A month and a half after I began resuming the rest of my eighth grade year at a new junior high school, my father had received a phone call from a hospital. They informed him his mother, my grandmother, had had both a stroke and an aneurysm that had caused her to fall into a coma. I only knew this because I’d overheard him tell my mother (whom had only been back for a month) in the kitchen when he arrived home, earlier than usual. I was sitting on the floor, sketching on the coffee table. The walls were paper thin to the point where it was nearly impossible not to hear everything. Including the sounds of my parents fucking, which my brother and I had gotten used to but still found irritating. Morris was in our shared bedroom playing a video game.
After I’d finished hearing that part, their voices stopped before continuing in another language, French. I recognized the smooth, flowing syllables from a movie I had seen. After their conversation, my father left the house silently and without a glance at me as he walked by. My mother retired to her room for the evening. The living room suddenly became cold as I sat alone on it’s floor while feint sounds of gunfire, explosions, and musical fanfare were carefully sent to loom in the lifeless, nonchalant air that was the living room. I started a new sketch of which the pencil in my hand that seemed to have begun leading it’s point where it pleased. It placed lines where it may, and that felt almost consoling. More-so when I believed I’d heard a quickly muffled sob from my mother’s room. It may have been a whimper all the same. It felt strange.
Lawrence Preparatory became my new school. It was a uniform school which meant all students were subjected to a uniform dress code and it’s guidelines. I liked that because none of the other kids would notice the same art four articles of clothing I had (which consisted of two shirts, white and off-white, and two pairs of pants, both blue jeans). I also liked it because I knew it would be harder to figure out how much less money my parents made than theirs did. I’d always known their parents made more money despite the uniforms. It was the way they spoke to each other, the absence of a poor posture, the smiles they had in their little groups, pant creases, wrinkle-free shirts; they just generally looked more crisp and sunnier.
With the same uniform, the furthest I could get it from looking unkempt was after it finished in the dryer. I would fold and plant them between my oblivious mother’s mattress and it’s box-spring. Even then, I felt like a wolf in a sheep’s clothing. More-so because I knew we owned an iron. I was never shown how to use it. I had maimed myself once, trying to learn. My hair had also reached a long enough length below my bottom lip. I wanted to hide my face, because I had so many beauty marks (which I found ironic) on it. I just generally looked blurry with an overcast and I knew it. I was just trying much harder to make my image seem intentional, but sincerely too embarrassed to ever say anything at all.
When I walked through town (mainly to find a replacement comic book store), I would occasionally overhear someone mention to another, my resemblance to Kurt Cobain. He was the rock musician that had died a few years earlier. Often on days my hair greasy carnival red hair covered my chubby face. However, most of the students carried on as though they really loved him, so that eased a bit of tension. The only music I’d heard of was Rod Stewart’s music. My mother loved it. My father had (and still does) his mullet hairstyle but I didn’t want to emulate that.
I began to feel as though it were possible for people not to be afraid of me so much so, that I believed there was possibly a chance I could make friends here. For a while, I believed all of it.
I had never heard any of his work before, only seen pictures here and there. He looked like he had the same clothing situation as I did, only he had intended it. To be different and he was praised for it. I thought they praised him only because he was a famous rock star, but it seemed like those who really were different could not have been given any kind of break. Those that claimed non-conformity had started groups where a strong, loud mutual distaste was shared for those were indifferent. That could have been anyone, I thought. I wanted to be indifferent to everything but I looked different because I didn’t have a way to afford otherwise.
The outcast members of my peer were nicer to me, despite my being academically exceptional and not wanting to listen to their music.
I couldn’t stand anything on the radio stations everyone always talked about. It seemed the radio was guilty for telling most of us kids where we belonged, anyway. And if you had MTV, you had an idea of what you’re supposed to look like while you’re there. More of an authority. I looked poor which led me to want to look richer, which I couldn’t do, and being compared to a popularly different person that dressed poor, whom hollered annoyingly sad songs unproductively with thought-provoking mantras to angry teenagers, eventually led me to feel even worse for being poor.
I gave up trying to find a comic book store and stayed home as much as I could. Being outside among the people I wanted to get along with, in general, led to me feeling even lonelier than I’d possibly imagined. I had already kept a fuckload of irritating shit to myself, and I just didn’t have anymore room.
At home, I could sketch my drawings without interruptions, play video games with amazing storylines, laugh with all my favorite actors, and shoot all my imaginary friends in the face without an inkling of guilt. Morris wasn’t home often because he was tricked into one of those groups. At the least, during school I would be guaranteed a poorly kept sheep costume. Everyone has always said an education was the most important thing, so I just had to stick with it and stand tall. My intelligence towards what I saw going around me, only ever made me more miserable. Of course, anyone was always the tallest in a room if no one else was in the room. In any case, I knew I was safe staying with the things I knew. I knew that it was improbable for me to deal with any and all consequences with the routes I knew were safer. The comic book stores I wanted to find were replaced with dumb music stores.
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.
I played video games a majority of the time when I was at home. Often only the one’s with a riveting story line. It felt like I was apart of it, like I was playing the character’s life and I did so however I wanted. Another world. I averaged about 6 to 7 hours in this other world until my mother came home from work, as it always went. My dad worked as well, except he’d started coming home in the middle of the night most nights, since I was eight or nine, a few months after his reappearance back into our household. I had [and will never have] any idea where my father had come back into our lives from. My mother didn’t seem to react strongly in any way when he returned, only acted as if he’d been out picking up groceries. So I followed suit; thought and reacted to the predicament as such was so.
I did so because of two reasons: I had already been raised privy to the consequences that would be implemented through any oppositions I had with my mother. And the other because my brother probably had no recollection of him nor his departure, anyway. He’d only been on the planet for two years and the only person I could speak to about it. I was three years older but I remembered when he left, and remember my mother’s reaction. She didn’t have one then, either. The odds were 2 to 1 should I have had any questions about him so I didn’t. I played it safe and never did. In all the years we spent living under the same roofs, it was as if I had taught the “do not talk to strangers” rule with him. I didn’t know I was doing that, but I hadn’t spoken to strangers growing up because that’s what everyone taught us. My father felt like a stranger. The biggest attempt at bonding was when he presented my brother and I, a Gamestation game console. That was also one of the last attempts, and I found it almost moving because I knew how expensive it was and how frugal the family had to be.
