Authors: Anna Pellicioli
Tags: #ya, #ya fiction, #ya novel, #young adult, #young adult fiction, #young adult novel, #teen, #teen lit, #romance, #elliott, #anna pellicoli, #anna pellicholi
Where You End
Â© 2015 by Anna Pellicioli.
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E-book ISBN: 9780738745664
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We forgot to cut our hair. We forgot to do our homework. We forgot to call our friends back. We spent whole afternoons diving into the skin of outstretched necks, sucked-in bellies, warm chests. When apart, we plotted where our fingers could climb our spines undisturbed, where we could crush each other next. We took turns leading each other into empty piano practice rooms and library stacks, and our bodies seemed to bond and bend to fit anywhere that would take us, like two inseparable rats.
We were two people sick in love, closing our paint-peeling shutters to the traffic outside as if the room would never need air, as long as we could breathe into it. So we did. Until someone opened the door and all that oxygen yanked him out into the world and slammed me back into the fire, where the burning is slow and steady.
I am Miriam, singing a song for the sorry women. He is Elliot, sharing museum fries with his new girl. We are over. It exhausts me.
Ms. D, the mastermind behind our junior year visit to the Smithsonian, announces we have an hour and a half for lunch and general meandering before the yellow bus zips us back to school. Everybody scatters to their corners of the National Mall. I have no business thumbing my dangly earrings by the triple-layer fountain or looking busy in front of the vending machine. I'm not looking forward to picking at cafeteria sushi on the steps behind the castle, trading bets on who will drink or fuck the most over the upcoming weekend, checking my back for boys who call each other gay for fun. Those are not my girls and boys.
I liked the bass player who could do math, the guy who craves falafel and scribbles fantasy playlists in a Moleskine he keeps in his back pocket. E is for Elliot, extra excruciating. An artist, a music man, someone with depth. I wanted more, you know, like the Little Mermaid.
And I got it, the whole dealâthe love, the sex, the decay. All of it. I know everybody wants that. Well, I got it, and I lost it. Now at least I can write you a sad song with some depth.
“Hey Meem, come over here.”
It's Adam, my best friend pre-Elliot, fellow photography enthusiast, the only guy who can wear a T-shirt with a Renoir painting and not get any crap for it. “Meem” is the name he gave me after our first summer developing photos in my basement darkroom, back when we thought pictures of busted bicycles were cool. It's stuck for over four years now. I drag my feet close enough to smell burnt coffee on him. It's the first time I feel okay all morning. I want to plant my nose in his curly hair.
“There's a Winogrand exhibit at the Gallery. Let's get a hot dog or something and go,” he says.
Winogrand is one of the greatest storytellers of all time. Almost every Winogrand picture is interesting, whether it's the light, the subject, the angle, or the timing that holds your gaze.
“I don't know, Adam. Maybe. I'll think about it.”
Adam's brick house is five blocks after my yellow one, but we never spoke until Hebrew school, in sixth grade. We were the only two kids who hadn't been there since kindergarten. His mom is Jewish and his Dad is Quaker. My parents are both Jewish, but they call themselves humanist Jews. Basically, it means they think Judaism is less about God and more about people and their story.
My parents are big on stories and roots and knowing where you come from. They think religion is about dignity, family, and looking for some kind of truth. They're big on truth. That's why we do Shabbat even though we don't follow most other rules, why they sent me to read the Torah when I turned twelve. So that I could remember I have a soul as well as a history. It's fine with me. Winogrand was Jewish too.
“Maybe?” Adam says, interrupting my scrambled thoughts.
“You'll think about it? What's wrong with you, Meem? What else are you gonna do? You know Winogrand's your favorite.”
“Lange is my favorite, Adam,” I remind him.
His huge brown eyes roll. The lazy left one lags a little. “Lange is fucking depressing.”
Adam could say the Hebrew curse words better than any other pimply-ass kid in that room, and he read the Torah with enough confidence to earn everybody's respect, even the Rabbi's, who generally disapproved of us late-comers. He knew what the words meant too. His mother promised him a camera for his bar mitzvah, and he earned that thing fair and square. That's the year I got my darkroom. After we became friends, we spent every other day messing with baths and light in my basement, talking about our favorite photographers. We agreed on Winogrand.
