"The Misery Chick"
“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.”
-- Andre Gide
“Why Quinn, this is darling!”
Helen Morgendorffer’s voice broke through a feigned suspenseful silence as only an obnoxiously loud alarm clock could do. In her hands, she held her daughter’s new eight-by-ten school photograph, and the cheery image of Quinn against a waterfall background was pleasant enough to look at, if not extremely phony. The face of faux reflection Quinn wore made the photo all the more two-dimensional.
Jake Morgendorffer, who’d moved his chair close to Helen’s around the kitchen table, was equally pleased with what he saw. “You look so happy, sweetie!” he said to Quinn. Quinn stood behind them soaking up the complements like a dry sponge in a full sink of water. Her lips were nearly parallel in their upright position.
“I felt happy! I always feel happy on picture day!” Quinn said, the bubbliness overflowing from the corners of her mouth. She then attempted a rare digression into her ‘serious’ mode, which was about as deep as a driveway puddle. “Do you think that ‘Nature’s Precious Wonders’ was a good choice for background? Because I almost went with ‘Starlight Over Yosemite.’”
As Quinn spoke, Daria, who sat across from Helen and Jake at the table, stifled an internal vomiting. She had been silently waiting to hand over her picture and then naturally go as far away as she could, but with the way things looked now, she didn’t expect to leave anytime soon.
“I think it was a fine choice,” Helen concluded. She handed the picture back to Quinn, who’d taken a seat next to her.
Suddenly, Quinn’s face lit up with even greater excitement. “Oh, and you want to know what’s more?” she said, waving her hands ecstatically and speaking quickly so as to not allow reply. “Sandi says that like, some photographer guy or whatever saw her school picture, and he offered her a photo shoot for the cover of Awake! Magazine--”
“How exciting,” Daria quipped. “And I’m sure that every trash can and garbage bin in the business will take close notice of her and keep her in mind for future projects.”
“--but she said that there’s like, no way she would ever be caught dead on a magazine that doesn’t have perfume samples,” Quinn rambled on. “So then I said--”
“That is very exciting,” Helen interrupted, lying through her teeth. “What did you pick for background, Daria?”
“ ‘Black Clouds Swallowing Chernobyl,’ ” Daria replied without hesitation.
Helen extended her hand in Daria’s direction. “Come on Daria, where’s your school picture?”
Daria sighed, knowing one thing right off the bat: Helen would not be very pleased with what she saw. Not that it bothered her very much, of course; in fact, she expected a chance to perhaps amuse herself in the process. She reached down beside her chair into her backpack and retrieved the photo.
Daria’s prediction was no less than precise. Helen’s smile had faded into a look of anticipated disappointment as she gazed down at the photograph. In the picture stood a girl that may as well have been a mannequin, it was so devoid of emotion. The background behind her was a dull gray color. Helen exhaled wearily, the disappointment still etched into the lines of her face. Jake however kept his teethy, artificial smile tacked on. “Wow! That’s sharp focus.”
Helen dropped the picture to the tabletop. “Daria, just once why can’t you smile when somebody takes your picture?” she asked, a hint of what seemed to be pleading in her voice.
“I don’t like to smile unless I have a reason,” said Daria.
“Daria,” Helen cooed, “people judge you by your expressions.”
Gee, where have I been? Daria thought. Aloud, she said dryly, “Yes. And I believe there is something intrinsically wrong with that system. I have dedicated myself to changing it.”
Quinn, in an attempt to regain focal point, suddenly held up several sheets of various-sized photos. Her voice was still filled with undying excitement, a direct contradiction of the other photo subject. “Hey, did you guys see these?”
Rolling her eyes, Daria dropped her elbow to the table and rested her chin in her hand, letting out a long, hopeless sigh.
The next day, a Wednesday, saw Lawndale High abuzz with an excitement even more profound than that of school pictures. A gigantic yellow banner had been hung across the front of the building above the main entrance by the student council, reading ‘Lawndale High Welcomes Back Tommy Sherman’ in giant colorful letters. The banner (appropriately illustrated by tacky graphics of a football and a pennant) automatically set everyone in school to talking, particularly those on the football team and cheerleading squad. Not all of the football players were beside themselves about the return of this Tommy Sherman guy, however.
Daria watched Mack Mackenzie stride down the hallway to his locker from her own. He seemed to be taking little note of the many seniors in reminisce mode, bragging to underclassmen how they’d formerly sat two tables away from Tommy Sherman’s at lunchtime, or how they’d once actually brushed against his arm in the hallway. Pitiful underclassmen were listening with astonished, attentive ears. It was refreshing to see at least one football player acting like whoever this Tommy Sherman guy was wasn’t some sort of god. Daria found herself shaking her head as she spotted Mack’s fellow teammate Kevin Thompson running up to him in a wild frenzy.
“This is it, Mack Daddy!” exclaimed Kevin as he joined Mack, a tight grip on his security football. “The week of weeks!”
“Too much hero worship isn’t healthy, you know,” Mack said, before adding, “Don’t call me that.” Kevin just couldn’t seem to get it through his thick head that Mack hated to be called ‘Mack Daddy.’
“But the man is coming! The man!” said Kevin with great fervor in his voice. “Tommy Sherman brought it home, bro! The state--championship!” With each word there was a tap of his football against his head. “And now, he’s coming back to Lawndale.”
“I know all about it,” said Mack, ever unimpressed. “Jodie’s giving the speech about the new goal post, remember?”
“Oh yeah!” Kevin said. “Does she need any help with ideas for that? Like, from a quarterback’s point of view.”
“Gee. I’ll ask her,” said Mack, a sarcastic edge to his voice. “When there aren’t any sharp objects around.”
Mack’s comment flew completely over Kevin’s head. “Cool!” he said, his trademark dopey grin unfaltering. Daria slammed her locker shut as the two turned a corner, her head still shaking.
Early morning sunlight beat down across Daria’s shoulders from a cloudless sky and she could feel the heat of it being attracted by the dark green jacket on her back. For a late autumn day, it felt unusually warm. As she sat in the student courtyard waiting for homeroom bell to ring, Daria picked at the corner of her eyes with weak fingers, knuckles briefly meeting, and knocked away the remnants of an inadequate sleep. She then cracked her neck with one hand and glanced around the courtyard at the numerous unoccupied trees.
“Remind me again why we’re not sitting in the shade?” Daria said to her friend Jane, who sat across from her on the grass.
“I don’t care what they say,” Jane replied. “Ultraviolet rays are our friends.”
Daria shifted her position to Indian-style, her legs brushing against the sharp, dry grass. Across the courtyar were Brittany Taylor and some of the other Lawndale High cheerleaders, all toting signs that among other things read ‘Welcome Tommy Sherman’ and ‘Tommy Sherman: Athletic Hero.’ Daria had heard a lot of fuss about this Tommy Sherman the past few days, but as she had only arrived at Lawndale High School a few months previous, the legend of the great Tommy Sherman was unbeknownst to her. All she knew was that this guy was quite respected at Lawndale High, and to show their respect, the school was erecting new goalposts on the football field in his name. The actual reason he was so respected hadn’t yet been picked up by Daria’s radar, and she admittedly was mildly curious.
