Like I am literally the stupidest person I’m not kidding google it
and mother, have you so wept in the arms of father time
in coming to terms with what has taken shape in your womb?
what has dominated and segregated
everything but their own?
you nursed and nutured
we’ve closed our eyes and tore off the cord
that connected us to who we really are
there are still times when i grasp
at my navel and begin to imagine whats its like
only to realize
nothing has changed
but the safety net
that enclosed all i knew
Better get my shit packed for Hogwarts the train leaves tomorrow
How Quitting Smoking Broke My Heart
(Part 4: The one about heartbreak)
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Or in other words: This is about me, not you. It all happened in my head and although I feel like some of you live in there with me sometimes, this story is still not about you.
A metaphor that ran away with me:
I was fifteen years old and must have been starved for sunlight because I grew taller and faster than all my peers. Sophomore year of high school I reached my full height, six feet and six inches, an even two meters, the top tenth of the ninety-ninth percentile. Height came at the expense of proportion and emphasized my slight frame. Photographs made me uncomfortable. My physical dimensions appeared precarious and unnatural, like my own image was an optical illusion. I looked like I could fall over at any moment, like the slightest gust might whisk me away.
I knew I wasn’t the only self-conscious fifteen-year-old but extreme height places those of us blessed and afflicted with it on display in a way that braces or acne do not. So I put myself in situations where people were supposed to look at me. Giving the world a reason to stare offset the feeling that everyone was just waiting for me to tip over like newly hewn timber.
I joined the debate team, the drama club, and even though I never cared for sports, I played basketball. It was the one activity that was expected of me. I wasn’t good, but neither was Jordan Cook, our team’s starting center. My height was the only thing I had going for me, but it was enough to guarantee me a spot on the bench as the second string center.
Jordan played football in the fall and rugby in the spring. He played basketball with the subtlety of both. He threw himself into every sport with ruthless fanaticism and resented my lackluster enthusiasm for the game. Although he wasn’t naturally gifted at basketball the way he was with other sports, he took it seriously enough that he consistently out matched me in practice. In spite of this, or perhaps because we always played against each other in practice, he grew antagonistic towards me and treated me like a threat. The rest of our team liked to prod him about his insecurity. I was three inches taller than he was and our teammates didn’t hesitate to point this out and insist that if I only practiced more, I’d have his cherished starting position in a heartbeat.
It was ludicrous. I had no interest in either practicing more or starting. I was much happier being ignored on the bench than saddled with the pressure of playing a starting position. Nevertheless, by the end of our freshman season it was clear Jordan saw me as a rival.
Outside of school sanctioned activities, my only interests were music, cigarettes, and girls. I knew next to nothing about any of these topics, least of all girls, but I knew I was tall enough to buy cigarettes without getting carded, and I knew I could smoke in the clearing behind the equipment shed and not get caught, so I spent most of my time back there obsessing about girls and bands with my friends, or listening to my walkman and reading magazines when they weren’t around.
Girls were more than a mystery to me. They were wholly outside my realm of experience. I had no sisters or girl cousins close by to examine in their natural habitat, and no older brothers to advise me on the subject. My parents were both university professors who met after my father read one of my mother’s papers, and as little as I knew about girls, I was sure I wasn’t getting anywhere by reading their homework.
Not knowing where else to start, I worked on holding up the wall, smoking cigarettes, and gradually perfecting the art of looking like I didn’t give a fuck.
Through some mystery of feminine wisdom, my distant and disaffected routine paid-off when a freshman named June Talbot wandered into the clearing behind the equipment shed and asked me for a smoke.
June Talbot wasn’t just any freshman girl. She was so breathtaking she triggered a flood of hormones that felt like vertigo. I found out later that she was only three months younger than me and had just missed the cut off date for my grade by a few days. By the time we met she had already turned fifteen, but could pass for much older. At five foot nine, she was not just tall for her age, but tall for a woman of any age and towered over most of the boys in her grade and mine. She had an effortless beauty that tends to bring out the worst in other girls, and a figure that brought out the worst in boys. In the right light she glistened with sexual possibility.
