Read The Trouble with Emily Dickinson Online

Authors: Ken McKowen

Tags: #love, #gay, #lesbian, #teen, #high school

The Trouble with Emily Dickinson (9 page)

BOOK: The Trouble with Emily Dickinson
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“So it’s my fault?” Kendal’s hand smacked her
own chest. “Is that what you are saying?”

“I’m not pointing fingers,” said JJ quickly.
“All I’m saying is that friendships involve at least two people,
right? And each person has to give a little in order to get a
little. If you don’t let them see the real you, how are they
supposed to get to know the real you?”

Kendal halted her rant. She hadn’t thought of
it that way.

“It’s just an outside opinion, of course,”
said JJ.

“I get what you’re saying. I think I’m just
frustrated with everything in my life now. Before it all made
sense, but somewhere along the way I’ve changed and suddenly
nothing makes any sense to me anymore.”

“Trust me, I know the feeling.”

“You do?”

“Of course I do. Before I accepted the fact
that I was gay, everything in my life seemed simple. I had
boyfriends and everything made sense. And then suddenly it all
began to change. I wasn’t happy with anything anymore and I
couldn’t understand why. Things that I once enjoyed became boring
to me or unimportant.” JJ looked down at her empty hands and then
at Kendal. “But once I figured out the root of it, things began to
fall into place again. Now I know that this is who I am and who I’m
happy being. Things in my life make sense again.”

“That must have been hard, holding something
like that inside without telling anyone. My problem is that I don’t
even know the root of why things have changed for me.”

“Well, I don’t think it’s because you are
gay,” JJ said with a smirk.

Kendal laughed. “No, I don’t think so
either.” Though lately she wasn’t so sure.

“Maybe you are just changing as a person. It
doesn’t have to be anything specific. Could be as simple as your
outlook on life or what has become important to you now, as opposed
to when you were a freshman. I think that when we get to college,
we’ll do a lot of soul-searching and find out who we really are.
You’re just getting a head start.”

“I feel like I can really talk to you,”
Kendal said suddenly. “Sorry for going off like that. I know you’re
my tutor, and not my counselor.”

JJ felt her face grow hot, and she knew she
was blushing. She stared ahead, avoiding Kendal’s eyes.

“I’m glad. It’s, uh, important to feel
comfortable with your tutor.”

Kendal repositioned her chair at the table
and moved closer to JJ. “Okay. I feel better. And I think I can
actually concentrate on studying.” She unzipped her backpack and
took out a purple folder and a couple of books. “So, back to
poetry. Let’s do this one first.”

She opened one of her book to a page marked
with a yellow sticky note, and then slid the volume over to JJ.

JJ regained her composure and looked down at
the page.

“A Letter to Daphnis,” she read. “Anne Finch
was a talented woman.”

“I’m sure she was. I think I prefer
Dickinson, though.”

“How come?”

“I don’t know. Maybe because I finally
understand her poetry now, and I don’t want to move on to other
authors.” Kendal forced a laugh. “Stick to what you know,

“I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough
credit,” JJ reassured her, easing into a smile, admiring the dips
along the edge of Kendal’s lips and how they were most visible
whenever Kendal seemed self-conscious.

“What?” Kendal asked, nervously brushing a
strand of hair from face.

“Nothing,” said JJ.

They read the poem together as JJ pointed out
a few key lines to help Kendal make sense of the poem as a

“Finch was a true feminist, though she didn’t
want that to override the fact that she was still deeply in love
and could be in love, while still maintaining her sense of self. In
this poem, she expresses how, though it is difficult, one can still
find a happy medium between being both a devoted lover and an
opinionated woman at the same time.”

“That must have been hard back then,” Kendal
said. “In those days most women gave up their dreams and ambitions
to be housewives.”

JJ’s head bobbed in agreement, “Exactly. And
in this poem, Finch makes it clear to her lover that she has no
such plan in mind. She writes, ‘Judge not my passion, but my want
of skill. Many love well, but express it ill.’ See, she wants him
to know that though she is driven, and, like you said, has her own
dreams, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean she can’t love him
with all that she has. In fact, she loves him more fully than some
women who have no ambition at all.”

