Extract from Memories
Chapter One: Danielle
God, I hate going back to school after the holidays. It’s hell. Torture. You’ve had freedom all summer and suddenly it’s back to the rules and regulations of St Anne’s Community School. You’re a prisoner, stuck there until the first of June. Trapped there with awful homework and boring classes and nagging teachers with no way out. It’s horrible.
My one consolation this year is that it’s only Transition Year, and that we don’t have important exams coming up. Not that the Junior Cert was important – although from the way the teachers went on you’d swear your life depended on it – but it was kind of stressful. Everyone was going on about how much they hadn’t studied, and you just knew they’d memorised every little thing on the course and were just trying to be cool. Meanwhile, I really hadn’t studied. And of course my parents started giving out to me for not working hard. I looked like the bad daughter all of last year, but what else is new? Rachel was always studying. She was incredibly organised about it, too. You know, with a study plan that she actually followed (I made out a zillion study plans and spent most of the time colouring them in) and notes from each subject, and copies and sheets dating back to first year.
Sometimes I really don’t see how we’re related. I mean, if it wasn’t for the physical resemblance I’d think one of us – probably me – was adopted. We’re both dark-haired with similar features, only she’s actually pretty. I spend half my time thinking that maybe I look okay, and the other half searching for a paper bag to put over my head. Rache is the serious student, the girl who freaks out if she gets a B. (If I get a B, I’m ready to throw a party.) She’s a mega brain, but I don’t hold it against her. Most of the time. She turned fourteen yesterday, on the first of September, but she’s going into Transition Year. The scary thing is she could actually be doing fifth year, but she seems to have enough sense not to do something that crazy. Besides, she’s changing schools to St Anne’s, and we have to do Transition Year. Not that I’m complaining. I would have done it anyway. Third year was hell.
Apart from having wildly different approaches to school, Rache and I get along pretty well. More or less. Sometimes in the sense that less is more. We hang around with the same group most of the time and we’re mainly into the same type of music and the same clothes. (Which, incidentally, works out great when I want to borrow a CD or can’t find anything to wear.) So that prevents me from killing her when she’s really getting on my nerves or when the parents are raving on about how perfect she is. (You know, you’d think they’d have the decency to pretend they loved us both equally . . .) Over the years I’ve accepted the fact that everyone worships the ground my little sister walks on, but sometimes it still gets to me. The annoying thing is, she doesn’t seem to realise that she has everything going for her. She’ll moan about being too fat or something and I don’t know if she really thinks she is or if it’s just to get attention and the reassurance that friends and families are practically bound by law to give teenage girls who think they’re fat. “Of course not, you look great!”
I used to have to tell that to my friend Nicole constantly, but she got over her “I’m so fat!” stage pretty quickly. Nicole isn’t the type to wallow in self-pity for very long. She’s got a great outlook on life, or at least she seems to. I don’t know – I mean, she’s one of my best friends, but there are times when I feel like there’s still a lot I don’t know about her. She’s also very opinionated at times and isn’t scared of saying what she thinks, which has led to a couple of fights in the past. She has principles and morals. I don’t, not really. I just let things happen.
Like the time I started making up lies about my friend Mark so that Rache would decide to end things with him and then he’d be available so I could go out with him. Probably not my finest moment ever, but I felt bad about it afterwards. Still, I have to admit to getting stupid over guys sometimes. I’ll do things that are completely out of character just so they’ll like me. A lot of the time when I’m around guys, I’m a completely different person, unless it’s a really good friend. Some of my friends are like that, but they’re, I don’t know, confident enough to not change too much. I suppose the most obvious example is when I started smoking because my boyfriend of the time did too. Most of my friends smoke because they want to, or because everyone’s doing it. I started because of a guy. Typical. Then I spent six months trying to quit. Nicole and Rache are vehemently anti-smoking, so that helped. A little. Even though I wanted to kill them when they shook their heads disapprovingly and preached about how bad it was. Yeah, yeah, we all know it’s a disgusting habit, but it’s just so . . . wonderful. There are times I still crave them.
Anyway, I think that’s all you need to know about me. Danielle Connolly, aged fifteen, a “party animal” according to my parents (which isn’t true, I just like to have a good time) and a girl who’ll do pretty much anything for a boy she really likes.
Why does that sound so pathetic? I’m a romantic, okay? I believe that having someone in your life is important. Love is everything.
