Viola in reel life, p.2

Viola in Reel Life, page 2


Viola in Reel Life

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  Marisol speaks to her parents in Spanish, and they laugh really hard. Marisol turns to me. “My parents think you’re funny.”

  “You know what I always say…”

  “No. What?” Marisol asks as she unzips her duffel.

  “If you can make parents laugh, you can probably get them to buy you a car when you’re sixteen.”

  Marisol smiles. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

  Mrs. Carreras opens a box and lifts out new pale blue sheets and a white cotton waffle blanket. Then she pulls out a quilt, which she places with care on the desk nearby.

  I’ve never seen a person make a bed as quickly as Mrs. Carreras. I guess she mastered it in nursing. They have to make beds with people already in them, so they get good at it. When Mrs. C unfurls the quilt to go on top of the perfectly unwrinkled sheets and blanket, I try not to cringe.

  “My mom made the quilt.” Marisol forces a smile.

  The quilt is babyish (the worst), with swatches of memorabilia sewn together. Things like pieces of Marisol’s first baby blanket, a triangle of red wool from her band uniform, messages written with permanent marker on pieces of satin—which Mrs. Carreras points out with way too much pride. It wouldn’t help to turn it over because the underside is just bright orange fleece. The quilt says homemade like one of those crocheted toilet paper holders at my great-aunt Barb’s in Schenectady. Our room is officially uncool—me with the blah beige and now Marisol with the homemade quilt of many colors. We’re doomed.

  “I’m back!” Trish says from the door, where she tapes Marisol’s head to one of the clouds. It’s as bad as the picture of me. Great, we’re going to be the quad with the ugly girls and the ugly bedding. “Something the matter, Viola?”

  “Can we redo the pictures? We really suck.”

  Trish squints up at the pictures. “You think so?”

  “I look all sad and Marisol is just blurry.”

  Trish looks hurt.

  “I mean, it’s not the photography at all—you did a great job—we just need to comb our hair and put on some concealer or something. I look really red.”

  “You were crying,” Trish reasons.

  “Yeah.” Great, she just told everybody that I’m on the ledge of insanity because I cried when my parents left. Why don’t I just curl up under Marisol’s baby quilt and sob some more?

  “I’ll try not to cry when my parents leave,” Marisol says supportively.

  “You do whatever you need to do,” I tell her, and I mean it. Marisol looks at me with relief, grateful for a little support.

  Trish goes back to her room for the camera while Mr. and Mrs. Carreras say good-bye to me. Marisol takes their hands and leads them out into the hallway. I hope she’ll be brave because I feel like an idiot that I wasn’t.


  OKAY, LIKE, SEVEN TRIES LATER, TRISH FINALLY GETS a decent picture of me for the door. It only took three tries with Marisol but she’s photogenic, so even a total yutz with a camera, like Trish, couldn’t mess it up.

  Trish taped our new pictures on the clouds already so it’s two down and two to go for Quad 11.

  While I find Trish annoying, I do admire her ability to get things done quickly. You barely have your bags down around here and she’s already got the door decorated. Maybe some of her follow-through will rub off on me, as I’m the Great Procrastinator. I don’t know why, but I put off stuff like nobody’s business. Hopefully that will all change here because there won’t be the great city of New York to distract me. No Promenade, no Brooklyn Bridge, no Greenwich Village, and no friends = no fun. Let’s face it: South Bend, Indiana, will not be loaded with diversions. My mother, terminally upbeat and gratingly optimistic at all times, said something about enjoying the South Bend Symphony (please) and ice-skating on the Saint Joe River (the good old days) when she went to school here and perhaps I should check them out. Yeah. Right. I might just stay in my room and study so much I will rocket to the top of our class (doubt it).

  Marisol set up her laptop on her desk with a brand-new desk lamp and she’s writing on her blog. Evidently, she likes me a lot already, which is a good thing because the feeling is mutual.

  The door to our quad pushes open, and with it comes a gust of chatter so loud it sounds like we’re on the 42nd Street subway ramp at rush hour. Marisol and I look up from our computers.

