Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The First Five Pages Presents Sydell Voeller's Dummy & Me

Dummy & Book Book Cover

That stupid old feeling was haunting me again. I knew it was time to strike head-on. Flopping down on my bed, I closed my eyes and for the hundredth time called forth a picture in my mind. There I was in the school cafeteria with a bunch of kids clustered around me, talking and joking like it was the easiest thing I'd ever done.

My hair was no longer a mousy washed-out brown, but strands of curls fell, like the commercials say, with rich auburn highlights. My too-large nose was perfectly formed with just a hint of a ski-jump tip like Sally Murdock's, the most popular girl in the tenth grade class. I wore cool looking clothes with the latest designer labels—not the stuff I’d bought at Good Will. But the best part of all, I knew exactly what to say at exactly the right times. Even Jason Middleton, the class clown, laughed at my jokes. I had a major crush on him! The vision suddenly vanished. Negative vibes, the eternal culprit. It happened every time. As soon as I'd managed to concentrate on even a hint of my innermost dreams, there were those vibes, reminding me it was all impossible. My hopes faded as quickly as snowflakes striking a sun-warmed windowpane. During the past week I'd been reading this book about improving one's self-confidence. In it, the author said that you had to imagine yourself the way you wanted to be, tell yourself you'd already accomplished your goal, and then live as if you really believed it. Pretty soon you'd discover you were closer to your dream than you ever imagined possible.

I sighed, then shook my head. I'd tried it time and time again. Was it really possible for a fifteen-year-old like me?

Oh, it's not that I lacked friends totally. Tammy Haddon and I'd been best friends ever since second grade. And Delia Zeigler, my locker partner, sometimes joined Tammy and me when we walked to school.

Yet now at Meadow View High School, I wanted to stretch my wings and really belong to a special crowd.

The sound of my dad's angry voice jerked me from my thoughts. "Dede, how many times have I told you to start dinner before I get home?"

Springing up from the bed, I groaned. "Coming, Dad!"

A couple of years ago, Mom divorced Dad and took off for New York City to become an actress. They had always been so different. My father was contented to keep working at the cannery where he'd landed a job the day he'd graduated from high school. But my mother, who’d majored in drama and graduated from college with honors, was a dreamer.

I know Mom loved my older brother, Bryon, and me. I’ll never forget the look on her face that horrible day she told us good-bye, nor my own helpless feelings raging inside. How could she just walk off and desert us?

Still, she was restless, just like her grandfather, a famous ventriloquist in the fifties who traveled with the vaudeville. I could never change her restlessness.

I hurried out to the kitchen, nearly bumping into my father. "Sorry, I guess the time got away from me."

"Deanna, Deanna," he scolded, shaking his bald head. "The time always gets away from you. What were you doing? Lying in that room of yours and day-dreaming again?"

"Sort of.” I reached into the lower cupboard and grabbed a handful of potatoes. How could I ever explain to him about my latest attempts at positive action?

Author Sydell Voeller
"I suppose your brother is working down at the greasy spoon again."

"Dad, it isn't a greasy spoon. It's McDonald's. You know, a cherished American institution like motherhood and apple pie.” I'd borrowed those words from a commercial on TV.

He glanced up from the front page of The Oregon Reporter. Though his gray eyes looked weary, I could tell my dramatic proclamation had caught him by surprise. Or was it what I said, not how I said it? I wondered a split second later. Why had I mentioned motherhood and cherished institutions? I was only trying to get my point across, not open old wounds.

"Little do you know about motherhood," Dad grumbled. "Certainly nothing your mother ever taught you."

I sighed, saying nothing. It seemed he was always complaining about her.

Before she left, Mom had longed to go to the East Coast. Dad insisted on staying in Oregon. They fought about it constantly.

Yet secretly I couldn't blame him for complaining. Why couldn't she have been contented with her teacher's aide job at Blakely Elementary? Wasn't it enough to direct the annual school play and audition for roles at the community theater?

Dad snapped open a can of beer. "Better watch that day-dreaming, Dede. You'll end up just like your mother."

"So? There are worse things than being a dreamer."

I refused to tolerate his criticism any longer and rallied to Mom's defense. Funny how mixed up inside you could feel about someone you love. But Dad would never understand that. He was much too wrapped up in earning a living and hanging out at the Elks Club on weekends to care about me.
Dad clunked his lunch box down on the counter. “Did you get an e-mail from your mother today?” he asked.