I had absolutely no idea what other 8th graders were doing after school nor during their weekends. I didn’t care. Before the Gamestation became a part of our lives, my brother, Morris (preferred over his birth-name of Morriz), was the only real relationship I had with someone close to my age. His dull interests were a justified because he was three years my junior. I just watched all kinds of movies, collected comic books, and acted out action movies of my own.
There was a shop on the route I used to walk to and from school. I was always scared to walk in that store because my mother wasn’t with me. Whenever I walked into a store, my mother was always there. She never actually told me I wasn’t allowed in a store without her. I didn’t like to do it because it felt different, and something different meant something wasn’t right, and if something wasn’t right to me, something was wrong. I thought there would be some kind of consequence. Different scared the shit out of me. Me in the shop alone, was different, but I managed to walk in one day.
A perk about the route I took was partly responsible; it was the same route another student from school used, a girl. A pretty one I wanted to know the name to, whom suddenly, walked into that store one day. I did not follow. I debated for a week, whether or not to walk into that place. Oddly, it taunted my ever-increasing curiosity, but alas, my curiosity became too fucking loud to ever become quiet. I finally entered and discovered the addicting world of comic books.
Before long, I no longer cared about what that girl’s name was. She was just something I stared at the ass of while I walked to the comic book store. I wasn’t particularly fascinated in a comics’ story line as I was fascinated by the drawings themselves. Some I recognized, others I began to recognize. I’d begun saving up spare change, and whatever I had went to that store. My favorite magazine to buy was this one called Sorcerer. Sorcerer magazine was to the world of comics as Vogue was to the world of fashion. Artists interviews, collaborations, jokes, things to look forward to, and most importantly, detailed sketches of how certain drawings came to fruition onto the page of a comic book. Renders of characters faces and bodies dramatically exaggerated emotions so beautifully. I didn’t feel the need to pay too much attention to whatever was written inside the dialogue bubbles. I already knew with the next frame. I read some of the comics. Familiarized myself with a character’s name, but often I came up with my own dialogue for them. I made them say what I wanted them to say within the corresponding frame, and these drawings and their stories flowed through my mind like a river, as a children’s Saturday morning cartoon would on the television screen. I wanted to create my own, despite the fact I’d never drawn before. Which is why the sketches were intriguing to me as they were like blueprints from which I could build. Whatever I’d create could be anything. Something that I alone, desired. I shared that power, that feeling with my brother because the overflowing excitement from it all, couldn’t be shared with anyone else I didn’t know. I thought it was the coolest fucking thing in the world. All kinds of colors.
Throughout our youth, my family and I relocated often, and a large database of foreign and american films were always with us. I watched every single one multiple times, including movies that were supposedly inappropriate, which never mattered unless it was porn (of which I knew was hidden above the closet). I was already very well exposed to the variety of profanities courtesy of the schoolyard, as well as exposed to violence. Some dead bitch that was shot with a 12 gauge shotgun blast to the neck with her head rolling a few feet away in a movie didn’t scare me. I’d even act them out. My reenactments were often of me blasting bad motherfuckers to hell with my finger pistols or slicing cocksucker criminals in half with a katana made of lightning. This was playing to me. A childhood sport.
If Morris played with me, we’d act out similar cheesy story-lines as well. I made-believe with my brother even after the 8th grade. I had no I idea I wasn’t supposed to. I have had a cast of imaginary friends from a young age, except I shot or killed them all. Morris had his own cast and movies often as well, but mine were too interesting for me to ask him about his. It felt like an imaginary competition. It was show business, and it was the mother and father that raised us.
My father was unexpectedly home one day after school. My brother attended a different school so he arrived home earlier and was sitting at the kitchen table. Our father was cooking something in a skillet that smoked dangerously from the stove. He turned his head and saw me, frozen in place with my backpack dangling off my forearm, then continued back to the stove. Without a word, I pulled up a seat next to Morris and quietly asked him what he was doing home.
“He was ‘ready home.” he replied at full volume.
“Oh,” I said, trying hard not to question the unscheduled appearance. That was my father after all, he was allowed into his home at his leisure. It became increasingly hard because his presence was different. Something was wrong, ergo, wasn’t right. I felt nauseous and ready to vomit. I didn’t want that to happen in front of my father. I turned back to Morris, “What is he cooking?”
“I dunno. He just said to sit.” Morris replied in a tone absent of curiosity.
We watched a few minutes more until my father was done. He pulled two plates out of the white cupboard (which turned grayish) and placed them on the burners atop the stove. He split the mystery he was cooking onto the plates and walked them both over. He placed them in front of Morris and I. The thing on my brother’s plate was flat and had the silhouette of a top-hat, and mine of a boot. Both charred with a deep blackness. It was the first time I’d seen my father cook, and I found out why. My father walked back with the same skillet and poured a brownish sludge onto our plates. Then he sat across the table, picked up a fork, and started eating from the skillet. His eyes focused only into the skillet as he ate, a ring of black crumbs collected around his mouth. I stared at him, still wanting to vomit. I had hoped the meal would be the only change that afternoon. The change had already irritated my nausea. The brown sludge was different and looked wrong. The whole plate looked like a consequence as opposed to a meal, and when I turned to see Morris’ disgust, I saw that he’d already eaten half the fucking thing without a hint of distaste. Then my father looked up at me.
“You should eat. We’re moving tomorrow to a safer part of L.A. at noon, your mom isn’t coming home tonight, you’re both going to new schools, we have to pack everything, there’s a Gamestation in the hall the both of you can play at the new house.” He listed. He stared a moment longer then slurped the last of the sludge leftover in his skillet as he got up. He washed it off quickly in the sink, and disappeared into the next room.
“There might be a cooler comic book store at the new place.” Morris said briefly and continued eating. Suddenly, with his mouthful of char and brown sludge, a thought hit him, “Ooooh, I gotta go say bye to some friends!” he exclaimed as he kicked his feet. Then scarfed down the sludge, and disappeared into our room.
