As I read over chapter 1, I’m pretty sure that neither “Previously” section will stay. But we’ll see. That’s the beauty of making it real–helps the editing process by bringing clarity to your writing.

She’s Not That Good

Chapter 1

“She’s not that good,” a woman on the other side of the cube wall whispers in her stage voice.

I know she’s talking about me. Maybe because I’ve heard those four little words, five if you count she’s not as “she is not,” for most of my life. Plus the fact that I’ve just been told by HR that I have five minutes to pack up my belongings before they escort me out of the building.

“Layoff” they call it, so why all the drama and formal proceedings as if I’ve done something criminal? Is it a crime to not be that good at something, even if it were true? Besides, this is only my first day at work. Who gives you a typing test on your first day of work? Especially in high tech? Unheard of.

A voice clears, and I look up. Has five minutes passed already? Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. I don’t have that much stuff to pack up. Being a temporary employee, a contractor, means I’m used to going from one job to another so I travel light—especially for the first week or maybe even the first month or two. I shut down the company computer, grab my purse, water bottle, personalized coffee cup, and follow my escort through the double doors, out to the lobby, and out on the sidewalk.

I don’t even have a car so I can escape quickly, tamp down my humiliation, or scream and cry in the privacy of my own vehicle. Oh no, today I chose to take BART to work. Fremont is an hour BART ride and even longer by car, so, of course, I took BART.

She’s not that good. Those words reverberate inside my brain in time with my steps as I walk the two blocks to the light rail station. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if whatever it is I’m not that good at hadn’t been somebody else’s idea in the first place. Like, “You know, you’re really good at singing, so why don’t you try out for the school play?”

I would resist using the argument that having a good singing voice does not make one an actress. But they would eventually wear me down and convince me that auditioning for the school play is the only thing to do and that I’d be a shoe-in. I’d rehearse for weeks and finally arrive for my audition, and there “they” would be, those same people who had practically twisted my arm to audition for their lousy play, huddling together, whispering, until finally their so-called whisper turned into a stage whisper, and nobody could help hearing them all say, as if in unison, “She’s not that good.”

I could have told you that. But that isn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me. No, much worse was when I went out with Little Tommy Tongue Twister, as we called him in elementary school. His name alone should have been enough to send me running for the hills. But a friend of a friend convinced me that Tommy was all grown up handsome now that we were all in high school, and had asked specifically that I come to a party he was having at his house while his parents were out-of-town. So, I went to Tommy’s party.

Not long after he spiked the punch with some rum his parents brought back from a Caribbean cruise, he pulled me into the closet and started sticking his tongue down my throat. Later, he had the nerve to say, “She’s not that good” when his friends asked why he never saw me again after that. After a while, kids at school saw me coming and would say, “She’s not that good is coming down the hall.” I wanted to die.

I began making plans to attend college far, far away, but every application came back saying the same thing, “She’s not that good.” You’d think I’d getter better at choosing what I was good at, but people misled me. My essays in English class would garner an “A,” and my teacher would convince me I should pursue a journalism degree. But after meeting with a counselor who had run me through the paces, he had written on my application, “She’s not that good.”

Which brings me to today and my first day of work where I had to take a writing test, a typing test, and a math test. The HR lady calls me into her office afterwards, and reads the note written on the results. You guessed it. It says, “She’s not that good.” So why not test me before they tell me I have the job? It makes no sense to me, but, then, these temporary positions never do.

It’s not that I want any of these things. I didn’t want the part in the school play, Little Tommy Tongue Twister, the journalism degree, or the job today. The problem is I don’t know what I do want. But I have a feeling that once I figure that out, they’ll stop saying, “She’s not that good.”

Some people say I should be a fiction writer. Maybe they see in me some creativity and accomplishment. I’m flattered by that, because you see, I’m not a complete loser, although it may sound like that to you at this point. The problem is, I’m good at a lot of things—I’m just not good enough to excel in any of them.

I write good papers, I love history, and I got an “A” in my history classes, so people concluded I’m an intellectual and recommend I become a lawyer or a historian but even I can tell I’m not that good.

To make myself feel a bit better after that job debacle, I check for any messages about the other jobs I applied for when I first returned to California. You know, the hand modeling job. Everybody says I have beautiful hands, and even the rest of me passes for attractive, but when I seek those modeling jobs, I hear the usual, “too short,” “too tall,” “too fat,” “too thin.” I’m starting to feel like Goldilocks never finding the one that’s “just right.”

I call my mother’s land number, expecting to get the answering machine (yes, she still uses one of those) and I’m surprised when she picks up. “I thought today was your surfing day.”

