Circus Freak

Going Bananas

I walk to school with purpose. My steps are heavier, my eyes brighter, my fists tightened with purpose. Today, I'm breaking up with Pif.

Well. I mean. We're not together. But he wants to be. I'm not stupid. I can tell he likes me. I don't know why he does, but he likes me. And I like him.

You always read about those girls who never realize they have feelings for a guy. They go along blindly denying the blatantly obvious sexual chemistry and romantic potential, until that one aha! moment where they realize-gasp!-they've been in love all along. While the reader just rolls her eyes, saying, exasperatedly, "finally!".

But I know I have feelings for Pif. My denial doesn't stretch that far. He makes me warm, like the sun. I actually have fun-something I've forgotten how to have. I find myself thinking about him all the time. Wondering what he's going to wear, what he's going to say, what he's going to do. I keep thinking about his stupid gap tooth and his stupid sneakers and his stupid little laugh lines. His good looks don't hurt either, if I'm being honest. But even if he was a hideous ogre, he would still be the most beautiful thing in my world.

Why do I have to like him?

And why does his every flaw make me like him even more?

That's what's really weird. Usually, I see every flaw possible, and they bug and bug and bug me to no end. But somehow, his are endearing.

I don't want to stop seeing him. The past two days, while miserable, have been the best two days of my life. But I need to. I do. When he finds out about me, he'll leave. I need to leave first, before my feelings become completely irrevocable. Before we really get to know each other. If I end it now, I'll still be able to hold on to the could bes, and daydream about the should haves. But if we continue on the path we're on now, all we'll end up with are why did wes and I hate yous.

And so, after floating through French and Math classes, I march down with my head held high and my chin jutted out stubbornly to the cafeteria to talk to Pif. He will not sway me from my decision. He will not trick me into falling for him. He will…

He nothing. He's not at the table. The only people there are Ramona, Trish, and Elijah. I nervously head towards them, unable to turn back without losing face. They spot me and wave me over, and so I go and sit down.

"Have you guys seen Chase? I need to talk to him," I ask his friends. If anyone knows where he went, they do.

They look at each other and burst out laughing.

"What?" I ask, uncertain if they're laughing at me.

"It's just that," tries Ramona through bouts of laughter, "Chase said that you'd come here looking to cancel on your date. So he didn't show up today. He said you can't cancel on the date if you don't see him, and you don't have his number so you can't do it like that either."

I stare at Ramona, trying to ignore her tear-and-mirth-filled brown eyes. Chase fucking Pif. Always one step ahead of me.

"Well, would you guys give me his phone number?" I ask in a dangerously patient voice.

"Nope," states Elijah simply, taking out a pickle and chowing down.

"Right," I affirm, sucking in air through my teeth. "Then I guess I'm going on a date tomorrow."

I should be disappointed that I didn't succeed in my Turn Down Pif mission. I don't have that in me. All I have is an exhilaratingly frightening excitement diving into a pool of nervously apprehensive anticipation. Maybe it's a good thing that Pif knows me better than I know myself. Maybe this date is exactly what I need.

And maybe the friends aren't so bad either, I think as they all joke around.

"You really attract the worst guys, Ramones. I'm so glad I found mine early on," Trish squeezes Elijah before continuing. "At least I don't have to put up with my date not only hitting me in the head with his mini golf club but trying to kiss me after being the worst conversationalist known to man!"

"It was pretty brutal. Don't get me wrong: I like my hockey, but I did not ask for the half hour long history of the offside. This followed by a tirade against macaroni in cheese? I'm not putting my mouth anywhere near his chasm of tedium."

As they talk, I take out my lunch for the day: one whole carrot and three almonds. (You have to be careful with almonds: seven whole calories for just one little nut!)

The table goes quiet, the teasing about Ramona's bad date subsiding.

"That's your lunch?" asks Ramona. I gulp arduously, my mouth dry. I want these people to like me. In order for that to happen… I'll need to lie.

"I eat most of my food in the morning, and I'm buying something here too."

I get out of my chair and make my way to the canteen. The mingling smells of Italy's best waft towards me, and I go over to a little stand. There are brownies and cookies and cakes spilling over each other. I wonder what someone normal would eat. Impulsively and uncharacteristically, my hand lunges out like a viper, fingers biting into a soft brownie. I avert my eyes from the cashier's as I set the forbidden food on the counter. I'm embarrassed to buy it, terrified she'll judge me for eating something so unhealthy. But she just routinely presses some buttons on an old machine and takes my toonie, not even glancing at me.

I walk back down the line of tables, trying to ignore the stares of the people I pass. They're all looking at me, looking at the brownie. I know they're all thinking that I shouldn't be eating it in my condition. I speed up my steps until I'm finally sitting back down at the table with my new friends. I feel safe, as if now that I'm not alone, I'm not vulnerable to their stares and judgements.

