Serial Scribblings – Zara Zane

LEELAH

I open the Zara Zane app. As I hear the familiar theme music, my head feels cool and quiet.   Zara Zane is famous, but no one is quite sure why.  She’s glamorous, that’s for certain, fashion designers all over the world clamoring to outfit her, clear ivory skin straight from a skin care commercial, sharp angular cheekbones, sea green eyes and wavy, white blond hair arranged in a new avant garde style every time she was photographed.  Which was a lot.  Zara Zane was just another hard-partying no-name socialite until she got caught hooking up with her then-boyfriend on a security camera after they’d taken the liberty of entering an A-list movie star’s home uninvited, a bag of his and his girlfriend’s pilfered jewelry and clothing at their feet.  The movie star was overseas promoting his latest film at the time.

The girl who had everything, breaking into people’s homes and stealing their belongings for fun.  The story had been sensational at the time.    Every entertainment show, every gossip blogger, and even some legitimate news organizations, wanted to know who this girl was. She was a socialite with a sex tape and a rap sheet. The trifecta. She was inundated with interview requests, and after she’d served her very short five-day sentence for breaking and entering, she had a reality show deal waiting on her.  And the rest was history.  The show, Zany Zara Zane, which focused on herself and a revolving door of family members, best friends and lackeys, was a runaway hit, she had a bevy of endorsement deals, clothing lines, perfume, the works.  But why precisely was she famous?  What was her allure? It was something Sunny and I had spent many hours trying to figure out.  We complained about how dumb the show was, yet we watched.  And now we were obsessed with the Zany Zara Zane video game.  A game where you could live the fabulous life of Zara Zane, taking the same pathway to fame Zara had, minus the felonies.  Getting photographed, dating the right people, making the right friends, going to the right parties, wearing the right clothes, they all earned you points that got you to the next level of fame.

I watch the screen as cartoon Zara had lunch at a Hollywood hotspot with her mom, Zelda.  Zelda was a fixture on the show, kind of a sad spectacle, with her late-night partying, too-tight outfits and frozen plastic surgery face.  You could almost smell her desperation through the television.  A pop up box appeared on the screen.  I had the option to stage a fight with Zelda in the restaurant and get photographed by the paparazzi, thus upping my chances of making the tabloids and blogs and therefore my level of fame, or invite Zelda along to my next meeting with a designer who’s offered to make my gown for a movie premiere.  I choose to invite Zelda.  Cartoon Zara rolls her eyes.  I guess mom’s coming along with me to meet Ricardo.  Hope she doesn’t embarrass me!  Zara tries on two dresses, one sparkly, eye-catching, a little poufy, with a deep neckline, the other dark, sexy and skintight.  I pick the sparkly one, as Ricardo and Zelda applaud.  My points skyrocket and I move up a level.

Almost famous!  What I’ve always wanted!  Zara exclaims, bouncing up and down on the pedestal.  I play for a few more hours, Zara attends a movie premiere, meets a new up and coming actor, dumps her current boyfriend, and gets offered a guest spot on a new friend’s reality show.

I hear my dad come home with my grandmother and great-aunt. Sunny gives me a hug and I kind of limply fall against her, my arms at my sides.  Then she leaves. My grandmother stands outside my door.  Telling me I should be ashamed of myself for missing my own mother’s funeral.  I should have gone and paid my respects.  To whom?  I wonder, as my chest contracts, my legs dissolving into the sheets as I begin to gasp for air.  I hate her.  I hate her for still being here when my mother is not.  My dad comes upstairs, asks her to leave me alone.  She gives a short grunt, but turns away, I listen to her angry footsteps echoing down the hallway. Then I fall back asleep.

