Prep

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Life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us.
Thomas L. Holdcroft
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Prep is a novel by Curtis Sittenfeld, about a girl from South Bend, Indiana, who goes to a boarding school near Boston, Massachusetts.

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  • And so then I’d thought, not only was I wrong, but my life turned out the opposite of how I expected. Meaning, it wasn’t my appearance- that’s not the bad thing about me. It’s my personality. But how do I know which part? I have no idea. I’ve tried to think about if it’s one thing in isolation or everything together, or what I can do to fix it, or how I can convince you. Then I thought, maybe it is my looks, maybe I was right before. And I never figured it out. Obviously, I didn’t. But I’ve spent a lot of time this year trying. And the reason I’m telling you all this is that I want you to know no one in my life has ever made me feel worse about myself than you
  • As for the politics here, what can you do? There’s a lot of posturing, but it’s all kind of meaningless.
  • As I watched her leave, my mind shot ahead to a time in the future when we would not share a room, when our daily lives would not overlap. The idea made me feel as if I were being held underwater. Then I thought, you’re being so ridiculous; you have almost three more years together, and I could breathe again. But I knew, I always knew- and as unhappy as I often was, the knowledge never made me feel better; instead it seemed the worst part of all- that our lives at Ault were only temporary.
  • At Ault, it wasn't just that we weren't supposed to be bad or unethical; we weren't even supposed to be ordinary, and stealing was worse than ordinary. It was unseemly, lacking subtlety, revealing a wish for things you did not already have.
  • Before or after your stole my best friend? But the real question is if you were using me to get to Martha all along, or if you just took an opportunity when you saw it.
  • But then she’d know what she’d probably only suspected- how messed up I really was, how much I’d been misleading them for the last four years.
  • But to be seen as pretty was to be fundamentally misunderstood... If a guy believed my value to lie in my looks, it meant either that he'd somehow been misled and would eventually be disappointed, or that he had very low standards.
  • But while I was in their city, it just seemed like such a mistake that I had ever left home, such an error in judgment in all our parts.
  • Cross would never want me to be his girlfriend; things like weather or certain songs could make me forget it sometimes, but I was always still myself.
  • During my time at Ault, I’d always felt I had things to hide, reasons to apologize. But I hadn’t, I saw now. In a strange way, it was as if all along I’d anticipated what would happen with The New York Times, I’d known how it would end.
  • Flawed as I was, someone recognized me.
  • For the whole movie, I had that sense of heightened awareness that is like discomfort but is not discomfort exactly -- a tiring, enjoyable vigilance. I did not get a grasp on the movie's plot, or the names of any of the characters. Then it was over and the lights came on… Maybe this was the place Cross and I would part ways, I thought. And maybe we wouldn't even say good-bye, now that he was with his friends again; maybe I was just supposed to know.
  • Hardly ever did it matter if you brushed your hair before driving to the grocery store, rarely did you work in an office where you cared what more than two or three people thought of you. At Ault, caring about everything was draining, but it was also exhilarating.
  • How did you even know if you loved another person? Was it a hunch, like a good smell that you couldn’t identify for sure, or did a time come when you had evidence? Was it like walking through a house and once you’d crossed a certain threshold, that was love and you could never turn back? Maybe you’d go into other rooms, you’d fight or even breakup, but you’d always be on the other side of love, after and not before it. My interest in couples felt anthropological- even liking Cross, even wanting to hear from Martha that she could imagine me dating him, I myself could not imagine us together. Not as daily presence in each other’s lives, two people who had conversations and made out and sat next to each other in chapel. When I through of Sin-Jun and Clara- and I did so often- what was hardest to wrap my head around was how they’d been a couple while living in the same room. How had they known when to fool around and when to just sit at their desks doing homework? Hadn’t it been either too intense, too tiring to always be around the person you wanted to impress, or else too familiar? Maybe in such close quarters you gave up hope of impressing them and sat there picking your earwax and not caring if you looked cute. But didn’t you lose something there, too? If that was what people meant by intimacy, it didn’t hold much appeal for me- it seemed like you’d be fighting each other for oxygen.
  • I always found the times when another person recognizes you to be strangely sad; I suspect the pathos of these moments is their rareness, the way they contrast with most daily encounters. That reminder that it can be different, that you need not go through your life unknown but that you probably still will- that is the part that’s almost unbearable.
