Read Loud in the House of Myself Online

Authors: Stacy Pershall

Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Personal Memoirs, #Psychology, #Personality

Loud in the House of Myself (7 page)

BOOK: Loud in the House of Myself
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“F-e-i-t-i-s-c-h,” he replied, looking at me authoritatively over the tops of his bifocals like a goddamn college professor.
College professor of crap
, I thought, somewhat shocked by this agitated fury that was coming to own me. When he moved his head, his hair followed in one unyielding piece, an independent inanimate object just along for the ride.

“That’s…not…how…you…spell…it,” I said, slowly, evenly, measured so as not to unleash the Bad Dog. My vision narrowed into that little red tunnel of self-righteous rage. “Fetish is spelled f-e-t-i-s-h.”

“Horse testicles,” said Alec Zander Vandeventer, snorting.

I shot backward through the red tunnel, so taken aback that he had just said
horse testicles
that I went upstairs and avoided him for the rest of the night. I sat in the corner of Lula’s room and counted things: my breaths, my taps, the number of calories in four Club crackers, whatever. I pretended I was looking at magazines, but really I was counting. This caused Lula to stop speaking to me, which meant Zoe couldn’t speak to me either because it was Lula’s house, and they were preteen girls doing what so many before them had done to so many others. I spent the night huddled on a love seat beneath an acrylic granny-square afghan in the downstairs living room, exiled, cast out in that way that only junior high girls can cast one out—and, like generations of outcasts before me, I lay there in the dark by myself thinking I was the only one. I couldn’t see then that I was one of millions of girls going through the exact same thing, so I internalized the rejection:
It’s all me, there’s something wrong with me, if I weren’t fat/ugly/stupid/whatever, they wouldn’t treat me this way
. For some reason, I still insisted on considering both of them friends—in Zoe’s case, because she acted differently when we weren’t around Lula, and in Lula’s because I was too scared not to. I didn’t want to be on her or her uncle’s bad side. Friendship by way of terror: at twelve, I already knew it well.

Not long thereafter, Lula bleached her hair white-blonde and grew such enormous tits that everyone started calling her Charo. As such, she secured at least a moderately respectable position in the Prairie Grove social hierarchy, even though she wasn’t on the spirit squad. She became, instead, the girl with the muscle car who drove the spirit squad around and bought them all cigarettes and beer with her fake ID, with help from her ample bosom.

And so, in high school, Zoe and Lula became close, and I clamored behind them still trying to be their friend, pretending to like whatever they liked so they would include me. Of course, in truth, I found Lula loathsome and wanted nothing to do with her, but the eating disorder, the punisher, seized the opportunity to sign me up for more abuse—which would, of course, fuel more weight loss.

Lula had always been, quite blatantly, one of those girls who felt delight in her very circulatory system at making other girls suffer—not just me, but anyone who pissed her off in any way. Again, one of a million bullies in a million schools doing the same thing to a million other girls with low self-esteem. Like all bullies, she took offense at the slightest infraction and sought revenge at all costs. It was not at all uncommon to enter the building one morning and find that, while you slept, you had become Lula’s worst enemy for no reason you could discern—perhaps your jeans were nicer than hers, or you had spoken to a boy she liked. She thrilled to the plaintive voices of the girls who followed her down the halls begging for an explanation. But Lula Vandeventer gave them none, leaving them to moan and wail and beg for her forgiveness.

Or, at least
moaned and wailed and begged for her forgiveness. She heard
plaintive voice. I could walk through the halls of Prairie Grove High School looking like a reject from A Flock of Seagulls and pretending to be a badass, but the truth was that I still went home, sat in the closet, and wrote Lula’s and Zoe’s insults on my body with markers at night, huddled in my closet sobbing atop a pile of shoes. I curled myself into the familiar uncomfortable, humiliated ball, closed the door, and by the glow of the desk lamp coming through the slats I wrote on my arms and legs
. And then, after the rest of the family had gone to bed, I crawled out, made myself a bowl of chicken broth, and slurped it on my hands and knees.

It is obvious that I was an easy target. The slightest thing could set me to trembling and apologizing, could ignite the engine of impulse. It took so very little—less and less the weaker I got from the eating disorder. I wanted friendship, wanted acceptance, wanted to get invited to parties, but as the social chasm between me and the other girls widened, I saw those things slipping further from my grasp. I didn’t want to be alone. I had to have some kind of friends, and Lula and Zoe were the closest thing I had. When there is nothing to eat but bread and water, bread and water look good.