“What’s the big deal about this football guy anyway?” she asked Jane.
“Tommy Sherman? He was quarterback three years ago when the school won the state championship,” said Jane. “My brother knew him.”
“Well, why name the goal posts after him?” Daria said. “Why not the whole stadium?”
“Goal post,” Jane corrected. “See, his trademark was he always wanted to run the touchdown in himself.”
“A real team player,” quipped Daria.
“But he couldn’t keep himself from waving to the crowd when he did it. They’d cheer--” --as Jane spoke, she lifted her right hand in the air, balled into a tight fist-- “--he’d wave--” --she raised her left hand, waving it about-- “--and wham!” Jane’s right fist smashed into her open left hand as she spoke. “He’d run right into the goal post.”
“What an intelligent young man,” said Daria, slightly amused at the picture that had formed in her mind.
“He broke his own nose twice,” said Jane, cracking her knuckles. “Then in the playoffs a week before the state championship, he scored the winning touchdown, and hit the goal post so hard, he cracked his helmet. He was unconscious for six days. Miraculously, he woke up the night before the big game feeling great.” Jane paused in mock-suspense. “The next day, he led the team to victory.”
“Isn’t it?” Jane leaned back and let her weight rest on her hands, her arms stiffening. “So now the school’s bought one of those new goal posts designed to break apart rather than split your skull.”
How noble of them, Daria thought to herself. But… “Why only one?”
“Budget cuts,” said Jane. “And they’re naming it after good old Tommy Sherman.” Brisk footsteps on the freshly-cut grass told Daria someone was coming from behind. Jane smirked at the mystery guest, adding, “And here comes the lucky student council member who will do the honors.”
“Give me a break.” Jodie Landon, super-student extraordinaire, stopped between the two girls. She hugged a clipboard close to her person. “Hey Daria, I can’t get past the introduction to this speech,” Jodie said. “Can I read it to you?”
Daria lifted her head to look at Jodie, her eyes squinting to protect them from the bright yellow sunlight. “Does that mean I don’t have to listen to it later?” she asked, deadpan.
Jodie ignored her remark and seated herself on the grass. She held out her clipboard and read aloud, “ ‘Good afternoon students, faculty, and distinguished alumni of Lawndale High. As a representative of your student council’...” Her clipboard fell to her lap. “Any ideas?”
After a short pause, Daria decided upon, “...‘it is my privilege today to once again send the message that learning is no substitute for winning.’ ”
“ ‘And that it’s not how hard you study,’ ” added Jane. “ ‘It’s how hard you play foo’ball!’ ” Jane displayed her best macho face, holding her fists tight.
“Gosh, thanks so much,” said Jodie sarcastically. Her face suddenly contorted in an exasperation that she’d been struggling to hold back. “You think I like this?”
“If you don’t believe any of it, why give the speech?” asked Daria.
“Because I’m on the student council,” Jodie replied importantly, the exasperation in her face warping into some kind of pathetic pride. “It’s a job with many responsibilities, and today it’s my responsibility to kiss the butt of some jock getting a goal post named after him.” Jodie took a breath. “But at least now I feel really good about it.” She removed a pencil from the clipboard and quickly jotted down the perspectives of Daria and Jane.
“Hey.” A male voice made the three of them turn. Mack had made his way behind the girls and was now smiling down at Jodie.
Jodie looked up at him, unfazed. “Leave me alone!” she exclaimed quite unexpectedly, rising to her feet and stomping off with her clipboard in tow.
Mack’s now-bewildered glance fell back down to Daria and Jane. A few rather uncomfortable moments passed before Daria broke the silence. “Chicks.”
Jane nodded. “Yeah, chicks.”
Brittany Taylor was beside herself with excitement as she walked with her usual air of perkiness down the school corridor. Today was the big day. In just hours, she would come face to face with Lawndale’s own celebrity. As captain of the cheerleading squad, it was her esteemed responsibility to present to the one and only Tommy Sherman his very own namesake goalpost. How exhilarating it all was! Brittany attempted to slow her breathing, coming to a halt and smoothing the wrinkles in her cheerleading skirt. As her breathing slowed, she bent down to tie a shoestring that had come undone. A graceful motion of her hands brought the strings into a neat double-knot, and as she shifted to stand up, Brittany sensed someone facing her. Her breathing quickened again as her eyes lifted higher.
“Keep going,” a deep male voice said. “It gets better.” Slowly, her eyes followed the height of a tall, brawny young man. “Hello, beautiful! I see one thing about Lawndale football has improved a lot since I was unanimously voted most valuable player... the cheerleaders!”
The stranger wore a cocky smile that was accented by a strong jaw line. Brittany’s heart nearly jumped from her chest as her eyes met his. There could be no mistaking it. “You’re Tommy Sherman!”
“You know your sports.”
Brittany clapped her hands together. “My boyfriend’s Kevin Thompson! He’s quarterback of the team, he worships you!”
“That’s great,” Tommy replied, most insincere. He eyed her up and down, obviously pleased with what he’d found. Casually, Tommy said, “Listen, they’re putting me up at the Lawndale Manor. Why don’t you and I head back there, order some champagne, get horizontal, and you can find out just how big a hero I am?” He crossed his arms, his arrogant grin growing wider.
Brittany’s eyes widened, but a curled upper lip suggested that she was not so delighted anymore. Could this revolting pig be the amazing Tommy Sherman? “Didn’t you hear what I said?” Brittany said huffily, making no attempt to hide her disgust. “My boyfriend is your biggest fan?”
“What are you telling me, he wants to watch?” Tommy asked. He paused, stroking his chin in consideration. “I don’t know...”
Scowling, Brittany drew back her hand and slapped him across the face. Then she turned on her heel and stomped down the hall, fists shaking with rage.
Calling after her, Tommy said, “All right, all right, he can watch!” Brittany did not stop, but her face did turn very red. Tommy called again. “Hey, where are you going?”
Brittany stomped on past Daria, who’d been half-watching the scene as she exchanged books at her locker. Tommy’s deep voice sailed on down the hallway, now enraged: “Hey, did someone flash the bimbo signal?!”
An expression of disgusted vexation twisted its way onto Daria’s face as Brittany, thoroughly sickened, turned a corner and disappeared.
Kevin followed Mack around most of the morning, ranting about the glorious Tommy Sherman between spouts of ‘Mack Daddy.’ Facts, stories, his own thoughts... all these were pounded into Mack’s head by eleven a.m. This Tommy Sherman situation was getting blown more and more out of proportion. The news that Tommy Sherman had already arrived at the school had fanned the flames, and Mack felt ready to smash his head repeatedly into a brick wall when suddenly Kevin pointed down the hall. Strutting proudly towards them was none other than--
“Tommy Sherman!” Kevin looked as if his knees were about to give out on him.
