Charmed Thirds, p.1Megan Mccafferty
Freshman Summer june 2003
Freshman Summer july 2003
Freshman Summer august 2003
Sophomore Winter december 2003
Sophomore Winter january 2004
Sophomore Summer june 2004
Sophomore Summer july 2004
Sophomore Summer august 2004
Junior Winter december 2004
Junior Winter january 2005
Junior Summer june 2005
Junior Summer july 2005
Junior Summer august 2005
Graduation december 2005
For all the faces in my college photo albums—
even the ones I can't remember,
but especially those I couldn't forget
* * *
Whoever said that you can't go home again was wrong. You can go home again. Just don't be surprised when it totally sucks.
And so, I wait for the express bus to Pineville, New Jersey. To fake-and-bake salons and acrylic talons. To Confederate-flagged pickups. To DWI guys with suspended licenses pedaling their fat asses on tiny bicycles. To the cross-breeding of pineys and bennies. To certain death by cerebral asphyxiation.
To home, bitter home.
I'm exhausted from dragging myself and two duffel bags down to Forty-second Street. I took the subway, of course; it only feels like I trudged seventy-four blocks on foot. The first time I left Columbia's campus for the Port Authority bus terminal—almost six months ago, for winter break—I thought there would be a waiting area with a section of seats attached to TV sets bolted into the floor and I'd be able to pay a quarter for a sitcom or half a talk show. At this point, I'm so brain-dead and bored that I'd pay $10 for thirty minutes if Jerry Springer had guests who degraded themselves in an entertaining way. I'm blaming the homeless for ruining this pleasure for the rest of us.
Is this an example of how New York City has made me as callous as Marcus fears I've become?
(A parenthetical anecdote to prove otherwise: Stubby is a homeless man who sings Motown songs on a patch of sidewalk near the gothic, wrought-iron gates separating the relentless bustle of 116th and Broadway from the relative calm of College Walk. He's short, as befits his name, and black. He could be twenty-five or seventy-five. He's always wearing some form of Columbia University apparel—shorts and a T-shirt in spring, a wool varsity-style jacket and sweatpants in winter—surely donated by someone affiliated with the school. He's there every day, clutching a grubby faux-Grecian WE ARE HAPPY TO SERVE YOU paper coffee cup, singing classic tunes like “My Girl,” “I Can't Help Myself,” and “Ain't Too Proud to Beg,” the last of which sung with a hint of irony. What once must have been a caramel-smooth tenor has been ravaged by misfortune. Everyone here knows Stubby; he's as much of a campus presence as the grand statue of Alma Mater on the steps of Low Library. I've never passed him without putting at least a nickel in his cup, usually more. But that's not the compassionate part. One day last winter, Stubby wasn't in his spot. A bit worrisome, sure, but I tried not to think about it because it was during midterms and I had five thousand pages of reading to catch up on. The next day, another absence. And then another. As his no-shows accumulated, I got more upset. Was Stubby dead? Had he frozen to death? ODed? I would've asked my friends if they'd seen him around, but they all seemed too preoccupied to panic about anything unrelated to academics. Finally, about a week later, on the morning of my Art Hum exam, Stubby was back in his spot. He looked and sounded the same as always: R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find out what it means to me! I remember wanting to ask where he had disappeared to, but I decided to R-E-S-P-E-C-T his privacy. I popped $5 in his cup that morning, which was a considerable percentage of my personal assets and therefore excuses me from any accusations that I'm just a spoiled Ivy Leaguer trying to pay off my liberal guilt. Then I took my exam and got an A.
See? I do care about people! I am compassionate about the plight of the homeless! I'm going to close parentheses now before the contents get any more self-serving.)
So far I've taken the NJ Transit #76 Shore Points Express for two reasons: holidays, and aid in nutritional or laundry-related emergencies, specifically, too little of one and too much of the other. On the laundry-related bus trips, I experienced the novelty of being the Port Authority passenger who no one wants to sit next to, as two duffels' worth of moldy clothes made me an even less desirable neighbor than the unlit cigar–chewing old-timer with the spooky glass eye who continually requested help with his TV Guide crossword puzzle.
As usual, I've allotted myself too much time for the type of mass-transit travel delays that only seem to occur when I'm not prepared for them. So with nothing else to do, I've spent money I can't afford to squander. I blew $3.80 on a speckled black-and-white composition notebook to match the dozen or so speckled black-and-white composition notebooks that I have exclusively used for my journals since, well . . . since you moved a thousand miles to Tennessee in tenth grade. I don't even know why I bought it, though, since my old one still has ten blank pages, and I hope that seeing Marcus for the first time since mid-January won't provide more than ten pages of angst.
