“Just do some writing E. You were just as lazy as Jamba this past week. It’s really amazing.”
“Why can’t I see the exhibits? Yo and Noah get to.”
“Just do something productive! It’s really not that hard.”
“Fine. I’ll write about what you said about Jamba earlier.”
We were in the Natural history museum. The blue sky was lost outside as I sat in the dark, soft air of the museum. We had spent the last week inside because of the hurricane and my mother demanded that we finally get out and do something. We had sat on the orange sheets, reading, watching TV on the laptop, and sleeping in. We huddled under the king-sized, brown K-mart blanket for warmth. I could feel Jamba, my half-sister, and I getting closer.
My mom had Jamba when she was a mere twenty years old. One day, Mom was driving with Jamba with her in the car. Jamba had been one year old, and she had begun crying. Mom had taken her out of her seat and put her in her lap to try to calm her down. There was a sheep in the middle of the road, and Mom swerved to avoid it. Baby Jamba went flying through the windshield. The glass cut one of her cranial nerves, and she got a lazy eye and sagging eyelid for the rest of her life. A year after that her father, Brad, kidnapped her off to England. Mother and daughter were not reunited until almost three years later in San Francisco. But then the court battles started. Natalie would not have custody of Jamba again until she was a junior in high school.
Jamba was always more like a distant cousin to me then a sister because she had lived in San Francisco, then Boise and San Diego and only visited us once a year. The longest time I had spent with her was three weeks. She had another half-sister in San Francisco, one with black hair and blue eyes who laughed and had history with Jamba.
Jamba complained she never got to pick the movie, and I thought in my head “that’s because your never here,” but I didn’t say it. I told Jamba she looked gorgeous in things. She had dirty blonde hair, the same nose as me and brown eyes. She never wore make-up and loved bikinis and getting tan and painting her toenails orange or red in the summertime. When she said things about my Mom I didn’t say anything. It’s sad really. I see my Mom with her hunched, thin shoulders and her tired wrinkled green eyes.
We rode here on the subway that had just started running again after the storm, and there was an African American woman and her son sitting next to us. I let him play with the iPad but kept one pale finger on its surface, perhaps because the women had accepted too easily. I expected her to be extremely polite; maybe that’s the hidden racism in me. Her son had long curling eyelashes and milk chocolate skin. He also had a cold diamond in his right ear, which didn’t seem to suit his grinning face. I didn’t say much, except how cute he was and such. I wish I were more charismatic.
We sat next to the gray elephants with their cloudy plastic eyes. My mom had said, “I don’t want you reading the same crap books Jamba reads.”
“What does she read?”
“Like the 50 shades of grey book.”
“That seems like something you would read,”
“I would never read something like that. It’s crap. All fiction books are crack to me.”
“Did you just say that all fiction books are crap?”
“No. I said they’re all crack. Look you just need to write. Instead of sitting there reading that crappy book you could be writing the book that makes you famous.”
“I write when I want to, Mom.”
“You just have to sit down and do it. Your Nana does two hours of writing a day.”
“Are you a professional author?”
“I’m supposed to be.”
I titled the glowing iPad screen so that she couldn’t see the words and lowered the brightness. She started singing, “Oh the jungle the mighty jungle, the lion…”
Jamba had said that Mom had a horrible voice. I had defended Mom. But now…. it’s amazing how much people can influence your beliefs. I kissed her moisturized cheek, attempting to make her happier, to prolong the time before the lava came flowing out this face tight in anger. We walked into the cafeteria and sat for a while. She told us to go pick the stuff we wanted. I picked pretzels and Noah picked Sun Chips and Yo got dinosaur chicken fingers. Mom said she didn’t like Sun Chips, so I asked her if I could get an ice cream instead. She said yes. I got a Hagen Daz mango sorbet. We bought everything and mom asked if the apple was really $2.00, and the woman with cheap, glittering earring said, yes they were.
“She’s such a manipulator. She’s been lying in bed all week; she could have spent the whole week actually doing something productive. I can see why she’s failing her only class, Spanish. Lazy and fat.”
I gasped mentally.
“She said it was too cold this morning to go for a run,” She countered. “What a lie, if your fat you go for a run. I give her 666 dollars a month because she insists on having five bottles of wine and going out drinking every night. When you’re fat, you don’t drink. I’m so angry right now I don’t even want to think about her. You know what? That’s what I’ll do. I’ll take the money out of her bank account.”
“Just make your mind a blank slate then.”
I wanted to say that she wasn’t fat but then her attention might turn to me and the ice cream in my hand. I don’t know why she buys me ice cream but is so hard on Jamba. Yesterday I had watched a few x-factor competitors who were 14 like me. It bothered me, I thought that I will be 15 soon, and I’m wasting time and opportunities. I wanted to be better, prettier, skinnier, smarter, straight-A, 100 percent student. In high school it doesn’t matter if you are wise beyond your years. When I was little I could be good at everything be everything because there was still time and I was a blank slate, and I didn’t have strengths and challenges.
“She’s just so negative all the time. How dare you take a picture of me? How dare you ask E if she has worn this dress? She’s just so manipulative. She said you and her wanted to go shopping this weekend.”
“I didn’t know about it.”
“She said you two wanted to get onesies.”
“What are onesies?” I asked, but I could imagine.
“She just says that because she wants to get even more money out of me, and she knows I love it when you spend time together.”
Is that why she wants to go shopping with me sometimes?
“She’s handling one-fifth of what most students are handling. Other people have five or six courses. She’s already five or six years behind her peers. She hasn’t lost an ounce of weight, and you tell me not to call her fat. You think people don’t call her fat behind her back? Actually I haven’t called her it but I should.”
She covered her face with her hands.
“She’s a fucking alcoholic. If you really loved her you would hold her hand and help her through. It’s really sad if all you have to write about is this. You can write your story and make me look like some psychotic maniac. But I love her. And maybe it’s not her fault, it’s Brad’s and her stepmother’s, but she needs to grow up. Should I just sit back and watch this cycle continue?”
“I don’t write to make people look bad, I write to remember. And I completely see your side of the story.”
“And you know what Jamba said? She said that E’s been in bed for four days, too. And of course I had no response to that. That the stakes are lower in high school? All she has to do is fill out one form that would take fucking five minutes and do one course. I just want her to make something of herself. “ She paused. “She’s going nowhere.”
E Jeremijenko-Conley, Age 14, Grade 9, Little Red Schoolhouse/Elizabeth Irwin, Silver Key