Not that I’m going to find love now that school’s started again. Most of the guys in school are okay, but they’re either ugly, or idiots. Or else I’ve gone out with them. I have a history with a lot of the boys I know, most notably Mark. (Tall, dark, and adorably cute.) We were together for a year and two months (and five days, two hours and forty minutes, give or take a second or two) in second and third year, and then came to a mutual agreement that we were better off as friends. (Fine, fine. He came to the mutual agreement, and I nodded and acted like I’d been thinking the exact same thing to avoid utter humiliation. Such is the world of teen romance.) He was, I guess, the big love of my life for a long time, and even though we’re just good friends now, there’s still moments (like all the ones where I’m awake, for example) when I miss that. I’ve been out with a couple of other guys, and met plenty (probably too many) of them, but no one’s come close to being as great as he is.
And there I go getting all sappy again. Someone stop me the next time I do that. It’s just that it’s . . . Mark.
The doorbell’s ringing. I’m brushing my hair and graciously let Rachel go and answer it.
“Danielle! Come on!” Rachel yells upstairs.
“Get your ass down here right now!” Nicole adds cheerfully. Way too cheerful for this early in the morning. It’s eight-thirty a.m., which is a time I haven’t seen on a clock all summer. Nicole’s not exactly a morning person either, usually she doesn’t bother calling around before school because she’s racing down there five minutes after class has started. It must be a first-day-back thing. Sort of like the way I used to be in primary school – every September I declared that this was the year I was going to have all my homework done and pay attention and not get into trouble. It usually wore off after about two weeks.
I finish brushing out my hair and flip it over my shoulders. I can finally actually flip my hair; it’s enough to make me grin even this early in the morning. Every so often I decide I’m fed up with long hair and cut it really short, and then I spend months wishing it’d hurry up and grow back. It’s finally past my shoulders and I’m happy with it.
I thunder down the stairs and land beside the two of them, all three of us in our neat and clean school uniforms. We look like innocent schoolgirls who’ve never been exposed to any impurity in our lives. It’s kind of funny. Not that we’re all out on the streets selling our bodies or anything, but we’re not exactly sheltered from the world. Who our age is, these days?
“Off we go, I suppose,” Rachel sighs, staring dully at her reflection in the hall mirror.
“Nervous?” Nicole asks.
“No,” she shrugs. Lying, however, isn’t exactly Rachel’s forte. She looks jittery. Then again, this is the first day at a new school for her. In first year, we went to different secondary schools, because our parents thought she’d do better in an all-girls school. I have to say they were probably right, since all the students there do seem to get really good results. Anyway, they didn’t really mind what school I went to. Well, they made a half-hearted suggestion that I go to that school, but no one was surprised when I chose to go to the school all my friends were going to. So Rache has spent the last three years there, being a dedicated student, and, if you ask me, not having much fun. I’m not sure why she wanted to change schools, but she convinced Mum and Dad to let her move. Probably because of her friends. Rache is really close to Nicole and Caitlin, who lives down the road, and I get the feeling she was getting bored with her friends at school. Not surprisingly. They’re not the most thrilling people ever. They tend to get excited about things like Science homework. As academic as Rache is, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her squeal over working out a chemical equation.
“It’ll be fine,” Nicole says. “Well, apart from all the guys and the constant sexual innuendo.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” I grin.
Rachel laughs. “I’ll cope.”
On that note, we set off for school.
Chapter Two: Nicole
The worst thing about summer is that it has to end. It’s never long enough – you want it to last forever. The endless days with no responsibilities, where you can just hang around with your friends without school getting in the way. Of course, a ton of people I knew were working, but that’s beside the point. And off on holidays. And I suppose the more you see people, the more they get on your nerves.
Okay, maybe summer wasn’t total perfection, but my point is, it’s better than school. I spent the last six weeks of third year counting down to June 14, when my last exam would be over and I could escape until September 2nd. And all in all, it was a pretty good summer. I mean, there was heartbreak and emotional trauma, but that’s part and parcel of summer, just like the fun and the laughter. For me, anyway – or it was this summer, at least.
I got to have some really good talks with my friends. (Well, Mark) You know the way it is when there’s a big group of you, a lot of the time you don’t really talk about the important things or confide your secrets. And I like having one-on-one conversations every so often. Mark and I had a lot of those. The guy is a lot deeper than I realised. I mean, I thought I knew him pretty well. He’s always been one of the guys that I know that I could actually talk to, but there’s a lot I didn’t know about him. He’s more thoughtful than I gave him credit for. Then again, he does act like a typical guy most of the time – for “guy”, read “asshole”. Danielle is always raving on about how wonderful he is – but Danielle is hopelessly in love with him and not what you’d call unbiased. Most of my friends have fancied Mark at one stage or another, he’s just one of those guys that girls like. It’s the same with his friend Adam. But they’ve all gotten over him one way or another. Even I went through the stage, and we went out for a little while – but I don’t count it as important, seeing as we were twelve at the time and it was a five-day relationship. Anyway, Danielle’s never gotten over him, but then again, I don’t think he’s ever really got over her, either. He broke up with her, but if you ask me, he regrets it. Although I can’t be sure – we never really talk about it, he always changes the subject. And he’s back to being a typical guy.