I told him I had. 

"What's she up to now?"

"She's still stuck in that little rooming house, but she's hoping to find something better soon."

I yearned to be with her, yet I knew it was impossible. She could never afford to keep Bryon and me on her meager income. Dad didn't have extra money to send either. 

"You can read the e-mail if you like," I added.

"Later.” He dismissed my offer with a shrug.

I glanced up at the clock on the wall. I'd better hurry if I was going to get this dinner out on time.
"I hate cooking," I muttered to myself. "Why did Mom leave and dump it all on me?” Now that Bryon had turned seventeen and taken a part-time job at McDonald's after school, it was worse. At least he used to do the laundry in the evenings, but not anymore. That chore had been dumped on me too.

"What did you say, Dede?” Dad's words gave me a start. I hadn't meant for him to hear.

"Nothing," I answered. I shoved the potatoes into the microwave. "No over-time tonight?"

"Nope. The swing shift crew is finally shaping up, so I won't need to fill in for them. Good thing they hired two more men after Jarvis and Kettlemen quit."

The wrinkles in his forehead faded a little and I saw a hint of a smile on his lips. He rarely smiled anymore after the divorce. I'd watched him grow from a peppy, happy man to a bitter old one. We'd all suffered silently in one way or another, but I couldn't help thinking I'd suffered the most.

"Bryon's getting a raise next week," I told my father. "They told him within the next year, he might work his way up to evening manager.” I opened a box of Hamburger Helper and dumped it into the skillet of sizzling ground beef. The tangy smells of dehydrated onion rose up about me.

I waited for his reply, but when he didn't answer, I continued, "Bryon's doing a great job there. Remember, you were the one who told him it was time he helped out with the family finances.” I figured that should get a rise out of him.   
"Good. That way he can pay for his own car insurance. Next payment's due come April.” He gave the paper a quick snap. "The rates are getting just plum out of sight. Why, what with that and the price of gas, pretty soon it won't pay to drive a car, I tell you."

I stirred the hamburger concoction, watching the steam rising from the skillet. "I'll sure be glad when I can get a job. I mean a real one that pays. That way I won't have to bug you for new clothes or money to go to the movies with Tammy."

Every Saturday morning, I took the bus into Portland, Oregon to the children's hospital. I loved my volunteer job on the orthopedic ward. Lots of the patients stayed there for weeks and weeks, so I'd grown to know them well. It also proved a good escape from my chores at home.

“Tammy still your best friend?" he asked.

“Of course! Tammy and I will be friends forever." Though she'd recently signed up to work on the yearbook and because of that, made lots of new friends, I never doubted her undying loyalty.
"Good." Dad said. "Then maybe Tammy's mother can get you on at the hospital when you're old enough.” Mrs. Haddon was the activities director there and a lot like a second mom to me.

"She's already talked about that," I answered. "Says I stand an excellent chance of getting hired someday. Someday soon, matter of fact.” I was eager to let him know my efforts could possibly count for something in the long run. I'd always wanted to become a nurse for as long as I could remember.
That evening, after dinner dishes and homework were done, a bright new idea popped into my head. I'd try still another plan of attack in solving my self-confidence problems.

I grabbed my diary from the top of my dresser and thumbed through the pages. The blue vinyl covered book fell open to the last page, exactly where I wanted it to fall open.

I printed across the top in bold red letters, "My Plan for Positive Action.” In my book, the author had said you also needed to put your goals on paper.

There! It'd be simple. At the beginning of each week, I'd write down a new strategy, sort of adding one on top of the other like building blocks. This first week, I'd concentrate on smiling and saying hi to as many kids as I could, especially kids I didn't know. I wasn't sure exactly what I'd do for weeks number two, three, and so on, but I'd worry about that later.

As I closed my diary, anticipation stirred within me. It was only a matter of time:  Great things were just waiting to happen!

Sydell's Links
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  1. I've read this story, and it really is a sweet, fun read with a serious undercurrent.

  2. This is great, Sydell. I love Dede already.

  3. Norma Davis StoyenoffOctober 17, 2013 at 2:33 PM

    I thilnk these first five pages made me want to read the rest of the book. Although I'm not a teen-aged girl, I could connect with Dianna's yearning to be one of the more popular crowd. Didn't most of us feel that way once? I'd definitely give it four and a half stars out of five.