“It's the 1964 pictures, Meem. You sure?” he says now, and his voice betrays that impatient pity, the kind that's been haunting me since I broke up with Elliot.
The 1964 pictures were taken the year Winogrand got a grant and used it to travel across the country. They're a portrait of a country I don't really know, but many of them are impossible to forget. They look so real, like a real piece of the culture, like they could only be taken in that moment, in that place. It's what every photographer wishes they could do.
“I don't know, Adam. Maybe. I may just hang around here â¦ ”
“Come on â¦ ”
I don't know what to say. Sometimes it feels like I'm on a deadline and if I don't cheer up soon, they might all leave me. It blows to be around a sad person, and it blows most if they used to be your best friend, or your adventurous, smart daughter.
I consider how much I love the 1964 Winogrand photos, especially the picnic in the desert. There's a beautiful white car, the kind with fins and a wide rear end, and it's parked in the middle of the White Sands Desert. The car is next to a picnic shelter that looks like it's from the future. There's a family too, a couple of kids and a woman, maybe in a red shirt, and they are all walking toward a grill, in the middle of a desert. The only scenery is the sand and the skyâa family stopping for lunch in the middle of sand and sky. It's unreal, but it happened. I imagine Winogrand, the photographer, stopping his own car to capture the scene, thinking: only here, only now.
As I remember all that bright light, I start to feel nauseous, like the more I try to focus, the more I lose my balance. This is not the first time. I've been getting sick quite a bit lately, so I know what usually happens next. I shake my head quickly, nod goodbye, and hurry to find the nearest museum bathroom, where I elbow my way through the people who check in and out of my city every day.
When I get to the toilet, nothing comes out, so I stare at the cloudy water and wave my hand in front of the little laser just to see it flush clean. I know what nausea can mean for a girl who used to sleep with a boy. Never mind. I'm alone again. I can stand up. Everything smells like bleach.
By the time I get back outside, I'm hungry. I can see Adam walking toward the exhibit. He's about a block away. His arms are all long and loose at his sides, the way boys seem to have more gravity but less weight, their long limbs dragging and swinging and falling to the earth. Not like girls, who keep everything close to their body. I follow his backpack like it's a red shiny bug getting smaller and smaller.
I know what's in there. Extra batteries, a notebook, music, an old city map, maybe a snack, definitely a drink, his tiny leather wallet, coins all over his front pocket. I haven't looked in there for a long time. Still, I know. We were that close. Adam turns around, and I wince. I don't want him to catch me looking, but there are no trees to hide behind. Everything is so open here. He doesn
't seem to see me. I blend too well with the gravel and the buildings.
A girl I know from English class (short hair, enviable breasts, mildly interesting insights) is walking toward him. Adam motions for her to catch up. His camera strap is wrapped around his wrist. That's how he always holds itâready to shoot. It seems offensive today, out in the daylight like that, and Adam suddenly annoys me.
The girl (what the hell is her name?) runs ahead and stops to face him, begging for a picture. She sticks her ass out a little, one hand on her hip. He shakes his head, then gives in with a smile. He got her. Never mind Winogrand and his picnic. Adam's not going to miss me. The ladies love a mystery art man. I should know.
I turn away to find a good spot to attempt lunch. So far, the sea sickness has killed my appetite, but I can't bring myself to throw the food away. My mother has been packing my lunch for the past two months. She taught me how to make my own sandwiches when I was four, and now she sends me off with a brown bag every day. She's worried I'm losing weight, and she has a point.
I should take at least one bite. I opt for the carousel and find the bench with the least pigeon shit, where I sit and reach into my bag for last night's dinner. I dig for her sandwich under the flashlight, my camera, my extra sweater, and the half-empty Nalgene bottle. I had no time to unpack this morning.
The sun bounces off the tinfoil, forcing my swollen eyes shut.
It's roast beef, mustard, soggy green beansâleftovers from last night's dinner. The bread is a little stale, but not as bad as I imagined. I toss the crumbs to the birds hiding under the curled steel and watch an old man buy a carousel ride from a bored beauty, who slips him tickets under the grate. A little guy is waiting anxiously at the entrance, and they look like the only riders around, so I doubt they'll run the carousel just for them.
