Chapter 15: Girl Talk
“You are so talented. I wish I could draw like this,” Katherine said as she flipped through the pages of one of Pearl’s old sketchbooks.
“That was a long time ago. I don’t draw anymore.” Again, Pearl was torn between being thankful someone wanted to get to know her and being annoyed that someone was prying into her personal space.
“Are you able to draw or paint anymore?” Katherine questioned casually.
“I just can’t paint the picture in my mind anymore, so I stopped trying a very long time ago. I can’t even see the differences between my paints. Everything outside of my imagination is faded, existing in varying degrees of gray. Like the flowers by the front fence, for example. I know they are purple and pink pansies. But I can’t see their color unless I paint them in my mind. And in my mind, they are beautiful. They are deep purple and hot pink, rounded in shape with five petals each. They have a dark center that looks like a face, and they nod to me every time I pass. When they stand tall, they are about eight inches in height, and their fragrance welcomes me home each morning after my walk.” Pearl sat with a soft look on her face picturing the purple and pink pansies in her front yard.
“I see them too, Pearl. I mean, I can visualize them. To be honest with you, I never paid any attention to those flowers; I didn’t even know they were there. I walked right past them. But now, now that you described them, I see them too in my mind. And yes, they are beautiful.” Katherine really could see the pansies in her mind, and she was amazed at how blind she was to have not have noticed them before.
“Yeah, funny how much more I see going blind,” Pearl commented. “For example, I never appreciated a sunny day more than when I was forced to experience it by touch, sound, and feel.” Pearl reminisced about the first afternoon everything in her front yard was completely lost to her by her vision. The big tree, the fence, the flowers…nothing was discernable by sight. Pearl lay down on her back - the crisp grass buckled underneath the weight of her body. The sun pierced her eyelids with intense whiteness. She felt the warmth of the rays tingle her face, arms, and legs. She heard the birds sing and the wind play with the leaves of the tree. Pearl had never appreciated a sunny day more than in that moment: she had experienced it all in minute detail. Pearl wondered why she had never taken the time to relish an average day like this before.
“Yeah, I guess we get lazy or in a hurry and focus only on what is in front of us. I bet I have missed quite a lot just being busy.” Katherine sat with her legs crossed and Hope sleeping peacefully in her lap. She felt so calm and free talking easily with Pearl - talking to Pearl about things that were beyond “things,” and discussing more feelings and what matters than just about who-did-what-to-whom.
“Katherine, what do you look like now?” Pearl wanted to know. She vaguely remembered that Katherine had pouffy thick hair, but beyond that, she had forgotten why she was so pretty.
“Well, that is a rather unusual question. I don’t know if I have ever described myself to someone else before. Most would consider me pretty, probably very pretty. I have light brown hair, almost dark blonde. My hair is impossibly thick. I can’t even pull it in a ponytail without the rubber band snapping. I try to wear it straight, but on humid days it gets a mind of its own. My best bet is a braid or twist. I have hazel eyes and olive skin. A mole is on my left cheek, right above my lip. I would love to get it removed, but everyone says it makes me look sophisticated. I would say you and me are about the same height, and I bet we can wear one another’s clothes. You definitely have a better chest than me. I just have two mosquito bites for boobs, but I wear a majorly padded bra – no one knows the difference,” Katherine laughed. It felt good to laugh at herself. Katherine normally takes her appearance very seriously: most of her popularity is based upon it.
“Too funny,” Pearl replied. “I’m sure you’re the picture-perfect cheerleader for Northrich Hills High School,” Pearl said. They both laughed.
“Pearl, don’t you wear makeup?” Katherine inquired.
“No, I stopped wearing makeup the day I left the house looking like a prostitute. I accidentally put on too much blue eyeshadow and black eyeliner. I got whistled at more times than a New York City taxicab driver.” Katherine immediately started laughing, and Pearl followed. It was the first time Pearl laughed about her makeup fiasco. In that instant, her bitterness from that awful day was replaced with humor – the laughter healed her pain like time heals a cut.
