“I don’t want you to talk to me. I don’t want you to look at me. I don’t even want you to think about me. Got it?” R. said to me. He stood at my desk, not caring that the entire class could hear. He’d just gotten back from the principal’s office. It was Monday morning.
I continued to shade in the figure in my drawing. “Fine with me,” I said. I’d known he was angry, but I was still surprised. Until that weekend, I’d thought we were best friends.
“This is all your fault,” he said, spun around dramatically, and stomped over to his desk. I tried to concentrate while our classmates began to whisper all around us.
Our junior year we’d skipped school, taken my dad’s car (stolen is a strong word), to go to the Winter Park Art Show. R. didn’t have a license then and I had only a restricted. He almost hyperventilated when I stopped a cop to ask for directions.
“Are you crazy?” R. had asked.
“What?” I said, waving the cop over to my dad’s car. “Oh, like I’d ask him over if I was doing anything wrong.”
R. leaned against the window and closed his eyes. The officer gave us directions and told us to have a great day. And we did.
Now he was leaning over his desk muttering about how he hated me. The argument had started Friday night.
R. called me. “M. is going to ask you out. Say yes.” M. was in our art class.
“I don’t like M.”
“You’re always complaining you can’t get a date.”
“So? I’m not desperate,” I said.
“Yes you are. Besides, I told him you’d say yes.”
The argument went from there. I said no. I wasn’t going out with a boy who rarely washed his hair and criticized me in front of everyone for liking OMD and Molly Ringwald.
“M. is the only boy who will ask you out,” R. said.
“I don’t care,” I shouted into the phone. I did care, but it wasn’t worth going anywhere with M.
“You’re going to die a shriveled up virgin,” he shouted back.
“What exactly did you tell M. I’d do?”
R. hesitated. “He thinks you like him. Like you know…”
“What are you–my pimp?” My friend, SH, happened to be spending the night, and I nearly broke her skin with my fingernails when I grabbed her arm to keep from screaming. She didn’t notice.
“You should be so lucky,” R. said, and hung up.
So on Monday morning, R. got to school and not finding me, he hurled insults at SH, and they both got sent to the office. I spent weeks trying to figure out what had gone wrong. I wrote him a letter asking if M. was really the problem. I said hello a few times in the halls. I talked about it to mutual friends and they approached him on my behalf. I got silence in return.
Until a few days before prom. He startled everyone in class by saying hi to me. “Are you going to prom?” he asked.
He was speaking to me! I tried to appear indifferent. “No. You?”
“I’m going with two girls,” he said.
I thought of several replies from you don’t even know what to do with one to they must be the desperate ones. “That’s nice,” I said, and turned away.
In fiction, I try to understand why characters act the way they do–from the good to the bad. I’ve got tons of books about motivation and psychology to help me figure this out. But I don’t figure it out before I start writing. I write the character and he talks, acts out, does what he will, and then I see how we feel. Sometimes I go back over a scene and I can feel the character fighting all the way–I would not do this.
But I need this to happen, I say. I try to take a deep breath and let him do what he wants. Usually the scene goes better after that, but I don’t know where to go next. My plans are strewn about and I don’t want to give up.
I’m still not entirely happy with the ending of my novel. I couldn’t figure out what my characters wanted to do. I tried to listen but I’m not sure I heard correctly. By the end I didn’t want to ask–why are you doing this scene? I wanted to ask–why are you doing this to me? What did I do that was so wrong?