The Shenandoah mountains are the perfect place to hike, especially in the fall. The leaves are my favorite part. They’re wet to the touch today. It rained this morning. My parents didn’t feel like hiking, so I convinced my sister to take me. She only takes me so she can take photos for her Instagram, I think. I don’t mind, though. I just like being here.
The trail is pretty empty today, so I can do my favorite thing without being judged. I think I get judged a lot, picking up rocks like that. My sister tells me to stop; I’m a fifteen-year-old girl, she says. And people give me this funny face, like they feel bad for me. That’s the worst part. The pity.
I don’t like pity. It’s a way to look down on people by looking nice. It’s just another way to mask the nasty thoughts that are floating around in people’s brains. I have nasty thoughts too. I think that my older sister is a follower and my younger sister is flirty and my mother is too tall and my father is too fat. But I don’t pity them. Nobody deserves that.
When people see me squatting in the mud like that, digging around for rocks, they sometimes say I’m on “the spectrum”, all loud and stuff, as if I don’t know what it means. I’m not, I don’t think. It’s not like I check.
It’s harder to find rocks today, probably because of all the fallen leaves. I wonder if it’s fun or scary to fall like this. Like a leaf. My older sister, Janet, says I shouldn’t say stuff like this, but I still think it. Thinking is a hobby of mine. Every rock that I pick up makes me think. I spot one in the middle of the trail. It kind of looks like a lowercase “B”. It makes me think about my name.
Benny is a stupid name. I would understand it if my parents had named me Benjamin, but my mother says that it is “simply unsuitable” for a girl. So why is Benny any better? Benny, that’s it. The whole package.
I remember the first time the name’s irregularity dawned on me. It was the summer before first grade, and we were moving into our new house. The house seemed nice. My parents painted it butter yellow, which I hated, but it had big windows and a cool old attic, so the weird color didn’t bother me so much. The first day we drove into that driveway was just to show us kids the new house. The first thing I noticed was the dog poop right outside the car, but my sister seemed to notice something more interesting. A small apartment building loomed across the alley from the new house, and who should be on the lawn but two boys. While my older sister chattered about the older one and my younger sister whined about having boys for next door neighbors, I focused my attention on the little surprise outside of the door. There was no way I was stepping in it. After we made it into the house without any mishaps, I finally turned my attention to the minor situation at hand: the neighbor boys. There they were, on our front porch. Nobody would dare answer the door. My younger sister, Vienna, three at the time, held her stuffed elephant close. Janet, nine at the time, stuck her nose up and said that they probably had cooties. So there they went, my two sisters, clambering up the stairs to pick out their rooms.
Gingerly, I opened the door. The boys looked smaller in person, and pretty clean. I couldn’t see any cooties from the doorstep. The younger one was tilting his head so much I thought it might pop off. The older one looked nervous, clutching the container in his hand for dear life. He was, it seems, because he dropped the container on the floor and ran off.
That left me and the younger one.
His head was still tilted a lot, and he had a curious expression on his face.
“Careful,” I said matter-of-factly, like my doctor, Dr. Kneeler. “I’m afraid it might pop off.” The idiot didn’t change one thing!
“What?” He drew out the word. He sounded pretty whiny. I decided to do what needed to be done. His neck still cracks a lot. I guess I shoved it a little hard.
Mitchell, that’s his name, but I call him Mitch and he calls me Ben and we’re still good friends, despite the whole neck thing. Usually he would collect rocks with me, but he has to go to church today and I don’t. You could say I’m not religious.
The hunt for rocks is getting tricky, so I decide to just run ahead to the best part of the hike: the summit. The summit is a challenge every time I reach it. I’m not the biggest fan of heights, and rock climbing isn’t my thing. But Mitch and I found a loophole: the pit. In the brown rocks that form the tippy top of the mountain lies a crevice. If you get nice and flexible like Mitch and I did from our circus classes, you can wiggle your way into it. And voila! The perfect hideout. Janet usually stays behind, because she doesn’t like what the big gusts of wind does to her hair, so I run ahead, usually, just like today. Once I reach the rocky surface, I climb towards the crevice nice and slow, because the rain makes the smoother rocks pretty slick. I almost fall off anyway when I see what’s scattered all over the crevice. It glints in the sun. I shriek.
And that’s what starts it all. I like the word ruckus; I’ll use that. That’s what starts all the ruckus. There’s always that something that someone finds that causes all the ruckus. I’ve seen enough movies to know that. But I’m not running away from the ruckus, not today. I always do that, and look where it got me. Today, I’m taking my sister’s LuluLemon tote bag and taking ruckus. A lot of it.