  • I always worried someone would notice me, and then when no one did, I felt lonely.
  • I believe that reflecting is very important in developing as a person and realizing one’s priorities.
  • I believed then that if you had a good encounter with a person, it was best not to see them again for as long as possible.
  • I did not scream or hug anyone. In fact, as the noise gained momentum, I felt its opposite, a draining of excitement. But not a draining of tension - my body was still stiff and alert, and the impulse I had, strangely, was to weep. Not because I was sad but because I was not happy, and yet, like my classmates, I'd experienced an emotional surge, I too felt the need for expression. This phenomenon -- being gripped by an overwhelming wave of feeling that was clearly not the feeling of the people around me -- had also happened at a pep rally: It made me uncomfortable, because I didn't want anyone to notice that I wasn't jumping up and down or cheering, and it also thrilled me, because it made the world seem full of possibilities that could make my heart pound. I think, looking back, that this was the single best thing about Ault, the sense of possibility… In my whole life, Ault was the place with the greatest density of people to fall in love with.
  • I forgot, over and over, that the fact of my wanting something wasn’t enough to make it happen.
  • I had no reason to ever go back, no real reason- from now on, it was all optional.
  • I have always found those times when another person recognizes you to be strangely sad; I suspect the pathos of these moments is their rareness, the way they contrast with most daily encounters. That reminder that it can be different, that you need not go through your life unknown but that you probably still will - that is the part that's almost unbearable.
  • I heard a thousand times that a boy, or a man, can’t make you happy, that you have to be happy on your own before you can be happy with another person. All I can say is, I wish it were true.
  • I just don’t understand what you were doing with me,” I said. “I mean ever. Sometimes I try to see this all from your perspective, and none of it makes sense."
  • I let the piece of paper sit untouched on my lap, like a napkin. But the truth was, I felt cornered by it. Yes there were things I didn't like about Ms. Moray, but they had little to do with her clothes. And besides, didn't Aspeth and Dede understand that written words trapped you? A piece of paper could slip from a notebook, flutter out a window, be lifted from the trash and uncrumpled, whereas an incriminating remark made in conversation was weightless and invisible, deniable in a later moment.
  • I looked at her, and, as I did, I realized for the first time that she was very attractive: not pretty exactly, but striking, or maybe handsome.
  • I nodded, though I was pretty sure I had no idea; I’d never heard someone close to my own age talk the way she was talking.
  • I overestimated you,” Conchita said. “I thought you were smart and neat. But you’re shallow and conformist. You don’t have any identity so you define yourself by who you spend time with, and you get nervous that you’re spending time with the wrong people. I feel sorry for Martha because I bet she has no idea what you’re like.
  • I think that everything, or at least the part of everything that happened to me, started with the Roman architecture mix-up.
  • I thought of how many times I’d wondered if things were awry between us, if I was displeasing him or he’d lost interest. All those times, I’d suppressed my impulse to ask, and I was glad that I had because maybe asking would have hastened the end. And because- I understood this now- you really didn’t need to ask. When it was over, you knew.
  • I thought of how my life at Ault was a series of interactions and avoidance of interactions in which I pretended not to mind that I was almost always by myself. I could not last for long this way, certainly not for the next three years. I’d been at Ault only seven months, and already, my loneliness felt physically exhausting.
  • I understood that even if he’d been my boyfriend, he still wouldn’t have belonged to me.
  • I wanted to be the person [he] told things to. I wanted him to think I was pretty, I wanted him to be reminded of me by stuff I liked-- pistachios and hooded sweatshirts and the Dylan song "Girl from the North Country"-- and I wanted him to miss me when we were apart. I wanted him to feel, when we were lying in bed together, like he couldn't imagine anywhere better.
  • I was less happy and my life was more interesting. Perhaps that was not the worst trade-off in the world.
  • I was self-hating, and wasn’t that enough? Did there need to be so many of us?
  • I was terrified of unwittingly leaving behind a piece of scrap paper on which were written all my private desires and humiliations. The fact that no such scrap of paper existed... never decreased my fear.
  • I was too young then to understand how simple facts of geography and time can separate people. These are reasons I shouldn’t have wondered what I wondered next, as I looked at our reflections in the splintered mirror- whether anything, even bad luck, would be enough to keep us bound to each other over all the years to come.