I wasn’t worried about my mother because my father seemed to be calm. So I was too. However, the idea of going to a new school, meant my reputation at Rutherford would be gone. I’d have to start from nothing. People could speak to me without fear or having been forced to. The possibility seemed very inconvenient to me. The comic book store would be gone from the route I took to go home. That seemed disappointing as well as inconvenient to me. I’d have to learn a new route to go to and from school which also seemed inconvenient. The dead rat corpses would be shared for dissection, which seemed inconvenient without an obvious reason to me. Miss Spittel’s glorious, bouncing tits wouldn’t shine headlights of joy into the darkness the loomed over most of my days, and that seemed less inconvenient as it seemed more inhumane. The ever-fortunate 4th period Gym class and Aubrey Porter’s blossoming tits would be gone, though inconvenient seemed heart-wrenching. All those things were so routine, so fucking O.K., would be replaced with different, change, and incorrect. The stable structure safely securing sanity, sanity I gave myself was being deconstructed overnight. As these thoughts perpetuated, the room spun itself into a blur, echoing the last words that came from Morris. With that, I vomited onto the charred black dinner boot on my plate before everything went black. Morris said his goodbyes to friends that, for him, seemed inconvenient to have to say a goodbye to, which inconveniently felt like a betrayal to me.
Back then, what little family I had left, after the exile from the other house of Smolensk, seemed as brittle as toast. Not too dark, but just right, so long as it didn’t break apart. Especially if I wanted it. Needed it. When I did, under dire circumstances, I reached. And my only concern became a reality; it crumbled. In tiny increments like the clicks you feel when wringing a wet towel, I felt in my heart. It turned on a warning in my mind and I was going to have to start taking care of things without asking for help. I was traumatized from asking help from my fellow man at 9, but I was just told not to talk to strangers, so I guess it fits.
As a kid, you’d think things were your fault if something went wrong, despite the usual consolation people normally gave, that’s the way it’s always been. Partly because it’s terrible seeing a child in silent turmoil, the child having no clue to what turmoil is, and how you know that there’s plenty more where that came from. Breaking it to a child would be like exposing Santa Claus, then explaining it’s his spirit that real in your hearts and most people emulate Christmas at least once a year, and then some. Except some people can live without Christmas, there are options and prerequisites and so on, and that’ll be dealt with when the time comes, but explaining to a child why he feels like it’s midnight during lunchtime, all the time, is several times harder, because not all families were orthodox (I reached my late teens before I discovered not all families were like the Bundy family on Married with Children, as mine was, excluding the laugh tracks and lessons learned at the end of the day.) and ultimately, turmoil ain’t an option, and everyone celebrated it multiple times a year. Tell the kid it isn’t his fault, was all the adults could do, it was the bare minimum expected after all, I wondered if they ever felt guilty when giving an absolution like that to a child, like a priest would to someone who wanted to repent. If they told me something like, say, bumble bees can’t see the color white, that would’ve helped, because after being told that, I was more confused because it actually proved my lesson with that stupid piece of toast. It was a stupid piece of bread that shared the same attributes and philosophy as living and surviving in this family.
I couldn’t entire blame the failures of adults, they were always the same, with that same rote menial philosophies, and new ones got their right their rights of passage everyday like driving permits. When a good one came along, it usually meant they were just as disappointed as a child, and found their own path, which can be any path as long as it didn’t involve crime, which was fine with me. I survived that particular phase of turmoil by inducting myself as an honorary member of the Bundy family. I couldn’t physically communicate with them, but it was no different from being an actual Smolensk. Sharing my thoughts wasn’t allowed, and encouraged not to happen, because I would ‘sound silly‘. I suppose it’s true, I don’t really listen to what most kids say today, and my parents just thought it’d be simpler just to ban it. It was easy, just follow the rules, until one November day of my 8th year. Sam Prochazka, my father, returned after a five year absence. I was not to find out exactly why, for the next nine years.
It was my mother, Janice Merriwether, she spoke broken English despite what her name suggested, raised in Brussels where Italian, German, and French, were all considered a primary language (I researched this information alone), and she was fluent in all of them as well as Czech, Slavic, Russian, and Spanish, and sign language. The wide array of languages she spoke, had always discouraged me from ever trying to learn one because it was exhausting to be disappointing as a Smolensk, and by avoiding certain attempts altogether, as I discovered, I was able to avoid a good deal of emotional battery of my upbringing, and at the same time, exercised my wit and cunning as a child. However, my baby brother Moriz, or Morri, Smolensk was not as lucky, he got the bashings. I was only a few years older as it began, but said nothing to help my brother. I didn’t know how. Even the Bundy’s couldn’t teach me how to look after my brother. Guilt and disappoint meant was all I felt when I was around my brother, and the only way I thought I could do as his big brother, was to stand with him when he was scolded. We never spoke about it or recapped any exceptional scolding, I just stood there and took it with him, and ended up receiving half my brother’s emotional beatings. I was pardoned from the physical ones earned, fortunately, but got them more often because my mind often wandered. Which gave my parents a highly inaccurate judge of my character. The verbal scoldings were like felonies, and the physically beatings were misdemeanors. They believed my brother was the felon, when I was really the mastermind that caused them to believe that. I’ve pondered a confession several times, but it was really much too terrifying to consider as it that would only mean more malcontent toward my brother. My mother and father were convinced their unorthodox approach to raising kids would raise model citizens, and that sounded like a good thing to be at the time, staying invisible was a great way to survive.