Okay, I’m not going to hide the fact that I think most guys are complete idiots. You might as well know my opinion of half the world’s population. Idiots. On the other hand, they’re so damn attractive. They draw you to them with their magnetic charm and then are too stupid to realise when you’re interested. They flirt with you and then they break your heart.
Not that I’m bitter or anything.
Not at all.
Not one little bit.
Anyway, myself, Rachel and Danielle are on our way to school on the dreaded first day back when we run into a couple of the guys from our year, Mark and Adam among them. I watch as Adam flirts with Rachel and she blushes a little. She’s still not that used to attention from guys and sometimes she’s unsure how to handle it. After a few moments, though, she’s holding her own, and I’m proud of her. In some ways Rache is like a little sister to me – she’s inexperienced in a lot of things. In other ways she’s just one of my best friends. She’s younger than I am, but she’s not stupid, she knows what she’s talking about. Still, there are some things that I don’t talk to her about. I don’t go to her with every problem that I have, but I do listen to hers. I guess there are just some things that I don’t want to tell my friends about. Like Niall. That was something that no one knows about. Well, except Mark, and I’m still not sure whether I should have told him or not. I mean, I needed to talk to someone – but at the same time, I’m a little ashamed, or embarrassed, about what happened, about what a fool I made of myself.
You know, we really don’t need to be discussing this now . . .
Back to Rachel and Adam, and away from me. I don’t mind having the focus on me as long as it’s on the outside me, the mask that I wear the entire time and not the real Nicole that dwells within. The confident Nicole who’s always up for some fun and always ready to cause trouble if it’s an issue she feels strongly about – that’s the girl that people know and, most of the time, like. She pretends to have more confidence than she really does, and she acts more sure of what she believes than she is, in the hope that she can convince other people.
Rachel! Adam! Pay attention, Nic. We walk into the classroom and Rache dumps her bag down on a chair. He looks like he wants to sit next to her, but settles for behind, just so he doesn’t look too eager, I suppose. I sit beside her, and Danielle, tossing her hair, sits in front. Because she knows the closer she is to the front, the more guys will be looking at her. At least that’s what I think. I can see some new boy at the other side of the classroom ogling her already. Yep, school has begun.
Guys like Danielle. Not only is she pretty, but she oozes confidence. They’re drawn to her like moths to a flame or chocoholics to Cadbury’s. She likes it when they have crushes on her, and I think that’s part of her attraction. There’s this feel-good factor involved – they flirt, she smiles, and they’re on top of the world. She’s nice to them. Most of the time I’m not. At least that’s my way of explaining why she has more admirers than I do. It’s easier than thinking it’s because she’s prettier or skinnier or whatever. I’ve been in the stage where you think life would be so much better if you were skinny, and it just makes you miserable, always worrying about whether you look fat or how many calories are in this, that or the other. I’m glad I’m past that phase. If a guy prefers your skinnier friend over you simply because she’s thin, he’s not worth it.
In my opinion, most of the males on the planet aren’t worth it anyway, but that’s beside the point.
A teacher comes in. She looks new. Young, scared. I give her three weeks before she has a nervous breakdown. “Y-y-you’ve to go d-d-down to the hall for an as-assembly,” she stammers.
No one listens to her, they’re either too busy talking to their friends or deliberately ignoring her. Oh God, she looks like she wants to run away. And I want to hug her.
Two fingers in my mouth, and I whistle. “Guys, shut up!” I yell. And there’s silence, or what passes for it at this school.
“Down to the assembly hall,” Little Miss Nerves repeats, a little more confident this time.
As we all leave the classroom, Mark murmurs, “Nicole, patron saint of new teachers.”
“Oh, shut up,” I snap.
“You’ve gotta do something about that attitude, Nic. No wonder you don’t have a boyfriend.”
I stare at him in disbelief. “That was low.”
He has the grace to look ashamed. “Yeah, I know. Sorry.”
I’m still hurt by him throwing the fact that I don’t have a boyfriend in my face. After me telling him about Niall, all those long conversations . . . and he says something stupid like that.
“Hey.” He puts his hand on my arm. “Ignore what I said, okay? I’m just a guy . . . one of those idiots, remember?” P>I smile. “How could I forget?”
“You coming?” Danielle calls from halfway down the corridor.
“Suppose we have to,” I sigh, and Mark and I follow the gang down to the hall.
Chapter Three: Rachel
“Well, that’s forty-seven minutes of my life wasted that I want back,” Nicole rolls her eyes after assembly. We got a talk on TY – why we should try to make the most of it, and not think of it as a doss year, but throw ourselves into it and get as much out of it as possible.
