Friday, August 6, 2010

“Me, Myself, Still Un-cool” by M. Esther Sherman

M. Esther Sherman received an Honorable Mention in our 2010 competition

I’m a poetic soul and always have been, against my better judgment and the beatings of my classmates. My seventeen years of upper middle class life have caused me to be precisely as tough as paper mache and as daring as a monk on sedatives. I have no curfew because even my parents want me to get a life. I drive a 1996 Mustang Cobra, which is still cool because it’s 1997, but I’m afraid of ruining it so I put a cover over it every time I stop somewhere, which is apparently incredibly un-cool. I don’t play sports because they don’t let you carry a copy of Pride and Prejudice beneath your football jersey.

Yes, I am a man and yes, I love Jane Austen.

Most days, and nights, I sit around doing exactly what I am doing right now. I sit on the floor of my bedroom, perfectly decorated with original Star Wars posters, and debate the meaning of life with my witless best friend, Brian Aliander. Oh, and I believe remaking Star Wars will go down as being the only attempt at meaningful contribution for this generation, which since it was a photo copy of a masterpiece will also define us as the stupid little pot-smokers we really are.

It’s the last night before senior year and I am, rather obviously, a virgin…and a band geek who fiddles with the violin.

“Thoughts are fluid and stormy,” I begin with sincere emotion and depth. “They drift between the crevices of our minds as if to suggest there must be something more than this, but what if there isn’t? What if the thoughts we hold and the dreams we cling to are nothing more than the anxious fears of a hopeless heart? Maybe the brokenness, the agony, the hate this world produces in mass is all there really is. Maybe the blood, bruises, and scars we bear are the only truths we will ever find. Thoughts are worthless without the elements that have the potential to make them true. There is a distinct possibility there is nothing more than this.”

I stop and allow my profoundly brilliant realization to be absorbed into the air. Brian’s pudgy form looks back at me with utter amazement. I know I have reached him on a personal level. He swallows his last bite of pizza and chases it with a swig of soda. I sit, in complete anticipation of the affirmation sure to be thrown my way, as he draws in a deep breath before speaking.

“Dude, that’s f’d up,” he finally says, takes another gulp of soda and belches loudly. “You need to sort out your shit or stuff like that’s going to keep coming out of your mouth and you’re going to get the crap beat out of you.”

I shake my head in complete disbelief, which turns out to not be enough to keep him from continuing his unwanted response.

“Not to mention,” Brian continues. “You’re never going to get laid with a mouth that has more practice at quoting dead chicks than with making out with live ones.”

“But I…” I stammer in disbelief.

“I know,” he says after finishing off his drink and tossing the can to the side. “This is our tradition and it’s what we’ve always done. You sit there and say something brilliant and I sit here and applaud you for it. I just can’t do it anymore. I think I finally grew a pair and you should probably do the same.”

With that, and nothing else, my best friend of eleven years gets up, walks out, and disappears from my life.

“How f’d up is that?” I ask my stuffed bear, resting against the bed where he’s been listening to the entire thing. He too looks appalled, though I am uncertain whether Brian or I put that look there.

I know Brian is right. I have reached the point in my life where all my philosophical studies, my nights of lengthy reviews of the newest enlightened compilation of thoughts, and my tiresome habit of thinking before acting mean only one thing: I am un-cool.

The next two weeks prove to be nothing more than the endless cycle guilt accomplishes on every soul stupid enough to listen. One day, I am convinced everything is my fault and I must apologize to Brian. By the next day, I’m convinced I don’t deserve his friendship and he’s better off without me. I’m pretty much a woman like that. I go back and forth until I give up and wait for him to come to me, something I know full well a dimwit like Brian is never going to do because he doesn’t know what he had. The thought alone solidifies the fact I am totally a chick.

I step into Mr. Winter’s advanced calculus class and pull an oversized textbook from my bag before sitting down next to Margerie Swangster, the most beautiful girl on the face of the earth. I could spend days on end, without food or water, completely satisfied just staring at her perfect smile and bouncing blonde hair. If I were slightly cooler, not much but enough, I would comment on her gorgeous rack and hips that move with a mind of their own. I don’t possess the amount of cool necessary to think such things without blushing enough to send me into fever.

“Can I borrow a pencil for the quiz?” Margerie’s angelic voice slips into the air like vapor and vanishes in an instant.

