Revenge of the Nerds
Fiction by Sara Hosey
Because my mom is a psycho-bitch, my grandparents took her to court in order to be able to see me. And because my father is, legit, I am not exaggerating, a convicted rapist who also still has parental rights, my mother has to stay in Wisconsin so that if he ever chooses to exercise his privileges he may do so.
Obviously, it’s all totally fucked.
And so every July my mother drives me to Fort Lee, New Jersey, where her sister meets us at a diner, or a McDonald’s, so that I can be transported (at no extra cost to my mother), over several bridges to Queens, to the house where my aunt and grandparents live. After two weeks, my aunt drives me back to Wisconsin. She doesn’t mind paying all those tolls, I guess.
This year, we meet at a Starbucks in Fort Lee, which is an upgrade. The glass door makes a sucking sound when my mother pulls it open and we are blasted with clean, cool air. It feels good after getting out of the sticky car and walking through the steamy parking lot, the sun so bright that I could only manage to keep one eye open.
When my aunt sees us she puts down her phone and stands up.
“Do you guys want to get a coffee or something?” my aunt asks.
“Sure,” my mom says. “You buying?”
She is so cheap. Why is she so cheap?
My aunt smiles tightly and looks at me. “What do you want, Dig?”
“I’ll have a low-fat white chocolate mocha Frappuccino,” I say.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to remember that,” my aunt replies while my mother rolls her eyes at me. “Come with me to order.” She touches me on the shoulder with cold fingers. She must have been waiting a long time.
“I like your new glasses,” my aunt says brightly, as we wait in the line.
“Thanks,” I say. I wanted to get the black, chunky frames everyone started wearing last year. But I had to buy mine at Walmart, so instead of being cute and ironic, mine are just ugly. I look like a senior citizen. God, my life is so stupid.
“My mother calls me Revenge of the Nerds,” I tell my aunt. “I don’t even know what that means.”
She laughs through her nose. “It’s a gross movie from the ‘80s,” she says. “But your glasses are cool.”
We order our drinks and my aunt goes back to the table and talks to my mother while I wait at the counter. Although I’d like to, I can’t hear them over the Starbucks indie rock and chatter. I feel like a ghost who can’t quite break through, can’t quite make out the conversations of the living.
“One tall coffee and one Grande low-fat white chocolate mocha Frappuccino for Dignity?” the coffee guy calls into my face.
“Cute name,” he says as I take the drinks.
When I sit back down, my mother nods at my Frappuccino and says, “That’s supposed to be a coffee?,” as though people haven’t been making that remark about fancy coffee drinks since basically the dawn of time. I give her a disdainful look from under my eyebrows.
“Put your headphones on and have a walk around,” my mother commands. “I want to talk to your aunt.”
I get on the Starbucks wifi and start watching my show, a hospital drama about hot, skinny doctors who hook up with each other. It’s so dumb. I love it.
I know what those two are talking about anyway. Each year, they review the events of my last meeting with my father, which was three years ago now. He had just gotten out of prison for kidnapping and raping his ex-girlfriend.
My mother says the fact that it was his ex-girlfriend made it not so bad. What she actually said was: “Your dad is more of a JV rapist. You know? It’s not like he’s one of those guys who jumps out of the bushes.” She sighed. “He’s not even a varsity rapist.”
I didn’t bother to point out that he did, in fact, quite literally jump out of the bushes in front of his ex-girlfriend’s apartment complex. And he was holding an axe. An axe! What the fuck?
And the worst part of the whole thing is that this wasn’t even the first time he had done this. It was the second time.
Same woman, both times. No axe the first time, though. It was really the axe that got him locked up in the end, it seemed.
My mother, in an inexplicable mercy, never made me visit my father in prison. But when he got out, my mother announced, after some sort of extended negotiation with a social worker, that we would be meeting up with him at—where else?—a McDonalds.
Because my father was living in a halfway house in Illinois and because my mom sure hates paying a toll, this particular McDonald’s was in the Belvidere Oasis: one of those rest stops in a bridge over the highway, which of course maybe could work as some sort of metaphor. I don’t know.