Tommy came to a halt in front of them and said with his hands on his hips, “That’s the name. Don’t wear it out.”
Kevin managed to regain some sort of composure. “I’m your biggest fan!”
“I doubt that,” Tommy said. “Unless the rest of them are pygmies!” He coughed out a callous chuckle.
Kevin apparently had no idea what Tommy was talking about. “I’m Kevin Thompson. This is Michael Jordan Mackenzie.” Kevin clapped Mack on the back. “We call him Mack.”
Tommy’s grin contorted into a frown of incredulity. “Michael Jordan Mackenzie? You’re kidding, right?”
Mack’s eyes fell to the floor. “It was Michael James Mackenzie, but Dad went to a Bulls playoff game when I was twelve and then he... changed it.” Mack trailed off in embarrassment, keeping his eyes as far away from Tommy as possible.
“That’s sick, man,” said Tommy, still frowning. “So, what are you guys, on the intramural squad or something?”
“Varsity, dude!” exclaimed Kevin. “I’m the QB!”
A violent laugh suddenly shot from Tommy’s pipes. After a few moments of uncertainty, Kevin laughed along with him. Mack’s nostrils flared.
The laughing stopped short and Tommy scowled at Kevin, a thick eyebrow raised. “Why are you laughing?”
“Um, why are you?” asked Kevin uncertainly.
Tommy’s arrogant smirk reappeared. “I’m just picturing a scrawny little guy like you trying to play for some third-rate junior college somewhere and getting your butt kicked every week!”
“Oh, yeah. That’s funny,” Kevin said, laughing hesitantly.
“No it isn’t,” Mack said quietly, staring bitterly at the great Tommy Sherman.
The confusion on Kevin’s face suddenly vanished as Brittany walked into the hall from a nearby classroom, clutching her books tightly. Again exhilarated, he cried, “Hey Britt! Did you meet Tommy Sherman?”
Brittany took one revolted look at Tommy and shrieked, “Yes!” She drove her fingers further into her books as she dashed off down the hallway.
Kevin scratched the back of his head and then hurried on after her, as did disconcerted shouts of “Hey babe, what’s the matter?”
Taking his leave, Mack said coldly to Tommy, “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Yeah!” said Tommy. “Make sure your father doesn’t go to any Whoopi Goldberg movies!”
Another obnoxious guffaw escaped him as he watched Mack go. Behind him, a pair of bespectacled eyes shot him a fiery glare. Tommy Sherman was completely oblivious.
By the time the lunch bell sounded that day, Daria had for the most part disregarded what she’d witnessed with Tommy Sherman. She had mentioned what she’d seen to Jane however, hoping to gain her perspective. There wasn’t a whole lot Jane had to say except for “it figures.”
Well, thought Daria as she headed to her locker with Jane, as long as I don’t have to deal with him directly, things won’t have to suck any more than usual. Of course, with my luck--
Daria came to an abrupt halt. So did Jane. Her locker was now in plain view, and leaning right against it was Tommy Sherman. His arms were crossed, and he was swooning at some various female walking by. Daria swallowed her revulsion and said loudly, “Excuse me.”
Tommy turned to look at her. Immediately his lip sunk. “You’re kidding, right? You think I’m going to talk to you?” He turned to Jane. “You, maybe,” he said, looking her over. “Like, four hours into a kegger!”
Jane kept her cool. “Perhaps after I vomit on your shoes...”
“I don’t want to talk to you,” Daria said sharply.
“Yeah right,” said Tommy. “You said, ‘excuse me.’ ”
“You’re on my locker.” Impatience graced Daria’s voice.
Apparently Tommy could not believe what he was hearing. He straightened up, his nostrils huge, and shouted, “Do you know who I am?” He didn’t give her time to reply. “Tommy Sherman?”
Managing to keep an equilibrium between poise and truculence, Daria said nonchalantly, “I know the whole school’s turning itself inside out because of some egotistical football player, and I’ve seen you insult or proposition just about everyone you’ve come across, so my guess is that you’re the football player guy. Congratulations, you must have worked very hard to become a colossal jerk so quickly.” Daria could hear Jane stifling a low snicker beside her, but she kept her eyes on Tommy.
It seemed at first that Tommy didn’t know quite what to say. Finally he spat out, “You know what Tommy Sherman’s going to do now? He’s going to go out onto the football field and check out his new goal post. He’s going to read the plaque and think about all the people who admire him.” Daria stared dispassionately into Tommy’s hostile red face. His own eyes had become acute little slits. He waved a bulky finger at her, his scraggly shoulder-length hair flapping along in near-unison. “But you wouldn’t know anything about that. You’re one of those misery chicks, always moping about what a cruel world it is, making a big deal about it so people won’t notice you’re a loser.” He spun around and marched off towards the football field.
Well, well, well, Daria thought sarcastically as she watched him go, he saw right though me.
“I don’t think he likes you.” The sound of Jane’s voice jerked Daria from her brief reverie.
“That doesn’t bother me,” Daria replied truthfully. “What bothers me is that jerk is going to be treated like a hero for the rest of his life.”
Jane shrugged. “Well, maybe he won’t live that long,” she offered.
“Come on, you know wishes don’t come true.”
Daria had barely finished speaking when a sickening crash caused her to wince. As it thundered off the walls, she turned her head to Jane, whose own eyes had gone very wide.
In moments, a surge of students was rushing past them toward the source of the sound. Suddenly a horrible premonition flashed through Daria’s mind. A voice that had risen above chaotic murmurs did nothing to reassure her.
“Oh my God! The goal post fell!” Kevin was shouting in a panicked voice. And then a sickly gasp, and finally: “Tommy Sherman’s dead! He’s dead!” Kevin’s voice trailed off into a long sob.
Jane could very well have been Daria’s doppelganger at that moment, for when Daria looked at Jane once more, the chasm of a mouth and softball-sized eyes she saw matched her own perfectly.
The Lawndale Sun-Herald naturally made a big deal over the death of Tommy Sherman. For the next few days, Daria could hardly stand to look at the newspaper. It was all too predictable the way the media blew the incident up. The irony of it all greatly appealed to the journalists’ sense of conspiracy, and it made Daria want to puke-- that, and the fact that everyone at school was bawling like a bus had flattened their pet dog. It didn’t add up to Daria. Sure, it was an awful thing that had happened, but Tommy Sherman hadn’t exactly been a martyr or anything.
Of course, thought Daria, he was a football player...
In one of the bits that caught Daria’s eye, the Sun-Herald made a note that it was the very least Principal Angela Li could do to hold a student memorial service at Lawndale High for poor Tommy Sherman. By some extremely amazing chance, Tommy had no family that cared enough to engender a lawsuit. His mother had walked out years ago and no one knew where she had gone, and since his son had graduated high school, Bill Sherman had left Lawndale and moved to Las Vegas with a new wife twenty years his junior. Mr. Sherman was not available for comment.
Under the article was a small ad that encouraged all to send flowers and donations to such and such address, downtown Lawndale. Daria frowned as she flipped past it.
