Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, Take a sad song and make it better
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better
Hey Jude by the Beatles
“I wish Eddie would shut up,” Kim mumbled.
Through the camera lens I could see Kim pressing the barrel of her plastic gun into the side of her head. I laughed, and Kim smiled. Just then Eddie walked into the room. Kim dropped the gun to her side.
Eddie gave us both weird looks and said, “We’re going to try this again.”
I nodded and held the camera steady.
“Ready?” Eddie yelled through the closed door behind him.
A chorus of grunts responded from the other room.
“Action!” Eddie yelled.
Eddie thrust open the door and ran inside, Kim and I close behind.
“Police! Get down!” Kim yelled and held her gun out in front of her.
Inside there were three gangsters gathered around a table playing cards. They whipped around to face the cops that just burst into their room. They pulled out huge guns and took aim, but the police were too fast. The cops opened fire and the gangsters fell to the ground, one of them landed on the table. The table collapsed under his weight with a crashing sound.
The cops looked around solemnly at the corpses, then one of them addressed the camera.
“Well, it’s a shame it turned out like this. This stupid history project has all of these kids messed up,” he said.
Just as I was about to stop the camera one of the corpses started singing.
“Bad boys! Bad boys! Whatcha gonna do?”
“Dammit, Paul!” Eddie cursed.
Then another voice joined in.
“Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”
Paul and Dave sat up, grinning. The only gangster who stayed dutifully still was Seth, who was still sprawled over the remains of the card table.
Kim and I laughed but Eddie scowled.
“Make it an alternative ending,” I suggested. “The gangsters are reincarnated as choir boys. The audience will never see it coming.”
Eddie glared at me.
“Cute,” he muttered.
I rolled my eyes and turned off the camera. Except for Eddie, the day hadn’t gone as badly as I’d expected.
I was less than thrilled when we formed the group for this school project. For history we had to do a project about the 1920’s. I asked to work with Seth, Eddie, Dave and Paul. I didn’t know many people in the class, but Seth was a good friend. I didn’t know Dave that well, but he seemed nice enough. Eddie had been a friend at one point, but the two of us just seemed to drive each other crazy lately. Although working with Eddie was problematic, I could handle it. It was when Eddie asked Kim to join the group that I became uncomfortable.
I hadn’t spoken to Kim in months, since the party at my house when I realized that I couldn’t count on her friendship anymore. I didn’t want to talk to her. I was still hurt by the way she ignored me at school and bitter because she didn’t acknowledge it. I didn’t like the idea of working with her and Eddie one bit.
But working with Kim hadn’t been so bad. She had the stroke of genius to make an episode of COPS for the project. And she thought all of the criminals should be teens who acted like 1920’s thugs because of a school project. She was really nice that day. She joked and talked to me like she used to, like she did before sophomore year started. It was nice to have my friend back, even if only for a day.
“I am starving,” Paul announced.
Paul stood up, wiped the dust off his trench coat and walked out of the room. Everyone followed him out. We’d been filming for a couple of hours and we needed lunch.
“I’ll order a pizza,” Kim said.
Kim walked over to the handset and picked up the phone. As she dialed the boys made themselves comfortable in Kim’s basement. Paul and Dave sprawled onto the couch while Seth and Eddie started a game of foosball. I sat on the floor by Dave and Paul. I felt more welcome by those two than I did by the others.
I had known Paul since I was eight. We hated each other in elementary school. I couldn’t stand him because he was obnoxious, and he detested me because I thought he was obnoxious. But in middle school we ended up being friends in a weird sort of way. A large group of seventh graders sat together at lunch every day: Abby, Grant, Seth, Kim, Eddie, Paul and me. At first Paul and I argued a lot, but eventually we learned to coexist. Now I guess we could be called friends, but in a broad interpretation of the word. Paul could still be arrogant, but there was a certain charm about him that made him likeable. And though I doubted Paul considered me a close friend he was never disrespectful to me anymore.
But I was happier with Paul and Dave than I was with Seth and Eddie. Seth was one of my best friends, but I didn’t want to deal with Eddie’s animosity. Eddie’s remarks always got under my skin, and it bothered me that I cared so much.
“Hey, Sasha, what do you want on pizza?” Kim asked.
“I don’t care, anything,” I replied.
The boys bombarded Kim with suggestions so loudly and so quickly that it was impossible to decipher the exclamations into something understandable. Kim put her hand over the speaker of the phone.
“Everyone shut up!” she yelled.
The boys obeyed calmly, Kim had a way of commanding attention when she spoke.
“Yeah, guys. Stop yelling,” Paul said.
“Paul, put a sock in it,” Kim ordered.
Paul grinned. Kim rolled her eyes and returned to the phone.
Paul had been trying start something with Kim for a few months now. Kim never played along. She always told him as bluntly as possible that she wasn’t interested.
I pulled down the zipper of my boots. I winced as I kicked them off. My feet were killing me. I peeled off my socks and discarded them by my boots.
“Penguins?” Dave asked with a glance at my socks.
“I like them. They’re fuzzy,” I replied.