  “I’m Romy,” the new girl announces. Romy Dixon, a peppy girl from upstate New York, has red hair cropped into a bob with two streaks of sky blue, which she tucks behind her ears when she’s talking. The light blue streaks match her eyes. That’s the only cool element to her look: From the neck down she is pure prepster—the straight-leg jeans lined in red flannel, a yellow Shetland wool sweater with her initials at the collar, and penny loafers (!) with no socks. It’s like she walked out of Talbot’s having spent the max on her holiday gift card on wool and plaid and shirts you have to iron with flat collars. It’s September, and even though it’s warm out, Romy wears the new fall line as though it’s in a rule book somewhere.

  Our newest and third roommate introduces us to her family. It will take an hour because Romy has, like, six parents. I’m not kidding. Her mother and father divorced and remarried, and evidently, her dad twice, so she has, like, three mothers. Only the current parents are here but it’s strange, they all look alike. They wear L.L. Bean and have the ruddy faces of people who run for miles in cold weather. They also smell like muscle ointment, and they do not stop talking.

  They carry all kinds of duffels loaded with what can only be sports equipment. From first glance, I see a tennis racket, golf clubs, and what look like field hockey sticks with socks on the shanks. Great. An athlete.

  In the midst of their banter as they load the duffels into the closet, Marisol and I show Romy the bunks, and she snags the upper one. True athletes need air, apparently, and the top bunk gives her that breeze from the window transoms.

  Romy’s two mothers, with matching short haircuts, make her bed, and they chat and laugh as though they are moving in. So much for divorced couples having issues and blended families unable to blend. These people seem happy. Marisol watches them, sort of amazed. She only has her original parents, as do I. Our families seem downright puny compared to this clan.

  Romy’s bunk is soon made up with a comforter that has a loud print of giant daisies in yellow and white on a field of black. The dads hang a poster of a tin crock of daisies over the upper bunk. (No matter where you sleep in this quad, you’re gonna be looking at daisies. Great.) There is a throw pillow shaped like, guess what, a daisy (!) leaning against the headboard. Matchy matchy. Clearly, Romy planned this boarding school move for weeks. I pretended it wasn’t happening until we got in the car yesterday and drove out here.

  Romy is very take charge in a way that I find exhausting. Already. She has a round face, and what my mother would call “a determined chin.” She sort of leads her parents around our room like it’s a ring, like they are show ponies and she’s the trainer. Romy tells them what goes where and how to hang it, fold it, or store it.

  There’s a knock at the door, even though it’s propped open with a shoe box.

  “Hi, I’m Suzanne.” Suzanne Santry, the fourth girl in our room, walks through the door. She looks around and flips her straight, champagne-blond hair back, securing it with a thin black satin headband. Her eyes are as dark as the satin. She looks like she belongs on a Los Angeles postcard even though she’s actually from Chicago. I can’t believe she’s only fourteen, because she looks seventeen, easy.

  Suzanne is totally beautiful, and for a moment, I imagine she might even be pretty enough for Tag Nachmanoff. She wears white shorts and a big baggy sweatshirt that says MARQUETTE. On her feet are very cool silver glitter flip-flops. My tan has faded already, while hers is still a tawny brown. She must moisturize.

  “Do you mind the bottom bunk?” I ask her, now that I’m filled with guilt for choosing my bed and desk instead of waiting for my new roommates.

Not at all.” Suzanne smiles. “This is my mom, Kate,” she says.

  Suzanne’s mom is tall and reedy, with an unfussy ponytail and clothes that say she has a day job in an office somewhere—a navy blazer, wool pants with a skinny black leather belt, and a silky shell under the blazer. Pearls are looped around her neck like she scooped them out of a treasure chest. Mrs. Santry introduces herself to Romy’s parents (no small feat there), and then she makes her way to Marisol and me.

  “Where’s your dad?” Marisol asks. “Parking?”

  “No, he’s home. My brothers leave for Marquette tomorrow,” Suzanne says, which also explains her sweatshirt.

  “I’m solo.” Kate grins, propping her reading glasses on her head like a tiara. “And I like it!”

