I just learned that my short story Dysfunctional Slumber Parties was a finalist in this year’s Doris Betts Fiction Prize competition. Though I don’t get any prize money, writing is such a subjective business that any kind of achievement is worth a celebration. There for I am:
A) eating ice cream cake as I write this, and
B) sharing a section from the story:
You’re supposed to be smart, but you spend your junior year doing all the dumbest stuff you can think of. It’s not really about rebelling, even though that’s probably what anyone would say, if they noticed. No one notices.
Your parents are divorcing and your mom has moved out. You’re commuting forty-five minutes each way to to the magnate school you campaigned so hard to get into, because you had like zero friends at public school, but you’re pretty much wasting the opportunity. You don’t even know what the-airquotes-opportunity is anymore. Maybe to hang out with kids who are stranger than the weird stoner kid who lives next door to your dad and never says anything to anyone. Maybe to write essays on Naked Lunch and Lydia Lunch and whatever.
Speaking of which, the cafeteria monitor relented, a month into the school year, and started giving you a free lunch if one was left over. Usually there’s one left over because the kids on the free lunch program are also the kids who tend to miss a lot of school. They have bigger problems.
You have medium-sized problems. You often stay in the city with your friend Tish whose mom is always out of town. That’s not the problem. What is: You call your dad those nights to tell him that you won’t be home and it’s like he’d forgotten you were maybe coming home in the first place.
You’re not rebelling, you’re just seeing how far you can push things before someone says stop. Says enough. Bothers to remember your name.
Tish tells you she’s planning to airquotes-get-together with Mike after school. He’s bringing Frank and Tish is supposed to bring someone for Frank, so she thought of you.
“Gross,” you say. You mean both of them — Mike, because he has greasy long hair and wears stone-washed jeans and white sneakers every day. Frank because, even though he’s good looking and has different outfits, he’s a skinhead and draws swastikas on his notebook.
“You’re just saying that because you think Frank’s a racist.”
“He is a racist.”
“He doesn’t really mean it,” Tish says. Like someone can just not mean to be a total asshole. Only in a way your goal — if you can call it a goal — is do as many dick things as you can get away with. And you’re not actually a dick. At least you don’t think you are.