The basement of my childhood home is cold, even in the middle of the summer. No one really goes down there much except when we’re doing laundry. When we were little, my siblings and I would play down there--dress up and house. The plastic kitchen set is still down here, collecting dust along with a shelf filled with boxes labeled by my mother. All the boxes labeled ‘Anna’ are down off the shelves and placed in the middle of the room. Five boxes. I think my mom's recently read that book on the magic of tidying up. I’m set with the task of looking through my boxes. ‘Try to get it down to two, ideally one box,’ she’d said. The task is unavoidable since I’ve escaped doing it the past few times I’ve been home.
The five boxes hold the contents of my childhood bedroom. Two large moving boxes of books. Two plastic storage containers of knick knacks, like bobble heads from baseball games and Precious Moments porcelain figures all wrapped in newspaper pages from 2011, and three large storage boxes packed with papers--drawings of wedding dresses from middle school and binders and notebooks from every class I’ve taken since 8th grade.
In a container filled with contents from high school, on the top of the pile I find The Ugly Ass Cat Book. The Ugly Ass Cat book was very much what it sounds like. A book, a notebook, that is covered in ugly ass cats. A collage of gem colored cats, whose bodies curved and swirled around each others. Emmy’s mom had given it to her for her birthday, I think, and we’d laughed so hard tears welled up in our eyes over how ugly this cat notebook was. At one point, in a fit of laughter, Emmy had even thrown the book at my face yelling ‘save yourself from the ugly.’
Inside, the pages are filled with notes on everything we’d done together--me, Emmy, and Nicole. Magazine clippings of each of our specific styles. Predictions for our future college lives. Diary entries of our mutual most important memories, written from each of our perspectives. In the back, we’d taped our Junior prom pictures. These were the pages we’d turned to most often. Pages filled with pictures and notes written on the side.
There’s a picture of me and Dylan standing next to a coy pond right before prom. Dylan looks into the water and I smile at the camera. Our arms around each other for the first time. After this night he would be my first boyfriend. But not yet. Not when this picture was taken. There is a star drawn in Sharpie next to his hand resting on my hip. Below there is a note, written in Emmy’s handwriting, that reads: look how he’s holding Anna’s hip…
Emmy, Nicole, and me.
We’d sit together, every lunch, in the dimly lit hallway entrance that lead to the photography club’s dark room. We’d never seen anyone from the photography club go in there and we didn’t know of anyone who was even in the photography club. It’s possible no one was. The spot was secluded. Once, at the beginning of lunch, Nicole and I had walked into on the captain of the swim team giving her senior boyfriend a hand job, but besides that the hallway was always empty.
Emmy, Nicole, and I weren’t total losers, but we were definitely not cool. We were a respectable mix of social yet strange.
Junior year was the first year that I flirted with a boy. Well actually, my mom says that I was a huge flirt when I was three--I guess the boys would fight over who could sit with me at snack time--but junior year is the first year I remember flirting with a boy. I had a huge crush on this boy named Nerman. Like Herman but with an N. He was a scene kid who dressed in all black except for his color coordinated flat rim hat, studded belt, and skater shoes. He straightened his hair daily so that it lay just right over his eyes and pasty white skin. We use to hold each other for extended periods of time in the dark basement of the theater we performed in. We’d hold each other, looking into each other’s eyes, but never kissed. He’d say he was ‘way too messed up to be with anyone sweet like me.’
Some days he was be sweet. He’d tickle me when I was nervous and tell me how beautiful I was when I laughed. On most days he’d ignore me, acting like we hadn’t stayed up all night the night before sending each other confused messages of flirtation with too many …’s.
The Vampire Club.
The Vampire Club wasn’t really a club. It was a list. A list of people Nicole, Emmy and I knew who looked like vampires. Pale skin, blue or green or grey eyes, strong jaws and soft androgynous features. We drew each member's picture into the Ugly Ass Cat Book or taped a printed picture inside the lined pages.
On Wednesday’s we get out of school early. Around 2:30pm. Emmy, Nicole, and I walk to the gas station across the street and pay one dollar each for a tall can of Arizona Ice tea. I always get raspberry tea.
We drink our teas at Atwater Beach. There’s an old concrete walkway, that had been unfinished and over grown with weeds, which our favorite spot to sit. To get there you climbed under a metal pole with a sign attached to it that said “do not enter.”
Inside my backpack, or Nicky’s would be The Ugly Ass Cat Book. We drew a map of Atwater beach. ‘Put a star where were sitting now,’ Emmy had told me.
There’s a star next to the bushes, where Dylan and I first kissed, after prom. And a star by the entrance where Emmy and Nicole spied on us dressed in all black with binoculars they’d taken from Emmy’s dad.
There’s a star where Nicky had first kissed Chris and a star where Emmy and I read Shakespeare to each other with our feet in the water.
Dylan was this 19 year old that had been held back since he’d spent a year traveling Asia on a touring production of The Sound of Music.
We’d met at this actors training program for high school students where we’d both been actors in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, along with Emmy. We didn’t talk. Dylan was older, he was 19 and I was 16.
He had these professional headshots that he’s uploaded to Facebook, since he did so many professional shows, like the traveling tour of Sound of Music. In the headshots his light brown hair swooped gently over his face. He has pale skin and blueish green eyes. It was these headshots that got him a spot in the Vampire Club.
It was a minor miracle that all of us has found dates to prom. Emmy was going with Kyle, our friend from theater camp. Nicky was dating this scene kid named Chris. Chris and Nerman were best friends. Chris also straightened his hair and matched his shoes to his hat to his belt. They looked as if they could be from the same anime show, Nerman and Chris. It’s oddly gratifying when friends look like there a part of a matching set.
I’d planned to ask Nerman to prom, but on the day we met up he was in a mood. He spend the entire hangout playing with his lighter, flicking his fingers in and out of the flame, and drinking a Monster energy drink. We didn’t hug, not even once, so an invite to be my prom date seems out of the question.
After closing night of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we’d had our cast party in the back of this crappy Mexican restaurant. Earlier in the night we’d taken up two full tables, but most of the cast had left at this point, leaving Emmy and I waiting for our ride along with Dylan and a few older boys who’s come late and were still eating. Emmy, never known for her tact, blurts out that she and Kyle are going to prom together. She was excited about it, to the point that she’d convinced herself she had a crush on Kyle, even though most of us were pretty sure he was gay.
Who are you going with, Anna?’ one of the older boys asked. Emmy, still quite excited, took over for me. ‘Well, she’d planned on asking Nerman, you know him? Sad kid, black hair. But he’s the rudest of them all, and now we all have dates except Anna… ’ She trails off, leaving the table in silence. “Well I’ll take you,” Dylan says.
After that night, and after prom night, Emmy, Nicole, and I sat together in the hallway that leads to the photography club's dark room and documented everything that had happened in the Ugly Ass Cat Book.
Surrounded by boxes, in the basement of my childhood home, I’ve sorted everything into three piles; throw away, keep here, or take back to Chicago. The only thing in the ‘take back to Chicago’ pile is the Ugly Ass Cat Book.
About the author...
Anna Rose Wolfe is an writer / performer. Anna is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago, where she earned a BA in Acting and a minor in Gender Studies. She performs regularly with The LIVINGroom, a solo performance ensemble. Anna has been featured in venues and fests around Chicago, such as Life Line Theater’s Fillet of Solo Festival, Greenhouse Theatre Center’s Solo Celebration, Abbie Hoffman Died for Our Sins Festival, National Cool Shorts, Flat Iron Comedy, Greenhouse Theatre Center's SoloPerformance Lab, The Plagiarists Salon, and The Election Monologues.
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