And they made walking a little more comfortable, but I wasn’t going to talk about that. A week earlier I paid a visit to the scale in my parents’ bedroom and then a lot of visits to the treadmill in my basement. I tried not to overdo it, but every time I stopped jogging all I could think of was the number on the scale.
I ran a finger along one of the bigger blisters on my foot. It stung. But I didn’t care. I felt proud that I was exercising at all.
I turned and saw that Kim had hung up the phone. She stood behind the couch, looking at my feet.
“Do you need a band-aid for that?” she asked.
Kim disappeared and reappeared a minute later with a box of bandages.
“What have you been doing? Walking on glass?” she asked.
“No, hot coals,” I replied.
Kim didn’t laugh. She didn’t say anything as I stuck the band-aids on the raw patches of skin. I was grateful that she didn’t interrogate me in front of the guys. I didn’t want anyone to know.
When lunch arrived Eddie connected the camera to Kim’s television set. The screen turned blue and then we saw Paul’s face on the screen.
“Who’s that sexy beast?” Paul exclaimed.
Everyone laughed except Kim.
“Subtle, Paul. Real subtle,” she muttered.
Eddie fast-forwarded to when we stopped fooling around with the camera and actually started working. Suddenly the face of a brown haired girl with glasses appeared on the screen. She wore black pants and a black T-shirt that was too small for her. I lost my appetite looking at the footage of myself. My horrible acting didn’t really bother me; I knew I was bad actress. But I felt sick to my stomach just looking at myself. I looked terrible: the shirt I borrowed from Kim emphasized the size of my arms and stomach, and as I walked a sliver of white underwear crept up above the waistline of my pants.
The footage from a different scene appeared on the screen and the others started laughing at the image of Kim with a gun to her head. But all I could think of was how horrible I looked on the screen. The number started flashing in my mind again, taunting me.
18. 18. You’re fifteen years old and eighteen pounds overweight.
I put my boots back on. My feet screamed in protest, but I ignored it. The pain no longer gave me confidence, it only crippled me further. I felt like crying, but I fought the tears back. I would not cry here. I would not let them see me hurt like that.
Suddenly my cell phone rang from my pocket. I turned away from the others and answered it.
“Hi, honey. It’s Mom. Are you almost done?”
No, we weren’t. From the looks of the footage the scene with me in it would have to be reshot, but I couldn’t stand the thought of repeating it. The mere thought made a fresh wave of tears spring to my eyes. I took deep breaths to keep them back.
“Yes. You can come get me now,” I said into the phone.
“No, I was actually calling to say you can stay longer if you wanted,” Mom replied.
Oh, God, no. I couldn’t stay here anymore.
“No, just come get me,” I said.
I tried to say it calmly but my voice cracked. Then suddenly I was aware that the room was silent. Eddie had stopped the tape. Everyone was listening. I felt like I was naked in front of all of them.
“Are you alright?” Mom asked.
“Fine,” I said bluntly, trying harder than ever to keep it together.
I wanted to beg her to stop asking me questions and just come pick me up, but I couldn’t bear to do it in front of everyone. I didn’t want it to look like I wanted to leave. I didn’t want it to look like I was running away because I felt so horrible about myself. I didn’t want it to look like the truth.
Thankfully Mom got the message.
“I’ll be right there,” she said and hung up.
I hung up my phone, but I couldn’t look at the others yet. None of them said anything. I felt like they knew what I was thinking and they expected me to start crying. I was so close to breaking down right then, but I wouldn’t allow myself. Making myself look emotional and weak would only make me feel worse.
Still looking away from them I said, “I have to go home.”
When I was sure I could stay composed I turned to face them. None of the guys looked directly at me. They looked in my general direction but they all seemed focused on something besides me. I understood why: they didn’t want to see me cry any more than I wanted to cry in front of them.
But Kim looked directly at me.
“Is everything all right?” she asked.
Kim wasn’t heartless. I knew that if I poured my heart out right then she would have listened. She would have taken me away from the boys and talked to me. She wouldn’t be discomforted by my tears; she probably would have let me cry into her shoulder.
But then what? On Monday at school would she ask if I was ok? Or would she ignore me? Maybe considering the gravity of the situation she would have been there for me. Maybe at school she would ask me how I was doing. Maybe she would talk to me more often, reach out to me now that she knew how much I needed help. Maybe she could have been a big part of my life again. Maybe.
But that wasn’t a chance I was willing to take.
“Yeah,” I answered.
I had poured my heart out to Kim too many times before only to be ignored the next day. If I told Kim everything I would feel better for the day, but if she ignored me at school again I would feel like an idiot for letting her in again. And no matter what happened I would feel miserable if I broke down in front of the guys.
So I pursed my lips to keep them from trembling and breathed deeply to keep my voice steady.
“Do me a favor and reshoot my scene with Dave in it. He’ll do it better than I ever could,” I said as I walked upstairs.
“Sure,” Kim said.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~
It was two weeks later when the guys came over to my house to shoot the last scene of the project. Unsurprisingly Kim didn’t speak to me at school. The guys never talked about that day except to tell me that they reshot it with Dave in my place.
