California Diaries #5: Ducky
Ann M. Martin
The author gratefully acknowledges Peter Lerangis for his help in preparing this manuscript.
Copyright © 1998 by Ann M. Martin.
All rights reserved. Published by Scholastic Inc.
CALIFORNIA DIARIES is a trademark of Scholastic Inc.
Printed in the U.S.A.
First Scholastic printing, February 1998
This eBook is for educational and reference purposes only. It is not intended to infringe on or circumvent copyright. No monetary gain is made from the distribution of this eBook.
Saturday is Valentine’s Day.
So we will be allowed to celebrate it at school TOMORROW, Friday.
Unless you don’t have a Valentine. Like me.
Then you don’t celebrate. You walk around feeling sorry for yourself. You might as well stay home.
But look on the bright side, McCrae.
Tomorrow ALSO happens to be Friday the 13th.
So maybe having a Valentine is unlucky. And the best thing to do is go to school and don’t worry.
You will not worry.
You will not worry.
You will not worry.
During Homeroom, F the 13
Tucked into a Looseleaf Notebook
The place is a zoo, and it’s all my fault.
Flowers everywhere. Teachers acting like kids. Jason tongue-wrestling with Lisa out in the hallway.
JAY, not JASON.
I hate this. You know somebody for years — he’s spent a whole LIFETIME with one name, and all of a sudden BOOM he decides another one is cooler. So now you have to THINK every time you see hi, and then you have to call him a name that doesn’t fit, sort of like calling a telephone a toaster — BUT god forbid you don’t, because he’ll get mad at you, and of course it would NEVER OCCUR to him or anyone else to wonder if you mind being called “Ducky,” a name
you didn’t CHOOSE, because you’ve always been known by it and besides, it’s better than the name the Cro Mags used to call you, “Bambi” — and hey, CRO MAGS is a nickname YOU
throw around, but that’s just a DESCRIPTION, because those muscle-head jocks DO act like prehistoric Cro-Magnon cavepeople — plus, when you think about it, “Ducky” fits anyway because it’s weird and funny and so are you.
Anyway, congrats, McCrae. You did V Day RIGHT this year.
You did not:
… Stay home and hide, like you wanted to.
… Let Big Brother Ted talk you into a blind date, like the one two years ago with Shelaigh, who wore more makeup than clothing and whose greatest talent was rolling her eyes, tapping her feet, and looking at her watch in three different rhythms.
… Write every single girl in your class a poetic love note, like you did in seventh grade, causing many of them to gang up against you on the playground and three parents to call Mom & Dad complaining you’d broken their daughters’ hearts.
… Make Mom a Valentine’s Day card with so much glue that it stuck to the kitchen table and she got mad at you so you flushed the chocolates you were going to give her down the toilet and clogged it up, ruining the whole day for everyone … that was fourth grade, I think.
Nope, Ducky old boy, you’ve learned the hard way. You don’t need a Special Someone. Today you were EVERYONE ELSE’s [sic] Special Someone.
The fake halo made of twist-ties, the bow and arrow slung over your back, the big basket of carnations — brilliant. All that was missing was a marquee out front — “Christopher ‘Ducky’
McCrae IS Cupid!”
The girls LOVED it. Especially Sunny, who planted a big wet one on your lips, then actually threaded the stem of the carnation through her navel ring and flashed it around, until Mr. Dean came out of the office. Dawn put HER flower in her long blonde hair and spun around, doing some folk-dancey thing that made her peasant dress spin out. Maggie kissed hers and said she would write a song about it.
Giving flowers to the TEACHERS — that was the best idea of all. From the look on Ms.
Patterson’s face, expect an A in math this semester.
Okay, so not EVERYONE was amused. Mr. Dean couldn’t decide whether to throw you out or laugh. And Alex sort of looked right through you (that thousand-yard stare of Alex Snyder).
And the Cro Mags, of course, had a field day, grunting and scratching and passing nasty comments to each other. You have to take the good with the bad.
But here’s another big change. A year ago, McCrae, the Cro Mag comments would have killed you. A year ago, you worried about their opinions. You wanted them to be your friends. HOW
many years did it take to realize THEY WERE GOING TO MAKE FUN OF YOU NO
MATTER HOW HARD YOU TRIED TO BE LIKE THEM?
