The Possibility of Now by Kim Culbertson
Publication Date: January 26th, 2016
Publisher / Imprint: Point of Scholastic Press
Genre: YA Contemporary
Summary (from Goodreads):
Mara James has always been a perfectionist with a plan. But despite years of overachieving at her elite school, Mara didn’t plan on having a total meltdown during her calculus exam. Like a rip-up-the-test-and-walk-out kind of meltdown. And she didn’t plan on a video of it going viral. And she definitely didn’t plan on never wanting to show her face again.
Mara knows she should go back, but suddenly she doesn’t know why she’s been overachieving all these years. Impulsively, she tells her mom she wants to go live with her estranged dad in Tahoe. Maybe in a place like Tahoe, where people go to get away from everyday life, and with a dad like Trick McHale, a ski bum avoiding the real world, Mara can figure things out.
Only Tahoe is nothing like she thought. There are awesome new friends and hot boys and a chance to finally get to know Trick, but there are also still massive amounts of schoolwork. Can Mara stopping planning long enough to see the life that’s happening right now?
This SST post is a bit different from what I usually post for every Sunday Street Team posts I put. This only covers an excerpt of The Possibility of Now and I hope you enjoy a bit of the book and that makes you want to get a copy of it. Once again, enjoy!
I make lists to survive. I’m not alone in this. You can’t Google anything without getting hit in the face with a list. Once, I searched for “Why do people make lists?” Besides giving me 127 reasons why we love lists, I stumbled onto even more lists: 11 New Uses for a Paper Clip, 15 Regrettable Marriage Proposals, 23 Places to See Before You Die.
When did we start doing that? Maybe on a wall way back in a dark cave, a shaggy-headed caveman scratched: Kill mammoth, make fire, stand upright.
As humans, we must just crave them. And after what happened to me, I need my lists now more than ever.
“What are you thinking about?” Mom’s eyes flick to me, then back to the road in front of us.
“Nothing.” I shift in my seat, staring out the car window at the beige California scenery along the I-5. Every fifty miles or so, Mom finds a new way to ask if I want her to turn around, go home, forget this whole thing. Each time, watching the landscape outside slip farther from the bleached earth tones we left behind in San Diego, I tell her a version of I want to do this, keep driving, I have a plan.
Scratch that. I have a list. And I love lists. It’s just not like any list I’ve made before. We’re heading north, tracing the 5, until eventually we will reach the highways that connect us to a dense stretch of Tahoe National Forest and, soon after, to Squaw Valley.
To Trick McHale, my biological father.
That’s how Mom always refers to him. Trick McHale, your biological father. I got an A in AP bio freshman year. She doesn’t have to remind me of the genetics. Besides, that’s not how I think of him. Mostly, I don’t think about him at all. To me, Trick McHale is another list: nine birthday cards (three with twenty-dollar bills), five phone calls, and one visit to the San Diego Zoo when I was seven. Which is why, when I blurted out five days ago that I wanted to go live with him for a while, just to take a break, to put my bad day (Mom’s words) behind me, Mom’s surprise was second only to my own. I don’t blame her. It was random. Especially for me. It hadn’t been on any list of mine anywhere. But here I am. Heading north.
What’s more shocking than the asking is that Mom said yes.
That’s how bad it is.
Only it’s really not that bad. It’s Not. That. Bad. The day after my bad day, I made a list and taped it to the back of my bedroom door. My Get a Grip List.
No one has died.
No one has cancer.
No one has dropped me in the middle of a war-torn country.
I have not been sold into child slavery.
I have not joined a cult where I only eat wheatgrass and limes.
I have not lost a limb.
Only it feels a little like I have. Lost a limb.
“If I turn around at this exit, we could be back home by dinner.” Mom peers into the rearview mirror before changing lanes, passing a dusty white minivan. A little boy in the backseat watches us glide by, pressing his small hand flat against the glass.
“Maybe I’ll feel like eating in Squaw Valley.” I adjust the red half-inch binder resting on my lap. I like to put my long-term-goal lists into binders, real ones I can hold and not just electronic ones. I’m old school that way. I have a system. Yesterday, I printed out a cover for it, reading the now list against the backdrop of a Hawaiian sunset. Nothing says live in the now like a sunset, right? I squint at it, bubbles of doubt forming in my gut.
The semi trucks on the 5 stack up like toy trains, and Mom pushes the Lexus past a line of them. We pick up speed as Mom adds, “Or we could just turn around. I really think it’s starting to blow over.”
If by “blowing over” she means “still going viral.” The YouTube video had 616,487 views the last time I checked it.
I clear my throat and try for a bright voice. “No, I’m good. I think this will be great!” I sound like a Disney princess on her third helium balloon.
Mom notices and frowns sideways at me. “Yeah, you sound great.”
