It seemed to me that people were always trying to put you into a box, consumed by the desperation to fit you into a category they understood. You were either smart and introverted, or fun and didn't care. I often wondered if I missed a step when I hit thirteen. I was convinced that everyone else was brought into a room and showed exactly how to be a teenager. You wear this and do this and act like this and listen to this and watch this and make these inside jokes and laugh at this, but not this, oh no, and the main goal in all of our lives is to convince everyone that you do not care about anything but the things you really shouldn't care about at all.
I was thinking about this as I lay awake in bed Thursday morning. I loved Thursdays. I loved the fact that it was just on the verge of the weekend, enough to get me excited but not enough to make everyone sick with 'that Friday feeling'. I didn't think Thursdays were appreciated enough actually, always overshadowed by its fun, feel-good cousin Friday, and indeed crabby, worn out uncle Monday. It's not a Saturday either, that annoying aunt that always gets drunk at weddings, complaining about her inability to catch a man. Yes, Thursday's closest ally was Sunday, wise, kindly grandfather Sunday. But Thursday wasn't anything special, came after Wednesday, before Friday. Glanced over, not given much thought. Sometimes, I wished I could be something other than a Thursday.
Beep, beep. Beep, beep. Beep, beep.
I slammed my hand on the alarm. Five minutes past.
Beep, beep. Beep, beep. Beep, beep.
Beep, beep. Beep, beep. Beep, beep.
I sighed. There were many things that people were praised for everyday, performing surgery, feeding the hungry, saving dogs from burning buildings. But the persistence of an alarm clock was a truly unappreciated matter.
I feel I should probably tell you about my family situation, as this seems to be a usual element in one's coming-of-age story. Although I don't really understand why this is, considering most of these stories consist of teenagers feeling irrelevant and misunderstood in their homes. I could sit here and write that I hated my parents, that they didn't get me, that I was such a complicated teenager with so many levels to me that it was impossible to understand what I was going through.
But unfortunately I didn't hate my parents. It was a simple relationship, I didn't talk much and they didn't ask much. But we all knew that that was life, and as long as I wasn't impregnating anyone or selling home-made drugs in the playground, we were good. I hope that doesn't destroy any credibility this story has as a 'misfit's tale of life, love and death'. Because I was a misfit. Just your regular old Thursday loving misfit.
"Fern, you are not wearing that to school. Go change. Tom, your hair looks like its been dragged through a bush. Brush it. Henry, stop admiring yourself in the mirror and eat some toast"
My mother hastily scrubbed the last few plates and loaded them into the dishwasher. She was wearing her good skirt, the one Fern was told repeatedly not to play dress up with. It looked like the warning had not be heeded because the remains of one of Fern's feather boas was stuck to the hem. Henry smirked at me from across the table. I shrugged.
"So, I heard Alice Abrahams thinks your cute"
Henry noticed the disinterest in my voice.
"Um, Tom, you do know who I'm talking about? That's Ashley Abraham's sister, the hottest girl in my year. The amount of guys that would kill to be in your position..."
I shrugged again. Henry chuckled in bemusement.
"Look, I just don't think I like her, okay?"
"She's Alice Abrahams, I don't think she's asking"
"Why don't you make a play for her so, Henry?"
He shook his head and ran his hand through his hair.
"There are four types of girls, Tom. Daisies, bluebells, roses and weeds. Alice is a daisy, conventionally pretty, familiar to everyone, but boring when you see how many clones of them there are. Bluebells are dozy, don't know who they are and what they're doing. They're often found just being some poor Daisy's sidekick. Now, roses. Roses aren't everywhere, they don't make themselves available to everyone. And not many people will pick a rose, because of the thorns. But those brave enough will have the most beautiful, vibrant flower in the end. Me, Tom, I'm a Rose kind of guy"
"What about the weeds?"
"Don't pick 'em. Some flowers are meant to be alone forever"
I had an unnerving feeling that if I was a girl, I would immediately be classed in that unfortunate category.
"Boys, bus is outside"
We nodded goodbye to our mother, because we were obliged by the code of teenage boys not to make any sort of enthusiastic gesture that suggested we had feelings.
The bus driver was a balding man of about sixty who looked like life had dealt him one too many troubles.
"Morning, McCabe" I said, as I did every morning. Henry rolled his eyes, as he did several times a day. Henry was cool. Not idiotic hormonal teenage beef-head 'cool'. But that kind of cool that people were in awe of. I had been unfortunate enough to be in too close proximity to two of Alice's friends, a red-head and a brunette, the week before. Apparently, he had brown hair that fell into his soulful, deep-set eyes and cheekbones so high you could slide down on a sled. And a sled you'd need too, for his skin was a silky cream complexion. His stare was intense and contemplating, like life was a puzzle and he was intent on figuring it out. I caught myself from recommending to the red-head to put down the romance novel and pick up a textbook.
Henry sidled in beside one of his friends, Theo. I spotted a spare space down the back and slipped into it, resting my head up against the cold glass of the bus. I didn't know why but I hadn't been sleeping great. I plugged in my earphones and turned up Foster The People as loud as it could go. I was hearing all about all the little kids with the Pumped Up Kicks when I heard gasps from around me. The bus had stopped, and everyone was staring at the person getting on. I weighed up my options. I could look, even though I didn't really care. Or continue listening, volume full blast. I decided on the latter.
After, I wondered about that decision. What made me not look? I couldn't deny I was slightly curious, nothing usually caught anyone's attention this early. But I didn't. And maybe if I had, she wouldn't have sat next to me.
"Excuse me, can I sit here please?"
It was her. The girl I was doing the project with, from last Thursday. I moved my bag, the gentleman I am.
It was her hair. That was what everyone was gasping about. It was shaven off, every last inch. I looked at her more closely. I tried to see any sign of rebellion, dark circles, heavy eyeliner, the usual. But she looked the same, fair-skinned, rosy-lipped and bright-eyed. She didn't strike me as the kind of girl to shave her head, if there was a 'type'. She wasn't grungy or edgy. She was just... I don't know.
"Everyone's looking at it, aren't they?" She was biting her lip. I shook my head. We sat in silence.
"I think it's cool"
She looked at me, trying to figure out if I was joking or not.
The bus stopped at the school. She must have noticed all the stares she got, the whispers behind her back. I saw her head lift slightly higher and her shoulders push back. She walked off the bus, not looking at anyone as she did so. Although she saw the stares as she walked past, she didn't see the ones of respect she left behind. I could see Henry further up the bus, running his hand through his hair. It was then I knew, that I was not the only one who saw something different in her.