The Girl Who Cried Over A Fish
The Popular B*tch (aka Summer Holland)
It feels like the devil himself is pissing on my heels. The backs of my feet are on absolute fire from my shoes digging into my skin and there’s absolutely nothing I can think of to do about it. The idea of taking the painful contraptions off my poor feet is heavily considered, but I quickly stamp the idea when I catch sight of the tiny, sharp rocks littering the sidewalk. A scream of frustration and pain threatens to tear from my throat and it takes all I have to suppress it. I settle for a string of curse words instead. It does nothing to alleviate my insufferable misery.
In a bout of irritation and pure exhaustion, I stuff my hands into the knots of hair on my head, like Jakob had done less than an hour ago, pulling the fistfuls down across my weary face, wanting desperately to somehow teleport into my house and snug into my bed, bringing this night to an official close. Another vibrant string of curse words finds its way out of my mouth, bouncing off the empty cars and swaying trees lining the vacant streets. The more I think of it, the more eery the sight becomes. The suburban streets where I live and grew up on are usually packed with rambunctious children, dads who looked like dads, and catty moms holding up their end of the carpool in gigantic minivans.
Now, the streets remind her of a ghost town. If I look too long, faces appear in the arrangements of dark leaves, giving me chills, on top of my shivering from the dropping temperature. I tug Jakob’s jacket tighter around myself, thinking of the beach and the sun and all things bright and happy.
I kick myself for having such stupid thoughts. For worrying about the stupid patterns of leaves in the trees and the chances of some stupid supernatural creature finding me as if something disastrous and humiliating didn’t happen less than 30 minutes ago. It’s probably the last thing I want to think about, but I know letting the emotions stew and grow would be more painful than ripping the bandaid off now and confronting my strong feelings about the situation.
In second grade, after there was a ‘brawl’ on the four square courts between all four fifth grade classes, the principal scheduled for a child psychologist to talk to me and the rest of my snotty little classmates once every week. Permission slips had to be signed and everything. During the first visit, for a while, the middle-aged white lady just droned on and on about the importance of being kind to others and not acting on their emotions so erratically (though most of us didn’t know what erratically even meant) and all the of the boys kept talking over her and raising their hands to ask dumb questions just to waste her time and I couldn’t stop looking at a stray strand of hair sticking out of dyed hair sticking out of her otherwise perfect bob.
Then the woman said, “I know how to make you all happier.” She had their attention. Then she said, “Reflect. Reflect. Reflect. Think about what you’ve done and what you could have done and why you did it. Then think about how you felt before you did it, how you felt why you did it, and how you feel now after you did it. It will clear your head and allow you to move on. It will make you happier like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.”
Then a boy named Alec threw a miniature paper airplane straight into her nearly perfect hairdo.
Ms. Barlow never came back. Another fight happened two months later, one that resulted in a broken femur and a black eye. I’m pretty sure nobody reflected. Except for me.
Reflections keep me sane. And there has never a moment more crucial than now for me to stay sane.
So here it is, Ms. Barlow: I wish I had never even laid eyes on Jakob’s dumb face. Or that Harper had never pushed me to pursue him. Or that I hadn’t been so drunk on liquor and confidence that I actually chose to pursue him. As a matter of fact, I even wish that I had never even gone to the stupid party in the first place. This could have all been prevented if I had just stayed home and done my homework. I could have been scholarly and comfortable, probably already asleep in her warm bed. But as a result of all my stupid mistakes, I’m just upset, cold, and angry.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
My series of stupid decisions has only brought me frustration and pain. If it weren’t for my stupid 17-year-old hormones and overconfidence, I wouldn’t be walking the two-and-a-half miles to my house. In the middle of the night. Alone. In slip-on shoes. Without socks. It’s absolute hell. But I make sure to count my blessings; one of them being that I’m not wearing 4-inch heels like Mary. Another being that I don’t have a walking STD of a brother like Mary does.
Just thinking of those disappointments of human beings gets my stomach churning. Mary wears flashy heels and a skin-tight dress to a casual house party, thinking it will catch a hot guy’s attention and get her laid. I saw right through her little facade. She might as well have been wearing a sign that says “I have major self-esteem issued with nothing to offer aside from a flashy wardrobe and willingness to do anything a guy asks of me!” Then there’s Jakob. He must have been castrated at a young age, considering doesn’t even have enough balls to stand up to his little sister. I wish a million terrible things on them. One of them being that they have to make the same trek I’m making right now someday.