With Friday afternoon came the memorial for Tommy Sherman in the auditorium, and all students were required to attend. Daria had contemplated over whether or not to bring a book in with her, but a strange, annoyed reaction from Jane had made the decision for her. Now, as she glanced at Jane in the seat beside hers, Daria sensed something was off. However, there was not much she could do about it at the moment, so with nothing else to do, she turned her attention toward Ms. Li onstage.
The stage itself had been done up in a gaudy display of potted flowers and ribboned blossom wreaths. Behind the podium where Ms. Li stood hung two huge photographs of Tommy, one of him in football garb and one a shot of his arrogant mug. They seemed to weigh down the maroon velour travelers considerably. Daria wondered how everyone would react if they were to fall down on their esteemed educator, more irony to be thrown into the kitty. She didn’t know whether she’d cry or laugh.
Ms. Li addressed the student body. “How does one make sense of a tragedy so... tragic?” Her melodramatic voice was festooned with noisy sobs coming from Kevin’s way. “A young man... a hero!... struck down in a freakish accident by the very goal post that was to have been dedicated in his honor.”
Daria stared blankly up at Ms. Li from her squeaky seat. It was almost amusing, hearing her praise the jerk. What was even more amusing was that the students were actually buying it. To Daria’s right were Mack and Jodie, both looking uncharacteristically down. What was the big deal? Hadn’t both Mack and Jodie witnessed firsthand the vulgarity of Tommy Sherman? Kevin sat a couple seats to her left, nearly hysterical, with Brittany offering an arm of comfort. Daria couldn’t help but notice Brittany’s eyes roll as Kevin let out a particularly loud cry.
The preachy oration dragged on. “What lesson can we take from all of this?” Ms. Li lectured with a stern, beseeching stare that suddenly veered off to the right of the auditorium. The students all turned their heads to see a few of the maintenance staff looking very uncomfortable. “Other than not to leave heavy goal posts in sharp edged wooden crates leaning precariously against the bleachers,” she added. It took an effort for Daria to hide her smirk.
“The lesson is to spread joy, spread light!” continued Ms. Li, her voice fake and light once more. “Make it your goal to make others feel good. And when you reach that goal, you keep running... until you reach the goal post! You hit that goal post, hard!”
Daria couldn’t believe she was hearing this. She shook her head with an air of disapproval. The seat beside her squeaked lightly and Daria saw that Jane was now looking in the opposite direction.
And yet still, the bogus voice: “That is what this young man did. And that is the legacy he left to you... to me. To Lawndale High.”
Ms. Li’s usual drawn-out proclamation of the school’s name was suddenly obstructed by a piercing wail that made Daria’s brow wrinkle. Finally, Ms. Li gave up.
“Would someone get him out of here so we can all sing ‘One Sweet Day?’ ”
Instead of the usual Friday afternoon hooplah, a strange, quiet calm lingered over the halls of Lawndale High as the students exited the auditorium. The excitement of the weekend had been subsided by the gloominess that came with the memorial assembly. The weekend football game had been postponed, but it didn’t seem to matter to anyone, not even the players or cheerleaders. No one felt like holding any parties, or going to any for that matter. It was a very different mood, even to Daria, who was now feeling perhaps the slightest bit of remorse as she walked down the hallway with Jane. Jane was keeping very quiet, and it suddenly occurred to Daria that she had been that way not just today, but all week.
“It’s weird,” said Daria, breaking a silence. “One minute he’s standing there calling me a loser, the next minute he’s dead.”
Jane kept looking straight ahead. “Yeah.”
A one-word answer was a little less than what Daria was hoping for. “I mean, the guy Ms. Li was talking about didn’t bear any resemblance to the guy we met. But still--”
“Listen, I’m going home to change,” Jane interrupted. “I think I’m going to go for a run.”
“I’ll walk you,” offered Daria.
“Actually, I think I want to walk by myself for a little while,” said Jane quickly. Daria stopped walking, a bit surprised, but Jane kept going. “See you later.”
The corners of Daria’s mouth drooped into a frown. Did I just get blown off? she asked herself.
There really wasn’t time to think about this, however, because for some bizarre reason, Kevin was now walking in her direction. For now, at least, the tears seemed to have stopped flowing. Still, his face had kept twisted in a frown, quite the contrast of his usual foolish smile. Judging from the quivering in his jaw, it looked as though he might erupt into hysterics at any time. At first, Daria thought (and hoped) that Kevin might just pass her, but when he was a few feet away, he stopped and said, “Hey Daria, can I talk to you?”
An eyebrow lifted high on Daria’s forehead. “Why?” she asked.
“About, well you know, Tommy,” Kevin stammered. “I’m really bummed out.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that Kevin,” said Daria, shrugging her shoulders and starting up her stride once more, “but I don’t know what to tell you. I only met him right before the accident.”
“Me too!” Kevin said, following her to a side exit. “But I mean, it really makes you think. Got any like, words of wisdom or whatever?”
“Like what?” Daria said skeptically as she pushed through the double doors. Overcast sky greeted them, reflecting the mood of the day.
“I don’t know. I figure you think about depressing stuff a lot,” said Kevin as they continued on toward the parking lot. “You’re that type, you know?”
Daria frowned herself and said, “No, I don’t know.”
Possibly Kevin, through some amazing display of awareness, realized he had stepped on unpleasant territory, because he went back to praising Tommy without further discussion. “I mean, the guy was a hero. A really good quarterback, everybody liked him, kinda hunky, you know.” Kevin was quick to clear himself. “Not that I would notice something like that.” He paused. “And now he’s just like, the dead guy.”
Something suddenly occurred to Daria and she stopped walking. “Tell me Kevin, did he remind you of anyone?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
Daria elaborated. “Maybe his death hit a little too close to home?”
Kevin considered this. “Hmm... I get what you’re saying,” he said. “But I don’t believe in ghosts, Daria.”
What the hell...? was what Daria was thinking, but she said aloud only, “What?”
Kevin drew back to explain himself. “You’re saying he got hit on the head out there on the football field,” he said, “the team’s home. And now it’s going to be cursed or something and we’re going to lose all our games.” Kevin tutted. “I’m a little surprised, Daria.”
“That makes two of us,” said Daria.
Wiggling his fingers eerily, Kevin added, “I didn’t figure you to believe in all that mumbo-gumbo.”
“Gee, I hope this won’t lower your opinion of me,” Daria quipped.
“Come on!” said Kevin, laughing the first laugh Daria had heard all week. He gave her a forceful pat on the back, knocking her forward, and said, “How much lower could it get?” Satisfied, Kevin started off to the parking lot, leaving Daria somewhat winded and suddenly feeling stupider than she had five minutes before.
No sooner had Kevin drifted into the parking lot than an unmistakable voice had squeaked out Daria’s name, and long, thin fingers had wrapped themselves around Daria’s arm and pulled her about to face their person. Daria blinked. The squeak of a voice had indeed belonged to just who she thought. “Brittany?”