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Serial Scribblings – Third Grade

Serial Scribblings – Third Grade

NIC

In third grade, I finally got a teacher with a brain who recognized that I wasn’t just acting out.  That I was different.  Ms. Leitch, my savior.  I’d burst into tears one morning on the playground.  There were workmen all over the place, adding a new wing onto the school.  The other kids were running around the field, shouting and laughing, at me I assumed.  So much yelling and hammering and chaos.  It all kept getting louder and louder until all the sounds melded into one, clashing into my head like a thousand cymbals.  I knelt in the wet grass, sobbing, putting my head against the earth, digging into the dirt, rocking back and forth on my heels.  My nails tore and bled.  It wasn’t until she put her hand on my shoulder that I realized I was screaming.  

“Nicolette,” Ms. Leitch whispered in a tone so tender and soft I thought I would melt as she wrapped me in her arms.  She smelled like oranges.  “Just breathe, honey.”  She breathed in deeply, slowly releasing the air from her mouth like a low whistle.  I imitated her as best I could, until the shaking stopped and my body almost relaxed.  I looked up at her as she let me go, swiveling my body on the grass so I could face her.  She was one of the younger teachers at the school.  Tiny, freckle-faced with short blond hair cut in a pixie style and small brown eyes, wearing an baggy oatmeal-colored cardigan over a blue t-shirt and jeans, she almost looked like a child herself.

“How often does that happen?”  Her eyes squinted as she looked at me.  I shrugged, not sure if I could trust her.  She put her hand on my shoulder.  

“Every day,” I said softly.

She had me meet with the school counselor, who sent me to a psychiatrist, who sent me to another psychiatrist, my mother grumbling about lost wages the entire way, where I was finally diagnosed with anxiety and bipolar disorder.  Mom was furious with the doctor when he told her.

“That doesn’t run in our family!”  She stood nose to nose with the frightened psychiatrist, the crease in her forehead deeper than ever.  She swung her enormous purse as she gestured, narrowly missing crashing it into his leg.  “She just needs discipline.  A firm hand, that’s what she needs.  She likes attention, not this…this…whatever it is…she’s not crazy.  No one in my family is crazy!”

“Nicolette isn’t crazy,” the nervous doctor backed away, wiping the round bald spot on top of his head.  He rounded his desk and took a seat behind it, pushing his glasses back up his nose.   

“Nic, go sit outside!” My mother commanded.  I slowly rose from the hard leather chair in the corner of the office.  I thought she’d forgotten I was there.

I didn’t know what those words meant, bipolar, anxiety.   I wanted to understand.  But I dutifully left the room as my mother watched, I heard her sharp voice as I shut the door behind me and I involuntarily jumped.  That tone is usually accompanied by the sharp crack of a belt.  

The jumpiness in my stomach began to subside as I entered the luxe waiting room.  There were plush white couches, the aroma of lavender in the air, classical music playing through the speakers.  I sank into one of the sofas and put my head in my hands.  She’s not crazy.  Maybe I was.  It was what the kids at school already called me, in addition to weirdo, psycho, possessed, freak, disgusting…I felt the heat rising to my head and started to breathe in and out slowly, like Ms. Leitch taught me.  My face cooled, and I leaned back into the couch continuing to breathe.  My heart rate slowed.  It was this room.  Everything, from the soft blue hue on the walls, to the music, to the luxurious seating, was calming.   I closed my eyes and drifted away.

When my mother burst through the door, her face like stone, I’m not sure how long I’d been asleep,.  I felt the energy of the entire room shift.  She grabbed me from the couch and pulled me into the hallway where she knelt in front of me, gripping both of my arms so hard it hurt.

“You listen to me,” she said in a rough whisper, her face so close to mine I could feel the heat of her anger.  “You aren’t crazy.  Do you hear me?”  She gave my body a gentle shake.  I nodded, because what else could I do?  “The women in our family are strong.  Powerful.  My mother, my grandmother, my sister.  We had the world on our shoulders, raised children, held down two and three jobs, all on our own.  We don’t need anyone or anything but ourselves.”

I dug my long nails into my palms.  My head cooled again.  I nodded once more.

