It was a year, that year, Ellen Kennedy knew, as she'd noticed from her 10th grade classmates and from observing her family—her new year's resolution (it was stupid to have one but she was bored in class and made a list, then picked one) had been to be more alert, to think more truthfully about things, and it had affected her, she guessed, with better grades, an increase in self-esteem that was actually just a realization of how dumb everyone was, and nerdy, slightly annoying insights like this one—for doing something not even that exciting or wild and then saying, "Why not?" Or else saying, "Why not?" then doing something sort of forced and meaningless; though mostly people just went around saying, "Why not?" and, later on, when it came time to act, then, saying, "It's too hard," without ever actually doing anything.
Things still happened that year, of course, like any other year—they were pretty much all the same, Ellen Kennedy guessed; what was a year, anyway; floating around the sun in the straight line, really, of a circle; it felt sarcastic to keep count—just mostly by accident, or else by momentum, by implication and solution of past things (like a math equation, trying to solve itself, as what was the world, the unstoppable mass of it, but one of those long division problems in seventh grade that went on, annoying and blameless, forever?).
Ellen Kennedy herself had knocked down a No U-Turn sign. She was sixteen and didn't have a permit, and didn't want one—driving was bad for the environment, she had no money for a car, and she didn't want to wait in line five hours to fail whatever stupid test—but had craved alfalfa sprouts with ranch dressing one night when everyone else was asleep; and so had washed her face and ran out to the street, to her brother Steve's Honda Civic, the keys of which were left on the dash (more depressively, Ellen Kennedy thought in a tic of imposition, than stupidly). After knocking down the No U-Turn sign she panicked and drove for a time on the wrong side of the road, where, after a vision of crash test dummies, she felt a vacuum-sealed sort of calmness—the sound-reducing serenity of breaking a traffic law, of going metaphysically back in time, to a truer place, where every direction was equally legal; probably this was not unlike meditation, Ellen Kennedy gently thought—then cut across a median, knocking the right rearview mirror against a tree, so that it banged shut against the window, and drove back into her neighborhood. At her house, thinking, destroy the evidence, she parked, put the keys back on the dash, and then was wrenching the damaged rearview mirror off the car, though not without a lot of difficulty—and not without realizing, after a moment, that there wasn't actually anything wrong with it; just needed to be adjusted back into position; but continuing, still, with two hands, now, in a sort of rampage—and then was running across the street and lobbing the half-melon of the thing over a fence, into someone's backyard. Back in her house, she walked carefully around, civil and perceiving as a saint. She saw her brother, Steve, asleep on the sofa. In the kitchen her two little sisters were eating a bowl of something, which they hid as Ellen Kennedy walked by. In her room Ellen Kennedy crawled onto her bed and lay on her side; for a long time, then, until she yawned and then closed her eyes and fell asleep, she stared, a bit objectively, without mood or judgment—though self-consciously so, feeling while doing it a bit empty and melodramatic—at the other side of her room, where the bookcase, the computer, the desk, and the stereo were.
That was in the wintertime, and then it was Spring, and some nights, now, in bed, feeling very bored and a little lonely, Ellen Kennedy would let herself worry that she had hit a person—that the person had looked like a No U-Turn sign; had on a cowboy hat, or something—and would then have imaginary conversations with kids at school she wished she were friends with, the ones who listened to punk music like she did and who always dressed prettily and had green hair that was very beautiful and vivid.
"I think I hit a person."
"No you didn't."
"I knocked down a No U-Turn sign. That's illegal."
"You're being honest right now. You can use that to cancel out the sign."
"I'll tell the judge, 'We're even now.'"
"The judge will be like, 'Fine then. Uh, I mean, case dismissed.'"
Alert and awake, under her blanket, having these conversations, she would sometimes feel so yearning and friendless and unhelpable—each moment of being herself, she knew, was a strengthening, an adapting, of who she was; and she didn't want to be who she was—that she would squeak a little.
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