“Daria, I’ve got to talk to you.”
Brittany stood in a pitiful fashion on the grass. Daria immediately noticed how oddly tense and square Brittany’s blue-clad shoulders seemed to be. Her lips were droopy as she spoke, and the distinctive squeakiness in her voice was unusually subdued. Brittany’s usually perky face looked pale and gloomy. This princess of the pep squad was not in any way cheerful today. She looked a great deal more collected than Kevin, but Brittany’s thickly made-up eyelashes hung low, and under them, her eyes stared back at Daria with pleading.
Dare I ask? Daria asked herself. “About...?”
“Tommy Sherman!” exclaimed Brittany.
Daria didn’t exactly have the will to talk about this, especially with another half-witted specimen of all that went wrong with chromosomes. “Maybe you should talk to Kevin,” she proposed.
“I can’t talk to Kevin!” said Brittany, clenching her fists nervously. Then she lowered her voice, adding, “Tommy Sherman was a jerk!”
Daria sighed. “You know, no one else seems to realize--”
“I can’t believe I said that!” cried Brittany, slapping her palms against her cheeks. “I called a dead guy a jerk!”
“So you are upset about what happened?” Daria asked hesitantly.
“That’s just it, I feel terrible,” said Brittany. “Why did that jerk make me hate him? Now he’s dead and I feel bad that I don’t feel that bad so I feel terrible!” She placed her hands on her hips and frowned. “It really makes you think.” Brittany’s hands moved to her double ponytails and she yanked at them habitually, her eyes glazing over with sadness once more. “I mean, you’re used to being all gloomy and depressed and thinking about bad stuff--”
“Why does everyone keep saying that?” said Daria. This was getting more than a little irritating.
“--so I thought that maybe you can give me some tips.” Brittany twirled the end of one of the blonde ponytails around an index finger hopefully.
Perhaps it was because of her own uncertainty over the situation, or perhaps it was because the anguish of death had affected her some as well, but for whatever reason, Daria sighed and considered. “Well, I guess what I’d say, Brittany, is that here’s this guy who really wasn’t very nice, and you didn’t like him at all. You’re sorry that he died--”
“I am!” Brittany reassured her.
“--but you don’t think you feel sorry enough,” continued Daria. “And you’re worried that you’re not as nice a person as you thought.”
Brittany considered this. Then she said, “Yeah! It’s like, I feel bad but I think I should feel worse and not feeling worse makes me feel bad all over again!”
“The truth is, Brittany,” Daria said sincerely, “that you are nice, or you wouldn’t be feeling bad at all right now.”
Another pause, and then very carefully, Brittany said, “So, you’re saying that feeling bad about not feeling worse is good.”
Daria hesitated, trying to make some sense of Brittany’s warped logic. “Yes,” she decided, though she wasn’t really sure if she meant it or not. “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”
Brittany smiled and tugged a ponytail. “Thanks, Daria!” she squeaked, sprinting off.
On a whim, Daria reached around and plucked a small spiral notepad from a pocket on her backpack. She took a pencil from the spiral ring and scribbled: Feeling bad + not feeling worse = good.
Another voice suddenly called out Daria’s name, this one soft and wimpy, and Daria again knew who it was immediately. She turned around to see her English teacher, Mr. O’Neill, standing behind her. His wimpy-ness was radiating most glaringly today; as had everyone else that had come up to her, Mr. O’Neill looked very troubled. “Uh... hi, Mr. O’Neill,” Daria said.
O’Neill smiled weakly and looked down at her notepad. “May I ask what you’re jotting down? A reflection about poor Tommy Sherman, no doubt.”
“It must have been a terrible shock for someone as sensitive as you,” Mr. O’Neill decided. “Yes, yes. It really makes you think.”
“Um, yeah, but I’m dealing with it,” Daria said, wondering how many times she was going to hear that particular phrase in one day.
Mr. O’Neill chuckled uneasily. “I figured you’d be dealing with it,” he declared. “You probably think about the dark side all the time.”
Daria’s brow curled. “The... dark side? Are we talking about ‘The Force?’ ” she asked dryly.
“The dark side of life,” O’Neill said. “The thoughts other people try not to have. That’s your thing, right? Facing the void?” Daria frankly didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, and figured it unwise to tell off a teacher, so she let him ramble. He laughed another anxious laugh. “No, I’m sure you’re dealing with it.” O’Neill faltered for a few moments, rubbing his hands together nervously. Then came the quivering lip.
Uh oh. Here it comes, Daria said to herself.
Like clockwork, Mr. O’Neill covered his face with his hands and burst into tears. “I’m not dealing with it!”
Daria glanced the other way uncomfortably. She sighed. “There, there,” she said unenthusiastically, patting him on the back in a manner much the same. “Do you want to... talk about it?”
Dialing Jane’s number and getting no answer occupied most of Daria’s free time for the remainder of the evening. Daria had a terrible urge to tell someone about what had happened, and there weren’t exactly a lot of people she felt she could genuinely talk to. As she paced in circles around her bedroom that evening, Daria found a lot of time to just think. Daria didn’t get why everyone was having such a hard time dealing with this Tommy Sherman matter. Maybe it was a harsh reminder of the mortality that affected all of them? Or maybe everyone really was blind to the fact that Tommy Sherman was, until the moment he died, a total jerk.
The next morning, the thoughts were still bouncing about in Daria’s head and she still hadn’t gotten ahold of Jane. It was Saturday, and there was very little chance Jane would be up anytime before eleven, so Daria went through the usual motions of the morning to pass the time. Then she sat on her bed staring mindlessly at the TV until she was sure Jane would be awake (a bit before noon) and dialed her number. On the fourth ring, Jane picked up. “Yeah?”
“Where have you been?” Daria asked. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you since four o’clock yesterday afternoon.”
“Hello to you too. I went running, like I said,” replied Jane.
“Uh-huh. To where, Canada?”
“Why have you been calling?” asked Jane, ignoring the sarcasm. “What’d you want to tell me?”
Daria wasted no time in telling Jane everything that had happened, from the time Jane had left her in the hallway onward. Jane kept quiet as Daria went through the events.
“So then as soon as I get Brittany squared away,” said Daria, drawing a close to her recap, “Mr. O’Neill comes over wanting to talk. And they all say the same thing: ‘It really makes you think.’ ” She exhaled deeply. “I feel like getting a couch.”
“You’re the girl of the hour,” said Jane with a tiny laugh. Then a bit lower: “Maybe I should talk to you.”
“Yeah, right,” said Daria. “You know, I can’t believe the way people are reacting. I mean, yeah, it’s terrible what happened, but it’s not as if he was nice to anyone.” Daria slumped down on the edge of her bed, feeling frustrated and irate all at once. “They’re acting like they lost a friend.”
“Boy Daria, nothing gets through to you, does it?” Jane said flatly.
This wasn’t what Daria expected to hear. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The guy died,” Jane snapped. “And you’re talking about what a jerk he was.”