Speaking of, I promise you'll get more mail from me once Marcus and I are reunited. You've been very kind not to remind me that I haven't been sticking to our Totally Guilt-Free Guidelines for Keeping in Touch. Especially when you wrote monthly, called weekly, e-mailed/IMed daily, and still found time to emerge as one of the most promising visual artists in the history of the Rhode Island School of Design. (I know you hate hype, but those black-and-white portraits of “notable nobodies” from your “(Extra)Ordinary” photography project were so tragicomically brilliant—even as mere JPEGs via e-mail.) I'll redeem myself over the next few months, you'll see. You escaped more than three years ago, but I still consider you an honorary member of Pineville High's Class of 2002 (a dubious honor, that). I'm sure you can't wait to hear all about the former classmates I'll try—and fail—to avoid all summer.
So, yes, I've been the hetero-female variation of pussy whipped. I wrote to Marcus so much this past year that it was hard to find time to write to you, too. (And while I'm making excuses, I'll also mention how I actually had to apply myself for the first time in my academic career.) I'd like to apologize, but I won't, and not just because a lack of contrition provides the very foundation of the Guilt-Free Guidelines. You know me well enough to recognize that I'm in agony anyway because it's been a loooooooooooong time since I've enjoyed more than the—ahem!—figurative effects of my sexually spellbound condition. . . .
* * *
* * *
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Date: May 31st, 2003
Subject: Poetry Spam #21
awakened hummingbird heart
hello hello love
From: Joe Mailbiz [[email protected]]
Sent: May 30th, 2003
To: [email protected]
Subject: hello objectify simmer tenement checklist
roadway hunk mat freudian mischievous buckboard love gubernatorial snuggle cretin flatulent furbish quantity furious seventieth controlled con tireless stereoscopy hummingbird lunch mutineer fourth dialysis backlash concur triumphal percussive allotting coxcomb desist copter aforesaid percent income causation frilly incorporate awakened crosslink bleach apollonian skullcap suspend betray ethel adjourn inhibition heart consider fell pride compose foster dope inviolate flutter assuage chock whale singleh
* * *
I keep rereading Marcus's latest haiku, printed out precisely for this purpose. How did he come up with Poetry Spam? Where did he get the idea to turn his junk e-mail into poems? I marvel at his talent for revealing the hidden beauty in ordinary things.
I miss him and I know he misses me, too.
There's nowhere to sit in Port Authority unless you buy something. I got booted from Au Bon Pain because I stupidly disposed of my $4 shot glass of orange juice. The eagle-eyed Garbage Guard informed me that I was no longer allowed to occupy one of the umbrellaed tables. I left, dejected and dehydrated.
I'm now at Timothy's World Coffee, where there are no open indoor umbrellas to bring me bad luck. I'm sitting on a stool, breaking in my new journal, trying to take teeny-tiny sips from my overpriced bottle of Poland Spring water just so I can preserve my right to be here. I'm broke, and there aren't any water fountains for free, germ-ridden refills.
This is bad because I can chug gallons at a time. Accutane sucks every drop of moisture out of my body. I am one large flake of dandruff. The corners of my mouth are split open and bleeding, and I have to spread Carmex beyond my lip line, which makes me look like I've spent the morning sucking on a stick of butter. I hope that by the time I see Marcus my lips won't be so crusty/greasy.
Sahara skin and lips are just two of Accutane's side effects. According to the information booklet, I should BE ALERT FOR ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:
• DIARRHEA, RECTAL BLEEDING
• SEVERE HEADACHES
• NAUSEA, VOMITING
• CHANGES IN MOOD
Well, if suffering from diarrhea, rectal bleeding, severe headaches, nausea, and vomiting doesn't swing your mood in some direction, nothing will. Because my mood crests and crashes just fine on its own, I went on Accutane only at my mother's insistence. As a firm supporter of any and all advancements in the cosmetic sciences, she believes that not providing one's child with flawless skin is akin to child abuse. Accutane cured Len Levy, who was covered in pissed-off, purple pustules back in high school, so it should work for me. My acne isn't nearly as allover and angry as his was, but I have to agree with my mother when she points out how my complexion is never completely clear. I always seem to have one knotty cyst somewhere on my face, and when it goes away, another takes its place. One after the other after the other.
My daily dose of Accutane is the standard prescription for a person twice my weight. Three squishy yellow pills. This is my third cycle of the drug—the first two times didn't work—and I feel strangely proud when my doctor says that in twenty-five years of practicing dermatology, he has never seen such resilient zits. I'm a medical freak of nature.
I'd like to think that Marcus would call me unique.