Right as I’m imagining them walking 3 miles the freezing cold, I accidentally kick a ridge on the uneven sidewalk, smashing my toe into the front of my sweaty Vans. I feel like it’s some sort of punishment for my hateful mentality, but I push aside the thought of maybe getting rid of my mean thought process. More strings of colorful curses echo through the trees and against empty, parked cars.
Someone leans out of their window to scream, “Shut the fuck up, stupid bitch!” at me. I show them my two favorite fingers, but I don’t think they see the obscenity.
Deep down, it brings me joy knowing I disturbed someone enough for them to come outside and yell at me. Now I know someone shares my same misery at almost 1 in the morning.
My fatigue and slight tipsiness somehow heighten my senses to my frigid surroundings. Jakob’s forgotten jacket provides little comfort against the dropping temperature, though I can’t even imagine this walk without it. As I pull it tighter around my shivering shoulders, one sniff tells me the sweaty musk lining the fabric has gone from comforting to disgusting. I wrinkle my nose at the ripe scent and do my best to focus on the cold smell of the air. I don’t know how something could smell cold, but it does. My nose and lungs burn slightly from the coldness and the overwhelming smell of sweat, but I choose to focus on that pain and discomfort, as opposed to the raw pain shooting through my feet.
By the time I spot my house, framed by two dead palm trees at the end of the cul-de-sac, my feet are numb, my head spinning again. I resist the urge to cry out in joy, hoping this isn’t some type of mirage. I wouldn’t be surprised if the lingering influence of alcohol and increasing discomfort in my feet altered her perception of reality to the point of delusion. Can mirages even happen in the suburbs? In the middle of the night? It doesn’t matter. I made it to my house in one, struggling piece. I could almost feel the comfort and warmth emanating from within the thick walls, as if I was already inside, as well as the blisters that I already feel forming on my poor heels.
In a few days, Chloe will be delighted to examine and prod at the little things, much to my pain and discomfort. Will I complain and exaggerate my pain? Yes. Will I stop her from doing it? No.
I lumber through the final hundred feet, which seem get to longer and longer the more steps I take, eventually collapsing at the front door. Chloe must have been waiting for me. The young girl opens the door almost as soon as my tired body hits the floor. Her crown of fair blonde hair is outlined angelically by the bright light of the foyer. She looks like an angel. A sad, yet very angry angel. If it weren’t for her the blazing expression occupying her otherwise cute face, I would be under the impression that I’d died and gone to Heaven.
Her big blue eyes seem even bigger and bluer, accentuated by red rims and puffiness. Snot runs down her face, into her slightly agape mouth. Her pink tongue pokes out and wipes the snot. I don’t point it out, more concerned with the reason she’s even in this state. I struggle to lift my head up from the ground, feeling like it weighs two tons, but manage to look my little sister in her bloodshot eyes. “What’s wrong, baby?”
She doesn’t answer, only poking her tongue out again to clean up another stream of snot that has made its way down her face. I can practically feel Chloe’s annoyance with me as she turns around sharply and walks back into the house, though I don't know what for. And I don’t think I’ll find out anytime soon. My body screams at me, resisting my efforts to pull myself up and jog after her through the kitchen and into the hallway.
“Chloe! I can’t help if you don’t tell me what’s wrong. Come on, I’m sorry for whatever I did,” I yell after her, struggling to catch my shallow breath. My heavy breaths seem louder when I enter the confined space of the bathroom the two girls share. I freeze in the doorway. Chloe is sitting on the ground next to the toilet, praying. She looks impossibly small, all curled up and crouching like that. I want to make a joke about her not even being religious, but I know better than to act on that instinct. My voice softens as I realize the reason Chloe is annoyed with me is the least of my worries. “Talk to me, Chlo. I’m here for you.”
She sighs deeply, either inhaling the scent of watermelon air freshener that I had just opened that morning or preparing to answer the question. Or both.
Then it all comes spilling out.“Mom told me to clean the fishbowl but she didn’t want me to use any of our bowls or cups to put him in as I cleaned the bowl because she was afraid of contaminating our stuff. Our sinks don’t have plugs for the drain so I didn’t know what to do. It’s all my fault and I can’t bring him back!”
She throws her head onto her arms folded across the seat of a toilet and starts to sob. I don’t have time to dwell on the fact that I took a massive shit that morning and Chloe’s head is uncomfortably close to where her ass had been. No, I can’t think of that right now.
For a second, I stand frozen, my mind taking a moment to process everything, a bit slower than usual given my night. Then I do what I know will calm Chloe down quickly and gently.