“Well, I work part-time at the cosmetic counter at Bella’s Department Store in the mall. During the summer, I work six-hour shifts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It is okay money, and I get tons of free makeup samples. Not to mention, I get to see my boyfriend on my breaks. He works in men’s sportswear at Bella’s. We got the job together so we could see one another without our parents complaining. I spend most of my paycheck during my breaks munching on soft pretzels and sharing vanilla shakes with Boyd.”
“Boyd? Boyd O’Neil? I remember him! Wasn’t he pegged to be the next-best-thing on the football team?” Pearl asked.
“Yeah, all that and more came true for him. He started last year and will start again this year as quarterback. Already, he has had several scouts check him out, and a few are keeping him under their radar. He will more than likely get a full ride scholarship to the college of his choice. He definitely has the talent and the brains. Everyone loves him.” Katherine factually described Boyd, void of intimate interest.
“Including you, right?” Pearl probed.
“Including me, what?” Katherine asked indifferently.
“Love. You love Boyd, right?” Pearl asked again.
“Yeah, sure. We’re the hottest couple on campus: Junior Homecoming Queen and King. We’ve been like Romeo and Juliet for over a year. Everyone knows we’re an item. I bet you we will be Prom Queen and King next year.”
Pearl was taken back at how shallow Katherine was about her relationship with Boyd. Everything seemed to be about appearances with Katherine, and Pearl was losing her patience. “Are you this consumed by your status on campus on a daily basis? Is that all you ever think about?” Pearl didn’t mean to be rude, but at the same time, she was sincerely perplexed by Katherine’s answers.
“Yeah, Pearl. It is a tough job being popular. You have no idea. You just sit here all day like a hermit. I have a reputation to uphold. People count on me to wear the hot clothes, to be pretty, funny, a star cheerleader, and to be going out with the best looking guy! I can’t afford to become nothing – being popular is all I’ve got!” As Katherine finished her tirade, a few tears fell down her cheeks. She was tired of being superficial but was afraid to dig deeper to see if there was something more inside. What if there wasn’t? What if being popular was all Katherine was good at?
Pearl could tell Katherine was hurting, and she brushed off her defensive attack. Instead, Pearl reached out and touched Katherine’s shoulder. “It sounds like you are just as lonely being popular as I am a hermit,” Pearl said gently.
Katherine let out a soft laugh. “Yeah, who would have guessed?” she said. “It just seems some days all I can do is survive. I haven’t always lived on Hickory Street, you know. We just moved in that little house about three months ago,” Katherine told Pearl.
“Yeah, I thought all the rich kids lived on the other side of Prader Road?” Pearl knew there was a distinct line, not tangible, but the social line that divided the middle class from the upper class. The most popular kids lived on the other side of Prader Road in big houses with swimming pools, media rooms, iron gates, and fancy cars.
“I used to up until three months ago. My dad lost his big-time job a little over a year ago. My parents kept pretending to be wealthy; all the while, their savings drained out like bathwater. My mom would scream at me not to answer the phone. It was usually the bank or a collection agency calling to harass my folks about the money they owed. Eventually, everything was gone - country club membership, department store credit cards, even our fancy cars. Dad sold the house to get us out of the red. He is now working with a credit restoration company and financial advisor to repair the damage that has been done. Dad started a new job a few weeks ago. He is not the head-honcho anymore, and his ego and paycheck have taken a severe blow. He brings his bad attitude home with him and yells at my mom and me. The whole thing is crazy. Everything seemed to change overnight.” This was the first time Katherine openly discussed her parents’ situation. She had even kept the reason for their move a secret from her friends: she had told them she had moved into a smaller house because her folks were spending their money on a second home in Aspen, Colorado. Again, Katherine reasoned it was okay to talk openly to Pearl: Pearl had no one to tell just how pathetic Katherine felt.
Pearl and Katherine continued to talk all afternoon. They both stretched beyond their comfort zone and tapped into a new point of view: a layer just beyond the surface of the self and the world. What they uncovered was amazing.