  Suzanne, of course, has the best bedding: a simple coverlet of navy and white ticking, with matching white sheets. She has a picture of her family in black-and-white in a silver frame, which she places on her desk. Suzanne has two older brothers (both hot and in college). They look like taller versions of two of the three Jonas Brothers (not Nick, the older ones). Suzanne’s mom and dad have their arms around each other in the picture. Suzanne is stretched across on the lawn below them with her face propped in her hand. They look like they belong in the White House or something.

  “I miss them already,” Suzanne says wistfully as she straightens the picture of her family on her desk.

  “Tell me about it,” I agree. There’s something about Suzanne that makes me want to agree with everything she says. She has that born leader thing, I think.

  I dump all the footage I shot today into the computer and commence sorting shots to assemble. I plan on sending Andrew, Caitlin, Mom, Dad, and my grandmother, Grand, regular video updates of my life in the waiting room of hell itself: Prefect Academy.

  Trish finished decorating our doors by getting a good photo of Romy in three tries, and Suzanne in only one try. Trish thinks it’s because she now officially has so much practice, but I say it’s because Suzanne is incapable of taking a bad picture.

  My roommates push through the newly decorated door.

  “We loaded up the last of the parents,” Romy announces. “And sent them home.”

  “Lovely.” I focus on my screen.

  “What are you doing?” Marisol asks breezily.

  “Cutting some video I shot today.”

  “We just came from the welcome tents. They’re setting up the picnic. It’s going to be great!” Romy sounds like a cheerleader for dogs ’n’ kraut. Let’s face it. In her flannel lined jeans, she is a cheerleader for prepster picnic paraphernalia.

  “They’re having barbecue and homemade ice cream.” Marisol sits down on my bed.

  “Scrumptious,” I say.

  The girls look at one another and I see them laugh in the reflection of my chrome desk lamp. “What’s so funny?” I turn around to face them.

  “You. You’re so droll,” Suzanne says.

  I can’t believe they’ve already made a category for me. Droll. What does that mean? I just shrug. I mean, what can I say to that?

  “Maybe you could film it. Our first dinner together and all.” Marisol stands up and smoothes my beige chenille bedspread where she made a dent in it.

  “We thought it would be fun if you made a record of our first night at PA.” Romy looks at Suzanne and Marisol and nods as though they discussed assigning me to be the roving photographer at PA.

  Oh great. When did the three of them become a we? And I’m the them—the them who stays in the room working on her Avid like some video geek who is finding something to do, a way to fill up her time, besides sitting around feeling abandoned, like that’s some sort of crime or something. I get it. Suzanne, Romy, and Marisol have banded together to fight their feelings of loneliness. They’ve decided to be friends. The unwritten rules of boarding school are now being written without me.

  “I don’t know,” I tell her.

  “It would be so much fun to film the first picnic, and then years from now we can look back and see what we were all like.” Marisol squints at my computer screen and critically analyzes the campus vista.

  “I don’t film for scrapbook purposes.” How do I tell these people that the last thing I want to do is waste my time filming boarding school high jinks? I’m serious about my camera. It’s like asking Audrina Patridge to pose in her bikini for something other than publicity.

  “Why do you do it then?” Suzanne asks without looking up from her BlackBerry.

  “Make movies? I don’t know. I always have.”

  “So it just comes naturally to you?” Romy asks.

  “I sort of inherited my skill. My mom and dad make documentaries and the first thing I ever did was play with a camera. Or maybe it just seems like that. Anyhow, I’ve been making movies since I can remember.”

  “What do you do with the movies when you’ve made them?” Marisol asks.

  “I catalog the footage.” I call the film footage; this way they won’t be asking me to take movies of them singing into their hairbrushes and clowning around in their pajamas in the dorm. Maybe they’ll understand I have a deeper purpose. I’m not even going to tell them that I keep a video diary. Say the word diary to a teenager, and let’s face it, you have a captive audience. But not mine—never—I’ve got the only eyes that will ever see The Viola Reels.

  “I don’t have any hobbies.” Suzanne puts down her BlackBerry and lies on her bottom bunk, stretching her long legs until her feet rest on the foot of the bed. “I wish I did.”

