From the ages of about 7 to 27, I was pretty sure that John Hughes had ruined my life. The depictions of idyllic love in his high school-romance classics left me forever pining for the day my Jake Ryan would come:
Ah, yes, Sam and Jake. Jake and Sam. The unattainable scenario I never got to realize when I myself was a 15-year-old bridesmaid at my older sister’s wedding. With a mouthful of braces and ankles teetering on high heels (perpetually negotiating their stability as I adjusted to a rapid growth spurt), when I stepped out of the church that day, alas, no heart-throb was to be seen leaning against his red sports car to whisk me away from my averageness.
But this isn’t about Sam and Jake. Let’s roll back that preview and focus on the peripheral character also riding that bus, a.k.a. “Geek Girl #1” as she’s named in the credits.
Played by Joan Cusack, this character shows up but a handful of times in John Hughes’ 1984 film, Sixteen Candles. In the movie, this teenager has no dialogue, no name. So, in writing a “coming of age” story some time ago, I decided to give this girl an identity, a voice, and speculate on her plight—basically, give her a story of her own to celebrate the inadequacies that the film exploits for comic relief. I’ll share a preview of it here (the rest can be found at FanFiction.net).
If you’ve ever seen the movie, you may remember her as the girl at the water fountain…
Geek Girl #1
From the Periphery of the Drinking Fountain
Just trying to get a little water…crap, I’m thirsty. Yet my face is dripping wet. Soaking with fresh, otherwise drinkable water that is only going to evaporate and fall to earth again to quench other people’s thirst. But not mine.
I remember drawing a diagram of the rain cycle once…it was for a project in grade school, complete with arrows indicating the flow of the process…you know, how the rain falls and replenishes lakes and rivers and helps flowers grow, then up it goes, back into the sky as vapor, and so on and so forth. I had drawn these huge downy clouds that had smiling faces. So did the flowers; they were daisies. Everything in my diagram smiled, actually, even the disproportionately gigantic bees buzzing around those god-forsakenly chipper daisies. The ‘A’ I got on that project had me grinning as big as a badly drawn bee for my entire journey out the classroom, down the hall, through the main entrance, and into the…rain. As if on cue, lightening sliced through very un-fluffy, scowling clouds just before one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-BOOM. Drenched. No umbrella…cold…face dripping…yet so thirsty…
I snap my head to the right with a “Huh?” only to wince over my brainless error. Have to control those reflexes.
“Jesus, use a sink to wash your face, people drink from that!”
Jolted from my meandering thoughts, I mutely step aside from the drinking fountain and weave my way back toward the gymnasium, guided by the amplified bass tones of the music, since a translucent film of fused hydrogen and oxygen atoms now obscures my vision. Dabbing my mouth with the printed fabric skirt of the lady embroidered on my sweatshirt—a sixteenth birthday gift from Grandma—I muse to myself, yeah, I suppose people do. No wonder I can’t. Just a few more minutes and I know my face and sweatshirt will be dry. Unfortunately, I know by then I will not have succeeded in evaporating with the water.
And I’m still so thirsty. Parched. I lament the futility of water fountains.
It’s because of the neckbrace, you see. Yeah, as if you could miss it. Three more weeks caged inside this contraption, three at the very least. I suppose I’m already used to my head’s considerably limited range of motion after having to wear headgear day and night for the entire two years I wore braces—most people don’t have to wear it publicly like that, but my orthodontist declared my overbite to be uncommonly severe. Oddly enough, he still carries the plaster cast of my teeth around with him to assorted dental conventions. I would feel a trifle violated over that if having some sort of distinction didn’t feel kind of flattering. The whole thing has the essence of immortality, if you think about it—that cast is a statue, like fossilized evidence of my very existence…I mean, dental records are the primary means of identification for decomposed bodies, so, in a way, teeth are our identity.
And such are my allotted 15 minutes of fame, all used up on an overbite I no longer have. At least my teeth can chalk one up for posterity.
It was when I was leaving the dentist office after having my braces taken off, actually, when I pulled out of the parking lot without looking in either direction (force of habit thanks to the headgear) and rear-ended a pickup truck stopped at the adjacent red-light. The damage to either vehicle was minimal, but I received a case of whiplash evidently bad enough to warrant this harness. Yet another ring of metal to invade my lower peripheral vision. That is what my English teacher would call “ironic.”
