The summer between 7th and 8th grade marked a big change in our lives. Katelyn and I just couldn’t get along… I think I was a little bitter towards her because of the whole nearly-killing-me thing. And then the fact that I couldn’t play softball had me going crazy. I had to find something else to take the stress away, but mostly resorted to making snide and bitchy comments to Katelyn. Which ended up hurting her. Which ended up getting me yelled at. Even though they stopped spanking us, Robert and Daniel were still equally annoying with their lectures.
So anyway, I ended up moving into a room in the basement. Before, Kate and I had shared a room because we wanted to. Nowadays it was clear that neither of us wanted to be in the other’s company… so I changed it. To the basement I went, with all of my possessions, to be locked away completely from all those nut cases I lived with.
Oh, and speaking of nut cases… apparently since my sister was crazy, our brothers decided that we should have “family therapy” with her shrink. As if it wasn’t bad enough enduring weekly sessions with the stupid woman, she found other ways to make our lives hell. First she suggested we set aside time for “family activities” and that each of us have special nights with one another. And then she came to the conclusion that I should tap into my “spiritual side” to deal with my “anger issues”… whatever that means.
For weeks, Robert threatened to send me to some stupid Unitarian Meditation thing he heard about close to his office, but I kept brushing it off. Since when did spirituality become important? Christians were the ones who treated my brothers so badly… why would I want to join a cult like that? And everyone knows that all other spirituality is hippie bullshit. No thanks.
But then I had to go and get in an argument with Katelyn again.
“You left it lying around… how was I supposed to know it was art?” I said nonchalantly as I flipped through the tv channels, trying to find something to watch.
“What do you mean how were you supposed to know it was art?!” she shrieked. “It was a very detailed sketch for the art class I’m taking!”
“Oh geeze, give me a break. Just draw another one, it’s no big deal.”
“No big deal? No big deal?! I spent a lot of time on that! I don’t want to draw it again… that one was perfect.”
Fed up, I switched the tv off and stood up. “Well you know what? I wanted to play softball this summer, but now I can’t… thanks to you.”
“Shut up. You broke your own wrist first.”
“Yeah, well, you didn’t help it,” I said, inching towards her, eyes narrowed.
“Fine,” she said, feeling threatened. “I’m sorry that I hurt you. I’m sorry for being such a horrible sister and never doing anything right…” she broke off, beginning to cry and then ran up the stairs, just as Daniel and Robert came home.
“What’s going on?” Robert asked.
“Nothing. She’s being a baby like always.”
But when he went upstairs to talk to her, he found out what’d really happened, and when he came back downstairs, he gave me a cold, hard stare. Little did I know that he and Daniel would spend the rest of that evening discussing a plan of what they should do with me.
“Tong-Gong,” Daniel said the next morning when I sat down sleepily to my bowl of Frosted Flakes.
“The witch is dead?” I said, taking a bite as I typed a message to Camilla on Facebook.
“No — Tong-Gong. It’s sort of a Buddhist meditation/martial arts. I don’t know much about it, but I found a website last night about this class they’re offering at one of the temples around here. It’s an hour and a half each week and I think it’ll fulfill all of your spiritual needs. There’s a class tonight. We’re going.”
“What?” I said, nearly dropping my spoon.
“What? It’ll be fun!” Robert said, a little too enthusiastically.
“Oh and I suppose you’re going too? And Katelyn? So we can enjoy it as a family?”
“No, actually just you and Daniel are going, so you guys can spend some quality time together. Katelyn and I have our art class tonight.”
“Then why do I have to go to some stupid Buddhist bullshit. I don’t believe in that kind of stuff. It’s stupid and doesn’t exist.”
Daniel chuckled. As if this were humorous! “Honey, you obviously are judging Buddhism before you know it. It’s not about a deity, it’s about a feeling…”
This time I did throw my spoon down. “I’m not going to a stupid Hong Kong or Ding Dong or whatever the fuck it’s called.” I pushed my bowl away, too disgusted to eat, and stormed off to my room (loved doing that with my new room… I could slam two doors instead of one!).
I flopped on my bed and screamed into my pillow, shouting every obscene word I could think of. Then I threw my alarm clock across the room, smashing it against the wall and killing it. And then Daniel pushed my door open.
“Jessica, what’s wrong?”
My turn to laugh inappropriately. “What’s wrong? What’s wrong!? You’re making me go to some stupid religious event against my will. This country is supposed to have freedom of religion! It’s somewhere in the constitution. I’m sure Camilla’s dad knows where, and can show it to you anytime you’d like.”