  “I wouldn’t call what I do a hobby. It’s more than that. I’m preparing to be an artist. Someday, I want to be a filmmaker. A great one. Like Kurosawa.”

  “Wow,” Romy chirps. “Who’s that?”

  “A Japanese director. But I probably won’t ever be that good, so forget I said it.”

  “Knowing what you want to do with your life when you’re fourteen years old is a sign of genius,” Suzanne says.

  I think Suzanne actually means what she says, or is it just because she’s pretty that I believe every word that comes out of her mouth? “Thanks,” I say quietly.

  The freshman picnic is designed to help each new girl pretend that she has not left a real life behind, and that a party should automatically make up for all we’ve lost (as if). A bunch of picnic tables covered in tablecloths in the school colors, a fetching Kelly green and white, are arranged under a tent. There are big bunches of green and white balloons weighted down with rocks as centerpieces. My roommates and I get on the line for the food. We don’t say much.

  So far, here’s the scorecard for sadness: Suzanne, slightly sad; Romy, ecstatic and relieved to be in boarding school (probably because there are less people living in Curley Kerner than her real-life home, which is, like, packed with steps); Marisol, a little misty but happy to be in a place that will challenge her academically; and finally, me, miserable, annoyed, and generally feeling sick to my stomach. I take a plate off the stack and stand behind Marisol, who places some shredded lettuce on her plate. The buffet of picnic food—ears of boiled corn, big rolls, wieners on a spit, and vats of shredded beef/pork—reminds me how much I hate barbecue and how I’d rather be in Brooklyn ordering in cold sesame noodles from Sung Chu Mei and playing Rock Band 3 with Andrew.

  The school is already trying to turn us into rah-rahs. There are cards on each table with lists of stuff to do that they consider fun. We motor through the meal and fan out to take advantage of the activities, which gives us something to do, instead of more time to think.

  There are games to bring us together on teams (volleyball, badminton, horseshoes), snow cones to make (out of an old stainless-steel press that looks like you could cut leather with it), and ice cream to churn (we do the churning), and every once in a while, between the slurping and the cranking, an upperclassman comes through and stands at the podium with a microphone and tries to con us into joining clubs.

  There’s a swim team, a tennis team, a basketball team, and on the o
pposite end of the spectrum a Friday night pepperoni pizza club, which for me, sounds like the best group going.

  Mrs. Patty Zidar, introduced as freshman advisor, is actually the school shrink. We had our fun (their idea of it) and now we’re going to pay. She has, like, a billion numbered note cards with her speech on it, and we will have to listen until she reads off every single one of them.

  Mrs. Zidar gets up from the picnic table, in her mom jeans and white button-down shirt tied at the waist, and smiles and adjusts the microphone. She’s actually pretty with bright blond hair and clear green eyes. She goes in for the kill as we’re now officially a captive audience full of sugar, exhausted from running around, and draped around the picnic tables eating our custom-made ice-cream sundaes.

  “You girls are joining not only the amazing and fabulous class of 2012, but a legacy that includes Miriam Shropshire, Gloria Tucker, and Phyllis Applebaum…”

  “Who are those people?” I whisper to Marisol.

  “Who are those women you may ask?” Mrs. Zidar looks right at me as though she heard me. “They are women of substance. Miriam Shropshire is a concert viola player for the New York Philharmonic who founded her own classical group, Strings Three, which has toured internationally for three decades. Gloria Tucker was the coach of the 1972 Olympic javelin team, and Phyllis Applebaum was the first woman president of the National Association of Garden Clubs….”

  “This is the best she’s got?” I drop my head on the table in total resignation. I guess Mrs. Zidar didn’t get the memo: Women are leading corporations, and running for president and almost making it, and developing their own businesses, and being artists. It sounds so retro to bring up flower-arranging ladies. But all her talk about famous graduates is only to lead us into the real meat of her speech. She knows we have been dropped off, away from home for the first time, and while some of us might think it’s great, some of us don’t. She’s trying to swing those of us who don’t do the happy side of life to, well…the happy side of life. I would so be texting Andrew right now and telling him how boring and horrible this is if they hadn’t told us we are not allowed to make calls or text during the picnic.

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