What I do know is that I was wearing my brand-new powder-blue pleather jacket on that dark October afternoon. It wasn’t really warm enough to wear outside, but I wanted to wear it anyway because I thought I looked so fucking cool. I thought I looked so good in that stupid plastic jacket that I wouldn’t take it off once we were inside, even though I began to sweat immediately after walking in to the dim, warm, French-fry smelling Belvidere Oasis.
Back in the Starbucks, I get a text from David.
In his pictures, David looks like Pete Davidson, the cute skinny guy from Saturday Night Live, the guy who dated Ariana Grande. Pete Davidson has a famously big dick. From the pictures David sent me, I think he probably does too. I guess I’ll find out for sure soon enough.
When I look up again I see that my mother is crying, rubbing viciously at her red eyes. My aunt and grandparents say that my mother is the way she is because she is the baby of the family. I say she is the way that she is because she’s a fucking psycho. But what do I know? I’m an only child. As far as I’ve been told.
I sit back down with them and take my headphones off. “It’s just two weeks,” my aunt is telling her. “Try to enjoy it. Try to do things for yourself.”
My mother looks at me and hides her face in her hands. “I’m sorry,” she says. She peeks out and gives me a pathetic little smile. “I’m just gonna miss you, Dignity.”
I get up and put my arms around her and sit on her lap. This makes her laugh. I kiss her on her smelly head.
“I’m going to miss you too,” I say.
She holds me tightly around the waist and sobs into my neck. “My baby,” she says, and I feel like crying too, but only for a minute.
In the car, my aunt is talking about some cousin who finished high school in three years and blah blah blah. I text David back, yea
He texts, see u 2nite?
I lay my phone face down on my knee.
I hate when he uses abbreviations like “2nite.” I feel like he’s just doing it to seem younger. It makes me worry he’s a pedophile or something.
The car is quiet and I wonder how long ago my aunt stopped talking. I look out the window at the skyline. It was in front of us; now it’s beside us. We will continue to glide right past it.
how do you know im not a cop? I text David, just to be a jerk.
He doesn’t respond right away. Then he writes, wtf?
lollolololol, I write.
He sends back the emoji that’s laughing so hard it is crying. I lay my phone face down again.
After we saw my dad at the Belvidere Oasis that time, we walked back to the parking lot on our side of the expressway. The cold air was a relief. I’d felt like I was dying inside the jacket, like I was a kitten some up-and-coming serial killer had stuffed in a garbage bag.
“I don’t feel good,” I said to my mom and then I threw up, so suddenly I didn’t even have time to lean forward properly. It was a slurry of chicken nuggets and vanilla shake and ketchup all down the front of my new blue jacket.
“Fuck,” my mother had said. She stood behind me and used her palms to pull the hair out of my face. “Oh, baby,” she’d said. “Get it all out.”
Later, she said it had been a mistake to meet up with my father.
“It’s fine,” I kept insisting. “He wasn’t why I got sick.”
David wants me to take the subway to meet him in a place called “Flushing” which obviously sounds super-fucking romantic. I don’t want to tell him that I’ve never actually taken the subway by myself before. I don’t even know how you pay to get on it. My aunt or grandmother always just handles that part. I guess I could Google it. But I also think he should come pick me up. I’ve traveled all this way and now he’s being cheap or something.
whatever im tired from the car. ill text you tmw
I don’t text back.
He keeps them coming.
what’s going on? I thought you wanted to see me?
im serious I just cant wait any longer
I have champagne for us
u still there/? is it cause i want you to meet me? it would just be fater if you came halfway. I’m coming from li but fine if you want me to come get you in rego park i will. i just need to see u
I look up from my phone. “I think I’m gonna go out tonight,” I say to my grandparents and aunt, each of whom sits in their dedicated recliner in the TV room. I am sitting on the two-seater couch behind them. They turn their alarmed looks at me.
“What?” my aunt asks. “Where?”
“A friend of mine is here, staying at the beach. Her parents will pick me up. I’ll sleep over and they’ll bring me back tomorrow.”
