FIFTEEN AND IN LOVE WITH LIFE
Clara was a sleepy girl, often timid, and mainly waiting for someone to want her. She could not imagine why a boy or man would desire her, but knew that in the natural order of things these things happened all the time, so she had a chance. Once he wanted her, it would be nothing at all for her to want him back. Finding him would take some time, but once he was found, that would be the end of the search.
She practiced being pleasant at all times, and feigning interest in even the most pompous of bores. She could look you right in the eye and tune you out, thinking about something else entirely. Even nodding in the right places came naturally, as a sort of musical rhythm thing. Talk talk talk nod. All the while she would maintain eye contact, but through the gift of inattention, not see or hear a thing being said.
She had also mastered the art of repeating the last word you said, as if contemplating the deeper meaning of it.
Her only exercise regimen was swimming, but as regimens go, that was the best. Hard to injure yourself swimming. Despite her lack of rigor or ambition, she found that she became better at it over time, and it was an excellent way to develop her body physically. Inside she was a poet, but on the outside, an athlete.
Fifteen was an exciting age to be alive. Everything was changing so quickly! Like many her age, she was in love with love itself. Romantic love, love of Beauty, God, Animals, Nature, and on occasion, all mankind. One night she stayed up all night just to see what it would be like. When winter turned to spring and then summer, she took it personally. A June morning could be so full of portent and meaning it was like being punched in the stomach. She gasped for breath at all the beauty, drowning in sensory overload.
When one of her classmates was discovered to have super glued her upper lip back to make it look fuller, Clara understood. It took a visit to the doctor to have it unglued. Some snickered, but Clara considered it a courageous act, a nervy experiment. You do what you have to do to feel fully alive. Nothing to be ashamed of there.
Sometimes at night when she found it difficult to fall asleep, she entertained a waking dream, a long fantasy about her and a group of friends washed up on a tropical island. There were two cute boys and some awful girls who the boys avoided because they were both in love with Clara. It didn’t matter how long it took to finally fall asleep, because the long, delicious fantasy in which Clara wondered which boy’s love to accept made the interval between hitting the sack and falling asleep a pleasurable one.
Clara’s Mother’s Diary
I’m worried about Clara. Half the time it’s like she’s on another planet. There’s no getting through to her. I asked the school nurse if she thought Clara might be on drugs but she said “no, she’s just fifteen.” I don’t think all fifteen-year-old girls are walking around in a daze, but maybe many of them are and I’m not close enough to them to see it.
I’ve asked her father to talk to her, but he says he can’t see the problem. He’s not around as much as I am, and when he comes home from work he just wants to watch television and relax. He and Clara watch TV together, but they don’t talk. I feel like I’m the only one who sees a problem here. Am I over-reacting?
Clara smiled at me today, but then walked right past and started talking to some girls in our class. I thought I was going to faint when she looked right at me and smiled. She’s already beautiful, but when she smiles she’s even more so. She’s like a goddess! A superstar! And to think she smiled at me!
She wasn’t always this way. Last year, when we were fourteen, she wasn’t anything special. Like many of us, skinny and awkward. Of course, she had braces until halfway through the school year, and those make anybody look dorky.
Now she has grown into a mature woman, a powerful person who could be a movie star if she wanted. Clara has more going for than all the other girls in this school combined.
Natalie’s Letter to the School Nurse
Dear Miss Brooks. By now you are probably aware of Clara, the snob who pretends she is God’s gift to our school and the world in general. We other girls in her class see right through her little act, but the boys have been completely taken in by her and think she’s some kind of movie star. For the sake of our school and the children involved, please do something. I’m sure you can get Principal Stevens to listen to you, and if he wants to have a meeting with us, we’d be glad to.
Natalie, Schuman, 10th grade A student
PRINCIPAL STEVENSONS’ REPLY
Dear Miss Schuman:
I spoke with your teacher Miss Brooks and in our conversation together we were unable to ascertain the exact nature of what offense you think Miss Englert is guilty. You say she is a “phony” and “all the boys have been taken in by her…little act,” but I am unaware of any violation of our school code of conduct this may entail.
While it is normal for girls in your age group to form “cliques” or groups of friends who are often tight-knit and critical of other cliques, this situation you describe demands neither disciplinary action nor medical intervention. So I think we will simply watch and wait for further developments.
I haven’t been able to sleep much. The last two nights I tossed and turned thinking about Clara. When I did dream, I dreamed about her, only she was not doing what I wanted her to do. She was ignoring me. She even laughed at my attempts to tell her why I care so much about her, and worship the ground she walks on. Is this normal? Do I need to be medicated?
I thought about talking to the school nurse because maybe she wouldn’t tell my parents. She also knows Clara and that might help her understand what I’m going through.
Chad’s Parents Respond to a Note From the School Nurse
Thank you for telling us about your visit with our son Chad. We want to make sure we’re not over-reacting, and we certainly don’t want to ignore this distress Chad is enduring. We will respect your wishes not to tell Chad that we’ve talked to you, or know that he sought your help.
This Clara girl seems to be a real character. She’s like a tornado roaring through the lives of her classmates. I suppose there’s nothing any of us can do to change her behavior, but we must say that it’s quite difficult for us to stand by helplessly watching our son suffer, and we’ve spoken to the parents of Natalie Schuman about what the other girls think of Clara. Again, we don’t want to make a bad situation worse or put fuel on the fire.
Clara Talks With the School Nurse
What’s everybody freaking out about? I don’t get it. I’m just being me, minding my own business, and people are going crazy to my right and to my left. Don’t they have any real problems they can deal with? I mean, get a life, people!