She was also Jackie Talbot’s sister and everyone knew who she was the day she started school. Jackie had graduated the year before with the worst reputation in the town. Stories of her nymphomania, double-jointed limbs, and orgies with her pot-dealing boy-friend, Nick DeVries, were so legendary that even kids in my brother’s grade, two years behind me, had heard of her.
June didn’t stand a chance. She inherited her sister’s reputation like it was her locker assignment. Most of the rumors were so cliché they don’t bare repeating, but they all reflected either the “putrid and diseased” or “wanton and depraved” side of the same stereotype.
“June? Dude! You can’t be serious? Me and Chris and Vin snuck into the girl’s locker room last week during third period and there were flies buzzing around her locker, I swear-to-god. So we looked inside and, oh my god… we found her panties and there were maggots swimming in period blood. No lie. June Talbot is nas-tee with a capital T!”
I got the other side from Patrick Cook, Jordan’s older brother by two years, but only a year ahead of us in school after being held back in the fifth grade.
“Suuure, I know all about June,” he gave a knowing grin as he wound up for his tale. “She lives just down the block from us. Check this out: last year when Jackie was still living at home with June and her mom, before she moved in with her boyfriend, we used to give June cigarettes and she would sneak us around the back of her house so we could spy on Nick and Jackie fucking through the window. This was like a regular thing in our neighborhood. Like kids who didn’t even smoke would steal cigarettes from their parents just so they could get a peak at Jackie getting fucked.
“So one day June comes up to me and Tim, and asks us for a smoke. Tim says to her ‘Sure, I’ll give you a smoke once, I see Nick pulling up to your house,’ but June tells us Jackie wasn’t even home that day and she’d let us watch next time Nick came over. Tim is like ‘fuck you! I’m not giving you a smoke,’ but June is desperate, so she starts begging and shit, like she’ll do anything for a cigarette.
“I mean usually she’ll just steal ‘em from her sister or Nick, but she must not have had one all day ‘cause Jackie was gone or whatever and she was telling us she’d do all this crazy shit right? She was all like ‘Come on guys, I’ll show you my tits, just give me a smoke.’
“I’m thinking, ‘Fuck, we should give this girl a smoke,’ but Tim kept holding out.
“He says to her, ‘No one wants to see your little titties June, if you want a smoke you got to make us come.’ Then June say o.k., she’ll jerk us off if we give her a smoke, but Tim still doesn’t go for it. He says ‘Fuck that, you want to suck on a cigarette you can suck on our dicks!’ and she fucking did it dude! She sucked both our dicks for a smoke! And when she was sucking Tim off he was smoking a cigarette and ashing in her hair and shit and then he finished and was like ‘Ohhh… I’m sorry, that was my last one.’ It was fucking funny as shit dude! You would have laughed your ass off. That slut will do anything for a smoke.’
When June appeared around the corner of the equipment shed and asked me for a cigarette, reality bent around us. It was early November, but light snow already dusted the dirty, frozen ground, reflecting stray beams of sunlight that fell through the trees, and June felt more like character walking out of a story than a girl who went to my school. For a moment I thought I saw a lamppost next to her.
I handed her a cigarette and reached out to light it for her, but she took my lighter from my hand, letting her fingers trail over mine and held me with her blue eyes in a knowing way that made me shiver.
“Thank you,” she spoke softly and released her gaze, tucking her chin to light her cigarette.
“No problem.” I accepted my lighter from her hand and cocked my head to light another of my own, trying my best to act like someone who talked to girls this beautiful all the time. She smiled at me and suddenly it became much easier than I imagined.
We talked about bands we liked and what teachers we had. I told her that high-school was like a prison and we were all serving a four year sentence for the crime of being young, and she looked at me like I knew something important. We smoked and talked until my cigarettes were gone and the sun was shining sideways through the woods.