Dr. Rosen also says my condition is stress related. No surprise there. Two weeks ago, I wrote four term papers and filled nine blue books over the course of five exams. In the midst of finals, I impulsively (and stupidly) chopped off my ponytail to get rid of my elastic band scalp-ache. The fix-it-up Supercut was supposed to give me a short geek-chic bob with bangs, kind of like Jordan in Real Genius. But with my hair's trademark flyaway frizziness, I look more like Mitch. The only upside to this coiftastrophe is that in my state of scalp-ache-free concentration, I nailed a 3.85 GPA for the semester, which will make my parents happy, though only temporarily so. While my stellar grades help better my chances of postgraduation financial solvency, they do little to relieve my current money troubles. My parents give me minimal fiscal assistance because, in their own words, I made the choice to go into debt by selecting Columbia over my full scholarship to Piedmont. I still stand by my choice, though less passionately now that I have a much better idea of how long it will take to pay Sallie Mae the $100,000 I'll owe for my BA by the time I graduate. Not to mention the cost of the MA and PhD I'll have to get if I want my undergraduate psychology degree to be worth anything at all. I've only got about half a semester's worth of my grandmother's inheritance left and zero summer moneymaking prospects because no well-paying employer is willing to hire me, train me, then let me leave for the entire month of July for my incredible, albeit totally unpaid internship at True magazine. During my salary-free servitude, I'll be staying in New York with my sister, Bethany (with whom I have nothing but DNA in common); her husband, G-Money (who has earned his nickname through gaining and losing millions on the stock market, yet still having enough spare scratch to buy into a local frozen custard and donut franchise in the hope of taking it national); and my niece, Marin (who is very cute, but has projectile-pooping issues), enduring yet another separation from a boyfriend I haven't seen or touched for six months, one who lives down the hall from a nudist Buddhist (Nuddhist?) named Butterfly who thinks clothing is oppressive and can't understand why people think nakedness always has to be sexual . . .
So. Stress? Naaaaaaaaah.
Sitting in the booth in front of me is a cutesy young couple still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. Or they're lovers recently reunited. They're annoying to everyone who isn't them and haven't stopped pecking each others' faces since they sat down. Back and forth and back and forth across the booth, peck and peck. I prefer juicy tongues to these passionless kisses that are as dry as my needy lips.
I just tried Marcus on my cell. Topher, one of his “cottage-mates,” told me he was out “cleansing.” He told me this the way other roommates at other schools would say someone is out getting shitfaced. Marcus's world is so foreign to me that I can't help but feel that the person who inhabits it is a stranger. I love when I reach Marcus on the phone and as he says hello, I can hear the music he's listening to in the background. That music is the sound of him without me. How he surrounds himself when I'm not there, which is almost all the time.
And will be for three more years.
I'm sitting in the room that was my bedroom for the first eighteen years of my life. It's still called my room but it really isn't my room anymore despite all the evidence to the contrary. The John Hughes movie posters are curling up at the corners yet are still mostly stuck to the bruise-colored walls. The plaques and trophies with my name inscribed in celebratory script still topple over one another on the shelves. And the framed mosaic of Hope and me—made by the artist herself and given to me on the day she moved, eighteen days before my sixteenth birthday—is still in its showcase spot over my bed. When packing for college, I intentionally left these things behind in Pineville, just so I could return to someplace that felt like home.
But after nine months at school, I'm seeing this room and its contents as through a haze of psychological, if not actual, dust. It's like examining the artifacts found at an archaeological dig, where I can study the CD player on which Jessica Darling once listened to Morrissey, or the desk at which she once completed her college applications. The carpet on which she once failed to twist herself into impossible positions during her brief flirtation with yoga, or the skinny bed on which she once succeeded in twisting herself into the very quietest of possible sexual positions with her boyfriend while her parents sat downstairs on opposite sides of the ultrasuede couch watching a Tom Hanks movie.
And yet, my dorm room, which was decorated in much the same way, isn't my room anymore either. I'm a refugee, one seeking asylum from my niece Marin's first birthday party.
Make that her second first birthday party. My parents insisted on throwing a soiree for Marin's “New Jersey friends.” Bethany and G-Money failed to persuade any city folk to come out to our “house in the country,” a seventies bilevel in a bilevel/split-level subdivision that my mom describes as possessing “a retro charm, with every modern amenity” when talking it up to her real estate associates. That means the architectural ugliness is redeemed only by new wood siding, extensive landscaping, and upgraded kitchen and baths.
But Jersey being Jersey, nothing could lure the New York City hipocracy th
Equally disturbing was Marin's insistence on having a Pinky the Poodle theme party, inspired by her favorite television program. Not only has this sunshine-blond, deep-dimpled one-year-old developed a definite preference for one cartoon character over another, but she can clearly express her love by screeching, “PEE! POO! PEE! POO!” The thought of this picture-perfect child embarrassing her mommy with these seemingly scatological outbursts makes me weep fewer tears about my losing battle to improve my niece's intellectual fate.
In keeping with the theme, her grandparents (my parents) hired a neighborhood kid to dress up as the shopping-and-shoes-obsessed canine. The costume can be best described as a fifty-pound fur ball. It's ninety-five degrees and chunky with humidity, so who can blame the kid for not showing up for this humiliation? And take one guess who's the only one who fits into this fuzzy pink prison? Suffice it to say that Pinky's trademark tap routine to her theme song (“I'm the Prettiest Quadruped!”) was less inspired than usual. Try as I might, I just couldn't lift my weighty paws high enough.
Charmed Thirds by Megan Mccafferty / Young Adult / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes