To Care

An eighteen year old boy walks into the kitchen, bleary eyed and tired. He’s wearing pajamas, and his hair is messed up. He walks over to the kitchen counter, and gets out a piece of bread, and pus it in the toaster. While the bread is toasting, he sits at the table and sleeps, head on hands. When the toaster dings, he gets up and uses his bare hands to pick up the hot toast, burning his hands. He drops the toast on the floor, blowing on his raw hands.

JACK: Damn it!

He kneels down on the floor, and begins to scoop up the toast. Suddenly, the phone rings. He gets up and turns on the speaker phone, using his elbow.

JACK: Hello?

BRIDGET: Hey. It’s me. I’m coming over so we can take the train together. Be ready in 10.

JACK: Bridget! I told you I was going to that art show today. My painting got chosen for that award thing that I applied for like a year ago. I’ve been talking about it for the past month.

BRIDGET: Oh! Right! Um… yeah. So. Good luck. Bye.

JACK: Yeah.

He hangs up the phone, then walks back over to the eggs and keeps scooping them up and into the trash can.

JACK: Do you ever feel like you should be passive… not passionate? That’s it better to act indifferent? Because lately I’ve been thinking that way. It’s not that I don’t care- I just feel, like, it’s better not to lead yourself up to disappointment. But I can’t help it. So much is important to me. I mean, about this art show.

He sits down, ignoring the rest of the eggs on the ground.

JACK: I paint. That’s what I do. I don’t do homework, I don’t really read all that often, I don’t talk to my parents, I occasionally forget to wear oven mitts and burn my hands, or go on a flimsy date with Bridget, but that doesn’t really count. Me and her don’t even really talk all that much. It’s like we’re married and old, instead of eighteen year olds. And I go to school, which I’m skipping today to go to the art show. But that doesn’t really count either. I mean, am I really going to have to know algebra when I grow up and get a job? (beat) Exactly. I paint. And I used to suck. I still loved doing it- but it’s more rewarding when people like what you do. I became obsessed. And now I’ve won an award. An award that says I’m one of the best young painters in the country. I gave up on my parents caring a long time ago, but Bridget… she’s supposed to be different. But now all she cares about is being popular, and whether or not she’s wearing the right clothes and makeup. Is there anyone out there that actually cares about something worth while?

Lights go down on Stage Left. Lights go up on Stage Right. It shows another kitchen, this one warmly lit. There is an eighteen year old girl dressed in a black t-shirt and skinny jeans with bare feet and tangled hair on Stage Right of the half of the stage. She looks very tired, and very nondescript and plain. She’s holding a phone, which she then slowly hangs up and puts down. She walks over to a large wooden table, which is set center stage of her half of the stage. The table is covered with food, a tall pile of paper, and the usual household clutter. The entire set on this half of the stage is very messy. There are 2 younger kids sitting around the table, while a mother is standing at the front, with 3 paper bags in front of her. As she says a child’s name, she slides a paper bag towards one of the kids.

MOM: Come get your lunches! Bridget- bagel.

She slides a bag to the 15 year old girl, who is now resting her on the table. She lifts her head groggily when the bag hits her on the arm.

MOM: Liam- PB&J.

She slides a bag to an 8 year old boy, who’s pulling on Lucy’s hair and bothering her.

MOM: Lucy- roast beef sandwich.

She slides a bag to an 8 year old girl, sitting down and reading a book.

LIAM: But I wanted a roast beef sandwich! No fair! Lucy always gets the good sandwiches!

He reaches over and grabs Lucy’s bag. Mom sits down, and starts frantically grading more of the papers. She looks tired and stressed.

LUCY: That’s cuz I’m older, idiot.

She steals back her bag.

LIAM: Only by a minute, dumbie!

He sticks his tongue out at Lucy, who turns away from him and goes back to her book.

MOM: Stop it! I need to go to work soon, and I don’t want you two arguing before I do.

BRIDGET: I should go.

She gets up to leave. Her mom suddenly looks up from the papers and looks worriedly at Bridget.

MOM: No! You have to have a proper meal with the rest of your family. Breakfast is the…

BRIDGET: Most important meal of the day. Yeah, I know.

She rolls her eyes and sits back down.

MOM: Good! Now, everyone sit down.

She starts to eat the plate of eggs in front of her. Bridget helps Liam cut his eggs, then looks up. Suddenly, all the characters except for Bridget freeze, and she faces the audience, and crosses her legs on the chair.

BRIDGET: I don’t really have to go. No one’s at school yet- it’s too early anyway. But I don’t like eating meals with my family. That sounds terrible. I know. But my mom is always so stressed. Why is she so stressed? She doesn’t have to worry about things the way I do… But she doesn’t get it. Nobody gets it. The people I hang out with at school never ask me how I’m doing. They’re too busy talking about who likes who, who should like who, what’s labeled “lame” and what’s labeled “chill”. I think they still stick with me just because they feel like they have to. We’ve known each other since we were five, and now we’re two months away from graduating high school. Our lives have been shaped around each other, whether for the good or the bad. They want to ditch me, but it’s just not that easy. But Jack… Jack is different. Or, at least, he was.

Lights go up on Stage Left, but the lights stay up on Stage Right. The other characters, besides Jack and Bridget, are still frozen. Jack is sitting at his glass table, eating a Snickers bar.

JACK: I remember when I asked Bridget out. We were 13, and she was the prettiest girl in the grade. She still is. I mean, I’m alright. But I think she went out with me because she wanted to get to know my best friend Max better. Everyone loves Max. I mean… he’s great. He really is. But he’s not boyfriend material. He’s a good guy to know at a party, but he’s also kind of a jerk.

BRIDGET: I remember when he asked me out. His best friend, Max, has always been more popular, more outgoing. I think he still thinks that I said yes to him because I thought that would help me get to know Max better. But that wasn’t it.

JACK: Anyway, we were at his birthday party and we were playing Spin the Bottle, our favorite game.

BRIDGET: I mean, we were only 13. Back when people thought it was important to have a girlfriend or boyfriend. And I don’t mean to sound really old when I say this, (drops voice to an incredulous whisper) but we were YOUNG. But he was just so awkwardly wonderful. Or wonderfully awkward. Whatever. Even back then I tried so hard, and I felt like he was the only one that got that how I acted wasn’t who I really was.

JACK: All of a sudden, the bottle landed right between me and this kid Ryan. And Bridget, without even thinking, said-

BRIDGET: Jack.

JACK: Nobody had ever chosen me before, besides the day Max walked over to me in the 2nd grade and asked me if I wanted to help try to build a fire from twigs he had found on the ground. But when Bridget chose me-

BRIDGET: When I chose him, and he smiled with that lopsided grin of his-

BRIDGET AND JACK: I guess I fell in love a little bit. Not with (Bridget says him, Jack says her) particularly, just the idea of someone choosing me.

JACK: She was pretty and nice, but that wasn’t why I liked her. A couple of days later, I just stood there and blurted it all out. It was the first time I had liked a girl without talking to my friends about it for weeks, thinking about whether or not she liked me back. It was nice not having to do that. But God, I was nervous. I probably looked like an idiot. But she said yes. That was all that mattered.

BRIDGET: He was so calm when he did it! I was standing there dying from my awkwardness, and he was just there, asking me. Not turned off at all. I said yes.

JACK: (in amazement) She said yes.

Lights go down on Stage Left. Lights go up on Stage Right. Bridget gets a brush out of her bag and brushes her hair, not eating the slimy eggs on her plate.

BRIDGET: I know I’m only eighteen. I know none of this matters in the grand scheme of things. We’re all going to die anyway. And once that’s through the sun is going to get too close to the earth and it’ll get burnt to a crisp. Or we’ll become like the dinosaurs. Whatever. The fact is, even Einstein won’t really have changed anything in the end. And I do not even come close to comparing to Albert freaking Einstein. Whenever I say stuff like this people call me a pessimist. I hate when people call me a pessimist. But even though I know all of this, everything seems to be happening now. It’s too much for me to handle. Jesus Christ! Will it ever stop?

Lights go up Stage Left, lights stay up on Stage Right. Jack throws his Snickers wrapper on the completely bare table, and takes out a piece of paper and a pencil from the counter. He goes back over to the table and starts to sketch.

JACK: And our first date. God, that was fun. All we did was go to the park. No big deal. But it was probably the first time since I was 5 when I was able to completely be myself, and no one judged me.

