Twilight Recap: Mike has demanded that Bella explain why she isn't planning to ask him to the dance, and Bella has answered that she is going to Seattle for the day.
Twilight, Chapter 4: Invitations
Gym was brutal. We'd moved on to basketball. My team never passed me the ball, so that was good, but I fell down a lot. Sometimes I took people with me. Today I was worse than usual because my head was so filled with Edward. I tried to concentrate on my feet, but he kept creeping back into my thoughts just when I really needed my balance.
Remember when I questioned that the good teachers of Forks High School apparently don't take yearly violence prevention and/or conflict resolution classes? I'm going to now hazard a guess that they don't take any safety training either. I mean, I know that Bella hasn't been formally diagnosed with any health problems, but they're putting her out on a basketball court and telling her to go at it with the rest of the students? Do they want to get sued? And it's the Chief of Police's daughter, no less, you'd think there would be at least a little inkling of a doubt that maybe, just maybe, you might want to keep Bella on the bench. Or give her a nurse pass. Or anything, really.
Although, to be fair to S. Meyer, this actually reads realistically to me. My gym teachers in school were universally dreadful people. I understand that there are good gym teachers out there, but I understand this in the way that I understand mitochondria: I believe the people who tell me they exist, but I have no direct observation of such. So maybe Bella's gym teachers just don't care if she kills herself and takes someone with her as part of the educational process.
But let's for a moment assume that Bella's gym teachers aren't dreadful people and ask: why is Bella being forced to play basketball? Why are they playing basketball at all? Maybe it's just me, but we almost never played team sports in my gym classes -- we had track and exercises and the sorts of things you could do with very large classes, because really doesn't basketball just take up a dozen kids? Tops? Does the Forks High School have two dozen basketball courts so that all the students can work up a sweat during their hour long gym class?
Is basketball in gym class a thing I don't know about? Does it teach meaningful life skills for exercise that the students can use on their own as they get older to keep their muscles fit and healthy? I'm seriously not trying to pick on physical education, but I don't understand how basketball would be an efficient use of the gym class time. Am I missing something obvious? It's very likely.
Anyway. Ahem. Twilight. Bella is even more clumsy than usual in gym because she's distracted by thoughts of Edward. The interesting thing here is that apparently Bella's clumsiness can be slightly mitigated by conscious concentration, but whatever her conscious concentration brings to the table, her unconscious muscle memory can't make up for when her consciousness is otherwise occupied. I'm not sure if this helps narrow down the source of the balance issues or not.
It was a relief, as always, to leave. I almost ran to the truck; there were just so many people I wanted to avoid. The truck had suffered only minimal damage in the accident. I'd had to replace the taillights, and if I'd had a real paint job, I would have touched that up. Tyler's parents had to sell their van for parts.
...quoted to answer the question of why Bella is driving around without problems after the accident in the parking lot. I myself would have expected quite a bit more damage to the truck than what is provided here, but I will leave those speculations to the commentors who are better at physics than I.
I almost had a stroke when I rounded the corner and saw a tall, dark figure leaning against the side of my truck. Then I realized it was just Eric. I started walking again.
Last week, I argued that Bella has every right to be anxious in her surroundings, particularly when it comes to Edward, because he's been oscillating wildly between open hostility and aggressive shunning since she arrived in Forks, with only a brief stop-over into displaying-impossible-speed-and-physical-strength ville. None of which is conducive to a calm, relaxed state of mind.
This week, I'm going to pick on the language used to describe Bella's day-to-day life. I realize that at least some of the motivation here may be a simple need to add conflict to a story where, in-probably-not-all fairness, very little actual action has occurred. And in-a-little-more fairness, this is probably a realistic depiction of how I would have narrated my life when I was seventeen, so points to S. Meyer for understanding how at least one teenage girl talked and thought.
However, in-significantly-less-fairness, I'm not enthralled with the running narration that seems to make light of Bella's experiences by... well, by portraying the actually-dangerous as flippantly-dangerous. We've seen this already before, where Bella narrowly made it down the icy brick driveway alive. And the thing is, she did very narrowly make it down the icy brick driveway alive! This statement here? That I am criticizing? It's a true statement. I'm not criticizing it for not being true -- I'm criticizing it for being flippant. Carefree. A quick statement of a very grim fact (i.e., that Bella's clumsiness combined with her move to icy, wet Forks may well result in her Very Serious Death) before segueing into how endearing and cute her clumsiness is and isn't Edward just the most dreamy thing ever. It takes something real and serious and turns it into something fluffy and flippant.
