On Sucking off Cheeto Dust in the 1990s

The high school filled the gymnasium, teachers standing around the perimeter as cliques of students and strands of lonesome outcasts mushroomed like a patch of mosses on a forest floor, only this was not a scene of sun-drenched enchantment, this was an assembly of grave importance under the harshest fluorescents. Everyone was cross-legged, pretzel-legged, criss-cross-applesauced, but no one would identify as an Indian (read: Native). In the fourth grade the curriculum covered the Algonquian and Iroquois peoples of this land that was claimed as their own and their parents' and their parents' before them, but by the time students turned ten they were more concerned with the oncoming extinction of childhood and innocence and hairlessness.

Murmurs of suburbia bubbled through the open gymnasium, gossip fluctuating hand gestures and rumors made recognizable just by facial expressions spotted from across the crowding room. In front here with the upperclassmen sat a girl not particularly popular among her peers for no other reason than her existence gave no special reason to be particularly popular. She wore a blouse that recalled the zeitgeist of decades past, a sheer design in ugly flowers of contrasting fabrics that reminded her of late-night excursions to the clearance sections of department stores where her mother would shop for work suits, where they probably purchased this blouse as well because it was only a few dollars, because it was cute, because why not. Money is a vehicle and if you do not use it you will not go anywhere, even if you are in clearance. The girl thought of her mother's walk-in closet, a morgue of laundered polyester and tweed suits that varied only slightly from each other and ranged in sizes from fits-alright to I'll-fit-into-it-again-soon-one-day. The girl knew that the dead do not come back to life and that the diets on the cover of Women's World only worked to lose water weight, which meant they only worked for one week of lying.

Inside the gymnasium, inside the girl's shirt, separate from the department store memories she was traveling through, she kept a secret that nobody felt, not even her. She was seated next to a gingery girl with limbs like soggy toothpicks, and a long spidery hand that Gingery rested on the girl's stomach, startling her from the dreamscape of carpeted cream-colored dressing rooms with stale air and stains on the walls. The girl thought Gingery was going to say, "Are you feeling unwell?" but instead she said in a conspiratorial confidence, “Keep wearing floral, that's what I did." The girl looked down at the spidery hand poised against her. She thought of how soggy toothpicks are pliable until they splinter when bent, like a wad of hair that is hard and crunchy after swimming in the pool, the chlorine from which would always upset her stomach as she swallowed it just to stay afloat. It would permeate her skin so that, climbing out awkwardly, she would need to try to decipher the urge to pee from the dripping cold pool water as she'd grubbily eat the bbq and party snacks with her pruned and shrunken fingers, wrapped in a towel that made her an object instead of a child before the watching adults. The chlorine in her body made her feel like a package of low-fat pixels that tumbled out of the kids' network television programming, entertaining for 30 minutes with commercial breaks. The men only wanted to watch games. The girls would scream in groups.