Stories About You

by Kornelia Drianovski

Kornelia is an emerging writer based in Toronto, Ontario. Her work has been featured in Canadian Notes & Queries, The Hart House Review, The Trinity Review, and Half a Grapefruit Magazine.

Holden Caulfield

At 12, you read The Catcher in the Rye and it dawned on you that you were in love with Holden Caulfield. Shortly thereafter, you upgraded to Eric Harris, one of the Columbine school shooters. You read all of his diary entries.


What Is a Story?

According to the OED, a story is “[a] short account of an amusing, interesting, or telling incident, whether real or fictitious; an anecdote.” But, even better, it’s “[a] groundless assertion; an unsubstantiated rumour.” You positively rejoice in spreading rumours.

Did you hear about her? What she said? Do you remember how she used to threaten the other girls in gym class that she’d cut herself with the blade of a pencil sharpener?  


A General Tip for Storytellers

A good place to start a story is with your mother. Another good place—which unfortunately inevitably reveals all your daddy issues—is with your father.

One time, you took a writing class with a notoriously provocative professor—let’s call him D.G.—and he suggested that the best place to start a story is with a list. Not a bad suggestion! You dropped his course.


Your Mother

Your mother is beautiful, completely unlike you. She inherited some kind of peculiar elegance that you can only attribute to the pictures of your Russian aristocrat great-grandmother. She had a long-bodied, lizard-like beauty—blue eyes that were so blue they were white. Those pictures of your great-grandmother used to be in a family album that your mother brought along in her leather suitcase when she immigrated to Canada to join your newly-divorced father.

Over the years, she told you many times that she brought exactly six things with her on that trip when she left Russia forever: 1) Her favourite Italian porcelain doll (the one you chipped), 2) One simple black dress (because according to Coco Chanel, every woman needs a simple black dress), 3) Her nail clippers (because Canada couldn’t be trusted to have sharp nail clippers), 4) The love letters she’d received from your father (which she demonstratively threw into a bonfire one evening when you were 16, 5) One red lipstick, and of course, 6) The family album her mother had given her as a departure gift. Everything else, she wore on her body or carried in her purse. She’s told you this story so many times—her facial expressions and gestures always the same—that you’ve wondered whether she rehearsed it in front of a mirror.


Your Father

Your father is another story: a Québécois. Shorter than your mother, stocky yet handsome, dark-eyed and bearlike. Whenever he’d drink, he’d be reborn into another thing: the director of an absurdist play, a ghoul, a goblin. He’d tell you about growing up in Montreal, how he protested in the streets and made girls go crazy. It was hard to believe given his shyness in sobriety.

His drunk nights are all concealed beneath a hazy plastic film in your memory—a blur of departed droopy eyes, a mouth moving in ugly shapes, slurred words, and you looking down at your hands, picking your thumbnails, bleeding. The only reason he met your mother was because she was a tour guide in Moscow in the ’80s. He was on her tour bus with a group of his male friends. Apparently, he and your mother fell in love and he convinced her to exchange letters They wrote to each other for a few years, in French. Then he divorced his first wife and married your mother.


Language Wars

Imperfect French and broken Russian were always spoken at home. Though for you, English colonized your heart very early on. You spoke in French, swore in Russian, but always thought and wrote in English.

For a while, your mother was winning the language battle until you started school and she gave up and began addressing you almost entirely in English. Russian then became a secret language reserved for occasions when you’d be out shopping together and she wanted to comment on a woman’s hideous hair or repulsive sneakers or cellulite. One time, that backfired because the old carrot-haired lady in front of you in line turned around, her drawn-on eyebrows raised. She called your mother suka in the middle of the Starsky store. Your mother remained silent after that, red-faced. In the parking lot, she unlocked the trunk of your grey Toyota and started flinging the grocery bags in.


Imperfect French and broken Russian were always spoken at home. Though for you, English colonized your heart very early on.


