Dorothy Pyles: An exercise in brief characterization
September 2006
At age two, she could make pancakes — alone. At age three, she could understand the Morse code S.O.S. her brother was sending to her via walkie-talkie as he was falling into a mine pit — in their backyard. In Allentown, Pennsylvania. Her dad was a doctor, a neurosurgeon, I believe. Her mom was a doting, PTA-meeting-attending, stay-at-home, soccer-mom-whose-child-doesn't-play type of mom. Her older brother was a genius, supposedly. You know the deal — fives on all his AP tests; fluent in Turkish, Greek, Arabic, and English, too, though you could hardly tell because what he spoke was more a cross between Academese and Assholese. A classic troubled character, an alcoholic and a pill-popper before he was a senior, all the teachers knew Michael Pyles. And so Dorothy Pyles planned on changing her last name when she went to college, to avoid being "Michael's younger sister."
After her parents separated — or, rather, "tried living in different houses" for a very long time — Dorothy, "Dottie" to her parents but no one else, got really sick, spent some time in the hospital, got better, and came back to school with an abundance of dramatic tales no one listened to. She was best friends with Tiff O'Brien and Vicky Fargram, but they weren't her best friends and always wished she would just go away.
Dorothy's pants usually fit fine, but that didn't matter given her prematurely sagging breasts draped with the solid-colored cotton top du jour, pilly fleece pullover, thin sad ponytail, and mousy face. That mousy face sat next to me everyday in Geometry in tenth grade, and that mousy mouth, with the chin that stuck out too far, watched me do my homework and told me what everything I did wrong. Apparently Dorothy found it fascinating to watch others mess up their homework. I found it fascinating to do better than her on tests, but it didn't even matter, because the teacher handed out "study guides" (A.K.A. answer keys) to the tests and homeworks — facts Dorothy claimed to be ignorant of until the end of the school year.
Dorothy thought she was great, and thought she had a lot of friends, but I cannot think of one person who returned the sentiment, and so, for lack of a better place to sit, she wound up at my lunch table for the duration of my senior year.
My lunch table was interesting as it was. There was Andrew, the class genius and flamboyant social butterfly. There was Deepa, who was friends with Michael and I but never really talked, except to introduce Allison, who ate raw coconut and was a transfer student for the semester from an Indian reserve in New Mexico, though her parents lived in Sweden. There was my sister and her friend, freshmen who had nowhere else to sit, and Robin, who had a severe case of Aspergers Syndrome and wanted to be called Bunny, as in Bugs Bunny. That left Dorothy, who criticized Robin for not knowing our names after a month, and who was an admirably consistent liar. While Robin regaled us with tales of Thunderbolt, the imaginary friend who wrote responses to her diary entries, and of touching tongues with her boyfriend Archie, Dorothy made sure to share her breadth of knowledge about anything and everything, no questions asked.
Want to know how to get to class? Dorothy will tell you to take the oldest stairwell in the school. And who doesn't know which stairwell is the oldest in a 40-year old school that's been renovated three times?
Dorothy just didn't have a clue. A week later when I made a joke about dating stairwells, Dorothy's response was, "Hah! Who dates stairwells? God," to which my sister responded, "Dorothy, don't you get it? THEY'RE MAKING FUN OF YOU." She was still at our lunch table the next day.
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