I implored them to like me, and they gleefully refused, for reasons known only to girls between the ages of nine and eighteen. At one point, having saved up my Skate Place money, I bought a pair of Zena jeans that buckled in front instead of zipped, but the buckles didn’t work so well. They had a tendency to pop open, and Zoe and Lula decided that I bought the jeans knowing this, because I wanted attention, as if having a maddeningly inoperable fly was a way to win friends and influence people. This was an offense punishable by three days of being completely ignored. Once, Lula looked at my copy of
The Andy Warhol Diaries,
the one I carried around all year, and said, “He’s
. Are
gay?” while Zoe looked on and snickered. Behind the snicker, I saw terror in her eyes, the fear that Lula would turn on her if she didn’t. In that moment, although I felt betrayed, I forgave her. I still loved her and wouldn’t have wished Lula’s wrath on anyone.

Everything I did right was, in effect, wrong. If I won an award, I was a snob. If it was announced that I had gotten the only A in English, I was an attention hog. And every day that this continued I went to school sicker and sicker at the thought of seeing Lula’s smug, biscuity face when I walked through the door. I fantasized about running her over with a tractor or ratting her out to the liquor store, and these thoughts brought me comfort. But more than anything, I just wanted to be invited to somebody’s party. I wanted to be one of the girls who were allowed to pile into Lula’s car at lunch hour. I fantasized about impressing the spirit squad with my ability to not eat. I imagined going to Tastee Freez and watching them all eat chicken nuggets and French fries with ranch dressing while I smiled and sipped my aspartame iced tea. Then I fantasized about chicken nuggets and French fries with ranch dressing.

Sometimes things were still okay with Zoe and there was a reprieve, and I was momentarily as close as I got to happy. But most mornings I arrived at school wondering what grave unknown infraction I had committed the day before, and when she and Lula wrote notes to each other in study hall I knew, just
that they were writing about me. My paranoia skyrocketed, my weight continued to plummet, and I hid in my own world as much as possible, occupying my mind with numbers, trying to see those numbers as made of fat and dripping off my body.

It should come as no surprise that tenth grade was the first time I tried to kill myself. Well, not technically—it was more like the first time I wrote a note and chickened out. But once I had known the idea, rolled it around on my tongue and tasted its battery-acid truth, I knew it was for me. It was the relief I sought; I dug my toes into suicide like cool wet sand after a walk on hot pavement. I was now a girl with a Secret, and the secret was that I was going to die. I just had to find the right time to announce it. (Being borderline and all,
announcing it was not an option.)

I nurtured my obsession with every book and movie about every fucked-up girl I could find. I fell in love with Anne Sexton, read
The Bell Jar
approximately eighty million times, and grew my bangs long in my face to hide my eyes. I devoured every electroshock scene in any medium. I told myself over and over:
Well, this is it, I’m going crazy, I’m just like Sylvia Plath, I’ll be dead soon.
I toyed with how I might do it: head in the oven (too copycat), overdose (where would I get the pills?), wrist-slitting (my mother would never get the blood out of the grout), jumping in front of a car (the speed in Prairie Grove was 40 miles an hour, how much damage could that do?). I tried to drown myself in the bathtub a few times, just to see if I could do it, but at a certain point my body forced my head up out of the water and breath into my lungs, pissing me off greatly.

The day I finally wrote my suicide note and went home to carry out my threat was the day of Quiz Bowl tryouts. Unlike drill team, which I never really expected to make, I fully anticipated a slot on the Quiz Bowl team. I demanded absolute perfection from myself when it came to intellectual pursuits. I had been pouring books into my head all year, going down the official U.S. Quiz Bowl Recommended Reading List and checking off
The Scarlet Letter, The Sound and the Fury, Moby-Dick, For Whom the Bell Tolls
. In an effort to indicate just how literate I was, I mail-ordered an F. Scott Fitzgerald T-shirt, which of course served as one more roadblock between me and cool.