Later, when I decided to let my balls speak, I absolved myself from the guilt of my brother’s turmoil later during my years of rebellious teenage angst, which freed my brother into an explosion of artistic vision, and caused an ongoing
I wasn’t a coward by nature, I was a coward by choice and because it was the best way not to cry. The cowards I met in school were cowards by nature, so they wept often. But cowards or lions, I ran indiscriminately. Of course, at 9 years old, I had no idea that people would judge me anyway. Judgement of a person was like a weapon everyone already knew how to use. But having visited multiple courtrooms as a child on various occasions, it was already crystal clear to me that an officiated Judge in an American courtroom was the only judgement that I should give a fuck about about because their judgments actually had the potential to not only be inconvenient, but can cause me some form of distress. I’ve only seen one judge on my behalf as I write this. I wondered if God would look that scary in a black robe when he was in a courtroom. (Come to think of it, people aren’t too crazy about white robes on earth. As for the unofficial judges at school it seemed simpler than correcting their presumptions of what my world was like. I’d have to explain what to a child what it was like to feel like it was midnight, at all hours of the day. I’d have to explain the meaning of turmoil to a child of my peer, and probably have killed Santa Claus several times over in the process and become infamous among New Wellington Elementary, as the emotionless 9-year-old Son of Sam. My established connections were already rubbish. I’ve never heard my brother speak an entire paragraph to me (still to this day.), so making a friend at nine years old, seemed over-priced, and I probably had anything else to do, the most important factor resulting in my conclusion, was because we moved every two months. New faces, new stories about me I’ll never know.
I’ve always wanted to hear them, and who knows, I might might have turned out differently. Their presumptions were probably far from the actual truth, but at least somebody thought something nice about my life. I couldn’t believe anyone would imagine a worse story for me than the midnight I was actually living in. I may not have been a 9-year-old Son of Sam, aside from the obvious technicality, but I was a 9 year-old that never really got a chance to be a young, curious and stupid kid. Jan and Sam saved time by skipping all that and I was actually a 9 year old man, that skipped the second grade. Somehow, I was an accomplishment to them. I had no idea all the little problems I ran from were chasing me all along. When they caught up to me, it was a fucking bloodbath. A bloodbath that allowed me to try it all over again, with tact and finesse, and the heart of a Bundy, and the resources of a 16 year old. I no longer was the son of Sam, and really was the Son of Sam after all.
These stranger thoughts came to me when I was bored, so I had nothingbut stranger thoughts throughout my days as a legal child. I was also forced to mimic a statue when I was out in public, or my mother would slap my ear, which didn’t hurt so much as it stung and confused me, as if physically slapping my ear would improve a child’s attention span. In my youth, disciplinary action was to be taken if I acted like one. That was another thing I had to run away from. It was higher on my list because this didn’t involve a scolding. It was a cold slap, point and stare, like a puppy guilty of the urine on the rug.
Third period. Gym class. It was as close to heaven as I was going to get. I was five foot four inches and weighing in at 165 pounds. Physical activity wasn’t exactly something I was crazy about. In any case, I thought walking to and from school and having to avoid Rudy throughout the rest of the school day was exercise enough. Strenuous even. I played hide and seek at least nine hours a day, five days out of the week. Even so, gym class became my resolve for survival.
Miss Spittel welcomed me to class a week after school had begun. Being beaten up on my first day had bought me a week off. She had wavy red shoulder length hair, dark sunglasses, and tight shorts. The tiniest I’d ever seen. It was her uniform. She was in her mid-twenties and had been a professional volleyball player. Miss Spittel ran nine miles a day on the track before school started. She was in very good shape. During class, she always had a clipboard wedged in her left arm and in the hand of that arm, a water bottle. She took care of her body, stayed hydrated, and spoke with a soft croaky voice that’s best described as ‘no-time-for-foreplay-so-turn-around-because-I’m-going-to-fuck-you-in-the ass-and-cum-inside.‘ (I had started getting into the porn videos above my parent’s closet.)
The sunglasses never left her face, even during school assemblies that took place in the auditorium. Assemblies were always lit dimly so we could watch whatever came out of the projector. Miss Spittel was a spicy sexbomb and she knew it. During the beginning of class warm-ups before we continued whatever sport we were learning that month, she would take attendance while she stretched with us. The tiniest shorts she had on. My favorite was when she’d sit facing us, legs stretched to wide open to either side. She usually got to my name on the roll sheet by then. In those naughty shorts. Blue, green, red, pink, yellow, white: a different color for every day of the week.
All the boys learned to tuck their cocks between their legs under their briefs by the second day. It was the Jumping Jacks too. Those who wore boxers learned not to. I figured out why when I pitched a tent in my gym shorts. I’d overheard one of the others mention Miss Spittel did not wear sports bras. She did when I went to class, but switched off now and then. I thought those things still looked good to me, whether she did or not. With Miss Spittel’s body, they were the only real pair of boobs in the 7th grade.
In the locker room, I’d discovered I had a smaller penis than the other guys. Except one other guy. His was like a nub. I started changing in the bathroom stalls which and has always smelled like shit. They had a locks that could never do their jobs. I stomached it anyway. The kind of damage a group of junior high school boys can do helped me stomach it. Especially from the sight of my cock. I saw what they did to Nubs. Nubs (as he’d been dubbed) acted like it didn’t bother him. I wished I had his courage. As it goes, he would become an internet millionaire, several years later.
No one ever spoke to me during gym class, nor did they in the locker room. I’d already gotten a reputation as a tough guy from being beaten up on my first day. Word had been passed around, that Rudy had gotten suspended for beating up some psycho kid that kept laughing as his face bled. I don’t remember laughing. I had no idea how they came up with that, but rumors in junior high tended to be spread like that. That wasn’t so bad because everyone would choose to avoid me over teasing me. I was glad no one had remembered my roller-blades or my armor. I would have been picked on and teased as a nerd or a dork on a daily basis, I realized. But being known as a psycho, not a single person would harass me. My blood-caked face that day had made me into legend, and I didn’t even landed a punch. I didn’t win either. As long as I didn’t have to speak, my legend would continue to grow. So it goes.
Baseball was the first sport we learned to play. Most of the guys in class had been on the same T-Ball team when they were younger, and so, had already been friends. I didn’t know anyone because I was new in town. I’d never seen a baseball game either. But I had seen a few baseball cards. So I had an idea of what baseball was, and I thought that was good enough. That’s why they were teaching us, I thought.
