Misery Swamp

Misery Swamp



(Sept. 8)

Phone said 2:45pm. This means school is out, scream and shout. In case future daughter/granddaughter is reading this, a few things to note: all students wear tiny gray uniform skirt, boxers poke underneath. This could be paired with white or navy polo (but if navy = kind of a freak, and if khaki skirt, begging for comment such as, “Wow, switching it up today.”) I am not a freak, on the contrary quite popular, and so I go for the white polo, gray skirt. Besides the critical white or navy polo distinction, all girls present more or less the same. This means when an alum visits, everyone notices. These visits keep the masses at bay as they confirm 1) the possibility that the outside world exists, 2) the rumor that someday we leave the cult of our own free will, or, nightmarishly, 3) we never quite move on.

Dismissal bell rang. Was already halfway off campus in the backseat of a Volvo when I saw a girl walking out the driveway. Long black cape, ripped fishnets, big strappy platforms. Since I last saw her, hair had gone from muted mousy gobs to anime hot pink mega-curls. The color is completely saturated, but the curls are so thick and unwieldy that they seem to grow out of her head that way. Her outfit was meticulously compiled, perhaps to maximize shock factor. She stomped, the pink bounced, the cheap black fabric swayed. I screamed, “Oh my god!” and then, “Do you remember her?” My buddies in the back seat said “Who is that?” and then, “a goth?”

“Yes,” I said, “but not just any goth.” Of course, we remember her, they all said. The funny one, I think her name was Nadia. Just kidding, 100% sure her name is Nadia. Was extremely obsessed with her when I was in seventh grade and she was a senior. At night, would think of her and scribble in my diary (much like now, haha!)

I would write oh, Nadia is not a mere schoolgirl like me, but rather a full fledged adult woman. “I will be just like that senior,” I said, “mark my words.”

Her official title was Student Body President, but she was more like the celebrity-in-residence. Twice a week at meetings she would strut on stage with a mic. Told a story about something, like a surprising encounter with a homeless person in dicey parking lot. Then all students and faculty proceed to go home + repeat story for families at dinner. Story was never funny the second time, family does not laugh, prompting you to stick a fork in a piece of asparagus and say: had to be there, this girl, what a crack-up. Her senior superlative: Most Likely to Be the Leader of a Cult.

When I saw her on campus I thought: opportunities like this come only a few in a lifetime. So I found her on Facebook, said hello + some made-up excuse about interest in her college experience. Was very normal, did not mention scribbling sweet nothings into diary as youth, purely practical interest in random ghoul-alum.

(Sept. 13)

Plan in motion. Made sure to wear gray skirt, white polo. At lunch spilled fruity drink on self, everyone had a big laugh, fun stops when I realized Nadia hangout = today. Panicked and ditched rehearsal, claimed womanly troubles. Made a quick stop at Kmart to buy a new polo. To offset dweeb factor, wore eyeliner. This says hey, I am not preppy type.

By the time I found parking, she was waiting for me inside. I squinted as it was dimly lit and all the waiters looked the same. Crowd was kind of indie, made me feel stupid in uniform. I had no idea where I was, but, when asked, pretended to frequent a little book store down the street. First we chatted about normal things: our sweet perfect boyfriends, our favorite teachers, the all-girls school experience. Had a fascinating conversation re: that one teacher who stares too long. Entire history department, possibly, bunch of sickos.

I told a tiny fib, in that I admired her alma mater, had always wanted to go there, etc. To be honest, I heard liberal arts school = kind of passée. Would rather be at Berkeley, my dream school since forever (for reference: photo in cradle gripping Cal bear + tiny sign that reads “Go Bears!”) Think I would be better off at a big school with boys, normal people. Did not say this, instead cooed over an open curriculum and lesbian dance theory.

Next I asked what she has been up to since graduation. She reached for a focaccia knot and ripped it violently. “I’m a poet,” she said, “but right now I work at a coffee shop.” I watched her clean fingernail flick a crumb. “I’ll apply to grad school,” she said, “once my portfolio is ready.” She leaned back and gestured as if her arms were weightless. Working in an office, she says, is something she will never do. At all costs, never a nine-to-five. I hate to say it, but I thought this was a bit much.