What stood in the way of my Quiz Bowl glory was Farley Anderson: history teacher, Baptist preacher, and insane Vietnam vet. Mr. Anderson and I despised each other, although, because he was a teacher and I wanted to be on the Quiz Bowl team, we pretended to get along. But I became meaner, nastier, and more high-and-mighty with every day I starved myself, which meant I just had to open my mouth and say something when he consistently skipped everything in our textbook that had to do with art and instead found a way to make all of U.S. history about the Vietnam War. His face and ears would turn bright red, his pupils would shrink, and I would sit at my desk with my arms crossed, staring him down, daring him to challenge me. The more banned books I read, the more the Jesus thing slipped away, and the fact that Mr. Anderson so fervently believed it even though he was several decades older than me began to drive me nuts. For as timid and wheedling as I was with Lula and Zoe, I could be a mouthy pain in the ass with Mr. Anderson. He had a habit of always calling us “children” had, in fact, a habit of nicknaming everyone. For example, he always referred to a bus driver named Jim as “Bigness,” for no reason that any of us could discern.

Being in Vietnam had done something to his eyes. They were beady and shifty and darted about beneath his sweaty crimson forehead as he expounded at length about weaponry. On Sundays he stood in the choir loft at the Baptist church wearing a blue satin robe and a white collar that was too tight around his neck, and this seemed to make his eyes dart about even more. I would stand in the pews, increasingly bored, watching him pronounce the word “iron” EYE-ron because it had a dash in it in the hymnal, and then he’d realize his mistake and his eyes would ricochet like pinballs to see if anyone had heard him.

Mr. Anderson was in charge of the Quiz Bowl team because he was the only Advanced Placement teacher at our school. He was the teacher they stuck you with if you were “gifted and talented.” Our ongoing battle of wills came to a climax one day when he finally stopped to talk to my AP history class about “one of the important artworks” mentioned in our American history book:
The Vietnam Memorial
. The previous week he’d skipped over the American expatriate writers and artists, dismissing them by scorning their decision to leave the United States and calling them Communists. We didn’t have time, he said, to cover the art stuff in the book anyway. This week, thoroughly pissed off, I couldn’t help challenging him. I asked him why art was important all of a sudden.

He looked at me, froze his freaky ice-blue eyes on me, his comb-over and his face the same shade of red, and he hissed, “I’ll tell you one thing, child, this means a hell of a lot more than a little bit of paint thrown on a canvas.”

I jumped up and ran out the door of the classroom, down the hall, and into the bathroom, locked myself in a puke-green stall (appropriate), balled up my sweater in my fists, and screamed into it as loudly as I could. This is one of the first blinding red rages I remember, the ones that would become more and more frequent as the BPD progressed, one of the first times my response to injustice was so out of control that the bottom dropped out from under me like the world was a Gravitron and I was plastered to the wall. I had never seen anyone besides my father experience rage to this degree, and it terrified me: girls weren’t supposed to get this mad. It was one of two times Mr. Anderson would rouse these feelings—the second time, I would try to kill myself.

Everybody else seemed to like him, to find him funny, and I felt even weirder because I could see through him, and he was an adult. Still, I wanted to be on Quiz Bowl, and Mr. Anderson was the one who graded the placement test. I knew I had to get control of myself and attempt a smooth relationship with him, even if I had to fake it just like I was doing with Lula. He had to choose four students for the team, one for English, one for math, one for science, and one for history and geography. We were all supposed to be well-rounded, but we were supposed to have a “specialty” as well. Because placement on the team was ostensibly based on this score alone, I was hoping that I would get everything right on the English to make up for my poor math skills. After all, I’d gotten perfect scores on the ACT and SAT in English, but was more excited to earn an “average” on the math; this meant I could go to college.

So it was that I walked into the Quiz Bowl test one May afternoon, knowing full well that the person who made and would be grading it viewed the whole of world literature as the pursuit of Commie pinko tree-huggers. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I bombed.

I got a 73 on the test, which was five pages of math, a few obligatory questions about books and verb conjugation, and three final pages of questions about various wars. When Mr. Anderson handed the test back to me and I saw the big red number, the Bad Dog came wailing up through me and my tears burned my eyes. I ran out of the room and down the hall to my locker, grabbed my notebook, went out the back door, and kicked the building over and over again until I realized I could break my legs or have a heart attack, at which point I collapsed on the ground and tried to scream but only sobbed.

BOOK: Loud in the House of Myself
8.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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