I was in the car with Mom when I let it all out. I told her all about the video and how bad I looked. I told her how terrible I felt about myself and my appearance. She listened patiently until I was done. When I stopped crying she- being no stranger to weight struggles- advised me to try Weight Watchers.
I had just finished cleaning my bathroom when I heard the doorbell ring. I answered it and the guys were there together. Kim wasn’t able to make it that day, much to my relief. I welcomed them in and brought them up to my room. They looked around curiously. It suddenly occurred to me that though most of them had been to my house before they had never set foot in my bedroom.
“What is that?” Eddie asked gesturing to a gizmo on my nightstand.
“It’s a clock,” I answered blatantly.
“It looks like a toaster,” he retorted.
I rolled my eyes and turned on my laptop.
“I’ll check the script one more time before we get started,” I said. “What did you have in mind for this scene?”
“Basically Eddie and I will start outside and then come in. When we get into the house we’ll explain the situation. We’ll break into the bathroom and that’s when you’ll fall in. From there we’ll ask a few questions and I’ll tell the camera crew to back off.”
The ‘situation’ was that a teenage girl was making bathtub gin out of her home (out of her bathtub, to be precise) and that the cops were here to arrest her. I played the criminal and I had to fall into the tub of liquor as I was being arrested.
“We should run through this once to make sure it works,” Dave suggested.
I walked into the bathroom and shut the door behind me.
“Ready?” Seth asked from the other side.
“Yeah,” I replied.
Seth opened the door loudly. I leaned backward, pretending to trip over the edge of the tub and landed gently inside. I had practiced the fall a few times before they arrived: I screwed up my other scene so badly that I wanted to make this one look convincing. Evidently it was dramatic. Seth raised his eyebrows when I landed.
“Are you ok?” he asked.
“Fine,” I said. “I practiced so it would look real.”
“Yeah, right. You actually fell,” Eddie said.
I smirked as I climbed out of the tub. I turned on the water and walked into my bedroom.
“It will take a few minutes to fill up the tub,” I said.
“Right. We’ll go practice the part outside, then,” Dave said.
Dave, Seth and Eddie walked out of my room. A whistle came from the other side of my room. I looked and saw Paul sitting at my desk looking at my laptop. He opened some of my picture files and was looking through them. Displayed on the screen was a photo of him dancing with me at the school dance at the end of freshman year.
“How did that happen?” he asked.
“Kim and Abby already had partners so you asked me,” I said. “Or rather, you said ‘let’s get this over with’.”
“I’m quite a charmer,” he said.
“Yeah, a regular player,” I added sarcastically.
Paul moved on to a different picture. The girl on the screen had long, brown curls and a smile that could have gotten her on the cover of a magazine. Paul quickly clicked on another photo.
Her name was Summer and she dated Paul in eighth grade for a few months. Paul never talked to me about the break-up, but through Abby and Kim I heard that it had been rough for him.
The next picture was of Paul and Kim dancing. Paul lingered on this photo.
I felt bad for Paul. He really liked Summer, and when she dumped him Kim tried to help him get back on his feet. Now that he liked Kim she spurned him. He always seemed to worship the wrong girl.
When we were in middle school things had been quite different: Kim liked Paul when he was dating Summer, her best friend. At the time I felt that she was wasting her time because I thought Paul was a bit of a freak. But now I found myself feeling the opposite way. I pitied Paul because I knew what it was like to be ignored by someone you cared about.
“She’s something isn’t she?” Paul asked with a quiet solemnity.
“You’re better than her, Paul. You’re better than a lot of the people here,” I said. “You deserve better than that.”
Paul turned and looked at me with an odd expression.
“That was a compliment, not a confession,” I said as I walked back into the bathroom.
As I turned the water off I heard the guys come back in.
“Ready to do this?” Seth asked.
I nodded. Paul turned off my laptop and followed the others downstairs. As I started to shut the door to the bathroom I saw my reflection in the mirror. I looked bad on the tape but I didn’t in the mirror. I didn’t look unhealthy or overweight. I didn’t know if it was because I was wearing Kim’s clothes or if it was because the camera was so close, but I had looked really bad on the tape. But I wasn’t trying to change because of that; the video had just been when I hit rock bottom. I felt bad about myself for a long time before seeing the tape. What I saw on the television screen merely made me take action. I was a long way from healthy, and even farther away from confident, but maybe in time it would come to me.
As my thoughts returned to my friends, who were noisily making their way to my room, I wondered when this would happen for Paul. Paul was insecure about rejection just as I was insecure about my body. But unlike me, his insecurity gave way to arrogance. I wondered when Paul would be hurt so badly that he would stop chasing girls who didn’t care enough for him. Girls whom he was better than. That was the truth: Paul could be arrogant, but he never ignored anyone. He would probably chase after Kim for a long time, but eventually he would get hurt. But hopefully when that happened he would emerge from the pain and learn to see himself for the decent guy that he was. With any luck he could grow to believe in himself, and so could I.
As the sound of footsteps grew louder I shut the bathroom door and stood at the edge of the tub. All I had to do was wait.