I was a terrible catcher. The ball would fly in my direction in left field (I was always put in left field) a majority of the time, and I could never catch it. I was left handed but the school couldn’t afford to have any left-handed gloves. Some of the other left-handed boys brought their own. The teams I was on always lost because of me. My inability to grasp the ball with my right hand got everyone mad. I thought I was fucking up like they always said too. I didn’t want to ask my mother for money for a glove, so I just continued to suck. She would’ve told me to learn how to catch with my right anyway. Watching the ball fly towards me scared me. It made me flinch, duck, and sometimes run a few steps away, raising my knee as a shield when the ball thudded into the grass. It always bounced past me. I was much better at dodging the ball, but that was considered a problem. I thought I would have been great at dodge-ball. The cross-country team, even, because I ran from my problems so well.
My lack of ball-handling skills allowed me more time with Miss Spittel. It was an unforeseen perk. She’d pull me to the side while the others played to coach me on my technique. I never remembered what she said because I didn’t pay any attention. I couldn’t pay any attention. She leaned in real close, tilted her head, and spoke in that pornographic voice. Then she’d give me physical examples which always led to some kind of quick movement. I’d stare at her tits from the corner of my eyes, waiting for the jiggles. Her tits were so big the wonder bra couldn’t contain it’s wonder. Or was it a sports bra? It was wondrous, anyhow. While she was turned away, I’d stare at her ass. It was sculpted and tight, like a statue. It was like I had no say at all, like it was a law for me to ogle Miss Spittel’s cash and prizes. Then she’d finish up and return real close to speak again in which I’d usually nod my head. Then she’d touch my cheek saying, “you’ll get it, don’t worry,” and push me back into the field with a smack on my ass. I didn’t know why she did that only to me, but I wanted to return the smack. I’d still get the game wrong. Even so, she never once stopped pulling me to the side for the burlesque coaching, and I never once caught the ball. She was a great teacher, I thought.
Batting was a different story altogether. Swinging the bat felt good. All the frustration and anger I had pent up transpired into the swing of my bat. Then released as I smacked a swift Armageddon into that ball. I galloped through the bases (to second, at the very least) while random hoots came from Miss Spittel and some of the boys on my team. Applause. A brief touch of acceptance, a glimpse of glory. A feeling I seldom experienced. I thought, all I needed to do was annihilate a ball as hard as Rudy did my hopes and dreams of a new life. Obliterate something innocent and I would be rewarded. Some of the guys even patted me on the back in the locker room on the days I played offense. They referred me by my last name, and said they had no idea I was a switch-hitter. I didn’t know what that was, but it led to one of the boys with his own left-handed glove to share a wrinkled porno magazine he had with me. My first sight of a pussy. Well, one I didn’t have to look at by myself when no one was home. They looked strange, bland, almost boring, but I wanted one. From the porn I’d seen and the pictures in that magazine, I just wanted one savagely for reasons I couldn’t explain. I was curious as to why I couldn’t explain. It was like those movies that came on in black and white, the detectives needed to crack the case, find the truth, why it happened instead of just who. I may have learned very little about baseball, but it did teach me aggression had gotten me closer to winning the fight and discovering the truth to the mystery. The pussy was just another case.
I had all the stationary necessary for school packed neatly in my backpack. Pencils, erasers, blue pens, black ones. A paper-filled binder to hold notes I had to take. They had dividers with labels in accordance to the schedule I got in the mail. It said, To the parents of Drobomir Cartwright Asimovo Smolensk, but I always read those letters anyway. I also read the ones addressed to my mother, so I could summarize them to her when she came home. My father didn’t get too much mail because he was presumed dead in a war he said never even fought in. We collected the money they sent us anyway. He disappeared when I was 5, and reappeared when I was 8. He smiled and said nothing. Then he carried on as if that was the way it always was. the way it’s always been.
This school is going to be different. I’m a new person now, I said to myself every night. For the whole week before school started. I had always thought that before. When I whispered to myself, I sometimes even managed to convince myself. I checked my backpack every night before I went to bed. I always had to make sure my supplies were there in the same spot. In tact. They always were. Also checked my class schedule to make sure my binder had the dividers in the right spots. They never changed. I always made sure.
A mirror hung on the front door of my bedroom door. I would stand in front of it and rehearse funny things to say in certain situations when my baby brother was in another room. If the other students didn’t like the teacher, I’d have something to say. I also prepared myself to not like the teacher, which I thought was going to be hard, but safety is with the masses. Everyone did that. I couldn’t sleep the last two nights before school started. I stayed awake, my heart was tap-dancing. The excitement of a new school took away the drowsiness. My brain filled with the idea of something new. Someone might even talk to me.
I woke up exhausted on the first day of school. My back and shoulders sore from fidgeting the last two nights instead of sleeping. I had also opted to roller-blade to school as opposed to having my mother drive me. I made a point about how an extra half hour of sleep would benefit her. She agreed. She even purchased the roller-blades for me, along with kneepads, elbowpads, shinguards, wristguards, and a helmet. I made a point about the importance of safety for those. She agreed with anything that let her sleep in longer. I wanted the protection because I thought they would make me look like an armored superhuman cyborg or something. I liked that. I thought, there couldn’t be a single person out there who didn’t think an armored superhuman cyborg was cool. Especially if they were going to school with one. I was exhausted, was roller-blading, and wearing armor to my first day of junior high. The dividers in my binder were in place.
It seemed as though I had a premature sense of independence. As I neared the school, everyone was being dropped off by their parents at the parking lot. Students that walked, lived nearby, and walked in groups. I had roller-bladed once before, and was terrible at it. My palms were on the ground more times than the wheels. I was much better at being dropped off. I was getting up to the gate. I stumbling, I sweated, and I was getting sadder. Some had already noticed me. I was as easily noticed as you would a tornado. If I was turned around to go back home to change, I’d be late to class, I kept thinking. I kept thinking that hoping it would change. It wouldn’t. I wasn’t exactly a thin boy, but I had the armor on so I would look much better. And the girls, oh the girls, had already started whispering and giggling to each other, pointing in my direction. It’s over, I thought as I neared the gate, I shouldn’t have done anything. This is what happens when I try do anything.