I stare at her dumbly and wonder what a pencil is. I don’t blink.

“Danny?” her voice again.

Danny? That’s my name. Somewhere inside of me I know she is talking to me. The incredible, brilliantly beautiful, sensuously delicate Margerie is talking to me. I can’t breathe and my face begins to pulse red from thinking the word “sensuously”. Alex Bernstein, built like a bear, reaches across my desk to hand her one of my pencils.

“Thank you, Alex,” she hums softly, almost a purr. “You’re a life saver.”

Damn it. Damn it all to hell, me and my inability to function around anything in a skirt. Not that woman have to wear skirts, it’s not the fifties and I’m not that guy. Damn it. I must look angry. I must look angry enough to kill someone because when I regain composure, everyone is looking at me.


This time it is Mr. Winters’ voice punching me in the face.

“Yes, sir.”

I wanted it to sound calm but I know it didn’t.

“You all right, son?”

I burst into flames, metaphorically speaking. It is this moment, the one in which I realize I am no longer un-cool but am now officially a loser, when I start thinking about everything else in the world; beer, belly dancers, bratwurst, caramel apples, catapults, crash scenes. Even my rebellious thoughts appear in alphabetical order.

This was my entire high school experience. I could go on about my freshman year when I showed up to the prom in a bright blue suit because I thought, when this lovely senior girl leaned within inches of me and asked if I’d go with her, she was talking to me and not the senior football star sitting at the desk to my left.

I could tell you about my sophomore year when I thought I made the football team only to realize they thought I was a girl and they were being accommodating in order to not get sued by an irate father who wanted his daughter to play football with the boys.

I could tell you about my junior year when I set the curve on the senior English final and the entire class beat my ass after school. I could tell you a lot of things that have already been summarized by my one minute too long of staring at Margerie Swangster.

I now, two years later and none the wiser, attend a prestigious university, drive a slightly beaten up 1996 Mustang Cobra, and am still a Star Wars loving virgin who plays the violin. My psychology book is cracked open on my desk and my eyes are endlessly searching for answers I can’t find. Professor Grubik’s classes are notorious for answers you can’t find because no one is certain what the question is. I rub my eyes and hear the shower turn off. I hadn’t realized the shower was running.

It is only two a.m. and my roommate, Kevin, usually doesn’t venture in until the sun rises and another day begins. I think that’s actually his motto. He’s one of those guys who are popular enough to have their own motto.

I had stepped out for a minute or two earlier to ask a classmate a question but I hadn’t seen Kevin. It doesn’t matter. I shake my head and convince myself it doesn’t matter, even though what it means is that he is going to step into the main room, brag about his conquests, and remind me of exactly why he’s him and I’m me. Now, I really have no idea where to find the answers and I slam the book shut. The door to the bathroom slides open slowly, not in Kevin’s normally boisterous style, and I turn to comment on exactly that.

There, in my room, completely naked and dripping wet is Margerie Swangster. She’s immediately angry, in the quiet way a girl gets angry even when it’s her fault, and I can’t stop staring. Her body is more perfect than I ever imagined and I certainly did spend many days and nights imagining. She has marble skin, smooth as water and curving perfectly to cover her sensuous hips that still move as if they have a mind of their own. Her immediate anger moves into a smiling state of intrigue as she realizes how much pleasure I’m getting from this. I’m not subtle and I can’t stop staring.

She fixates on my eyes as I settle on her breasts, circling around her nipples until I unconsciously lick my lips with the feel of her skin against them. She stands still but I still feel every inch of her. I throb and I burn with a passion I am unable to satisfy. I take her with a strong but firm hand and she removes my shirt and begins to unbutton my pants. I lay her down on Kevin’s bed and begin to move over her, my tongue pleasing her flesh. She moans and I feel the satisfaction as she grows louder and I dig deeper within her. My fingers are inside of her and my lips taste every inch of her hips as she squirms in ecstasy beneath my strength.

She laughs.

I’m still staring.

Damn it.

“You have a towel, Danny?”

Her voice is precisely as delicious as I remember but I have changed enough to move when she asks. I toss her a towel hanging over my bed and she wraps it around herself. It doesn’t remove the images. I can shake my head a thousand times but it won’t remove the images.

“Thanks,” she says.