“Wow,” said Kendal. “That’s pretty

“Yeah, it is.”

Kendal flinched. “I hope I didn’t sound like
a ditsy cheerleader just then.”

“You didn’t at all. Just don’t start saying
totally every other sentence.”

Kendal flipped back her hair. “This poem is
like, totally awesome.”

JJ nudged her shoulder, “Cute.”

“You’re not at all what I thought you were,”
said Kendal.

“What did you think?”

“I don’t know. I guess I didn’t know what to

“I understand,” said JJ. “When I found out I
was tutoring you, I didn’t know what to expect either. All I knew
was that you were popular and last year’s homecoming queen.”

“And that I was probably just like all the
other cheerleaders.”

“Maybe at first,” said JJ. “But you’re not.
You’re different.”

“Different, how?”

JJ shrugged. “You just are.”

They continued to regard one another, until
JJ’s knee once again began to shake involuntarily. “I’ll be right
back,” she said, standing up quickly.

As she pushed her chair back from the table,
she accidentally knocked over her bag, which had been resting on
the floor. Her journal spilled out, and she tripped over it.

“Whoops,” JJ said, feeling nervous and
clumsy. She plucked up the journal and set it on the table before
she walked away.

Kendal eyeballed the journal. It looked
pretty beat up, the edges frayed and the binding worn. She could
feel her famous liquid curiosity pumping through her veins.

Just one quick peek, she thought. Then she’d
set it right back down. She reached for the journal, and flipped it
open close to the middle. Her eyes quickly scanned the words
scribbled across the page. It appeared to be a poem titled First

She sneaked a peek to make sure JJ wasn’t
anywhere in sight before she began to read with reckless


Darkness looms

I cannot see

I feel your breath upon my skin

Sparking a nervous warmth

I reach for you

Sliding my palm across your cheek

So softly, afraid you’ll break

Whispers reach my insides

Pulling them into knots

My flesh trembles

With each caress

Until your lips find mine

Timid at first touch

Growing hungry with each kiss

My mind races

No clear thoughts, just dizziness

Into you I slowly melt

The images were so vivid, so real, that
Kendal could feel the tingle on her skin, just as if she were the
person in the poem. She had to read it again. She was about halfway
through when she felt someone leaning over her. She quickly set the
book down onto the table, and then shook her head

“I’m sorry. Your journal was just lying
there, and I was wondering if it was poetry or something. I swear I
wouldn’t have read it if I’d known it was personal or—“

She stopped talking as soon as she looked up.
Kyan Stevens, who she now thought of as Kyan the couch monster, was
standing next to her chair, looming over her like some creepy,
ominous shadow. Kendal could feel his supposedly innocent brown
eyes examining her thoroughly from head to toe.

“Hey,” he said with an overconfident grin.
“Christine said you were here.”

“Christine? Really?” Kendal cursed her
roommate under her breath. “Did she mention I had a tutoring

“No. She just said you were in the library
pretending to study.”

Kyan wasn’t carrying a backpack, so Kendal
knew he had no intention of actually studying himself. He was there
specifically to hit on her. How wonderful?

“Well, I’m not pretending. I’m actually
studying.” Kendal shuffled a few loose papers in front of her and
started to write something down, hoping he would take the hint and
leave. He didn’t.

“Listen,” Kyan said smoothly. “You’ve
probably heard that the team is having our legendary invite-only
party next Friday night.”

“Um, no. I haven’t heard anything at

“Really? Everyone’s talking about it.”

“Nope. Haven’t heard a thing.”

Kendal was lying, of course, because it was
all any of her friends could talk about lately. Everyone was
texting about who was going to get invited, and who was going to be
left out. Last year, Christine almost had a nervous breakdown when
she realized that she hadn’t been invited. A day before the party
she’d tracked Jason down, hooked up with him, and the next day he
dumped his original invite to invite Christine instead. She and
Jason had been dating ever since. Back then Kendal had been
impressed by Christine’s persistence. Now, she found it

“Each member of the soccer team invites a
girl to come to the party,” Kyan continued. “It’s exclusive.”

“I know what it is,” said Kendal. “I was
there last year.”