I kneel onto the ground beside her and place my probably ice-cold hands on either side of her head, applying slight pressure, employing the technique I’ve used to stop Chloe’s crying ever she was 4 and I was 10 and I drop kicked a yoga ball right at Chloe’s adorable, vulnerable little face. After I’d laughed for almost 10 minutes straight, I was faced with the task of calming down a sobbing Chloe.
Though I don’t know exactly how it works, it has never failed to calm her down during her worst moments ever since that fateful day with the deflated yoga ball. I could be giving her brain cancer, for all I know, though I feel like that’s not how brain cancer works. I failed Biology in freshman year.
Point is: it works.
The technique proves its imminent success as Chloe’s sobs soften to quiet sniffles and she relaxes into my embrace. Our dachshund, Scooter, comes running up to us, somehow sensing our need for his comfort, wasting no time covering us in kisses of love. And slobber. I ignore the globs of snot being smeared onto my shirt and rub her back, prodding her to sit up and collect herself. Scooter tires of us and runs out of the room, off to eat or bark at nothing.
Chloe’s back slowly straightens and she pulls her head up, slowly, as if her head weighs a hundred pounds. Her hair falls around her heart-shaped face in tangles, as if she had wrung it around her hands several times since whatever incident with her fish that had spurred her into this near inconsolable state.
I look closely at her blood-shot eyes, noticing tiny clumps of black goo collecting at the corners of her eyes. I’ve told her several times not go through makeup without asking, Obviously, she has failed, yet again, to listen to me. It’s a cheap waterproof brand that I get from Walgreens; waterproof enough to not run but cheap enough to not stay on well and to flake off in annoying clumps. I make a mental note to chide her about it tomorrow, but knowing her, she’ll find some loophole in the rule. She’ll do something like use the makeup I leave out on my desk and, when I confront her about it, claim that she “didn’t go through the makeup! It was just laying out. I just picked it up”. Or she’ll get mad and find a worse way to piss me off, like dropping her toenail clippings into my nail polish or something.
As if she knows I’m examining the evidence of her crime, she shoots her hands up, wiping the inner corners of her eyes
A few more moments pass before she speaks again. “I could only think of one place to put Cheryll while I washed her bowl. So I put her in the toilet and washed the bowl really well. Then I guess I forgot her in the toilet. I think mom peed in it then flushed it or something because when I came back, she was gone. Cheryll is dead!” Her sobs pick back up, heavier than ever. Her head crashes into my lap, much to my discomfort, and we repeat the calming process again.
She flushed her fish down the toilet. I almost roll my eyes at the ridiculousness of the incident, relieved that it wasn’t more serious. My heart also stings for Chloe, knowing how attached she was to Cheryl.
I eventually get her to calm down. She guilts me into drawing a realistic portrait of her fish for us to symbolically flush down the toilet. At the last moment, Chloe drops a strand of her hair into the bowl and we watch the piece of paper swirl and strand of hair swirl around the toilet bowl, along with the dead spider that has absolutely no part in the ritual but ultimately suffered a similar fate to Cheryll. Chloe takes a few minutes to find the Lord’s Prayer (apparently there’s a difference between the way Catholic Christians and Orthodox Christians say it. Who knew?) and we recite it in the dark with a single Bath & Body Works candle lit between us. It’s Sweet Pea scented, which Chloe claims is Cheryll’s favorite. I didn’t know fish could smell and I’m still not convinced.
The whole creeps me out a bit, reminding me of some type of ritual featured at the beginning of a low-budget horror film, but I go along with it for the sake of closure. I pray that our house doesn’t get haunted by Cheryll, pissed about getting, well, pissed on.
Afterward, I make sure Chloe is emotionally stable and put her to bed. She hasn’t let me tuck her in ages, so the death of Cheryll must have really done a number on her. I couldn’t say why, though. She’d only had Cheryll for two weeks after winning her at the fair.
In the few seconds it takes me to walk from our bathroom to my room, I remember the whole fiasco that took place earlier that night. It had almost slipped my mind during Cheryll’s eery funeral.
In hindsight, the whole thing is almost funny.
Mary grasping onto the one thing she believed she had over me and using it against me is something I will never forget. I will forever hold dear the memory of that irrelevant girl thinking she could get away with insulting me without me doing anything back. Thinking she had done something noble by voicing her opinion, which no one asked for, to intentionally hurt and humiliate me. The fact is: she doesn’t even know me and that’s because people like me don’t associate with people like her. Her actions toward me earlier are a clear reason as to why that is. Girls like her just don’t know how to act around girls like me and always find opportunities to tear me down.
Maybe if girls like her put a bit more effort into actually being prettier and more likable, they wouldn’t have to spend as much time trashing me for being everything they’re not.