  • I was worried about you.
  • I wondered if the balance between us was shifting. Not that things had ever been balanced- I was in love with him, and he was unreadable to me- but that imbalance had its own patterns, and also its own clarity.
  • In an odd way, suicide attempts seemed to me- I wouldn’t have thought this as a freshman, but I thought it now, two years later- naïve. They didn’t achieve anything, the drama they set in motion couldn’t possibly be sustained. In the end, there was always your regular life and no one could deal with it but you.
  • In my own experience, creating such a perfectly messy bun required a good fifteen minutes of maneuvering before a mirror.
  • It had begun to rain outside, and on the circle, a bunch of boys were playing football, slipping and rolling in the grass. Listening to their cries, I felt a familiar jealousy of boys. I didn't want what they had, but I wished that I wanted what they wanted; it seemed like happiness was easier for them.
  • It struck me that being spring-cleaned that night, in an awful way, be easier than watching Martha become prefect.
  • it was in falling short that I truly excelled
  • It was just what you did; you socialized, you interacted. And the things you said, the walk from chapel to the schoolhouse, your backpack, tests, these were a bridge running above the rushing watch of what you actually felt. The goal was: learn to ignore what’s down below.
  • It was less difficult than it probably should have been to believe that he felt exactly the way about me that I felt about him. I didn't always believe this, but there were times--between classes, say, when we almost collided in the stairwell, and then we just stood there for a few seconds on the landing, face-to-face, not moving, before we continued in opposite directions. If things were normal, wouldn't he have said something, like hi, and couldn't it perhaps be a promising sign that instead he'd said nothing
  • It was like being drunk, how you so rarely feel drunk enough to do the thing you want to, you still feel pinned back by your own sense of rational or the proper, but the next day, hung over, you realize just how drunk you were. You had a window of opportunity. If you had used it, you probably would have embarrassed yourself, but in not using it, you wasted something irretrievable
  • It was like when you had to do a presentation in class and you felt like you needed some official sign to begin, like a whistle in a race, but instead everyone was just waiting for you and the most official thing that would happen would be that you'd say okay a few times: 'Okay. Okay, the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years' War, began in 1754 ...' I even said, 'Okay.' Then I crouched down.
  • It was more when things slowed down, during the parts when you were supposed to have fun, that my lack of friends felt obvious - on Saturday nights, when there were dances I didn't go to, and during visitation, which was the hour each night when boys and girls were allowed in each other's dorm rooms. I spent those times hiding.
  • It was my observation that beautiful and popular people rarely spent time alone.
  • Liking a boy was just the same as believing you wanted to know a secret -- everything was better when you were denied and could feel tormented by curiosity or loneliness. But the moment of something happening was treacherous.
  • my life since then has been spent in pursuit of that look
  • My self-consciousness about the Datsun was something I'd anticipated, something I had to live with but could not acknowledge - a bride descending the aisle with an itchy nose.
  • Nothing broke my heart like the slow death of a shared joke that had once seemed genuinely funny.
  • Of course. I was an idiot.
  • Out the window, the trees were bare and scrawny-looking, and the road was lined with dirty snow from the week before. I actually liked the desolation of winter; it was the season where it was okay to be unhappy. If I ever were to kill myself, I thought, it would be in the summer.
  • People genuinely liked him, and on top of that they liked the fact that they genuinely liked a big black guy from the Bronx.
  • People who say leave me alone never mean it, and this was something that I knew. “Fine,” I said. “If that’s what you want.”
  • she kind of girl about whom rock songs were written
  • She was a follower, literally a follower -- I often saw her scurrying behind two or three other girls. The strenuousness of her efforts made me feel embarrassed for her.
  • Sometimes I found myself narrating such success, at least in my own head in order to convince myself of its reality. And not just with major triumphs...but with tiny ones, with anything I'd been waiting for an anticipating... I did this because it struck me as so hard to believe I was really getting what I wanted; it was always easier to feel the lack of something than the thing itself.
  • Sorry I couldn't buy you a big house with a palm tree, Lee. Sorry you got such a raw deal for a family.
  • teenagers in wool sweaters singing hymns in the chapel, gripping lacrosse sticks, intently regarding a math equation written across the chalkboard. . . .I'd pretended it was about academics, but it never had been. . . .I imagined that if I left South Bend, I would meet a melancholy, athletic boy who liked to read as much as I did and on overcast Sundays we would take walks together wearing wool sweaters.
