When last we saw Deenie, she was wondering why she didn’t make the cheerleading squad, why she isn’t getting any modelling jobs, and why does her mother keep nagging her about her posture? Poor Deenie. If only it were her poor posture.
Chapter 5: Gym class. It was the bane of my existence in junior high. At least half of my teenage angst/ traumatic moments/ extreme discomfort were due to junior high gym class. The gross change room. The BO emanating from my classmates. Wearing the world’s ugliest shorts-and-t-shirt combination. Seriously, my junior high actually had “tuxedo” t-shirts for gym wear. Some of my very worst memories have to do with practicing cross country, wearing those shorts and t-shirts, in the freezing cold Calgary springs, sprinting and hurdling on the dead brown grass while the wind whipped and the temperature hovered around five degrees. I have zero good memories about gym class.
Not Deenie, though! It appears that Deenie LIKES gym class. She’s happy to have modern dance on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, except for this day, when she has to be partners with Barbara Curtis, who has allergies and eczema, which Deenie thinks is a contagious disease. Poor Barbara! She explains to Deenie that it’s not catching, but immediately after class Deenie runs to the sink and scrubs like she’s about to perform open-heart surgery.
Her gym teacher requests a chat after school, and Deenie is convinced that it’s either because she really did make the cheerleading squad after all, or that the teacher noticed how she didn’t really want to be partners with Barbara – who she has nicknamed “Creeping Crud”. It’s neither reason – her gym teacher makes her walk across the room and bend over to touch her toes. She expresses concern about Deenie’s posture. AND SHE’S GOING TO CALL HER MOM.
Chapter 6: Before the phone call occurs, we learn a little more about household dynamics. Remember how no one cares what Helen eats, as long as Deenie is nutritiously filling her beautiful face? Well, apparently no one cares how Deenie does at school. She doesn’t need to be more than a C student – she’s going to be a model! So while she gets special treatment at the table, Helen is certainly not expected to do mundane things like chores. As she’s cleaning up the kitchen, the gym teacher calls to express concerns about Deenie’s posture. Her mother flips out that she isn’t trying very hard to stand straight and tall. One cannot be a model if one slouches.
Aunt Rae, who literally has nothing better to do than drive Deenie and her mother around, takes them to the family doctor. The doctor also makes Deenie bend over and touch her toes, which seems to be the common early diagnosis tool of choice. The doctor then gives them a referral to the specialist, and Deenie’s mother immediately goes into denial.
“But it’s not my fault. He told you that, didn’t he?”
Ma acted like she didn’t hear me.
Aunt Rae said, “Who wants to stop for a soda?” (Nicole’s note: nobody hurts, nobody cries)
Ma heard that because she said, “Let’s go home. We’ll have something there.”
I said, “Ma, didn’t Dr. Moravia tell you that it’s not my fault?” I wanted to get that straight right away.
“Yes.” Ma said. “Yes, he did tell me that.”
“Good! Now you can’t be mad at me.”
“But I don’t believe him,” Ma said.
“Then you think it’s my fault?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“I mean…doctors make mistakes all the time.”
Oh, Mrs. Fenner. *head desk*
Deenie goes to an orthopedist – a bone specialist, we find out through her friend Midge, and that little fact has helped me in Trivial Pursuit games during my lifetime – and it’s a pretty big deal since her dad takes the day off work and everything. Remember, her dad owns a gas station, which seems to run on a shoestring, and so his taking a day off is pretty important. It’s noted that generally Aunt Rae drives Deenie and her mother around when needed, but this task is too important for Aunt Rae, which makes Deenie wonder if shit’s getting real.
Deenie goes through all sorts of measuring and X-raying – she has to bend down and touch her toes, and then get measured from floor to hip – and we find out that the official diagnosis is scoliosis. The orthopedist – who, although he was an all-star football player, seems to have very little people skills or bedside manner – states that there are two options: surgery or a brace. He writes a referral to a spine specialist, while saying over and over about her spine curvature, “We have to correct the curve.” Upon further questioning, he states that failure to correct the curve leads to deformity. Everyone gasps. DEENIE DOESN’T WANT TO BE DEFORMED. It’s a pretty dramatic moment. Really, what teenage girl wants to be faced with possible deformity, let alone a future model?
On the way home, Ma starts in on whose fault it is – it’s Daddy’s! It has to be, as there is a “familial tendency” to scoliosis, and Daddy’s cousin had a slipped disc in her back so…IT’S HIS DAMN FAULT. I want to give Ma a science lesson in which we see that slipped discs and scoliosis are not actually related, but Ma appears to be one of those shrill people who have misguided distrust in the medical community.
Ma continues to rage against the medical machine, saying that doctors are always making mistakes, and if Deenie had an operation there is a significant likelihood of the doctor slipping with his scalpel and turning her into a “cripple”. Deenie overhears that conversation, and goes to her room to masturbate. “I have this special place and when I rub it I get a very nice feeling.” This was why Deenie was banned in many school libraries, although when I first read it, I had no idea what it meant. Literally, I thought she had some kind of fuzzy pillow that she liked to rub. Maybe a velvet one? Velvet is pretty awesome.
Despite her mother’s assertions that she will become crippled or possibly die on the operating table, Deenie tells Janet and Midge that she’s going to have an operation. Apparently, she has visions of a romantic recovery in bed, with sunshine streaming in the window and fresh flowers on her bedside table. In any case, Janet and Midge take her shopping where they buy her a beautiful nightgown – for $12.50, apparently a fortune back then – for her recovery.
Janet and Midge also take her for lunch and a movie, where they run into Buddy and his friend Steve, who decide to come and sit with them in the theatre. Buddy and Deenie hold hands – and Deenie’s hand gets sweaty, much to her dismay. Steve sits next to Janet, and he not only puts his arm around her, but he also cops a bit of a feel. Midge feels like a third wheel, or, in this case, the fifth wheel, and Deenie feels awful that Midge made such an effort to make a special day for her, only to feel badly at the end of it.
Remember when holding hands and having a guy put his arm around you were HUGE things? In the words of John Cougar Mellencamp: holding hands meant something, baby. It sure did, back then. This chapter makes me feel really sorry for Midge, and I can relate to it too: I was very tall for my age and, in general, towered over most boys until I was in eighth or ninth grade. It’s awkward being the tallest girl in the class, and while I embrace my height now, I remember feeling very awkward in grade seven. When you’re a solid head taller than most boys your age, going to junior high dances is uncomfortable. Hang in there, Midge! One day you will be thrilled at never having to get pants hemmed.
Will Deenie have an operation? Will she end up “deformed”, “crippled”, or any other kind of mildly-offensive word? What’s going to happen to that $12.50 nightgown? And is Buddy just using Deenie to grope her sweaty hand in the dark? We will find out next time – stay tuned!