I have changed in the last two years. I realize I have changed enough to do something. She pulls one of Kevin’s shirts over her head and as her head reappears, I am there. I touch her hips gently and the towel falls. I’m against her, my hands touching her bare flesh and I kiss her.

The kiss is timid at first, then lingering as an act of rebellion. I allow my lips to part more deeply and she presses herself against me. I don’t know why she’s kissing me back. Maybe she’s curious or maybe she is the sort who gives to charity in more ways than soup kitchens and fundraisers. Her lips are sweet and her skin is warm, the feeling will never leave me. The door opens, of course, and Kevin appears in a sudden movement of panic and disbelief.

“Margie,” he half yells.

She pulls away from me with a giggle and I know she’s smooth enough to live through this.

“Hi, sweetie,” she wraps the towel around her waist, leaving her breasts bouncing beneath his shirt to distract him, and moves toward him, kissing his cheek. “You were late so I thought I’d have a bit of fun with your roommate.”

Her smile melts him, toward her anyway. He turns to me and I make a mistake. Every once in a while, my obscenely high I.Q. gets me into trees I can’t climb out of.

“I thought she needed a little passion in her life,” I smile sharply, like a man who can fly until he’s thrown out a window. “You know, someone who knows what they’re doing.”

Turns out, that was the last thing I would say for over a month since he broke my jaw and I spent twelve hours in a coma. Twelve hours in a coma for kissing Margerie Swangster. Well worth it if you ask me.

That is the basic summary of my college experience. I graduated top of my class, teacher’s favorite, and still a virgin, though I did see a girl naked, rarely picked up a violin, and only put up two Star Wars posters in four years.

Two years after the perfect kiss, I stand in front of the entire university in my long black gown, waiting to give a speech of some limited significance. I have it all written out, all the things I know I should say. Things like “the world is ours” and “these lessons will carry you through the rest of your life”. I know exactly what should come out but when I stand up to the podium, the words disappear. I stand up, in front of everyone and say absolutely nothing. I say nothing because this is exactly what I want to say…

“I am incredibly un-cool and always have been but I know what happens next,” I want to say. “In three years, I will have been working for one of the highest rated companies in the world when I decide to quit in favor of starting my own Internet Company and making several million dollars a month doing almost no actual work whatsoever. I will be on my way to a conference in San Francisco, teaching young kids how to be as amazing as me, when I run into Margerie Swangster who decides it is high time we catch up. I’ll take her back to my penthouse suite, lay her down in all the ways a man does a woman, and realize she was never really that good.

“I will get to wake up the next morning and move on with my life without the fantasy no one can live up to and let her return to her passionless life with some hack she married for money while I realize it was Kevin I always had a thing for,” at this point, if I was speaking, I could watch Kevin squirm. “Turns out his violent overreaction in college was nothing more than a mask to hide his secret love for all things Jane Austen and his dark fetish for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the homosexual movie theatre on Fifth and Elm. I’ll look him up in the Pink Pages and take him out to a nice meal and an Elvis wedding. We will buy a house by the bay, adopt one of the Jolie-Pitt children as soon as the divorce is finalized, and settle into a comfortable routine consisting of Star Wars novels and violin lessons. I’ll be happy and I will still be un-cool because about twenty years from now, I’m going to realize un-cool is the new cool and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

I stare out at the audience staring back at me and my eyes fall heaviest on Kevin, sitting sternly in the third row from the back. We lock eyes for a moment and I realize it doesn’t matter what I say. I regain my composure and say exactly what I should say, all the clichés that rest on the page in front of me. The crowd applauds politely and I take my seat behind the podium, staring at Kevin’s firm features, content with the fact I already know how it ends.

M. Esther Sherman is the product of Newberg, Oregon, currently resides in SoCal, has the gift of sarcasm, a need to write, is the mother of the most amazing kid on the planet, and still can’t believe Jake was dumb enough to choose Vienna over Tenley (who’s also from Newberg, fyi). She graduated top of her class with a degree in sociology in ’06 and uses her knowledge of human behavior and social norms to craft characters with internal and external controversy with a splash of political animosity. Esther loves to write novels, screenplays, short stories, poetry, and the occasional thank you note and would love nothing more than to have a long happy career in fiction. Some have already said she is, “sure to be one of the most dynamic and masterfully original authors of our time. The witty complexities of her humor and the manner in which she brings her characters to life are nothing short of genius.” Of course, so far, the only people to say those things have also been fictional.