“I am perfect. I try to tell the world how to live. I know what is right and wrong. I am the perfect child, perfect student, perfect human. I am beautiful, I’ll admit. But don’t worry, I’m modest. I get the best grades, and I’m polite and respectful. People like me, and I like them. People ask me how I am so perfect, and I just shrug and smile my white-toothed smile, all my teeth in perfect alignment.”
I am perfect. I try to tell the world how to live. I know what is right and wrong. I am the perfect child, perfect student, perfect human. I am beautiful, I’ll admit. But don’t worry, I’m modest. I get the best grades, and I’m polite and respectful. People like me, and I like them. People ask me how I am so perfect, and I just shrug and smile my white-toothed smile, all my teeth in perfect alignment. And I laugh that tingly laugh that has the perfect balance of sweet sincerity and mild amusement. And as I smile, my eyes crinkle slightly. They admire my long eyelashes, curved up to the perfect degree. And I live my perfect life. The sun shines on my pale white skin, my brown eyes sparkle, and my hair flies back in the breeze, just like a scene in a movie. Because I am perfect.
My broken life consists of locking myself in the bathroom and sucking in my stomach to see how skinny I can look. It consists of washing my face five times a day, exercising for two hours a day, squeezing out every hint of a pimple, and mixing honey with all my drinks. I swallow every pill with a cup of water just like the package says. I finish my homework in the dead of night when my parents are in bed, smelling like dirt and alcohol, because they never care about my life and never will. I consider punching them, and then I stare I my own balled fist, knowing that I would never be able to do it because I always have to be so darn perfect. I fall asleep crying, wondering why I bother with it all while putting ice packs over my eyes so that they don’t look bloated in the morning. And I wake up as the sun rises to wash my hair and eat my egg salad that I absolutely hate, and spray perfume over me to hide the stench that lingers in my home. I push up the corners of my mouth with my fingers, and step out the door to put on my smiling facade for another long day.
I guess I don’t really care much about anything anymore. Not like I need to. Not as long as Jacob’s grandad keeps sending money from France. Not as long as Jacob’s here. I don’t really know what I’m doing with my life, yet I don’t really want to do anything. I used to have dreams, but they hurt too much when they shattered into a million pieces, and the shards embedded themselves in you. At least when I’m with Jacob, they don’t hurt as much. He’ll hand me a bottle and pull me into his arms, and we’ll roll around on the bed for hours. My mind feels fuzzy, and my lipstick is smothered, but at least I can forget about the pain of the past. Sometimes at night, I wake up and watch my beautiful daughter, locks of hair slipping from behind her ear as she types on her laptop.
I whisper my promise to her, “I will never hold you back. I will never shatter your dreams. You will never feel that pain. I promise.”
And I check for the envelope of money I left on her dresser so that she would find it in the morning, and I smile as I watch my daughter. Free. Free like I never was.
I dunno. I guess I never dreamed of bein’ a policeman when I was a kid. Guess I never had time to, what, with playin’ basketball all the time. But it’s a pretty good job. You get pretty good pay, too, and it’s respectable. Maybe I can help the world a little bit by bein’ a policeman. Get people to stop hurtin’ other people’s lives. I tell that to the chief after he asks me why I chose it as a job.
He tells me, “Joey, you’re a good man.”
Then he moves me up in rank.
There’s this girl in my class. Her name’s Eden, and she’s really pretty. Not just, you know, “pretty” pretty. She’s, like, pretty pretty. And I may, or may not, kinda have a crush on her.
Okay, fine. I do.
Anyways, she’s really smart, and always gets hundreds on like, everything, which I don’t know how she manages. She’s one of the popular girls, but she’s not obnoxious or anything. Eden’s just nice to everyone, you know. Eden’s just Eden. I wonder if she notices me ‘cause, to be honest, I’m not really that popular. But still, I sit next to her in math class, and she smiles at me a lot. Well, actually, she smiles at everyone a lot. And those smiles would melt your heart.
