “Insurance?”

  “Write in ‘N/A’ for now.”

  No matter how hard I tried to piss him off, it wasn’t working. Anyway, I wanted to work at Zimmerman’s pet store. I had always wanted to work at Zimmerman’s pet store. I didn’t want some stupid pizza delivery job, and I resented the fact that, like Charlie’s dad, he was going to give me a reward for doing what he wanted me to do. That was unacceptable.

  “So what should I write in the space where it asks me why I want the job?”

  He sighed and sat down at the table. “Vera, I’m just trying to help you,” he said. “If you don’t want to fill out any of them but the one for Zimmerman’s, that’s fine.”

  “Okay,” I said, pushing the other applications over to him.

  “There’s no need to be a smart-ass.”

  “Then stop trying to manipulate me.”

  I could tell from his face that I’d hurt him, because he really was only trying to help. I remembered that this was the kind of thing Mom would have said. In fact, it’s exactly what Mom did say. A million times.

  The next morning as I waited for the bus, I saw Charlie pull his bike from the garage and start it up. He left it running for a few minutes, went into the house, then came back out and went into the garage again. When he came out with an extra helmet, the one I used to wear, I remembered our ride up to the pagoda back in January. How he’d kissed me, and how tightly I’d held him from behind on the way home.

  Then Jenny Flick appeared at the forest’s edge, her hair still tangled from sleep, and she slipped the helmet over her head and climbed on. As they drove by me—up the hill rather than down, which was not the way to school—she put up her middle finger.

  GROUNDED, COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY—PART 2

  Family meeting number three out of four. Mom comes up again, even though neither of us did our “Write something about Mom” homework.

  DAD: I just don’t want you to make the same mistakes we did.

  ME: You mean she, don’t you? You mean you don’t want me to make the same mistakes she did.

  DAD: (Fiddling with the zipper on his favorite Cape Cod sweatshirt.) I want you to have a fair shot, Vera.

  ME: Look at me, Dad. Am I anything like her? Do you really think I’d ever be so desperate as to take my clothes off for money?

  DAD: I hope not.

  ME: Hope? Hope?

  DR. B: She’s quite a responsible young woman.

  DAD: (Still fiddling with zipper.) I don’t want to fail her.

  ME: Fail me?

  DAD: Your mother was failed by her mother. By her father. By everyone in her life.

  That means him. That means I failed your mother, which just isn’t true.

  ME: Not you.

  DAD: (Silent.)

  ME: Mom walked out on us, remember? Because she never got over her own baggage, not because of you or me, right?

  He’s silent.

  ME: Seriously. I’ve been reading your self-help tomes, too, you know. The one on the breakfast bar—The Power of Ownership, or whatever it’s called. Remember? The part about intellectualizing everything? How people who can’t face their own negative emotions intellectualize things? Doesn’t that remind you of her?

  DR. B: (Raises eyebrows.)

  ME: That’s not your fault.

  DAD: (Sighs.) How the hell was I supposed to know how to raise a girl by myself? How was I supposed to teach you how to be—uh—how to be—

  ME: Honorable?

  DAD: Yeah. And safe.

  ME: I am.

  DAD: (Silent.)

  ME: You did just fine.

  DR. B: She’s a confident, smart young woman, Ken.

  DAD: So why is she drinking and screwing a twenty-three-year-old?

  I’m raging. I’m a tiger. I want to scratch his eyes out. I’m a shark and want to bite him with my five rows of razor-sharp teeth and twist him around in the water.

  ME: (In the most disgusted tone I can muster.) I AM NOT screwing ANYONE, Dad.

  Dad rolls his eyes.

  DR. B: Ken?

  DAD: (Sighs and kisses his teeth.) You’re not, huh?

  ME: No.

  DAD: (Rolls eyes and smirks.)

  ME: You know—I used to think you were different. But now I see you’re just like every other jaded so-called adult I’ve ever met. You think you’re so fucking smart.

  DAD: Language, Vera.