She keeps saying stuff like, “I’m starting over,” when she suddenly begins pursuing all of her “childhood” dreams. One day it’s hang gliding, then it’s drama class, and now it’s surfing. Okay, so maybe it isn’t exactly sudden. I suppose that’s to be expected now that she’s alone after my step dad died of a sudden illness. And my brother, or rather half brother joined the Marines.

“They used to call me Gidget,” she says as if that claim alone justifies her latest desire to start surfing. Or maybe after losing her husband, she realizes how short life is and is determined to make all of her dreams come true. But I know she won’t stick with it–she never sticks with anything to be very good at it. No wonder I have the problems I have. But she keeps insisting I not follow in her footsteps, “Be a novelist. That’s who you are.”

“Like everybody else?” I say. Who isn’t a novelist these days? My mother is the one with deep desires to be an author, ensconced in her office in some quiet New England village, and when it doesn’t pan out as quickly as she thinks it should, she jumps on other so-called dreams, although I really wonder if she ever dreamed of being a surfer.

She wanted to give me the pen name she always wanted. “Constance Brocade–can’t you just see that on the front of a romance novel? Isn’t that the perfect name?” Only her name is Debbie so she decided to name me Constance. I would have died before I would let anybody know my name was Constance. Thankfully, my grandmother stepped in and out of spite, my mother named me after her favorite drink—Brandi. I’ve always suspected that’s what she was drinking the night I was conceived. Maybe that would have been okay if our last name wasn’t “Redwine.”

“What’s the problem, mother?” she would ask her mother. “Brandi isn’t any worse than Sherry” and that always shut her up. Sherry was the daughter of my grandfather–the daughter we never talk about.

“No surfing anymore. It’s not for me. I think I’m going to start photography next. I can be on the beach without hurting my knees. Don’t wait until you’re forty to follow your heart, Brandi. Do it now while you’re young.” Forty? More like mid-fifties.

“Did anybody call for me? You know the hands modeling people.” I give them my mother’s phone for these jobs because

  1. It keeps her off my back (if she thinks she’s doing something “important” like this, she doesn’t look closer into my life)
  2. It keeps recruiters happy because they love to call people
  3. I may or may not lose my cell phone
    (a) It’s been known to happen
    (b) there might/might not be a message in that.

Anyway, phones of any kind are intrusive, and the idea of texting makes me crazy. I know, I know. I’m nothing like the average young person the media tells me I should be. I did tell you I don’t really fit in with people, didn’t I? I’m an introvert and even texting seems intrusive. If you must reach me, send an email, and I’ll get back to you when I’m ready.

“I’ve told you, Brandi, those hands were meant for sitting at the typewriter pounding out novels.”

“Mom, nobody sits at a typewriter anymore. Computer, you mean, and no, I’m not going to be a writer.”

She’s used a computer for years but when she talks about writing, she switches into another era and imagines herself banging on the keys like some writer from a film noir movie from the nineteen forties. Maybe we’re more alike than I’d like to think. We both resist modern technology in subtle ways.

“Well, why not? You used to lock yourself in your room and read every book under the sun. Why wouldn’t you want to write one?”

It’s true–I love books–real books. Books you can hold and pages you can smell and even lick, if you were of a mind to do it. I also love reading them. That’s where I escape my normal life. Like allowing myself to dream of a career in music—that’s my real passion.

Music–I love listening to it and singing it and whenever my mother left the house thinking I was in my room reading, I was playing my keyboard–the music keyboard I had finally stood up for myself and insisted on. When it comes to most things, I swallow my desires and won’t ask for them. But the keyboard is important, and I did speak up. But somehow having done that, revealing so much of my inner being, I hate to play it in front of my mother. I can’t just sit there and pound the keyboard and fail–not in front of her.

But one day I asked her about music, I love so much, and she just doesn’t understand. “Mother, did my father love music?”

She turned to look at me with such pain in her eyes. I felt sick inside and was immediately sorry I’d asked. And that’s why I usually didn’t ask my mother questions about my father. For a few moments, she sat there in silence, glaring, then abruptly she said, “Actually, yes. You’re so much like your father, and it’s my job to fix that.”

And then she got up and started creating one of her not-so-famous one-pot dinners, making it clear that the conversation was over, rattling pots and pans, turning on the radio to some melodrama–never music. Besides, drama is totally her thing.

All of my feelings of not being good enough disappeared when I was snuggled in Miguel’s arms. With Miguel, I felt like the most beautiful, brightest, and loved person in the whole world. The problem was this didn’t happen nearly as often as I would have liked. My mother did everything in her power to keep us apart.