Naturally we all came out of it thinking, this is going to be a doss year.
We’re teenagers. Lazy. What do they expect?
I used to care about things like school, and try and work hard. But lately it’s all become so boring. Like, last year. I’d go up to my room to study and end up doodling on the books for two hours. I tried to study as much as I could – but I just got so fed up of it all. And my parents were expecting me to do so well.
Danielle, my sister, doesn’t know how easy she has it. They don’t care how she does. Well, they care, but they don’t expect as much from her as they do from me. I have to do brilliantly. She has to pass, and they’re happy.
I hate it.
“That was so boring!” Naomi agrees. Naomi, who missed half of it because she got into school late. She didn’t even get given out to – just looked sweet and innocent and sat down beside the rest of us. I’m not surprised, with those big blue eyes and blonde hair. She looks like an angel. She acts like a devil. It’s an interesting combination.
She’s pretty, though. Most of my sister’s friends are. Danielle is, too. It’s sort of depressing to be constantly surrounded by people more attractive than you are. You’re the ugly duckling amid swans.
Oh, who am I kidding? It’s incredibly depressing. I mean, when I look in the mirror, I want to turn away in disgust, but there’s some little part of me that likes tormenting myself and forces me to stay and stare in dismay at my reflection, like the way you have to look at an accident on the road. Morbid curiosity. The longer I look, the worse it gets and the more faults I see. The monster stares back at me, growing more hideous by the second, until finally I have to drag myself away.
I know most people aren’t happy with the way they look, but I seriously can’t imagine Danielle avoiding mirrors half the time just so she doesn’t have to catch a glimpse of her reflection, or Nicole staring into one and finding a zillion things wrong with her appearance.
But then, they don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to the way they look. Beautiful. Skinny. They can eat whatever they want without having to worry about getting fat. They don’t even think about it. Naomi is a total chocoholic and she’s still tiny. Danielle eats tons, but she never seems to gain any weight. And Caitlin is even worse. She doesn’t seem to get hungry at all – she just eats when she’s reminded to. I would love to be like that, but I get hungry – and usually head straight for the chocolate or the crisps. Caitlin’s one of those people who realises at dinner time that she hasn’t eaten all day and probably should. I’m envious.
I get jealous a lot, I guess. I think everyone else has a better life than I do, but it’s because it’s true – they do. They always seem so happy and carefree. I’m not like that. I try to be, but sometimes it’s just so hard and I don’t see the point in bothering, because trying to fit in is a pointless exercise anyway – I never will. I never fit in anywhere. I mean, I didn’t fit in when I was in primary school, not really. I didn’t fit in with my friends in my old school. And I don’t really fit in with Danielle and her friends. They’re nice most of the time, but they don’t really want me around. Most people don’t.
I do have a plan, you know. I don’t want to be the outsider my entire life. No one does. It’s pretty simple. I just need to be thin. You think I’m stupid, okay. Hear me out. A lot of the way I feel about myself has to do with the way I look. And if I was thinner – well, I’d be happier, right? I’d feel more confident, and I’d make friends more easily, and people would like the thin Rachel better than the old chubbier one, because she’d be cooler and prettier.
And that’s all I have to do – lose weight, and everything else in my life falls into place. Unfortunately losing weight is a lot harder than it sounds. I mean, I like food. And I love junk food. And it’s harder to stay away from it than I thought it would be.
Maybe I’ll just fail at this, like I do with everything else. Rachel Connolly can do well in school, but when it comes to every other aspect of living, she fails miserably. She’s a pathetic loser. No wonder no one likes her.
You know, I swore I wasn’t going to be one of those teenagers who have no self-esteem and feel that the world’s against them. I promised myself I wasn’t going to be the stereotype.
And I’ve been a teenager for barely a year and already I’m depressed and angst-ridden.
The difference is my life really is bad. I mean, not bad in a lot of ways. Like, I have a stable home environment. It’s not like I have parents walking out or a situation with domestic violence or anything. And it’s not like I cut myself or anything. I’m not suicidal. But it’s not exactly wonderful, is it?
I feel like crap. Worthless. Unwanted. Sometimes I’m happy – but those times are becoming more and more infrequent.
And you know, no one notices. I mean, no one notices! No one seems to realise how bad I feel, or maybe it’s just that they don’t care. Danielle hasn’t asked me am I okay, and Nicole, who I’ve always thought is one of the most sensitive people I know, and who is meant to be one of my best friends, hasn’t checked to see if something’s wrong.
I guess their lives are so perfect they don’t want to deal with little inconveniences like me. I don’t count as a real person, right?
© Claire Hennessy 2002