  ME: Oh, fuck off, Dad. You say I’m screwing a twenty-three-year-old and you’re concerned with my language?

  Silence, until I realize that I did, in effect, just tell Dad to fuck off.

  ME: Sorry about that. I didn’t mean it in the “fuck off” sense. I just meant, uh—that this is bullshit.

  DAD: (Trying to look innocent, but failing.) I don’t know what you mean.

  I excuse myself and go to the small bathroom in the corner of the office to pee. I inspect the lump on my head, and it’s still sore. My black eyes have toned down, so now I just look tired, and I figure I’ll be good to go back to school next week.

  I flush the toilet and wash my hands, and return to the pathetic scene. My father and Dr. B, talking about teen drinking.

  DR. B: Why do you think kids drink, Vera?

  Smooth.

  ME: It’s there, you know?

  DAD: Not in our house, it’s not.

  ME: I don’t mean there there. I mean, it exists. Just like all the other stuff kids try. This isn’t a mystery, really, is it?

  DAD: So you drink because it’s there?

  ME: I guess. (I’m lying.)

  Dad looks really sad. I can tell he’s got something to say.

  DR. B: How do you feel about that, Ken?

  DAD: Sad.

  ME: (Raises eyebrows.)

  DAD: That first night you came home drunk, I cried all night.

  ME: You cried?

  DAD: You’re my daughter, for Christ’s sake.

  ME: But why’d you cry?

  We look at each other until he speaks again.

  DAD: I failed you.

  ME: No you didn’t.

  DAD: I should have warned you more. More than just shoving brochures at you. I should have taken you to a meeting with me to see what it’s like. So that you’d understand your responsibility.

  ME: Uh, news flash. I’m not an alcoholic. I just had a few drinks, like a normal teenager.

  DAD: But you’re not a normal teenager.

  ME: Sure I am.

  DAD: I’m a recovered alcoholic. My parents were both alcoholics. It’s different for people like us.

  ME: That still doesn’t make me anything but a normal teenager.

  DAD: It makes you a teenager with addiction genes.

  ME: But I’m not just my genes, Dad.

  He looks up at me and finally stops fidgeting with his zipper.

  DAD: Can I tell you what I think? I nod.

  DAD: I think you haven’t gotten over Charlie.

  Dr. B nods his head at this.

  DAD: I think you’ve never quite accepted that he’s dead or moved on to find new friends.

  Dr. B nods again.

  DAD: I’m sorry your friend died, Veer, but you have to find a time to move on and stop torturing yourself.

  I’m wondering if anyone else hears the irony in this. Move on? Stop torturing myself?

  ME: I think we could both benefit from that advice, Dad.

  DAD: (After some fidgeting with his zipper.) Yeah. But at least you know that I’m struggling.
I have a house full of self-help books and meditation tapes. I still haven’t emptied your mother’s clothing out of our closet. You? You just go on like nothing’s changed. You need to let things out, Vera. Trust me. Drinking will only hide shit that you should be facing.

  Here is where things get freaky for me.

  As I try to stay the molasses pace of my father’s remedial emotional purging, my mouth is now controlled by the thousand Charlies who are crowded in the small white room with the three of us. I bite my lips shut from the inside, but it doesn’t work. He blurts out my secrets.

  CHARLIES THROUGH ME: I know who burned down Zimmerman’s Pet Store.

  DR. B: (Raises eyebrows.)

  DAD: (Leans forward.)

  CHARLIES THROUGH ME: I know Charlie didn’t do it.

  There’s a pause. They look at me as if they can see the Charlies, too.

  DAD: Why didn’t you say this when it happened?

  ME: It’s complicated.

  Don’t they know that regret begets regret begets regret?

  DR. B: Vera, you need to answer the question.

  ME: Because I loved Charlie too much.

  DAD: Loved him?

  DR. B: Is that all?

  ME: Because I hated Charlie too much.

  The daffodils are popping up in the beds. The view from my room is still brown and dead, but soon it will be new again, as if this stupid winter never happened.

