Jamie wrote me a song once. He only came up with the chorus, though, so I don’t know if that counts. The song was a guitar and a voice. It went like:
Girl, you’re like a rainbow
And I just wanna see all the colors of that rainbow
It was a good song, even if he rhymed rainbow with rainbow. The tune was catchy. You have to hear it, I think, to really get that it was good.
Jamie is in a band called Fuckleberry Hinn. Like the Mark Twain book. Fuckleberry Hinn used to be Jamie and Max and Stella, but Max moved to Vermont and Stella just sort of stopped showing up, so now it’s a one-man band.
Some people wouldn’t want to be in a band by themselves, but not Jamie. He is kind of a lone wolf type. He came in third at this year’s Battle of the Bands, just him and his guitar. Some people say he’s like a young Steven Daiber. Steven Daiber is a guy who went to our high school a few years ago and came in first at the Battle of the Bands, and now he works at the Arby’s in the mall food court.
Jamie first played the song for me in August. We were in our usual spots: me on the small couch with the big rip on the side and him on the ugly yellow armchair.
“This one’s called ‘Renée,’” he said.
“Like my name?”
He started playing. Even though one of the strings on his guitar was missing, it sounded awesome. I felt very lucky to be sitting there with him, listening to the song he made for me.
Then my left foot lifted off the carpet. At first I thought that I was just getting into the song or something. But then it was like I couldn’t control it, the foot just kept rising, higher and higher, and then the right one followed and then I was floating. I was about eye level with this poster of Michael Jordan that Jamie has in his basement. It’s a life-size poster, for reference.
“Whoa,” said Jamie. He put down the guitar.
“No! Don’t stop playing!” But I kept on floating. I was trying my best to think of heavy things like elephants and paperweights, like maybe I could will myself back onto the ground. After a few seconds it worked, and I drifted back to the orange shag carpeting.
“Are you okay?” Jamie asked. I nodded. “That hasn’t happened before, has it?” I shook my head. “So, does that mean you liked the song?”
“It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.” I asked him if he was planning to finish “Renée,” since it was so beautiful and could probably be a hit if he recorded it. He said he would work on it, but why was I always trying to pressure him to work on stuff, and I said I just believed in him was all, and he said something about how hard it was to think of words that rhyme with Renée and it turned into this whole big thing.
But anyways, that’s when I realized I could fly.
* * *
Mom made me go to the doctor, just to make sure.
Dr. Vraiman looked confused. He asked if I could show him what I meant by that.
I hovered a bit, like I had at Jamie’s house. I was able to move around the doctor’s office on my own. I’d been practicing in front of the mirror for a few days by that point.
“It definitely seems like flying,” said Dr. Vraiman. He frowned. “There’s not really a space for that on the form, though.”
“Do you have any advice for how I should fly?” I asked. “I don’t want it to be dangerous.”
“Don’t go too fast, I guess. There aren’t too many specifics on that.” He paused and looked down at the form. “Are you sexually active? Because, if so, there’s a whole checklist.”
I told my lunch table about the flying thing a few days later. Monday seemed too soon and Tuesday was Danielle’s birthday. I didn’t want her to think I was trying to steal the spotlight or anything. So I waited for a lull in the conversation on Wednesday.
“Seriously? That’s frickin’ awesome.” said Annie.
“So close to my birthday,” said Danielle.
“Damn,” said Nora. “That’s gonna make a killer college essay.”
* * *
Jamie wrote me a poem once. The poem was an acrostic, but still. It went like:
Really beautiful smile
English is her favorite subject
Never forgets anyone’s birthday
Éggplant pants (that one’s an inside joke)
Everything about her makes me happy
I taped the poem to the inside of my locker, next to my class schedule, so that I could see it at least seven times a day. Jamie would walk up behind me and say “Eggplant pants!” and we would laugh, every time.
* * *
My dad is always talking about long-term and short-term goals. My long-term goal is to be a writer who writes about music. My short-term goal is to go to college. My shortest-term goal is to write the essay that gets me into college.
I met with the college counselor a few weeks into the school year. Her name is Ms. Dreyfus. She swears in front of students, which is cool. Other than that she’s just okay.
“Here’s my essay,” I said, sliding the paper across her desk. “I wrote it a few days ago. It’s called ‘How Flying Helped Me Come to Terms with the Death of My Grandfather.’”
“Renée,” she said. She didn’t look happy. “My God, Renée. You turned this into a dead grandpa cliché?”
“It’s just that we were really close so —”
“Jesus, Renee, it’s not about that. I’m sorry for your loss. But do you know how many essays about dead grandpas those admissions officers have read? It’s old news, Renée. It’s old hat.”
“Maybe if I wrote about something else then? Maybe something other than my grandpa or flying?”
“No, Renée, of course not. The flying is gold. Fucking gold. Maybe if you turned the flying into some sort of metaphor?”
“I don’t think —”
“Turn it into a metaphor and get back to me.”
* * *
Lots of days I did homework in Jamie’s basement while he messed around with his guitar. Sometimes that involved more tuning than playing. Jamie is pretty meticulous.
“Why did you get to leave Mr. Konetsky’s class early?” he asked, turning one of the knobs a little too far to the right, then too far to the left.
“They had me go to some physics class for a demonstration. About resistance or something, I don’t know.”
We didn’t say anything for a few minutes while he tweaked an uncooperative string.
“It’s like you’re a celebrity or something,” Jamie said.
He strummed the guitar. It sounded terrible.
* * *
“Do you think the flying is psychological?” Annie asked me one day in homeroom. The thing about Annie is that she is always trying to diagnose everybody. So I usually take what she says with a grain of salt or whatever.
“It’s definitely physical flying. I go up in the air. I move really fast. I don’t think it’s a dream or anything.”
