Read Things I Know About Love Online

Authors: Kate le Vann

Tags: #Adult, #Arranged marriage, #California, #Contemporary, #Custody of children, #Fiction, #General, #Loss, #Mayors, #Romance, #Social workers

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BOOK: Things I Know About Love
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Inside Adam

good title, eh?

JULY 22

THERE IS no getting past this: diaries are for girls. Girls love diaries. My sister used to get one every year for Christmas and kept it hidden under the big pink furry elephant on top of her wardrobe (Colonel Trumpety). And even then the diary had an actual lock and key. She was not, as far as I know, working as a spy for the British government. These were, in my opinion, excessive security measures.

I say that, but while I was setting up this blog, I used a fake address and checked five times that I’d set it so it wasn’t open to the public—the same as Livia’s. Did a search for it. It’s all safe. Not a trace. Obviously did a search for hers, too. Obviously didn’t find it.

Livia is Jeff Stowe’s sister, and I met her again today, and because of that, I—if you can believe it—am trying to write a blog. Just because I’m bored and we talked about blogs. And maybe because I think a part of me is hoping she’ll crack my code and find it and discover that I’ve fallen for her as quickly as I did the first time I met her when I bumped into her in Manchester and she’d been crying and I just…You know how there are some girls you just want to hold and be held by? I should have asked her out or something today, just casually, like, “I’m a Brit, you’re a Brit, shall we go and laugh at Americans together?” Instead, I just asked her a bunch of boring questions and talked too much about myself, and now I’m thinking about her way too much, and I’ve come back and set up a blog. Stop being a nutter, Adam.

I think I should ask her out, but she’s a mate’s sister, so I’m not sure. My brother says why not ask her to the semi-party he’s having the day after tomorrow. Or, in Dougie’s own words, “Why are you being such a fairy about this? Just ask her.” But Dougie’s mates will be there, I don’t know if it’d be her scene—they’ll probably start watching
Star Wars
movies, and I think making a girl watch sci-fi on a first “date” is roughly equivalent to wearing a T-shirt that says,
BY THE WAY
,
I DON

T REALLY BELIEVE IN PERSONAL HYGIENE
.

According to Livia, when I read what I’ve just written now in the future, it’s going to make me understand myself better. Unfortunately, I think I understand myself too well already. And diaries are for girls.

july 23

I need
to fill in a bit of backstory before I go on. I’ll be as brief as I can be, I promise. But my life is still all wrapped up in this, and I…I had a really tough time. It upsets me to write about it and I want to write my valuable love analysis, not sit and cry about that time, and it’s making me teary already—it always does. I just still can’t talk about it easily, even though I know that makes me seem like I feel sorry for myself too much. I was diagnosed with leukemia just before I turned fourteen—I actually thought I’d caught mono from Darren. I got a sore throat soon after snogging him, and at the time he had some kind of cough. He was clearing his throat a lot. Stupidly, I thought this was proof that I’d snogged him properly and not on the cheek! I used to daydream about getting up in front of class and shouting in my new hoarse voice, “Hey, everyone! Listen to this!
Scraaaar
. [That’s the sound of me inhaling at the time.] I only kissed him on the cheek, did I? So how come I’ve got this cold, too?
Scraaaar
.” I’m not a
“Scraaaar”
-out-loud sort of girl, though: I just burned with silent rage and shot him stink-eye looks.

In the meantime, the cold wouldn’t go away. Every morning I woke up and the first thing I thought about was how my throat was really sore, and after
weeks
of this, I saw the doctor and… When they tell you, you’re just like,
Oh, leukemia, I’ve read about that, I’m dead now, that’s bad
. The worst bit was coming out of the doctor’s office to find my mum to bring her back into the office with me. She was casually reading a prehistoric copy of
Hello
magazine (“Henry VIII tells all about his breakup with Anne”), waiting patiently the way she always did when she came with me to the doctor’s. She knew straightaway that something was wrong. Just from the look on my face. When I said we couldn’t go home yet she said, “What’s wrong?” really loudly, kind of getting on for hysterical already, and people looked at us.

They put me on steroids first. Steroids can make you fat. They made me fat. I know I’d just been diagnosed with cancer and had more important things to worry about, and I had fatter friends who were sexy and pretty, and I would have swapped places with them in a heartbeat. But still, there’s something about getting fat when it’s beyond your control that just feels…like the last straw—one more piece of bad luck that’s almost funny, but almost enough to make you give up. You have cancer, and you’re buying size 16 jeans when four months ago you were buying size 8 jeans, and isn’t cancer supposed to make you waste away, anyway? I didn’t need any more ways of feeling worse.