Kendal could tell that she was throwing a
huge rock in Kyan’s pond of smoothness. It was as if he wasn’t used
to handling a few ripples.

“Well, anyway,” he pressed on. “I came here
because I wanted to let you know that I want you to be my

My, he puts it so nicely, Kendal thought.
“I’m honored,” she said instead. “Really I am, but I have this
thing next Friday that I can’t miss.”

“I’m sure you can get out of it,” said Kyan.
He put his hands on the table and leaned in. “You’d miss a really,
really fun time with yours truly.”

JJ approached the table at that moment. Her
face was still damp, because she’d splashed water on it before
realizing that the bathroom was out of paper towels. So she’d tried
to stick her face under the blow dryer. That got extremely hot very
fast, so now her moist face was a nice shade of pinkish-red. She
sat down without glancing at either Kendal or Kyan.

Kendal watched as Kyan studied JJ carefully
before he resumed his failing attempt to ask her out. “I promised
JJ I’d be at the poetry slam contest at The Spot next Friday,” she
blurted, reaching over to pinch JJ’s leg.

“Right!” JJ jumped. “Right, next Friday. I
made her promise to go with me.”

Kyan considered their story. “Maybe another
night then,” he mumbled finally and walked away.

“What was that about? And what poetry
contest?” JJ asked, rubbing her leg where Kendal had pinched

“Next Friday,” Kendal exclaimed. “I sort of
forgot about it until now. It’s at that coffee shop you like, The
Spot. I think you should enter.”

“You’ve never even read my stuff,” JJ
reminded her.

Kendal bit her lip. “That’s not entirely
true.” She tapped JJ’s journal with the tip of her pen. “I only
read a little bit. It was just sitting there and I took the
opportunity to read it. I’m sorry.”

JJ quietly realized that any humiliation
she’d expected to feel if anyone ever laid eyes on her writing,
simply was not there. Instead, she felt delighted that Kendal had
wanted to dip into that side of her.

“I read the one about someone’s first kiss.”
Kendal shifted curiously in her seat. “Was that—about another

“Yes,” said JJ. “It was my first kiss, just
as I described it.” She swallowed hard. “Can I ask what you thought
about it?”

Kendal’s eyes lit up. “It was

JJ swallowed again as Kendal leaned in so
close that JJ could feel the warmth of her breath. “I’d like to
read some more. If you’ll let me.”

For some reason it was hard for JJ to share
her poetry with other people, but not because poetry was personal.
It was hard because she was afraid of what people would think. She
was afraid of their reaction, of what they might say. And she was
even more afraid of what Kendal would think, of what she might

“So, is there something going on with him?”
JJ asked, eager to change the subject. She heard a tinge of
jealously in her voice, and hoped Kendal hadn’t picked up on

“Who? Kyan?” Kendal dismissed him with a
simple wave of her hand. “He’s so full of himself. Suddenly, it
seems I’m high on his ‘to date’ list.”

“From what I hear, his ‘to date’ list is a
lot shorter now than it was when he was a freshman.”

“That’s because he hooks up with anything
that walks. I don’t know what he’s thinking, though. I’m not going
to fall all over him just because he happens to be the captain of
the soccer team.”

“It’s good to know that you have morals.”

“Well, I’m one of the good girls,” said
Kendal. “I was raised right.”

“I guess so.”

“So, about this poetry slam thingy. Are you
going to do it?”

JJ shook her head. “I go to open readings and
poetry contests all of the time,” she explained. “They have one
every Friday night. I just don’t participate.”

“Why not?”

JJ looked at Kendal momentarily, and then
averted her eyes, embarrassed at what she was about to admit. “I
have a fear of being on stage.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah, I’m serious. I wouldn’t joke about a
thing like that. I used to play the saxophone when I was younger,
maybe like ten or so—”

“The saxophone?”

“I’m explaining to you why I have stage
fright,” said JJ impatiently. “See, we had this talent contest one
year at school, and I thought I was the best saxophone player in
the world. And when the contest came up, I got on stage and played
the only song I knew. And during the whole thing, everybody in the
audience started to laugh, because I kept playing the wrong notes
and about halfway through the song, I froze.”

BOOK: The Trouble with Emily Dickinson
11.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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