“So this nonsense,” she held up the two prescriptions the doctor gave her.  “Is going in the trash.  You don’t need it.”  She tore them in half and violently threw them in a nearby wastebasket, before dragging me by the arm to the car.  She muttered to herself on the way home about white people and pills and doctors.  I laid down on the backseat and looked down at my arms.  There were bright red fingertips up and down the milky brown skin of my arms where my mother had grabbed me.  I opened my hands and stared at the bloody scratches from my nails.  I tried to remember the melody that was playing in the lobby when I first fell asleep, but it was lost.

Serial Scribblings Part 2- Dear Dad

Serial Scribblings Part 2- Dear Dad

LEELAH

One year ago…

Dear Dad,

I’m not going to mom’s memorial.  I don’t see the point.  She won’t be there.  She’s the only one I want to talk to.  No one knew her but me.  I hope that doesn’t hurt your feelings.  I know you love her.  Loved her.  

Writing those last two words take the wind out of me.  My head fills with water.  My legs disappear.  My heart throws itself against my chest as though it wants to be free of me.

Bracing myself against the wall, I fold the short note in half and put it on the table next to the master bedroom door.  My dad was behind that door, quietly preparing to bury his wife, thinking I was doing the same.  I picture him looking at himself in the mirror, stoically pulling on a black suit jacket, the few wrinkles on his bronze face deepening as the weight of the day settled on his shoulders.  

If I were a normal girl, I would feel a wave of compassion, then guilt for expecting my father to face this day alone.  But I’ve never been normal.  With or without a mother.  Instead, I sink to the floor and drag myself to bed, sliding along the carpet like a snake.  My legs are still useless.  My bony arms quiver as I pull myself up.  I collapse on the bed, breathless, wearing the pink floral pajama bottoms and old concert t-shirt that had been my mother’s.  I’d worn them all week.

All I can do now is miss her.  Or try to forget.

The worst part was right after I remembered again, the fresh pain red and sharp.  I couldn’t sit at Nic’s memorial as pieces of me were hacked away and everyone just watched, the rubberneckers who were just there because of the mysterious tragedy that had been my mother’s life and death.  

I hate them all.

I hear the master bedroom door open and I pull the bed covers over my head, anticipating my father’s stern knock at the door.  I think maybe if I close my eyes and stay perfectly still, I can convince him that I’m in some sort of fugue, catatonic state.  It’s almost true.   I hear his footsteps pause right next to my bedroom door, imagine the furrow of his eyebrows as he pauses to read.  Then I hear the footsteps again, getting farther and farther away as they head down the the hallway, then the stairs, then out the front door.  Headed to my grandmother’s to gather with the rest of the family, a long day of pointless rituals ahead.

I turn my body to face the wall. I stare at a tiny speck of dirt on the cream-colored paint until I fall asleep.

Serial Scribblings Part 1 – It All Started with a Boy

Serial Scribblings Part 1 – It All Started with a Boy

Introducing my new regular feature: the first edition of  Serial Scribblings!  I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know my characters, Leelah, Nic, Chaley, and Idabel, through future editions.  

moon-behind-the-trees-1511583-1279x960

It all started with a boy.  Leelah marveled at the stupidity of her predicament as she stumbled over the tangled roots of a massive oak tree, it’s expansive branches heavy with leaves.   Probably so beautiful in the sunshine, it appeared sinister against the moonlit sky, slowly swaying in the dank breeze.

I followed a boy here, she repeated in her head as her stomach dropped, her face warming with new embarrassment.  A boy with whom she’d only spoken two full sentences in the six years she’d known him.   A boy who wouldn’t even speak to her if his friends were present.  A boy with whom she likely had nothing in common, who had no redeeming qualities, besides his unsurpassed, undeniable, golden-boy beauty, which had captivated her since the first day of sixth grade.  The very day when she noticed for the first time that boys weren’t quite so disgusting, coincidentally.   Now she would have to forget him.  What kind of story was that to tell her daughter one day?

