I’m Already Doing What I Want
by Royal Young
Louisa was supposed to be famous, like, a year ago. She was already a junior at LaGuardia high school across from Lincoln Center and all her drama major friends had been in movies or at least fucked a celebrity.
Louisa was supposed to have everything. She deserved everything. She had been diagnosed with cancer when she was 14, after peeing blood for weeks. Her parents had cried and bought her pink teddy bears with tiaras. She ripped the stuffing out of the toys, throwing it from her hospital window and watching as the white fluff floated away towards the Hudson River. The bearskins were lifeless then, shiny black button eyes staring out from flattened fur. Louisa didn’t know why this made her so satisfied.
When her father asked where her sweet honey loving bears had gone, Louisa smiled humbly, adjusting the red patterned kerchief hiding her own shedding scalp, “I donated them to the pediatric ward Papa,” she said. She knew her father loved being called Papa, a word which spoke to his Polish roots.
Louisa’s Mama brought her make-up to hide the purple sacks under her eyes and cried because her little puppet might die before she got married and produced grandchildren, more little puppets.
Louisa’s Mama was beautiful. Her Papa was rich. So why did they live in Long Island? Louisa had loved Long Island when she was growing up, the summers packed with splashing in and out of pools, old trees rustling sunlit leaves against the clouds, smoke rising off Papa’s grill as he turned meats over and over, strips of steak and Kielbasa.
But then Louisa discovered Broadway, the bright lights of the city, the filthy rush of taxis, the smell of Penn Station, portal to all this famous life: hot dogs, fried doughnuts, beer drank by handsome older men in suits. City life was for Louisa. That’s where the celebrities lived! She couldn’t wait to meet them. They would recognize her right away. She would get rich and famous and give money to other little girls who got cancer freshman year of high school and didn’t get their period for a year because they lost so much weight. Papa and Mama had bought her everything she didn’t want then. All she wanted was time with them. But Papa had to work and Mama had to tan and Louisa couldn’t give little girls with cancer time when she was famous, because famous people never had time. She would give them money instead.
Now Louisa was 16 and cured. She had curly blonde hair, bouncy tits and a fierce conviction a Hollywood producer would discover her any second. Louisa knew something great would happen to her.
Louisa turned on her iPhone secretly under her desk in first period English to see if she’d gotten any new Twitter followers. How could you concentrate on Hamlet at 8:45am? Louisa didn’t care if it was a play and she was an actress. Shakespeare was a fag. No one talked like that anymore.
“Does death excite you Louisa? Does Hamlet excite you?” Mr. Finkelstein suddenly shouted at her, “Are you paying attention or is your mind wandering to Facebook? Don’t you understand that status updates lack the complicated oomph of to be or not to be?”
“Status updates like, are our to be or not to be,” Louisa said.
“Exactly!” Mr. Finkelstein grinned. “Very perceptive, Louisa.”
Louisa was confused.
Mr. Finkelstein had totally thick fingers and was sort of tan. Louisa imagined he was maybe from Israel since he was Jewish but he talked like an American, except the rhythm of his speech was more singsong. Louisa had learned about rhythms of speech in acting class. She was pretty good at copying them. Louisa felt strange whenever he fixed her with his eyes. They were hot, not cool ocean and sky like regular blue eyes, but burning up.
Mr. Finkelstein made her feel stupid and also excited in an angry way. In her bedroom in Long Island, she thought about him and squeezed her tits really hard. Then she humped her pillow until she came. It was her first orgasm and shocked her. Her whole body felt warm, especially the tops of her thighs and she felt caught in a long scream, emerging from the orgasm breathless as though she had just been lifted to the surface of her parent’s pool after that first cold leap of early spring from the diving board when the heater was still struggling to warm the water.
Louisa planned on sucking a dick. It belonged to Caesar, who was the cutest boy in her movement class. The teacher forced all the boys to wear tights, and Caesar didn’t have the biggest bulge, but he got all the leading parts because he had straight dirty blonde hair, a square jaw and abs that rippled when he reached his arms over his head in relaxation exercises.