Every time I had another doctor’s appointment, my mum and I would go into the office and we’d tell each other—and we’d both really believe it because we wanted it so much—that this time the doctor would say everything had worked and we could start smiling again, could both start living again. But instead, every time, the doctor’s voice got quiet and the news was bad again. We’d walk out in silence, and I’d be trying not to cry, for my mum, but the tears would just fall out of my eyes anyway, as if the normal muscles that used to be able to hold them back had broken.

At this point, part of me wished I could just get it over with and die, because I was sick of putting my family through it. I thought if I died they’d get a break from always having to worry about me and always having to be around to hear worse news. It felt like I was failing them when the treatments didn’t work.
They
were all doing everything they could, being supportive, buying me presents, keeping me smiling, and just waiting for me to do my part, which was: get better. I couldn’t even do that for them. I sometimes fantasized about the doctor saying, “Listen, we’re all
very
sorry about this, but we’ve tried and it’s too much; it just can’t be cured.” At least, I’d have been able to let go. You always read about people
beating
their illnesses—it’s never supposed to be luck. If you’re not getting over yours, obviously it’s your fault, you’re just not trying hard enough.

But how do you try?

You look at your body and there are parts of it you can’t touch or control or even see, and you
think
at them—you just
think
; that’s all you have—“Come on, pull yourself together, cells, let’s fight this disease.”

Nothing happens.

It’s not like you can do exercise. Or diet, or eat more. Or
study.
You can’t
do
anything, but that doesn’t make it any easier. It’s not just the side effects of the drugs and the pain of the illness and the tiredness—the hardest part is being brave so that nobody knows that you are sad
all the time
. They know you’re sad sometimes, and they can cope with helping you through those times. But if my mum had known how much I was sad, and how exhausted I was, and how much I wanted to cry every minute of every day, she would not have been able to cope. Being brave is not a part of your personality, it’s your job. It’s what you owe the people who love you.

So I didn’t tell my mum everything. I didn’t tell her about the loneliness of the hospital at night, and how I used to be afraid that random crazy people would run in and kill me. Or that I’d hear the squeak of the nurse’s rubber-soled shoes, or the creak of her cart, and wish she’d come in and talk to me, but I was too shy to bother her. And I’d wake up every morning at five a.m. and just wish and wish and wish for hours that my mum would get there quickly and say hi, and as soon as she got there everything was better, but the countdown to her leaving had already begun.

Okay, seriously, let’s hurry back to the love part.
Obviously
they found something that fixed me, and it was nothing to do with me getting braver, or fighting harder, or being stronger. Just luck. Just amazingly good luck. I notice stories about other sick teenagers more than most people my age do, and I know that when they don’t get better, it’s not because they were lazier than me, or weaker. So I feel guilty, sometimes, about living, and hope I can be worthy of it and make my life worth the second chance I’ve been given. I don’t feel like I can take it for granted.

At sixteen, I’d made it through bone-marrow transplants, and was only having to go for checkups every couple of weeks. I was getting thinner, but I was still a lot fatter than I had been before I’d started to get sick. I was terrified of being seen again by people who hadn’t seen me for ages. I’d been out of school for well over a year and hadn’t socialized in all that time. I felt like a freak —
was
a freak.

But it’s funny, when you’re separated from all school life, you develop a strange kind of confidence at the same time. For one thing, you’re literally dealing with life-and-death issues about yourself, so you stop worrying about small things you once obsessed over—for me, things like whether my nose bent slightly to the right, or whether the muscles next to my knees were freakishly big. You stop asking “Does my bum look big in this?” after you’ve gained more than thirty pounds and lost most of it again and you realize how thin you used to be when you used to think you were fat. It goes beyond all of that, even: in hospital, everything happens in a kind of time-has-stopped, not-real world, where people feel sorry for you and the people you meet are all kind and lovely and tell you how pretty and young you are. This is so different from school, which is a kind of scary jungle where anyone could be out to get you any day just because they feel like it, and you don’t feel young or pretty, and you have to watch your back all the time. When you go straight from one place to the other, the weird artificial confidence bursts like a bubble-gum bubble all over your face. You know the other kids know all about you, and that they know they’re supposed to be nice to you, but, what with you being a freak and all, it’s not going to be easy for them….

Case Study B: Luke

When I
came back to school, I found out that my friends now ran the place. Around the time I’d left to go into hospital, everyone I knew had been about as cool as I was, i.e., not cool at all. I returned to find myself in some kind of nightclub world where people lazed around on common-room furniture, wearing their own clothes, playing loud music, talking about sex—but in broad daylight. Sixth Form. See, once again, this makes me sound like a mad old lady: school students up to
this
sort of thing? In
broad daylight
? I must write to the
Times
!

