Alienated Youth Part Cinque

Tanya had not so much friends as “cases,” people who exemplified a certain cause, people who were moving targets in milltown. Shirley, Tanya’s best friend, was Asian and working class; her parents owned Wong’s Diner in the middle of the oft-deserted old downtown. When townfolk went out for Chinese, Shirley’s dad cooked their dinner behind the old-style counter and Shirley’s mom brought it to their naugahyde booth.

Unlike Tanya, Shirley didn’t have much to say about all this. If Tanya brought up the times Shirley’d been called “Chink” by the the sons and daughters of the town’s labour leaders, Shirley’d shrug and say something flatly like “yeah, the jerks,” but then she’d go quiet and stare at the passing landscape out the window of the shotgun seat (Shirley’s seat always, Tanya was quick to remind other passengers). Sometimes, she might tell a quick story, but this sort of talk was a bit more dangerous for Shirley than for Tanya. Tanya had big plans for graduation; she was hellbent for the city, for UBC, and beyond. And maybe Shirley would go too but she was also likely to inherit the diner in a few years. And, there was no city dad. Shirley’s dad was no mystery; he was right there in the middle of town, pulling chop suey across a hot griddle.

Shirley seemed to like the way Tanya could parlay a raw deal into something full of meaning– a bit like how Springsteen can turn a life of factory work lyrical–but a few feet outside of the cone of Tanya’s vision, Shirley quickly morphed back into being an Asian high school girl in a town waiting for Wal-Mart to be created.

Before I moved to town, Tanya’d taken on another white girl, Marlene. Two factors seem to qualify Marlene for Tanya’s caseload: She was skinny beyond the dictates of fashion and she was the adopted only child of the two oldest parents I’d ever seen. They lived on a busy street in a tiny, overheated house crammed with knickknacks, doilies and glass bowls of peppermints. Her gray parents were perpetually parked in front of Alex Trebek with their Swanson’s TV dinners. Like Tanya, Marlene had a car, presumably because her parents were too old to drive anymore.

And then me, of course. I think we’ve established that I was pitiable enough make Tanya’s list, pitiable the way we can pity an antelope that’s wandered into a lion’s den. I had no business being in this town and yet I was.

All this being said, it seemed to me that Tanya would want to take on Bruce, the gay boy in denial living deep in homophobia’s heartland. Except. Except, Tanya sniffed the air with contempt when Bruce’s name came up. Unlike Marlene, Shirley and I, Bruce was like Tanya. He was an alpha. A ruler among misfits. And so this is how I came to spend my senior year–the year when my city friends scampered from one grad party to the next—trying to please both Bruce and Tanya, both of whom I loved in a crazy sort of way.

(Skip the “What We Write About” post to get to Part Six of this eight-part story : ))

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