“I’ll suck ur dick…” Louisa DM’d him on Twitter one night when she was bored.
“hell yah lets do dis” he wrote back immediately.
The next day Caesar came up behind her in the lunchroom and slapped her ass as she was waiting in line for a cheeseburger.
“Oh my god!” She hit his shoulder.
“Babe,” he said.
“Let’s get out of here,” she winked.
“Hell yeah,” he said.
She took his hand, which was grossly sweaty and led him out of the lunchroom to the lockers of the dance studios.
“So um, you want my cock,” Caesar said. He didn’t seem confident now they were alone, but he still had his leading man smirk, stuck in a permanent role.
“Show me your big dick,” Louisa said, but she wasn’t excited and already knew it wasn’t big. This was like acting.
“Hell yeah,” Caesar said, slipping it through the zipper of his Uniqlo skinny jeans. It was kinda long, but super thin. Total disappointment.
Caesar jizzed in like one minute. It tasted like boogers, gum after it had lost its flavor and Raisin Bran. Louisa wished she’d stayed for the cheeseburger.
Louisa’s next class was English with Mr. Finkelstein. Mr. Finkelstein barged into the classroom, late as usual, his eyes wild. He sheltered a brown paper bag protectively under his arm.
“We will all die!” Mr. Finkelstein shouted, slamming his copy of Hamlet down on his desk.
Louisa was not fazed by Mr. Finkelstein’s theatrics. She noted the sweat stains in his armpits with disgust. A hasty and imperfect performance.
“As teenagers you may feel impervious to death. Yet, Hamlet as a young prince was haunted by it. You are not indestructible,” Mr. Finkelstein continued to rant.
Louisa applied cotton candy flavor lip-gloss, immediately wiped it off. It suddenly reminded her of the hospital’s medical grade sick sweet toothpaste in her cramped bathroom, gleaming with metal sink.
“Ghosts are everywhere and not the supernatural kind that appear to Hamlet, but the reminders of mortality that haunt us daily. These portents stir Hamlet to vengeance. In modern life, what reminders of death motivate us to do more with our lives?” Mr. Finkelstein grandly asked the class. No one answered.
“Fools!” Mr. Finkelstein cried. He reached into his paper bag, and withdrew a human skull.
“On loan from our biology lab,” Mr. Finkelstein assured. “A powerful symbol of all we can achieve before we meet our end.”
Shirley the twat raised her hand, “I want to create interior spaces that are magical. That’s why I’m studying art, so I can paint the insides of houses with fantasies.”
“Very poetic Shirley,” Mr. Finkelstein nodded.
Louisa was annoyed. What did Shirley know about death? Louisa was the one who had tubes stuck in her vagina and needles in her arms, who had chemo and horrible dreams every night of a tropical land where cannibals ate young girls, then used their innards to enrich the soil, growing palm trees they built huts and cooking fires from.
“I’m already doing what I want,” Louisa said, without raising her hand. “Every day I’m becoming more famous. Every day is a reality show starring me. Every acting class and movement lesson, every time I swish down the street with headphones on, every guy who hollers at me, every ‘like’ I get on Facebook, every follower I have on Twitter, all these things are what I want before I die.”
“You are a wild and precocious young woman Louisa,” Mr. Finkelstein smiled at her.
“Thanks,” Louisa said.
“Louisa, please stay after class,” Mr. Finkelstein said when the bell rang.
Louisa dumped herself into a chair by his desk. Once everyone had left, the classroom took on a different shape. Light slanted in through the large windows. She could see a strip of the Hudson River through tall buildings, shining in the sun and refracted glow from skyscrapers. It smelled of wood, erasers and frustrated young life. For a moment, Louisa imagined an older version of herself who was happy. Mr. Finkelstein closed the door.
“You were very impassioned when you spoke in class today Louisa,” he said.
“So now I’m wild, precocious and passionate,” she smirked.