I don’t even want to put energy toward thinking about Jakob. That piece of shit in knockoff Sperrys isn’t worth my time or thoughts.
I strip off my clothes and put on a comfortable pair of granny panties, a welcome change from the Victoria’s Secret thong that I’ve been sporting since 6 am. I take a well-needed piss and wash off the makeup from my face. I take extra time to pat down and examine my face, which is breaking out. My period app says I’m supposed to get my period in two days and my face has to show for it. It takes everything I have to resist the urge to pop every single one of the pimples. I settle for putting small dots of toothpaste over each one, hoping the little DIY lifehack is legit.
The silence from Chloe going to bed early is killing me. We usually catch up on our shows before we go to bed, which is usually at the same time. Two episodes of The Challenge and The Real Housewives of Orange County have built up in our recordings, but Chloe would be pissed if I watched them without her. I settle on music instead to occupy my wandering mind and keep me from dwelling on the Vogels.
I sync my phone to my Bluetooth speaker and shuffle a “Wind Down” playlist. I’m in the mood for some soothing.
The planner on my desk reminds me of all the assignments I should be doing, but I don’t feel any motivation to actually do. Harper and I have a group project due tomorrow and I trust she’ll get it done before we present in 4th period tomorrow--if I even make it to 4th period without being sent home for strangling the Vogel siblings out of pure hatred and frustration. More specifically, strangling Mary.
The music starts to put me to sleep, but I fight against it. The clock reads 2:01 am and my eyes sting from my contacts being in for so long. I decide I don’t want terrible under eyes bags along with my pre-menstrual acne, so I make the conscious choice to give in and go to bed.
After putting a bit of dry shampoo in my gross hair, brushing my teeth, and taking Scooter out one last time, since I know my mother hasn’t and won’t, I snuggle under the covers and take out my old Macbook. I watch some of my favorite medical documentaries and doze off. The last thing I remember is the video about two sisters with a condition that makes their skin grow too fast. I dream of accidentally flushing Jakob and Mary down the toilet, as Cheryll the fish screams at me.
The Lunatic Neighbor (Lucy Karhan)
I am lying awake at 2:00 am and I am mad. Scratch that: I am fuming.
Today, I watched my home fall apart. I was forced to witness my parents’ seemingly perfect marriage of 23 years practically disintegrate, all in a matter of fifteen minutes. Well, I saw 15 minutes of it. When in reality, the end was one and a half years in the making.
Two beautiful children, who still live under our roof, are gonna have to live in two houses for the rest of their childhoods, packing overnight bags and explaining to their friends that they can’t have a sleepover that weekend because it’s still up in the air whether or not they’ll be at mom or dad’s house.
One and a half years. That’s how long my dad has been banging the head my 23-year-old brother’s ex-girlfriend. Fucking gross, I know. 22-year-old Jacqueline Rossi has been sucking my dad’s 49-year-old dick for almost two years. The thought makes me want to throw up and sob uncontrollably at the same time. I’ve done both today. Multiple times. At the same time.
My poor mother was clueless. We were all clueless, my brother, mom, and I all left in the dark, going on with our lives like my shitbag of a father wasn’t shagging some dumb bitch more than half his age. I’ve been going over every memory of the last two years, replaying it in my head with the knowledge that my dad was getting his dick wet in a girl I could have gone to school with. A girl that once braided my hair and taught me how to wear makeup without my parents’ noticing. I guess she was a pro at doing things without people noticing. Fucking sneaky ass bitch.
What kills me is that my dad would have let our family live in toxic ignorance for the rest of our lives, had my mom not received that email.
That email asking if we would like to renew our annual membership. The email clarified that the membership would have automatically been renewed if we had used it at least 5 times in the year.
The membership had not been used once. All last year.
So my mom, being the strong, confrontational woman she is, asked him about it. What have you been doing for upwards of two hours every other evening? What’s her name? I was sitting on the couch, typing up an essay about ethics when I heard my mom’s priced Korean lamps smash against our stainless steel fridge. My dad had gifted them to my mom some years ago for their anniversary. Even I, an eighteen-year-old girl, could see how beautifully intricate and valuable they were, and now they’re in thousands of shattered pieces at the bottom of our trash bin.
I was crying before I even knew what was going on. It was like I just knew that nothing would ever be the same again, right as I saw a fragment of one of the lamps skid to a halt under my feet.
He said he wants my mom, not her. That they could work it out and everything would be fine and this would all be behind us and the Karhans would go on with our quiet suburban life. He played every trick in the book, but my mom isn’t a fucking dumbass, so she saw right through it. Neither of them even noticed me watching until I threw up our dinner of homemade lasagne (extra cheese, per my request) all over our creme colored rug. Both heads snapped toward their youngest child before I was even done emptying my stomach.
