Turn It Off
feeling lost. missing a friend.
“Screens off.” Karrie’s mother, Beatrice, or Bea as her father likes to say, gently reminds as she passes by Karrie’s bedroom.
Karrie squeals quietly as her thoughts scream, ‘He wrote me a letter! He wrote me a letter!’ but with most composure, she obeys her mother’s demands and turns the screen to her tablet off. Her mother doesn’t need to know every detail of her day and it’s not like her mom would every snoop. Mostly because her mom lacks any technical skills. Bea is all about folding laundry and keeping the kitchen cabinets tidy. The morning prayers and setting the table for the morning and evening meal.
Karrie looks at her dull outfit and frowns, but the tight white tee and wrap mini stashed in her locker are all she’s looking forward to. Every morning at school she has a tiny makeover before she starts her classes and her friends are all for it, exchanging the latest makeup tips and secrets on boys they approve as cute and would like to date. Although, some of them have boyfriends already. But that doesn’t prevent them from rating other boys as cute or boys that can only be placed in the friend zone. It is a cruel system, but it’s not like boys don’t do it either.
Getting a letter from a boy, however, is a big deal. It means that the boy is interested in going steady and that’s a serious matter, especially if the letter is a poem. Even better if the poem is a knock off of some famous love letter because it shows that the boy took his time to do some research. But, all that nonsense sometimes gets muddied because boys like to play pranks. So, Karrie’s composure is not just for her mother’s sake but also to keep calm when Aaron comes over, most likely during lunch, to ask her about his letter, because boys always do.
Being the third youngest, Karrie often gets overlooked and to some extent she likes it. A prime example this morning. It’s the eldest that would prep the breakfast and the youngest would get most care because they are the neediest. So, day to day, Karrie simply flies under the radar without being asked of too much. It’s simply the common call to turn off her phone, computer, or the lights.
All the girls are holding their breath as Aaron approaches their table. Karrie had the gut feeling that he would part his hair to the side and sweep it behind his ear before reaching them. All the tricks to appear cool and uninterested as if his presence is a mere coincidence.
“Hey.” The word leaves his lips with a suave breeze and as if it is directed only to Karrie. Although, some of the girls chirp with nervous excitement and giggle.
Instead of replying, Karrie says nothing. Not even a quiver and she doesn’t recognize her reaction. Unprepared for the misdirection of her thoughts, she uproots herself from the bench, crushes Aaron’s letter, and tosses it to the floor. Then without excuse storms from the lunchroom. Half of the girls freeze in their stands baffled. The other half follows Karrie out.
“What was that?” Marianne’s the first to ask without trying to sound like she’s freaking out or condemning Karrie’s actions.
But, Karrie’s unable to speak. Unable to utter any sound. As if all of a sudden she has become mute.
“Wasn’t that the point?” Clo asks mostly with confusion. “For all of us to have boyfriends?”
Among all the questions being thrown at her and all the chatter between all the other girls, all Karrie hears is the thump of her racing heart. Maybe boys are not as important to her as she thought or maybe Aaron is not the boy she’s interested in or at all.
The last of the ring echoes through the hallways and the noise of students leaving the classrooms marks the end of another school day. But today Karrie isn’t rushing to her locker and to the closest girls room to change. Instead, she stays in the classroom waiting out the rush. A half-hour should be long enough and she begins to tread at the most slowest pace. She couldn’t wait for the day to end but also she doesn’t want to go home. Or see any of her friends, hoping that they all have left for home and that none of them waited.
She is, however, surprised to see Aaron at her locker looking very much not like himself. All bummed and defeated. She didn’t realize how much pain her silence must have caused. Pain and confusion.
“You didn’t like it?” He says deflated.
“It’s not that,” Karrie begins but she doesn’t know how to explain because she doesn’t know what to explain. She doesn’t understand herself today as well, so she settles on, “I’m sorry.” She lifts her eyes to meet his and after a moment of battle, “Clo liked it.”
“I don’t care what Clo likes,” he argues. “I care what you like. I thought you liked me?”
That is the question to make her feel guilty. Karrie reads it in Aaron’s tone, but she shrugs his words with a bit of coldness realizing that she doesn’t like him. She never has and she never was as interested in boys. She simply played a part, acting like she thought she should. As a girl, she thought she should, but she never felt as girly as the others or as thrilled to talk about what’s like to be kissed for the first time or at least kissed by a boy. At times, boys seemed icky, gross, and stupid to her. They played games along with the rules that were set by the boys and girls before them. The holding of the hands and the letters and the poems. At times, all of that seemed ridiculous to her because no one acted like herself, but a projection of some image she thought she had to live up to. And Karrie is as guilty of it, too, getting caught up in the ranking system of popularity. After all, she is friends with the coolest girls in her grade.
“I don’t…” for a moment she thinks of saying more but decides to stop there. I don’t.
For once the silence bothers her. Where are all of her brothers and sisters? As they tend to scream and shout over each other around this time of the day. Karrie pops her head out of her room waiting for anyone to appear. No one does and with a heavy foot, she walks down the stairs, announcing her movements.
“Hi, Karolyn. Where’s everybody?”
“The younglings are with mom visiting aunt June. Bart is with dad in the shed and Robert should be cutting the neighbour’s grass. You want to help?” And she hands Karrie a stack of clean plates.
Karolyn’s the second oldest, right after Bart, but she’s probably the nicest and mother’s favourite. Karrie always felt jealous of her sister’s blonde hair but happy that she didn’t have to contribute much to the chores. Karrie mostly plays the assistant not the star in the hustle and bustle of the daily life of her family.
“How is Zachary?” Karrie asks.
“He’s fine. Working. What’s the interest?”
“Nothing.” Then silence. Karrie considers her next question, “You like him?”
“Very much,” Karolyn answers with a smile.
The star’s in Karolyn’s eyes in answering the question sinks Karrie’s heart. That’s the feeling she figures one should have when speaking of the one they like. Not the misery Karrie is feeling at this moment.
“Do you think I would ever like a boy as you do?” She asks her sister fearing the answer.
“Of course, why wouldn’t you?” And with a gentle smile, Karolyn returns to dry the forks and knives before the residue of water leaves a mark.
Through dinner, Karrie sat more silent than usual blending into the backdrop of the room. She ignored every ding and flash on her phone. She didn’t care to answer or to speak.
As she munched on the grab her mother prepared, Karrie thought of Jocelyn, her grade-four friend before Karrie got sucked into the aura of Clo and Marianne. Karrie mistreated her unwisely because being one of the popular girls got her the perks of staying favourite not just with the students but as well with the teachers. But, being popular should not be about being cruel. Being nice might be wiser.
Jocelyn wasn’t considered a pretty girl not because she wasn’t physically pretty but because she refused to participate in Clo’s and Marianne’s games. Karrie had to think of her years in Junior High and she didn’t want to start with a strike on her back and Jocelyn was an easy target. Karrie’s cruelty however was harshest and it’s not like she had the most to prove. Although today’s actions however might have ruined the whole semester’s work, Karrie’s present guilt feels identical to the guilt she felt when she inflicted Jocelyn. Mostly due to the present fact that she has misses Jocelyn most of all.
Another ding on her phone before Bea makes her rounds reminding, “Screens off.”
The flood of question marks on Karrie’s screen because that’s how it all starts and she will have to come up with an explanation by morning.
For once she’s happy for the curfew to turn off her phone. If Karrie could only turn off today and restart sixth grade. Maybe Jocelyn still would be her best friend and they would talk to wee hours during their sleepovers. If anything, that was the best part, looking into Jocelyn’s face and admiring her smile.
© Jacob Greb — 2020
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