“It is,” she said, and she was sincere because she was Sooz and she got it. “It really is.”
I didn’t tell her the rest. The best part.
The news could come at any moment. Or years from now.
I could be the one to make it.
And then everyone would notice.
Everyone would love me and respect me.
“I don’t get how you can like Andi,” Sooz said later that day, at her house. “She’s so mean. She once made so much fun of another girl that she went into the bathroom and cried for, like, an hour.”
I filed that one away, another “mean Andi moment” brought to you courtesy of Sooz, who has an endless supply.
“Jamie likes her,” I explained. “So there must be something to her, right? It’s just biology. Attractive specimens are good by definition—they reproduce and they pass down their genes.”
“This isn’t science,” Sooz said. “You’re in love with the guy. She’s your arch nemesis, not a science experiment.”
But I just couldn’t find it in me to hate Andi. I figured it had to be difficult to be her. There were all kinds of stresses that came with being Andi, things I couldn’t understand because I was not her. She was beautiful and funny and athletic and popular and I was…
When I was a kid, I had a picture book about T. rex. It talked about how juvenile T. rexes probably hunted in packs, and there was an illustration of a bunch of them ganging up on a lizard, probably an ancestor of the crocodile, judging by the spine and the tail.
But it was weird. They weren’t biting it or slashing at it or even touching it. They just surrounded the poor thing, which was slithering along the ground because it didn’t have the proper hip and tail alignment to stand on two feet like the T. rexes did. And the lizard had…It had this look on its face. This long-suffering look of Here we go again. And the T. rexes were leaning in, almost like they were taunting the poor lizard, making fun of it.
I knew how that lizard felt. And I hated that. I hated that I felt that way because that made me think that maybe…Maybe I was a lizard. I didn’t want to be a lizard. I wanted to be a dinosaur.
Andi was definitely a dinosaur. Sooz called her the apatosaur, but at least that’s a dinosaur.
“She has a biological advantage,” I told Sooz. “I need to figure out how I can get a biological advantage, make myself evolutionarily attractive.”
She waggled her eyebrows. “Oh? Really?” Sooz was marginally more girly than me—she actually wore makeup.
“Maybe. I’m thinking about it.”
That night, I went to my dad, simply because he’s a male and, therefore, would probably have an opinion.
“Dad, am I pretty?”
He grinned. “Honey, you’re the prettiest girl in the whole world.”
Well, that wasn’t helpful. He didn’t even stop to think about it. When someone answers a question that fast, they’re never telling the truth. I couldn’t possibly be the prettiest girl in the world. That’s just scientifically impossible. And what did I expect my dad to say? He’s not going to look at me and say, “Well, sweetie, your mom and I have been talking about this since you were born and we’re just sorry that we have such an ugly daughter, but we love you anyway and it’s what’s inside that counts.”
In my room, I looked in the mirror. I took off my glasses. My reflection became a big blur. How could I know what I looked like without my glasses if I couldn’t see without my glasses?
I squinted, scrunching up my face until I could make something out, but all I saw was my own scrunched-up face, which looked disgusting.
I checked my bank book. I’d been saving money forever—for the dig, for college. They’re both way expensive. I could buy contact lenses, maybe some makeup…some new clothes….
That wouldn’t totally drain my bank account. I would have money left over, but I would also have a new Katya to show off, a new, evolved Katya to attract Jamie, maybe.
Back to the mirror. I wished my boobs were bigger. Then it would be easy to get Jamie to notice me. I knew how that worked. I would just wear a button-down shirt with a couple of buttons undone and my boobs would work their magic boy-power. Maybe I needed a new bra. I could get one with padding in it, make everything stand up and stand out.
(Dinosaurs didn’t have boobs. Dinosaurs didn’t need boobs. Lucky dinosaurs.)
I thought about Andi, effortlessly juggling with her knees and feet. I thought of her lithe form in gym. Everything physical came so easily to her. She could head-butt a soccer ball in less time than it took me to realize there even was a soccer ball.
And Jamie loved her.
I had two things I thought of: dinosaurs and Jamie. Sometimes—like that night—the two merged in my dreams, and I was a T. rex hunting him down. Or he was hunting me (don’t I wish!).
Predator and prey. Prey and predator.
The next morning, at breakfast, I guess I still looked depressed. Dad asked me what was wrong.
“I wish I was good at something, Dad.”
He jerked his head like someone grabbed his hair from behind and pulled. “Honey! Why would you say that?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Like baseball. Or soccer. Or something.”