Not only was I unprepared for everyone suddenly being as confident as…like, C-list celebrities, but there were all these new faces among them. Our school is one of only a few in a fairly big area and, at this stage, the local schools split up and mix a lot. Some people come to our school from other schools, people from our school leave to go to university-prep schools—it depends on the sort of subjects you want to study. Most of the university-prep schools are much more focused, with introductions to subjects like law and psychology. Our school is quite old fashioned and well rounded, but it’s also seen as the solid, reliable choice.

I didn’t start right at the beginning of the year, so I kind of felt like the new girl for a few weeks, although obviously my friends were there and they were protective of me. I hoped there hadn’t been big public announcements about, you know, Leukemia Girl’s return, but at the same time I didn’t want to have to do any explaining to anyone about my condition, or why I was starting term late. I just wanted to slot in quietly and not be looked at. I wasn’t dressed quite like everyone else, because you really have to be around other teenagers to know how everyone’s dressing, and you have to think about it every day, which I hadn’t been. My clothes were new and I’d loved them when I bought them—I went on a few big shopping trips with my mum especially for that purpose—but they weren’t quite right. My skirts were a bit too long, my shoes were too straight—everything was too schooly. I guess all my friends had been going shopping together a lot. There was a
look
now—not just fashion, something more like a uniform but
nothing
like school uniform, and none of my clothes fitted it.

So I was different in lots of ways and, to start with, obsessed with the idea that people were looking at me and talking about me. Gradually, I realized that not only was that not happening, but that I was going
completely
unnoticed most of the time, and that made me feel lonely, and marooned, and out of place. People I’d known quite well before, but wasn’t all that close to, were nice and asked how I was, but didn’t ask much more. To begin with, I didn’t seem to speak at all to people I didn’t know, and I didn’t expect them to talk to me.

And then, one did: Luke.

“Hey, Red! When’s the
Wuthering Heights
essay got to be in by?”

A dark-haired boy, in a green T-shirt with a picture of Elvis on it, was looking straight at me when he called this out. But I didn’t think it was me he was asking, so I just frowned at him with this idiotic confusion on my face.

“You’re in Gresham’s English class, aren’t you?” he asked—definitely me this time. “Hello? Do you…speak?” he asked sort of mock-innocently, but his dark eyes were shiny and glinting.

“Uh…yeah,” I said, blinking through my fringe at him. “I…didn’t think you were talking to me.”

“You’re in English with me, aren’t you? Weren’t you the one at the front on the right squeaking about Heathcliff?”

I cleared my throat, so my voice would come out nonsqueakily. But then, I just couldn’t think of anything to say. He was being so
rude
and he didn’t even know me! I was on my own and couldn’t start talking to anyone else. I felt fragile, as if my just-mended body would start coming apart at the seams if anyone rattled me.

“The essay has to be in by next Monday,” I said politely, and started getting my bag and books together to go. He came over and sat down on the chair next to mine, and put his hand on my knee. Er…

“All right, Red,” he said. “You don’t have to be so chilly. I was just saying hello.”

“Well…you said I squeaked,” I said, looking at his hand and wondering if I should move it, or shake my leg free. I was trying to make it sound like a flirty telling-off, but it didn’t come out that way.

“Well, you said I squeaked!” he squeaked loudly, and then laughed just as loudly. God, he was being so nasty! But I just stared at him again, breathing fast through my mouth.

Anyway, that’s when I started falling for Luke.

Yeah, I know, it’s
nuts
, isn’t it? Someone bullies me and I go for it. But Luke had an advantage over the boys I’d grown up with. To him, I wasn’t that girl who got leukemia and spent all that time in hospital; I was a stranger with red hair and a mysterious past, and he’d noticed me just because he liked the way I looked. When it came to my old friends, I was desperate to show them that I hadn’t changed, and that they didn’t need to treat me differently. I wanted them to know I was normal and the same because I didn’t want to be damaged. Luke didn’t know anything about the “normal” me, which meant that the side of me that had always wanted to be more spontaneous and funnier, and maybe a bit looser, could come out. He seemed to want to drag it out, and that was really why I’d fallen for him. Everyone else was so careful with me, from the people in the hospital, to my family, to my friends. Luke teased me, but he was also goofy and hilarious, and I
needed
that so much. I needed someone to be silly and a bit more rough-and-tumble with me, someone who wouldn’t keep stopping to check that I wasn’t about to die. Someone who’d grab my hand and run, and keep running—do you know what I mean? For the first time since I’d been old enough to worry about everything,
I
was acting goofy and stupid and giggly. Like for instance, I introduced him to my teddy bears—I mean, can you believe it? I even used to shove them in the wardrobe when my cool girl friends came round. Luke gave the teddies comedy voices that talked to me. (“Helloooo, Liviaaaa, it’s Big Furrrry Ted heeeere.”)

BOOK: Things I Know About Love
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ads

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