By 8th grade graduation from Lawrence, I had successfully retained a count of zero friends. There were others that retained the same count. They had recognizable expressions cemented on their faces. Terribly pathetic mugs. I had a straight face. I was still chubby, but I’d feel better once my carnival red hair hid my face. Every now and then, a new breed of neo-bullies would utter a “faggot,” in passing. Or they’d make an insinuation of me being female. But when I would stopped in my tracks, they opted not to escalate their situation. Not once. I’d usually need the energy to give a damn to do that. I hadn’t noticed their choice of derogatory barks were a ruse for closeted sexism. I just found them boring and less than 8th grade. I never so much offended as I was annoyed. All it took to shut them up was a, “what’d you say you little bitch?”, and they’d stop barking. The dumber annoying ones always barked the loudest.
I thought they’d even decide to fight me had they known I had only ever been in a single fight (in which I had lost). I didn’t know how to fight, and I didn’t look like I knew how to fight. I just looked like I would have made it very unpleasant for the whomever I did fight. I graduated with straight A’s, no visits to the principals office. No problems, but I couldn’t walk across the stage to receive my certificate.
The entire Smolensk family had gone to the hospital to visit my grandmother that had the stroke followed by an aneurysm. I remembered little about her among the years. Recalling only tiny tidbits of unrelated moments we shared during my nascence. She’d always give me these little bits of advice that I didn’t know were illogical, but they stopped me from doing things. Mainly bad habits. Once, she convinced me to stop spitting everywhere (I had a habit of spitting everywhere and on everything as a child) by telling me it was the same as spitting out blood. I was young but already skeptical. So, to prove her claim, she exposed her bottom row of teeth and lifted the lip toward me to reveal a gathering pool of blood, claiming that had started to happen when she spat one day. I remembered it to be the most disgusting sight, that I never spat everywhere freely again. It turned out she had really bad gingivitis and had used that to convince me to start brushing many moons before the fourth grade. Incidentally, aside from exorcising a few peeving habits, she imposed a few of her own.
After my father had disappeared, his mother (my grandmother) was still there. I had started 1st grade after skipping pre-school. My mother started becoming a rarer figure. Grandma would get Morris to sleep, and manage to walk me to and from school. She did unfailingly. She also unfailingly bought pizza during every walk home with me. The pizza was our diurnal supper. I wasn’t privy to the concept of money, but it didn’t matter. I only knew I always had pizza for dinner. It showed me the concept of routine. A wheel that spun in place, never changing. I digested this sense of safety as easily as a pizza (which also added to my childhood obesity).
When snapped out of my daydream, I found my grandmother coldly staring me in the face. A routine felt like walking home from school with grandma and a pizza, I thought to myself. It felt better than having to toughen up whenever I had an urge to cry. A thousand times better. Even the urge to vomit was more inviting in lieu. Grandma was paralyzed from the left side down. Her memory had regressed, short-term memory was inaccessible. She lifted her old feeble left hand and pointed at me. The hand was wrinkly, with visibly blue veins. I felt nausea kicking in while the air around my neck thickened as though I were in a pool of water. That isn’t my grandma, I thought to myself, I have no idea who that is. I stood as still and as undisturbed as I could.
“To je, jak pozdravit svou vlastní matku?” my grandmother said. It was Czech.
“To není Sam. To je jeho syn Drobomir. Je to váš vnuk.” my mother responded as she placed her hands on my shoulder. My father sat on the empty hospital bed a spot over. There was a white curtain between my grandmother and my father. I knew they mentioned my name along with my fathers, but my father looked uncomfortable. My grandmother kept staring at me.
“To je stejný kluk jsem našel. To je Sam.” she said after a moment. She kept referring to my father’s name.
Seeing my grandmother like that, left me feeling awful. In a gravely way. I toughened up the Smolensk family way, but it wasn’t working. I looked at my father as he seemed to sigh. I don’t know why what happened next, but I let out the scream of my life. The first scream of my life. On the day of my 8th grade graduation.
I collapsed to the ground from running out of air. The world was black. It felt like everyone on the 3 hospital floors must have heard me. Even the deaf could have mistaken it for an earthquake. It felt… really fucking amazing.
When I came to, my mother was fanning me with a pamphlet. A look of worry covered her face as I thought, Finally. I sat up and focused my eyes. Everyone was staring at me, even Morris. A few nurses were there.
“Wuzzup, evra’booooooody?” I said in a surly tone.
“What?” asked me mother. She had a genuine look of confusion. Just then a doctor approached from the crowd.
“Do you feel dizzy, Daniel?”
“I dunno, I feel like I’m yawning. Like ah been yawing for a lil’ while now,” I answered as he checked my eyes, “whatcha doin’ Mista’ Docta’ Sir? That’s a tiny flashlight.”
“I’m checking your pupils to see if there’s anything wrong. There, you look fine to me.” the doctor said as he put his pen light back into his breast pocket.