“Eden.” Ms. Carey always smiles when she calls my name.
I walk up the aisle to retrieve my test, one foot placed in front of the other. My head is tilted up to the perfect angle between pride and modesty.
“100% again, Eden. How do you even manage it?”
My lips part to reveal my perfectly aligned, perfectly whitened teeth, and I give a nod in acknowledgement. When I come back to my seat, I place the paper face up on my desk and wipe my hand over my chair to remove the dust before I sit down, my back at a perfect right angle. And I explain to my classmates in perfect detail how I arrived at every one of my answers, all answered perfectly in the perfect handwriting.
Ms. Carey invites me to lunch with her. Even though I am tired, I smile through it all and eat the food daintily, leaving a perfectly cleared plate when I am done. My classmates watch as I demonstrate every problem perfectly, envious. But they can’t help loving me all the same.
(3x + 4y) – (6y + 8x) – 2x + (9y – 3y) – (4y – 7x) = 0. The 0 at the end of my equation is a perfect circle, equal radii from any point, perfectly symmetrical in every way. I live my perfect life and smile my perfect smile.
The door opens, and there is a man at the door wearing a police badge, asking if there is a girl named Eden in the class. I turn, masking my shock with a confident smile and raise my hand, pale with long fingers. He motions for me to follow him, and I do, my heart beating so loudly in my chest that I’m half-afraid someone will hear. I hope that the officer wouldn’t say anything more. And he does. He tells me they’re just going to ask me a few questions at the station and not to be scared. My class’s eyes grow wide as they realize I’m going to be interrogated, and Ms. Carey is completely bemused.
Hurriedly, I walk out the door first, flashing a reassuring smile at them one last time. But as the door closes, I hear them burst into conversation, my name floating out of 20 different mouths. I move quickly out of the school doors, forcing the officer to jog to catch up with me. I get in the car without a word.
Adam: I Think
There was this big fuss about a policeman coming to get Eden today. I’m not really sure what it was about, but I don’t think she did anything wrong. She looked confused for a second but was smiling afterwards, so I don’t think it shocked her too much. I don’t think the issue is about her, and I don’t think they’re going to put her in jail or anything. I mean, how could they put Eden in jail? Maybe anyone else, but not Eden. Besides, Eden was so nice to everyone. Even if they were kinda mean about it because they were jealous. I think Eden’s gonna be okay. I wish I knew for sure. But since when did anyone besides her care about what I think?
Joey: Falling Far from the Tree
I watched the girl sitting in the back seat of his car, face blank and emotionless. Dude, she was one pretty girl. In fact, she was sitting so primly and stiffly, she looked like a Barbie doll. Geez.
I turn in my seat to face her.
“You’re allowed to blink, you know.”
She blinked pointedly. I turn back around. Either this whole ‘taken away by a policeman’ thing was a total shock to her, or she wasn’t affected at all. Can’t tell which. The girl, or Eden, as she was called, was looking out the window as if it was just a normal car ride home from school or something.
The man who got arrested today was apparently her father. I guess the apple really falls far from the tree in this case. The man was a drunken wretch, and his daughter was, well, like a princess. I wonder if the girl even knew that her father had been found drunk and unconscious in the middle of the street. I wonder if the girl even cared.
Well, I thought, maybe she’ll show some sort of reaction when they arrived at the station.
Or maybe she won’t.
Eden: Escaped Thought
A thousand thoughts whirled through my head, but I ignored their buzz and pushed them to the back of my mind.
Calm down. And put your seatbelt on.
The man driving in the front kept shooting glances at me, as if I was going to attack him any moment now. He said something, something about blinking. I blinked, then turned to look outside the window. A thought escaped.
What was I doing here?
A surge of red-hot anger came up in my chest. It was Dad. Of course it was him. And then I pushed the anger back down, concentrating on keeping a blank face, keeping my tears in.