  • The big occurrences in life, the serious ones, have for me always been nearly impossible to recognize because they never feel big or serious. In the moment, you have to pee, or your arm itches, or what people are saying strikes you as melodramatic or sentimental, and it’s hard not to smirk. You have a sense of what this time of situation should be like- for one thing, all-consuming- and this isn’t it. But then you look back, and it was that; it did happen.
  • The flower he’d given her was a pink carnation, as all of hers were. But still. It wasn’t that Cross hadn’t sent flowers; it was that he hadn’t sent flowers to me.
  • The interest I felt in certain guys then confused me, because it wasn't romantic, but I wasn't sure what else it might be. But now I know: I wanted to take up people's time making jokes, to tease the dean in front of the entire school, to call him by a nickname. What I wanted was to be a cocky high-school boy, so fucking sure of my place in the world.
  • The pills had to have been an impulsive decision, a matter of not this; anything except this moment.
  • there are people we treat wrong and later we're prepared to treat other people right. Perhaps this sounds mercenary, but I feel grateful for these trial relationships, and I would like to think it all evens out - surely, unknowingly, I have served as practice for other people.
  • We imagine ourselves as distinct entities, but in their eyes, we merge into a great mass of adolescent neediness.
  • What do you want?
  • What kind of a person is named 'Cross Sugarman'?
  • When boys had their growth spurts, did they always grow proportionally, or was there a chance some part of the body -- for instance, the hands -- didn't get the message and stayed as they were, vestiges of the smaller self?
  • Yet these were grubby thoughts; just to have them in my own head was embarrassing. And now I knew myself to be generous with encouragement only when I either did not want the thing that the other person sought or did not believe the person would really get it. It was the opposite of what I aspired to- in the moment of truth, I wanted to be loyal and forthright, reliable, humble, trustworthy. Instead, I was greedy and envious.
  • You can tell by people's rooms -- whether or not they have stereos, or if the girls have flowered bedspreads, or if they have silver picture frames. . . . And things like, you can send your laundry to a service or you do it yourself in the dorm machines. Or even some of the sports, how much the equipment costs. Ice hockey is a really expensive sport, but something like basketball isn't that much.
  • You know how you get an idea in your head and you’re like, ‘Why wait?’ It was time. That’s how I felt.
  • You said you loved it up there living in a dorm and going to your brilliant classes. And now you say, no, here’s my misery and here’s how the school treats me and I’ve been given every advantage but it wasn’t what I wanted. Well, I don’t know what the hell you wanted, Lee.
  • You're always walking around with your head down. Or at roll call, you just study and don't talk to people
  • Sports contained the truth, I decided, the unspoken truth (how quickly we damn ourselves when we start to talk, how small and inglorious we always sound), and it seemed hard to believe that I had never understood this before. They reqarded effortlessnes and unself-conciousness; they confirmed that yes, there are rankings of skill and value and that everyone knows what they are (seeing those guys who were subbed with two seconds left before the end of the quarter, I'd think how girls' coaches were never that heartles); they showed that the best things in the world to be were strong and fast. To play a great game of high school basketball-it was something I myself had never done, but I could tell-made you know what it was to be alive. How much in an adult life can compare to that? Granted, there are margaritas, or there's no homework, but there are also puffy white bagels under neon lights in the conference room, there's waiting for the plumber, making small talk with your boring neighbor.
  • I think adults forget just how much faith teenagers can have in them, just how willing to believe that dults, by virtue of being adults, know absolute truths, or that absolute truths are even knowable.
  • The small rewards we give ourselves-I think maybe there is nothing sadder.
  • I have always found the times when another person recognizes you to be strangely sad; I suspect the pathos of these moments is their rareness, the way they contrast with most daily encounters. That reminder that it can be different, that you need not go through your life unknown but that you probably still will-that is the part that is almost unbearable.
  • Later on, when I tried to imagine how I might have ruined things, that would occur to me – that I’d so rarely resisted, that I hadn’t made it hard enough for him. Maybe he felt disappointed. Maybe it was like gathering your strength and hurling your body against a door you believe to be locked, and then the door opens easily – it wasn’t locked at all – and you’re standing looking into the room, trying to remember what it was you thought you wanted.

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