Another thing we have in common: both of us grew up in apartments, other girls at school = big mansions. On account of not being rich, her parents cut her off. Unclear how she pays for Prius with a coffee-shop salary.

Noticed tattoos peeking from under her clothes. She lifted her jeans to show me a naked lady on her calf. More than a few prickles, which makes me think leg hair = on purpose. “Wow,” I said, “When did you get that?”

“Just last summer,” she said, as her knuckles tugged the neckline of a black t-shirt. She revealed another tattoo, letters in gothic script: “Je ne regrette rien.” No regrets, in French.

I am not joking!! At first I was shocked but then I realized she is the only person who could pull this off. She is so funny. Ugh, if only I could pull this off. One day, in college, maybe get small ironic tattoo in discreet location, Dad will never know. Normally hate tattoos, again kind of tacky, but now I see they are a step toward true freedom. Just remembered this means I can’t be buried in Jewish cemetery. Am barely Jewish anyway? But will this upset Dad, who loves me so deeply? Will come back to this later.

She told me she likes my raspy voice, and that I should not smoke, to preserve it. You would not believe how casually I asked, “Do you smoke?” Answer is: she does, mostly when drunk, trying to quit. (Obviously she gets drunk and smokes cigarettes, what else would a woman in her position do.) When she really wants to quit, she will quit.

An interesting fact about her face = perfect button nose. Though kind of a bad girl appearance, nose seems to whisper Aryan mystique. Always wish I had nose like this, instead inherited Dad’s nose = lopsided + big bump. As she brushed back a neon curl, I saw piercings like never before. A silver pole across her earlobe. Down the line, when we become best of friends, I will ask how it got in there.

More metal on her neck + looked heavy. Don’t know how she handles that weight on her collar bones, as they poke out like a skeleton. She is so skinny, and because she is so pale, almost looks bad? But also, maybe if I spend more time with her, I will become this skinny.

She kept making jokes about old philosopher guy, famous for online talk about toilets. Ha ha, the nose sniff, so funny. Did not have one singular clue who she was talking about. What is important is that in this moment, I felt, we connected. She thinks I am hilarious, laughed at my many jokes.

I wiggle into the conversation that I am currently Student Body President. She said, “No way, so was I, I forgot I did that.” I blinked. How does one forget this? With utter casualty, I said I remembered her from when I was a seventh grader, that she was iconic. She said “No no, just a thing I did.” So humble. In the future, will I also see this as “just a thing I did?” Possibility is simultaneously horrifying + a relief?

The other thing that happened was we talked about our families. It was so amazing, to feel safe to open up so fast. I learned that not only are we both duplex girls, but we both have wacky moms. I shared some anecdotes, and apparently she had the same exact experiences, except she did not give an awkward reaction the way Lauren and Fiona did. My friends always respond with long silence, I’m so sorry, that sounds difficult, I can’t imagine.

Nadia, on other hand, just gets it. She says my refrain, “You know crazy Barb,” is coping mechanism. At my age she referred to her parents by their first names, as a distancing strategy. She said we both use/used being over-achievers as a way to escape. Never thought of this before.

Anywho, we could not stop talking, having time of life. We were just getting started when the waiter said, “Sorry guys, but we have to close.” Nadia and I agreed that we must do this again, very soon, as soon as possible.

The biggest part of the whole night, you would not believe this, is when she said: “You remind me of myself when I was your age.” She actually said this. My heart skipped a beat! A tweenage fantasy. Who knew, on top of everything, such similar upbringings. If I am like Nadia at my age, this means I can be like her at twenty-three. Real question wanted to blurt out: How do I go from being like me, a noob, to being like you, a baller?! I will save this for next time.

(Sept. 20)

So much has happened since last scribbled! Re: Nadia, we are inseparable. I cannot tell you how good she is for me. We talk constantly, and she sends me these huge paragraphs, calls them Megatexts. We talk so much, we have this joke where if we haven’t texted in two hours, one of us texts: “Do u remember me.” This is silly but also the melodrama = kind of spot on.

