I TOLD YOU I WAS TROUBLE
YOU KNOW THAT I’M NO GOOD.
—AMY WINEHOUSE, “YOU KNOW I’M NO GOOD”
MY NAME IS MIA DEMPSEY, and I am a troubled teen.
I’m a sleep-with-random-boys-I-meet-in-the-Fullerton-underpass kind of troubled.
A 1.7-grade-point-average kind of troubled.
A stick-and-poke-heart-on-my-upper-left-boob kind of troubled.
A peppermint-schnapps-in-my-water-bottle-during-first-period-American-history kind of troubled.
A punch-my-stepmom kind of troubled.1
Of all the ways that I am troubled, it’s this last one, so far as I can tell, that has landed me in here.
Maybe if I had just apologized to Alanna, I’d still be in my own room at home, surrounded by my books and journals, my laptop and my closetful of shoplifted clothes, instead of lying on this creaky aluminum bunk bed, staring up at rusty springs while, above me, some weird stranger whimpers in her sleep.
But I am not good at apologizing.
For me, every time I try to say I’m sorry or I love you, the words dissolve on my tongue like tabs of emotional acid.
Still, in my defense, how could I apologize after what she said to me?
That day, as Alanna held the bag of frozen corn over her face, her lap piled high with bloody Kleenex, my dad—called home from work in the middle of the day once again to deal with a Mia Crisis—kept asking: Why, Mia? Why? Why would you do this?
I knew why, and so did Alanna, but I couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t repeat the words that had come out of her mouth and had triggered my fist, because I knew there was a chance he might agree with those words. And if he did, it would slice into me so deep I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep acting like I didn’t care.
“TROUBLED TEEN.” What a stupid phrase. First of all, you’ll never catch any self-respecting human between the ages of thirteen and nineteen referring to herself as a “teen.” “Kid,” “girl,” “person”: those are all fine. “Teen,” however, is a social construct, a word that should never be used to describe actual people but instead reserved for all those not-too-childish but also not-too-sophisticated products that adults in marketing meetings are always trying to convince us we can’t live without: Fuzzy, utterly functionless beanbag chairs. Glittery phone cases. Rainbow-striped scrunchies. Crop tops that claim to be a size six but are actually the size of a Post-it note. Pretty much anything with pom-poms on it.
And “troubled”? To me, this is a word that brings to mind someone sitting in a library, staring off into space, thoughtfully stroking her chin as she ponders a difficult—a troubling—algebraic equation. I wish I were troubled. Instead, what I am is enraged.
At what, exactly, I couldn’t tell you. The world, my place in it, and everyone who populates it—does that narrow it down? Anyway, it doesn’t matter, since “Red Oak Academy: A Therapeutic Girls’ Boarding School for Chronically Pissed-Off Humans Between the Ages of Thirteen and Nineteen” doesn’t flow off the tongue nearly as well as “Red Oak Academy: A Therapeutic Girls’ Boarding School for Troubled Teens.”
Seriously, what is it with adults and their euphemisms? Why are they so terrified of calling things what they actually are? For example, why does Alanna get all bent out of shape when I call Lauren and Lola my half sisters? Why can’t you drop the “half”? she asks. They’re just your sisters. But that isn’t true. It’s not like I don’t love the twins, but the fact is, they came out of Alanna’s vagina, and I didn’t. End of story.
And why have all my teachers insisted, since I was six years old, in calling me “gifted”? I’m not gifted. I’m just smart. I read a ton, I test well, and I like writing almost as much as I like cutting class to smoke weed in the parking lot behind the bankrupt Sears at Six Corners. So what? What does “gifted” even mean? How is it a gift, being bored as fuck at school my whole life, having to pretend to fumble over words like “prodigious” and “irrelevant” when I’m asked to read aloud so the other kids won’t think I’m a freak? Feeling like my brain is always cranking, like it can never shut off, like the only thing that can calm it down is to inhale a book or a drug or a boy?
“Perhaps Mia is troubled because she’s so gifted.”
This was Mr. Cullerton’s brilliant assessment of me when I had my last suspension hearing.
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