the audience – part 1
April 15, 2009
Laura knew that there was something unique inside her, a truly great thing, a thing that made her special and different than other people, but she didn’t know what it was or how to find it or why no one else could see it. Also, she was totally, totally way super bored. These were two of the three horrible things she was dealing with on a Saturday afternoon in March, two weeks before Spring Break. The third thing was that she was Frozen, that had been Frozen for a whole month, and that wasn’t just a thing, that was serious, that was huge, that was a tragedy.
The Freeze was what the most popular girls in school did when someone did something which was not acceptable and required punishment. When someone was being Frozen, nobody would talk to them or hang out with them or be their partner for class projects or sit near them at lunch or anything. Friends of the person being Frozen, if the person had friends, would sometimes protest about the Freeze but then they would be threatened with being Frozen, too, and so would shut up about it pretty quick. Laura always participated in Freezing people which was pretty easy for her because she wasn’t interested in talking to most people anyway, god, especially not the kind of weirdos and losers who usually got Frozen. She remembered how sophomore year Amanda Jeffries, who at the time had been Frozen for like two and a half months, a record, had, in the middle of an assembly about the importance of a drug free America, just stood up and screamed, screamed and shouted all loud and crazy, not words just sounds, and wouldn’t stop until the guidance counselor came and apparently was still in therapy three times a week about it even though she went to a different school now where they didn’t give grades or tests or anything.
Laura had been Frozen for a month so far, a month and six days, to be exact, because of stupid Jessica Meyer. Stupid Jessica Meyer had gotten stupid drunk at someone’s stupid beach bonfire birthday party on February 2nd and spilled beer all over Laura’s new sandals (which she had just gotten specifically for the party) and Laura had called her a stupid bitch and fine, okay, maybe pushed her a little bit. But really it was Jessica’s fault that she had slipped on the beer bottle, she was clumsy, it was amazing she was a cheerleader, ridiculous. It was so funny to watch, she had slipped and fell on her butt and her mini flipped up a little in the wind and then all the boys had gathered around trying to look up it and shouting, “Cat fight! Cat fight! Cat fight” and elbowing each other and suddenly it was a big deal. There was no fight because the cops showed up pretty soon after that and Laura could really care less about the whole thing, god, high school, but Jessica Meyer had decided it was a big deal and because Jessica Meyer (“My friends call me Jess, you can call me Jess-i-ca”) was a cheerleader and one of the prettiest and richest girls in school (although not much prettier and richer than Laura, only kind of, only some, but anyway some) and definitely the most popular girl, that meant Laura was Frozen.
It had been just about the most horrible month of her whole life, it was like Hell; Laura imagined that if she ever went to Hell this was what it would be like. Not that she would ever go to Hell, of course, because she was a good person who had a lot of good qualities like being pretty and interesting and talented and caring about issues, but still, it was like Hell. Laura had never been super popular or had a wide friend net but she had a few very close friends, good friends, like sisters, which Seventeen said was the best kind of personality circle to have around you anyway, it was an A circle, which got you extra points in the quiz one month. Her three best friends were called Emily and Emma and Erin, they were Laura and the Three E’s (Laura had come up with that), and they had been besties since sixth grade.
During the first few days of the Freeze, the three E’s had done everything they could for her, they had been even better than best friends. Though they didn’t actually talk to her in school, they texted constantly all the things they would’ve said anyway and when people weren’t looking shot her looks and glances and smiles, messages with their faces instead of their voices, and then after school they would all secretly meet up at one of their houses, sneaking in back and side doors and wearing sunglasses and scarves like in a spy movie. At first, it was great, it was almost better than being friends without the Freeze, because it made their friendship more important, like a secret pact, like an inside joke that only they knew about.
But then one day, day 5, there were suddenly no more texts and no more looks and no more secret meet ups. They ignored her all day at school, their phones were off and they didn’t look at Laura and what could she do? There was nothing but hoping and praying and texting, more and more texts to their silent phones, class after class, “PLZ talk to me,” “wut is going ON? PLZ PLZ,” until finally she just gave up. When Laura got home, she checked Facebook, Myspace, Youtube – they had defriended her everywhere. She had been untagged from all the pictures they were in together, hundreds and hundreds pictures with her face there with them but no name, like a stranger who had stepped into the pictures by accident. When she saw that Laura had found she couldn’t breathe for a second and had to remind herself that she knew how and could do it herself without thinking. Someone had gotten to them, that was the only thing, someone had gotten to them and maybe threatened them, if not Jess-ick-a Meyer then one of her entourage, Laura didn’t know because of course no one would talk to her and she could do nothing about it. Then it was Hell, that was when the Hell started. It wasn’t like Hell, it was Hell, literally.