“But you just got here,” my grandmother says.
“She’s from Wisconsin?” my aunt asks. “Who is this person?”
“My friend Ariel,” I say. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
My grandmother looks at my grandfather and my grandfather looks at my aunt. She’s the spokesperson. She never had any kids, but they act like she’s the expert on family stuff. Maybe they figure they didn’t do such a hot job themselves, so they should just leave everything to her.
“It’s not a big deal,” I say.
They all look around at each other again.
“We could take you to the beach,” my grandfather croaks, pathetically. My grandmother nods.
They don’t want to go to the beach. They want me to eat dinner with them and then have a bowl of pistachio ice cream while we watch Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune and some sort of true crime show, maybe about a troubled teenager from Wisconsin who meets a guy online who lures her out to Long Island. After she is raped and dismembered, my grandmother will make some sort of devastatingly callous remark about how people get what they deserve and I will have a fleeting but acute understanding of how my mother came to be the way she is.
I feel a tinge of longing for this scene. Staying home with them is fine. Maybe I should just do it, at least on this first night.
I am about to text him to forget it, say maybe tomorrow, when my aunt says, “I guess that would be okay.”
“Great,” I say, putting my phone down and looking at their moon faces. “Cool.”
Waiting for David on Queens Boulevard—the road my grandparents call the “Boulevard of Death”—I look inside my backpack to check on my stupid contraption. I wrapped a kitchen knife in a dish towel and then secured it with masking tape. It’s just in case, or whatever. I’m not planning to murder David.
I suppose my stupid father thought he would bring his axe along just in case too. But if anyone is being kidnapped and raped here, it’s me, not David. And I’m not going to be kidnapped and raped. David is my boyfriend.
Whatever, I know how it seems, him being older than me. But honestly, I am probably the more mature one in the relationship. We agree that that’s the main reason I have such a hard time with people my own age. Sure, it doesn’t help that I have to buy my clothes at either Walmart or Savers and that everyone in my town knows that my father is a convicted rapist. But all that aside, the idiots at my school are legitimately the worst. All the girls think they are going to be famous for doing makeup tutorials on YouTube and all the guys are busy perfecting their date-rape techniques for college. Once, I was walking behind these two bros and one of them said, “Well, Morgan will only let me do it in her butt because she’s saving herself for marriage.” I texted that to David verbatim. I wrote, That, right there, might be why I don’t have any friends my own age.
A black Corolla pulls up in front of me. David cranes his neck down so I can see his face from where I stand, so I know it is him and not a stranger. I zip up my backpack and get in.
He leans over and kisses me right away. He is chewing gum and his breath is minty. I can’t help but be a little bit shocked by his appearance. He looks different than I expected. Older.
“Dignity!” he cries, as though he can’t believe it’s really me.
When we stop at a light he takes my hand and smiles at me. He does look a little like Pete Davidson. He is thin and he has lots of earrings and even while he’s sitting down I can tell he is tall. But in person he’s almost too tall, like, has to hunch over the steering wheel tall. And he has wrinkles around his eyes.
“We’re finally together,” he says.
“Yeah!” I say. I don’t want him to see that I’m disappointed or to hurt his feelings. We had Facetimed or whatever. So it’s not like he was lying about his looks. Although he definitely isn’t twenty-six.
He kisses me again. I kiss him back, vigorously, convincingly.
A car honks and he starts driving again.
I look out the window. Because of the one-way streets, we are going to go back past my grandparent’s block. For a flicker of a moment I imagine telling him to pull over, to let me out. It’s like those final seconds on the rollercoaster when the attendant comes around to make sure your restraint is working and you want to say, “Wait, let me off,” but you don’t because that would be so fucking embarrassing.
He tells me he is taking me to a cool, vintage motel right near the beach. He explains that it’s not the most luxurious, but its proximity to the beach makes it worth it. He’s about to say more when my phone starts buzzing and I look down. My mother is texting.
what the fuck dignity where are you going who is ariana
I text back, its fine. you dont know her
I didn’t just drive 16 hours so u could hang out with some girl from wisco get ur ass home
i cant, I write back. her parents already drove all the way to queens to pick me up
My phone starts to ring. I silence it.
