The Fun Center

By: Margaret Nickens (Vol. II, Issue I)

Crisis: an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life.

“She hasn’t moved in over an hour.”

“Did you try pouring hot water on her?”

“…I thought that might be a bit dramatic.”

Hannah sighs and sits down, grabbing a Twizzler to chew on (VERY loudly) while she thinks.

“We could” CHOMP CHOMP “try to find an old box of it somewhere” CHOMP CHOMP “Like maybe in some hillbilly grocery store.”

Langston raises an incredulous eyebrow.

“We live in New York City,” he points out. “Where are we going to find a hillbilly grocery store?”

CHOMP think CHOMP think CHOMP think CHOMP think CHOMP think

“Brooklyn?” Hannah suggests, spewing chewed Twizzler across my face.

Plot twist: I sit up.

The audience gasps, silent until the gravity of the moment sinks in. A standing ovation ensues as endearing fans throw flowers and granny bras in my directions. Some bald dude asks me to sign his head.

Hannah chokes on a Twizzler.

“Are” COUGH “you” COUGH “ok?”

I have been lying in my bed for the past hour, contemplating the meaninglessness of life, trying to pick up the broken pieces of my heart and put them back together. I have been searching in the darkness for the answer to life’s questions and have come up empty. I have had my entire existence ripped out from under me. Obviously the answer is

“Yes, I’m fine. Can you guys just stop breathing all over me? It smells like you just ate an entire bag of gummy worms that barfed up chunky, purple goo then smoked a pack of cigarettes and made out with a pig.”

Hannah smiles and grabs another Twizzler, unflappable while under her sugar-induced high. Langston, on the other hand, gives me his my-puke-would-never-be-purple-because-I-am-super-manly face.

“Don’t take your anger out on us, Eva. We didn’t do anything wrong.”

I sigh dramatically.

“Can you guys just leave? I just want to hermit and watch reruns of ‘The O.C.’.”

Hannah leans over and maternally pats my knee. “I don’t think you should be alone right now. We’re here to support you.”

Langston gives me his best I’m-so-sorry-you-don’t-have-a-perfect-Justin-Bieber-life-like-I-do look and plucks a piece of slobbery Twizzler off my shirt. “I know what will cheer you up.”

“Burying myself in a hole filled with gummy worms?” I suggest as I collapse back into my pillows.

He shakes his head. “It’s a surprise. Let’s go.”

He tosses me my sweatshirt, accidentally hitting Hannah in the nose. Whimpering as we walk out the door, she asks, “Can we pick up more Twizzlers on the way?”

Faith: a firm belief in something for which there is no proof.

It’s pitch black. The air in the room has gone stale, so I try desperately to breathe through my nose. A mouse runs across my foot.

Footsteps.

I suck in a breath as I see a shadow pass under the crack of the door. The shadow pauses.

Heartbeat. Heartbeat. Heartbeat.

I let out a relieved breath as the shadow continues on. My palms and pits are sweating like I’m in gym class. I can feel my blood vessels dilating as catecholamines surge through my endocrine system. Classic sympathetic nervous system response to a threat.

Threat level: 10

Options: Fight or flee

Source of the threat: My mother

It’s Sunday. Church day, and I’m running low on viable excuses. My other options eating three packages of cookie dough to induce vomiting and/or slight nausea, shoplifting a box of tampons and getting myself arrested, or huddling with the heater and apparently the mice in our basement. Considering I already ate two packages of cookie dough and have yet to feel ill, and considering I didn’t brush my hair this morning and would thus look really bad in a mug shot, I choose the final option.

But, unfortunately for me, my mother is highly persistent. Once, as a child, I refused to eat my cauliflower during dinner. She said we wouldn’t leave the table until I ate the cauliflower. We spent the night at that table, and she still made me go to school the next day (with the cauliflower in a to-go container).

“EVA! WE NEED TO GO. NOW!”

You know, how in movies, when someone screams and the camera slowly zooms out, showing how the scream reverberates first through the town, then through the continent, then through the entire globe? When my mom screams, Jupiter is knocked out of its orbit.

Fortunately for me, my mother abides by two deeply held convictions: that shrimp is the food of the Devil, and thus should never be consumed, and that you should never, ever, under any circumstances be late for church.

So, though I may have been abducted by aliens or FedExed myself to China, by mother forfeits her search and heads out the door.

Victory.

Fun: violent or excited activity or argument.

We are standing in a nearly empty lot, more specifically a nearly empty parking lot in front of a menacing lime green building. The sign above the door reads, “Fun Center.”

“Sooooo….” Hannah shifts from foot to foot, unsure how to respond to this strange structure. “What exactly is a ‘Fun Center’?”

Langston shrugs, positive that anything with “fun” in its name could not be creepy or menacing or home to evil scientists.

“I’m not sure about this. Maybe we should just go get fro-yo.” But Langston ignores my concerns and begins to push open the rusting doors.

In a really good story, this would be the revelation part, where we discover a new, Narnia-esque world in this dilapidated building. Or we uncover a secret circus run by sorcerers who tame dragons.

