The Fell Clutch of Circumstance
Thic. Thic. Thic. Thic. No, a clock doesn’t go tick-tock, tick-tock. No matter what the nursery rhymes say. The beat is constant and the same, so much like the human heart. And it chimes. The day begins. I wonder why it has never occurred to anyone that the clock is a parallel to the cycle of birth. We sleep for nine straight hours to the hypnotic beat of the clock as a fetus grows in an unconscious state to the beat of the mother’s heart. And after nine hours, or months, we are rudely awakened by an hour that is decreed by some higher power (in my instance, the school administrators who decide school begins at eight) that determines we are ripe for awakening. This makes me a bitter person. But it doesn’t really matter. Every morning, I wake up before the alarm and watch the grandfather clock tick. I think it gives me a sick sort of power trip, as if I am ultimately defying some ordain of God’s. And so, I wake up every morning, ego fully charged and ready to go. I step in the shower and turn it hotter than I can stand. I don’t believe in cold water.
I am the model of teenage tragedy: sullen, omniscient, and acutely thin from what they like to call substance abuse and bulimia. Ha. I like the idea of cows regurgitating their food at night to re-digest it a second time. Only I don’t eat it again after it comes up. These days, kids by the age of sixteen look like they live in the depression, hollow-eyed and hungry looking. I get out of the shower and look in the mirror. It is an antique mirror with silver glass, fogged up so much that I look like a ghost. Sheets of wet black hair hang against deathly pale skin. How lovely. My hair is like a dead crow: blacker than black. It takes all my willpower to resist the urge to lick the steam off the mirror, so I unscrew my Mont Blanc pen and pour out two lines from the cylinder that holds ink. I cut the cotton ends off a Q-tip and press it against my nostril, inhaling the two glorious lines into me – my body, mind, and soul are all good. Sniffing noisily, I stand up and shake the burn away. Everything is clear and better now. I no longer look like a ghost. I am beautiful, radiant, iridescent, and floating. The glass-licking urge is gone. I’m ready for school.
Opening the door, I step outside, wet footprints leaving their mark behind me. I am wet and naked like some water spirit prancing to my room. I freeze when I see my father standing in the hallway. Here I am, stark naked in front of him, and I freeze. He smiles and says, “Morning, Fern.”
“Hi” I say softly. His eyes are like tour guides for his mind. I walk past him, pretending I don’t notice the sudden bulge in his pants.
In my room, I trace my eyes over and over again with eyeliner, watching as the black diminishes all expression from my eyes. Cartilage rings and navel piercings in place, I head out to the car and drive off to school.
Being seventeen just kind of collapsed itself onto me. People think it’s a free-formed expression of life, where everything is ahead of you and anything is possible, but it’s all wrong. The truth is – and this is the bare truth – that no one gives a flying fuck. We’re all trapped in what I like to call the Cage of Conformity. Without the standards given to us, we wouldn’t really be worth anything. The catch is, we can live according to the system without being a conformist at all. Just that no one has to know. I caught on to this shitty deal in eighth grade and decided to tromp to the top of the academic list halfway through the year. My teachers asked why the sudden change. I told them it was ambition. In truth, I had realized that my parents were never going to care, and if I died, no one was paying for my funeral wreath but me. You see, when people like my parents are so successful that they don’t have to look to their children for something to brag about, they get caught up in their own lives. I haven’t seen my mother in two months now because she’s off on some island with a different dick every night. My father, who she’s still married to, stays in the city, but he’s hardly done anything in his life that I would call productive. See, he’s the Dell of Dell Fruits. His great grandfather monopolized the whole fruit business so every piece of apple, orange, and pear that an American eats is from Dell Fruits. So are the strawberries in jam and the little dried prunes that all the grandmas like to eat. He’s never worked a day in his life, my father. Since he was seventeen, he’s been the Dell playboy to the public and all that he’s ever been to me is the Dell playboy of the family with the new girlfriends that he brings over every week. I don’t give a shit what he does with his time, but I do enjoy getting pictures of he and his girlfriends to sell to the paparazzi. If your family can’t love you, use them. The consequence of all this is I’m one of those lucky children that have never walked in on my parents having sex. Well, not with each other anyway.