As if you ever could.
So … if you can’t join them, do exactly what they hate. Like dance past them, singing “All You Need Is Love,” and toss them a flower — then watch the look on Marco Bardwell’s face the moment after he catches it and realizes his apelike friends are NEVER going to let him live it down.
Ducky, you may be strange but you are a genius.
If only Jason JAY hadn’t gotten so bent out of shape. JAY, being one of your oldest friends, should KNOW your sense of humor, but obviously he didn’t, because he acted like you handed him a dead squid and muttered, “Do you ALWAYS have to make a fool of yourself?”
Even Later That Afternoon
In Math Class, to Be Exact
Why do I call myself “you” all the time? This can’t be normal. Only I don’t know, because to figure out what “normal” is, I’d have to read other people’s journals and I’m not allowed because Vista requires you to keep yours PRIVATE, to “provide you with a personal learning
experience,” but it WOULD be nice if you could at least see A LITTLE of someone else’s, because soon the world will be full of Vista students with piles of unread journals and that seems like such a waste of both paper and interesting stories.
What it boils down to is this: Writing “I” is creepy. TOO personal. You feel self-conscious.
You worry about how you come across. But with “you,” it’s like you’re another person. It’s just easier, that’s all. It’s easier to be someone else.
Here comes Ms. Patterson. If she sees this, I’m toast.
Home at Last
But Not Toast
I wish I hadn’t written that.
The part about being someone else.
I’ve been thinking about it all day.
It’s kind of pathetic, in a way. Like you can’t stand being yourself.
I asked Sunny about this. I asked her if she ever wanted to be someone else.
She said she always wants to be someone else.
Which is RIDICULOUS because she’s great exactly the way she is (I told her so), but she just said that if I were in her shoes — if MY mom had cancer, if MY dad spent all his time at the hospital and at his bookstore — I’d be pretty upset too.
I shouldn’t have opened my big mouth. I shouldn’t have used the word ridiculous. I know the pressure she’s under. I’m the one who found her that night at Venice Beach, alone and scared, dumped by that guy she wanted to run away with. OF COURSE she thinks about being someone else. Her life is no picnic and I WOULDN’T want to be in her shoes.
But the thing is, even though I’m NOT in her shoes I STILL feel depressed.
This is a DEEP-INSIDE problem, not a BAD CIRCUMSTANCES problem.
At least Sunny KNOWS who she is. You can tell by looking at her — the weird chair, the funky layered outfits, the body piercings or magnetic studs or whatever those things are. Even her opinions — loud and clear even when they’re wrong — all of it says THIS IS ME, SUNNY
WINSLOW, TOO BAD IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT.
Dawn’s like that too. She can obsess a LITTLE about the environment and global warning and health foods and yada yada, but you always know where she stands.
And Maggie. Serious, intense, attitude-of-the-month Maggie. Committed punk rebel for awhile
[sic], pretty good girl until that wore off, star rock singer after that. Always changing but STRONG, never really DRIFTING.
Amalia Vargas is another one. Sharp, full of opinions, and so COMMITTED to her artwork.
They don’t seem three years younger. They’re such personalities. Definite, clear personalities.
I wish I felt like that. I never know how to BE.
I know how NOT to be. NOT prep. NOT grunge. NOT jock. NOT high-tech nerd.
Step right up, folks — meet Ducky McCrae, Palo City’s number one NOT! Make your own
guess about what he is. EVERYBODY else has an opinion. Choose from the options below: A. Sissy wimp girlie man — the Cro Mag perspective, shared by a certain species of Vista School male.
B. Immature stupid little kid — Ted and friends.
C. Oddball child — Hi, Mom and Dad, wherever you are.
D. Carefree, mature, laugh riot — Sunny and friends.
Personally I love D., but it’s just as wrong as A.-C.
SO … WHAT AM I?
A Madcap Confessional Romp
REEL ONE, TAKE ONE
[Enter Ducky McCrae, a nondescript 16-year-old with a few pimples and nondescript brown hair, wearing nondescript pants and shirt bought from a vintage clothing store. He looks in mirror and sees … nothing.]
DUCKY: I am … a 16-year-old who hangs out with 13-year-olds.
