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Do

Not

Give Up

Kid.

A fiction + essay collection by Britt Kemp

2018


Copyright ©2018 by Britt Kemp

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. Please do not participate in or encourage the piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.


Contents

The End of the World

Quiet Girl Confessions

The Duchess’s Tears

Last Day of Magic

The Patron Saint of Phoenix

The Robin

Everybody Here Secretly Hates You

Acknowledgements

About the Author


Foreword

Britt Kemp often writes stories about the missteps of being human. She writes in a self-deprecating tone that is wholly relatable to anyone who has ever thought maybe they aren’t “the shit.” The stories in this book are a fantastic bouquet of Britt Kemp’s storytelling dossier. This book reads like a collection of coming of age stories where the narrator often begins as her own enemy and ends as her own hero.

I first met Britt Kemp when she volunteered to do a monthly storytelling event that I host. At the time, it seemed like she didn’t know anyone in the room. She introduced herself to me and quietly sunk away into the crowd. When it was her turn to tell her story, she came up to the front, sat on the stool and slunk into her sweatshirt. She read from her phone that night, and the story she told was both emotional and funny. Self-deprecating but always her own hero in the end.

I’ve had the pleasure since then, to see Britt Kemp become a very confident and competent storyteller. Her stories point out social flubs and relatable mistakes that bring audiences to laughter. It has been inspiring to watch so many memorable storytellers in the Phoenix and Tempe area find their voice, and Britt Kemp has been one of my favorites.

- Sarah Maria Rainer

- July 2018


The End of the World

Originally presented at Untidy Secrets Storytelling in Tempe, AZ - February 2016

Growing up fervently religious in blue-collar, Rust Belt Pennsylvania, there were a few truths to my prepubescent life I held to be certain:

1.) We were all bad people from the day we emerged from the womb.

2.) Jesus would return at any moment, you just didn’t know when nor did you know how and the Bible or the priests that recited the Bible to me during endless afternoon masses assured me of this – nor did you have the ability to even guess that time.

3.) People who called “pop” “soda” were outsiders and should be treated as such.

I believed the world would end at any moment, although I knew CAVEAT EMPTOR on trying to Miss Cleo that shit. I regularly would wake up in the middle of the night to some indescribable noise, arguably animals or car collisions or drunk people.

“Must be the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” I would lazily think before rolling back on my other side, and thus, to sleep.

The end of the world was a very real concept I wrestled with as a child. To me, it was a never a matter of if. It was always a matter of when. I sometimes would look upon Middle Ages-era artwork in school. You know, with the cherubs and the demons and the naked people scattered about, looks of terror tightening their fruit-like faces. Everyone in these paintings is almost always white and basically naked. Apparently everybody else remained on Earth. With clothes. Probably from The Gap.

I looked upon these paintings like scenes from future crimes, predictions of a grim tomorrow that would eventually materialize.

Eventually.

The world has ended several times in my decidedly post-Catholic life, since the spiritual crises of my early youth. The first time the world came to a halt was at the turn of the last century. I believed in Y2K, and somehow convinced my mom to stock up on amenities (e.g., water, toilet paper, and People magazine).

“Moooooooooom!” I moaned in the nascent voice I had that hasn’t changed since puberty. “It’s going to end, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! MOM!”

Y2K came and absolutely nothing fucking happened, but we had a surplus of bottled water for the next five years.

The next time I thought the world would end when I was fired from McDonald’s at the age of 17. They gave me the reason of, and I quote exactly from my somewhat fuzzy memory, “stealing a bag of French fries.” Even as a borderline more rational adult, that explanation seems unlikely. Perhaps I was too flustered at the cash registers to keep up with the constant pace of old people who spat at me their orders from behind plastic teeth and young people who thought I was, to borrow from Elvis Costello, “less than zero.”

I had written my “Dear John” letter in physics class and tucked it carefully into the pocket of my bleach-colored polo. I had rehearsed what I would say when handing the folded piece of notebook paper to my manager, a grown woman adorned with a bowl cut.