  Dad says I can go back to school next week and start part-time at Pagoda Pizza again, but only after our last visit with Dr. B, who we now make fun of during the ride home, as a sort of family bonding. Also, Dad has accepted that I swear, and I think I’ve convinced him that it’s a fair trade-off. Swearing for drinking. He hasn’t asked me again about clearing Charlie’s name, and I’m hoping he’ll let me do it in my own time. Because clearing Charlie’s name is way more complicated than he thinks.

  “Can we stop at McDonald’s? I’d kill a Big Mac.”

  Dad makes that tiny sound that means Oh please Vera don’t make me go against every grain in my hippie freak body and make me give my money to those horrible corporate deep-frying bastards. Then he perks up and says, “I’d love a Quarter Pounder with cheese. God, I used to love them.”

  We pull from the drive-thru into a parking space, and we watch the traffic go up and down the main strip while we eat. Before I bite, I whisper, “Sorry, Charlie,” soft enough so Dad doesn’t hear over his chewing.

  A BRIEF WORD FROM THE DEAD KID

  What Vera doesn’t know is: I’d kill to be a pickle on her Big Mac—ground to relish between her perfect white teeth.

  I’d kill to be a bug she squishes with her holey Army-issue combat boot.

  But she’s too good for me. She always was.

  Her parents were so nice. They said please and thank you. They had pictures on the walls. Paintings with frames. They had civilized furniture in neutral colors and daffodils around their flower beds. They had bird feeders. And Vera had responsibilities, something my father didn’t think I should have because my mother should be doing everything for us.

  One night, I tried to take my plate to the sink.

  “What do you think you’re doing?” my dad yelled.

  “Just—uh—helping out.”

  “Don’t make a woman out of yourself! Bring that back here.”

  “It’s fine. I want to help.”

  “NOW!” He got up from his chair so fast, it toppled behind him and banged on the floor, making my mother and me jump. He grabbed my arm and took me to the sink. “Take it back,” he said.

  So I picked up my plate and glass, which still had an inch of milk in it, and took them back to the table. When I put them down, he let me go, backhanded the glass, which spilled the milk over Mom’s favorite tablecloth, and picked up his chair.

  “Son, if I ever see you being a girl like that again, I’ll beat your ass.”

  I never tried again.

  From here, on the other side, the truth wins. I can see what Vera and her family thought of us. How they never told. Never called the cops. Never interfered. Because we couldn’t escape. My dad brought home our living money, and we were his prisoners. Which was why I lived most of my summers in the tree house after I built it.

  I remember thinking, If I distance myself, his crazy shit won’t rub off on me. I won’t become a wife-beating asshole. I remember daydreaming, One day, I will make enough money to rescue my mother. One day, I will come back and make him sorry he ever had me. One day, I will show him what a real man is.

  But then I got confused.

  And I made some mistakes.

  Which I didn’t forgive myself for.

  Which made things worse.

  Because then I made more mistakes.

  Vera and I had two fights before she stopped talking to me completely. The first one was about what Jenny Flick told me—a lie—about how Vera was telling everyone that my dad was a wife-beating asshole.

  The second was the night of May Day, when she found me in the bleachers by myself, with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in a paper bag.

  I told her she was too good for me.

  “Bullshit. You’re my best friend.”

  “Bullshit yourself. I’m King Loser.”

  “No—Bill Corso is King Loser. He can’t even read.”

  “Hey. Don’t knock Bill,” I said, trying to bait her. Like my father would.

  “Sorry. I know he’s your new pal.”

  “Why are you so fucking bitchy about my new friends? What did they ever do to you?”

  “It’s not what they did to me,” she said. “It’s what they’re doing to you.”

  “What?” I took a swig out of the bottle for effect, but I knew what she meant. I’d been drinking every night for a month.

  “Who are you doing this for? Is it Jenny? Is this about being in her pants, or what?”

  Oh yes. I would kill to be a pickle on Vera’s Big Mac. Because Vera gave a shit.

  And she knew how to tell the truth.

  And she loved me.