I was about to forfeit and accept the end of my social career, I noticed my mother’s black Honda. It had the same smashed passenger-side mirror. It was driving by. I locked eyes with my mother for a moment, but she bit her lip and quickly looked away. She kept driving. My mother knew this was the end for me too. I passed by underneath the marquee that read, “Welcome to Wellington Intermediate! Get ready to have a great year!” I was the roller-blading punchline.
I aimed and stumbled into a shrub by the faculty parking lot. I began removing my blades and armor. Fast as if they were on fire. I had stuffed a blue knock-off Addidas duffel bag into my backpack to keep my gear in. I had known it was a knock-off because the D was misplaced and spelled, Adiddas. Any person living in the 90’s would notice it. All of Wellington would notice it. So I kept it in my backpack. I unpacked my shoes and put them on. They were brown dress shoes from Shopless Shoes, they were under ten dollars. The roller-blades and armor cost more than anything I’d have seen in the Smolensk home. I packed it all neatly into the blue duffel bag and slung it over the shoulder opposite my backpack. Tried to play it cool as I walked to the gate.
“Addidas, ain’t spelled right on your bag, dipshit.” somebody said to me. I rolled my eyes and kept walking. Here it comes, I thought. I didn’t turn around. “Hey dipshit. Big-ass blue purse.” said the same voice. I should have planned something funny to say to that, but I just didn’t picture this happening. So I kept walking because. I was hoping he would give up not mind me, but suddenly my upper body jerked backwards. It was the voice. I fell to the ground with both my bags but sprang back up immediately. All on impulse and adrenalin, my fists clenched. It was Rudy.
Ol’ bloody gums Rudy from Dentally Hygienic Mrs. Kents class. What the fuck was he doing at Wellington Intermediate, I wondered. His eyes didn’t seem to recognize me. At all, and I sat next to him. I figured he wasn’t going to high-five me or shake my hand. I felt I should say something.
“I brushed my teeth with you.” was it.
“What?” he paused a moment, searching his brain, “Fucking weirdo!” Rudy said as he looked at his friends and laughed. They joined him. I guess he couldn’t remember.
“In Mrs. Kents’ class. Your gums bleed.” suddenly everything came back to him, his eyes widened. Instead of acknowledgement, he stood there. Motionless. It was strange because I had no idea what he was thinking, or even if he knew what he was thinking. He was the most absent minded bully I’d ever met. I’d met several, but the best bullies never seemed to think, and that made them great bullies. Rudy just stood there. Then, in an instant he threw his was thrown into my face.
I fell to the ground like a lottery ticket with the wrong numbers. I felt like I was falling in slow motion and the fall made think of all the decisions I’d ever made in my life leading up. How could I have been that unlucky, punched in the face by a guy I used to brush my teeth with, all the junior high school girls watching, and I hit the ground. He saddled me and continued to rain knuckles into my chubby face. Everything happened so quickly so I wasn’t feeling the punches. I was in shock. My first fight. Well, Rudy was doing the fighting. It seemed to happen slowly, I was watching and waiting for the next punch to hit me in the face, the decisions I’d made, the girls were watching. They had to have been. I threw a punch, the hardest punch I had ever thrown. The only one I’d ever thrown, inched closer like a wrecking ball into a building. Everything was so slow. The best punch of my life, must have been actually slow because it hit nothing but air. It looked more like I was trying to run my fingers through his hair or wipe ketchup off his lips. A sissy punch. It was a pathetic punch. He continued punching, except even harder and faster. My sissy punch probably pissed him off. I started feeling his knuckles. The adrenalin was wearing off and things were speeding up again, but it still seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t even lift my arms anymore. I felt like I was dead, but he was still punching away, a dribble of drool came down the left side of his mouth like a rabid dog. I was annoyed because I had to keep watching. I wondered when this guy was going to be finished? I was still alive, but I couldn’t care if I was anymore.
“STOP!” screamed a voice, and Rudy did instantaneously. The fight had lasted about 20 seconds. Well, his fight. My entire face was puffed like a muffin and marinaded in my own blood. I could smell it. I tried to to my eyes toward the voice. The one that probably saved my life from Rudy the rabid psychopath. “Get off him!” the voice continued as it pushed Rudy off. It was clearly a girl’s voice, and then a length of brown hair breezed over my face. There was a scent on it. A pair of hands lifted my head up. “Are you okay?”
“He shouldn’t have been talking shit.” yelled Rudy.
“…I was just saying I remembered his gums bleeding.” I mumbled. I only mentioned the gums because aside from that, he was only remembered as a bully. Rudy got pissed again and came back at me, but the voice heldhim away with a hand. No resistance. She didn’t even touch him. Even bullies knew when to not hit a girl sometimes.
“Who’s gums are bleeding now?!” shouted Rudy. One of his boys shouted. Then Rudy picked up his backpack. It didn’t look like he carried anything in it besides pens. Random ones probably. I’d have been surprised if he knew how to read, let alone write, I was getting angry because I started to feel. My vision was coming back. I turned my head toward the voice. It was Aubrey Porter. Clear as day. Her brunette hair with the vanilla scent. Deep blue eyes looked into my bloody, bruised and brown ones. I knew those eyes, I’d always know those eyes, the only pair of eyes that didn’t look at me like I was an anomaly. Though, I probably did looked like the clog in a toilet there on that floor.
“My gums are bleeding?” I said as I lifted a limp hand to my mouth.
“It’s okay, the principal and nurse is coming.” she said. I mumbled something. I didn’t expect to meet the nurse and the principal on the same day, especially not during the first day of my new world. I thought about my dividers.
My face was cleaned and bandaged up by the nurse. I’m sure she didn’t expect to be doing this on her first day. She was really nice and gentle like a cloud floating by on another sunny day. Then she told me the principle wanted to see me in his office located down the hall. I started walking over, looked back at the nurse and gave what I had left to smile with. I liked the nurse, but I also hoped I didn’t have to see her again. It turned out I didn’t see her again, because she was replaced the following school year. The cloudy and gentle nurse had hanged herself in her apartment, and her body wasn’t discovered for an entire month. I often speculated why it took an entire month to discover the corpse of the gentle nurse.