There is a tall, dark figure waiting by Bella's truck. She is leaving school in the middle of winter so it's pretty much a guarantee that it's rapidly getting dark outside, if it's not fully dark already. The parking lot is emptying out at an alarming rate. Bella is alone. There is a someone waiting -- deliberately waiting -- by her car. Presumably by the cab of her car, blocking her obvious escape route (Get in car --> Close door --> Drive away). Bella can't run: her clumsiness means that has never, ever been in the cards for her, and her reputation at school means that anyone and everyone knows that she's an easy target.
Top all these factors off with the cherry-on-the-sundae fact that Bella's father is a police officer. As such, I feel pretty safe saying that it's reasonable to assume that Bella is doing an internal risk assessment on the tall, dark figure blocking the entrance to her car in a rapidly-becoming dark, empty parking lot. I would have been, at seventeen, and I wasn't a particularly careful seventeen year old. But this is classic Schrodinger's Rapist territory and S. Meyer should know that.
Beyond that, I want to emphasize that Bella is not wrong to be scared in this situation. Oh, she's wrong right now because it's just Friendly Neighborhood Eric waiting to spring a "will you, won't you, come and join the dance" request on her. But in general, Bella's instincts to be frightened of the tall, dark figure looming next to her car are right on the money, considering that the bulk of the drama in this series will be a collection of various stalkers determined to kill Bella. I mean, besides Hostile Biology Class Edward, there will be Laurent, Victoria, James, and a whole slew of Italian vampires whose names I can't even keep straight. And, for all I know, there will probably be a violent werewolf or two. I'm guessing. Forks is a dangerous place, and it's a dangerous place for Bella. This instinct? The oh-my-god-someone-is-waiting-by-my-car-and-I-can't-run-and-I-can't-drive-away-and-my-friends-have-already-left-and-it's-too-dark-to-see-their-face-and-why-did-I-leave-the-pepper-spray-at-home instinct that Bella is having right now? This is a natural reaction, a valid response, a genre-savvy precognition of what's to come, and 100% entirely Bella's right to have.
So what does the author do? Trivialize the reaction by characterizing it with over-the-top hyperbolic language. Bella nearly has a stroke. Haha! And then have the anxiety immediately and perfectly fade away once it becomes clear that the person blocking your exit from a dark, empty parking lot is someone you know. Well, as long as it's not a stranger, that's alright then.
Now, it's a standing rule of mine not to infer malice where other factors are equally likely to be in play, and I'm not in the deconstruction business to shame or psychoanalyze authors. I think it's most likely that this recurring pattern of trivializing danger to Bella in Twilight probably comes from the same place that makes all dark things in Twilight shiny and pretty. Probably this pattern of FEAR! Oh, no, it's nothing. Hahaha. is meant to inject quick drama without having to dwell on anything dark or unpleasant or wrong. (At least until we get to the Big City later. Then I will have different things to say on this matter.)
But the problem with this is that even if the intent is benign, there's an ongoing pattern here of trivializing very real sources of danger to Bella, while still keeping her "over the top" hyperbolic reactions to the source of danger, and the end result is that Bella comes off as being over-reactionary to things that really are potentially dangerous. And since that potential danger is never explored beyond Bella's hyperbole, it has the effect -- in my opinion -- of minimizing real danger and making Bella look foolish and overwrought. Her only "narrowly" surviving the trip to her car ignores the very real danger that this move to wet, icy Forks could seriously injure or kill her because of her disability. Her near "stroke" over harmless Chess Club Eric ignores the very real danger represented by a person who has known a girl for only a few weeks, considers himself romantically interested in her, and has planned to wait for her alone by her car at dusk in an emptying parking lot. In both these cases, I want Bella's fears to be presented as real and reasonable and not as excessive over-reactions blown way out of proportion.
And...wow. That was nine paragraphs where I meant to write one. Sorry about that.
"Hey, Eric," I called.
"What's up?" I said as I was unlocking the door. I wasn't paying attention to the uncomfortable edge in his voice, so his next words took me by surprise.
"Uh, I was just wondering . . . if you would go to the spring dance with me?" His voice broke on the last word.
"I thought it was girls' choice," I said, too startled to be diplomatic.
"Well, yeah," he admitted, shamefaced.