But, instead. I was the Dear John.

“We’re going to have to let you go,” my manager told me with a yawn, probably contemplating the cigarette she would take after throwing my ass to the curb. “We have a missing bag of French fries?”

Really?

Of course I bawled in the McDonald’s. I wore my hand-me-down sunglasses to the bank when I cashed my last paycheck immediately afterward – in the dead of a sunless Lake Erie winter – so the bank teller wouldn’t see my tears streaming down my rotund cheeks.

“What happened?” the bank teller asked my Mom. My Mom mouthed the word “FIRED” to her.

“Ohhhhhhhh.”

I spent weeks in a post-apocalyptic haze. I know it was a haze because here I am, a decade later, unconscious of any of it.

But, I climbed out of it. I pulled my way out of the wreck. The world had not ended. Not yet, at least.

Flash forward several years, I was dating a girl who took me to Applebee’s on a regular basis. We split that deal of a meal they have – you might know what I’m speaking about, two entrees for $20. We were both essentially broke in Arizona, and to us, it made perfect economic sense. But not from a culinary sense.

I really loved this girl. She threw up in my lap the night I met her, but this did not dissuade me from my pursuit of her. We did everything a completely normal homosexual couple does together, like buy guinea pigs and argue in IKEA.

At this stage in my life, I defined my perfect relationship as one with a girl who would spend her weekends at Whole Foods with me. I offer no defense. To explain to you where I am coming from as a person, I thought Chili’s was an upscale restaurant until I was 22 and actually ate there. I had diarrhea within 24 hours of that experience.

Getting back on point, love sometimes blinds us. Love or infatuation, whichever you prefer. My college friend told me on gchat one afternoon, “Britt, I think you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship.” To which I responded something like, “MEEEEEE? No, NEVER. She’s SO GOOD FOR ME.” In my mind, we were already married and scoping out our next home. I had never imagined myself being loved by anyone who wasn’t bound to me by blood.

The autumn of that year, my Dad died after a decade-long battle with a miserably failing body. I said my goodbyes via phone while at work one day. I had to excuse myself to the parking lot, because my surrounding co-workers were loudly lost in idle banter. My friend found me in the parking lot walking in circles, and held me in his arms while I tried to process what was happening.

I went home for the funeral, and when I came back, my girlfriend told me I was poisonous, that she didn’t like how physical I was, and that she never wanted to see me again.

The world once again ended. I hadn’t thought it was capable of repeating itself, but at that time, I wasn’t particularly anticipating hearing the Four Horsemen thumping down the pavement.

If I had an inkling of things to come, I wouldn’t have bought those extra guinea pigs with her or let her decorate my apartment with the trinkets she had bought that I never totally wanted. I would have done things differently. As in, “BYEEEEEE FELICIA!” once her warm vomit hit my new Levis.

I climbed out of the Armageddon once again, though. Fought my way out, limb by tired limb. I learned to be a human again in a world populated by beings I did not know.

These days, things are different. But a good different, not in the polite way relatives discuss your art-happy cousin (“She’s soooo different.”) Or not in the way people react to you having multiple rodents (“That’s, uh, different.”)

But I live with the strange awareness that the world could still end. After all, Jesus never told us its precise date or time.

ADDENDUM: Jesus never said anything about the appropriate term for “soda” in The Bible. The Second Vatican Council has deemed it “sodapop.”


Quiet Girl Confessions

Originally presented at Untidy Secrets Storytelling in Tempe, AZ - April 2016

After a lifetime of being written off because of my shyness and awkwardness, I’m here with a message for everyone who silently judges us neurotic folks:

Don’t underestimate us, motherfuckers.

My personal story starts a long, long time ago. Every report card I received growing up carried the same complaint. In that little area off to the side where teachers could leave feedback on things you needed to improve and areas you already excelled at, the comment was identical year after year after year.

“Brittany really needs to participate more,” they all said.

