by Chris Eng, illustration by Karlene Harvey
After the break-up, there was a month where, if Jenn didn’t manage to convince herself she was happy, she fooled herself into ignoring she was sad. She put her two months of blissful happiness with the punks aside, the happiest months of her entire life, and went back to the way things used to be: her bland wardrobe, her bland school, bland peers, bland life. She and her mother avoided getting into it by not speaking to one another. She was still getting driven to and picked up from school, but the amount of conversation on those trips was nonexistent. Jenn went to school, came home, read and slept.
Her hallway conversations with Claire had become uniformly static. (CLAIRE: You’re stupid and boring, McNabb. JENN: I know, yeah.) Jenn wondered why Claire was the only one who ever talked to her other than her teachers. She supposed she was easy to ignore. Even when her teachers did have something to say, it was always something along the lines of, “I wish you tried harder,” or, “If you only applied yourself, you could achieve so much.” She had tried to build a life outside the one she’d been stuck in, and where did that get her? Not ahead, though it had shown her the rich, exciting world that existed beyond her day-to-day life, a world she wasn’t allowed to partake in. These days she was past trying for anything. If not trying kept her invisible and her grades mediocre, she was happy to keep coasting. Maybe one day blandness would become her primary characteristic and she’d just disappear. There was always hope.
“Hey, McNabb,” Claire hissed at her in French class. “Remember when you wanted to be punk?”
Jenn nodded, only half-turning her head toward her.
“There’s an awesome gig tonight at a warehouse downtown. Are you gonna go?” A few pockets of snickering popped up around her.
Jenn shook her head. She didn’t want to think about how horrible it was that Claire had discovered the local scene. She imagined Claire hanging out with Kathleen, both of them making fun of her, and suddenly had to suppress the urge to vomit.
Jenn reached out, grabbed a half-dozen random shreds of anxiety and anger, balled them up together and tossed them into the pit.
The pit underneath her heart had filled up completely following the break-up and Jenn was genuinely worried about what would happen if it spilled over, so her new hobby was to empty it a bit and give her inner self room to breathe.
Whenever she could manage it, she snuck off to her dad’s workshop. There were two things of use there: a piece of a steel rod used to reinforce concrete (Jenn thought it might have been called ‘rebar’) that her dad had brought in and forgotten about god-knows-how-long ago, and a concrete block that had been abandoned and left to return to the elements. Jenn thought she’d help it along.
Her dad had been meticulous about installing decent soundproofing throughout the room (though almost certainly at her mother’s urging—Jenn could imagine the harping that occurred the day her dad brought a rotary saw up the driveway), so there was little chance Jenn would be heard, although she could have been found easily enough if her mother had bothered to look for her. Thankfully, so far, she’d come off lucky.
On days when she needed relief from, well, anything, she went to the workshop, dragged the concrete block to the middle of the floor, pulled on a pair of industrial workgloves, grabbed the rebar, and beat the living shit out of the concrete. She’d reach inside herself, pull out one of the crumpled balls, lay it down (figuratively speaking) on top of the block and whale on it with the metal until the ball disintegrated into tiny ash-like fragments that floated on the air and disintegrated. Then she’d pull out the next one.
There was too much rage inside her for this to be anything other than an exercise in maintaining the status quo. Every time she destroyed five balls, five more things would pop up the next day, but the exercise kept her at an even keel and for that she was grateful. Sometimes she sat in class and smiled as she rubbed the callouses on her palms.
There was going to have to be a lot of destruction in order to keep balance today.