Setting the delicious chocolate treat next to my carrot and almonds, I force out a smile I hope comes off as genuine. They smile back, my food already forgotten. Which makes sense: it's not like food is on the forefront of everybody's mind.

Just mine.

"Yo Everly," says Trish, prodding my arm with the tip of her painted yellow fingernail, "guess what?"

"I… I don't know?" I start picking the brownie apart, separating into smaller pieces.

"I'm having a big birthday bash next weekend, and you…" She pauses as she fishes in her bulky bag. "Have an invite!"

Accepting the envelope she passes me, I open up the little pink thing and out tumbles a little card.

"Do people still give handwritten invitations to parties?" I ask her, inspecting the little monkey on the card saying that it's "time to go bananas".

Speaking at the same time, Elijah lets out a deadpan "no" as Trish chirps out an "I do!"

"Well then, of course I'll come. It sounds like fun."

"Yeah, you seem like the kind of person who should be going bananas. You're so serious!" Trish tells me, then immediately launches into an in-depth explanation of her party's jungle theme. While everyone is distracted by Trish's wild hand gestures, I take advantage of the situation.

With the tiniest flick of my wrist, I push the brownie pieces one by one off the table and into my lap. When I get up, they'll all fall to the floor, blending in to the food already packed onto it.

With that threat gone, I'm able to actually have fun contributing to the conversation, reminiscing about old birthday parties we've had when we were younger.

Those were the days, I tell you. When you could eat your birthday cake without a care, when you had all the energy in the world to climb old trees and run across grassy hills.

Right then and there, as I laugh tentatively with my new friends, I make myself a promise.

I'm going to get that back.

Ramona corners me after the last bell of the day rings. I'm walking out the door when I'm pulled back in by the arm. The short, bald girl pulls me aside, away from the seething mass of students escaping enlightenment-as much as you can get by staring at a black and white bored.

"We need to talk," she says, not unkindly.

"Alright?" I reply uncertainly. Apprehensive of what she wants to talk to me about, I follow her out to the parking lot. She stops at an old grey Toyota.

"Let's take a drive." When seeing that I'm reluctant to get in, she smiles. "I'm not going to poison you and leave your body out in the wilderness for the bears to eat. I just wanna talk."

Nodding, I open the passenger door and climb in. The car smells like its owner, of green tea and lilies. She pulls out smoothly and starts to drive aimlessly. The car is silent for a while as I rack my brain trying to think of something to say to break it.

"Why did you shave your head?" I finally blurt out, asking the only honest thing I can think of. When she doesn't say anything, I get worried. What if she's had chemotherapy or something? Or alopecia?

She finally just laughs, then turns to me as we stop at a red light.

"I knew someone who went through chemo a few years back, so I shaved my head in solidarity. I liked not having to worry about my hair anymore, so I've kept it bald."

I don't pry into who it was she knew who had cancer. It's obviously a sore subject and I don't know her very well.

"Don't you ever worry that people won't find you… I don't know, attractive?"

"Why would I want to be with anyone who would reject me for lack of hair? It's a moot point, darling."

"Sounds reasonable." I wonder if the same goes for my body, but then I think better of it. Your body's a sign of your willpower, which actually matters in a person. No one would want somebody weak.

"So I wanted to talk to you about Chase," Ramona starts again as the light turns green. "He told me you would want to cancel on him, and you were obviously going to." I start to explain but she cuts me off. "I don't care why. That's your problem. What I care about is Chase. That boy is the best person in the world and he's gone through more than his fair share. I do not want you to hurt him. I don't think you two should be dating or whatever you're doing, but I can't stop it. For some reason he's infatuated with you, and nothing's going to stop him from being with you. But I'm warning you. Do not break his heart, or I'll break your knee caps."

"Um. I'm going to gloss over that last little part. Jesus." I shudder. "But you should know I'm not going to be the one hurting anybody. Believe me, that is the last thing I want."

"Good. As long as we understand each other."

"You like mafia movies, don't you?" I ask mischievously, thinking of her clichéd threat. She turns her head slowly to the right, raising one eyebrow.

"No," she says coldly, face stony. I look out the window awkwardly, until I hear her say: "I love mafia movies."

We share a chuckle as she pulls over into a parking space. We're in a quiet little section of downtown, in front of a cluttered little store.

"Come on, get out," Ramona says as she opens her door. I follow her out onto the sidewalk, asking what we're doing here.

"This is my favourite thrift store. I'm thinking you need some new clothes," she tells me, looking me up and down pointedly. I squirm in my baggy jeans and sweater. People keep criticizing my clothing choices when theirs aren't exactly very traditional. Ramona's wearing short overalls over top of a blue bra and camo flip flops.

And I'm the fashion victim.

We walk into the shop and are immediately greeted by a salesgirl offering us free little mugs of home-brewed iced tea and little brown bags of chili-pepper-sprinkled popcorn. I decline the popcorn but drink the sweet tea before following Ramona.