I remember reading that feedback and thinking, well, NO. With all the indignation a small girl can muster. Imagine – crossed arms and grimaced lips. A regular cross between Shirley Temple, Veruca Salt, and Gollum. I refused to speak more than I had to.

“Britt, I don’t remember you ever speaking more than two words in elementary school,” my friend recollected once. She stopped and thought about what she had said. “Maybe not even two words.”

It wasn’t that I didn’t like people or didn’t want to communicate with people. But I had been shut down by others so many times in my first few years of school that I learned to stop trying. The predetermined popular kids were already dictating the social order, and I quickly fell to the bottom.

“YOU CAN’T JUMP ROPE WITH US!” some little girl in pigtails squealed at me after I royally jacked up swinging the nylon rope back and forth.

“You’re really weird,” my best friend, Jamie, told me.

“Oh, COOL!” I replied at the time. Jamie was not a good friend in retrospect, but she was the first person to ever break my heart. She left in second grade and didn’t say goodbye; my parents told me she moved to the exotic and faraway land of South Carolina. I cried a lot; I sat up at night, gazing out my window, and hoping she would return. She didn’t.

I was learning to shut other people out. I wanted nothing more to connect with my peers, but they didn’t want to connect with me.

My guidance counselor invited me to be a part of a group of “special friends” when I was in elementary school. I didn’t realize until I was well into adulthood what the implications of my thrown-together clique were.

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” I said, somewhere in my early 20s and reflecting on the said situation. “Shit.”

It was nice though – during those “special friends” sessions, I was given the feeling I belonged. No matter how ephemeral it was. I felt like, even though I was quiet and shy and sometimes nervous, I had people.

In middle school, I had no “special friends.” But I did I have a lunch table to myself, which wasn’t as VIP as it sounds. I also had a collection of Hawaiian shirts meant for middle-aged men while the other kids were draping themselves in those puffy Old Navy vests that looked like relics left behind by Marty McFly. The cherry on top was that I was loyally wearing my brother’s hair gel and sweatpants as if they were jeans. I was quite the little stud at the time.

A group of boys set out to make my life a living hell then, and they succeeded. You see, at this point I was so used to being castigated for simply trying to be myself that I refused to speak to anyone unless I was absolutely forced to. The boy I remember the most vividly is Nick Alport, a face I won’t forget until I’m rotting on my deathbed.

“WHY DON’T YOU TALK BRITT!” he would spit, poking me in seventh grade social studies. I looked downward and shook my head. I refused to utter so much as an uncertain “meep” in reply.

Poke.

Poke poke poke.

Poke.

Poke, poke.

He was always poking me, and I mean that in an earnest way without any innuendo. And he thought it was the most hilarious gag of all time. Constantly laughing with his beaver face, which is one thing I can still recall about him. He looked like an all-too-content, suspiciously content beaver.

There were other boys, too. They took their turns finding ways to ostracize the quiet, bookish, chubby girl who thought the other kids were still listening to Van Halen on cassette tapes.

At that time though, I began making friends. Slowly but surely, I found a real social group of other girls. Girls who appreciated the undeniable musical genius of Linkin Park. They sat with me at lunch and, shock of shocks, made a genuine effort to get to know me.

“You’re actually really smart and funny,” my friend Nicole told me one day. I was completely stunned by her admission.

“DEAR DIARY, I MIGHT BE FUNNY. AND SMART. I DON’T KNOW.” One journal entry dated 2001 reads.

By the end of the era of middle school, people were treating me more like a person. And I was amazed by how my confidence began to lift as a result. I feel like this is a good opportunity for an Oprah moment – you shouldn’t really base your confidence off how other people treat you. It’s probably best to give no fucks in life, unless you truly lack a moral compass. But I am not the best person to provide such advice. Thus, food for thought.

High school, though, was around the bend. And come ninth grade, I was back to being the quiet, scared girl who people seemed to immediately write off. I ended up authoring a collection of stories for my creative writing class called “Silent All These Years,” which is itself a nod at Tori Amos. If that gives you any context whatsoever to what those four years were like (lots of Tori Amos ensued).