I try to dial it down. “Seriously, think of this like my semester abroad, only I’m going for a quarter and it’s Tahoe instead of Italy or South America. Like an exchange student. But without having to change money or wonder why they don’t put ice in my drink.”
Her frown lines deepen, telling me she feels this trip is nothing like an exchange program. She’s already told me what she thinks this is.
I still don’t know what happened. Not really. I mean, I know what happened; I’ve seen the video footage. But I still don’t know how it happened. One minute, my calculus teacher, Mr. Henly, was telling us to use a number two pencil, and the next minute I was shredding the test and sobbing, “It doesn’t matter, none of this matters, it doesn’t matter,” over and over until Mr. Henly called someone from the office to come get me.
“I swear, this is going to be great,” I say again, my voice thin, watching the blank middle of California spool away behind me. “I made a list.”
Mom purses her lips and stares at the road before us. A few hours later, as we trade Southern for Northern, replacing palms for pines, Mom asks again, “Are you sure you don’t want me to turn around?”
I wish she’d stop asking. “We’re basically there.” I clench my binder in sweaty hands and try to breathe in the quiet scenery.
She pulls onto Highway 89 toward Squaw Valley, passing campgrounds on our left, dark tops of picnic tables peeking through the snow, the campground sign draped in plastic. It’s hard to believe we left San Diego this morning and now we’re here. Where Trick lives. We stopped only once, to grab some sandwiches and more coffee, so we made good time. Mom loves to make good time when we’re driving, so I don’t tell her I have to pee. We’re close and I can’t stand to watch her check all her clocks any more than she already has. Mom always seems to have backup timepieces. On her wrist. On her phone. The car dashboard. She checks and double-checks their synchronicity. It seems to both calm her down and rev her up.
“I’m not sure what Trick’s living situation will be like.” Mom peers at the snowy road ahead. “I’m just giving you a heads-up. He, well, lives differently than we do.” She says it as if he lives in a tent in the middle of a field. Looking around, this seems suddenly like an actual possibility.
My only memory of Trick McHale in person is the day he took me to the San Diego Zoo. Mom had given us passes and money for lunch and told me she’d wait in the parking lot in case I needed her. Inside the zoo, Trick wandered around with me, sipping at a beer he’d smuggled in by tucking it into his sock. What I remember most about that day is the way he laughed a deep rumble at my horrified reaction to the naked mole rats. “It says they aren’t completely naked,” he said, studying the sign where it explained that they had over a hundred hairs that helped them find their way around. “But they seem butt naked to me.” I lost it then, one of those little-girl belly laughs I still sometimes get with my best friend, Josie, and he looked so surprised and pleased. I didn’t stop laughing until we reached the Arctic fox.
Almost a decade has passed and I haven’t seen him again, the time between birthday cards and calls elongating. Mom has never told me I couldn’t see Trick. It wasn’t like that. There was never any animosity — only absence. All those years, she’d rarely mentioned him, and he’d never made an effort, so I hadn’t, either. I was busy. I had Mom and my stepdad, Will, and my little twin brothers, Seth and Liam, and a busy school life. Our one trip to the zoo felt like a dream, but once, a few years ago, I found a children’s book called Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed and sent it to Trick because it made me think about that laugh and the way it had surprised him.
I don’t know if he ever got it.
“You doing okay over there?” Mom glances at me. She’s been asking me that a lot lately.
I fiddle with the heating vent, letting warm air wash over me. “Yeah, thanks.”
After my bad day, I barricaded myself in the house for the entire holiday break. Mom and Will spoke in overly bright voices. Josie came with pizza and movies and tried to coax me to the mall, but I wouldn’t go. A Christmas tree went up and down. I stared at the sea of wrapping paper and plastic toy packages Seth and Liam had left in their wake. Mostly, I tried not to think about the numbers of views my excruciatingly public meltdown was now racking up online.
Miss Perfect’s Epic Meltdown.
When I watched it, just once, I barely recognized the girl with the ash-blond ponytail, wearing the pale blue O’Neill hoodie Will had bought me on a windy day in Hawaii last April. But it was my face, pinched like a peach pit, ripping my test and all those other tests into paper rain. All those bits of test confetti filtering through the shocked air of the classroom while, outside the tall windows, the palm trees bent against the blue Windex sky of San Diego. I never want to watch it again.
But I told myself it was Not. That. Bad.
Each day, I added things to my Get a Grip List.
I have not spiraled into drug addiction.
I have not been kidnapped.
I have not lost the love of my life to a terrible disease.
Only I kind of had. If the love of my life was being valedictorian and the disease had hashtags like #checkoutthisfreak and #whatadramaqueen and #ihatethisgirl.
Still, I thought I could go back to Ranfield Academy. After all, my parents and Ranfield and countless movies and bumper stickers had raised me to rebound. All those years in tennis and soccer and the early years of swim team, the mottoes had been clear: Shake it off. Get up. Get back out there. It’s a mental game.
