High school senior Ashley St. Helens
has suddenly found herself living a fairy tale life....
Which is not as much fun as it sounds.
Until... the other shoe drops.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bitch is a Verb

“Girlfriend, NO. Get INTO it! You’ve got a right to your feelings.” I leaned my head against the fogged-up window, focusing on the cold spot on my forehead, and struggled with this idea. No one had ever said that to me before. Inside, my well-folded stacks of emotions were suddenly feeling like piles of dirty laundry.

“Ashley, give it a try. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Take two minutes, by the clock. Just get it out, don’t keep it inside! Go ahead and bitch your heart out.”

I laughed out loud. “Harry! I’m not that kind of girl!” Harry laughed, too.

“You know what I mean.”

“I just hate that word. It’s so demeaning towards women. Even little kids use it these days. Even guys use it with each other. It makes me uncomfortable.” There was a pause on the other end of the line.

“Ashley, darling, you’re thinking of it as a noun. I’m thinking of it as a verb. Bitch is a verb. To bitch is to complain. That’s all.”

“No one likes a complainer. I should know. I live with three of them.” I gasped as soon as I realized I’d let my first little bit of bitching out.

Harry, of course, was delighted. “There you go!” I laughed at myself.

“I know it’s hard for you,” he said.

“It is.”

“Your mother taught you not to speak ill of anyone.”

“She did.”

“Your mother, god rest her soul, was a bit of a doormat.” I gasped: stunned, hurt. How could he say that?

“She was! She was the sweetest thing in the world, but your dad was the boss of her!” I had to stop and think about this. I was getting a little irritated with Harry. There was a rushing sound in my ears.

“Harry, I thought you were her friend.”

“I was the only one she could vent to!” Now I understood. “So try it, darling. Nothing bad will happen.”

Still thinking about mom, I doubted Harry on this one. I could imagine a lot of bad things happening. Should someone pick up the phone, I would never hear the end of it. Still, I knew I had a lot in common with mom. And if my mother trusted Harry…

“Two minutes, that’s all it takes.”

I took a deep breath and did my best. I always try to do my best.

“I always try to do my best. It’s not like I don’t want to help. I do, I really do. But sometimes it seems like nothing’s good enough for them.” Instead of more words, a sob came out next.

“Okay, honey,” said Harry. “Deep breath. Let it all out.” I focused on his voice and followed his directions. I started with the Spanx. Immediately I felt a little better, then started speaking randomly, intellectually, articulately, feeling more like myself.

“It’s like this: Sylvia’s expectations are pretty low—she doesn’t think I can do anything, even though I do a lot—but her standards are ridiculously high. Nothing less than perfect even comes close to being okay. She can always find some picayune detail that minimizes the hard work I’ve done. And The Girls either argue with her, blow her off, or take up her issues. Once Donna even told on me when I was using the wrong mop on the kitchen floor—like she’d ever picked one up, herself.”

“Huh!” Harry was indignant.

“And once—you won’t believe this—Debra even made me take care of her Nintendog, this adorable computer program that’s supposed to teach you responsibility. Of course, with real responsibilities, I couldn’t bother to pick it up every half hour, and the puppy with the big eyes starved to death, or destroyed some furniture, or left a pool of virtual pee, or whatever. She told Sylvia on me and of course Sylvia came down on me for having broken my commitment. What a hypocrite. She never does what she says she’s going to do, at least not if it’s something for me.”

Harry was a great listener. He just kept asking for more. I told him what slobs they were, how I was constantly picking up after them, how they were always losing things and asking me where they were. As I talked, the cold fear in my stomach turned to warmth, and the easier it was to say more. The words tumbled out now, dare I say it, with enthusiasm. I enumerated my chores in great detail and with time frames: laundry, cleaning, cooking. I gave half a dozen more examples of how incapable the three of them were of change, even with simple things like toilet-paper, lightbulbs, and kitty litter. I felt absolutely purified by the words rushing out of my mouth, and scrubbed my memories harder, emptying out every corner of frustration I could find. The half-eaten candy bars. The sticky floors. The gum wrappers “hidden” in couch cushions. The hair in every drain. The lost keys, lipsticks, stockings, jewelry, and homework. The effing (effing, I like that word; I think of it as a short version of “effectively emphasizing”…) styrofoam cups with lipstick stains. Effing everywhere. And on top of the work they made for me: the snide comments. (More on that later.)

“Lord,” Harry said, truly sympathetic, when he could find a break in my stream of words. “How do you keep going, Ashley?”

I took a deep breath and thought about that question; the answer came to me readily, since I cultivated a very careful focus on the future. I was just a year away from turning eighteen, and had sent in several college and university applications, though I kind of had my heart set on Castleton, where my parents went, and had met. “I have dreams,” I said, somewhat dramatically, “but I’m not just a dreamer; I’m determined.” I was. I stayed up late to finish every assignment and get extra credit, and if I’d been able to spend a little more time at school, I could probably have been Valedictorian. Harry asked if Sylvia noticed or cared, and I got a chance to snort again. “She bought a cake once when Debra managed to get an ‘A .’ Donna was so jealous. Oh, and by the way, it was an ‘A-minus.’”


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