College was, for the most part, an experiment in purposefully isolating myself from other people. I wasn’t all too happy about where I ended up academically, and I wasn’t too happy about the people I shared classes with.

“Dude, this water bottle is full of vodka. I’m gonna be fucked up by the time class is over!”

I became a hermit, more or less. I wasn’t trying to make a point – I was thoroughly uninterested in my surroundings, and constantly dreaming of a better time and place with a pit of hope in my stomach. And then, I reached that critical turning point once again. I became a newspaper editor, and I really had to talk to people. All kinds of people.

I started as the arts and entertainment editor. My aspiring music blogger self was tickled pink by this prospect. Holy shit! A grand venue to impose my taste on everyone!

Instead, no.

The school where I earned my undergraduate degree, Edinboro University, is known for its visual art programs. So that meant I interviewed a lot of art students. More often than not did I see a glimmer of doubt in their eyes when I arrived at various openings and receptions, flimsy 50-cent notebook in hand, ready to pick their brains. I knew they thought I wasn’t “one of them” and the fact I was more on the reserved side made this conception all the more prominent.

“So, what was the impetus for this painting? What was your original inspiration?” I would fire off my questions. “And where exactly did you find the blood to make this red?”

We would begin having a conversation then, and the doubt would soften. They learned I was kind of like them. Sort of.

I moved up from my position of arts and entertainment editor and found myself (bewilderingly) editor in chief. During that time, I had little interaction with the art student crowd, but I was interrogated by the student council for choosing to publish an article about Patrick Swayze’s death (RIP).

As adulthood has dragged on, I’ve worked hard on cracking through my shell and showing people that I am not actually an idiot. It’s been a continuation of the same cycle that plagued my earlier years. From Erie to Brooklyn to Erie again and then here in Phoenix.

Several months ago, I went out with a friend. We went to various art galleries in downtown Phoenix together. I had never really been much for the Phoenix art scene, mostly because for my past four years of living here, I’ve been so preoccupied with work and relationships and trying to, like, not die without a car that I never paid it that much attention. But I took it in that November afternoon, and I was bemused as to why I was living in a bubble for so long. I took it in hungrily and realized I had genuinely been missing out.

There was one painting that caught my attention. I stood and lingered in front of it for a while as my friend caught up with old acquaintances. I knew no one but her, so I shut my mouth and looked straight in front of me at the canvas. Sometimes with art, I walk myself through the motions. Okay. This is art. How do I feel? Do I feel anything? Am I even doing this right? Did I pee recently? Wait. This piece, though, struck a chord with me. Inside the painting was a quote I had read many years ago, but couldn’t place. Immediately, my mind leapt from how I needed to pee to where that quote had originated from and how I felt it sinking inside of me.

“You have to look at this painting!” a girl behind me shouted. I jumped a little bit as the girl ran up right by me, my friend in tow. It was like I wasn’t even there – the girl pointed at the quote. “That quote! It’s beautiful!”

My friend said nothing, and I was going to say nothing, but. But.

But.

“That’s Shakespeare," I heard myself saying. The girl immediately acknowledged me for the first time, rapidly nodding her head.

“Oh. Okay,” she responded, somewhat surprised. I smiled as the two walked away and left me to my thoughts again.

Maybe I should speak up more often. Yes. That sounds like it could be the start of something good. I thought as I went off to find the nearest bathroom to relieve myself.


The Duchess’s Tears

Written in June 2011 for a friend’s literary magazine. I wrote it while living in Brooklyn.

Are we really responsible for those we’ve selected to let into our hearts? Or is it just fate, just kismet, just us falling victim to some greater scheme of the way life is supposed to be?

One can argue that science and logic dictate that love is something we create in our minds, something we develop in our twisted biologies.

One can disturb any notions that we are at the will of something devious, if shown in the improper light. And if in the positive light, then love (or whatever it is) will be led to flourish and grow as it should. Blossom into something healthy and not left to fester like a day-old wound.

