Authors: Emily Franklin
The Principles of Love
For Elliot, Sam, and Nathan
Just to get this out of the way: yes, it’s my real name. And no, I wasn’t born on a commune (not unless you consider Boston, Massachusetts circa 1989 to be a commune). In the movie version of my life, there’d be some great story to go with how I got my name — a rock star absentee father who named me in his hit song, or a promise my real father made to his grandmother in the old country, at least a weepy love story of two people so happy about their daughter they had to give her my name. But there’s not — there’s just me.
Love. My name is Love. Maybe this makes you think of your first kiss (mine = Jared Rosen, who managed to knock out my top left tooth at the beginning of the summer and provide my first kiss — a peck — by August’s end). Or maybe you cringe when I introduce myself, wondering if I come complete with a tacky poster of cuddly kittens tangled in wool (I had one in third grade that showed a tabby clawing the wall saying
Hang in there!
Thank God for paper recycling).
Trust me, despite what my name conjures up; I am not the sort to have a bed piled with fluffy kitties or well-loved stuffed animals. I actually don’t even like cats all that much, not since I hugged little Snowball, my old neighbor’s cat right before the freshman formal last year and wound up sucking down antihistamines and nursing facial hives in my gown. Not pretty.
Then again, pretty’s not all it’s cracked up to be — or so I hear. I’m not what you’d call pretty, not the even more tantalizing
, though maybe I’ve got potential. Right now I suppose I could fall into the category of appealing. My Aunt Mable’s always saying the girls who peak in high school show up looking downright average at their tenth reunion, so I’m hoping (hoping = counting on) that my best years are still ahead of me. I don’t want to look back on my life and have sophomore year of high school stand out as a blue ribbon winner, though the chances of that happening are slim at best. Part of me wouldn’t mind trading places with the shiny, perfectly blonde and still summer-tanned girls who probably emerged from the womb with a smile as wide as a Cadillac and legs from a music video. But since my life isn’t one of those Disney movies where the heroine gets to swap places for a day and learn the secret to life, I have to be content to only know what it’s like in my own life — and all I can say is — it’s too soon to tell.
We’ve been here (here = the Hadley Hall campus) for four days. Four days and six hours. And still not one decent conversation, not one promising smile-nod combination over mushy tuna sandwiches and lemonade outside, courtesy of FLIK, the school food supplier. When my dad told me about orientation for Hadley, I guess I imagined days spent lounging on the quad, soaking up the last of the summer rays while meeting cute boys, bonding with my two, amazingly cool new best friends, and somehow forgetting that I have a forehead label — New Girl. Love, the New Girl. And not only that (here I’m imagining some lowly freshman pointing me out as someone who’s even more lost than they are); I have the privilege of being the principal’s daughter.
When my dad and I arrived on campus, typical trunk loaded with boxes, laundry hamper filled with my still-dirty duds, some overly enthusiastic tour-leader showed us to the faculty housing. I followed my dad up the slate pathway towards the front door of a yellow Victorian house. Huge and with a wraparound porch, the house overlooks the playing fields and the rest of main campus. I stared at it, thinking of the card my dad gave me for my seventh grade birthday — one of those 3D cards that you unfold into a whole building — a large house with a turret and a carousel. I used to stare into that card as if I could get sucked into its landscape and experience some magical life for a while. This is what I thought of when I saw our new digs, minus the merry-go-round.
“This is Dean’s Way,” the tour guide boy explained, his hands flailing as he pointed out the features of our new abode — porch, view of central campus, doorknocker in the shape of a heart. I stared at the metal heart and wondered for a minute if this could be an omen (heart=love=me) but then I rolled my eyes at myself. I hate when I give myself Lifetime Network moments.
“This is for you,” Tour Guide said and handed my dad a large manila envelope and reached out to shake my hand. It still feels weird to shake hands as an almost-sixteen-year old (almost = just under eight weeks until I’m highway-legal). Plus, Tour Guide never even asked my name. Around here, I guess I’m just a faculty brat.
My dad took the keys from the envelope (an envelope labeled, by the way,
Principal Bukowski and daughter
, as if I have no other identity) and began to fumble with the front door lock.
“Ready?” he asked and smiled at me.
I nodded, excited. Dad and I have lived in some pretty grim places before — the apartment on Yucca Street that lived up to its name, the rent-reduced properties on the campus of Seashore Community College — so I never planned on living large. We’ve moved around a fair bit, actually, and one of the reason’s Dad signed the contract with Hadley Hall was to make sure we could stay in one place. The thought of living here, of calling this home, or not peeling up anyone’s old apartment buzzer labels and slicking ours on top, feels both comforting (stability = good) and trapping (sameness = confining — or maybe I just mean revealing).
Dad rushed in, ever-eager to explore new places and see what problems (kitchen light out, bed in the wrong place for optimum light) he might fix. That’s what he does, problem-solve and rearrange. Me, I’m more cautious. I lurked for a minute in the doorway, holding onto the heart-knocker and wondering what I’d find.