My affair with the Lady began when I was a freshman. My friend Janet had told me that we were going to study “chemistry” with her hot tutor from NYU after school, but that chemistry turned out to be a crash course from her brother on how to grow hash. Being that I was no different from every other human being, my first joint took no effect whatsoever. Seeing that everyone was high but me, her brother Mark offered me a visit with the White Lady. I can say truthfully now that everything in that moment of offering was frightening. Here I was, on the verge of being fifteen with a chemistry book on my lap and a quickly disintegrating joint in one hand. I didn’t know what to say to him, didn’t know how to respond to the eighteen year old that stood grinning cockily in front of me. How could I say no? Drugs are part of our culture, and I was only partaking in a national pastime. I was not going to deny myself the first taste of a forbidden heaven. And so I said yes. Firmly and nervously, but still, it was a yes. He burnt some stuff in a spoon and did something at the table and then turned around with a needle and told me to stick my arm out. Now I was scared. Have you ever had the feeling where you do something terrible and wait for weeks for people to find out, but when they do find out, you think you’re prepared for their reaction but you’re not, and so you freeze and your brain crunches a little? That’s how I felt when he told me to stick out my arm. It must have taken me ten minutes to edge my arm out, and I absolutely could not watch when he stuck the needle in me. I don’t remember much else because I passed out from fear. What I do remember was waking up five minutes later and feeling that everything was clearer and very much settled. And so, I was acquainted, and eventually attached and very enamored with the Lady, Lady Cocaine.
Janet drives up next to me in her Porsche. We both got matching black Porsche Carrera GT convertibles a month ago, three convenient weeks before our junior year began. The only difference was hers said NETTIE, and mine said INFERNO. We stop at a stoplight and she leans over her window, saying, “Turn that shit up, girl!” I grin at her and we both crank our eighteen speaker stereos up, Madonna blasting her soul out from our cars.
We park at school, knowingly disturbing the classes in the science wing. The teachers hate us. They call us the “poorest and most distinct examples of stereotypical youth in America”. Who cares if they think we are snobby, slutty, obnoxious rich bitches who have got the school’s financial purse by the puppet strings? They don’t know half of it.
Janet’s still buttoning the skirt to her uniform when I get out of my car. Lourdes Prep has these uniforms that we so affectionately wear everyday, making the grey plaid skirts into miniskirts and tailoring the white button-ups and navy blazers until they are as form-fitting as possible. “Frump” does not make its appearance in our version of the English language. “Hey you,” I say, leaning in the window of her car, “Ready for Runwich?” She smirks at me, knowing exactly what I mean. Ms. Runwich is our AP English teacher. She hates us more than Gertrude Stein herself. Since our freshman year, Janet and I paid Janet’s tutor, Henry, to do all of our schoolwork, and in the first assignment of this year, we were required to write a paper. When Ms. Runwich received our papers, she handed them back to us the next day with the threat of expulsion due to forgery. She did not believe that we wrote a single word on either paper. So, we had a talk with Headmaster Mills and because our fathers are the two biggest donors to the school, Mills threatened to cut all of the English departments spending for the year if Runwich did not grade our papers “properly”. When she complained about our poor attendance to class, the Headmaster’s reply was that he didn’t see why we needed to be there at all if we were getting the highest marks in her class and that she should be honored to have such “intelligent fine young ladies” in her class. So here’s the finger to you, Runwich. Go eat crow.
Class had started already when we got there. A good forty minutes late, we go in and burst out in snickers at the hilarity of Runwich’s new hairdo. It looks like a bowl of hair formed around her head, ending precisely at her brow. How unsightly. She glares at us with her beady cataract ridden eyes and we smile sweetly at her, commenting on how dashing her hair looks on her – if she were a man. The other students are still chuckling when Tessa Gouteau comes up to me with a shy smile, saying, “Good morning, Fern. I just wanted to remind you that there’s a student body council meeting today at two.”
I give her a genuine smile back, one of the only people that deserve one. She’s the secretary of the junior class, the greatest thing that ever happened to the council. “Thanks for the reminder, Tessa.” She is such a singular girl, Tessa. Everyone at Lourdes is so caught up in belonging to the place and fitting in to the rich kid tradition, but she doesn’t ever seem to notice any of those things. I sit down at the front of the class to listen half-heartedly to Runwich’s lecture on English literature from the Romantic era. Lourdes is made up of a series of Renaissance buildings, looking like some drug lord’s home instead of America’s most expensive prep school. The whole school is like a miniature Oxford or Cambridge with its looming bell tower and cathedral. Our AP English class is towards the back of the school in a large medieval hall with rows of oak tables lining the classroom. Runwich is droning on when I see Amory Feller whispering to Tessa. Amory has a nasty habit of being the most arrogant of men but pulls it off with his looks. There isn’t a woman in the Upper East Side that doesn’t want to fuck that face with pale blond hair, golden eyes and big pouty red cushion lips. He considers himself a demigod and doesn’t bother to socialize with women other than those that he thinks are worthy of his attention, and here is Tessa, getting the full deal from him. I’ve wanted to ruin the arrogant prick since freshman year and she was not going to get a taste of him before me. After I am through with him, he’s going to look like the scum of Manhattan society. And then, sweet little Tess can take him.