I stared at Jacob, asleep on the bed with the blue, rubber mattress. He looked beautiful, even when he was drunk and unconscious. Even in that moment, when he was arrested and was probably going to be fined a large sum of money, I loved him. His jet black hair was messed up, in a rugged sort of way, and his muscles stood out from the outline of his arm. I closed my eyes and remembered all those wonderful moments with him, standing next to him, leaning on him as he whispered in my ear. Jacob saved me from my memories, my shattered dreams, and replaced them with soft, reassuring words, and embraces that told me he would never leave me. I remembered how happy he was when I said yes, I would marry him, and how happy and proud he was when we had Eden.
I checked with the officer outside the door that, yes, they were getting my daughter from school. I looked out the window, and a car pulled up. A nice-looking man and a girl climbed out.
Eden. What would she say about this? The door opened and…
Eden: Crashing Down
My life comes crashing down. There is a man at the door wearing a police badge, and there is my daddy, unconscious, and my mom standing behind them, looking scared. And then suddenly, I am mad, so mad as what must have happened hits me.
What did you do, and what were you thinking? Don’t you care about your life? Don’t you care about anything? Anyone? Do you want to be a drunken wretch for your whole life?
I hear a sharp intake of breath, and whirl around to face the stunned officers. I realize that I had just said everything out loud. And I sink down to the floor, my head in my hands, and groan. But at this point, I don’t care anymore. I am pleading with my parents.
Why couldn’t we be happy? What did I do wrong? What happened to the family I’m supposed to have, the one where you smile and laugh and care about me? Don’t you know that I’ve spent my entire life trying to be a perfect daughter to you? Don’t you know how hard that’s been? Don’t you care?
Pain flashes through my mother’s eyes. Her eyes tear up and, for some reason, that’s making me cry. But I can’t do anything about the flow of tears, except for hate myself for being so weak, for letting down my image, for ruining it all. The police are taking me somewhere. My feet are moving, but I don’t feel it. In fact, I don’t feel anything. My body feels numb, and I can’t seem to think, and my face is wet with tears.
Joey: A Reason
The girl in front of me was hysterical and crying. And, of course, I was the one who was told to go take her to another room and talk to her. I hardly know the kid. What was I supposed to say to her?
She looks up at me. The way she’s crying, and trying not to cry at the same time, almost makes me break out in tears.
“I’m Joey. You an’ I can talk a bit, alright?”
The girl is having these strange movements where she sucks up her breath and tries not to cry, and then lets the tears and air back out a few moments later when she runs out of breath.
“It’s okay. You can cry. I can wait to talk to you.”
The girl shakes her head and keeps going. My heart was gonna mush up and melt if she kept goin’.
“Ya know, yer mom had a rough childhood, too.”
Maybe this is a shock to the girl, because she chokes on her tears and hiccups. Or maybe she just coincidentally choked on her tears at that time.
“Your mama wasn’t rich like you, Eden. She didn’t get everythin’ she wanted. And her parents didn’ let her do anythin’ she wanted. See, she wanted to be an artist. And her parents wanted her to be a doctor. They controlled her life. She’s just tryin’ to give you free rein of your life, Eden.”
She didn’t believe me. Of course. The kid had grown up basically on her own, believing her parents just didn’t like her, and now I was giving her a reason for that pain? Of course, the kid was bewildered.
“It’s true. She told me. Go ask her yourself.”
I glance at Eden’s mother, who was standing in the corner, hoping to get rid of the crying kid before my heart turned into Jello.
Eve: Quiet Room
I snuck into the corner of the room and listened to the officer talk to the kid. What was wrong with me? I couldn’t even get the guts to talk to my own daughter. The officer was telling Eden what I should have been explaining to her, the duty that I had neglected. I watched my daughter cry, heart-wrenching sobs in a quiet room, and the memories that I worked so hard to bury resurfaced. Proudly showing my parents a painting of them. Telling them I wanted to be an artist. Feeling so happy. Finding the painting, ripped, in the trash can. Being told that painting wasn’t a good job. Crying silent tears over unsolvable math problems, heart-wrenching sobs alone in a quiet room.