A slave to her epic imagination, she’d pictured a first kiss under the stars, a sweet early summer wind rustling their clothes as they embraced, cold electricity darting through her stomach and up her spine, a shooting star racing above their heads as they finally parted.  She was mortified to realize she was like one of those women in those mindless romantic comedies they showed on basic cable over and over again.   She was a dumb hopeless romantic.  That changed tonight.  From this point forward she was declaring herself a modern romantic.  Hoping for the best, but expecting…well, to get lost in the woods.

Her first act as a newly minted modern romantic was to extinguish any hope that her perfect first kiss would ever happen.  Even if she managed to find the object of her obsession, she was eaten alive by bugs, pouring sweat, and her clothes were dirty and torn. He would recoil in disgust if he saw her. And anyway, shouldn’t her first kiss be with someone that she, you know, actually knew?  Not someone that she just stole glances at in hallways and on bus rides?  Someone who wanted to kiss her in public, in front of the entire school, not in secret?  A first kiss was forever.

She noticed a  dark figure darting through the trees, parallel with her.  It’s only a deer, she told herself, not at all convinced.  A distant splash from the nearby river made her jump, but it was a good sign.  If she could hear the river a trail must be close by. Something dark that appeared to have wings weaved between tall blades of grass beside her.  A bird flew overhead, momentarily filling the eerily quiet forest with its almost-human sounding call.  She should have been more afraid, but her anger propelled her forward, deeper into the dense forest, in search of the trail they’d somehow lost.  She was angry at the girl she’d left behind, injured, disoriented, and in horrible pain, all of which she deserved.  She’d taken everything from her.

But even as those thoughts made circles in her brain, she knew she had to go back.  The only part of her that was purely her mother told her to go back.  Slowly, as though her feet were stuck in a syrupy goo, she turned to retrace her steps.  Incredibly, she was going to find the one girl she never thought would need her help.

Toy Story

Open University

Start Writing Fiction
2 Setting

2.1 Setting as antagonist

Activity 14

Write a scene in which two characters are quarreling about the setting. One wants to stay and the other wants to leave. A setting could be:

  • a rowdy bar
  • Disney World
  • deserted beach
  • zoo
  • second-hand bookshop
  • school classroom
  • expensive hotel
  • alien spaceship

The two not-so-little girls entered the old-fashioned toy shop with their mothers close behind.  It was supposed to be a ‘girls’ day,’ as planned by their moms.  A stop at the toy store, then lunch, then a movie.   They did it once every two months or so.

“This place is for babies,” Sunny whispered under her breath so their mothers wouldn’t hear.

“Really?” Leelah asked, stopping in front of the display of dolls.  It was a tradition.  Sunny and Leelah always picked a doll to add to their collections at home.  They’d been doing it during every trip to the toy store since they were three.

“Yeah,” Sunny insisted, halfheartedly glancing at the fashion doll perched on the edge of the shelf.  “I mean we’re going into fourth grade after the summer.  We’re almost in middle school!”

“I guess…”  Leelah let her voice trail off, her hand resting on the package of the doll she wanted.  She had bronze skin and big brown eyes, big bouncy curls piled up on top of her head, wearing a white lace dress.  It was the one she’d seen in the window of the store many times as they’d driven by over the past few weeks.  She’d been looking forward to finally being able to call it her own.  But Sunny was changing, like so many of the girls she’d grown up with.

“Let’s just tell our moms we don’t want anything, and we can just go next door and eat.  I’m starving.”  Sunny rubbed her flat belly for dramatic effect.

“I don’t know…I don’t want to hurt my mom’s feelings.”  Leelah looked back at their mothers, who were standing near the front counters having a hushed conversation.

“She’ll be fine.  They’ll both be glad they don’t have to buy us anything.”  Sunny considered the matter settled and strode to the front of the store, telling her mom she didn’t find anything she wanted.

“Are you sure?”  Her mother asked, eyebrows knitted.

Sunny nodded.  “Yep, we can go.”   Sunny looked back at Leelah still standing in front of the doll display and motioned for her to follow as she and her mother walked out the door.

Leelah’s mother walked over to her daughter.  “How about you?  Is there something you like?”  She gave her a knowing look, then turned to Sunny and her mom who were still standing at the front door.  “We’ll catch up with you guys next door!”  She said with a wave.