BRIDGET: Our first date? Perfect. It was perfect.

JACK:She had these cute little tendrils falling from her ponytail, and the fluorescent lighting bouncing off from the snow shined on her face. That moment made me want to paint- to be able to capture moments like those. When we biked home, she rode on my handlebars, laughing the whole way as I swerved from side to side.

BRIDGET: I rode on his handlebars, with my skirt flying up and my hair blowing into his face. The wind cooled me off, and made my teeth ache with the sensation when I smiled.

JACK: She kept saying-

BRIDGET: Pedal faster! And he did.

JACK: At camp we had to say the time in our lives when we were the happiest.

BRIDGET: That night was one of those times where you feel absolutely infinite.

JACK: I chose that night.

BRIDGET: That night was one of those times where you think no one else has ever experienced those feelings ever before. That you’re the first one to discover what true happiness is.

Jack balls up the piece of paper, and throws it on the floor. He starts again on a new sketch. Lights go down on Stage Left, and lights go up on Stage Right.

BRIDGET: I remember the first time my mom decided to go out with a guy from work- the first time she had gone on a date since she and Dad got divorced. She’s not allowed to date anyone! I mean… she’s my MOM. I didn’t want another thing for my mom to be distracted by. I stole the guy’s number from her purse, and called him and told her that she was sick- too sick to call him herself. Way too sick to go on their date. I almost felt bad when I saw her getting dressed up for the first time in years. I almost felt bad when she finally said after an hour of waiting that ‘I guess he forgot’. But I didn’t feel that bad. That was the one thing I did that would bring attention to myself. I deserved that one little thing.

The other characters unfreeze. She starts to braid her hair. Liam pokes Lucy on the side of her head, and finally Lucy gets fed up and slams her book down on the table, and whips her head around to face Liam.

LUCY: Mom! Tell Liam to stop poking me!

LIAM: I’m not doing anything!

Liam shrugs his shoulders. Mom turns back to her plate, and Liam pokes her again.

LUCY: Stop it! Yes you are!

Mom sighs.

MOM: I have to go get my briefcase. Bridget- can you keep these two from killing each other?

BRIDGET: Fine.

Mom exits Stage Right. Bridget faces audience. Lucy and Liam freeze.

BRIDGET: I love my siblings. I love them so, so much. But I’m also so jealous of them. Lucy is beautiful. And genuine. And Liam, even though he acts like a jerk sometimes, he’s a sweetheart. They’re both going to spend their lives being so happy. What does that say about me?

Bridget faces her siblings. Lucy hits Liam in the side of the head. Liam starts crying. Bridget stands up and goes between Liam and Lucy.

BRIDGET: Lucy! Don’t hit Liam!

LUCY: Don’t tell me what to do, Bridget!

BRIDGET: But I’m your older sister…

Bridget reaches out to touch Lucy’s hair.

LUCY: Don’t touch me!

Lucy picks up her book and continues to read it. Lights go up Stage Left. Lights stay up on Stage Right. Jack is opening the refrigerator. He gets a carton of orange juice, chugs some straight from the carton, then puts it back in the fridge. He walks back to the table, and starts a new sketch. He then faces the audience. Bridget is sitting at the table and forcing herself to eat some of the slimy eggs.

JACK: Sometimes we would fight. Sometimes we would go for a couple of days not talking because of something I had said- or something she had implied. But it was never a big deal. We were in love. We were stupid, weird, misfit kids- but we were in love. We didn’t care that our parents and friends didn’t believe us- told us that we could never feel something that strong at such a young age. All we cared about was each other. Our first real argument was when she stopped eating for a week. She was- is, just so beautiful. And back then she was funny and lively and fresh and wonderful, and seeing her slowly starve herself… She became thin and frail and grotesque. It was all her friends could talk about- it was if they were proud of her.

BRIDGET: I only did it because my friends are all so skinny. I mean, their legs gleam in the sun, slender and long and perfect. I thought that only happened in those airbrushed ads! When I quickly started getting thinner, they noticed. They noticed me.

JACK: But I… I just couldn’t handle it. I have so much STUFF to deal with, and seeing the girl I loved- although I had never told anyone that, just added one more thing to the list. She chose me- so I chose her. Her. As she is. Not the ultra-thin, transparent her. So I did what I had to do. I told the guidance counselor.