Daniel came onto my bed and sat next to me. “Jess, lately you been a nightmare. You don’t listen to anything that Robert or I tell you, you’re constantly picking on your sister, you throw tantrums anytime something doesn’t go your way, and we’ve really tried our best to make things better for you… both you and Katelyn. Everyone in this family has been working hard to make this work — except you.”
“You’re not going to convince me to go to the stupid Buddhist thing.”
“Your sister hurt you, and she recognizes it and apologizes every chance she gets… she even beats herself up about it. But you? You demand that everyone else change while you sit back and act the same that you always have.” He paused, frowning. “Give it some effort, Jessica.”
“Still not going.”
“You’re going. End of story.” He gave me a cold stare and stood up, then left.
“Whatever!” I shouted. “I’m not going!”
I lounged around in my room most of the morning… complaining about my life on the phone with Camilla and by means of Facebook statuses. I made sure that my brothers read them by tagging them in every one that I posted.
When I got hungry, I emerged from my room. Katelyn was on the computer and Daniel was in his office working.
“Hey,” I said to my sister as I grabbed some peanut butter and jelly.
“Hey,” she said back, not turning around.
It was awkwardly silent for a moment as I made my sandwich, trying to think of the words to say. “Look, about yesterday…” I began. “I really didn’t mean to throw your drawing away. I had been doing chores, sweeping in the living room, and I got a text, and I went to check it, the broom fell on my glass of Hawaiian Punch, which spilled over onto your drawing, and I didn’t realize that’s what it was, and threw it away.” I walked towards the table now. “I’m sorry,” I finally choked out. “You’re not a horrible sister. I should get over it already — you apologized and you’ve been through a lot, too. I should forgive you and move on.”
I took a bite of my sandwich. “It’s fine,” she said.
I knew she wanted to say more, but I guess not being in touch with my “spiritual side,” i didn’t really care to hear it. So I didn’t say anything else, just ate my sandwich then jammed to guitar hero for a bit.
That evening, Daniel dragged me to the stupid Buddhist thing. On the way there, I gave him the silent treatment and prayed to Buddha not to strike me with lightening for entering his sacred place. I was so blasphemous to all religions that I was sure if any of them existed, I’d be struck to death within a 100-foot radius of their holy place. So if Buddha existed, I’d better do some ass-kissing unless I wanted to die today, right?
Anyway, it might’ve helped, because I didn’t get struck by lightening upon entry.
I tried to maintain my angry face, but part of me was kind of intrigued by this whole situation. I usually loved learning about new cultures, and part of that involves religion… so maybe this could be a cool learning experience. But I couldn’t let Daniel know that.
“I’m going to speak with the teacher — wait right here,” Daniel told me.
I nodded, feeling very lost and confused. I just looked around, trying to see if there was anyone close to my age who would be suffering with me. But no, most people were in their 20s and looked exactly as I’d imagined them. I guess it could be worse though… could be with a bunch of old Catholic prudes.
“Hi!” someone said, slightly bumping into me.
I turned to see a boy around my age with long brown hair and an adorably innocent smile.
“I’m Michael,” he said, extending his hand. I shook it. “You must be new?”
“Oh, um, yeah. I’m Jessica. The, um, new girl.”
He smiled. “So nice to see someone closer to my age around here.”
“Yeah for realz. We’re definitely the minority.”
“Minority? Try the only!”
“Really? We’re the only teenagers?”
He nodded. “But sometimes it’s better. The people here… they understand you better, ya know? This is the one place I don’t feel discriminated against.”
“What? Who discriminates against you?” I asked. Yes, I’m nosey, and no, I don’t hold myself back. I can’t help it!
“Well, you know, kids at school.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. I’m beating up punks all the time for being douchebags.”
He laughed. “What school do you go to?”
“Oooh, that’s where I went! But I’m about to start my freshman year at the regional high school.”
“Awesome! So when I go to high school, I’ll protect you and beat up all the bullies.”
And that’s how Michael became my new best friend.
I saw him once a week for the rest of the summer, and actually started enjoying Tong-Gong a little. I dunno why, but it settled something inside of me… kept me focused… calmed me. Within weeks, Katelyn and I were barely fighting at all. And that’s when two things happened:
1) Robert announced the fun family activity that Kate and I would be participating in (yay).
2) Michael told me a HUGE secret that totally transformed our friendship.