Sunny rolled her eyes and sighed as she and her mother walked outside.  Leelah handed her mother the box containing the doll she loved.  “Just one more.”

Her mother smiled down at her.  “Just one more.”

Setting as antagonist

Open University course – Start Writing Fiction

2.1 Setting as antagonist

Write a scene in which a character is unhappy in his or her surroundings. For example, he or she might be:

  • shy
  • frightened
  • disgusted
  • trapped
  • homesick

Show the feelings through the descriptions of the place, rather than by naming the feelings.

First day back.  The worn floor squeaks under my feet.  Freshly waxed.  I can still smell the antiseptic solution the janitor always uses while we’re out on break.  The smell of the chemicals mixing with aroma of the stale, re-heated breakfast wafting from the cafeteria for the free lunch program kids creates a sickly, nausea-inducing scent.   Students push by me.  I’m walking too slowly, I know. I hear feminine laughter ringing out, floating down the hall, dancing above my head.  There are whispers as my so-called peers pass by.  Psycho, one boy spits angrily as he shoulder-checks me, knocking everything from my hands.  I stoop down to gather my things, as a high heeled, perfectly pedicured foot kicks one of my books away.  Just slit your wrists already.  

I ignore her, get my stuff and stand up, realizing I’m right outside the room where it happened.  I step inside.  It’s totally empty at the moment.  The wall of windows across the room lets so much sunlight in it’s blinding.   The windows must be freshly scrubbed too.  I rush over to the windows and draw all of the shades.   It’s eerily quiet as I stand there in the almost darkness.  Without the light, I thought it would be different, better, somehow.  Students continue to their destinations in the hall, not noticing me now.  I crouch to the floor in the corner of the room, touching one of the tiles.  It’s been scrubbed clean too of course, of any sign of her, of what happened here.  It’s just cold.  I stand, not knowing what to do with myself.

I feel a dry hand on my shoulder and nearly jump out of my skin.  “Are you supposed to be in here, young lady?”

I turn and the young teacher almost jumps too when she sees my face.  She knows that I’m that girl.  I say nothing to her.  I owe her no explanation.  I duck around her and leave the room, taking the emergency exit into the breezeway between the buildings of the school, lean my head against an ancient brick column and welcome the fresh air.  I don’t know if I’ll ever go back inside.

Coin Flip

Open University Assignment – Start Writing Fiction

1.4 Portraying a Character-Activity 9

Make a character desire something, and make the desire his or her driving force. Write a scene or a summary that creates reasons why s/he can never have what s/he wants. (‘Three hours between planes’ is a good example of this.)

pitch-black-skies

It’s now or never, I think to myself as the train comes to a stop.  We’re at the airport, the end of the line.  All around me, sleepy passengers gather their suitcases and bags and depart the double doors.  Slowly, I rise from my seat, sling my light backpack over my shoulder and get off the train, stepping into the cavernous lobby of the Hartsfield Airport.  There’s so much going on around me.  People standing in line, waiting to get checked in on flights that I imagine will take them to exotic places.  Children crying, couples exchanging goodbye kisses, a man yelling at a ticket agent, the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen wearing dark sunglasses indoors, dragging a wheeled designer bag behind her, striding confidently toward the escalators.  I think she must be a model.  All of the life surrounding me excites me.  It’s one of my good days.  I feel happier than I have in a long time.  I try and forget about the other side of the coin.

I pull out the ticket that I bought with the savings I’ve stashed away from my part-time job for the past year.  New York City. It’s been my dream to live there since I was a little girl.   To me, it was a fairyland I’d created in my head spun from stories I’d read and scenes from movies and television shows. Kisses in the rain, sun-dappled walks through Central Park under trees bursting with color, Broadway shows, proposals atop the Empire State Building. I’d already rented an apartment through the mail.  Two months paid in full.  I finger the warm metal of the key in my pocket and felt an electric thrill rip through me.  After the two months were up, I’d get a job, figure out what I wanted to do from there.  The important thing was, I’d be making the decisions.