It was horrible having no friends, Laura had had no idea before. It was bad in class but at least there she could distract herself by pretending to pay attention to her teachers and write things and stuff. The worst was lunch. At lunch, she sat at a table in the corner of the emptiest quad of the fresh air pavilion, the loser quad, her ears plugged with headphones from the second she stepped out of class. She didn’t eat anything but instead tapped at her phone for the entire 45 minutes, pretending that she was texting people and receiving texts from them. Really she was just typing pretend messages to the three E’s about things she had thought of or seen on TV or remembered from their long history together, although a lot of the time she ran out of things to say and so would type song lyrics or sad things she was feeling or song lyrics that expressed sad things she was feeling . She didn’t actually send any of the messages because she didn’t want to look, like, any more sad and desperate, but if she kept pretending to be writing then it helped her stop thinking about all of the other people around her who were probably looking at her being sad and alone.
It was Saturday afternoon and there was nothing to do or say, just nothing, and Laura was so bored and it wasn’t a good bored, comfortably numb like in that stoner song, it was a bad bored, a sad bored. She thought again about going out by the pool and working on her tan, which she had been thinking about every five minutes or so for the last couple of hours. She knew it wouldn’t make her less bored but it would at least be a use of her boredom, like her boredom would be accomplishing something useful like making her more tan and pretty. When life gives you lemons and everything. But she decided against it for the millionth time because she he had burned a little at the pool on Thursday afternoon when she had fallen asleep trying to do some of her stupid Pre-AP English coursework. She wasn’t reading the actual books, of course, god, who had the time, but reading and trying to memorize the chapter summaries and the character guides and all the themes and symbols and crap like that was almost as boring as reading the stupid things in the first place. She had to do all of these responses about what things meant and how they made her feel but she didn’t mean or feel anything about her reading and then this sunburn on top of it all, horrible. She didn’t want to risk a deeper burn which the magazines were saying now was permanent, like ink or marker, so instead of going and laying out, she continued laying in bed with the computer and thinking about her problems and possible solutions to them and eating baked organic potato chips (35% less fat) and drinking Diet Cherry Pepsi (no calories) and searching for information about eating disorders.
To try to stop the Freeze, she had been thinking about developing or at least pretending to develop an eating disorder. Even though she wasn’t fat, not at all, not even a little, okay, eating disorders were getting big again, they were coming back since the 90s, there had been a chart in one of the magazines, and having one might be a good direction for her go in to get sympathy and attention from people and get people to care enough about her to maybe stop the Freeze. Her dad always said that it was important to have goals and then work until you achieved them, that that was what winners did. Laura was a winner, she knew that, that was for sure — in fifth grade, they gave out bumper stickers for Honor Roll and her mom had put hers on the S-Type even though her dad had said it looked horrible on the chrome and gotten kind of mad about it.
Laura’s problem was she didn’t know enough about eating disorders to know which one she wanted to do or how she would do it when she decided. They had learned about them in Contemporary Wellness class the year before but she hadn’t really been paying attention because Blaine Jacobs had sat across from her then and liked to play footsie under the table. That was sophomore year, October, but Blaine was a junior who had moved from Vail and had to be in the class to fulfill a state graduation requirement. One day she was sitting there doodling in the margins of her notebook and suddenly she felt his hot, sweaty sock rub up against her calf and then slide down to stroke her toes through her ballet flats. The sock was rough and almost scratchy against her bare leg, like when her dad kissed her when he hadn’t shaved for a few days. She had looked up from her notebook and seen Blaine there across the table, smiling right at her. He had kind of cute eyes and trendy bangs and she was at that stupid age, fourteen, oh god, so young, where that was enough for her and so she put her left foot on top of his sock and made a sort of sexy foot rubbing sandwich and smiled at him in this flirty, R-rated movie kind of way. But then after they had been doing this for a couple of days, the rubbing and smiling, and had also kissed for a minute behind the C block lockers, he had Myspace messaged her this totally shady porno video of a girl in a cheerleader skirt jerking off some guy with her feet. Under the video he had written, “looks like fun lol text me l8ta.” That afternoon, Laura had tried it out in her bedroom with both a carrot and a cucumber from the kitchen but had ultimately decided after a conference call with Emma and Erin (and then some emergency follow-up video chat with just Emma) that it was a total turnoff and not really LOL at all and that was about the end of Blaine Jacobs. Laura knew she was special, she was an interesting and unique person who was so much more than just nice feet, even if she definitely did have them, of course, he had noticed.
She sipped the Pepsi and it slipped down her throat, a cold line racing through the center of her body. She imagined that her specialness was a physical thing, like an organ, like a liver or a kidney or something, and that maybe there was a problem with hers and it wasn’t producing whatever hormone it was supposed to produce to make her special. Maybe she needed some kind of medication or even an operation. Laura knew that if she was going to for real do an eating disorder and not just fake one that she didn’t want to do the one where you had to throw up because that can mess up your teeth, the stomach acid, and she had really nice, straight, white teeth and didn’t even have to have braces or laser whitening but just naturally had this lovely and amazing smile which was one of the things that was most pretty about her, her mom said. Her mom lived in Seattle now with this guy who was younger than her dad and did something with computers that made him pretty rich, although not as rich as her dad who did something with investing that made him richer. Her mom called on Wednesdays and Saturdays and talked about how happy she was with the changes in her life and how she had gotten on the board of a nonprofit that was really doing some good for the community as a whole and how Jacob loved her, she said, three ways, “for who I was, for who I am, and for who I will be.” And it was all just so totally stupid and sad and she remembered how her Mom had cried and cried when she found out about Dad and Krissy and the secret apartment but because she loved her and wanted her to keep calling and not get mad or distant, Laura acted like she was impressed with the changes her Mom had made in her life and was really proud of her and stuff.