“Who’s that?” David asks.
“My mother,” I say. “It’s nothing.”
“Yeah,” I say. I shake my head and pretend to laugh. “She’s probably just lonely without me.”
He smiles and glances over at me. “She needs to give it a rest,” he says. “She gets you all the time. It’s my turn. Right, babe?”
The traffic has thinned out and he drives with one hand on my knee. He keeps saying things like, “I just can’t believe you’re really here,” like I’m a celebrity or a ghost or something.
I put my hand on top of his. His fingers are long and warm. I bring his hand to my mouth and I kiss each of his fingers. He leans his head back against the headrest and groans, like I’m giving him a blow job or something. I suck on his fingers—they’re salty, but clean—and I’m afraid he’s literally going to come in his pants, he’s making such a fuss. After a while it gets kind of gross and I don’t want to do it anymore, but I’m not sure how to stop, either. Finally, I kiss his palm and then place his hand down on his thigh. I lean across and kiss his face. He turns his head to kiss me on the mouth and we do that for a second and then I sink back into my seat.
He puts one hand on his dick, which I can see is pressing hard against his jeans. “You are so fucking hot,” he says.
We are suddenly not in the city anymore and the trees on either side of the expressway are dense and lushly green. It’s not like our part of Wisconsin, where you can see for miles and miles in every direction, the fields empty except for the sprawling skeletons of sprinklers.
“Dignity,” he exhales. He adjusts in his seat and clutches the steering wheel with both hands. “Your name is so perfect for you.”
“My mother says she named me Dignity so I could never become a stripper,” I tell him, rolling my eyes.
“Don’t strippers usually change their names anyway?” he asks.
“I guess,” I say. “I mean, I think she was making a bigger point or whatever.”
“Psycho,” he concludes, nodding.
I want to correct him, but before I can say anything, we pull into the hotel parking lot.
“I know it doesn’t look like much,” he assures me. “But it’s so close to the beach.”
“It’s cool,” I say, weakly.
“Let me run in and get the room stuff figured out. You wait here.”
“Okay,” I say.
He takes my face in his hands. “Just, one thing though.” He seems serious. “I just want to make sure that you’re eighteen,” he says.
“What?” I ask. I laugh. “You know I’m fifteen.”
He nods, like I am an adorable child. “I just need you to tell me that you’re eighteen.”
“You mean, like how you told me that you’re twenty-six?”
“I never told you that I was twenty-six.”
“Yes, you did.”
David lets go of my face and leans back. He’s smiling at me like I’m crazy.
“Um, there is no way that I told you that because it’s not true,” he says. “You know I’m twenty-nine, right? I wouldn’t lie to you about that.”
Twenty-nine. I’m not even sure that’s his real age. I mean, I guess he could be twenty-nine. But I know he told me he was twenty-six. I bet I could find where he said it, too, if I had a minute.
“But whatever. I need you to tell me you’re eighteen,” he says. “Just so that if anyone ever asks, I wouldn’t be lying. I would say, you know, she told me she was eighteen.”
“I don’t actually think that’s how it works,” I say, shaking my head, annoyed. “But fine. I’m eighteen. Okay?”
“Great,” he says, smiling. “You know you’re my fucking soulmate?” he asks, serious now. He leans in to kiss me again.
“Me too,” I say.
When he gets out of the car, I see that my mother has blown up my phone. My voicemail is full—my aunt has called a bunch of times too—and there are thirty-seven texts. I scroll through them quickly, some are just
pick the fuck up
pick up the phone
And some are longer:
you are the best thing in my life.
Maybe I should have driven you all the
way to queens but jen said it was fine
and you know what happens
when I see my parents
it just puts me into a tailspin
so I have to protect myself too
please call me back sweet girl
I’m sorry for yelling at you before
about the slushie
just such a long fucking ride
my nerves are def shot
by hour 9
just call me back
clal me back
right now you fucking pain in the ass
your grandparents are having a heart attack
i am hysterically crying
im gonna have an accident
I am turning the fucking car
I will come abck an get you
I see David under the halo of the street light, returning. I text my mom back quickly.