BRIDGET: He told the guidance counselor. And it made me wake up. The ONE person that I cared about didn’t want me doing this. So I stopped.

JACK: Bridget ignored me for 2 weeks, then she went up to me as I was going home and asked-

BRIDGET: So… when are you gonna let me ride on your handlebars again?

JACK: I started laughing, but not in a mean way. It was kinda in this way that was like “of course, why didn’t you ask sooner?”.

BRIDGET AND JACK: I/she started laughing too- in that way that I/she always did- loud and ugly and sharp/loud and shiny and perfect.

JACK:And we bought milkshakes. I remember that. She laughed so much that day. I remember that too. It was so simple. So easy. I thought maybe it would be possible for the stress to go away. I actually thought that it would stop.

BRIDGET: I came home that day… fresh. And my mom was in her room, doing work. She didn’t even look up when I walked by. And then Sammy stubbed his toe. She ran to his side, only to realize that he wasn’t even bleeding.

Lights go down on Stage Left. Lights stay up on Stage Right. Bridget gets a belt from her bag and puts it on.

BRIDGET: I kind of hate her. Is that terrible? It is, isn’t it? I mean, I don’t hate HER exactly. She hasn’t, like, abused me or anything. But… I hate how we can’t talk to each other. Moms are supposed to be that one person you can go to. She had me inside of her body for 9 months, the least she can do is care whether I fuck up my life or not.

Bridget takes two mismatched socks off of the floor, and starts to put them on her feet.

BRIDGET: And my friends- no matter how messed up they are, have good moms. Moms that don’t yell at them when they wear too-short skirts. Moms that make them laugh- that bake them cakes on their birthday, instead of buying one from the store down the street. Moms that ask what’s wrong when they come home crying, instead of silently continuing to load the dishwasher. Moms that don’t press further when it’s not something my friends want to tell. Moms that care. They care. I know my mom cares. I mean, of course she does! Right?

Lights stay up on Stage Right, and lights go up on Stage Left. Jack is now sorrounded by crumpled pieces of paper, which are covering the table and the ground around his chair.

JACK: Back then it was so easy. I mean, it was scary at first. I mean, I got worried when Max and his girlfriend were never nervous around each other. But then I calmed down when I realized that they never talked. I mean they did, but not like me and Bridge. Me and her… we were different. We would talk about everything-

BRIDGET: Music, books, movies, family, friends.

BRIDGET AND JACK: But then it changed.

JACK: It got to a point where I forgot what her laugh sounded like.She hung out with me and some of my friends after school one day, and I realized that it wasn’t just me she was pushing away. It wasn’t! I swear! And I tried to trace back… to the first time she did it. The first time that she backed away when I was giving it my all.

Lights go down on Stage Left, and lights go up on Stage Right. Bridget gets up and walks over to Stage Left of her half of the stage, and picks up two nice high heeled boots off of the ground. She sits cross-legged on the floor and puts them on, while beginning to speak.

BRIDGET: I tried to look back and find the first time when me and Mom pushed each other away.

JACK: I don’t know exactly when it started. I mean, how can you know something like that?

BRIDGET: I mean, it’s not just her. I’ll admit that much. But it was her first. It was! I swear! And I’m the kid- I’m the teenager. I should be the one to initiate something like that! But it was her.

JACK: One time that sticks out to me is when we went to this concert. It was really late- I mean we got home at like 3 in the morning or something the next day.

BRIDGET: I think the first time it happened was when I was 13, in 8th grade. Some skeevy guy on the train touched my butt. And I didn’t even do anything. God… how could I not do anything? I was so stupid… But I was too embarrassed.

JACK: Bridget had to convince her mom for days to let her go to that concert. My parents didn’t care. But I mean, she has an awesome family- a family that cares.

BRIDGET: I got home and I wanted to tell her. I wanted to sit down and cry and have her tell me it was okay that I was too afraid to do anything. But when I got home she yelled at me for being so late, and said that dinner was already on the table. And I couldn’t do it. She stopped me.

Bridget gets up and walks over to the chair she was sitting in by the kitchen table. She carries it over to Stage Left of her half of the stage. She sits down, facing the audience.