This is not one of those stories.

We are greeted with a tenuously-standing jungle gym next to a foam pit (which may or may not be fostering a lively E. Coli culture) and a slightly deflated moonwalk. Refusing to give up hope that my story is more fantasy than angsty-teenage-drama, I poke my head inside the moonwalk.

And that is when I am greeted by a small elf, carefully building a quaint toy Xbox. Peeking around him, I see hundreds of elves working on other cute toys: fake guns, scantily-clad Barbies, an occasional Dexter DVD. And there, in the very back, sits a round little man with a long white beard, wearing poorly-fitting Levi skinny jeans. I have discovered Santa’s Workshop.

I lied.

In fact, I have actually discovered the second E. Coli community in the building, and a few overweight children attempting, and failing, to do backflips.

“This place just makes me more depressed. It reminds me of my lost childhood.”

Referencing my “lost childhood,” and blaming certain actions on my “deep-seated self-esteem issues,” are two of my favorite drama-queen activities. I also enjoy name-dropping Freudian terms, such as suggesting that Hannah’s Twizzler addiction is due to poor communication between her Id and Super-ego. She was not very amused with this suggestion, and countered with the proposition that my mother was a poor communicator between the Id and Super-ego.

“Welcome to the Fun Center! At the Fun Center, we specialize in Fun! Before you explore our FUN activities, come over to the SUPER, SUPER FUN Printing Center to get your Diploma from Fun University!”

A giant toad, or a pimply teenage boy dressed up as a toad, is gesturing madly at us, trying to get us over to the SUPER, SUPER FUn Printing Center. Langston looks very taken aback. He has a quasi-phobia of amphibians.

“Who are you?” He asks defensively, slowly positioning me between himself and the toad.

“My name is Mr. Fun! And I am here to make sure you have Fun, Fun, FUN!”

Langston appears on the verge of tears. I am wondering who decided a toad was the best mascot for a Fun Center.

“You know what, we were just taking a peek inside. We actually have to get going,” I say as I slowly steer everyone towards the exit. But Hannah deftly avoids my arm, saddling herself closer to Mr. Fun.

“You wouldn’t, by any chance, have some Twizzlers here, would you?”

Behavior: anything that an organism does involving action and response to stimulation.

Having successfully avoided church for the week, I go upstairs to enjoy a bowl of cereal. Pulling a plastic cookie-mixing bowl off the shelf, I fill half of it with milk and the other half with Honey Nut cheerios. Perfection.

Slowly settling into the couch to watch a Law and Order rerun, I notice a half-unfolded letter on the coffee table. Because I am bored, and because watching crime shows makes me feel like a detective, I decide to take a closer look.

It’s a letter from my mom’s divorce lawyer, a sleazy, fat man with an affinity for chocolate donuts and unnecessarily long letters.

I’ll spare you the letter’s gory details, mostly because it takes Mr. Lawyer four pages to summarize one sentence: “You have no case.” Maybe two sentences, because his last page is definitely more along the lines of, “You are slightly crazy and vindictive and need to CTFD.”

He is telling my mother to CTFD because she is currently involved in the third lawsuit between her and my father. She initiated the first after he attempted to sell a lawn mower, of which she had part ownership. He initiated the second after she took me on a trip to Tennessee without the required 8 months notice. (Note: the state does not require this 8 months notice. It is a stipulation in their divorce agreement, along with rules about the number of times each parent is allowed to go to the movies with me and the amount of “delicious” food each parent can serve me while I am in their custody. They do not want me to favor one parent over the other.)

The most recent lawsuit seems to have been jointly-initiated, each claiming that the other is breaking the following condition in their divorce agreement: “No parent is allowed to engage the child in more than 2 hours of enjoyable activities on weekdays and 6 hours of enjoyable activities on weekends, holidays excluded.” While this has yet to be determined, it appears that the purpose of the rule is to ensure that I do not have more fun at one house over the other. It is certainly working.

Thankfully, I think this lawsuit thing is just a phase. My parents are simply recovering from their divorce. Once the wounds have healed, I am sure we will move on. And since they got divorced ten years ago, I figure we will be good to go in five or so more years.

My cell phone rings. Father dearest is calling.

“Hello honey bun. Why aren’t you at church?”

“I’m not feeling well.” I let out a feeble cough.

“That’s too bad. How’s your week been?”

“Good, I got an A on a –“

“Oh hey.” (My father loves interrupting me. Almost as much as he loves lawsuits.) “I wanted to talk to you about something. As you probably know, your mother and I are having some legal issues again.”

“Mmmmhmmmm.”

“I just wanted to make sure you were ok. You know how much I hate these lawsuits. I love your mother. I really do. There is not a bit of hate in my heart. I just think she is going through some hard times. It really saddens me, but I think she has lost her faith. I can only pray that she will find God again and develop the peace of mind that I have found over the past few years.”

“Mmmmmmhmmmm.”