“I’d like to hear more from you,” he smiled. “You have good ideas.”
No one had ever told Louisa her ideas were good. Papa said she was innocent. Mama said she was pretty. Her drama teachers told her she was dramatic. But no one cared about what went on inside Louisa’s head.
“I don’t think we should be learning Shakespeare,” Louisa heard herself say, “Scholars who have studied literature for years can’t even understand Shakespeare. Why should you expect a bunch of horny, bored 16 year-olds to?” Louisa was surprised. She hadn’t realized she felt this way.
Mr. Finkelstein laughed, “There’s plenty of sex in Shakespeare.”
“It’s not very juicy,” Louisa laughed too.
Mr. Finkelstein looked at his watch.
“Let’s talk more another time,” he said, “I like you a lot Louisa.”
“Cool,” she said.
When she walked out of the class she tossed her blonde curls and shook her ass. She knew Mr. Finkelstein noticed.
Louisa’s parents never noticed. By the time she got home from school, after an hour on the Long Island Railroad, staring at grey highways and brown marshes, Mama was on her second bottle of Chardonnay, watching “Dancing With the Stars,” in the living room. Papa was in his office, his Polish accent getting thicker and thicker as he screamed on his Blackberry. Louisa gave her mother a kiss on both cheeks, inhaling stale, sweet breath from the bottom of the bottle.
“You go to eat. Be strong,” Mama slurred.
The Mexican maid had been trained in proper cuisine and there was veal with mushrooms and kasha warming on a plate in the microwave. Eating alone in her parent’s kitchen, Louisa did not feel strong.
The next day, after school, Louisa sat on the cold, stone steps of Lincoln Center. Caesar was supposed to meet her but it had already been 45 minutes since the last period bell. Even though she didn’t even like Caesar, in the cold early spring air, Louisa worried that she had given a shitty blowjob and now he didn’t like her. The next train she could make to Long Island wasn’t for another hour.
Louisa saw Mr. Finkelstein rush out of the school doors, eyes stuck on a stack of messy papers. He wandered into the street, oblivious to oncoming traffic and leapt back in surprise at the blare of cars. She smiled, unzipped her jacket and pushed up her tits.
“Mr. Finkelstein,” Louisa called.
He didn’t look up.
“Mr. Finkelstein!” She projected this time.
“Oh, hello,” he seemed confused. Then he said her name, “Louisa.”
“Grading essays?” She twirled a finger through her curls.
“Trying to forget about them,” he grinned. “What are you still doing around?”
“I was thinking more about Hamlet,” Louisa lied. She was thinking about the bulge in Mr. Finkelstein’s crumpled slacks, betting it was bigger than Caesar’s.
“Oh yeah?” The sad, dazed look in Mr. Finkelstein’s eyes now cleared and he looked at her fully. “Do you have a few minutes to talk? I’ll grab you something warm, a hot cocoa maybe? My treat.”
“I have an hour. I would soooo love one,” Louisa said.
“Tell me more about your life, Louisa,” Mr. Finkelstein proposed. They had come to the steps of Bethesda Fountain. It seemed to Louisa they had been walking and talking for days, the busy city streets around her fading as Mr. Finkelstein soaked in every word she let drop. They hadn’t mentioned Hamlet once. She had told him about wanting to be famous, feeling life was rushing cruelly past her, every second something she was missing. She had told him about her parents, Mama’s heavy sleeps, clutching an empty wine glass to her breasts like a baby that needed to be fed, Papa’s screaming business calls, his car taillights blinking out of their driveway late at night, not returning till early morning when Louisa, woken by her own hungry ambition was brushing her teeth and getting ready for school. Louisa stared down the broad stone steps at the fountain below. There, against the skeletons of bare tree limbs an angel perched, no water pouring from her founts, but pigeons flanking her wings, making them bristle with feathers, alive in flight.
“I had cancer,” she said.
“But you’re so young,” Mr. Finkelstein seemed shocked, “and healthy and beautiful.”
“Now.” Louisa said, “Now I am.”
