The Hell with Her

15 Aug

MessyPapersYesterday, when I was cleaning out my bedroom closet, I stumbled upon a stack of yellowed papers hidden inside a box that I’d saved from when I was in college.

Inside was a story I had written during my senior year while attending USC. I had been a music major, but on a whim, I signed up for a creative writing class with none other than writer T.C. Boyle. Back then he was just being recognized as an up and coming writer and as I was unfamiliar with his work, I just thought he was some intense, uber hip/quirky guy who had multiple ear piercings and wore black leather pants and red high-top tennis shoes (an outfit not uncommon in the 1980’s.)tc boyle

Up until taking that course, I hadn’t realized how much I really loved writing (or should I say how much I hated it—writers, you know what I mean.) In that particular class there were many different types of writers—some better than others, but it seemed as if everyone had something interesting to say. Well, almost everyone.

There was this ditzy, freckled-faced sorority girl with overly highlighted hair who spoke with the thickest valley-girl accent I’d ever heard. She wrote the most inane and ridiculous stories—I don’t even remember what they were about—just that they were terrible. One day, this girl brought in a large foil-covered plate of chocolate brownies to share with the class. Usually her over-the-top perky demeanor set me on edge, but that day when I saw her passing out the brownies, I thought to myself, How nice of hermaybe she’s not so bad after all. I’d skipped breakfast that morning so I took the biggest one on the plate. “Oooh,” I exclaimed loud enough for the entire class to hear, “I love brownies!”brownies

Mid way through the class I began to feel very strange. I thought that perhaps I was coming down with the flu or something so during the break so I left to go rest in the lounge. When lying down on a cot didn’t stop the dizziness, I realized I needed to get home as quickly as possible, but my apartment was twenty minutes down the 10 freeway in Santa Monica. Halfway there, passing the Robertson Blvd. exit, I suddenly realized that I was high—higher than I’d ever been in my life, and that what I had just eaten in class was a pot brownie. I gripped the grimy steering wheel of my 1979 Toyota Corolla and tried to focus on keeping my car between the dotted lines. This was not an easy task because for some reason, the lines kept moving back and forth.

Fortunately, I didn’t kill anyone with my car or get pulled over by LAPD. I made it home to my Ocean Park apartment where I spent the afternoon intermittently cursing the stupid sorority girl and cradling the cold toilet bowl while vomiting up chocolate slime.

I fumed for days—how dare she give me drugs without my consent! I’d show her—I would call the President of USC and report her; I would get that privileged sorority bitch thrown out of school and ruin her life! I was going to stand up for myself and fight for what was right.

Of course, I never did any of those things. When class resumed the following week, all I did was approach her and mention that I didn’t know there was pot in the brownies and that it wasn’t very nice of her not to let me know.

“Whoops! I’m totally, like, sorry,” she said, giggling, “I thought you knew because you said how much you loved brownies.” She sat down at her desk and crossed her skinny acid washed Guess Jeans-clad legs. “Oh, well,” she chirped, “No harm done—you seem like you’re okay!” She smiled, showing me her perfectly bleached teeth, “Like, just consider it a little surprise gift from me to you!”

I wanted to smack her. Instead, I sat back down in my seat and said nothing, my anger dissipating as my comfortable fear of inadequacy put its arm around me like a best friend.

When the semester was over, T.C. Boyle called each of us into his office for an individual conference about our writing. I was taken aback when he told me I was one of the better writers in his class. I managed to squeak out a “thank you” and get out of there as quickly as possible as it was way too uncomfortable for me to think that I had any potential with my writing. I finished my senior year, received my degree in music and never wrote another word again for twenty years.

Last night, I stretched out on my bed and read the story I found in that dusty box. I was surprised to discover that it was really good. It was funny, the dialogue was believable and my descriptions were quite visual. How is it that for so long I believed I wasn’t a good writer?

I still carry around some anger toward that stupid girl from so long ago—no, not the sorority girl from class, but the other one—the one who was too weak to stand up for herself; the one who was so terrified and insecure that when she was told by an expert that she was good at something, she didn’t believe it. It makes me sad that she spent so many years thinking I can’t instead of Why not?