My whole life since I was 10 years old has been on a routine set by someone else.  School then home.  Or school, doctors’ appointments, then home.  Now it was school, doctors’ appointments, work, then home.  I worked as a caregiver for an old lady.  I read to her, gave her lunch and dinner,  basically kept her company until her night nurse got there.  She’s the only one that knows that I’m leaving.  She told me she spent a summer in New York between her sophomore and junior years of college and it was the best three months of her life.  I told her two weeks before I was leaving so she could find someone else.  She promised not to tell my parents.  I was an adult after all.  I have the right to leave if I want to.  Once I land, I’ll call and tell them I’m okay.  Right now, as far as they know, I’m at school until 1:30, then at Mrs. Jackson’s until 7.  I am off the grid.  Freedom feels so delicious.  I do an excited twirl in the middle of the lobby, ignoring the strange looks I get.

I march up to the security agent and show my airline ticket and driver’s license, bouncing on my heels with an energy that my body can’t contain.  She looks a little like my mom.  Bronze skin, small brown eyes, hair dyed light brown and brushed back into a sensible bun.  Uniform immaculate and neatly pressed.  A woman that no one really notices until she makes a scene.

She eyes me and my ticket suspiciously.  I probably don’t look like a girl who would buy a one-way ticket to New York City.  I look like a typical subservient, respectful little black girl, which I have been, up until today.  I’m wearing a pastel pink sweater set that complimented my clear, milky brown skin, white jeans and sandals, my jet black hair was neatly straightened and swung down my back.  The only makeup I wore was clear lip gloss.  The security agent looks as though she wants to say something, to stop me, but I was 18 after all.  There is nothing she, or anyone, could do.  Reluctantly, she waves me through.

As I go through security, it starts.  My brain gets hot, my face starts to sweat despite the frigid temperatures.  I get confused with all the orders being barked at me.  Take this off, put this here, no not this line, that one, that’s not allowed, it’s not your turn yet.  As I slip my shoes back on and put my backpack on my shoulder again, I blink back tears.  I think about the medicine bottle I’d left behind, sitting on the dresser in my bedroom.  I’d reasoned that I’d get a new prescription once I’d gotten settled in the city.  I just wanted a few days to feel like me.  I want to feel the leap in my heart when I see the lights of Times Square for the first time, or the beauty of Central Park, or the grand Plaza Hotel rising above the treetops like a castle.  I want to close my eyes as I sat on the balcony of my apartment and feel the energy and hustle of the city.  The pills would only muddle all of that.  My mom watched me every morning as I took each pill religiously, but today I’d pretended.  I held it under my tongue, swallowed the glass of water, and spit it on the floor once she’d left the room.

I’m still determined.  I ignore the weakness in my legs, the heaviness in my chest.  I continue down the escalator, then to my terminal.  I feel it, rising in my throat.  The coin flipping.  I sit down at my gate, I curl my knees to my chest and wrap my arms around them.  I put my face into my legs and start to cry.  I try to be as quiet as I can, but I can hear myself getting louder and louder as though I have no control over it.  My voice seems to fill the terminal.  I know people must be pointing, watching, laughing.  But there’s nothing I can do.  I feel the ticket and driver’s license still clutched in my hand slowly slip away.  People are asking me questions, I think.  My head is underwater and on fire.  I don’t know my name or why I’m here, or where I’m from or if someone’s with me.  I can’t answer them.  Don’t they understand?  All I can do is sit here and cry and scream and wait for this feeling to go away.   Muddled voices “safety concern…unstable…cannot board…in no condition…”  In what feels like a few minutes, but what must have been hours, I hear my mother’s voice.

“Oh Nic, what have you done?” I look up and see the shame in her eyes, the crowd of people behind her, staring.  She hands me my pill and a plastic cup filled with water and I take it without question.  She holds out her hand and I take that too.  It feels cold and rough around mine as we start to walk out of the terminal, all eyes on us.