I’ve been teaching a class about YA at The Loft for the past couple weeks, and one of the things we’ve discovered is how important waiting and boredom are in YA. Pick up any good YA novel, and you’ll find periods of waiting around for something—anything—to happen that would make Dan Brown’s head explode. Why does it work, then? Because it’s true. Adolescence is all about waiting in its many forms.
I’m sure I’ve quoted this bit from Lorrie Moore’s Who Will Run the Frog Hospital a million times now, but it remains one of the best passages about adolescence I’ve ever read:
“My childhood had no narrative; it was all just a combination of air and no air: waiting for life to happen, the body to get big, the mind to grow fearless.”
I’m also thinking of this because I’m getting ready for our librarian and reviewer preview in New York in a couple weeks. Steve Brezenoff will be with me at the event, and we’re going to do a sort of Q & A about his novel, The Absolute Value of –1. I may have to ask him about waiting. Here are excerpts from each of the three principal narrators:
Our first day back was a cold Monday, but after meeting with Ms. March for an hour, I decided to take a route around the back of the school, past the track, on my way to the front door to wait for Simon. I walked right up against the school, where the black sidewalk is, across the soccer field from the track itself. No one would have noticed me, not from up on the track—possibly even from right on the sidewalk with me, but I digress. The point is I wasn’t spying, really. But I could pick out Simon well enough. Even from that distance, picking out the redhead among all those brown-haired Jewish boys isn’t too hard. Once I spotted him, I thought I’d be sick: he was hanging out with Melanie. Even after three years watching her, I still could hardly believe it.
While I stood there, struck immobile with shock and disgust, Simon collapsed onto the infield lawn—that’ll teach him to join track again after the year and a half we’ve had together. Melanie was immediately by his side, leaning over him, with her bleached hair falling all over the place. Then he took her hand and got up. For every instant, every tiny fraction of a second, that his hand was in hers, my stomach got tighter and tighter. Finally he let go and went to the starting blocks, and I was able to walk again, though barely. I reached the front door as my step count hit 372, and I sat on the curb, surrounded by all these other goddamn idiots, yapping and yapping and ignoring me—not a complaint—and took out a cigarette and lit it. I didn’t cry.
“You don’t have to wait for me,” Simon said when he walked up.
That afternoon, Lily wasn’t going for my boob strategy at all, as you can see. I glanced into the Gap, then pulled my cigarettes from my back pocket and lit one. (They’re menthols; I can smoke and have fresh breath all in one shot.) I figured I’d wait a minute to see if Simon was going to show up at all. It was after five, so I was pretty sure he’d come and gone already, before Lily and I even got there. This was back when Simon never hung out past five on weeknights.
But whatever. I was in no hurry at all to get home. At home there are exactly five things that interest me at all, and four of those are televisions. The other is dinner, when it happens, which is pretty rare.
Plus the one thing you can pretty much bet on, my dad will be home, sitting in his office at the back of the house. He’ll be puffing away at some nasty cigar, screaming into a goddamn phone, watching six finance networks. Once in a while he might stick his head out to shout at my mom, or to call me a goddamn faggot.
Wanna come over?
with the shade all the way down
the stars on the ceiling are faded
and it’s dark
i’m waiting for the light to come through the door
and up the stairs and into my room
to hold me
Actually, the climax of Simon’s whole section takes place in a waiting room…