I could see the pain in my mom’s eyes. The desperation in my dad’s. The strain in my mom’s gaze as she contemplated comforting her obviously distressed daughter or attempting to mend her already broken marriage. It broke my heart seeing my strong, independent mother so small. So distraught. So hurt.
So I made the decision for her. I ran up to my room. They shouted after me, calling me back down. But what would they have given me? Comfort? Reassurance? Things that they just couldn’t offer. I needed to be alone. I couldn’t stand to see the two people I loved and admired the most turn into defensive, primal beings. No kid should ever have to see their parents like that.
Soon the shouts turned back on each other, filled with hateful blows and tearful recollections. It ended with the slam of the door and a forceful turning of the lock. Followed by the sound of a body collapsing on wood floors and heavy sobs.
I shoved my AirPods in my ears and listened to a “Wind Down” playlist on Spotify, volume turned way up. The sobs were drowned out, replaced my soothing tunes and the heaves of my own tears. I curled in on myself like a child and tried to think of nothing. Tried to be nothing. My family was nothing
I feel like that was when our family was officially broken. Not when my mom had her hysterectomy and suddenly lost all her sex drive. Not when my dad first entered another woman with his wedding ring still on. Not when he slammed close the front door of our house that my parents had built 2 years into their marriage from the ground up, which he called their “love nest” even after my brother and I were able to comprehend what a “love nest” was. Not when my first tear hit the pillow, that wasn’t really a pillow but two rags sewn together and stuffed by my parents for me when I was four, and forever marked it as tainted. hardwood floors.
No it was when my mom was alone and cold downstairs, soaking her nightgown with traces of betrayal, my dad was driving to Jacqueline Rossi’s studio apartment downtown to seek the comfort he felt his own wife wasn’t providing, and I was curled in on myself in the middle of my queen-sized bed, wondering if I would be staying with my mom on the weekends or weekdays and if my crush would notice my puffy eyes the next day in the first period.
I was questioning my entire life, my entire childhood, in the bed that my dad build by hand two years ago because a bed frame without legs wasn’t available at a reasonable price in stores and my dad understood that I was still afraid of monsters under my bed, even at 16
Then I heard an obscene string of curse words coming from the street. My phone has just died and I was lying in silence, earbuds falling out of my ears. Hearing the loud yells of curse words annoyed me enough to pull me out of my depressive state and out of my bed. I peeked out of my crushed velvet curtains and saw the source of the obscenities.
It was a girl. A rather exposed girl. She had long, dirty blond hair with a few knots tangled in her flowing waves. She was beautiful. She was slutty. Her boobs were perky and just the right size, but practically spilling out of her yellow tank top. Her butt was rounded and accentuated by her jean shorts, shorts that I would never be allowed to leave the house in, not that I would even want to. I could only see half of her face but, from what I could tell, it was proportional and symmetrical, but caked in makeup.
She disgusted me.
She looked exactly like Jacqueline Rossi. A young, spruce, and beautiful sorority girl with no concerns as to how she is affecting the lives of others. This girl is a slutty homewrecker. She’s ruined my life. And my night.
These kinds of girls are just wandering around our suburb, practically half naked and flaunting their bodies. I’ll be damned if I let a girl like that walk around the quiet neighborhood that I grew up in, ruining everything in their wake, stealing husbands, and ruining families. I’ll be damned if a girl like that walks through life, careless and entitled, not caring about the effects of their actions nor the people whose lives they ruin. Not caring about the families they break apart and the mothers they tear to pieces and the daughters they reduce to nothing more than a child.
So I did something about it. I did something about it because I could. Because I couldn’t do anything about my parents' imminent divorce. Because I couldn’t drive 15 minutes to Jacqueline’s house and tell her off, not because I couldn’t drive, but because I wouldn’t be able to stand sitting in the apartment that my dad ragged Jaqueline day after day. Yelling at that girl was the only thing I could do. So I did it.
Shut the fuck up, you stupid bitch.
Now I’m lying in bed, back in my fetal position, feeling a bit better, but still with a gaping hole in my center. I hate that girl, whoever she is. I hate girls like her. I hate girls who are sexually confused and looking to ruin other women’s lives along with her’s. I hate her. Hate.
Tomorrow, when I’m forced to pick up the pieces of my mom, I’ll remember that girl. I’ll remember that girl, that breed of girls, that did this to my mom. That did this to me. That does this to everyone. Girls like that don’t deserve anything.