“Robbing the cradle.” That’s what Jay called my friendships with Sunny & Co. I didn’t know what it meant, until Ted explained: It’s how you describe someone who’s going out with someone else much younger — which is typical of the way Jay’s mind works, imagining that I’m dating those girls all at the same time … and that they don’t mind. Which not only is wrong but insulting to Sunny, Maggie, Amalia, and Dawn, because they’re way too smart and independent to let themselves be treated like that. And besides, now that Jay is going Cro Mag on me — and Alex is just fading away and has hardly said two words since New Year’s — those three [sic]
girls ARE becoming my closest friends. Thirteen or not. And that’s that.
DUCKY: I am … a virtual orphan.
That is exactly the way I feel. Ducky and Ted’s Excellent Orphan Adventure. No parents, no rules. See the decorative piles of laundry in every room, gathering dust. Admire the food on the walls and floors, the dish sculpture in the sink. The 23 half-full boxes of cereal. The refrigerator full of soda, ice cream, and a carrot left over from last year. Enough to horrify ay adult, except technically Ted IS an adult, which is a laugh, but somehow his 20-year-oldness makes it legal for Mom & Dad to spend months in Ghana while their sons eat take-out pizza after occasional pathetic attempts at cooking dinner.
I mean, come on. Whose parents go on extended business trips to GHANA? Or to Qatar, or Abu Dhabi, or Sri Lanka? Can you possibly GET farther away from your children?
Enough about that. Back to the screenplay.
DUCKY [still looking in mirror]: I am … everybody’s best friend.
* * *
And maybe it used to be true. I still have the journal from 6th grade, where I counted my friends and came up with 47.
Not anymore, though. Not since the Cro Mags started ganging up on me in 8th grade. And Jason became JAY. And Alex became
What HAS Alex become?
When I gave him that flower this morning — nothing. No laugh, no wisecrack, no response at all. As if this kind of scene happened every day and he was bored with it.
Alex the Morph.
This is NOT the Alex I grew up with. It’s as if some alien ship came down and sucked out his soul.
I stared at him today at lunch, while he wasn’t looking. The same way I used to when we were kids and I’d try to send an ESP message, and most of the time he’d notice I was staring and sometimes he’d even GET the message. And we were convinced we could read each other’s minds, because we always finished each other’s sentences and we liked the same movies and books and CDs and TV shows, and we could look at each other — just look — and both burst out laughing. No one knew why, but WE did, because we’d both be thinking of EXACTLY THE
SAME THING. And sometimes at home I’d reach for the phone to call him, and the phone
would immediately ring, and it would be him. And we’d talk and talk until Mom would get angry and I’d look at the clock and see that TWO HOURS had gone by and it felt like two minutes.
And that person is gone gone gone, lost somewhere between 9th and 10th grade, replaced by a total stranger who doesn’t know I’m alive.
I keep saying to myself, hey, it’s because his parents divorced. But that happened so long ago, and he did seem to bounce back. What’s going on now?
I wish he’d tell me. He doesn’t seem to actually HATE me or anything. He lets me sit with him during lunch. No one else seems to want to sit him these days — least of all JAY.
HE’S decided that Alex has totally dropped off the coolness radar or something.
I thought I had dropped off it too, after this morning. But maybe not. JAY finally apologized to me. I guess when you’re such a jerk so often you learn how to say “I’m sorry.” JAY has always been so good at that. And face it, McCrae, you are such a SUCKER for a good apology. They can hit you over the head, strip you naked, cut off your legs, and gouge out your eyes, but as long as they say, “Sorry about that, man,” you forgive them.
Anyway, JAY was arm in arm with Lisa Bergonzi, who was wearing the wilted carnation behind her left ear. And he said something like, “Yo, Duckster, remember that flower? And what I said and all, about you making a fool of yourself? I didn’t mean to say it. It was just … you know
Dot dot dot. What? I just looked at him, waiting for him to go on, but all he said was, “I gave it to Lisa, okay? She really loved it.”
Lisa smiled and thanked me.
Jay was looking at me expectantly. I felt like I had to give my approval or something. So I said,
Lisa leaned her head on his shoulder. He turned and hugged her, lifting her off her feet. Then they walked away, making out. And I mean deep-kissing. With their eyes closed. While walking. I was SURE they would crash into the glass door, but they didn’t.