Some mothers are alcoholics, some are druggies, and some are compulsive shoppers, gamblers, and/or liars. Mine suffers from one of those types of emotional, addictive diseases as well (although definitely not as serious). It's a relatively undocumented condition that I, Steffie Rogers, refer to as "love lunacy."
In a nutshell: the victim of love lunacy goes from one bad affair to the next, hoping to find happiness, but usually finding the exact opposite. I've watched Barbie (Mom and I are so close--read: dysfunctional--that she insists I call her by her first name) suffer through so many heartbreaks, I could write a book on the subject. In order to help others (and myself) understand this annoying syndrome, I've mapped out the stages of the disease.
1) Secret smile. A weird lopsided, plastic-looking grin becomes plastered on Barbie's face, like she just found a stash of blue M&M's.
2) Forbidden phone call. A call that is so private Barbie must take it outside, away from me. Phone call is followed by a joyous mood.
3) Barbie bliss. May last as little as a couple weeks or as long as several months. Demonstrated by secretive movements, the humming of sappy love songs, and an almost manic burst of energy. During this period, Barbie will hint at positive things to come: "Maybe we should buy a place here and settle down," or "How would you feel if I remarried?"
4) Hot-potato phone. Barbie suddenly becomes neurotic about her cell phone, constantly checking for messages and jumping every time it rings. This sudden obsession indicates that all is not right in Neverland.
5) Schizoid mom. Relationship is clearly on the rocks. Barbie's moods swing from ecstatic to dismal, good to bad, white to black.
6) The map. Fed up or simply dumped, Barbie pulls out her map of Maryland, closes her eyes, and drops her finger.
7) The finger move. Wherever the finger lands--we move.
8) Remission. Barbie promises to never even look at another (ahem--married!) man again.
Numbers six, seven, and eight have happened to Barbie fourteen times. As a result, I've lived in fourteen towns, and I've only been alive for seventeen years. I do the math in my head on a regular basis. The end product is always the same, and it can be easily described with the following made-up adjective: sucktastic.
In all fairness, though, Barbie's not a total lunatic. Unlike most alcoholics and druggies and compulsive whatevers, she has a handle on the basics. She puts a roof over our heads, earns a decent living, and contributes to the betterment of our household, and with a genuinely, if not freakishly, upbeat attitude, I might add. Consistent exposure to her sunshiny disposition can really affect a regular person's state of mind. Case in point: When school ended in mid June, Barbie used her love-lunacy-influenced, mind-powered tractor beam (when used on men, it's boob-powered) and convinced me to work at her office over the summer so I could learn "fiscal responsibility" and save up for tuition at the crummy community college I assume I'll be attending.
Only, Barbie's office isn't an office. It's the bar at the Tippecanoe Country Club, where she's a cocktail waitress who stuffs tips in her bra. And what do I do at this giant, fancy rich-people hangout on Jones Island?
I'm a maid. A polyester-uniform-wearing, plunger-toting maid.
Okay, considering that Barbie thought this idea would also lead to some wacky brand of mother-daughter "fun," it's pretty obvious that she is a total lunatic. And to be honest, even though I love her, I don't want to be anything like her when I grow up. Especially when it comes to that hairy-chested testosterone-producing species that scientists and laypeople like to call "men."
Right now, there's just one thing that stands in the way of my life's mission, which is to avoid love lunacy at all costs.
His name is Keith McKnight.
In fact, I can feel a secret smile forming on my face already. . . .
The day started off like every other Monday. I was hunched over a vacuum cleaner, tidying up the carpet of the ornately decorated club room at Tippecanoe (which was designed many years ago by the same people who built the glamorous Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York). The manager, Mr. Warzog, handed me a plunger and informed me the toilet in the boys' bathroom at the pool had overflowed. How typically sucktastic.
I would have to walk around the pool in my maid outfit, right past potential love lunacy candidate Keith, and every girl in my school. Yes, every girl in my school. Mora Cooper and her popular cheerleader crowd. Amy Fitz and her jocky soccer group. Even Rafaela Berkenstein and her punky friends with the dyed black hair who went around quoting obscure poets and talking about the meaning of life. They were all there, soaking up rays in their bikinis while I was walking around in my baby blue maid outfit and cleaning up stinky bathroom messes. This was not something I wanted to write about in my Good Times journal (which hadn't seen fresh ink since the fourth grade).
It was a hot, sticky afternoon in late July and the pool was jammed. I held on tight to my plunger as I maneuvered through the crowd. As I rounded the deep end, steering around the long line for the high dive, I saw Keith. Clad only in his red swim trunks and wearing his trademark Ray-Bans, he looked like a head lifeguard should: tan, tall, and totally wow. Keith had already graduated by the time I started at Brucker's High, but Jones Island was so tiny, everyone knew each other's business. And being a maid who was practically invisible to all of Tippecanoe's young and fabulous patrons, I was able to eavesdrop and get some good tidbits on Keith.
1) His mom died when he was ten years old. (How could I not love someone with a dead mother? That would be unconscionable.)
2) When he went to my school, he was captain of the football team and a leader of a Boy Scouts group. (Word on the street was he had twenty-five merit badges!)
3) He was also homecoming king and thereby forced into dating the captain of the cheerleading squad, as per the International High School Social Code of Conduct. (But I never held that against him. All he was doing was obeying the law.)
4) He had sex with said cheerleader girlfriend. (This I kind of held against him. He should have been saving himself for me.)
5) He broke up with her during his freshman year at college after he started studying philosophy and registered with the green party. (This proved beyond a doubt that God exists.)
6) Last summer he hooked up with Mora Cooper, his current girlfriend. She was the most popular girl in my class and the new captain of the cheerleading squad. It was rumored they also had sex. (Subsequently, I bought a book on atheism and read it cover to cover.)
Naturally, like every other girl at the club, I couldn't take my eyes off his shaggy auburn hair, his long lanky limbs and toned muscles, his full lips, the dimple in his chin, his deep brown eyes . . .
Suddenly, some little boy barreled into me and splash! I was submerged in a hundred gallons of chlorinated water. Most people started laughing at first. They must have assumed I could swim (um . . . wrong!) and thought it was funny to see a maid get tossed into the pool. But eventually they would realize that this was more of a 911 situation than an amateur attempt at slapstick comedy. Or at least, one person would.
As soon as I stopped splashing, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. I kept my eyes open and just stared up out of the water at all those blurry faces. My plunger filled with liquid and it became an anchor, dragging me down to the bottom. Instead of letting go, I held on for dear life. I had this weird thought that I should just stay down there in the deep end until the pool closed and everyone left. Hey, it was a traumatic experience, and therefore I was entitled to a little irrational thinking.
Before I knew it, Keith had jumped in and yanked the plunger out of my hand. He wrapped his arm around me and pulled me up to the surface. All the other lifeguards helped hoist me out, and then Keith began pushing down on my stomach with his hands.
For one brief moment, I thought, Oh my God! Keith McKnight is feeling me up! And then I got sick.From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Learning to Swim by Cheryl Klam. Copyright © 2007 by Cheryl Klam. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 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.