The store really is quite charming. The hardwood floors creak underneath me as sun catchers and wind chimes decorate the ceiling. There's an assortment of hand-crafted earrings, a big bin full of pins, another with an array of videocassettes, vinyl, and CDs. There's a huge book section that seems to be compromised mainly of anarchist tomes, and row upon row of unique and often kitschy clothing.

She leads me to a little step ladder leading up to a wide pit taller than I am, overflowing with clothes.

"This," she says, taking off her shoes and motioning to me to do the same, "is the one dollar bin. Anything here for just one buck."

After removing my boots, I follow Ramona up the ladder. As we wade through the weirdest assortment of old clothes, I ask her something that's been bugging me.

"Are you in love with Chase?"

She ignores me, holding up an old Jazz Fest shirt and frowning, cocking her head to the side as she assesses it with a critical eye.

"Look, I know we don't know each other well or anything, but I want to know if there's any history or present. I don't want to infringe on your relationship or anything."

"Fine," she sighs, "you've caught me. Classic girl in love with her best friend. Pathetic, I know."

"Does Chase know?" I ask her, worried. If she's in love with Pif, how am I supposed to compete with this confident and compassionate person who's known him for over a decade?

"God, of course not. Are you crazy? I know he doesn't feel that way about me, and so I've never said a word. We're just friends, and I'm not under any schoolgirl delusions that it's somehow going to change." I contemplate her earnest look, feeling sad that she's given up before she's even tried. Then again, isn't that what I was planning on doing?

"Crazier things have happened," I reply, saying anything to make that kicked puppy look leave her face.

"Why are you trying to push us together, Everly? Don't you like him?"

"Of course I do! But that doesn't mean I'm going to get in the way of your true love or whatever."

"Please, I don't believe in one true love. And you're not getting in the way, trust me. Go for it. If you make him happy, then I'm happy. Just remember…"

"Yeah, yeah, you'll break my knees, mobster."

"And don't you forget it." She pokes me hard in the sternum, grinning a toothy grin.

After leaving the store loaded with clothes that barely cost me a dime, Ramona drives me home.

"Hey, before you go, can you just give me your number?" she asks.

"Sure, today was fun. I really needed that." It's true. Shopping for clothes is usually torturous, as I agonize in front of mirrors. But today, I just eyeballed the sizes without trying anything on, and actually had a good time.

After exchanging contact information, we hug briefly. I feel a little self-conscious as I know that she's feeling my hidden body, but console myself with the fact that she's really not the type of girl to care about it.

Closing my front door behind me as quietly as I can, I attempt to sneak past my father before he corners me for supper.

I'm not sneaky enough.

Maybe I should ask Ramona for some tips on Mafioso sneaking.

"Hey, Squirmy, come in. I cooked up some chicken soup!" I hear my father call from the kitchen. I drag my feet over to the table and lean against the wall, eyeing the tureen of soup in the centre of the table and the empty bowl in my place. He keeps hoping for us to be a family. What a joke.

"I have a lot of homework to do tonight, and I-"

"Sit down, please. I barely see you anymore. It's not right."

I look into his eyes. They're sad and worn, with a little glimmer of hope. I could easily say something to get me out of supper as I have so often before. But I don't want to. I actually want to sit down with my Dad.

Pulling my chair out, wincing as it makes an unbearable scraping sound against the floor, I sit down to eat. Ladling tiny amounts of soup into my bowl at a time, making it seem like I'm taking more than I actually am, I ask my father how his day was. His eyes light up as he recounts the tale of his victory over some old lady suing a shampoo company over her hair loss. I in turn share my adventures at Ramona's thrift shop, enthusing about my new friends.

I find myself, for the first time in years, finishing my bowl and helping myself to seconds. The hot soup warms me up, filling me with good feelings associated with being inside on a rainy day, or being brought soup when I'm curled up sick in bed. I don't hate myself for eating. I'm too happy about Pif and Ramona and Trish and everything. I don't feel alone. I do feel happy.

Am I going bananas? Or am I maybe, just maybe, going to be able to be happy? Maybe things are beginning to turn around for me. I didn't realize that having friends would have this much of an impact.

After middle school, I isolated myself from my old friends. My mother left, and I didn't want to be with anybody. Eventually, the people I used to have slumber parties with just stopped trying to be my friend as I pushed them away again and again. And when high school began, it was easy to just blend in the background. I'd become self-sufficient, but I'm beginning to think that maybe relying on others just a little bit makes me stronger, not weaker.

Pif is infectiously good-natured, Ramona doesn't take shit, and Trish is just exploding with energy. Elijah remains a stoically silent enigma, but maybe we'll get along because of that.

I'm not going to let this opportunity to have these people in my life pass me by. If Pif is making me happy, then I will keep him in my life.

I will.