Do not come back
you are acting like a psycho
stop texting me
I am turning my phone off
you can yell at me tmw
when I am back at gmas
I put the phone in my backpack.
I wasn’t really hungry, but when David said we should get a pizza I thought maybe he’d go out for it so I said Yes, I wanted some, but then I realized he was just having it delivered anyway.
We are lying on the bed. “After the pizza,” he says, kissing my bare shoulder, “We are going to go again.”
I feel a little sore. He was working hard before and I pretended to like it, but I wasn’t really into it. It was fine or whatever. I’m not an expert, but it’s not the first time I’ve had sex either. There was this guy Drew from a church group my mother forced me to go to and also my ex-boyfriend Kevin who is disgusting and who goes to my school. So sex with David wasn’t the worst. But it wasn’t really the best, either.
Anyway, the idea of going again with David is not thrilling. I smile at him and he smiles back. He leans in close to my ear. I can’t see it, but I can tell he is grabbing his dick. “I took a pill,” he says, lifting his eyebrows and smirking.
I wonder, just for a second, what kind of pill he is talking about, and then I suddenly understand and I make a disgusted face.
“What?” he asks.
“I mean, how old are you really?” I blurt out.
He looks injured.
“It’s just for fun,” he says. “It’s not ‘cause I need it. I wanted it to be special for you. I wanted to give it to you all night long,” he says. He leans in again. He nibbles on my ear lobe.
I do my best to smile back. “I gotta go to the bathroom,” I say.
When I come back he is still sitting there, naked. He has a pretty good body, considering he is definitely, like, an old person. You can tell because it’s as though his muscles aren’t firmly attached to him, like, his muscles are kind of just floating there under his skin. And some of the hairs on his body are gray. So that’s fucking weird.
“Isn’t the pizza gonna be here soon?” I say. “Do you want to put some clothes on?”
While he’s dressing, I fish my glasses out of my backpack. I quickly touch the towel with the knife, to make sure it hasn’t come loose. Then I put my glasses on.
“Look at those!” he declares. “You look so fucking cute in those!”
He pulls me close to him on the bed. “Those glasses are so hot on you. It’s like sexy Revenge of the Nerds,” he says.
I guess he sees me cringe.
“What?” he asks. “What’s the matter?”
The night goes on forever. He wants us to take a bath together. Nothing sounds less appealing to me. I’m not sure how much longer I can go on pretending to enjoy his squeezing and poking and pinching and slapping various parts of my body.
I make a joke, just to myself, that I might have to stab him just to get him to stop humping me.
“So, should I fill the tub?” he asks.
“There is no way I am getting in there,” I snap.
I stopped smiling about an hour ago. I expected David to be upset or to wonder why I am not having fun, but he seems not to have noticed.
“Well, I’m going to take a bath,” he says. “And you’re welcome to join me if you change your mind.” As though I will be just too tempted by the idea of him in there and jump in.
I don’t respond and he slumps off to the bathroom.
I get under the sheets and turn my phone on. It’s 2:41. As expected, there are numerous new texts from my mother. I don’t read them.
I must fall asleep because the next thing I know he is on top of me again.
I use my forearm to push him away.
“What?” he asks.
“I’m sleeping,” I say, squeezing my eyes tight, as though that will convince him.
“But I want you so bad,” he says. He rubs himself against me.
“I’m sleeping,” I say. “Like, I’m legit exhausted.”
“Put those glasses back on,” he says. “I like it when you wear those glasses when I’m fucking you.”
“Please,” I say, trying to use a sweet voice. “I’m so tired.”
“You can just lie there,” he says. “You don’t have to do anything.”
“Get the fuck off me,” I say, angry now, and I push him with my arm again.
“But I need you,” he says, flipping me over and pinning my arms down and breathing into my face. His breath is hot and no longer minty.
“Get off,” I say, my voice shaking and squeaky. “You’re hurting me.”
He’s not stopping, though, and I actually think, this is how it happens sometimes and I am freaked out by his weird eyes and his skinny-lipped smile.