“I just said...” Daria trailed off. For once, she was at a complete loss for words. She sighed. Rather than continue to argue, she changed the subject. “Look, you wanna get some pizza?”
“I’m going running.”
“After?” The question was hopeful.
“I don’t know,” said Jane, “it’s going to be a long run. See you later.”
Daria listened to the click and then to the blank nothingness. She pressed the off button on the cordless phone and idly tossed it across the bed. What was the deal here? Why was Jane, the only person Daria felt really understood her, criticizing her for the way she felt? What exactly was Jane’s problem anyway? And why was everyone suddenly thinking that Daria was the queen of all despair? Daria had had enough: she’d been thinking way too much about this whole ordeal lately. She picked up the remote to her television and pressed the power button with an eager thumb.
The Sick, Sad World theme filled the quiet room, along with the announcer’s over-the-top voice: “ ‘Monaco’s Mopiest Millionaires,’ next on--”
A sudden knock at the door prompted Daria to hit the power button again. “Come in.”
The door opened and Quinn peaked in. She walked into the room skittishly, as if on foreign ground. “Daria?” Quinn stopped short and glanced about her. “Wow, your room still looks like this?”
Quinn’s timing was horrible; this was probably the worst time she could’ve chosen to ask some stupid favor of her older sister. “Need help filling out your picture re-order form?” a snide Daria asked. “It’s Q-U-I--”
“Daria?” Quinn interrupted, looking strangely somber. She hesitated some, and Daria feared the worst. “Can I talk to you? About the dead guy?”
If one could instinctively will pianos and safes to fall from the sky onto oneself, it was no question at all as to when Daria would have chosen to do so.
Saturday drifted into a lazy Sunday, one made all the more sluggish by the unrelenting overcast sky. Jane obviously didn’t want to hang out, so Daria spent a good deal of the time alternating between watching bad TV and reading a book of Tennyson poetry for Mr. O’Neill’s class. She didn’t think about Tommy anymore; it was tormenting to keep mulling it over and have no one to talk to about it. The situation was a lousy one, and feeling alone at a time like this made things ten times worse. The thought of eating was terribly unappealing to Daria, and other than a handful of potato chips on Saturday afternoon she ate nothing. She relented, however, when Helen knocked at Daria’s door Sunday afternoon to tell her that she had reheated some leftover freezer lasagna for lunch; Daria hadn’t really eaten in two days and was starting to get hunger pains.
Jake was out at his office working with some important client or other, so it was only Daria, Helen, and Quinn at the kitchen table. This wasn’t unusual: both Jake and Helen often went in to work on the weekends, two ball-busting career people who felt more relaxed at work than at their own home. It was like watching a string of bad network television sitcoms the way meals at the Morgendorffer’s went, in that it was the same thing time after time.
Today, alas, was no exception: Daria sat quietly, hoping the meal would be over quickly so she could go anywhere else. Helen pretended to be interested in anything that came up, even when she clearly was not. And, as at any other meal, Quinn used the time to chatter on aimlessly about herself... how this weekend’s dates went, where it was she saw this really cute miniskirt, what her “friends” in the Fashion Club were up to... and of course, the way she felt about the hot topic of the week, Tommy Sherman. She rattled on about how she felt “really, really bad about that guy that died,” and how she also felt that it was her duty as vice president of the Fashion Club to do something about it. Only half-listening, Daria stared down at her plate, carelessly cutting little squares off the edge of her lasagna and not eating them.
“So I called up Sandi and Stacy and Tiffany,” Quinn was saying, “and the Fashion Club is going to take up a collection to get safe new goal posts. Like to honor the dead guy’s memory.”
“Quinn, what a wonderful impulse!” exclaimed Helen approvingly; whether she was sincere could not be told. “To make something positive come out of this devastating event.”
Quinn beamed at this. “Daria gave me that idea,” she confessed. “She’s really good at this tragic stuff!”
The repetition of this suggestion only sprinkled more salt on an ever-deepening wound. “Thanks,” Daria said, a sour expression crossing her face. “But it was one of the safe new goal posts that fell on him.” There was no way she was going to let Quinn get away with her self-bestowed glory intact now, whether she meant to annoy Daria or not.
There was a short silence, and then an “Oh!” from Quinn. Suddenly it seemed that all her pride had evaporated like the condensation on her now-empty glass. She set down her fork and managed to mumble, “Well, it’s the thought that counts,” before getting up and hurrying away from her half-eaten plate.
Helen turned her attentions to Daria, who was still picking half-heartedly at her lasagna. With a quasi-maternal edge to her voice, she asked her remaining daughter, “And how do you feel, Daria?”
What happened next baffled even Daria herself; alienated Daria, who had just wanted someone to listen to her. Her irritation meter seemed to quite suddenly (and unexpectedly) soar off the charts; the sauce-doused fork she’d been poking about her plate hit the tabletop with a tinny clink. “I feel great!” Daria bellowed, not feeling one single ounce of regret. “How else could I feel? I’m the misery chick!” Daria’s chair slid back along the linoleum floor with a dull scrape and Daria shot out of it. She hovered over the table for a second or two and decided, “I’m going to Jane’s.”
Her mother watched her go, though her expression had slightly changed: wide eyes and O-shaped lips set off the familiar indifferent stare.
The front door to the Lane residence opened after three rings of the doorbell. Daria, who had more or less collected herself by the time she’d arrived, knew to wait: it wasn’t unusual for Jane and her brother Trent to sleep well into the afternoon, and they often took some time to get to the door. It was Trent who answered the door this time, and normally a confrontation with him made Daria feel tremendously awkward. The two had met when Daria had paid her first visit to Jane’s house after a self-esteem class a couple of months before, and Daria was immediately taken with Trent’s dark, rugged looks and deep, pacified voice. While it was only a crush, Daria typically succeeded in losing her composure and feeling like a complete jackass whenever he was around. Now, however, she was too distressed and too keen on talking to Jane to give in to her self-consciousness.
“Oh,” said Trent after a surprised pause. “Hey, Daria.”
“Hi Trent,” Daria said.
Trent appeared to know why she had come and said to her, “Janey went running.”
A good number of Daria’s insides plummeted, particularly her stomach, which seemed to hit the floor with a gooshy thud. “Oh.” Daria couldn’t muster the strength to even attempt to hide her disappointment. “Well, I’ll see her another time.” She turned to go, but before she could mutter a thanks, Trent spoke again.
“Scary about Tommy Sherman.”
Daria stopped, remembering Jane’s remark about Trent and Tommy going to school together. “Yeah,” she replied feebly, “you knew him, right?”
“We had a couple classes together,” Trent said. “I mean, we didn’t see him much. You know, he didn’t show up too often.”
Had Daria been in a better mood, the irony of Trent’s saying this might have brought a smile to her blank face. “Not like you, huh?” she halfheartedly teased.
Trent laughed at this, a laugh that sputtered into a small coughing fit. He raised a closed fist to his mouth, and after a few seconds, the fit died down. “I guess I might have missed a few classes, now that you mention it,” he answered with a half-grin. Then, more seriously, he said, “Weird though, freak accident.”