“You’re too young to get serious, Brandi,” she’d say.

I had a feeling that no matter how old I was, I’d be too young. Somehow my mother blamed being young on the fact that she had gotten pregnant with me so young–as if she would have been so much more if I hadn’t ruined her life. And if she hadn’t started dating at fourteen, she wouldn’t have gotten pregnant at twenty-five. Yeah, I know. I don’t see the connection either.

That’s why I hated summers most of all. You didn’t expect that transition, did you? Anyway, during the school year, there were many more opportunities to sneak off with Miguel. In the summer, she kept an eagle eye on me, and it was more difficult to come up with a way to sneak off with Miguel. Besides, he worked in his father’s landscaping business for the rich people in Mexico during the summer and his mother was just as hawk like protecting her son from me as my mother was “protecting” me from Miguel.

Miguel’s mother warned him about girls like me, that I could trick him into settling down before he was ready to, before college, before he had a chance at making a life for himself.

My mother’s real problem with Miguel? He was Hispanic. My mother once said, “How could you marry a Hispanic? Your kids won’t look like you.” As if that was the number one important thing about having kids. They should look like you.

How ironic that as much as my mother swore she wouldn’t be anything like her mother, when it came to me, she parroted her mother word-for-word. How do I know? She told me these same stories about how her mother treated her when she was a teenager.

My mother wasn’t our only obstacle. Miguel’s mother was afraid he’d never become the doctor he so desperately wanted to be. “You have a long row to hoe,” she’d say. “You can’t afford to settle down now, mi hijo,” she’d say.

I knew that Miguel would be a wonderful doctor someday, but what I loved most about Miguel was his poetic heart. He wrote songs and played them on his acoustic guitar. He’d call me and tell me to meet him at the park and there he’d be laying on the blanket on the grass, with the guitar in his arms, and he’d start playing and singing the song he said he had just written for me. Then he’d put the guitar down and pull me into his arms, kiss me, French me with his amazing tongue and before I knew it, he’d be on top of me. I’d feel how hard he was when he rubbed against me. My desire mounted until one of us would pull away.

As much as we wanted each other, we were also afraid. Afraid of the power of our feelings, afraid to have sex, but afraid not to at the same time. We were afraid for our futures because neither of us wanted the same lives our parents had. At least Miguel had the support of his mother. She wanted his future as a doctor maybe even more than he did. If it were all left up to Miguel, he’d play the guitar, but his mother would say, “Mi hijo, you’re too smart to be a musician. You can’t waste your gift.”

To go a whole summer without seeing each other felt unbearable. That last night we were together when Miguel and I snuck off to the beach and he built a campfire and serenaded me by singing romantic Spanish songs, the scent of the ocean and the crashing waves and Miguel all mixed together were more than I could resist and that was the night I gave my virginity to Miguel. I was sorry I hadn’t resisted his charms when he sent me the following email message:

Brandi,
I’m sorry to write this in email but I can’t look at your beautiful green eyes and say this. The facts are I’m going to Mexico and then college, right? And with medical school for four more years after that, well, we can’t get serious for years. To say “let’s be friends” would be insulting to both of us. I’ll never forget you.
Miguel

Yes, email. Not a text, thank goodness. He was never into texting either. But, still, to break up with me in an email? Okay, so it might have been a teeny tiny step up from texting. After all, email was more like a letter. A Dear Jane letter or, as it turned out, a Dear Brandi letter. It was still the coward’s way out. He pretty much admitted to that by saying he couldn’t look into my eyes and break up with me.

To say I was heartbroken would be an understatement. How could he do this to me? It just didn’t sound like Miguel–he must have caved under parental pressure. First his mother would start in on him and then when he joined his dad in Mexico, he must have said something to make Miguel do this to me–to us.

Part of me thought that he’d change his mind once he was back here–college or not–and that gave me hope. Another part of me was scared that no matter what he might feel for me, something bigger in his life was becoming more important and that I never would see him again–at least, not the way we had been before. Oh sure, I might see him on my way to the beach or at a party, but never as a couple.

I cried for days and all the while I heard that little voice say, “You’re not that good.” I was good enough to be a high school sweetheart, but nothing more serious. There must be something more to this than college. Maybe white girls were okay to play around with before marriage, but a Hispanic girl would be his choice for a wife.

He was off to UC Irvine, but I wound up at San Jose State a year later than everybody else in my class. The words I read when I got that letter said it all, I just wasn’t good enough.

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