It definitely is.
Because in the grocery store five days ago, my first trip out of the house, the small hairs prickled on the back of my neck as people whispered behind their hands in the milk aisle and the produce section and near the bakery.
“The girl who freaked out.”
“That valedictorian girl from the video.”
“What a psycho.”
Finally, I told Mom I’d just wait in the car. When she’d deposited the groceries in the back and slipped in beside me, I blurted, “I want to go live with Trick in Tahoe for a while.”
Mom told me that you can’t care what other people think.
Josie told me people are jerks; don’t worry about them.
Will told me humans have the attention span of gnats; let it go.
Great advice. I’m just not sure how to actually do any of that. Not care. Not worry. Let it go. Am I missing a certain gene?
Through the window, I see the Truckee River tumble into view on our left side, glittery in the pale sunlight. Everything in this landscape is sharp — white, blue, gray, silver. Even the green is deep and charcoaled. It will be like studying abroad — a foreign country where the only whispering sounds will be the snow falling through the pines.
Mom slows at a light and turns right at a large sign reading Squaw Valley USA, International Mountain Resort. “Squaw Valley hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics,” she tells me, gliding along Squaw Valley Road. We wind back into the valley, passing a turn-
off for the Resort at Squaw Creek. As we curve to the left, a snow meadow comes into view, and beyond it, a wall of winter mountains.
“Wow,” I breathe, taking in the snowy peaks.
“Yeah, I know. It’s gorgeous.” Mom pulls the car into a parking lot near a massive cluster of brown alpine-style buildings. “The Village,” she tells me, her voice holding a trace of the distaste that appears the few times I’ve asked her about why she left Squaw Valley when I was barely three. “We’re here.” She shuts off the engine, hesitating, her fingers plucking the keys swiftly from the ignition. As she studies the resort in front of her, I can almost see the flashes of memories move across her features. She goes quiet, whatever it was that took her away from here crawling back out from under all the snow.
“Mom?” She must be freaking out. Mom also makes lists, keeps color-coded files of necessary forms, and has a master Google calendar for me and for the twins with different-colored fonts for each of us. Purple. Blue. Green.
My bad day in the middle of junior year wasn’t anywhere on her lists.
“Right, sorry.” She jingles her keys slightly and then, without warning, reaches across and grabs my hand. “You can say hello, just stay for a night and clear your head, and get in this car with me tomorrow and drive home. You know that, right?”
A vulture of doubt circles me. “I know.”
I also know she doesn’t want me to do this. She’s thinking now is not the time to change directions and she’s probably right. I realize that if I get out of this car and walk to meet Trick, I will take myself off the path we’ve planned, the one that would have me show up at school today with my head held high, not worried about everyone’s whispering, the one where I do shake it off and get back on track and win a scholarship to the right sort of college. One of the schools on Mom’s ever-evolving list.
On this right path, I pity the person who posted that video of me because they are mean and petty and small. I write a college essay about how I hit a rough patch but righted myself and stayed steady and faced my fears and it made me stronger. Maybe I start a support group for kids like me, victims of cyber shaming. Those future admissions committees would nod understandingly and applaud me for getting back up, dusting myself off, and making the best of a bad situation.
Mara James. Accepted. Future secured. Take that, high school.
That sounds a lot like what old Mara would do.
Problem is, I can’t seem to bring myself to hold up my chin, start that support group, write that essay. I don’t feel pity or strength or resolve. I feel broken and small and confused.
“I’m ready,” I lie.
Mom slips on a periwinkle knit beanie, the purplish-blue darkening her eyes. Or maybe it’s disappointment that darkens them. “Okay, then.” She sighs. “Let’s go see how Neverland’s holding up.”
The Now List
1. Learn to ski: green runs, blue runs, black runs??
2. Internet cleanse (no social media, no news, Skype okay!)
3. Meditation — at least 10 minutes a day!!
4. Sleep until 8 on a school day.
5. Essential oils to relax — lavender, chamomile, orange.
6. Simplify & downsize!!
7. Kiss a cute snowboarder!! (Josie’s suggestion)
8. Breathe! (obviously)
9. Be brave. (from Will)
10. Read for fun? (see attached suggested book lists)
Like any SST post, there is a giveaway. If you like to get a book after reading the excerpt, go ahead and enter the giveaway to win a copy of The Possibility of Now by Kim Culbertson.
If you didn’t win the giveaway but you’re still interested of getting the book yourself, here are the link to buying the book.
Kim Culbertson is the author of Catch a Falling Star; Instructions for a Broken Heart, a Northern California Book Award winner; and Songs for a Teenage Nomad. When she’s not writing young adult novels, she teaches high school creative writing. Kim lives with her husband and their daughter in Northern California. For more about Kim, visit her website.
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