I recovered my composure and tried to make my smile warm. "Thank you for asking me, but I'm going to be in Seattle that day."
"Oh," he said. "Well, maybe next time."
"Sure," I agreed, and then bit my lip. I wouldn't want him to take that too literally.
I want to like on Eric here. I do. See? There's nothing explicitly wrong with his words here. In many ways, he's worlds better than Mike because he doesn't get belligerent with Bella when she says she's going to be out of town that day. He doesn't demand to know why she's not going to the dance. He doesn't ask her if she can reschedule her plans to suit his desires. In fact, if you just take the words here and nothing else, a lot of this passage would read like the Not-Creepy Guys' Handbook To Asking Girls Out.
But unfortunately for Eric, I've spent all week reading about Skepchick's adventures at the CFI Student Leadership Conference and her experiences with being propositioned by a stranger in an elevator at 4 am, and now (unfortunately for Eric) it's got me thinking about context.
It may be unfair to Eric, but I've lately been thinking about how so little of human communication is words-only. A wealth of communication is in tone, posture, positioning, facial expression, and body language. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why online communication seems so apt to be misunderstood: so many of our usual methods of conveyance aren't allowed when the only way we have to express ourselves is our words. Because of this -- because a huge percentage of the way we communicate ourselves is non-verbal -- the onus is on us to think about the effect of our non-verbal communication at least as much as we think about the effect of our verbal communication.
Eric doesn't seem to have put himself in Bella's shoes prior to this conversation. One of the points of a "girls' choice" dance is to take some of the pressure off the girls being asked and putting the power in their hands to do the asking. It is meant (among other things) to deliberately empower girls with the asking of a date, not just in the passive "gatekeeper" sense but in the active "selection" sense. With a girls' choice dance, the ideal is that no girl at the dance is there because she was pressured into accepting a date.
Eric, by asking Bella directly to go to the dance with him, has ignored the point of the "girls' choice" convention. He doesn't want the dance to be girls' choice. He wants it to be guys' choice. This isn't Mike's question of Are you going to ask me? but rather a direct question of Will you go with me? Perhaps Eric deserves 10 points to Gryffindor for personal assertiveness and working positively towards his goals, but I can't help but feel that he's trying to make an end-run around a system that he finds inconvenient.
In addition to breaking the social convention of girls' choice, Eric has also chosen to wait by Bella's car until she approaches alone, at dusk, after school, in a rapidly-emptying parking lot. He's waiting by her car. He doesn't call her at home, though surely everyone in Forks knows the number Charlie has had for twenty-odd years (or can look it up in a pinch). He doesn't ask her in class. Or after class. Or by her locker. He's waiting by her car.
We don't know Eric. Maybe he's the nicest guy in the whole world. Maybe he just doesn't have any insight into the fact that women in our society are socialized to fear the approach of their car because someone might be in the car, waiting to grab us. Or someone might be beside the car, waiting to grab us. Or someone might drive by and grab us -- a situation that happened to two (two!!) different women one year in my under-lit college parking lot. What we do know about Eric -- and Mike -- is that he's the sort of guy who will get proprietary about a girl he's known for a week and act like a jerk to Tyler because Tyler might represent a romantic threat to Eric's known-for-a-week romantic interest. This does not recommend Eric highly to me.
Eric will be defended in the comments. (Heck, he's been de facto defended already in the Mike post, since it's easy to confuse the two boys.) So I want to be clear that I do not think Eric is a terrible, horrible, awful person whose existence should be illegal. I do think that he's meant as a character to be socially awkward and unaware of social boundaries. And -- ironically -- I actually think he's the least creepy of all of Bella's suitors thus far. I'm serious. If you made me pick a team based on everything up to this point, I'd be Team Eric. You can take that to the bank. So I'm not calling Eric a terrible, horrible, awful person.
But! This thing that Eric is doing here? This ignoring of social conventions specifically designed to make women feel less threatened? This is not a good thing to do. Do not do this thing. I understand why you did it. You think Bella is too shy to ask, so you'll do the asking for her! You think Bella won't want other people around when you ask, so you'll wait for her by her car! After all, a phone call is so impersonal! And, by gum, your words are good! You're being non-pushy with those words and you're accepting rejection with aplomb. You're a good person, Eric, I get that. I'm (conditionally) on your side. But you're working with the wrong set of facts. You're approaching this without realizing that you are a potential creepy stalker guy in a world filled with creepy stalker guys. You're in high school, so it's okay that you don't know this. But now I'm telling you: Read this post, and use the phone next time. Or a note! Don't corner her by her car in a parking lot. Do not be That Guy now that you do know.