Says she knows it is a little weird, so close with seventeen year old, but that she doesn’t feel there is an age difference at all. In contrast, she says my friends seem very young and it is surprising that I feel on the same level with them. Maybe can see this for Fiona, but Lauren not so much, to me she is a very mature girl.

She said perfect boyfriend Oliver is “cute for a 17 y/o.” Kinda rude? Informed her that Oliver is actually kind of famous, starred in a Danimals commercial as a kid. Regardless, love my friends + sweet boyfriend. Only thing is, I am so so bored. All I do is study this, study that, fill out college applications, try not to panic over prompts like: “Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.” Want to smash computer and say HA! Happy now? But then of course, not happy now, need to go to college, be happy there. It is only natural that I crave adventure, something a little weird + rebellious, so I can tell stories of wild high school nights, just like in movies. Wish I had more exciting life than studying for AP’s + biting nails until bleed all over self + carpet.

(Nov. 1)

Halloween most incredible day ever! Was too happy to write but then realized need to record for future generations! But how could I ever forget?

Crazy to look at previous entry and see “I crave adventure, something a little weird + rebellious.” This is exactly what I got! I am not kidding!!!

Note to self: later make scrapbook of time with Nadia to cherish? Present to Nadia as gift, down the line? Or keep for self, also include sweet boyfriend Oliver + others?

Will try to tell this story in linear fashion but is hard considering SO SURREAL!

Nadia invited me to goth Halloween, and offered to get me on the VIP list. But there was no way to get out of the annual stupid boring house party where I feel like crap about myself. I already told Lauren and Fiona that I would do a group costume (tried to be creative this year, somehow arrived at slutty Buzz Lightyear).

I was ready to evacuate the dumb party when finally sweet Oliver arrived! He immediately told me I looked pretty, despite fact I kind of looked like an idiot. Then he gave me a tiny pumpkin with a delightful hand drawn face. We share long lingering hug, I remember I have to lie to him + swiftly want to murder myself.

He looked at me with those sad child-star eyes and said, “Must you really leave, my princess?” Just kidding, he said do you really have to go, seriously, ugh.

Told them I felt nauseous and had to go home, but actually hopped in an Uber to go see Nadia. Prepared for this transition in advance. We agreed that I must do Halloween with school friends, to keep up appearances. Thought Nadia would be appalled re: slutty Buzz Lightyear, but only said “Absurd, def wear something else to Occult night @ Goth4u.”

When I asked “How do I dress occult,” she referred me to the hardware dept. @ Target. Didn’t say like “Target”– pronounced like tar-jé with flourish. Then thought, of course, she studied French. Being a bit unconventional is offset by the fact that ultimately Nadia = refined.

Threw together ensemble with attempt to scream undead + not a minor. When I show up, not a wild nightclub but instead an unmarked building with creepy dude out front. Handed him my fake ID and tried to frown and look twenty-one. “I don’t really care,” he said, smiling and opening the door. I sprinted down the staircase and identified a pink glob in the distance. Big hug, “So happy you’re here.” Costumes were all sort of black corsets and tights, except one zebra in a harness. Kind of funny that two private school nerd girls = spending Halloween in seedy freak dungeon.

Jaunt up to bar and very casually ask for “one mojito, easy on the ice,” as this is what older girls say in hypothetical scenarios in my brain. Bartender grins, reveals 100% toothless smile, and I mean not even a little one in the back. “No mojitos here,” he says. So I order a “tequila soda, fresh lime please” (Mom says this is key to maintaining a svelte figure). “We don’t have fresh lime,” he scoffs, so I say, “scrap the lime just give me 7Up.”

We danced around like maniacs, got really loopy all of the sudden + ran to the little girls room. Just as stepping out, see Nadia talking to old fuddy duddy in a black diaper. We meet eyes and I realize diaper guy = MR. WYATT THE AP BIO TEACHER!

Again, cannot make this up. For brief moment, heart swan dives out of chest. What if somehow am expelled for appearance in freak dungeon!? Instead, everyone laughs, Mr. Wyatt seems to think I already graduated, likely same year as Nadia.