Bracing herself for ultimate disappointment, Daria slowly asked him, “Would you say it really makes you think?”
After a bit of hesitation, Trent finally decided on, “No.”
A slight sigh made Daria’s chest deflate with a rush of held breath. It would have been a stretch to say that his comment had made her day, but she by all means suddenly felt better. “Thank you for that, Trent.”
“See ya.” Daria turned back around and had taken a few steps when Trent stopped her again.
“Hey Daria?” he said hastily.
Trent shifted his stance in the doorway. “You know, it was a while ago that Janey went running. Maybe she came back and I didn’t hear her or something.” He shrugged his shoulders, adding, “Anyway, why don’t you check her room? She might be there.” He opened the door a bit wider to allow entrance.
“I’ll yell up the stairs,” proposed Daria, stepping inside.
A surge of innocent agitation seemed to sweep over him. “No, uh, sometimes she’s got some music on and she can’t hear you if you yell,” said Trent. “Why don’t you just head on up?”
Daria stopped at the stairs and glanced back at him, one hand resting on the worn banister, a skeptical look across her face. Then, with a decisive nod, she ascended the staircase.
As Daria stepped onto the landing, she could hear faint, muffled noises coming from within Jane’s bedroom. This seemed to be a good sign that Jane was actually in there, so she approached the room and rapped steadily on the door. There was a short pause and then she heard Jane’s voice, partially subdued through the oak door: “Yo! Come on in!”
Daria pushed the door open. Jane was sitting on her bed in Indian-style with a sketchbook on her lap. Her thin, longish hands were pulling a pair of headphones off her head, the apparent source of the strains of sound. The music blasting from them was quite loud, even from across the room.
Jane shifted her eyes toward the doorway and seemed taken aback at the sight of Daria. “Oh. Hi.” With a quick flip of her wrist, the headphones set shut off.
Well this is incredibly awkward, thought Daria as she moved toward the bed. The first thing she noticed, other than Jane’s surprised face, was a hideous pea green and black kitchen chair situated near the bed, one that looked very old and quite out of place. “Hmm. This is new,” Daria commented, coming to a halt and briefly looking it over with an expression of distaste.
“Oh yeah,” said Jane. “I got it at the flea market. Cool, isn’t it? Don’t know how long it’ll last, though.”
“Don’t worry,” replied Daria. “There’s no way it could look any worse than it does now, even in a hundred pieces.”
“Yeah,” Jane said again. “Then I could take the broken pieces and string them on a piece of fishing wire and hang it all around the room. That would be cool.”
“Mmm.” The response was neither congenial nor antagonistic. All right, enough small talk, Daria said to herself. “Are you avoiding me?” The words fled her lips in a serious, direct tone.
Jane looked at her with a feeble smile and said, “Uh, not anymore?”
The uneasiness that had initially barraged through Daria seemed to have subsided. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing, I just haven’t felt like talking to anybody,” Jane said, shrugging.
“I’m not anybody,” snapped Daria, rather stunned at how hurt she felt from Jane’s comment. “And I’d like to talk to someone.”
“But you’ve been talking to everyone,” said Jane unsympathetically.
“No. Everyone’s been talking to me,” Daria retorted, frowning. “There’s a difference.”
Jane was unmoved. “Well, what do you want to talk for anyway? You don’t care about what happened.”
“How can you say that?” asked Daria, the mere thought offensive to the point of nausea.
“You’ve been treating it like, ‘Oh well, another stupid day,’ ” Jane said, throwing her hands up in the air to illustrate her imitation. “The guy died, Daria.”
“I know he died. I’m sorry he died. But I’m not going to pretend that he was some great person when he wasn’t!” Daria exclaimed. It was all too easy now to blurt out what was bothering her: “You know, people aren’t upset because Tommy Sherman died, they’re upset because they’re going to die!”
The notion lingered in the air like a morning fog. Jane thought about it and admitted slowly, as if thinking aloud, “That’s understandable.”
A vast, figurative sigh of relief escaped through Daria’s breathing passages. “Okay. But you know what I’ve been hearing?” she asked, not waiting for an answer. “ ‘You know how I feel Daria, you’re gloomy.’ ‘I knew I could talk to you Daria, you’re always miserable.’ Tragedy hits the school and everyone thinks of me.” Her usual poker face had twisted into an irate scowl. “The popular guy died, and now I’m popular because I’m the misery chick. But I’m not miserable!” she insisted. Daria lowered her voice, which had risen to a yell, but was every bit as clear as she spoke again, enunciating her every syllable: “I’m just not like them.”
For a few seconds, they said nothing. Then Jane said, “It really makes you think.”
“Funny. Thanks a lot,” said Daria sarcastically. An immense feeling of betrayal kicked Daria in the stomach by kicking her from within. She headed for the door.
“No! That’s why they want to talk to you!” called Jane, leaning forward.
Daria broke off in mid-step and turned, the pain in her stomach vanishing with a mistaken pop. Against her better judgment, she slumped down on the ancient kitchen chair with a feeling similar to what one feels after jogging five miles. “What do you mean?” she asked uncertainly.
In two quick hand movements, Jane cracked her knuckles. Then she said, “Well, when they say, ‘You’re always unhappy Daria,’ what they mean is, ‘You think, Daria; I can tell because you don’t smile. Now this guy died and it’s making me think and that hurts my little head and makes me stop smiling.’ ” Jane extended one of her long fingers in Daria’s direction and carried on. “When they come to you for advice, it’s like they’re saying, ‘Oh Daria, tell me how you cope with thinking all the time, until I can get back to my normal vegetable state.’ ”
It was remarkable how well Jane could put things in perspective. “Okay,” said Daria, feeling a hundred times better. “So then why have you been avoiding me?”
“Because I’ve been trying not to think,” said Jane, drawing one leg close to her. “About the way we were making jokes about him dying and then boom, it happened?”
So, too, was this understandable. “We didn’t have anything to do with the guy dying. It was a freak accident,” Daria said.
“Yeah, well I don’t like it when I say people should die and then they do. I don’t want that kind of responsibility,” said Jane. “At least not until I’ve got a job in middle management.”
A small smirk made its way onto Daria’s face. “Hmm. Uh, I’m glad we finally talked,” she said, finding it, as usual, difficult to say a personally honest word. “You realize that I bit my mother’s head off because of your playing deaf ear?”
“Hey, better them than me, I always say,” answered Jane wryly.
There was a short, comfortable silence, the only noise coming from Jane’s antiquated heater vent. Finally, almost as an afterthought, Daria said, “You didn’t make him die.”
Jane dropped her legs over the side of the bed. “You’re not the misery chick.”
Daria rose to her feet and said conclusively, “All right, then.”
“All right, then,” Jane repeated.
“He shouldn’t have died,” said Daria. She hadn’t yet admitted this, not even to herself, but what was true was true.
Jane’s head shook regretfully. “No.”
“But he wasn’t a nice guy.”