Your Brother

You felt like an only child, living upstairs with your parents, while that strange young man, your older half-brother, lived apart and below in the basement. He was a teenager when you were still indiscriminately defacing the living room with stickers. He never had dinner with your mother and father; he and your father fought often but you didn’t know why. The only times you saw him were when he came up to get something from the kitchen or when you secretly watched him from your second-story window after you’d been put to bed. You watched him walk across the parking lot in front of the townhouse complex, the back of his hoodie receding. Then he’d turn right, out of sight, and you’d fall asleep. Your mother didn’t like you talking to him. She said he was rotten.

Sometimes, you played a game. You crept down the stairs to the basement, heart racing, stairs creaking, spiderwebs trembling in the low ceilings. As you neared his door, you’d reach out to turn the doorknob, but then run away at the last second. You have no other memories of him, and yet he continues to exist in this moment with you.


What if Your Brother Was Homeless?

You wonder whether your brother could be homeless. It is an unlikely scenario, but when you Google his name at 3 a.m., very little shows up and you’re unsure whether to be worried or relieved.


Your First Impression at School

You’d just moved from an all-French school in Montreal—your mother’s Napoleonic ambition for you—to a bilingual school in Mississauga, Ontario—a dreadfully anglophone suburb. You couldn’t say the English alphabet without messing up the last letters. Although no one bullied you for your weird Eastern-European name or your little purple glasses, you were not one to easily make friends at recess. You drew strange faces in a notebook and wrote stories about ugly girls transforming into beautiful women. You drew all the women with blonde hair, big breasts, and elastic smiles.

Your teachers thought you were an illiterate, low-income intervention project. To your mother’s great shame and protest, they stuck you in a special-education group with two boys and a girl with Down’s syndrome. The boys particularly annoyed you. You watched the ginger-haired boy with disdain as he mixed up his d’s and b’s. You stared incredulously at the boy who never spoke grip his pencil in a fist. You were nothing like them, clearly. After school, you’d play teacher and make your Barbies and stuffed animals sit in a circle. You’d punish your favourite toys by throwing them against the wall when they acted dumb and got the answer wrong. You stupid, stupid bear.


A Phlegmatic Being Pretends to be Non-Phlegmatic

Smaller and more fragile than most children, you were prone to bouts of viral illness. You were born a choleric and phlegmatic baby. You’ve accepted this as an essential part of your subjectivity, but for a while, you were under the delusion that you were a warrior.


 

Diary Entry Samples From Your First-Ever Diary, as a Ten Year-Old

Tuesday the 8 decembre 2009

Dear diary,

It seems that the older I get the more I think about life, the things i’ve been missing out these 10 years. To start with some embarrassing, cringe words that come to my head real often now (if you are mom, stop reading, like, NOW!) like high heels, puberty, sex, vagina, penus  (not that often). I think I know lots about thaaaat.

 

Saturday Jan 2 2010

Dear diary,

My dad sucks! I hate my dad, especially when he’s drunk. I’m sorry to say, but yes, every week end he gets drunk with some vodka. He drinks, he smokes (so much, like fourty cigars a day). I want him to DIE!! I’d be soo happy if he’d DIEEE!!!!

 

Feb 2 2010

Dear diary,

I watched a little from the movie the sisterhood of the travelling pants 2. A little too much for me. There was a naked man, virgin talking (a virgin is a person who has not had sexual intercourse), sexuality (a bit), if you consider kissing with shirts off. The first movie was great but this one terrafied me. I wonder when I will kiss someone for the first time??


Secrets

Throughout your childhood, you shared nothing about your home life because your mother told you that no one can ever be trusted. “Ne dis jamais un secret sauf si tu veux que le monde entier le sache,” she said. As an only-child (basically), you carried the burden of family secrets alone.


A Prime Example of a Secret

On some mornings, you come out of your room to pee and find your father passed out in a pool of his own vomit in the hallway. You step over him, tip-toeing to the bathroom.


Here’s Another Quick Example of a Secret

You watch your father throw a chair through the window, the glass flying like pixie dust in the air, sprinkling your mother’s face.  You and your mother silently collect the chair from the front yard together. When she sees its contorted limbs, she starts laughing hysterically in the dead of night.


You watch your father throw a chair through the window, the glass flying like pixie dust in the air, sprinkling your mother’s face.