At this point, entire night not to be believed, saw not only toothless man but also Mr. Wyatt in black diaper. Next, Nadia says she wants my help for side hustle to keep the money moving. Unsure what that meant, but felt invincible + ready to rumble.

She hands me a large satin pouch and points in the direction of a tomboy girl. Said, no biggie, hand her the pouch, come on back, I’ll buy you a drink. At this point, was quite sloshed, yelled at top volume: ARE THESE DRUGS OR SOMETHING!

Shush shush, of course not, why would I deal drugs, Just Say No, etc. So then what’s in it, I ask. Merely the tomboy’s commission on some stuff I sold for her on eBay. I thought, so oddly specific, mustn’t question it.

But now, looking back, wondering if something more devious. Like weird big toe pix, for bunch of perverts? Maybe was this, or selling exotic animal eggs, and was too ashamed to share? Or maybe really was selling stuff on eBay? Something superinnocent like mint condition 2004 American Girl Doll in Ready for Fun outfit? Purchased by kind, lonesome widower who just wants to recreate the exact present under Christmas tree from winter before husband died? Gesture ultimately flops as daughter bursts into tears and finds it overly sentimental, precious?

Haha, this is where my brain goes. I think, is fine. To be honest, the handoff + mystery gave me a big head rush. Nadia so happy afterward, never seen her so happy. Isn’t always so effusive, but in this moment, very joyful + perky. Tells me I look amazing, great curvy body, so sensual. Thought was kind of a weird comment, feel this is her way of calling me fat.

Anywho, think was harmless and just a bit of fun. Never have any fun, only work work work. Worry about GPA, college harder to get into than ever, you would not believe how hard, impossible, might as well die now. Deserve this, all and all.

(Dec. 16)

Today was a pleasant day, finally winter break and time to write. Spent whole afternoon @ Froyo Convenience, just having a laugh with Nads. I also wore an all-black outfit, little chain on neck and belt. Not sure why, but now cannot remember life before all-black outfits.

We laughed about our silly school, how silly it is to take life so seriously, especially as teen. In society, teens have no room to make mistakes. This very unfair to teens, she says, ultimately hurts in long run, to beat selves up with sledgehammer.

Plus, more Nadia insight on the fam. Says Mom is bad, very bad, and shouldn’t feel so guilty when I take money from her wallet “after all she’s done to you.” Then, Nadia told me she is really in a bind + asked to borrow $500. Hm, I thought, I do have that in the bank from years of babysitting. Loaned her the money, but not worried at all, considering she is twenty-three and should be able to easily re-pay.

As always, Nadia asked how sweet boyfriend Oliver is doing. I spilled all re: GIGANTIC DRAMA. He snapchatted some other girl, allegedly was joke, the B-list celebs made him do it, was only “a joke.” At lunch, I heard girls in bean bags whispering. “Get control of your man” type comments, with an implicit you were never good enough for him anyway. Worked very hard to create an in-control yet carefree image, so this = mortifying. Not sure if Nadia got it, as she did not think it was that big of a deal.

Next we laughed at her bf, oh Matt, kind of dopey. She said “I feel like I emotionally cheated on my bf with you, ha ha.” Then she said, “Ha ha ha, I thought I was in love with you but then realized I wasn’t.” Thought this was sort of funny, I said “Ha ha.”

It’s nice to have a friend who appreciates me so much, very special for sure. So amazing to have friendship with older girl, who understands me + can provide guidance accordingly. Unlike Mom, who does not understand me, so advice = off the mark. Plus, we have so much fun together, eating peanut butter swirl with soft plastic spoons. After our lengthy chat, I’m thinking that it makes sense to go to a leafy liberal arts school, take metalworking, scream furiously into mountainside, etc.

(Mar. 8 = My B-Day!)

Today I am 18! Legal adult, woohoo!

When I got to campus, Lauren and Fiona were waiting for me with big hugs + rhinestone tiara. They blindfolded me, shoved me down the hall and unveiled a masterpiece! Entire locker covered in series of photos of me getting married to John Krasinski. Opened it up to find Kit Kats and a gigantic scroll! Unraveled scroll to reveal the complete record of our inside jokes, like that one time I said “perhapso” in Spanish class.