“No, I mean like maybe it has a psychological cause. Have you been unusually sad lately?”
“How are things with Jamie?”
“They’re good.” I was staring at my desk and chewing on my thumb. “Did I tell you he wrote me a song?”
“Yeah.” she said. “Multiple times.”
I looked up. It seemed like a good moment to make meaningful eye contact with her, to have my eyes say “figure me out” or “what’s the next move” or something, but it didn’t matter because Annie was looking away. I followed her gaze to a boy by the door. The boy wasn’t staring back at her. He just kept turning the pencil sharpener, even though there wasn’t a pencil in it. Annie shook her head.
* * *
Sometimes when Jamie and I were sitting in his basement, I would just look at him. There are some people you can look at forever and their faces stay interesting. That’s how my mom feels about Dennis Quaid. It’s also how I feel about Jamie.
He has good hair — brown and longish, so that it curls up from the sides of his neck. He opens the left side of his mouth wider than the right. He has movie-star teeth.
I wonder if Jamie ever thought about me like that. Not that I have an especially interesting face. But maybe he thinks my eyes are shaped like big grocery-store almonds, or that my ears are a good size for my head. I don’t know. It’s probably self-centered for me to think about that.
It didn’t seem like Jamie liked the fact that I could fly. Maybe he didn’t like that I was getting attention instead of him. He never said that, outright. He isn’t really an outright person. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, obviously, just something I’ve noticed. When you spend a lot of time with someone, you realize things about them that even they don’t know.
* * *
One of the neat things about being able to fly is that you get to be interviewed on the 6 o’clock news. My segment was third, after an exposé on some brand of 2% milk actually having an extra percent and the announcement of the Wisconsin State Lottery numbers.
The interview questions were easy to answer, especially since the redheaded anchor lady spoke very slowly.
“When did you first learn you could fly?”
“A few months ago.”
“What a surprise that must have been!”
“Yeah. Well, at first I didn’t know what was going on, so I was sort of calm I think.”
“And how does it feel when you’re up there, Renée?” the redheaded anchor lady asked. She didn’t seem to be blinking enough. I wondered if maybe her eyes would dry up and fall out of their sockets, and then the eye-raisins would roll off the desk and over to the weatherman, and he would pick them up and say something like “Looks like a dry one today!”
“Renée?” the redheaded anchor lady repeated. Her eyes were still socketed. “How does it feel?”
“It feels…” I couldn’t think of anything good to say. “Like I’m flying.”
“What a sense of humor, Renée!” But she didn’t laugh.
There were a few more questions and then it was over, since they had to reveal more lottery numbers. We could hear the announcement from across the studio.
“Shit,” said the redheaded anchor lady, ripping a Million-Dollar Win-sconsin Lotto card in two.
* * *
“I figured it out!” Annie told me a few days later.
“Figured what out?”
“The flying! It’s a metaphor!”
“A metaphor for what?”
She wrinkled her nose. “I dunno. Life?”
* * *
Jamie and I broke up last week. Well, he broke up with me. But I don’t have to tell people that.
We were in his basement, as usual.
“Is this because of the flying?” I asked.
“It’s not unrelated.”
“Is this about how I got to be on the news? I know you were jealous of that.”
“Of course not,” he said, but I could tell he was lying. I can always tell when Jamie is lying. “Mostly I think I just need time to myself, to focus on my music.”
“But you’re already focusing on your music. You spend all your time down here, working on the band.”
“That’s the thing,” Jamie said. “I don’t know if Fuckleberry Hinn is working out. It’s kind of weird being the only one in the band. And it’s not even that funny a name.”
“It is if you’ve heard of the book,” I said. By this point I was definitely crying, mostly because I couldn’t help it but also because I knew it would make him feel bad.
I thought about the poem, which was still taped to my locker, and how I would have to take it down, and how the paper would rip. I thought about snapping one of his guitar strings, or at least twisting one of the knobs really far in one direction so that it would take hours for him to re-tune. But what I really wanted was to get out of that stupid basement.
“Oh, and by the way,” I said as I stood up, “it’s not that hard to think of words that rhyme with Renée.”
If I had happened to have a rhyming dictionary with me, I could have told him parfait or display or soufflé. I could have said valet or survey or fillet. I could have made him feel really dumb.
But I guess it’s impossible to plan for these sorts of things, so I just gathered up my stuff and flew home.
* * *
The second draft of my essay took a lot longer than the first. For one thing, I had a lot of stuff on my mind. For another, I couldn’t think of any good metaphors. But eventually I thought of something to say.
I had a follow-up meeting with Ms. Dreyfus to show her the draft of my new essay. She had me read it out loud.
By Renée DuFrain
Lots of kids dream about flying. They jump off of couches and diving boards into pillows and pools. They want to be pilots and astronauts and butterflies. When I was little I wanted to be a pirate, or possibly a mermaid. I had no interest in soaring through the air or touching the clouds. And the funny thing is: I’m the only person I know who can actually fly.
Most people think that being able to fly would be great. They think it would be really peaceful to be all alone, up in the sky. The population density of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I live, is 6,214.3 people per square mile. In the sky it’s just me. And birds. But birds won’t throw you a surprise party or come to your little sister’s baptism or write you a song. People don’t realize that it can be lonely up there.
Everyone says flying is some kind of metaphor, but for what? I don’t think it has to mean anything. Maybe one day I’ll want to be alone, speeding through the air like some kind of superhero. Right now I would rather be on the ground. Flying didn’t make me more adventurous. It just made me confused. I’m still the same person, I think. So here’s a metaphor for you: Flying is like not flying. It’s just higher.
Ms. Dreyfus looked at me.
“Renée,” she said. “That’s a fucking simile.”