“Tell me what happened.” said the principle. He was a stout man, his coat and pants never matched. He seemed like he was either edgy, or on edge most of the time. He didn’t even ask me a question then, he demanded a synopsis of the situation that even I couldn’t figure out.
“I roller-bladed here, sir.”
“You’re saying what was done to your face was because you roller-bladed here?”
“In a way, yes, sir.”
“So this, Rudy, had a hatred against roller-blades?”
“No, sir. He was pointing out the name on the bag I kept them in, sir.”
“Oh, so he didn’t hate roller-blades, just the bag.”
“I don’t think he hated the bag, sir.” I was beginning to feel annoyed with his tone.
“The name on the bag, sir.”
“He doesn’t like your name? What is it, Polish or Russian?”
“Not my name sir, the bag itself. It was a knock-off Adidas bag and not spelled right. It was the only bag my roller-blades and gear could fit into. Polish, sir.”
“Hmm… Well, from the information I’ve obtained, you did not retaliate. These situations usually mean the oppressing party is guilty.” the principle stated. Somehow, that made me feel both low, and, Rudy was only going to be even more pissed.
My mother was sent for to pick me up from school immediately. I never even got to my classes on my first day. The entire drive home was silent, my mother drove as she always did, the only thing new was my face being bandaged up, like a mummy.
At the dinner table, my father was smiling as he always did. He just stared at my face. I wanted to ask him what he would’ve done in that situation, but expected his response in the form of a smile. That wouldn’t help. Then my mother finally spoke.
“Was it the roller-skates?” I looked at her and paused momentarily.
“Roller-blades. And no.” We ate in silence for a bit.
“Then what was it?” asked my mother.
“Rudy is just rude. I don’t know why. Maybe he didn’t have roller-blades.” We continued eating in silence.
After dinner, I had a terrible time brushing my teeth. I looked into the mirror for the first time saw the damage done to my face. Rudy really went to town on it. Just then my father walked in. He didn’t say a word. We stared at my face through the reflection together. I broke the silence.
“What?” I asked. He didn’t respond. There was no smile. We continued looking into the mirror. After another while, he spoke. With a deeper, grittier voice than I had remembered. The first time I’d heard him speak since I was 8 which was a bit awkward now that I think about it.
“When I fight, I fight to win, I don’t fight to prove a point because fighting isn’t a part of logic to begin with. We fight to fight, that’s human nature, and it’s a proven fact that we need to be on the winning side. So win your fights.” with that, he left with his smile again. When I think of my father, I always think to myself, “who the fuck is this guy…”
I went back into my room for bed. I threw the blue duffel bag into the closet with no intention of wearing them ever again (I hadn’t roller-bladed since.) I’d gone to school the first time in the 7th grade with intentions of achievement, satisfaction, and hope, and ultimately went to bed that night hating roller-blades, and knowing that asshole, Rudy with the pathetic mouth, had it in for me. Also, discovering my principle was an idiot, my father having a deep philosophical voice, and that Aubrette had saved my life, giving me another reason to be in love with her. The first day of junior high was not eventful in the way I’d hoped it would be.
I was about to get keys to a new life at the 6th grade graduation ceremony. I was a good student, as far as I knew. I got A’s and stayed out of trouble as much as I could. Blending in with the crowd was an art, I thought. Being invisible among them was like the greatest magic trick one could do, and I so I felt like the Houdini of Dillon Elementary. I was so good no one knew who I was, except for Simon, Tan, and Wilson. They made me uncomfortable sometimes, but they were the only ones I talked to about action movies. As uncomfortable as I felt, all K-6, they were my only friends and conversations never deviated from action movies.
“Are you ready for 7th grade?” asked Simon. The 6th grade class was being seated in metal folding chairs in front of the audience. All faculty and everyone else’s parents. The parents who’d attended, whispered amongst themselves, and I saw the lunch lady by the coolers of fruit punch alone. I thought her face was the most proud.
“I dunno. Getting to the 6th grade took a long time.” I answered.
“Look how easy it was!” enthusiastically. Then Tan sat down next to Simon. He had to switch a few seats because the students were seated alphabetically. Of these 3 boys, I liked Tan most. He wasn’t afraid to say things out loud.
“Are you guys ready for the 7th grade?” asked Tan as he adjusted his slouch comfortably into the metal chair.
“I am, but Danny isn’t. He wants to stay in the 6th grade. Where’s Wilson?” asked Simon.
“You want to stay in the 6th grade?” Tan asked.
“I didn’t say that,” I corrected. Before I could explain Tan continued.
“I like 6th grade too,” said Tan, “but I don’t want to stay. After 7th grade, there’s 8th grade. And then it’s high school. My brother said high school was going to be the funnest. Wilson is staying 6th grade again.”
“Why is high school funnest?” asked Simon. No one said anything about Wilson. He rarely spoke, even less than I did. When he did, it was always a, “Yeah,” or “Nu uh.” Someone seated behind us shushed us. They actually cared to hear what the principle was saying. We saw the principle, maybe twice a year, unless a teacher was really pissed at you enough to send you to him. Besides graduation ceremony, he greeted us. The principle was like a restaurant host. Then he started calling us on stage by our names.
“Well, the girls. But my brother also said their the reason high school is hard too” said Tan.
“Araceli, Gabrielle… Ayerson, Brittany… Azanian, Gregory…”
We sat there in silence, watched the students cross the stage. I recognized them all. They didn’t speak to me
“What happens with the girls?” Simon finally asked.”
“Beliz, Anthony… Binder, Carl… Bo, Lee…”
“They get prettier. And meaner. But prettier.” Tan explained. More silence. Great, I thought, more Tracys, Lisas, Amys, and Dominiques. Beauty and age was a dangerously cruel combination. My mother had that combination.
“Oh, well at least we’ll still be friends. They’re just girls, and they can’t do anything to us.” Simon said confidently.
“Yeah, I guess so.” agreed Tan. I said nothing as I watched Aubrette cross the stage to receive her certificate. I wanted her to walk more slow.