“Get the fuck off me,” I shout. “I will fucking kill you!” I am screaming in his face now. I feel the spit flying from my lips and my face glowing hot and red. “Get off!”
He lets me go and sits up on the bed. “What is wrong with you?” he whisper-shouts. “What the fuck?”
I get up and grab my backpack, fumbling to unzip it and to find the towel.
“You’re acting like a crazy bitch,” he hisses.
I take out the dish towel and I rip at the masking tape with my teeth.
“What are you doing?” He begins to move around the bed, over to my side. “I didn’t hurt you,” he says, shaking his head. “I never hurt you or made you do anything.”
I finally drop the dish towel on the dirty hotel floor and I hold the knife out in front of me in shaking hands.
“What the? What are you doing, Dignity? Baby, what are you doing?” He takes a step back and bumps into the dresser.
“You fucking pedophile,” I spit.
“Hey, you told me you were eighteen,” he says right away.
He is so fucking stupid that I laugh a little and, even though he totally wasn’t joking, he tries to laugh too.
“I want to go home,” I say.
He nods. “Okay. Fine. Whatever you want.”
I hold the knife in my lap all the way back, just in case. He probably shouldn’t be driving and I worry that he will fall asleep at the wheel, so I watch him, carefully, my eyeballs hot and angry behind my nerd glasses, I watch him so hard.
When we get back to Queens Boulevard, he says something high-pitched and apologetic, which I snap off by slamming the car door. He doesn’t need to worry so much. I am not going to call the police. I don’t ever want to even think about him again.
I am so relieved to be back here, on Queens Boulevard, the Boulevard of Death, at dawn, that I start to cry. Everything feels so different in the morning, empty save for the pigeons and the few cars that drive by, going either too fast or too slow, as though the absence of other traffic has confused them.
As soon as his car is out of sight I dash toward the McDonald’s down the street, but when I get there I see that it’s not even open yet and so I sit on the curb and I cry, thinking how much I wish my mother was there.
Feeling how much I want her makes me even sadder, almost like guilty and ashamed, because most of the time she sucks so much but she is still her, my mom, and I want her more than anything. And if she could see me right now, if she knew what I had done, she would lose her fucking mind. She would probably actually try to kill David.
Which, I don’t even care. I hate him so much now. It’s already hard to remember a time before, when I didn’t hate him.
I scroll through our snapchats, our dms, our texts. I find it. Back in March.
Im 26, he had written. I don’t care about the age difference if you dont.
Fucking lying piece of shit.
On the way to the Belvidere Oasis that day when I was twelve, my mom had tried to explain herself to me. She told me that when she met my father, she thought he was a “good loser.”
“Like, there are good losers and loser-losers,” she said. “Good losers are nice guys who maybe just haven’t found themselves yet. Like, Lloyd Dobler.”
“I don’t know who that is,” I said.
“It’s from a movie,” she said. “A good-loser’s like, not successful, but he’s cool. Maybe he’s ahead of his time. Maybe he’s misunderstood.”
“So, you thought my dad was a good loser.”
“I did. But it turns out he was just a loser-loser.” She made a face. “Sorry,” she added.
“It’s all right,” I told her. But, later, right before I threw up all over my new jacket outside of the Belvidere Oasis, the jacket that my mother then gingerly unzipped and took off of me, and balled up and put in a trash bin, right before that, I had wondered to myself if maybe she was a loser-loser too. And it made me feel so bad that I had to stop wondering it immediately.
I was thinking about all of that again as I sat in the parking lot of the McDonald’s on Queens Boulevard, missing my mom. And I was hoping that I wasn’t a loser-loser too. I was hoping that really hard.
Sara Hosey’s books include the novel Iphigenia Murphy (Blackstone Publishing) and the non-fiction study, Home is Where the Hurt Is: Media Depictions of Wives and Mothers (McFarland). Her novella “Great Expectations” is forthcoming in the Running Wild Press Novella Anthology. She is an associate professor at Nassau Community College in New York.
Featured image courtesy of Alan Levine.