Wow. I'm wordy today. I'll try to speed back on topic.
He slouched off, back toward the school. I heard a low chuckle.
Edward was walking past the front of my truck, looking straight forward, his lips pressed together. I yanked the door open and jumped inside, slamming it loudly behind me. I revved the engine deafeningly and reversed out into the aisle. Edward was in his car already, two spaces down, sliding out smoothly in front of me, cutting me off. He stopped there -- to wait for his family; I could see the four of them walking this way, but still by the cafeteria. I considered taking out the rear of his shiny Volvo, but there were too many witnesses.
And now, dear readers, you find me in a bit of a CAPSY mood. You see, I hate this passage, and I don't say that lightly. This passage made me want to throw the book across the room. Remember last week? When I was utterly unpleasant and told Edward he didn't get any cookies for picking up Bella's books after he'd been almost-uninterruptedly hostile, aggressive, and shunning of her since the first day they met? And then he went and called her name only so he could get her hopes up and dash them again (as far as she can realistically know) and then -- despite making it absolutely clear that he has regrets about the day he saved her life -- getting visibly angry when Bella pointed out he has visible regrets about the day when he saved her life?
I HATE THIS PASSAGE SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT ONE.
See? CAPSY. Now I will explain why I feel CAPSY and I will try very hard not to use swears. Because I'm told kids read my blog.
Edward is laughing because Bella -- who hates confrontation of any kind and has made it abundantly clear that she just wants to be ignored at school -- has been literally forced into two confrontations already today. Three, if you count the one with Edward. Edward is laughing because Bella has been emotionally distressed multiple times today by young men who have stepped over serious social boundaries (don't belligerently demand a girl change her plans to suit your needs; don't approach a girl in a dark parking lot; etc.) and in the process have made Bella feel threatened and fearful.
Edward is also -- be fair -- laughing because he's amused at Eric's inner turmoil at being rejected. But it doesn't speak volumes for our hero when I have to "be fair" and point out that he's not just laughing at the emotional pain of our heroine -- he's also laughing at other people's emotional pain, too! What a prankster he is, ladies and gentlemen. And he's not even trying to hide it.
Bella has every right -- every right in the world -- to hate Edward right now. Heck, I hate him and he's a fictional character. The reader has every right to believe that Edward is an entitled, spoiled, selfish, jerk who is not worth Bella's time, nor the reader's. The reader has every right to go be Team anything except Edward. So how does Bella express her completely appropriate and 100% deserved anger? Calmly? Carefully? Coldly? Coherently? No.
No, instead we get to see Bella fantasize about ramming his car.
Remember the starting rant to this post about how Bella's overwrought over-reactions have the effect of trivializing very real dangers and problems in her life? Here's another one. Two on one page.
This Edward Cullen guy is dangerous. Bella may not realize that he's an immortal vampire constantly tempted to murder her as his dinner, but she's not so obtuse as to not notice that this guy consistently and frequently over-steps social boundaries and takes pleasure in her discomfort and pain. He alternates between bristling hostility and extreme avoidance of her. He lies to her and plays mind games with her emotions. He smirks when she's in pain and giggles when she's emotionally tired, exhausted, and fearful. This guy is not a good guy, and she knows that because he's being crystal clear about it.
Bella has every right to hate him. Every right to keep a serious eye on him. Every right to record all this in a journal and inform her father, her mother, her counselor, and anyone else in authority who might listen. Every right to vow never to talk to this controlling, violent jerkface. But she expresses those serious, real, valid feelings to the reader... by revving her engine at the shiny Volvo. Could anything be more childish, more silly, and more utterly impotent than that?
I looked in my rearview mirror. A line was beginning to form. Directly behind me, Tyler Crowley was in his recently acquired used Sentra, waving. I was too aggravated to acknowledge him.
While I was sitting there, looking everywhere but at the car in front of me, I heard a knock on my passenger side window. I looked over; it was Tyler. I glanced back in my rearview mirror, confused. His car was still running, the door left open. I leaned across the cab to crank the window down. It was stiff. I got it halfway down, then gave up.