“So that’s where all this attitude comes from. That’s how you knew about death,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. She had never felt closer to anyone.
“You’re lost Louisa,” he said. “Fame and attention is not what you need. Death has you chasing the wrong things. Celebrity should not be mistaken with immortality. You will never have a close human connection if you continue living the way you are. You’re a smart girl, I know you know this.”
Louisa was shocked. The part of her that knew Mr. Finkelstein was right made her hate him even more. Who was he to flatter her mind, open her up, buy her cocoa and walk with her through the trees, letting her secrets leak out of her like sap only to cut them down? Fuck him. She wanted to.
“You’re so smart Mr. Finkelstein,” Louisa said. She put her small hand on his big thigh, running her fingers lightly over the inseam of his pants.
“So are you Louisa,” Mr. Finkelstein said, gently removing her hand and placing it back in her lap. Mr. Finkelstein got up. He wrapped his big arms around her. Louisa felt warm.
“Be safe Louisa,” he said. “I don’t think we should meet outside of school again. But I want you to know it’s been a pleasure getting to know you. I’ll see you in class and I’d be happy to talk more in an appropriate setting.”
Louisa watched Mr. Finkelstein walk away. She was happy and angry and small. She was rejected.
That night Louisa dreamt the teddy bears she had destroyed in the hospital two years ago had crept all over the city picking up pieces of their fluff. With furry paws they stuffed themselves back up, their bellies filling out till they were paunchy. Jovially they helped each other sew in the filling and took the Long Island Railroad out to visit Louisa. They drank beer mixed with honey on the train and when they arrived at her house they danced in a circle on her lawn by the light of the moon singing, “For Louisa is a jolly good fellow! That nobody can deny!”
“Caesar Strom has told me he saw you and an English teacher, Mr. Finkelstein holding each other in Central Park after school hours,” Ms. Faye frowned.
Ms. Faye, the head of the Drama Department had called Louisa into her office. She had frizzy dyed red hair, a saggy face. Louisa didn’t give a shit what Ms. Faye thought or what that small prick loser Caesar said, but she blushed with fury and embarrassment. That moment with Mr. Finkelstein had been private and pure. Mr. Finkelstein was strong. When he held her, she understood the sonnets, smelled dying leaves smashed under her feet, recognized the beauty of her own near demise, had forgotten for like, five minutes about the sad spotlight she was chasing. Mr. Finkelstein had lifted Louisa up and then sent her plummeting back down. Now, Ms. Faye was staring at Louisa judgmentally through her bitch spectacles, like Louisa was a whore.
“Louisa, if something untoward is happening between you and Mr. Finkelstein it is a very critical matter. It is of the utmost importance that you inform me immediately if your relationship with him has progressed beyond—you know what I mean. As you also know, we are a highly respected school with strong connections in the arts community. If word of any student, teacher liaison leaked to the press it would be a feeding frenzy.”
Louisa licked her lips. Mr. Finkelstein made her feel, sexy, grown-up and smarter. But he also made her feel ashamed of who she was in a way she didn’t understand. Louisa remembered Mr. Finkelstein’s grip, his arms so firm around her ribs, keeping her safe. Yet, Caesar and Ms. Faye, the cancers of the world, still leaked in. Mr. Finkelstein was wrong. Celebrity was immortality. Louisa wanted to be! She pictured herself in a dark black blouse, oversize hat and sunglasses running from CNN cameras. She imagined her Twitter followers growing and growing. She’d have her own hashtag #SexyStudentStarLouisa. She’d be invited on talk shows. She’d write a memoir and then star in the movie version of it. People you cared about hurt you. Louisa cared about Mr. Finkelstein. She also cared about press. If she was on television every night, her parents would have to see her. Louisa at least deserved that.
“But Mr. Finkelstein loves me,” Louisa said. She started to cry. Right on cue.
Royal Young was born and bred in New York’s Lower East Side. He contributes literary coverage to Interview Magazine and covers the neighborhood’s changing arts scene for The Lo Down.