\"Sometimes you just have to toughen up and take it, you know? Not let it bother you.\" Josh and I picked through the paper for the review of my only art installation that had gone up the night before.
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\"\'...her use of color was confused at best. The viewer had an idea of where she was going, but couldn\'t figure out why the artist was going there. Her talent is apparent, but disappointingly unrealized, her concept unthoughtout...\'\"
I took the other sections of the paper and started skimming the headlines. A picture of a soldier, machine gun slung over his back, over a body with blood dripping out of the mouth, with the headline \"A LOOK INSIDE THE DARFUR CONFLICT\". I put it down and picked up my coffee. I wasn\'t as strong as Josh. I couldn\'t stomach all of this.
I had always been sensitive. A girl I knew in high school had always told me to toughen up. She said I just needed to face all of the gossip, the drama and the world hunger and it would make me stronger. Make me thick skinned. We were 15 and she found me crying in the bathroom. My boyfriend had broken up with me after a week long fight which started with me not wanting to have sex. The fight had ended when he said the reason my dad left my mom and I was because we were both \"fat, ugly and rude\". I had ran out of the room sobbing.
That same year she became pregnant and everyone knew. The whole school. Everyone in the part of town we lived in. But not who the dad was, she didn\'t tell anyone. There were plenty of rumors. She kept her lips sealed and her held head high, not looking at anyone, while the boys coughed the word \"slut\" behind her. She walked in this way, so fast, so determined, like \"Don\'t fucking mess with me, I don\'t have time to stop\". No swagger of her hips, no grace, just hard movement.
I stayed friends with her. Not great friends, we were never great friends. But I still talked to her, which some kids didn\'t do. People gossiped about her. Someone wrote \"Kelly Warner is a whore\" in the girl\'s bathroom. Someone else wrote \"Dumb hos get knocked up\" in red dripping paint pen on her locker. Maybe no one really liked her to begin with. Maybe she was too aloof, too distant, not wrapped up in them and angry. But so beautiful, a body like a cheerleader, muscles and hips and ass. Maybe they always wanted to get her back for it.
The boys who wanted her so pissed they couldn\'t have her, but some one had.
\"It gets better at the end!\" I snapped back to Josh reading aloud.
\"\'I would, however, not be opposed to seeing another installation of hers in a couple years. She needs more time to mess up. Assuming she learns from this failure and refines her talent she could go places.\'\"
He smiled at me. \"See, this guy\'s optimistic about your work!\"
I went to work at 3. On the bus that came at 2:17. It was a slow day, a 7 hr shift, alone, watching the shadows move across the store, burning myself on foam. Some kids came in and got fancy blended cappuccino drinks, but kids never tip. I bent over extra far to put whipped cream on the latte of a man in a suit and he tipped a dollar. I looked at the couple paintings my boss had let me put up when I first started working there. Neither had sold in that year and half. The lumpy figures stared at me emptily, their mouths open, the colors lusterless and the balance off. Four years of college behind them and nothing to show for it.
I thought about other things I could do. Quit my job and move my stuff to my mom\'s while I traveled to South America. It seemed like something that could get me in touch with my roots. After spending a half hour on tourist websites for Chili and Argentina and looking at plane tickets I discovered this was too expensive and suffered quite a let down.
Maybe instead Josh and I could start the band we always talked about. His girlfriend could sing and we could put on house shows. I knew this wouldn\'t happen either. I had never been confident enough to show him the poems I wrote or to deal with his criticism. I could never play guitar in front of people or show Christine how to sing what I wrote. I could never work with both of them together.
I stared at the computer screen knowing I should start making the schedule. A customer came up to tell me she was sure I used whole milk in her latte and not skim and it should be foamier. I looked at her and blinked a moment before fully putting together what she said. Then explained we only used skim milk for lattes. She told me I must have accidentally made her a breve, then, with heavy creme, because it wasn\'t \"light and fluffy\". I thought about punching her in the face, dislocating her jaw, I could see the blood on her mouth like the man on the front page of the paper. Instead I asked if maybe she wanted a cappuccino instead, as that was mostly foam and would be much lighter.
She seemed less pissed-off and said she had meant to order that and laughed. I made her a decaf, vanilla cappuccino and wondered how someone who didn\'t drink caffeine could be so uptight. I thought about spitting in it or telling her maybe she was too stupid to order anything. But really it was a simple mistake.
When she finally left I looked up pictures of harlequin fetus\' on the computer. Their red eyes like glass against cracked lizard skin. They looked like paintings of midievil demons with red and gold leaf. Deep insiscissions in diamond like shapes across their bodies, faces mangled in what could be pain. Did babies feel pain? Pain in the same way we felt it?
