Dylan knew something was terribly wrong with the world in a way she could not fathom. As a child she had just trusted that things would work out and adults would show her the way, but now the cracks in things were starting to show. Everything had seemed inevitable and settled until then, but that summer Dylan got acquainted with a new curl of doom that started her belly and spread to her fingers and toes. A constant white buzz lodged itself securely in the back of her head.
Her mother said all the right things, but her face gave everything away. No, that’s not true. Her mother did not say all the right things, not all the time. Some days were unexplainable and seasoned with madness. The school year was approaching too, hot and fast. It was just another thing to dread, another unknowable, uncontrollable shadow of a monster.
Most days they slept in. Her mother would usually wake up first and have her coffee and cigarette on the porch in the heat. She wore her glasses all the time now, and her hair was neglected. She did not brush it. The roots were coming in. She just liked to sit and look at the water and all the people sunning themselves, scorching their skin for the fun of it. Showing off their bodies. Throwing balls. And swimming. Even sailing. Dylan and her mother did not usually got out to the beach until later, when the sun was going down and the temperatures had settled. They were redheads who burned easily. They weren’t like these teenagers who turned a golden color in the sun, drinking margaritas instead of water, playing beach volleyball until their muscles tired. Dylan and her mother were not frolicking, they were hiding, they were waiting. They were bunkered up in the guise of summer fun.
Dylan had just turned 13 that year. She didn’t bring much music with her, but she had tapes of Green Day, R.E.M., Madonna, and Greatest Hits of the Beatles, the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan, of course, who she was named after. She also had Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, and The Bell Jar with her, and they felt like home to her. They felt like a line out into the world, even in their inescapable sadness. She didn’t know what she was up against, but there was something in these books that made her feel she was not alone in her blind terrors and senseless hungers. Other people whispered to her, told her they knew her, that they understood, but it was not people in the flesh who looked her in the eye. The people she met in real life told her nice things, or strange, mean things, or distracted things, but there was very little genuineness to it at all. Adults were either pleased, or angry, or scared for you. They come at you either with a distance, or a longing that is tough to bear. Other kids her age were playing some type of game with each other, feeling out power plays, and you couldn’t tell them what you really thought or felt because the smell of sincerity made them go mad with bloodlust.
The closest people she knew were strangers who could not laugh at her, or touch her shoulder. They spoke to her in books, and music, and art. They were part of the consciousness, the ether, and were not boldly masquerading in the flesh ready to accept or reject her. They were not sitting on the porch at midday, silent and angry and inscrutable. They did not look at her with dark and heavy searching eyes like she was the greatest and worst thing of their lives.
“I want to get a job here,” she suggested two weeks in while they were having dinner at a local fish joint. Her mother ate fish fried, while Dylan had hers grilled, her only meal of the day. She had already lost at least a pound and a half since they had gotten there, and she felt a silent victory in that her mother did not notice that she was barely eating.
“You’re too young. Besides, what would you even do?” her mother balked. “All the older teenagers have taken all the summer jobs already. There’s nothing for you here.”
“I don’t know. I’m sure there’s something I could do at a restaurant or something. I could ask around. I could really learn something from that, you know. Life experience.”
“Hah!” her mom snorted. She was working on her third glass of wine. “Life experience is overrated. Working is overrated. You have your whole life to work. You might as well enjoy yourself while you still can.”
“But I’m not enjoying myself. I’m bored.”
“Why do you really want to get a job, Dylan?” her mother asked, slanting her eyes.
“So I can get away from you,” Dylan replied in a flush of anger. “All we do all day is sit around and then go out to eat.”
“I thought so,” mom said, looking down. It was happening. Her voice broke, the prelude to tears was just at the surface. “This is how life is. This is what it is.”
“What what is?” Dylan asked, cautious, but hot and tight with resentment.
“This is just what happens,” she was really crying now. “The people you love the most don’t love you back.”
Dylan didn’t have the instinct to comfort her mother, though she wished she did. She placed her hand on her mother’s back, and it felt so frail and human. Dylan didn’t know what was happening, didn’t know if she was a bad person, didn’t know what she should feel or do. She hated herself, but loved the part of herself that was separate from her mother. She felt very independent and alive and cocooned in whatever it was she was, whatever it was that made her Dylan and not Marie. And it was that very thing, she felt, that made her mother cry.
“That’s not true, Mom,” she said.
Read The Jealous Sea, part 2 here