As it turned out, Simon was wrong. He was wrong about girls not being able to do anything to us. They became more dangerous to us boys as they got older, and when they became women, they’d gain even more the power. They had the ability to crush us into dimensions of despair we never could have imagined. But they also had the ability to save us from the that despair. Boys were at the mercy of girls, and the ticks of time only granted them more power. That was the law of the land, if you knew that, you wouldn’t suffer as much. Nobody knew that. I didn’t know that. The other thing, Simon was wrong about, was us remaining friends.
During the Summer, my mother, baby brother, my father, and I moved two towns away. The packing made me feel sad, but I didn’t cry or mention anything. Our new place was still in the Los Angeles County, but since I lived in another district, I wasn’t allowed to go to the school I was supposed to. I would not be joining Simon or Tan in the 7th grade, but neither was Wilson. We never saw Wilson again. (I did see a Martial Arts flyer on the bulletin board of a coffee shop in Los Feliz. On it, was a guy flipping another guy over, and the guy being flipped over looked reminded me of Wilson.) Even though those guys made me feel uncomfortable, I’m sure I made them uncomfortable too.
I was to attend school at Rutherford Intermediate instead of Wellington. Incidentally, Aubrette Butterson’s summer unraveled the same way mine did. She was to start 7th grade at Rutherford too. I was with my mom at the supermarket when I found out. I stood next to a wall of greenish bananas and my mother was speaking to a lady whom I recognized as the same lady dropping Aubrette off at school. I turned towards the greenish bananas and held my smile in when she mentioned she was moving to the same city.
Sometimes, I fantasized about Aubrette holding my hands. Other couples in school did. It didn’t seem anymore special to me than being Houdini of Dillon. But I can’t share my power of invisibility with Aubrette like whatever it was the couples shared. She’d have to want to share that kind of power with me, not just because I wanted to give it to her. I started feeling queasy all of a sudden. I felt like vomiting. And I did. I threw up onto the wall of greenish bananas and Aubrette and I were going to the same school.
Aubrey Porter wasn’t the most beautiful girl in school; standards were a bit different in grammar school. Among the most beautiful were Tracy Wang, Lisa Oldman, Amy Diaz, Aubrey Porter, and Dominique Salas. Each, in their own right were beautiful for 4th graders. We all knew it after we found out the truth about cooties. They were the Top Five Angels of Dillon Elementary. Every boy had this scale and picked their favorites, and I picked Aubrey.
She was most beautiful to me. I was like a bull chasing the muleta in a bullfight. I’m not sure why bulls charge after the red cape, but neither was I sure about why I did it. She was just so graceful in every way imaginable. And like a bull to the cape, I just had to hit it.
Of the Top Five Angels, Aubrey was also the only one to make eye contact with me. I made little to no attempt to speak to them because whenever anyone with my level of impact tried, they’d scoff and make a face like the one made when toilet water came upwards instead. We looked like shitty toilet clogs. There was nothing I could say or do about that.
Sometimes, they would act like they were listening to music through their earphones and talk about about Freddy Prince Jr, what they saw on MTV, some which boys were cute, music; the things I couldn’t care about. They never wore any earphones, but I felt better pretending they were so I could walk by. Aubrey knew my name and started to say hello on a regular basis as if I was a human being. I didn’t feel like a shitty toilet clog with her. I found it weird because I always thought the masses were right, no matter how stupid they were.
5th and 6th grade continued that way except we didn’t have to brush our teeth after lunch anymore. Well, in the 6th grade, we didn’t. That was okay, because Aubrey wasn’t in my class anymore. She had gotten Mr. Frank, who, later won an election for city council. He was a really nice man. He always shook people’s hands and said wonderful-sounding things with a grin. I got Ms. Winthrop, the only black teacher at Dillon.
Ms. Winthrop was the first teacher I’d ever gotten to know, and she was married to a white guy. I thought that was interesting, and didn’t know why. She had us refer African-Americans as Black-Americans instead. And said it was because more accurate and less degrading. She was the only Black-American I would ever know that referred African-Americans as Black-Americans. Ms. Winthrop had the most beautiful green eyes. I didn’t know Black-Americans could have colored eyes so I thought she was special. I listened to everything she said.
In between subjects, she always told a story about her life from when she lived in Houston. She made it sound like it was going to be relevant to the subject. Everyday had a new vibrant and detailed story. They never had anything to do with Social Studies or Language Arts or any other subject, but I didn’t care. I liked her stories.
She pointed Houston out on the U.S. map on several occasions, and always told this specific story when she did. It was how her family performed a reunion concert and called her on stage because they were all in a famous gospel choir together. She told us this story multiple times, so I supposed it was meaningful. I couldn’t grasp why she kept telling us that same story, but it made me think about how my family would never do something like that together. Maybe she always forgot she told us.
She was a teacher, but she seemed sad when she told us these stories about when she was younger. I was already sad, but if I told stories about me when I was younger I thought I would feel more embarrassed. I didn’t have great experiences like Ms. Winthrop, I just wanted to avoid everything and never have to tell my stories. No one was interested anyway. But I liked my green-eyed Black-American teacher. She was the only teacher I’d had that made me feel like going to school was nicer than it was to going home.
The freedom attached to the 6th grade was surreal. We had our own playground, bathrooms, and thoughts. Some of us even stayed inside the class during lunch. They chatted with the teachers and some even stayed after school. I left because I didn’t like the idea of staying after school.
There was a yellow line, five inches thick on the playground. It separated the K-5 students from the 6th graders. It was either detention, or the fence if they crossed. The fence was to be time-served-immediately punishment. It was 10 to 15 minutes standing in front of the fence that lined the outer edges of the poorly kept restrooms. The teachers were supposed to clean the restroom. If anyone was forced to do something, the job would be half-assed. I knew that so I was never mad about the restrooms.
And detention meant you’d have to stay after school. On top of that, a note would be pinned to the front of your shirt for the rest of the day. That was for our parents. I always thought the weak chose detention. It was more nauseating to hear my mother remind me of how hard she worked to put food on the table, so I could receive an education, while my father grunted in agreement. Maybe I was the only one who that found it that nauseating. It didn’t matter because I had never done or said anything anyway. Nobody yelled at me.