That\'s what Kelly\'s baby died from. Or complications from it. Harlequin ichthyosis, a severe skin condition with an incidence of about 1 in 300,000 births. It was genetic. Like a deformity. Almost all of them died within days. Their skin is thick and dry and deep cracks form in diamond shapes that look like scales.
I looked at the pictures and thought about one of those babies coming out of Kelly. It\'s skin red and green and it\'s eyes pure blood. Their skin is so thick it can hinder movement and they suffocate. Or get infections or become seriously dehydrated. And then die. Lives wasted.
The first week of sophomore year my homeroom teacher announced that Kelly had gone into labor that morning and so far everything was good. Her one real friend Donna had a strange look on her face that slowly turned into a smile. She brushed her hair back from her eyes and let out sort of a sigh. I realized she wasn\'t really happy for Kelly, but relieved for her.
I don\'t know when Kelly actually gave birth. We didn\'t hear anymore that day. But the baby died that night.
My mom had stood in the doorway of the bathroom as I brushed my teeth and told me it was skin disorder, the kind that had a very little rate of survival. I guess my homeroom teacher had called all of our parents to let them know that morning. So we would hear it from our family. So she wouldn\'t have to tell us and so Kelly parents wouldn\'t have to tell anyone besides her. \"Kelly\'s family has suffered enough, they shouldn\'t have to bare the news to everyone\"
I was secretly angry when my mother said that. Kelly had suffered enough at the hands of her family. I didn\'t know exactly how much she suffered, the true horror of what she went through. it was just this vague feeling, the stiffness in her, the way her eyes squinted and widened and she stared straight ahead, silent. The way she took as long as possible to walk home.
I wanted to say something but I really didn\'t know. I was just guessing. And really, all teenagers suffer at the hands of their families.The embarrassment and anger are conditioning for life. Kelly\'s was much tougher than mine because I never learned what she did. I never held it together the way she did.
I left work at 10:37 with $20 in tips for the entire day- an all time low. I took the bus to my coworker\'s house. She wanted us to drink to failure. She had just been dumped, I had a bad review, and another friend of ours had been fired. I invited Josh because he had gotten another rejection letter from grad school.
We sat on the back porch drinking wine. \"I think maybe your art is just too young for that critic to relate to. All the people 20-27 there seemed to love it!\" Josh handed me a cigarette.
\"You mean only hipsters get it,\" I looked at him for a second as he shook his head, laughing. I sometimes forgot how dark his eyes were and how pompous he could look when he was drunk, but also how sympathetic. I had a mixture of affection, admiration and frustration towards him. I loved him as a roommate, but was also in love with him in secret. Maybe not in love, maybe \"love\" isn\'t the right word. Just longed for him like I had never longed for anything. It made me afraid of him. In a way where I was afraid to be without him.
This suddenly was actually heartbreaking. He put his legs out in front of him and held his chin up with his right hand. I could never touch him. Never.
I thought of something else Kelly had said.
A girl in our homeroom, a really Christian girl named Kay, who wore a cross and had blond hair and bubble gum flavored chapstick, told Kelly she was sorry. It was before Ms. Allen had come in, early in the morning. We were all chatting and she came over to Kelly and said \"I just want you to know I am really sorry to hear about what happened.\"
And Kelly looked at her and said, \"She\'s better off dead, anyway.\"
Everyone kind of gasped. And Kay just walked away, shocked and maybe offended. Kelly and Donna continued a conversation which seemed very private. I stared at the wall thinking about harlequin babies never growing up. Thinking about Kelly\'s baby covered in blood, hers and its, the skin cracked and raw. Everything she must have been through, the ripping of the skin of her labia and cervix.
I didn\'t know this right then, but she was right. Her baby was better off dead. But not just because of the Harlequin ichthyosis. But because of its father.
I left the party early, 12:46, and very drunk. I just felt like I needed to take a long shower and sleep. I walked the mile and half home by myself.
The street lamps flickered, but I didn\'t see anyone but me. I got home and sat on the bathtub floor under the hot water thinking about Kelly. Thick skinned. The kind that builds up from a lifetime of enduring something horrible. The kind that makes you so you can say anything to anyone. And keep any secret from everyone.
I don\'t think she ever told anyone what he did to her. Just left the day after she graduated, moved far away from that town. I\'m not sure if anyone but Donna knew where she went.
Our senior year of high school, almost 2 years after the death of her baby, we drank together at Donna\'s house. I drank too much and she held my hair back as I threw up. I turned to her and said something like \"I wish I was like you\" or \"I\'m really jealous of you.\"
She looked back at me and said, \"I would rather be you.\"
someday could be today...