“Oh, well that lady,” as I slowly pointed to a nurse across the room, “looks fu-n, fine to me, can I look up her pup-eelsss to see if they are… anything… wronggggg?” I felt dizzy for a moment, and shook my head as if I was getting the marbles to roll back into the right place. I knew I was saying very inappropriate things too, because my mouth said the things I usually thought about saying when my mother wasn’t around. It felt good to speak. The nurse giggled and my father gestured for a cup of water and left with her.
“This isn’t him, he usually doesn’t speak that way, are you sure he….” my mother asked the doctor, before he reassuringly raised his palms and cut her off. She didn’t look happy about that.
“Yes, he just needs a moment to fully come around. He’s responsive, his brain is just trying to plug back into the right sockets as he speaks. Boys will be boys, Mrs. Prochazka.”
“It’s Ms. Merriwether, and no, that isn’t like Daniel. He never even speaks in public, he’s so shy.” She said directing to me. I had been sitting perfectly still. Precociously moving only my eyeballs as though it were my first time.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine, let’s take another look,” the doctor knelt down again, “it doesn’t usually take this long… Daniel, do you know where you are?” he asked as he ran his finger to the left and the right, my eyes followed.
“My ma and pa never married, so she kept her last name, I’m here to see pa’s ma, my gram-ma. I’m sorry, I’m not sure if she kept her last name though.” I answered.
“Very good. Do you remember your dad’s last name? say AH.” I opened my mouth and answered as he checked my mouth.
“EEEE-AAAAA, CCCAAAANNNNGGG AAAAAAACCCC NNNNNGGGGGGIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNGGGGG.” I finished answering as he finished.
“It’s close enough,” towards my mother still employed a look of confusion, “he just needs a little rest.” I didn’t know why he thought my mother’s last name was Prochazka though. “thank you doctor.”
The doc got up and asked, “Can you stand?”
“I did last time, I hope I still can,” I pushed myself up slowly off the floor, and sneered at my mother, “I knew you knew I could do it mom,” I saw a smirk grow on my Morris’ face, “I see you laughing, let it out brutha!”
“O.K. that’s enough, say good by to grandma, we’re leaving.” my mother said as she picked up her purse and ushered us out.
“Bye gramma-ma, thanks for the pizza wheel.” I said, stumbling to the exit.
“Bye grandma.” said Morris with a tone devoid of emotion.
My mom walked behind Morris and I, but I started to speed-walk with my hands kept stiff to my sides. I tried to get my body to mimic the gliding of a car on wheels with my walk. It felt funny, as I coasted through the hallways. I started giggling. Morris was about 10 feet behind me and my mother several more feet behind. I didn’t feel my being pedantic was so bad, even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to. But the fainting made it seem like no one was going to punish me for it. I’d be immune to any consequence. I only had a little while with this free ticket and I wanted the most from it. I started mimicking siren wails as I glided through the halls. Stiffened arms and all.
I heard my mother yell something like a cease and desist order, but I ignored it. I hit the elevator call button when I got there, but had decided to take the stairs down soon after. I wasn’t followed. The primer-white stairwell echoed triumphantly.
By the time I reached the lobby, clumps of hair had been pasted to parts of my face. Symmetrically placed round spots of sweat had visibly soaked through my shirt beneath my tits, the rolls over where my rib-cage was supposed to be, and one perched below my belly button. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what the rorschach behind my shirt looked like. The shirt clung tight to my body from to the moisture that I was glazed in. On a normal day, I’d have felt embarrassed, insecure, timid, etcetera, but I didn’t have to feel like me at that moment. And it only got better.
“I’LL NEVER HAVE TO SEE ANY OF YOU FUCKERS AGAIN!!!” I proclaimed as I raised a stiff arm, and thrust the doors to the exit open. I had to squint because the light on the other side was bright. Like heaven’s hospital doors, I thought as I exited with a, “FUCK YOU TO ALL!!!!!” My head started spinning again beyond the doors. I stopped moving and kept my eyes closed as I regained my balance. Then opened my eyes to see the asphalt, and slowly directed them horizontally and stopped. Uncertain, I turned to look behind me, then all directions. “Aaaaaaah…..FUCK!!”
I realized from the absence of mountains in the horizon, I had exited the south exit and not the north exit we came from. It was a trick to find the nautical north in the Los Angeles County. North was where we parked. I started along a walking trail that was paved around the entire hospital. Panting heavily, but with a grin on my face.
Everyone was already at the car when I emerged. A smug smile pinned like a gold star to my face as I got closer. I decided to wave excitedly at one point.
“Get in the car.” my mother said coldly. Her hand was on her waist and the other pointed at the car. That image was television show cliche. I liked it. I felt the smile on my face tighten. I happily hopped into the car but with a mopey sluggishness. Also a cliched image.
I felt there was something happening, something changing. In a good way. Every connecting bone in my body felt it. Maybe it was the fact that I’d finally be a high schooler, or maybe it was the adrenalin from the hospital escape. Maybe it was because I didn’t believe something like volcanic lava would blanket the earth. Or maybe I didn’t think a finger would be pointed at me while they angrily bitched at me for something I didn’t mean to do. But I knew, and my bones knew something was happening. No one in the car was smiling. Whatever was happening made me to be the only one smiling. What was more, was that I didn’t feel the least bit like vomiting.