BRIDGET: I cleared my dishes and did my homework, and just didn’t really say anything to her for a couple of days. It wasn’t like I was ignoring her. I was just trying to ignore the fact that I was too weak to tell her. I thought it would go away, that void between us, but instead it just kept growing. First it was the guy on the train. Then it was the time she let me go to a late concert with Jack, but then kept bringing it up when she wanted leverage over me, so she could make me do something. And it kept coming. It was like that for a week, then a month. And now it’s been three years and I don’t know how to get back to where we once were. And now I wish that I had just blurted it ok. Because then it wouldn’t be like this. It wouldn’t!

As he talks, Jack crosses, carrying a chair from the table to Stage Right of his half of the stage. He puts it backwards, putting the back of it facing the audience. His and Bridget’s chairs are now side by side- their arms almost touching. He then sits down, facing the audience.

JACK: Anyway, we were at this concert. And on the train ride back home, near the end, I looked over at her and said, “How did you convince your mom to let you go?” And she said-

BRIDGET: I promised her I would babysit Lucy and Liam over the weekend so she could go to her friend’s beach house.

Jack puts his arm on the other side of the stage, and hold Bridget’s hand.

JACK: You know, I could come on Saturday and babysit with you. It’ll be fun!

Bridget turns her face away from him, but he’s still holding her hand.

BRIDGET: It’s okay. I’d rather you not be around my crazy family.

She gives out a forced laugh. Jack tries to scoot closer, willing her to look at him.

JACK: No. Really. I don’t mind. I mean, on Sunday I have that painting class, but I’m totally free on Saturday.

BRIDGET: No!

She pushes his arm off of her.

BRIDGET: I told you! I don’t want you to be around my family!

JACK: What’s your problem? I’ve already met your family. What? Are you so embarassed by me that you don’t even want your 8 year old siblings to be around your lame boyfriend?

Bridget’s voice softens, and she looks kindly at Jack.

BRIDGET: Jack, I never said that. I… I just… it’s complicated.

JACK: You’ve been saying everything is complicated recently! I’m just coming over for one day! We’ve been together for almost 2 years! What’s your problem today?

BRIDGET: You don’t get my family. Trust me. You don’t want to be around them. They’ll smother you.

JACK: You know who I don’t get? You.

BRIDGET: Don’t-

JACK: Never mind.

After a few minutes of silence, lights go down on Stage Left, and lights stay up on Stage Right.

BRIDGET: I just didn’t want him to be in that part of my life. I hate that part of my life. I hate that there are so many responsibilities, so many jobs, so many personas I have to put on that aren’t the real me. I love that he doesn’t have to see me like that.

Bridget takes her chair and puts it back where it was before. As she sits back down, lights go down on Stage Right, and lights go up on Stage Left. Jack is putting his chair back, and then he goes to the shelf and gets out another Snickers bar. He goes back over to the kitchen table, pushes all the paper off of it and onto the floor, and then he sits on the table, cross legged.

JACK: I miss it. How it used to be. I mean, I think about her all the time. I used to think about the next time we’d see each other, and her smile. But now I think about flaws. Our flaws. Isn’t that word “our” supposed to be good? Isn’t it supposed to be all homey and warm? Because it’s not. This is a load we have to carry together. We’re both to blame. I miss when I would think about every little stupid thing that I did, then feel reassured because I knew that she wouldn’t care. But now I think about all of the stupid big things that I’ve done- every flaw that’s created our collective mistake.

Lights go down on Stage Left, and lights go up on Stage Right. Bridget is taking out a tube of lipstick, mascara, and eyeliner from her bag. She is still sitting at the dining room table. She starts to put on the mascara.

BRIDGET: I miss him. I miss us. How I used to change out of my tight skirts and into sweatpants and a ponytail when I went to meet him. And then he would look at me like I was the most beautiful girl in the world. I miss when we had study sessions at his house, turning the radio up as loud as it could go. I miss him coming over to my house whenever he was pissed off at his parents, and spending hours with my siblings.

Bridget puts away the mascara, and begins to put on the eyeliner.

BRIDGET: I miss asking him about his art. I feel like it’s too personal- if I can’t even talk to him about school how am I supposed to ask him about the one thing that he enjoys doing? It’s not that I don’t want to know… It’s that I’m worried he won’t want to tell me.