On the other hand, if she was going to fake an eating disorder then maybe she should do the throwing up one (bulimia, Wikipedia said) because it would be so much more dramatic and would probably get her more attention and sympathy and specialness and profile. She could wait in the bathroom until she heard the right kind of girls outside her stall and then could fake throwing up and come out looking sad and emo (but still cute, of course). How could you fake throwing up, though, the sound of throw up hitting the toilet? Water from a water bottle? Yogurt? Gum? A mix of the three? Throwing up was such a unique sound. On YouTube, Laura watched a video of this girl with anorexia (she was pretty sure it was anorexia, though not positive, it was hard to tell). The video was a series of pictures of the girl as she lost weight – she started out as kind of chunky and over the course of the video got way super thin. The video was set to “You Are Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera and had really cheap homemade production values. Laura watched a couple of similar videos and finally made an informed decision not to do the eating disorder thing at all or at least not for real, because it seemed like having an eating disorder was really bad for you, which, duh, of course, but even more than the health problems, the eating disorders were actually making these girls uglier, so bony and bad complexioned, dry skin, bad hair, and why would you go to all that trouble and do all that work just to look uglier, seriously? Laura thought that was just stupid.
She was about to shut off the computer and maybe take another shower (she had had two so far that day, she was trying different conditioners) when an ad popped up. Normally she automatically closed ads without looking at them, without even having to think about them, but for some reason she didn’t close this one. The ad had a pair of big blue eyes all dramatically lit, staring out from the screen, and underneath this it said, in block letters, “SOMEONE COULD BE WATCHING YOU RIGHT NOW.” How completely creepy! Laura loved horror movies because you could scream and it was okay and normal even and people laughed and touched your shoulder or gave you more popcorn when you were scared. Her mouse hovered over the little “x” in the corner of the window but something about the eyes and the way they were looking kept her from closing it. Looking at them looking at her made her feel something she couldn’t explain exactly, a weird feeling, a special feeling, and so she clicked on the ad, right in between them.
A simple website opened – a black background with gray text:
“Do you feel unappreciated?
Does no one give you the attention you deserve?
Are you a celebrity without an entourage?
Are you a star in your own life?
If so, rent an audience today from SES.
Day / Week / Month / Extended leases available
Next Day Delivery.”
Underneath this was the same pair of eyes as in the ad, followed by a 1-800 number. Rent an audience? What did that even mean? Laura thought it was amazing, how totally weird, you could get anything on the Internet. One time when she was twelve, she had borrowed her dad’s Platinum AmEx from his wallet and she and Emma had ordered a case of lipstick from France so they could be ready to French kiss boys, ha ha, “french kiss.” It had been really difficult to do because all they really knew was the Lady Marmalade song and so they had to use translation websites and French dictionaries and everything and when Laura had finally seen the order confirmation screen (in French, duh), she had been really proud of herself, both for the idea and the execution of it. She had been so proud that she had told her dad about it at dinner that night, thinking he would be impressed with his beautiful and talented daughter but actually he had gotten really mad and yelled at her and canceled the order. Laura learned her lesson and from that point on spread around the balances so he wouldn’t notice, which wasn’t that hard at all, really, she just copied down all the card numbers and expiration dates and online banking passwords. Her dad had told her time and again that money management was a good skill for her to practice for her life, maybe the most important skill she could learn since she had already mastered being the prettiest daughter he could have.
She stared at the eyes staring back at her. Even though they weren’t animated, they still seemed to move a little, like those shiny hologram stickers they would stick on their notebooks in elementary school. She was so young then, how time flew, she was a Junior now and soon she would be a Senior, god, and then she would be an Adult, in the Real World. An audience. She wondered what it would be like to have an audience, a group of people who only cared about her and nothing else. How many would there be? What would they think about her? Would they clap and cheer when she did or said cool or interesting things? Maybe they would have signs, like at a football game, special uniforms or her name painted on their bodies, letter by letter. Her mom, when she talked about the divorce (although she would never use “the ‘d’ word” because it was negatively charged), said that sometimes you have to make changes in your life, that sometimes you have to do a big thing to change all the small things. She said that when she was with Laura and her dad that she had been an ugly brown moth trapped in a cocoon but that when she had made the change in her life to leave Laura (and her dad) and go off with Jacob, she had become the beautiful blue butterfly she always was inside, she had been released. Her spirit color was blue, she said, with purple highlights. God, it was such crap, her mom was so stupid, Laura hated her except sometimes. She looked at the eyes on the screen and they looked back at her, big and blue