At lunch, Oliver stopped by and surprised me with a burrito bowl. He saw the locker and said “Hey, who’s this other guy, should I beat him up?” In courting stage, he would tease me for never having seen The Office, I watched to woo him, so this = funny joke on his part.

But then, found out something horrible. Overheard girls in bean bags say, “Did you hear, sweet boyfriend Oliver is not so sweet after all, almost forgot his girlfriend’s birthday and Fiona had to remind him.” This = a sharp blade slicing through my body. Furious, fuming about this, how could he forget, when I send so many subtle reminders? Maybe I have no business with a boy who does not appreciate what makes me special. I deserve a real man, a college man, who picks up on subtle reminders.

In contrast, Nadia was so excited about my birthday, for days she could not stop smiling! Her positive influence on me cannot be overstated. As a gift, she gave me a face mask with rose water + snail slime extract (mentioned one time in passing this was my fave, but that it was impossible to find, so she remembered + found!)

Other thing that happened: asked a casual friend from class to hangout after school, thinking we would mind our own business at the duplex. Out of nowhere, Mom yelled at me viciously. Horrifying to watch the face of innocent girl as she realized clearly something = not right. Told Nadia about the encounter, she texted me back: “Ur mom is so manip.”

(Apr. 12)


Have spent the past two days trudging through misery swamp.

My first big news is that I got into Berkeley (!!!) Entire family jump up and down, then call grandparents, who jump up and down, swiftly order congratulatory sheet cake. For some reason, I did not care. Had waited for this moment whole life, now have no idea who that girl even was, barely recognize baby in crib who said “Go Bears!”

Plus, secretly applied and got into Nadia’s emo art school (!!!)

Need to go here at all costs. Everyone says why, I had no idea you even applied there, hasn’t your dream always been to go to Cal, major in Theater? No, now I want to be among goths, do woodworking/experimental performance art. I cannot convey extent to which this feels SUPREMELY URGENT. Nadia says Cal is too big, isn’t liberal as once was, fratty nowadays. She thinks I should refuse to go where parents want + take out student loans, because they don’t deserve a relationship with me anyhow.

Don’t really care about anything anymore. Mr. Wyatt approached me in the hall, asked how I am doing, as apparently I am “withering away.” Similar comment from Dad: “Eat a sandwich or something.” Friends texted me, “Hey, where have you been at like, every single group hangout?” Translation: “We resent/miss you.” When I read their messages, did not feel anything. Plus, stopped talking to Oliver (note: all the times he mortified me,) but technically need a date for prom so texted: “R u still coming.”

(May 30)

Sorry have not been writing. Bad things happened, all faith lost in humankind, fell so deep inside misery swamp that suffocating in pit of mud. Will tell the story of what happened quickly because who wants to relive the details.

Trouble first started three weeks ago, when I asked Nadia about the money I let her borrow. Weirdly, she got super mad and defensive: “You said to take my time paying you back!” I said, yes, but has been several months, need money for back-to-school shopping. She said, “Shopping, so frivolous, not even in hardware dept. @ Target, how dare you!” Ha ha, not exactly how it went, but you get point. Desire to shop = decidedly not angsty of me, I guess, added fuel to fire.

After I really pushed, she told me the little fairy pouch from Halloween = drugs all along. Muahaha, she said. Could call Berkeley, tell them you are a drug trafficker, call police, ruin your life. She reminded me that since I am now eighteen, I would not be shipped off to a quaint jail for juvenile delinquents, but rather to an actual women’s prison.

I think she was using this as blackmail so she never has to pay me back. She refused to call me on the phone, and just sent a series of texts like: “How dare you hold your money and power over me.” Not sure what this even means, but she seemed to believe it, and dropped me like a hot potato. So these days, I have no more incoming texts from Nadia. She ditched me and I can’t tell anyone because what if hate me for being a drug trafficker.

When I first committed to going to Cal, I was completely devastated, yearned for emo + faraway land. Now I realize my reaction = psychotic? Why did I want so badly to sand slab of wood? What was this burning desire for group of friends who all have shaved heads, doesn’t matter if boy/girl?

(Aug. 10)

My life is about to forever change!