He said what he always says when I shake him up: “Maybe we should have held you back after all.”
I have the dubious distinction of being the youngest freshman in school. Back when I went into kindergarten, I missed the cut-off by two days. My parents could have held me back and then I would have been the oldest freshman…next year. I would have never met Sooz, though, and that’s a world I’d rather not contemplate. My parents—Dad in particular—think all of my ills stem from that decision they made a bunch of years ago.
“This isn’t about that, Dad.”
Dad said, “Everyone is good at something. Some people play baseball or football. Some people are musicians. You’re good at dinosaurs.”
Yeah, but dinosaurs wouldn’t make Jamie fall in love with me. I already knew that.
You’re not a girl, that boy said on the playground.
Dinosaurs are neutered. Dinosaurs are sexless.
(Well, not really. Dinosaurs were amniotes—they fertilized eggs internally, just like human beings. I wanted to be amniotic with Jamie, and I couldn’t believe I just thought that with my dad right across the table!)
“Honey?” he said, because I’d drifted off.
“Nothing.” God, what am I, a total slut or something?
But when I got on the bus, I still thought about it. Thinking about Jamie not just liking me or talking to me, but actually kissing me. And maybe more.
Did being a dinosaur geek have to mean being sexless? Did T. rex discoverer Sue have a boyfriend? Did anyone ever kiss Sue, out on a dig or down in some dark, musty museum basement? Passion among the catalogued artifacts of a dead world.
On the way to homeroom, I kept my eyes down, watching my own feet. No footprints on school linoleum. A million years from now, if some future paleontologist tries to retrace the steps of the geekus girlus, she’ll have no luck because there aren’t any pathways to follow. Not like the dinosaurs. We take the fossilized imprints of their feet and string them together into “pathways,” which we use to reconstruct the way they moved. Along with the skeletons, this allows us to figure out how they walked and how fast they could run. Like, T. rex had a sort of lumbering run/walk, with its feet staggered.
I watched my own feet and started to mimic the T. rex. They had to start slow because they were so big—it took them some time to build up to velocity, but then they could move at twenty-five, maybe even up to forty miles an hour.
This is how we learn. Indirectly. We can’t observe them, so we observe what they left behind, and even though they left behind a lot, it’s never enough. Never. So we keep looking. We never stop. Because it matters. It’s important. They’re extinct, yes, but they still have so much to teach us, if only we’d listen and learn.
I looked around me at the swarm of kids in the hallway. I felt so small in that moment. I knew I was the only one thinking anything even remotely related to dinosaurs or history or science. I was alone.
And I felt like that lizard, the one being hounded by the young T. rexes. Just little lizard me, slithering along on my belly and along comes a bunch of big, bad dinosaurs and they’re going to take their time to eat me. They’re in no hurry. You know why? Because I’m just a little lizard. I’m nothing. Less than nothing.
And I don’t want that.
I had gym with Andi three days a week. I tried to be nice to her. I wanted her to like me. Maybe then I could learn how to be like her.
I thought about it this way: I knew the names of more than a hundred species of dinosaurs. I knew the order of the periods and epochs. I spent hours reading Gould and Barsbold and Bakker. I tried to understand both sides of the debate: warm-blooded or cold? Feathers or not? I taught myself how to draw, for God’s sake, endlessly tracing bone patterns out of books, sitting in the museum for hours on end, sketching the fossils on display there. I sat in the backyard for entire weekends, chipping away at different kinds of rocks with three different hammers, testing them for the proper weight and hardness of steel. (A paleontologist’s hammer is her most important tool—too heavy and you get tired using it too soon. Too light and it won’t do you any good. Too soft and it’ll fragment and poke your eye out. These things matter.)
I lived in eternal frustration. I didn’t get it. I knew all of these things! I figured them out, sometimes on my own.
So why couldn’t I figure out the qualities in Andi that attracted Jamie? Why couldn’t I mimic them, improve on them? I was smart. This was one more science problem, a biology test set in real life.
Maybe that’s crazy. But I couldn’t help myself. I was desperate. I clung to the fantasy that—somehow—I could break up Jamie and Andi and yet be friends with Andi and make everyone happy all at once. There was no direct evidence that such a thing would work, but you know what? There’s no conclusive evidence as to exactly what made the dinosaurs extinct, either. Maybe it was a comet hitting the earth. Maybe it was disease. There’s a recent theory that bugs killed the dinosaurs. Tiny, insignificant insects. They weakened the dinosaurs enough that environmental factors were able to wipe them out.