Excerpt from Jacqui Cioffa’s book The Vast Landscape
High School sucks ass. The boys are rotten, girls stupid cows. Harrison isn’t unpopular. She splits her time between drama geeks, nerds, cheerleaders, and popular seniors. Secretly, she hates them all. That stupid jock she had a mad crush on. Felt her up at a keg party in a barn, ignored her at school. Prick, she’d show him. She’ll show them all.
Harry never fit in. She’s mouthy, loud, outspoken, pretty and smart. Harry counts down the remaining months. Bitches with bleach blonde, feathered hair and mountains of hairspray try to goad her. Harrison doesn’t fall for it. Her long, auburn locks with blond highlights Def Leppard style, scream “do not fuck with me.”
“She’s not a virgin, no way in hell,” the cunt, snooty ringleader declares loudly at lunchtime.
Harrison squirms, straightens, sits defiant, staring her down, “gave a kid a blow job at recess.”
The girls turn away, getting back to their gossip.
Gross; it so wasn’t true. Harry’s virginity was very much intact. She wouldn’t give those bimbos the time of day. Sluts, pretend prisses. They were the ones smoking dope, drinking and getting laid. Fucking hypocrites. They couldn’t figure her out, whether she was lying or telling the truth. Harrison didn’t have a tell; she hid her disgust. She couldn’t wait for the day she was a star. They’d be green with envy. Fat, unhappy, married with six kids to their high school sweethearts in boring, dead-end jobs. Losers.
Harrison runs home from school and sprints up the stairs to her bedroom. Slamming the door, locking it behind her. Her sobs muffled by the pillow held tight against her face. Why couldn’t she be like them? She would never be like that, she’d die first.
The pathetic notion of trying to fit in made her cry harder. Monday through Friday was excruciating, pure torture. Heart palpitations, started around six on Sunday. Harry was doomed if she didn’t get out of that hell hole. She wasn’t sure how much more she could take.
Thank God for the few teachers who actually gave a shit. She flunked Trig by one point. Fucking douchebag wouldn’t pass her, wouldn’t even tutor her. Said he spent his summer sailing. Can you believe that shit? Harrison hated the scrawny, white-haired beady-eyed monster from day one. He was such a phony. Summer school, perfect. What else?
She cried all the way home in her little red Colt, flipping the FM stations finding nothing but static. You have to pass; no math credit means no college. Hell, no. She asks her mom to find a tutor. She studies for hours and hours. She has no idea what the hell she’s looking at, stoked she has a photographic memory. Test day. Harry gets a wicked stomachache. She takes two Tums and blocks out the pain. The auditorium is hot, sticky and oddly quiet. She grabs a desk up front, making sure no one can accuse her of cheating. Douchebag hands her the test; Harrison rolls her eyes. FUCK OFF, hope you capsize and drown. Two hours later she raises her hand, satisfied. She’s done her best.
The next two weeks suck ass. She checks the mailbox 20 times a day.
Her mother yells, “Jesus Christ, quit opening the goddamn door every five minutes. You’re letting the flies in.”
“Flies? Seriously?? Hello, we’re talking LIFE and DEATH here,” Harry screams, slamming the front door. “Fine, I’ll sit on the steps.”
Harrison prays it comes soon, her chaffed ass burning from the hard cement. Holy hot. She recognizes the maroon return address emblem immediately. Harry doesn’t wait; she rips open the envelope. There it was, the future staring her in the face in bold red. Seventy-Eight! Three points above passing, she’ll take it. Yeah, baby! Harrison never thought about Trig again. Senior year flew. Harrison opted out of math, took electives, didn’t get asked to prom and didn’t give two shits. She skipped out on graduation.
New York University was the only college Harry applied to. Her mom took her to the city for the interview. She borrowed a scratchy, grey tweed suit from her cousin praying she looked smart. She got in, the Journalism and Creative Writing Program. She couldn’t believe her luck.
Harrison loved New York; she finally fit. The crowded streets, people, taxis, buses, hot dog vendors, boutiques she couldn’t afford, the bike messengers.The hustle and bustle was exhilarating, she felt like a character straight out of “Fame.” Columbus Ave., near Central Park looked like a fairytale. The charming brick brownstones, outdoor restaurants and bars were intoxicating. New York tasted better than chocolate, was wilder than anything Harrison imagined, and smelled like opportunity. The streets vibrated under her boots. Harry’s mom, and cousin who lived and worked at the Trade Center, took her shopping. She knew all the cool places. Harrison bought black motorcycle boots, leggings, green neon socks and a matching sweater. She felt like Madonna. Strolling Columbus, Harrison spots Kevin Bacon at a table at The Saloon. She’d see Footloose a zillion times. On the outside, she played it cool. Inside, she was screaming and dancing.
One more year, High School would be a cakewalk. She had all this to come back to. Senior year, Harrison coasted. New York was calling. A photographer stopped her on Broadway. He looked like a bum, scraggly hair, long beard, bandana. Weirdo. Harry told him to beat it. Relentless, he didn’t listen, gave her his business card. Turns out, he was legit. Worked for one of the best modeling agencies in New York. She couldn’t believe it when she walked in. Be cool, Harry. Comp cards lined the wall with the familiar, famous faces she’d seen in the magazines. Dreamt about. The owner took one look at Harrison, and sent her directly to the hair salon. Bye-Bye blonde streaks, hello luscious red locks. That photographer took test shots. The owner told her to come back when she graduated. Harry’s dreams of modeling literally fell into her lap; college flew right out the window.