“It just feels so good to have let go of all the hate, and I wish she would do the same. You know how I always say, ‘Your beliefs don’t make you a better person. Your behavior does.’ I just wish she would lead a more God-fearing life.”

“Yup, yup. Sounds good Dad.”

“Maybe you could talk to her about letting go of that hate and judgment, remind her that it is not our place to judge others.”

“Of course Dad….”

“I just don’t think her actions are very Godly. Maybe she should see a therapist.”

Direction: a guiding, governing, or motivating purpose.

The three of us are now crowded into the make-out corner of the movie theatre, earning us the stink eye from a couple that walked in ten minutes after us. It’s a week before Halloween, and the theatre is playing reruns of the classics. Nightmare on Elm Street is up next.

“Anyone want anything from the concession stand? I’m going to get a snack,” Hannah asks.

Langston and I shake our heads and she hurries off.

He looks over at me. “You really ok, Ev? I know it’s been a tough few days.”

“Yea…” I look down at my hands. “I just don’t know what the hell I am supposed to do.”

He pats my back. “I know. When I heard about the recall, I knew it would be hard on you. Just imagine what Hannah would go through if there was a Twizzlers recall.”

I nod, noticing a box of Honey Nut cheerios blown up on the movie screen.

“Attention! Attention! General Mills has recalled all boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios sold in the last two months,” the announcer booms. “They suspect there may have been some ingredient contamination.”

I tune out the commercial, barely able to handle hearing the words yet again. Even with the last few hours to process the news, I am still coming to grips with this horrendous reality. It’s a disaster. It’s the apocalypse. A cheerios recall?! I am going to starve. I am going to slowly lose grasp of reality as my malnourished body disappears into oblivion. Eventually, my life will become a haze, a perpetual dream state, forever haunted by Freddy Krueger and Buzz the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee.

As is, I barely have a firm grasp on life. It’s the summer before my junior year of college, and I am woefully undecided on what I want to study. The only skills I have mastered in the last two years are binge drinking and binge eating. Most of the time, I cling desperately to my friends, painfully praying that my future will happily plop in front of me. Everything aligned with the perfect ever-after ending, all shiny and new and FUN.

But I can’t make things shiny or new. Everything just keeps getting messier. Building up like the gunk on the side of my shower. I don’t have the time or the volition to clean. I just want someone to press that restart button so I can go back to my shiny ending and stay there. Stay where the houses and people and laughter are pretty.

I wait. I wait, huddling in the back of a damp movie theatre, subsiding on butter and sugar. I push along, starting too many sentences with “I” and crying about the mess of it all even though my life is pretty shiny under all the grime. My parents pay (money, Money, MONEY) for me to go to college and puff out my chest and be amazing. AMAZING. Amazing at thinking. Amazing at pushing, and changing, and being something. Someone. But this life isn’t silver shiny. It’s not REAL Shiny. It’s fake, from a quarter toy machine in the mall, a cereal-box ring from your kindergarten sweetheart. And I’m not in kindergarten. I want real, silver and gold and glitter. Shining that blinds you.

I live by sitting. Waiting. Wasting. Sitting. Waiting. Wasting. Eating.

In four years, I will get a degree in Bright, New Brilliance and be this country’s future.

But I’m not a politician. I’m not an activist. I don’t know how to change the world. I don’t even know how to cope without eating Cheerios for three meals a day. Instead I hide. Waiting. Perpetually undecided. Perpetually directionless.

“I’m back!” Hannah proclaims, plopping herself into the seat next to mine. “And look! I got more Twizzlers!”

Religion: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.

Mother dearest has returned home from church, God-fearing friends in tow.  

“Eva, where were you this morning?” She asks, pulling an apple pie and some lemonade out of the fridge. “Also, can you make some iced tea for the ladies? Thanks so much.”

She hurries off to the dining room without waiting for a response to either question. Ten minutes later, as I’m pouring the iced tea mixture into a picture, she reappears with dirty pie plates.

“Thanks so much, darling,” she smiles, kissing me on the cheek. Turning on the sink, she turns to face me and asks, “ Did you talk to your father this morning? Did he mention anything to you?”

“About the lawsuit, you mean?” I sigh.

“Yes, yes. I feel so bad that he always puts you in the middle of these things. I know how much it stresses you out. I just want you to understand that I am doing this for you. It is not out of a vendetta for your father. He has just been acting really irresponsibly, and I don’t think he is going to see the light without a little nudge.”

She nods, liking the sound of these words.

“I just don’t want you to ever have to pick a side, ever have to pick a better parent. That’s why I want him to get help, maybe talk to Pastor.”

“Hey mom –”

“But I just don’t think he will. Maybe you should talk to your father. Try to put some sense into him. Show him how uncomfortable it is for you to be in the middle of all this.”

“Yea, but mom –”

“Maybe then he will listen. He just never listens. He’s never receptive to others’ feelings and thoughts.”

“Mom, the sink is overflowing.”

“Oh shoot!” She yells, grabbing a towel.” I should have been paying attention.

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