  So I hit her. Right when she said that, I hit her.

  THREE WEEKS OF VOCAB WORDS AND OTHER MAKEUP HOMEWORK

  Here’s me using bisect in a sentence.

  The night when Charlie hit me, I bisected. Half of me will never trust another living soul again. The other half already didn’t.

  Vicarious. The night Charlie hit me, I became Mrs. Kahn for a split second, in a vicarious body switch I had always feared.

  Zoomorphic. The night Charlie hit me, he demonstrated his zoomorphic abilities by changing into a man-eating tiger.

  Altruism. The night Charlie hit me, every ounce of altruism I had for him as a lost soul on a bad path dissolved.

  GROUNDED, COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY—PART 3

  After our fourth and final meeting with Dr. B, Dad and I go out for ice cream and miniature golf. When we get to the third hole (par 4 through the windmill bridge), I see a new party of players behind us. It’s Bill Corso and Jenny Flick and two other Detentionheads.

  “Hurry up, Dad,” I say.

  He looks at me and shrugs, then chokes completely and misses the windmill. He sees me rushing and looking back at the Detentionheads and whispers, “Do you want to just go?”

  I nod.

  Only when we’re back home, trying to figure out what dinner would be good on top of too much ice cream, does he ask me who they were.

  “Just some assholes from school.”

  “You don’t usually care about assholes from school.”

  The swearing trade-off is working out great.

  “Jenny Flick is the girl who turned Charlie against me,” I say, plopping myself on the stool by the breakfast bar.

  “You never told me that.”

  “There’s a lot I didn’t tell you.”

  That night, we rearrange the living room and Dad throws Mom’s clothing into a few black garbage bags for Goodwill. I round up her crystal collection, which has done nothing but gather dust for six
years, and I box it up and take it to the attic. This is a very serious step we’re taking—clearing Mom out of this house. Making my peace with her brings me one step closer to making my peace with Charlie. (Which brings me one step closer to making my peace with myself.)

  FIRST DAY BACK IN SCHOOL—MONDAY

  It’s been almost a month since I was in school, and Bill Corso is still getting detention for skipping Modern Social Thought. Mr. Shunk must know he can’t read, but even though we have a remedial reading teacher, it’s too close to graduation to help the kid. It’s sad as hell, really.

  Over at table two, three kids are listening to something on a pair of earbuds. Two others are doodling in notebooks. Rob Jones is doing his Calc homework. Three cheerleaders are giggling and whispering. I’m pretty sure if Mr. Shunk didn’t stand at the front of class and clap his hands together, these people would just continue to do what they’re doing until the bell rings, and then go to their next class.

  This essentially makes Mr. Shunk a kindergarten teacher.

  Which makes me a kindergarten student.

  It also makes my father right again. How will I ever soar with the eagles if I’m surrounded by turkeys?

  After we finish reading Lord of the Flies, Chapter Ten, the bell rings, and on my way to lunch I find Jenny Flick at my locker with Bill.

  “How’s your mom?”

  How’s my mom? WTF? Haven’t we been through this already? “Fine,” I say, tossing my books into the locker as fast as I can.

  “She left you, right?”

  “She left my dad, yeah.”

  “Where is she now? Is that where you were for the last month?”

  I slam the locker closed, and turn away from them to go down the steps to the cafeteria. But Bill reaches out and grabs my arm.

  “Where is she?” he asks. It’s like he thinks he’s the freaking mob.

  “Las Vegas—not like it’s any of your business.”

  “What’s she doing in Vegas?” he says. “She working again?”

  “I hear prostitution is legal there,” Jenny says, still standing by the lockers.

  I push my way through the reinforced glass doors and go down the steps. I can hear them laughing by my locker, though, and can’t figure out why they think they can get to me with my mom. That’s so last year. Shouldn’t Jenny be avoiding me and hoping I don’t tell the truth about Zimmerman’s? Has she grown cocky now that it’s been so long and I haven’t told? Is she so crazy that she’s forgotten that I know?

 
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