Is there a dumber question in the universe than "How was school today?" It wouldn't be so bad if the person asking actually cared about the truth. But the only answer people really want to hear is "Fine." Especially if they're part of your family.
"So, Clementine, how was school today?" my mom asked my sister as she passed the mashed potatoes.
Life could be worse, I thought. I could have been born first. Then my name would be Clementine instead of Carrie. My fingers started tapping the table, the way they do every night, leaving the place where I sit pockmarked like the wood had a bad case of acne. From the corner of my eye, I noticed my mom staring down at her plate, trying hard to hide her irritation. Lately she'd given up biting her bottom lip or making remarks like "Are you sure you can't stop tapping, darling . . . at least until after dinner?" I so would prefer her just saying what's on her mind: "STOP MAKING THAT SOUND. . . . IT'S DRIVING ME CRAZY!" Not that I could stop, of course.
"It sucked," my sister mumbled, finally answering the question, her mouth full of broccoli. This month she was on a fighting-cancer kick. Her diet consisted mostly of green, smelly steamed vegetables. It was better than the month last year when she ate only white things . . . rice, vanilla ice cream, and white bread.
Clementine is a junior in high school, and she's the kind of person who never does anything she doesn't want to do. She ignores fashion magazines, insisting that popular kids all look the same. If you think clothes are important, she'll say, then they become the boss of you. Her favorite bands have names nobody ever heard of and look like they just fell out of bed and realized they were out of toothpaste. If you don't like her taste, her friends, her hair, she couldn't care less.
Me, on the other hand, I care too much. I swallowed hard and tried to stay calm. Sometimes if I think happy thoughts, I'm able to keep my tics from ending the dinnertime conversation. Only sometimes.
"You know that sign I put up in my room last week?" my sister asked. "I think it worked."
Clementine is always putting up signs in her room. Just yesterday she taped a new one on her door. It said heroes who never graduated from college. So far, she has only five names on it: Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth, Bill Gates, Queen Elizabeth, and Al Fields. Al Fields is my grandpa. I think she does things like that just to drive my parents crazy.
"What sign was that?" my father asked as he sort of eye wrestled with my mother, begging her not to say anything, no matter what was coming.
Wedged between her posters of Bob Marley and Mia Hamm, Clementine had scribbled the number ninety-six on a plain piece of loose-leaf paper. We all saw it, but no one was brave enough to ask her what it meant.
"I read if you write down what you want and you look at it every day, you're bound to get it. That ninety-six was what I wanted to get on my math exam. I had the test today. And I think it worked."
Just like that. Not because she studied or is good in math. She's convinced she does amazing because she reads the number ninety-six every day. Trust me, we're a normal Long Island family. It's hard to figure how my sister got so strange.
My father is a lawyer. He has to care about what other people think. My mother still talks about how she used to be a cheerleader in high school, so you know she's definitely into how people see her. We have two cars, four TVs, three phones, and a cat. Not exactly the ideal breeding ground for raising a free spirit like Clementine.
"How was your day?" I asked my mother. My throat pulsed with the coughs I was working so hard to keep inside.
"Hectic," Mom sighed. "It's like all of a sudden the whole world is having chest pains." Mom works as the office manager for three cardiologists. Not only does she know every patient by name, she knows all of their life stories. If we ever run into one at the supermarket, she'll tell me if he or she still smokes, if the patient's job is particularly stressful, or if he cheats on his diet and eats hot dogs. She cares about every single one of them and gives out advice as if she's part of the medical team.
That's what makes it so bizarre when she acts as if nothing is wrong with me.
Last May or June, I started to blink. I mean really blink, with both eyes, like fifty times a minute. Once it started, there was no way I could stop until my eyes themselves decided to quit. It was annoying to me, but it drove my mom crazy. The first thing she did was cut my bangs. When that didn't work, she cut them shorter. For weeks I walked around looking like a blinking freak with a huge forehead. I told her ten times my bangs had nothing to do with the problem. When she saw I was right, she took me to an eye doctor. I got these cool glasses; Clementine helped me pick them out, and my eyes relaxed back to normal.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Quit It by Marcia Byalick. Copyright © 2002 by Marcia Byalick. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.