This is the first in a series of pieces from Millburn High School's award-winning literary magazine, WORD, that will be published on TAPIntoMillburn once a week. The author, Amanda Prager, is a senior at Millburn High and was recently named as one of the nation's 141 Presidential Scholars.
The First Battle with the Heart
(as Observed by Cupid)
The summer she was seventeen, the cicadas came out of the ground and marched like a million wound up toy soldiers. Thoughts are the shadows of our sentiments, and so, when she fantasized romping through Europe with his mother and brother, tromping about in grassy fields in cotton dresses and binoculars, she knew she was a marked target. For the past few months beat irregularly beats—through her chest, an arrow coated in limerence. But these two lovers were destined to an eternal suffering at the clear, clean hands of the other; they both enjoyed people slightly out-of-focus, walking into their frame with the details not completely visible. When she breathed wet hot and tight into his collarbone, it was too raw, too bloody.
When they conversed, it was she who did much of the talking. His voice rose and fell like waves leaving the burning sand waiting for the cool rhythm of his voice to wash over again. She did not talk like a tide or even a whirlpool, but more like a crooked twig, stumbling, stumbling, stumbling, never knowing where or when to stall—to the extent that if he didn’t start talking she could never stop. This had the tendency to cause catastrophic harm. Shut up! Who cares if there’s an awkward pause in conversation every once in a while? Shut up! When he talked to her it was as if a kitchen knife had been pressed against the hardest part of her skin—her ribs were lined with a million little paper-cuts, pre-meditative seppuku. He dressed in camouflage, spoke this way too—every sentence lined with ambiguity, stuffed to the cracks with doubt.
I see girls go through ups and downs when they are in this type of relationship. The love they have found—which they must flaunt on every social network, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook— gives them freedom and bliss like they have never had before. Now they are free to dump the insecurities that clung to them like fleas down the nearest alleyway—to rain on the mere mortals. They sit in their rows with straighter posture, cleaner faces, beacons of confidence and poise. They feel wanted because they are wanted. They look more independent—more womanly—and suddenly, the girl who cried and clutched a baby tooth between pinkies has the gait and the bedroom eyes of a woman. Yet when the relationship inevitably ends, the girl withdraws, erases, retreats to a state even more regressed than her virginal self. This leaves her paralyzed, powerless; she is paradoxically, both dependent and independent. I see their darting eyes, screaming in chorus—Love me, love me as hard as I hate myself. Their inevitable return to him is a masochistic impulse common to the female gender. But perhaps I do not know the full story.
You cannot make homes out of human beings. Extremism means becoming farthest removed from the ordinary, the living; extremism is a veiled longing for death. After enlisting, he meets Someone Else. Someone Else is beautiful and tough. She fixates on the idea that he will chew Someone up quickly, spit her like an old piece of gum with the juice sucked out; but already, part of that girl has a permanent home in his veins. He likes to see life through the soft, curling edges, seeing the tips and outlines of a person but refuses to see the whole person—a Picasso work, no whole. This is why he cannot be monogamous and why she is trapped like an Indian with her tongue cut out.
They sit outside a theater, smoking. Hazy brown tobacco fills their lungs. He calls her Agent Orange because she knows how to suffocate men, kill them with smothering “Do you hate me?” He reacts with a resounding NO! Like, how could she ask such a thing? How could she not? It is so hard to tell. He talks about how he enjoys seducing and pleasing people, but he says it in such a way that it reminds her of a vampire sucking an infant dry. She walks home alone regretting never having learned archery.
Now she wants to kill him. She fantasizes painting slurs on his locker—she can picture her fingers grasping the spray can but she cannot picture all the petty steps—getting a sharpie, coming fifteen minutes early, uncapping the bottle. The words fester like sores: inexplicable. She is tired of watching him stand and appear so great. She is tired of the illusion of grandeur blinding the girl’s eyes. She wants to clear the smoke. He kisses her hard and breathless.
The next morning, she writes so hard that the pen slips: I don’t care how many motorcycles you’ve ridden, or how many records you’ve listened to, or how many drugs you’ve tried: you are still not one of the Beatles. Not even Ringo.
She nabs another guy, but she is using a Band-Aid to cover a bullet wound. The Other Guy kisses like a nervous poodle. The Other Guy is twitchy—pawing at her inner thighs like a rabid dog. And his head is a massive bulls-eye. Later, dial tone. “Hello?” After: Thank god there is no romantic attachment! Her heart thumps as if absorbing bullets.
She is lonely: hot baths and Netflix are not enough. Through the shower fog of his mirror, there is a sign on her forehead: Dependable. She is the gummy heart-shaped epaulet against the cold musket of his forearm. Her shoulder is a squadron chanting cease; fire; cease.
On her way back from his house, she steps on a few cicada corpses. Her eardrums echo to the crunch heard once every seventeen years. Cicadas do not just burst from their husks, they emerge slowly, leaving brown, vacuous bodies behind. They come out yellow with new skin as stretched and raw-looking as an infant’s. Their eyes blink and their wings fill with fluid; they stretch them-selves out until they become a whole new being. Together, they scream their nascent existence to the heavens; she can hear them roaring in bushes, screeching while shedding their old selves—warmed by the moonlight they haven’t felt in seventeen years.
The Millburn High School Literary Magazine, Word, is a juried publication that showcases the extraordinary talents of this school's writers, artists, photographers, craftspeople and illustrators. The editors and staff take the process of creating the magazine very seriously. We hold regular open meetings from September to February to read submissions and to identify potential pieces for inclusion in the next volume. Then we choose selections that exemplify the diversity and strength of our student body and spend several months working on a unifying theme, on layout and production. Since we are constantly amazed by the abilities of our peers, we consider the magazine a tribute to the virtuosity, skill and creativity of our student body.
To download the 2014 edition, click here.
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