Yes, what was true was true, and Jane knew it as well: “No.”
And just like that, the matter was closed. Everything had been said that had needed to be. And here were are, thought Daria, both still alive. Still, one other thing was bothering her. “Did Trent know you were up here?” she asked.
Her friend sighed. “Told him to tell anyone who showed up that I was out running,” said Jane. “What a surprise. He forgot.”
Daria shook her head earnestly. “No, he didn’t.”
Lawndale High was by no means back to its cheerful, superficial normality when Daria returned to school on Monday, but already, things were heading back in that direction. It wasn’t as if she had actually expected these people to brood over the accident for a long period of time, but even if Tommy Sherman was a big jerk, she was almost shocked to see how drastically things were changing back so soon. On Wednesday, the one-week anniversary of the accident, numerous things had been brought about and subsequently forgotten: the newspapers, after draining the juice dry from the Tommy Sherman incident, had swung all attentions to some other outrageous scandal involving a naive old lady and the laundering of cocaine money; the Fashion Club, after a mere two days of bouncing around the collection idea had dropped it in favor of something more relevant to the brainless and narcissistic; and the student body, after their brief mourning period, had gone back to being entirely self-absorbed.
I should really consider a career as a psychic buddy, thought Daria as she reflected on how predictable everything seemed to be while sitting in Mr. O’Neill’s class, bored perfectly out of her skull.
“ ‘It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,’ ” Mr. O’Neill was quoting as he held out a collection of Alfred Lord Tennyson poems in his hand in a dramatic gesture. “Just what is Lord Tennyson talking about?” He scoped out the class. It had taken him the whole quarter, but for the most part, he had finally gotten his students’ names down. “Brittany?”
It seemed to take Brittany all the effort she had to say, as she tipped her index finger to her chin, “Um... love?”
“Anyone else?” asked O’Neill, his voice breaking in dismay at Brittany’s answer. When no one volunteered, he fell back on his default choice. “Daria?”
“Well, he’s acknowledging that if something makes you feel good, like being in love, there must be a corresponding painful side, like losing a love,” Daria answered. “That’s just a fact of life.”
Mr. O’Neill’s face drooped, but he nodded in agreement. “Sad, but true.”
“And what’s intriguing about it is that no one calls Tennyson a big unhappiness freak just because he understands that,” said Daria resentfully. Like someone I might mention, she thought.
“Is he a big unhappiness... freak?” The word ‘freak’ seemed difficult for O’Neill to say and came out as a squeak.
“No, he’s a realist,” she contended, keeping her voice steady. “He says emotional involvement can bring pleasure and extraordinary pain. Then he declares that it’s still better than never feeling anything at all.”
A broad smile crossed Mr. O’Neill’s face as he leaned back against his desk, thoroughly satisfied. “That is excellent, Daria!” he exclaimed.
“Of course,” Daria added, her straight face never wavering, “this was written before the advent of community property laws.”
The misery chick strikes again, she said to herself, the biggest of inward smiles spreading across her as she watched Mr. O’Neill draw back in confusion.
At the end of class, with no homework to work on and nothing to read with the Tennyson book finished, Daria decided to take a trip to the library. Rather than her usual mini-siesta, Jane maintained that it was very important she escort Daria to and from the library, should Daria “need to shoulder to fall back on during these emotional times.” Mr. O’Neill agreed completely. The girls were halfway there when another girl’s deep voice called from behind them.
“Hello? Uh, Quinn’s cousin or whatever?”
Daria stopped and looked behind her. It had happened that the first thing Quinn did upon the Morgendorffers’ arrival in Lawndale was to make sure that everyone at Lawndale High knew that she and Daria were not sisters. It had been aggravating to Daria, but she had quickly found the ‘sister’ thing to be the perfect way to embarrass Quinn. Still, her little sister always managed to persuade her empty-headed friends that Daria was just some weird girl who was nothing more to her than distant family, and sometimes even less than that, no matter what Daria did to convince them otherwise. Daria had been called many things in relation to Quinn in her time at Lawndale, but ‘cousin’ was the most popular. “Yeah?”
The girl that had been calling her was Sandi Griffin, Quinn’s sometime friend, sometime rival and fellow officer in the Fashion Club. According to Quinn, she was a rigid and intimidating president, but as Sandi spoke to Daria, she looked timid and uncomfortable, as though Daria might pounce and maul at any second. She said uncertainly, “Quinn said you were really good with like, bummed out stuff?”
“Yeah...?” Daria wondered where this was going.
Sandi got right down to it. “My cat, he like got into my makeup or something and like OD-ed on foundation, and he spent the whole day puking,” she explained.
Jane smirked. “And experience left him questioning the meaning of life?”
“And I’ve been feeling really bad about it,” Sandi continued, paying no attention to Jane, “and I was wondering if you had like some advice or something.”
A golden opportunity seemed to be knocking at Daria’s door. She exchanged glances with Jane, who glowed with approval. “I’m afraid that inflation has forced me to institute a small fee for my services,” said Daria.
“Ten dollars,” Daria replied bluntly. “In advance.”
“Oh,” said Sandi. “Uh, sure.”
One of Sandi’s bracelet-adorned hands dug into a pocket on her short-alls and produced a ten dollar-bill.
“What is the animal’s name?” Daria asked, employing a fake voice of expertise.
“Uh, Fluffy,” said Sandi.
Daria tilted her head and stroked her chin, casting her eyes at the strip lighting. “I see,” she said. “Fluffy.”
A long silence followed. Daria kept her eyes on the ceiling and her hand on her chin.
After a minute or so, Sandi asked at last, “So, like what’s your advice?”
“Find some other way to feel,” said Daria decisively. “Then you won’t feel sad.” She extended her hand. “Good luck.”
Sandi clenched her fists tightly. “That’s what I get for ten dollars?!” she barked, placing her angry fists on her hips. “Are you kidding?!”
“See?” Daria said, her voice remaining calm. “It’s working already.”
Sandi’s brow sagged in bewilderment. She thought this over, a suspicious glaze over her eyes. Finally, she mumbled a persuaded “Thanks” and strutted off quickly down the hallway, back to the land of the shallow and stupid.
Jane and Daria watched her go, absorbing what had just happened. Her voice brimming with amusement, Jane remarked, “You just made ten bucks off that poor girl’s suffering.”
Daria looked down at the crisp ten-spot, then at Jane. “Yeah,” she said, “that was wrong.”
“Really,” Jane agreed. With a mischievous grin on her face, she looked over at Daria, who had on display one of her own rare smiles. “Next time...”
“The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.”
-- George Bernard Shaw
· Please let me know what you think. You can reach me at Wuzzahh28488@cinci.rr.com. I would appreciate comments, suggestions, feedback, just anything you feel like saying.
Last revision: July 8, 2003
This adaptation is not to be distributed without due credit of the adaptation author. This work is unofficial and non-profit, and should be viewed as such. "Daria" is a trademark of MTV Networks and MTV Animation, a division of Viacom International.