The award-winning author and English educator shares an excerpt from “How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought.”
Fifteen-year-old Wendy Redbird Dancing has just moved to a new school thanks to her mom, Sunny, who tends to follow the latest heartthrob in her life. A loner who’s often bullied, Wendy worships Michael Jackson’s music. After a day of being bullied at school, Wendy falls apart.
Sunny is doing yoga in her room when I make it home, so thankfully I can dodge the rambling chitchat. The older I get, the friendlier Sunny Revere gets, striving after total BFF-dom, glad she need no longer worry about the state of my nutrition or hygiene. Not that she would notice the mud and bruises anyway.
Once inside my room, I start to shake. My pulse soars, my temples throb, my skin ignites. Just some Deanna PTSD—you’ll be all right—No, I won’t! My chest’s tight as a drum; there’s no air! Count! Count! Count knots in the pine of all doorframes—door to living room, door to closet, door to bathroom—1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15-16. My heart’s so fast I might die, I might die, I must leave all of this, right now, this life as a target—16, always it must be 16, the age I’ll be this summer, which times 2 is 32, the age by which I will have won an Emmy or a Tony, and times 3 is 48, which is the age when I will be at least 16 years living in a far-flung region, Luxembourg or Madagascar or Nova Scotia…
I put my head between my knees; my breath is back in ragged bits. Focus on what you can count. I see 16 CDs in each of 7 stacks, as I own 7 of St. MJ’s 11 solo albums. From the 1979 spark of dying disco brilliance, Off the Wall, through the 2001 Invincible, I possess exactly 16 copies of each for emergencies, study, and worship.
My eyes light on the best of the 7, the story of perfection: Thriller. My heart slows. 1982. I cradle the CD in my hands, Michael in all his sexy serenity of purest black and white. The best-selling album of all time and winner of a record-breaking 8 Grammys.
You’d wanna be startin’ something should you say anything could ever beat it. No mere mortal can resist it, the very essence of our human nature. This is such an interesting revelation I become supremely calm.
When Sunny busts in, sweating, half-naked in some unidentified male’s boxers and a sodden Twilight November 2008 T-shirt, I’m laid out flat on the floor in a half-doze, feeling hardwood work my shoulders like a brutal masseuse, CD on my solar plexus, listening to “Human Nature” on my stereo 16 times.
“Wendybird, don’t you get sick of that album?”
I hit Stop on the remote; the song is ruined. I say, “Did you know at one time Michael Jackson owned 30 rats? He wasn’t so keen on them when they started eating each other.”
Sunny grimaces. “Gross! TMI!”
“And no, I do not get sick of this album.”
“I can’t believe I ever listened to it.” She releases her damp flood of hair from its topknot; now her face looks ten feet long. “What about Lady Gaga? She’s great about gay consciousness.”
“Please.” I close my eyes. “Pale imitation of Madonna.”
Sunny takes some yoga breaths, whistling through her nose. “Sweetie, I’m headed to Nature Fare. I might have a friend over tonight.”
“Is this gentleman caller the reason we left home in a panic?” My voice is cool, distant, adult: soon I will have no more need of her and her seventh-grade love affairs.
She flushes red to her roots. “Help me clean up. This house is a wreck.”
I sit up. “That’s not the only wreck, but never you mind.”
About Lyn Fairchild Hawks ’86
Lyn Fairchild Hawks ’86 is an award-winning author and English educator. She is the author of the contemporary young adult novel “How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought” and “Minerda,” a middle-grade graphic novella collaboration with illustrator Robin Follet. She is also the author of a collection of literary short stories, “The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future.” Lyn is the recipient of the Norma Fox Mazer Award from the Vermont College of Fine Arts program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and an Elizabeth George Foundation grant. In her other life, Lyn is the owner of Success Story, a consulting service that helps students harness storytelling strategies to deliver a standout college essay.
“I’m still inspired by what I read at Ravenscroft, whether Harper Lee or Shakespeare,” she said. “How can I capture human nature, nothing new under the sun, in a whole new way? Walk in someone else’s shoes a while? I keep at it because I see how much our kids care. They want change, hope and love. They ask questions we forget to ask. As I write, I keep them in mind, and trust kindred spirits will follow.”
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