Teens, Identity, and Despair
“I stand beside her pretending to fluff my already exaggerated hairdo. She thinks I don’t know her importance so she draws a line beneath her initials with a sweep of her wrist.
“TYC catches me staring at her. ‘What you looking at?’ She narrows her brown eyes, swivels the lipstick into its black case, turns, and struts away.
“By the time school lets out at three-thirty, I have seen TYC three more times. By the lockers exchanging her history book for algebra. In the halls shouting at a cheerleader for accidentally touching her. At the library checking out a book written by Dorothy Allison.
“I start to think there is more to my fascination with TYC than her bright red lipstick, which she never wears, only writes with. At home I stare in the mirror at my reflection and pucker my lips and mouth the letters, TYC, like I’m some sort of rock star in a music video. Before I go to sleep, I sit on the edge of my bed and roll up my pajama sleeves and stare at my wrists, turning them from side to side. The bones are heavy and awkward, not slim and manipulative. I lie down and pull the covers toward my chin. I close my eyes and dream of large techno-colored lips. I wake up in the middle of the night and feel my heart racing. I touch my lips with the tips of my fingers, the same lips those large techno-colored lips just kissed.”
The above section is an excerpt from my Pushcart Prize nominated short story, “Lips,” which is one of the 14 stories featured in my upcoming collection, The Human Act and Other Stories, to be published by All Things That Matter Press. The story focuses on a high school girl whose best friend, Lorraine, has moved to Arizona, leaving her friendless. The high school girl becomes obsessed with TYC, another seemingly friendless girl. But her preoccupation with TYC prevents her from grieving over the loss of her friendship with Lorraine, exploring her identity, accepting her budding sexuality, and acknowledging her increasing despair.
Teens have always had to cope with crossing the wasteland between childhood and adulthood. The terrain may be different from generation to generation, but the concerns remain the same: teens want to belong as much as they want to differentiate from one another.
But the cost of belonging can be high. Teens have to try out for sports before they can become members of the team. They have to qualify for the math Olympiad or the national honor society. They have to audition for band or drama. They have to possess some sort of talent or skill that fits into a socially acceptable format or else risk not belonging. Those teens who fail to fit neatly into one of these categories can fall through the cracks. Some of these teens join gangs or become stoners. Other teens remain painfully alone.
Teens that do not fit into a group have a hard time finding people like themselves to relate to. Some of them find solace in a hobby. Others escape through reading or music or video games. Still others find themselves like the narrator of “Lips,” searching for connection through a mysterious stranger who seems to fulfill all of one’s fantasies.
The longing for human connection does not end when one leaves childhood. It changes shape like the body, developing the lines and curves of being unique and yet still belonging.
For more stories of uniqueness and belonging, “Like” my Fan Page on Facebook to be notified when The Human Act and Other Stories is released.