But for Natasha, her last brush with love had not ended this way. Some hands slap rather than caress. She had been at the receiving end of such. For her, lost love was a splintering cross on her tender back.

Now she sat in a café, holding an overpriced and overfoamed latte, contemplating a girl from long ago.

How mundane. She dismissed her fears. She had no rational reason to be as nervous as she was. What had transpired was long over. Life was different then and so forth. She liked to make believe it was happier, but she knew it probably wasn’t. It just seemed it. If we take into consideration the argument from earlier, then Natasha was most definitely a victim. She didn’t carry herself like one and she felt no self-pity, only pangs of various regrets. They echoed through her body like she was made of water and they were the latent ripples.

She reckoned she was happy now, fine with things as they were. She had a man that loved her very well and in a way she was not familiar with. His hair was dark and he came from money and smelled like exotic perfumes. He was Italian or Spanish, Natasha didn’t know his whole backstory. And she didn’t want to know. Natasha was content with her ignorance in this regard. She didn’t press.

She washed her hands before every meal and after every visit to the bathroom. She took too many showers and kept the water on longer than she should have; the bills that came afterwards attested to this reality. She tried not to reflect on her past and where it was she specifically came from. Natasha knew something was missing, but whatever this piece was, she tried to not expose it against the rest of her life. She knew the way things were could not be changed at this point, and she was not sure she would want them to be changed.

As for Andie, she read of her sometimes in the periodicals she picked up at the store but never bought. They were small articles, speaking of some good fortune and so on. She couldn’t ask anything more for her. As always, she knew there was more brewing behind the scenes, but that was left up to the imaginings of her mind.

It had been her incentive to get the two back together for this meeting. Natasha had the vague inkling it was out of place or out of time, but she had wanted it.

“I’ll be there.” Andie hadn’t hesitated on the phone. Her voice was somewhat gruff and indistinctive. The emotion that was hidden in there was hard to pick up- if there was any. She wondered what her personal life was like now. If she had one. Andie had been so obsessed with work; she could imagine any fledgling relationships eternally remained on the backburner.

Natasha had arrived half an hour early. This was to give her time to wind down, zen herself out. She could hear her heart beating in her ears, thumping along, as if she had taken off in a marathon.

I’m so mundane. She despaired, questioning her body’s reaction. There was no good reason to be so worked up. There was no good reason for the clamminess in her hands and the anxiety churning through her body. The caffeine wasn’t helping matters, either.

She took a quick glimpse at the time on her phone. Now, it was about right. She tried to appear nonchalant, leaning back in her seat. Instead, she leaned back so far she almost fell.

Idiot. Natasha’s pale cheeks reddened and she straightened herself into an upright mode.

“Is your other party coming?” The waitress, an unassuming young girl, appeared before her. The smile on her face was taut and somewhat overdone. Natasha looked away.

“In a few minutes, yes.” The waitress headed off, leaving Natasha with the empty chair set before her.

And, as if scripted, Andie was there. She stood in the doorway, her eyes big and blank, searching the catacombs of the streetside café. Natasha waved her hand and mouthed a “Hello.” Andie, herself, nodded a response and made her meek way into the café, her eyes downward the whole time.

“Did you get here early?” Andie’s first question was, her voice soft and easily misunderstood for its lack of volume. It matched her persona; she was a girl often lost in a crowd. She was soft-spoken, quiet, and diminutive. Now Natasha wasn’t an outgoing ball of unstoppable energy, but her great beauty was enough to get her noticed by passersby (most of the time).

“Yes I did. You know me.”

“I do.” The waitress came back, like a puppy expecting her head to be scratched. “A black coffee, please.” Andie nodded at the girl before she could begin to speak. There was something impatient in the air surrounding her.

Well, one thing hasn’t changed. Always with the black coffee. Natasha smirked, in spite of herself. She didn’t think it’d kill Andie to get a cappuccino for once, or, yes, a latte.


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