Well, I say, the hell with her.

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21 Responses to “The Hell with Her”

  1. Julie Barnes August 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    You go girl! Love ya! Julie

    Sent from Julie Barnes’ iPhone

  2. Britton Swingler August 15, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    This is just so poignant…coincidentally, I came across some of my own college papers two weekends ago while cleaning the garage. I was reminded of a teacher who told me that with a bit of work one of my essays was publishable. I was over the moon happy…but did I do anything about it? Nope…I let doubts persist, doubts I am now busy eradicating.

    I would love to read the piece you found…

    • Allegro non tanto August 16, 2013 at 10:14 am #

      Britton, you should pull it out and try to get it published! You never know….

  3. Linda Rosen August 15, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    This is such an honest piece – thank you for sharing yourself, Jessica. I always wonder why we do that to ourselves? Confidence seems to build with life experiences. It’s a plus of getting older!
    How lucky for you to have had such a teacher – TC Boyle is one of my favorites, and brownies, too, just not the ones you ate. When I was in college I would have loved them, but never given it to anyone unknowingly. That’s great fodder for a story on its own. I’d also love to read the piece you found.

    • Allegro non tanto August 15, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

      Thanks, LInda. I love brownies, too. I could eat an entire pan–but like you said, I prefer it without the cannabis!

  4. injaynesworld August 15, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    What a great piece. Enjoyed it from beginning to end. You captured the time and the person you were then wonderfully and made me feel like I was right there with you. I recall some of those stoner drives, but have no one to blame but myself. I wonder what ever happened to the dip shit with the brownies. As for the writing, I too feel like I’m making up for lost time — and not doing a very good job at it either. Hugs, my talented friend.

  5. Allegro non tanto August 15, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    Hugs to you, too Jayne! As far as making up for lost time–at least we’ve discovered our passions while we still have a few years left! XXOO

  6. Becky Green Aaronson August 15, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

    I’ve always loved your writing, but your honesty and attitude are what really set you apart. You go girl!!! Love it!

  7. Bonnie Gerstenfeld August 15, 2013 at 11:25 pm #

    That’s the spirit! That’s why they say that we wish for the wisdom if being older in the body of a 20 yr old…love you Jess!

    • Allegro non tanto August 16, 2013 at 8:43 am #

      I know, right? Too bad we don’t start out with old and wrinkled bodies and as we grow up and get wiser, we become younger…now that would work for me.

  8. Lynne August 16, 2013 at 6:11 am #

    Loved this piece and the honesty of it. You are a pro!

  9. Tracey August 16, 2013 at 7:39 am #

    Good one. We are our own worst enemies at times.

  10. Allegro non tanto August 16, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    You got that right.

  11. Deborah Batterman August 17, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    Well I was high for days on your scones 😉 for all the right reasons. Seriously, the rediscovery of a story from your college days is nothing if not a reminder that the path you’ve chosen really chose you . . .not to mention the power of memories for a writer.

    • Allegro non tanto August 17, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

      So glad you enjoyed the scones! Hmmm… perhaps next time I could add a little extra ingredient to the mix! And you’re so right about my path being chosen for me–I’m so thankful for this because it’s brought so much joy into my life. xxoo

  12. happykidshappymom August 22, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    Fantastic, Jessica! What a powerful, honest piece. You drew me in right from the beginning and I soaked in every word, feeling so angry along with you, and so hopeful at the end the way you rephrased “to hell with her.” Love it. Really, I do. You are an amazing writer. I’m so happy you found that old piece and reconnected to your memories like that, and I’m grateful you shared them.

    • Allegro non tanto August 22, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

      Thanks, Melissa! I’m so glad you’re back at writing–I’m really enjoying reading your blog again. Thank goodness for the kids going back to school, right? It gives us a wee bit of time for ourselves (and our writing!)

  13. Suzanne September 5, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    Great honest piece, Jessica! For a short story, you drew me in right at the top, and propelled me through to the end. How very cool that you had writing lessons with TC Boyle!

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