Skin-Picking

You sit beside your mother on the crocodile-green couch—the first one you remember—and watch her pick her skin, gathering the pieces in a small beige pile on the coffee table because she doesn’t want to flick them on the floor. Skin crumb hill, you think. And you start picking yourself, but at first it isn’t your fingers, but your lips—the skin there is so thin, like plastic wrap when warm and wet, like burnt paper when dry and scabbing. Watching cartoons, your fingers instinctively reach for your bottom lip, tearing the skin. You suck on the wound, finding comfort in the metal taste.


A List of Sounds That Lead to Parental Estrangement

1. The rusty porch door hinge creaking as a man steps outside to smoke.

2. A mother’s sleeping breath beside you, in your bed, for years.

3. Ice cubes dislodging from a plastic tray.

4. Glass breaking.

5. Thuds.


Sleeplessness

You haven’t slept in a while. Actually, you haven’t slept in days.


Which Reminds You…

Your current sleeplessness is like the first time you dissociated as a young child, but with zero linguistic ability to describe it. You sat in a car and watched a rain drop trickle down the window and contemplated death without knowing the concept.


A Defining—Albeit Slightly Awkward—Moment in Your Closest Female Friendship

It’s odd to think about yourself through time and all of the fleeting and unforgettable moments that make “you.” That day, you were seized by such a specific kind of jealousy that you went back inside the orange house and you rubbed your genitals against one of her velvet couch pillows in the living room. When the two girls came back inside and saw you, you explained to them that this is what you did to feel good. You attempted to teach them. You recoil at the thought, but that was one of the first defining moments of your friendship. She never found the other girl more interesting than you ever again. You became best friends after that.


Later in the Plot, but with the Same Previously Mentioned Friend

In middle school, you started writing and exchanging stories in the form of emails. You wanted to compile enough material to write a book together.

In one email, she wrote, “So much muttering under one’s breath, secrets, important comments never heard. Heaps of existences that don’t matter to me any more than a deteriorating piece of cloth.”

In the reimagined voice of Eric Harris, you wrote, “I’ve got everything to be happy and thankful for … But I am not. I search for love while loathing myself. Everything about me is wrathful, vengeful … No ambition whatsoever, none. I’m wrapped up and nobody cares or understands or listens … But I guess ‘ignorance is bliss.’ I have settled my fate … It is not to slit my wrists and bleed more torment and lose more of myself … I know where my rightful place is…”

When the girls in our class chattered and laughed, you whispered to her, “Imagine what would happen if an armed gunman walked in right now.” She smiled and your heart fluttered. What if the armed gunman shot one of those bitches right in the middle of the forehead? What would that look like? It was probably happening somewhere in the world—damn, you really wanted to see it.

You felt for the first time that you could mutually mold each other.


Gaps

There are so many gaps in every story.


In a New Jersey Hotel Room with the Same Friend, Years Later

“I don’t want to fucking talk about it anymore,” she says, looking away from you and pouring herself another glass of Smirnoff in the hotel mug.

You feel unbearably alone.


Your Deepest Darkest Fear

Alcoholism.

Oh, also, exits pursued by bears.


The Volta in the Friendship Poem

How is that even possible? How does that even happen? You’re only mildly tipsy. You’re laughing about something—what was it? You can’t remember, but you’re laughing, and then your heart’s beating and then the room’s thawing and the furniture’s spinning around you and now you’re floating in this brothy stirring snow globe. And you’re kissing and it’s the most natural thing. And you taste her bitter, hot, wet tongue. And you’re touching each other’s breasts. And she reaches under your skirt. And your eyes close. And you feel so good. And you move to the bed. And you’re both naked. And you’ve never shown your body to anyone before this moment. And you’re consumed by guilt before it even ends.

You remember going to the bathroom and staring at yourself in the mirror, your face slanted and ghastly. Your eyes droop, your mouth melts. You’re a distorted copy of what came before. You’re like radio static. You’re a ghost.  


A Potentially Generative Conclusion

Everything is constantly in flux. Even people’s love for each other changes. 