Uh oh. Cough resulting from dry throat ready to strike…must suppress spasm…
I can’t help but vocalize my neck pain at times like these. The popular kids usually take a breather from their regularly-scheduled self-absorption to snort in mockery over my not-even-very-exclamatory exclamations, but that isn’t as embarrassing as when I do somehow manage to stifle my coughs, and the convulsion instead travels up my nasal passages to produce an unpredictable yet always audible sound that has them rolling every time. For someone so unnoticeable, I sure get noticed at more times than I would prefer.
Like now, for instance. The one time I really want to conceal myself, really want to pine in the privacy of this doorway, and here’s this at-the-cusp-of-pubescence freshman staring me down. Just gawking at me from one foot away through his darkened shades like some sorry Cory Hart poser. My face is pressed so close to this wall, with any luck I can just crawl inside of it right now and escape out the other side into an alternate universe where I’m like some Princess of Narnia who was born with a perfect bite…but the repelling force of this dude’s gaze compels me toward the opposite direction. Whatever, time to pluck myself away from this weed defiling my wallflower garden and brave the dance-floor.
Huh, there’s Samantha characteristically sulking in my pathway. Naturally another superb hair day for her short red tresses. I guess my hair isn’t all that bad, but I always have to pull it back tight with a rubberband so it doesn’t get caught in the head apparatus du jour. Even so, its matte, muddy color has nothing on the vibrancy of Rubylocks over there. And just look at her dress…classy and perfect as always, delicate as a daisy. Though I have to squint with that water still stinging my eyes, I can just make out the matching pumps.
Penny-loafers are the highest heeled shoes I own. My growth spurt seems to have occurred earlier than everyone else’s, so I’m way too tall, and tall isn’t cute—at most, it could be construed as exotic, maybe, but never cute —so I compensate by avoiding heels and curling my shoulders inward. That seems to help. Besides, Dad refuses to let his little girl look like a “common prostitute,” so sometimes I think I’d be safer getting caught in possession of crack and firearms than nylons or makeup. So here I am, at my first high school dance (even though I’m a sophomore—again, consult The Widower’s Handbook of Social Graces for the Budding Teenage Girl, the comprehensive, unabridged version) and stuck wearing this sweatshirt over a hand-me-down dress from my cousin, because God forbid that I bare my arms like Sam gets to with her angelically alabaster complexion.
And yet she pouts to her friend the same way she did at her locker earlier today, just before homeroom. Something about her family forgetting her sixteenth birthday and life just getting shittier…uh, yeah, Red. Then there was the bus ride home—here she had the smartest guy in my physics club falling all over himself to impress her, saturating her ego with his deluge of compliments, but she gets all haughty and tense, as though struggling to ignore the persistent drip of Chinese water torture.
Girls like her just rinse and spit. They’ll spit out a mouthful and have the nerve to complain that they’re thirsty.
To think Ted had skipped our after-school physics club meeting today hoping to encounter Sam on the bus so he could ask her to the dance. I heard him say so to my brother, Bryce, a freshman like Ted who is also, incidentally, his best friend. I ended up bailing on the meeting myself to discover the outcome of this wooing. As pleased as I was to find that he’d still be going to the dance stag, as insanely thrilled that he chose to talk to me once Sam got off at her stop (even though I guess I was the only other person left on the vehicle), our entire one-on-one time was spent exalting her “vogue” style. He exalted, anyway; I just smiled and mentally nodded (since I can’t actually move my head up or down). My tongue is usually tied when I’m around guys anyway, but it was bitten hard this time to contain my slight difference of opinion in an agreeable “uh, yeah.” I’m sure he was awed by my eloquence, but the unwavering optimism in his eyes, that sparkle in his braces, was enough to scorch any hopes I had that maybe tonight he’d look in the general vicinity of some other girl…someone friendlier…more intelligent…more enigmatic in her quiet, less attractive, and somewhat physically handicapped way.
[to be continued…]
So, if you got this far and are still “thirsty” for more, read the rest at FanFiction.net! Otherwise, I’m playing hostess with the mostess to out-of-town visitors, so will likely be out of commission on the blog for several days.