“I voted you for best looking,” he sat down next to me.
I beamed at him and leaned in.
“I voted you for Most Studious,” Terry turned around to cut in sharply. “Cuz you’re always studying.”
She got up to place a handout on the teacher’s desk. I wasn’t ready to turn in my homework yet. I slid it to Claire sitting behind him. I knew she was telling the truth because someone else said that. I knew a lot of guys voted her for best looking.
“I hope I win Best Looking. You’re the second guy that told me that,” I winked.
I was seventeen years old and unafraid of anything. Terry eyed me on her way back but she got what she wanted. She won best looking, has two kids, has won several Iron Body championships and is one of the most physically fit women I have ever seen. Not just physically fit, but brutally cut like a Greek sculpture. As I gained weight from drinking and ignoring men’s ideals, it was inspiring to see her break a patriarchal mold with muscle And while marrying your high school sweetheart. I guess you really can have it all. Amy won Most Studious. Besides, kissing the most boys two summers in a row (well tying with Laura senior year), I won graduating with honors in the top 20% percent of my class–that’s 81% out of over five hundred students, the largest class of any graduating class my high school had ever seen. I also scored the highest on my AP Government and AP Psychology exam. I was disappointed for only scoring a four out of five on my AP Statistics exam. It is hard not to examine loss. I wished I had won best looking.
“I voted you for best legs,” another boy told me.
I can’t remember if that was a real category now, as it seems too salacious, but a boy did say that. One of my teachers told us the key to passing the AP exam was to be clever in the margins.
“Obviously, you want to do well and get the answers right but sometimes you will be stuck,” Mr. Fortune said.
That was his real name. He was beloved. I got up every Tuesday and Thursday senior year of high school at five forty five am to make study sessions for the exam. They started promptly at 7:15. My dad had gifted me a very old maroon Mercury Tracer so I did not have to rely on Miriam for transport. She was a pisces. She liked to sleep in. I had coffee in the morning and brought a mug of it into the classroom. I wore a leather jacket that smelled like cigarettes and eyeliner. I was severe in my presentation and competitive in spirit. I had four best friends and we were not exclusive in company, but exclusive in clique. That means, you can’t be a part of the clique just because we invited you to Miriam’s house the night her parents went away and some of us skinny dipped in the pool. It meant on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Miriam gave me a ride to school and no one else. It meant that our senior summer trip to Ocean City was for us only, and it meant that despite all of our separate’s reputation: Irina winning valedictorian, me not winning anything but class slut, Miriam gaining the attention of men without sleeping with them, and Laura coming in a close second for class slut but beloved more than me and on the volleyball team, we were a group. Rebecca was there too but sort of outside, choosing church over getting fingered at house parties. Still, packs travel together and protect each other. Packs bite back.
I may have learned the value of tequila before others did, how to steal a cigarette a day from your parent’s carton so you rarely get caught, how to siphon beer the same way and the benefits of caffeine addiction, but I was never going to be seen as poor. I worked hard to earn money for that leather jacket and if I reeked of cigarette smoke, it was a consequence of being raised by smokers. Classism demands you can’t win Best Looking or Most Studious even if you qualify because once a rumor got started about you having an orgy with the baseball team and once you pissed a few girls off, that’s it. You have your pack: Merits, girls, prom coordination where they all wore pink except you, you wore black and white, or ring dance where they all wore teal, turquoise or another shade of blue, except you. You showed up hair slicked back in a classic floor length black evening gown that hugged every inch of your budding curves, shined red with sequins when you twirled breaking up with your partner in the middle of a slow song on the dance floor and hardly any eye makeup. You chose just a touch of red on the lips because you didn’t show up every day at 7:15, working three nights a week after school, to be fucking ignored.
“I will not grow up to be poor.”
I wrote in the margins of my AP Government exam that I was dying for a cigarette. My name was featured on the board for years to come next to only two other names. That year had the lowest scorers, but I was the highest. Perhaps, they didn’t know what to say in the margins to appeal to the humor of adults.
“But it’s techinally proficient,” I told Mr. Jacobson, my civics teacher.
I interjected. I wasn’t going to be late to chemistry for this.
“If it’s technically proficient, and technically correct, how can I get anything less than a 100 on it?”
Smarmy isn’t the word Mr. Jacobson would have used for me although Ms. Lancaster would have. He would have called me coquettish, maybe a little fiery, but erotic. I was sixteen, a year before heading into graduation, into enrolling back into all the AP classes I had been taken out of, and on my way to picking colleges. I had a part time job that paid for my clothes, heeled black boots and jewelry and I had no qualms about walking in front of the entire volleyball team, taller than God, with my coffee mug, the smell of smoke wafting around them. I wore mascara, eyeliner, chapstick, colored lip gloss or lipstick and rouge everyday. Girls called it blush.
“It’s rouge. I’m not wearing lip smackers to be Lolita. I’m wearing blood.”
I was after scholarship and sponsorship.
“And the lesson about acquiescing, or diplomacy to groups, don’t you find it ironic you’re arguing over two points?”
“Mr. Jacobson,” I always use men’s names when I am being curt, “I am arguing about technical proficiency and the ability to pull lessons from other classes into this one, as you said was more important to our futures than sticking to one subject. You said at the beginning of the year that being technically proficient, following instruction and being able to pull examples from other classwork or life events was the key to passing this class, and I did that in this essay.”
“Most of your essays receive hundreds.”
“And why is this one any different?”
He was right. That essay was changed from a 98 to a 100. I was three minutes late to chemistry, a class I barely understood as two of my friends sat next to me. Rebecca and I cheated off Irina the entire year to pass. It was the only time I did that. Oh, wait, I did that in AP Physics too.
“All of this is to say that I am a liar,” I practiced. “But I will not tell them my name.”
My name is Catarina Kocurek. I carry no ID in case I am stopped. I have five planned aliases that I have been memorizing for three years and depending on the strike, depends on my rebuttal. All three are so ingrained in me, I dare anyone call me a liar.
“My name is Catarina Kacyrek. I left my ID at home.”
I stood tall at graduation wearing the yellow Honors sash. I still have a picture of the five of us somewhere. i have a picture of me hugging Justin too. I don’t know where my yearbooks are or what anyone ever said. It is better to forget than pour over a book of first love poems that your best friend gave you. Or to pour over the other one, that Justin gave you, knowing you fast and writing on the cover page (it’s good luck! miriam exclaimed)
“I hope this gives you a better outlook on <3.”
When I squint like that, it’s me remembering everything.