A Summary of the Previous Dramatic Events, for Those Who Suck at Close-Reading

In the 11th grade, your high school organized a trip to New York City for the arts students. You rode a Greyhound bus for nine hours overnight. You sat beside your best friend, entranced by her, while Wayne’s World played over and over again in the background on the bus TV. She flashed you the tip of the Smirnoff bottle in her backpack.


The Brief Wondrous Life of Orgasms

Brevity is the soul of wit. Now repeat that six times out loud. Now you have an idea of how long the climax lasts.


The Breakup

No one could replace her. Everyday life was TV static. Sound was a scream underwater. At home, your father was the worst he’d ever been, drinking every night, yelling, breaking your things, slipping and falling. Your mother started sleeping in your bed. You believed your best friend despised you now because she never responded to your texts. Hey can we talk? Please respond 🙁 Although you eventually made new surface friends, you felt like a blank Word document, loading what should have been words, for a small eternity. The words didn’t come.

You wanted her to slap you or spit on you. You expected her to stare you down and tell you how repulsive you were. You needed her to defile you and throw you out like a rind. Instead, she pulled away and made boring friends. “It breaks my heart into one thousand shitty worthless pieces.” That’s what you wrote in your journal at the time.


You This Very Morning

A beluga whale in captivity hitting its bulbous head against the glass.


A Sudden Playful Question That Occurs to You

Would a captive beluga whale hit its bulbous head against the glass more or less if it had an adoring audience?


A Phone Call, Years Later

Your mother called you on a Tuesday morning to tell you that your father had fallen down the stairs and hit his head badly. He was severely concussed and the doctors believed he would live the rest of his life in a persistent vegetative state. Your phone rang right before your History of Ancient Americas fourth year seminar, when you were locking the front door of your apartment, faintly hearing your roommate’s classical music in the background.


Another Phone Call

“Hey, I’ve really missed you. Do you have time to talk right now?”


A Flashback

When you were children, you used to braid your heads together, her thick black hair blending into your delicate brown strands. You ran on the field, plaited to one another, screaming “We’re conjoined twins!” Sometimes you conspired that you came from the same womb.


Everyone Loves a Good Reunion

This summer, you expected that seeing your closest, oldest friend would bring you unparalleled happiness. She came all the way from Belgium to visit you. You hadn’t seen her in over four years, but there she was, in the flesh, finally, walking through the automatic doors of the Toronto Pearson Airport and towards your idling car. She mouthed something and laughed, pulling an awkwardly large orange suitcase behind her. She looked like her childhood self and you got dizzy. You came out of the driver’s seat and hugged her. Holy shit.

In the car, she filled the silences with a rambling, funny tirade about the whole travel experience: her nausea, the middle seat, the fat man’s cigarette stench, the delays. You listened, even when merging lanes.


A Camping Trip, for Therapeutic Reasons

You went on a camping trip together to Killarney Provincial Park, for therapeutic reasons. You stuffed the car with camping gear and a few LCBO bags. The entire way up north, you were gentle with each other.

After setting up the tent, you both drank and turned into monsters. You accused each other of abandonment. You repeated your past. The past repeated you.


You accused each other of abandonment. You repeated your past. The past repeated you.


One Potential Ending

Stumbling and slurring, on the brink of puking your guts out, you decide to walk it off and go for a stroll by the lake. Everything is black and pulsing, the night is stifling, you feel like a grotesque marionette moving on foam. I’m just like my dad. You say this over and over and over. You both start crying and laughing. You’re both howling now.


An Alternative Ending

The last night of your camping trip, you sat by the lake and heard distant laughter bounce off the water. “Damn, you can really hear those people over there,” you said. Your friend looked at you strangely, her face glowing a radiant red from the fire. “Sounded like someone crying,” she said. She paused for a moment to listen, but the sound didn’t come again. “I thought it sounded more like laughter,” you said. You looked at each other, sparks flying and burning out.


Credits

What if a short story started with a secret traveling across a lake? She pitched this idea to you. She made you promise that you’d give her credit if you ever started a story like that. You haven’t yet.



Kornelia is an emerging writer based in Toronto, Ontario. Her work has been featured in Canadian Notes & Queries, The Hart House Review, The Trinity Review, and Half a Grapefruit Magazine.

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