I’m thirteen and I look like a child bride in my Confirmation dress. I receive the sacrament by an old Pastor who’s also my math teacher and it’s titillating the way he grazes my tongue with the wafer. I hoard quarters to play Dance Dance Revolution at the arcade after school and my feet fly over the neon arrows. I’m on level:EXPERT and I’m so good that I have to lean back on the bar for support. My friends are on Animal Crossing and Club Penguin and have Nintendogs and Neopets and Tamagotchis and all of the simulated animals of 2008 and the US is in a financial crisis and I’m reading a book called TTYL by Lauren Myracle which is the pinnacle of literature as far as I’m concerned. The pastor tells me to read the Bible which is not written by Lauren Myracle. I imagine Noah’s Arc filled with Nintendogs.
My Lutheran middle school is putting on a theatrical reenactment of the Iranian Hostage Crisis to teach us about modern secularism. It’s directed by Mr. Hayworth who everyone calls Mr. Gayworth until he actually leaves his wife for a man and they move to Missoula. In the play, I get cast as Hostage #4 and I spend afternoons with my crush Dante who smells like asphalt and Fun Dip and it’s titillating. I’m IM-ing with Dante and he asks me to take something off and then he’ll take something off, that’s the game, but I’m too shy to take something off so Dante calls me a virgin and blocks me. I roll up my uniform skirt to make it shorter and get detention and I practice cello in detention which makes me hate the cello and I probably could have been a first chair concert cellist had they just let me wear my skirt above the knee like an American but now I forever associate cello with punishment and rejection and stop playing and start stealing cigarettes from my mom’s friend Lisa’s purse and sneaking out of my bedroom window at night to huff computer cleaner with boys and my mind is clean but the computer is filthy.
My mom is dragging me to the dry cleaners where the dry cleaner man has an abacus and an African grey parrot that says hello in a voice like a computer. I realize that my mom doesn’t have to pick up dry cleaning at all, that she comes in just to pet the bird and feed it cashews through the bars of its cage. She’s feeding the bird as I’m rolling my eyes and counting the seconds until I can watch makeup tutorials and drink 4Lokos and eat Tide Pods and compromise my mom’s credit card information on Korean wholesale websites. It’s 102 degrees in Los Angeles and my mom is picking me up from the mall security office for shoplifting from Victoria’s Secret. She is furious in the car like why do you need a rhinestones Bombshell anyway and I can’t explain so we sit in silence in the Honda Civic listening to NPR which is playing “the sounds of Navajo Nation.” What I can’t say is that I saw Lacey McKelvy changing for PE and she has the most insane rack I’ve seen on a seventh grader and I need a rhinestone Bombshell because when Lacey McKelvy saw me changing for PE she scoffed and there isn’t a sound in Navajo Nation loud enough to drown out her scoff and the torque of her massive tits as we play capture the flag.
I’m laying on the bathroom floor after cutting my labia with safety scissors while trying to trim my pubic hair. My mom takes me to urgent care and totally loses it like what were you thinking, kid? It’s not your fucking bangs as she paces back and forth and tells me I was in labor for fifteen hours, do you know what that did to my vagina? It was like Vietnam down there. I tell her that Lacey McKelvy has enormous tits and I have nothing but a misdemeanor and a deviated labia and she looks at me as if through thick glass, squinting to see clearly but can’t.
I take edibles with Hannah and ride the bus from the valley to Santa Monica which takes forever and by the time I get there I’m so high I can’t navigate the boardwalk or my Motorola Razr to call for help and end up in a Bubba Gump Shrimp gazing into the lobster tank wondering how I could free all of the lobsters without the hostess noticing when suddenly Hannah’s mom is picking us up because she’s a cool mom who picks us up in Santa Monica and lets us sleep over and doesn’t tell the uncool parents we were high and the boys call her a MILF and she even lets Hannah drive before she has her permit, not just in a parking lot but on the freeway and my mom is feeding cashews to the bird while Hannah is driving on the 405 and I’m so hungry I could eat a lobster. I’m thinking about the financial crisis and the profound depths of the universe while Hannah’s mom is telling me about Nxivm and the car is moving so fast and my heart is beating so fast it’s like I’m on level:EXPERT but there isn’t a bar to lean back on.
I’m twenty four and everyone on instagram has been sexually assaulted and I’m allowed to roll my skirt up as short as I want now because of #metoo and because there is no God and Trump’s railing Adderall and Lauren Myracle died of cervical cancer and Dante went to jail for vehicular manslaughter and Lacey Mcelvy is on OnlyFans and Mr. Gayworth adopted a beautiful baby girl and the dry cleaner man was deported. My mom mourns the bird and secretly cries for it at night and I wonder what happened to all of the simulated animals, if the Neopets starved to death. My mom’s parents were immigrants from Ireland who lived through famine and witnessed civil war and car bombings and revolution and came to America with only $36 in their communal pockets and I lived through a moderate recession and monitor my caloric intake and the revolution was an arcade game and I can spend $36 on drinks at Good Luck Bar in a night easily. But the difference is that they were nothing. The difference is that I’m a Lutheran and an American and a hostage, perennially updating like a smartphone, barreling forward into the profound depths of the universe.
Madeline Cash is a writer living and working in Los Angeles. She runs the Forever reading series. You can find her on instagram @madelinecash