Look, I know it’s vulgar, me ogling Tyler like hippies ogle kale in Whole Foods. But Tyler was some good looking kale, if that’s a thing. If it’s not, I’m making it a thing. The guy was built like a dream. Like a teenage dream you’d plaster all over your walls, spend your nights fantasizing about your wedding spread in Seventeen Magazine. The way he looked was unreal. He was so beautiful, you’d be tempted to touch him just to make sure he was made of flesh and blood and not actually a man-bot of chiseled beauty, hand-crafted by an erotic inventor of eroticness.
I attributed my lusty thoughts for Tyler to the fact that I hadn’t dated or slept with anyone in a while. My stupid, hard-up body was a traitor — the lack of physical contact had just reached unmanageable heights, forcing me into fantasizing about the unattainable guy who paid half the rent.
Life is so unfair that I’d be attracted to a guy I’d never date. We were too different, and I’d done that once before, which had resulted in nothing but humiliation and regret.
Tyler and I were friends — I was nothing but his fun and amusing little buddy, definitely not the kind of girl who he could ever publicly date. My mouth could not be trusted, and neither could my ability to walk in high heels or look pretty.
I had been what I call ‘genetically doomed’ — my father was a small, slender man who spent more time with books than he did with people. He had a collection of cardigans that would give Mister Rogers a boner, and nearly every wall in my childhood home in the cosmopolitan city of Walnut, Iowa, was lined with bookshelves. He met my mother at the University of Iowa. Classic story: he was an English major, she studied Library Sciences. She admired his cardigan across the library, and he approached her, complementing the chain on her gigantic glasses. Her cardigan too — he’d appreciated it from across the room. She smiled and said she’d gotten it at Sears, in the men’s department, on sale.
That was all it took. Love at first sight.
Neither of them had ever left Iowa for more than forty-eight hours, and after their graduation and nuptials, they moved back to Mom’s home town of Walnut to be near my grandparents, each of them taking up jobs in the public schools — Dad teaching high school English and Mom as the librarian in the elementary school.
Here’s the thing about having weird parents — they cultivate your weird, thus making weird your normal.
Looking back, I guess I should have been embarrassed when my mom did things like send me to school in clothes that were a decade out of style or with tofu and couscous for lunch. Once she even cut my hair with an actual bowl — she made me hold the orange plastic bowl while she used the kitchen scissors to hack away at it.
But instead of being ashamed, I went to school and told them that my mom had cut my hair because when it was long, I was too strong. Because of my superpowers, and all. I had a peanut gallery enthralled under a tree on the playground as I wove the tale of how I’d accidentally broken the table when I pushed away from it after dinner, or when I pulled the faucet off the shower by accident, but she drew the line when I pulled the car door off its hinges trying to open it. We’d cut it for everyone’s safety, I told them, and they bought it with wide eyes.
I’d been able to read people even then, which made it that much easier to survive the perils of public school in a small town. I knew the bullies and how to work them into giving me their lunch money, and with a smile. I knew how to get the mean girls to compliment my odd fashion choices in high school. I knew who to trust and who to avoid. And that adaptation taught me how to survive the rest of life.
I wasn’t named Most Likely to Succeed for nothing.
Of course, then I left for college. See, I’ve had this problem with authority my whole life. Maybe it’s in part because my parents never were authoritative. I followed the rules, for the most part, and when I didn’t, I had a damn good argument as to why. So when it came to college, as I headed off to the University of Iowa, I knew myself well enough to recognize that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I loved to learn, just not anything I didn’t want to learn. Five years in, it was suggested I should choose a major so I could get a degree. I figured why the hell not, especially after finding that I only had a handful of classes needed to do just that.
So I tallied up my classes to figure out what the shortest track to a degree would be and landed on a History major with a minor in Japanese.
Weird, I know. Like I said, it’s genetic.
I’d studied in Tokyo for a semester, and once I graduated, the last place I wanted to go after graduation was back to Walnut. I was ready for another adventure, so I decided to move to New York on a whim. My parents were almost what I’d call horrified that I wanted to stay out of Iowa, which made sense, given that the biggest city they’d ever been to was Omaha. But adventure was basically my middle name. I’d lived a thousand lives through the books I’d read, which meant I was certain I could conquer just about anything.
The first thing I did was find a job, thinking that being a counter girl at a comic shop was temporary. My boss — who looked a little something like the comic guy from The Simpsons, ponytail and all — took one look at me and hired me on the spot. I’d like to say it wasn’t based on my looks, but it would be a lie. I was basically a unicorn — a girl who knew her comics better than most of the guys who came in. And within a few months, he promoted me to a manager. That, I’m happy to say, was strictly based on my abilities.
I’d worked there for two years, content to be in an environment where I was comfortable, had the perks of reading material at my fingertips, and could wear Converse to work. But the day that Cooper Moore came in to buy comics for the first time was, unknowingly, a day that would change everything.