And I don’t just mean that I stood there wondering what my new bedroom would look like. It was like right then, at the front door, I knew everything had changed — or would change, or was changing. The morphing process of leaving freshman year and the already hazy memories that went with it was happening. Soon, sophomore year at Hadley Hall—
Hadley Hall, with its ivy-coated brick and lush green lawns, its brood of young achievers, lacrosse-playing boys, and willowy girls — would begin. And I’d be in it.
In the made-for-television movie of this day, I’d wake up in my new house and while sipping my milky coffee, I’d meet my new best friend. We’d bond over loving the same sappy lyrics to 1970s songs (example =
Brandi (You’re a fine girl)
— lame but awesome song from sometime in the late seventies). Then, later, I’d be getting ready to go for a jog (and by jog I mean slow, but hey — it’s something) and the Kutcher-esque hot guy I saw yesterday by the track would happen to be running by and take time out of his exercise regime to give me a guided tour of campus…and of himself. Heh. Unlikely — but then, it’s a movie.
The reality of my life is this:
Outside, I can hear the buzz of bugs and the grunts from soccer and field hockey players from the fields near the house. I am decidedly unmotivated to get out of my bed — even though it’s eleven o’clock. Last night, I caught my second third and fourth winds and wound up flipping stations between a 90210 rerun on cable and some infomercial that nearly convinced me to order that bizarre brush/hair die combo thing that supposedly makes it easy to home color. Not that it’d be useful for me since my hair is different enough already, penny-hued with some bright bits at the front (not so suitable for highlights or lowlights — more like dim-lights). I think about adding some wild streak of blue or something, but mainly this is when I’m PMSy and, as my Aunt Mable always says, Let No Woman Attempt Hair Change When Hormonally Challenged. This was, of course, after the Miss Clairol mishap that took her three trips to the salon to correct.
Actually, I kind of pride myself on never having ordered from tv before — not that there’s a fundamental flaw with it — but there’s a principle there. Maybe I feel like if I started, there’d be no turning back — and pretty soon I’d wind up with that weird mop and the orange goop that strips paint and the hair-braiding contraption that I know would create such tangles I’d need to cut great lops of hairs off. So I avoid potential psychological damage (and smelly fumes) by refraining from any and all made-for-tv offers.
Plus, Aunt Mable already signed me up for the Time/Life Singer-Songwriter discs. They arrive each month. She wants to edu-ma-cate me on the finer decades of rock and folk, long before OutKast and Britney. Most of the songs sound like an advertisement for deodorant, but I love the cheesiness of the lyrics, the mellow strumming of the guitars. Instead of John Mayer introspection, there’s just old fashioned lust or odes to seventies fashion. Half the time, the guy’s singing about making it with his lady or the woman’s crooning about how her disco man done her wrong — what’s not to appreciate there? Plus, sometimes Aunt Mable will listen with me and tell me about how a particular song makes her think of being a cheerleader, eating grilled cheese, and making out with Bobby Stanhope in the back of his Camero.
With so much late summer sunshine streaming in my window, I can’t stay in bed any longer. It’s harder to be a lazy slob in warm weather — hiding under the covers is much more gratifying in winter or heavy rains. I slide out of bed and onto the floor, pressing play so I can hear the latest disc — it arrived yesterday — my first piece of mail to this new address. The typed label proved that I don’t even need a street number anymore — just my name, Hadley Hall, Fairfield, Massachusetts and the zip. Fairfield is “just outside Boston” — that’s how the school catalogue describes it, although my dad and I clocked it in the car and it nearly twenty-four miles, so it’s not as if you can walk it. Probably because of my own moniker, I am name-focused and tend to over-analyze place names, so when my dad announced (“Love, pack your bags — we’re going to prep school!” as if he’d have to endure the mandatory school blazer with me) we were moving to Fairfield, I couldn’t help but picture green expanses and fair maidens traipsing along in long dresses, books carried by the same guy who’d throw his blazer over a mud puddle for easy-stepping.
Anyway, I was partially right. Fairfield is easy on the eyes, as are most of the Hadley students I’ve seen so far. Doing my usual shower routine, lathering all parts and hair while naked lip-synching, I wonder for a minute what life would be like here if the town were called “Hellville” or “Zitstown” — but when I emerge, clean and wet, and wipe the steam from the window, I can still see the soccer players and beautiful full elm trees. No ugliness here.
“She’s going to be here any minute,” my dad yells up from his post in the kitchen. I know his routine so well that I can tell he’s already come back from the gym eaten the first half of his multigrain bagel. He doesn’t use jam, he squashes fresh fruit onto the bread and munches away. He will have already set aside the last cup of coffee for me in the microwave which he will nuke for forty-six seconds prior to my arrival in the kitchen. We have a system — it’s what happens when you live with just one parent — either you don’t know each other at all, or you’re way-too-familiar.
“Hey,” I say right as the microwave beeps to signal my caffeine is ready.
“Big shopping day?” Dad asks. He flips through a book. I shrug — I’m not Prada-obsessed or anything, but I enjoy looking around at what’s out there. Mainly, it’s an excuse to get off campus and be with Aunt Mable, who gives me regular reality checks.