The old man hands the tickets over to an attendant and tips his veteran baseball cap in a gesture that belongs to a town where you can still get your cream soda at the counter. I imagine him coming home to a parade like the one in that Times Square picture, kissing his girlfriend after the war, balloons flying everywhere, brass blowing the whole block up, lots of Jimmies looking for their Betsies. All while my mom's Opa sighs six million times in a Brooklyn tenement.
They're in. Looking for the perfect horse, the little dude slips under bellies and past peeling hooves to mount his very own pink stallion. Grandpa suggests the brown one instead, but the boy is fifty years ahead, and when he hops on his pink steed, he grabs those reins like he plans to bop all the way up to Congress.
The old man keeps his trembling fingers on the boy's back the whole time. With each turn, I look for them, and each time, there they are.
No matter how many times I see the boy's sloppy grin, when he disappears into the music, I can hardly wait to see him again. For a second, I wish my life could be more like this, and I promise God that I would let everything go if only I could be sure it would come back after one round of waltz. Once, the boy looks at me and waves, but he's gone by the time I wave back. I try again on the next round, but he's distracted now. I'm so vain that when the carousel stops and the boy hollers, I actually think it may be for me.
As grandpa ushers the kid away, I notice something on the ground and walk over to check it out. A silver money clip:
With Love, from Sarah, Christmas 1989.
“Excuse me, sir, did you lose this?”
He's frazzled for a minute, but then he looks at me with that old-man curtain over his eyes.
“My mother's name is Sarah,” I say, immediately ashamed of having read the engraving.
But the old man calls me “
.” I mean, he refers to me as a peach. He says,
“Thank you. You're a peach.”
And I swear I feel like a peach when I turn back around, all fuzzy and sweet and in season, and what can a peach do but reach for her beat-up Nikon, still hot from last night. The lens cap fell off somewhere. It must have been later than usual. I adjust the aperture, but it takes a minute to remember the math. I haven't taken a picture in daylight since the Fourth of July, but this feels like something worth looking at. The pink horse will be flattered.
I hang the strap around my neck, to be safe.
A line has formed outside the gate, and the attendant is now a bouncer. The carousel plays a waltz and the parents hum along and check their text messages while the little ones get dizzy. I scan for the horse and find Elliot instead, my Elliot, on a black mare with no tail. He's laughing. His long, skinny legs dangle below the plastic saddle and one hand is wrapped around the gold pole. On the next round, I spot Maggie Sawyer, more specifically Maggie's teeth, then Maggie's curls, then Maggie's hands reaching over to grab Elliot's. While spinning, they tangle their fingers and they smile, and my mouth is suddenly full of bile.
I start running so hard and clumsy I don't notice the camera pounding my chest until my feet have hit the ramp that leads down to the Hirshhorn sculpture garden and someone yells
. Then I remember I have hands, legs, feet, and, somewhere in there, even a pulse.
I shove my camera back into my bag where it belongs and circle the garden, trying to calm down. Most people must have left for lunch because I can't hear anything except for the dull noise of my head tightening, the sound of a knot. I'm still reeling from the waltz of horrors when I round the corner to find Picasso, mocking me with a woman made of bronze. I think of how many times I've held Elliot's hand, how exactly it feels in mine, where his hair starts, how warm it always was. I put my palms out to touch the sculpture, but the bronze is freezing.
I pull my hand back and look at the woman. She is standing at attention; her arms point straight down, but she has no handsâjust fists, balled-up fists. Her legs and arms are bumpy, and so is her face. The metal wrinkles around her shoulders and her tiny features. Her neck is thick, but her face is small and flat; you can hardly see her eyes. The only smooth parts are her belly and her breasts. I think of my own body naked, of Elliot, of Elliot looking at my body, of how sure I felt after the first few times, how powerful, how skilled, how wanted.
I feel deep and insidious shame. I wonder if he's seen Maggie too, if she's let him touch her in the same places, if they ever did it without a condom. I reach up to push the sculpture a little, against her calves. She doesn't move. Unaffected. Permanent. She won't even look at me. I notice her feet, huge and unfinished, melting into the pedestal. A man's feet, a monster'
s feet. The garden is quiet. My friends are far away. I reach up, close my eyes, and push, with my whole self. She barely resists. The whole thing gives, and thumps on the grass below. I hear something snap. My teeth finally let go of my lip, and I realize I have been crying. I run as fast as I can up the steps, to the street.