So it’s 1976, I’m 15 and reading Stephen King’s “Carrie” in a corner of the library. The library is a fairly safe place. She doesn’t spend much time here. That’s not a guarantee though. She has spread the word and sometimes names or spitballs or random crap comes at me from some kid I don’t even know, but who knows Her.
I’m near the end, and I’m right there with Carrie, crowned, loved, feeling beautiful, on top of the world, until that first glut of smelly blood hits her face. I’m there with her, except she has something I can’t find: her rage. A rage so big that with her mind–not moving a muscle, but with the power of her anger, she destroys an entire gymnasium full of people. And they deserve it. All of them. That’s what I’m thinking, sitting there in the library. For a moment, I’m seeing everyone, even the people I like, dead on the floor and me above them, raging, holding the power in my hands. For once. For once.
Like Sweeney Todd, when he sings “They all deserve to die …because in all of the whole human race, Mrs. Lovett, there are two kinds of men …the one staying put in his proper place, and the one with his foot in the other one’s face: look at me, Mrs. Lovett, look at you!” Like Lotte Lenya as Pirate Jenny, in that old 1930’s record my father plays: “Noon by the clock, and so still on the dock, you can hear a fog horn, miles away. In that silence up there, I say: kill them all. And they’re piling up the bodies and I say: hoopla! And the ship, the black freighter, disappears out to sea, and on it is me.”
That’s the fantasy, except in the library, for a moment, it’s not a fantasy, it’s the most sincere wish I can make.
Then She comes in to the library, God knows why, she never studies in here. And I’m the first thing She sees. I freeze. Now it’s just a question of how bad it’ll be today.
I’m not Carrie. I’m not a vengeful Sweeney Todd, or Pirate Jenny sailing away. I’m fat, with long hair that is always greasy because the water pressure in our house sucks. I’m wearing my “Shakespeare is the One” sweatshirt and it smells because I wear it so much.
She zeroes in on me, of course. She and her gang all pretend to be getting books, but what they’re doing is stalking me, surrounding me, like jackals. “Hi Gerber Baby,” She says, “watcha reading?” in that fake sweet voice. “You reading Shakespeare? Huh?” I won’t look up. I won’t look at her. The book is ripped from my hand. “Fucking look at me, bitch. Don’t fucking ignore me, Gerber-head.”
She looks at the cover, and grins. “‘Carrie!’ That’s a great book. I bet you like her, Gerber. Know why?” She gets in my space and pokes me with her sharpened pencil on every word. “Because. You. Are. A. Pig. Just like Carrie.”
So it goes. Every day, so it goes. As far as I know, that’s how it will always be. Little by little, I will be destroyed. Today it’s mild, poking and prodding in the library. Tomorrow it will be science lab chemicals thrown on my skin. My books will be on the floor more often than on a desk. I will be chased down stairwells, trapped in bathroom stalls, and punched. There will be no part of my body or face or personality unmocked. Spitballs will be stuck in my hair. I will eat more, to try and drown it out, but I can’t. School is inescapable, and it’s the same people, year in, year out.
I have tried to tell Authorities. A guidance counselor carefully explains what a terrible background She comes from. I am told that life is no bowl of cherries for anyone in this world.
My teachers look away, turn on a movie, disappear from the hallways into break rooms as soon as they see Her starting in on someone (usually me). I have a vague impression that the teachers are scared of her too.
Home is my safe haven. I would rather die than tell my parents that their smart, pretty, talented only child is, in reality, a Big Fat Loser being tortured every day by the school nutcase. The fact that She is African-American would just make it worse. My folks were Civil Rights activists and I was raised on stories of racial oppression. They’d probably tell me how hard it is for Her, one of maybe five African-American kids in the school. And I’d agree.
No. Home must stay safe. I will not let Her have my home.
Sunday night, and I’m cold inside because I have to go back to school the next day. After dinner, we’re watching Masterpiece Theatre. “Upstairs, Downstairs.” I adore that show. I wish I could be an Edwardian servant. It looks better than Warren Junior High School.
The phone rings. My mother answers it, annoyed. “It’s for you, honey.” I go to the phone, annoyed. “Hello?” “Hi Gerber-baby,” She says sweetly. “Watcha doin? I bet you’re writing a paper. About pigs. I hope you’ll read it out loud to me tomorrow. You better fuckin do it.” Horrified, I drop the phone, then slam it on the receiver.
I go back to the living room. “Sweetie, are you OK?” says my Mom, “You’re very white.”
“I’m fine. I’m going to bed.”
I lie in bed. There are a lot of ways to die. I fall asleep wondering how many aspirin would do it, or if I could step in front of a subway train. Maybe that wouldn’t hurt. Maybe it would happen so fast that you wouldn’t know it.
“And the ship, the black freighter, disappears out to sea …and on it is me.”
It is 35 years later. I’m successful. I make my living as an actress and writer. I have lots of love and friends in my life, and everything I need materially, but I never married, or had children. I’ve always kept people slightly at a distance. I prefer to perform for them, I prefer to control what they see. I have fought with food, alcohol, and depression. Sometimes I win. What I just wrote, I’ve never said in full to anyone. And you know, all the school shootings now: every time, I think, there but for the grace of God go I.