Lights go down on Stage Right, and lights go up on Stage Left.

JACK: I want to stay together. Because after all of the phone calls, talking until 3 in the morning, after all of the parties where all I could look at was her, after all of the complaints about the rest of the world- us against them- after all of that… how could I not? I want it to be like it was. I want to be able to make that first jump.

Lights go down on Stage Left, and lights go up on Stage Right.

BRIDGET: I miss him walking from the other end of the hallway at school just to hug me. I miss walking home together even though it takes only 10 minutes on the train, and 40 minutes to walk. We would walk just so that we could be together. I miss how we would always want to be together. And I want us to be happy. I remember how it was so carefree and fun. One time we were both surrounded by textbooks, stressed out and tired. And he just called me and we went to a terrible action movie at 3 in the morning. It was amazing. But I don’t even care if we do stuff like that every time. I don’t mind if we just sit around playing video games, or doing homework. What made that night so special was that I was with him.

Lights go down on Stage Right, and lights go up on Stage Left.

JACK: You know how I said that all Bridget cares about is being popular, fitting in? Well, I think she actually might also care about me.

Lights go up Stage Right, and lights stay up on Stage Left.

BRIDGET: I think he might actually still care about me.

At the same time, Jack picks up all of the papers off of the ground and throws them in the trash, leaving the set as clean as it had been at the beginning. Bridget puts on lipgloss, using a mirror. Bridget’s mom is busy cleaning up something Liam has spilled. Bridget walks over to Stage Right of her half of the stage. At the same time, Jack walks over to Stage Left of his half of the stage and looks out on his empty kitchen. He speaks in a sad and regretful tone.

JACK: Bye.

Jack stays for a second, then leaves. Bridget looks over at her mother, who’s still focusing on her siblings, then leaves. Lights go down on both Stage Right and Stage Left. The set pieces are taken away from both sides of the stage. An easel is put Center Stage, and on it is a painting. All you see is the back of the canvas, and the back of the easel. This is the only thing on stage. The painting itself is facing Upstage Center. Lights still down, Jack walks to Center Stage, although he is slightly more upstage than the easel. Lights go up. Jack stands there for a couple of seconds, looking bored. No one walks by his painting. He steps closer to the painting and wipes a bit of dust off of the canvas. He steps back and stands there. Bridget suddenly walks onstage, from Stage Right. She has been transformed from a plain girl with skinny jeans, a black t-shirt, tangled hair, and bare feet. She is now wearing jeans, the shirt, a belt, high heeled boots, lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, and her hair is brushed and is swept to the side. Jack’s back is to her. She steps on stage, then hesitates and wipes her hands on her jeans, and fixes her hair. She then takes another step towards him.

BRIDGET: Hey.

Jack turns to face her, surprised.

JACK: Hey! Um… what are you doing here?

BRIDGET: I came to see your painting.

JACK: What about school?

BRIDGET: What about it?

They both smile, then look at the floor. Bridget looks up first and walks to Jack, ignoring the painting.

BRIDGET: Sorry I forgot.

JACK: No- it’s fine. Thanks for coming.

He turns to face the painting, and Bridget follows him. Jack’s face looks proud, but also nervous at what she’ll say. Bridget looks very surprised and extremely happy. She smiles and looks a little embarrassed.

BRIDGET: Jack… it’s…

JACK: Yeah. I know. I shouldn’t have. It’s stupid. I know.

BRIDGET: No. It’s beautiful.

JACK: Really?

BRIDGET: It’s amazing. It looks just like me. Except for the nose. My nose is way uglier than that!

Bridget laughs and points at the place on the canvas where a nose would be.

JACK: No, it’s not.

Bridget blushes, and bites her lip. She steps closer to the the painting, and puts her fingers on the edge.

BRIDGET: It’s amazing.

Jack starts to reach his hand over to where hers is, as if to hold her hand. At the last second he stops, and put his hand back into his pocket. Bridget looks intently at the painting, unaware of his movement, and he looks over at her.

JACK: Yeah. It is.

Lights go down.

END OF PLAY

Eleanor Mammen
Age 13, Grade 8
Hunter College High School
Silver Key

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