"I'm sorry, Tyler, I'm stuck behind Cullen." I was annoyed -- obviously the holdup wasn't my fault.
"Oh, I know -- I just wanted to ask you something while we're trapped here." He grinned.
This could not be happening.
"Will you ask me to the spring dance?" he continued.
"I'm not going to be in town, Tyler." My voice sounded a little sharp. I had to remember it wasn't his fault that Mike and Eric had already used up my quota of patience for the day.
Bella has now been trapped three times today in emotional uncomfortable situations where she could not easily escape. Edward Cullen has engineered at least two of these situations personally -- a fact he finds hilarious. This zany comedy is, in fact, the source of the chapter title: Invitations.
I'm being dour. I'm sure S. Meyer meant this to be a funny, zany, comedic interlude. It's a major plot point (Bella and Edward will hook up on her ill-fated trip out of town), as well as a point of character building: Bella is attractive, wanted, desirable and yet she doesn't let it go to her head. She's not flattered by all this attention, she's just a humble girl with humble wants and needs. She happens to be surrounded by clueless, eager high school boys, but they're really so much sweetness and light: there's no danger here, no reason for Bella to feel threatened. It's harmless fun. I know, I'm certain, that's how this chapter was meant to be taken.
So I know I'm reading too much into things here to harp on Bella's fear and uncomfortableness when those things are solely meant to show us that she's not arrogant or narcissistic. And yet... I didn't invent her fear or uncomfortableness. This isn't me extrapolating from wild jumping-to-conclusions. It's there, right there in the text. It's there and this book is more popular than chocolate fondue fountains and I've not seen any real ink spilled over the fact that Edward is deliberately forcing -- physically forcing -- Bella into emotional confrontations that make her uncomfortable. He's deliberately hurting her, because he wants the guys at school to "get their chance" -- he's putting their wants before her needs, and he's doing it because it amuses him.
And the worst part is that measured against the weight of Edward's creepy disrespect of boundaries, Mike-and-Eric-and-Tyler get lost in the shuffle when their behavior is not -- in my opinion -- much better. Mike browbeats Bella in Biology class. Eric waits by her car. Tyler approaches her while she's "trapped" in a traffic jam. Not a single one of these boys has thought about the situation from Bella's perspective, not a single one of them has considered "how can I make this most comfortable for her", not a single one of them has thought about how to minimize her discomfort.
I don't blame them for this. They're young boys raised in a culture that condones this behavior. I'm not saying that they've done anything wrong so much as saying that they're not doing things right. Twilight is the most popular book on the planet, and you'd think there'd be a chance here to say "I know you mean well, but don't do this because look how painful this is for Bella". But instead we hear from Edward -- a designated protagonist! -- that these boys deserved Bella's time. Bella's attention. Bella's ear.
He thinks that she owed them a chance to proposition her romantically. And because I think we're supposed to agree with almost everything Edward says, I think we're supposed to think that too. And I think that's creepy.
"Yeah, Mike said that," he admitted.
"Then why --"
He shrugged. "I was hoping you were just letting him down easy."
YES. Because I am going to let a guy down easy with a fake out-of-town trip and then completely blow my cover by showing up with a different guy. Because I am logical like that. Tyler, I'm not sure if there's some kind of award for failing to see a situation from a woman's point of view, but I'd say you're a strong contender for the gold medal.
Okay, it was completely his fault.
"Sorry, Tyler," I said, working to hide my irritation. "I really am going out of town."
"That's cool. We still have prom."
You thought I was kidding when I said I was Team Eric, didn't you? You can admit it.
And before I could respond, he was walking back to his car. I could feel the shock on my face. I looked forward to see Alice, Rosalie, Emmett, and Jasper all sliding into the Volvo. In his rearview mirror, Edward's eyes were on me. He was unquestionably shaking with laughter, as if he'd heard every word Tyler had said. My foot itched toward the gas pedal . . . one little bump wouldn't hurt any of them, just that glossy silver paint job. I revved the engine.
But they were all in, and Edward was speeding away. I drove home slowly, carefully, muttering to myself the whole way.
Sufferin' succotash, no doubt.
Sorry about the long post this week, ya'll, and doubly-sorry it got a bit ranty. I promise to try to be more funny and light-hearted next week. Except, now that I'm glancing ahead, I see that next week is apparently going to be a Charlie post, and if past experience is anything to go by, that will probably be ranty too. We'll see if I can't turn over a new leaf.