Off to college in two weeks. Normal afternoon in August goes something like this: First, open fridge and remove cold green grapes. Next, talk on phone with Lauren, reminisce about past + muse about future. Wistful feeling from phone call quickly dissipates as Mom screams that my room looks “like a fucking tornado.” I quickly shuffle down the hallway, yell “MOM I AM PACKING!” and slam door. Then, alone at last, I play “Dreams” by The Cranberries and sway for about sixty seconds. Now I am ready to sit on the floor and stare at pile of clothes. I like to pick up a shirt, give it a hard stare, and determine if it fits my new look.

What is this new look, you ask? I have no idea but I work on it tirelessly. I imagine myself being sort of laid-back, almost like a stoner without the weed, but also know how to party and do amazing in school, but also be completely refined and glamorous.

Had a uniform for all of high school, so not sure how people dress themselves seven days a week. Also unsure what outfits are appropriate, and what occasions will exist, so I packed a wide variety. Tiny black going-out top if I become maneater, small metal chain if I encounter goths, conservative dress gifted by grandma if I fall in love with a Mormon?

As you may have guessed, do not really talk to Oliver anymore. Things sort of went sideways, not important how, basically I just don’t care. Yet I cannot force myself to throw away the pumpkin with delightful hand drawn face. Considering pumpkin is rotten, seems sort of silly + Mom says it is “smelling up the whole house.” Yet with all the memories, cannot bring self to toss it out.

This whole thing has made me very emotional, and got me thinking, so sad what happened between me and Nadia. Really just a shame. Despite the stuff at the end, she really was so good to me. Plus, this type of connection = ultra rare. She really understands and supports me. Thinking maybe I reach out to her, apologize, bring special gift, say “I want things to end on a good note before I move away.”

(Aug. 14)

Told Nadia I wanted to apologize, that I shouldn’t have grilled her about the money, that I knew she was really in a tough spot = all my fault. She said “Let’s go to our old place,” and so I drove all the way to the coffee shop where we first met. I sat down and she ordered those stupid focaccia knots. I started the conversation with a word vomit apology. Truly just sat there and monologued for about six minutes. She said, “It’s alright, I knew your parents were brainwashing you.”

This = completely insufficient response. Yes, my parents suck, but also, they don’t suck that much, and also, WHAT ABOUT THE DRUG TRAFFICKING?! Surely this is objectively wrong, and warrants an apology? Or at least a half-apology? And how about, “I am so sorry about my elaborate ploy to blackmail you?”

Next I asked what she’s been up to this summer and she said, “Still working at the coffee shop.” I asked how the grad school apps are going and she said, “Haven’t had a lot of time to write, been super busy.” Um, okay Miss, I don’t see you doing anything. Then she went on about how working in service is just so exhausting, she “can’t possibly be inspired to write.” Poor Nadia, steaming oat milk for rooibos tea latte, so uninspired.

Apologized for my end of things, and that is all I can do. But at the same time, what did I even do wrong? Yes I agreed to everything but kind of her fault? Is that bad to say?

Maybe the worst part = not that she didn’t apologize, but that she genuinely thinks she did nothing wrong. Disturbing to think a person can justify her own actions to such extent. Possible lesson = people do not want to believe they are capable of doing something truly bad. Maybe person will think to self: “Hm, but really the thing I did was not that bad, because I meant to do good thing/other person was worse.” But person does not think to self: “Hm, this was super bad of me. Let me deep dive into the depths of my soul to consider what led me to lure a teenager into drug trafficking.”

A thing happened on my way home. Was driving, no radio, perfectly fine, then suddenly, my eyes swell + feel a bit hot. Take one hand off wheel to touch face, and I notice the softness of my own cheek. Then I feel warm tears. I decide, what the hey, I never cry, might as well. Chest shaking up and down like a fake cry or forgot how, then suddenly, am sobbing uncontrollably. Like torrential downpour when windshield wipers are all messed up. Could not see the road in front of me, and I didn’t want to die in a crash so I pulled over and parked. I had been miserable there for about an hour when I decided to take my thumb out of my mouth and pick up the phone. Looked at the names on my screen but they wouldn’t understand one word.

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