The officer looked over at me, and I walked over to my daughter, tears leaking from my eyes before I could stop them.
“I’m so sorry,” she told me. She was crying, too. Now, and I’m a mess.
“I thought you would be better off without me. Without me holding you back. I thought you could be free. So I couldn’t break your dreams.”
I looked into her eyes, and I saw pain. Unforgotten. Hidden away.
“Dreams?” I asked. “Dreams? My dream was to be loved by you. To be cared by you. To be enough to deserve you. My dream was to know you.”
She broke down in tears again.
“I thought that if I left you the money…”
I took a 20 dollar bill from my pocket with a look of utmost hatred. I ripped it in half. Then I ripped those pieces in half again. And again. And again. And then I stomped on the pieces.
“Money can’t buy love.”
“I know, honey. I know.”
She pulled me into her arms. For some reason, I was not struggling to get out of them because, although this woman has ruined my life, I love her more than anything.
And, as if she was reading my thoughts, she said, “I love you so much, darling. I love you so much, it hurts.”
And we were both crying into each other’s shoulders, not sure anymore who is comforting who. Just a mother and daughter who shared painful memories and broken dreams, letting out the hurt in the form of tears.
“Why does Daddy hate me?” I looked away, half-dreading the answer.
“Oh, honey. Daddy doesn’t hate you. He’s afraid. He’s afraid that somehow he would hurt you. He’s afraid, like I was. Afraid that we wouldn’t be good enough parents for you. That we’d do something wrong. He thought you were so beautiful, so perfect, when you were born. He didn’t want to mess it up. So he just drank and drank to try and forget about his duty that he was too scared to face.”
There was a silence. I didn’t know what to say, so I muttered that my eyes will be bloated by next morning. Mommy looked me in the eyes, and said she won’t care if my eyes are the size of cantaloupes by morning. And, for the first time in ages, we were both laughing so hard that our stomachs hurt.
Adam: A Little Different
Eden came to school for the first time in three days. Her hair was in pigtails, which was an interesting change, ‘cause she usually keeps it down. And she was wearing a baseball cap. I wonder what happened at the police station because her eyes are bloated (which they never are), but she seems a lot more cheerful. She even started dancing to the music that was playing in the recess yard. She’s a pretty good dancer.
Anyways, I’m glad she’s not in jail or anything. Not like she would do anything to be put there. She seems a little different from before, but I can’t really say how. Either way, she’s still my crush. How can she not be?
Joey: Pink Pansies and Roses
Eden came today to check on her dad, and stopped by my office to thank me for taking care of him. We chatted a bit, now that my heart wasn’t threatening to turn into mush. She’s a nice kid, especially since she wasn’t rippin’ up dollar bills all over the place. She seems a whole lot more cheerful since last week. I guess she and her mom worked things out all right. Glad I didn’t have to do it. She was lookin’ around at all my picture frames, askin’ a million questions about the people in them. Kids are annoying when they ask questions, especially to a busy police officer. But at least it was a nice change from the Barbie doll in the back of my car.
At that moment, Eden was tellin’ me about how people with the name Joey just couldn’t possibly be unfriendly, and it was just how the name worked. I don’t do well when flattered, so I was nodding awkwardly, hoping she would change the subject. As kids do, something else caught her eye quickly. I craned my neck to see what it was. It was a bright pink vase filled with a nice assortment of pink pansies and roses, all tied with a purple bow. It contrasted drastically with the rest of my office.
Seeing the question in her eye, I blushed and told her as professionally as possible in that situation, “I got a girlfriend. She likes pink.” I grinned, despite my efforts not to. And Eden grinned back.