The next morning she found me at my locker before the first bell and told me she didn’t know how many smokes she owed me, but she had a fresh pack and would pay me back as much as I wanted if I met her after school.
I ran by the delivery entrance to the kitchen and stole a couple of milk crates for us to sit on. When I arrived behind the shed June swooned like I had built her the Taj Mahal.
“I can’t believe you brought these for us! You are so amazing!” She smiled at me and bit her lower lip while she slid two cigarettes from their box. She put them in her mouth, lighting both, before reaching out to hand me mine. There was a faint impression of her lipstick on the filter. Now I was swooning.
I felt sheepish and told myself she must be like this with everyone.
After that we hung out and smoked together nearly every day. We talked about how her mom was crazy and my parents were too strict. I brought my walkman and played her my favorite tapes and we’d turn the volume up to a distorted crackle so we could both hear through the headphones and dance like maniacs in the snow.
We shared dreams of our older selves. I told her I was learning to play guitar, but hadn’t decided between that and being a writer. She told me she was going to be poet and priestess and when I asked her what church had priestesses she grabbed my collar and gave me a wild look and proclaimed “My own!” I must have looked mortified, because she just let me go and giggled. Although I was too clever to believe in the god I was raised with and arrogant enough to assume this meant that there wasn’t one, blasphemy still terrified me. To see her commit it so casually shook me with fear and trembling.
I never mentioned the stories I’d heard about her or her sister. Not because I thought it would have made June uncomfortable, although that was the excuse I gave myself, but because I was embarrassed that I thought about doing those things with her when I was alone. I couldn’t reconcile our friendship, which felt so familiar and so much like every close friendship of my childhood, with my vaguely chivalrous romantic impulses, and my ravenous sexual desire which consumed me with guilt. I’d be raised to treat women as equals, but in my fantasies they were anything but.
June was becoming one of my closest friends; we could share wild adventures or spend hours just talking nonsense. She was also becoming the sole object of my adolescent lust, an impulse I couldn’t speak aloud to anyone. When I looked at her, and especially when she looked back, I could feel my body pushing me to possess her’s with my own. Lying alone in my bed I conjured visions of June begging me to do whatever I wanted, to use her, to satisfy myself however I pleased. She would tell me how bad she was and how she needed me to control her so she could be good.
This contradiction gnawed into my heart, a constant ache slowly eroding any sense of myself as a good person. After playing my fantasies out to completion, I’d sneak out the back door to smoke behind the garage. It was easier to feel like I didn’t give a fuck about these sorts of things when I was breathing fire and courting death.
My reluctance to acknowledge my sexuality, or anyone else’s, came undone the day after Jackie left town. June had been out of school the day before and when she came back she seemed to drift through the halls like a ship without a sail.
We met up in the woods after school. It was early December and the snow had accumulated to past the leather of our boots. June paced and chewed her nails between cigarettes. I could sense a fear of the inevitable in her, as though she’d seen the end of a path that had been laid out before her and realized it was somewhere she didn’t want to go, but didn’t know how to change course or turn back. Something in her was about to boil over, so I sat, smoked, and waited for it.
“The stories people tell are never the ones that are true,” she was pointing at me like she was countering something I’d just said. “It’s not that things didn’t happen. All kinds of things happen, but nobody knows what really happens. They just hear what they want to hear and make up the rest. They don’t want to know, they just want to make everything simple so they don’t have to think about it. Every girl who’s not a virgin is a slut, and every guy who fucks a girl is a hero because he figured out how to get some girl to fuck him and all the guys who can’t get anyone to fuck them are jealous. That’s how everyone in this stupid school sees the world. They think there are only four kinds of people: girls who are virgins, and girls who are sluts, boys who can fuck girls, and boys who wish they could.” My heart tipped over and splashed into my stomach. I knew where I fit into this model and didn’t like it. “If they knew what really happened, they wouldn’t even be able to process it! It would be like someone was speaking a foreign language to them. Their brains would lock up and they’d have a seizure or something.” She lit another cigarette.
“When Jackie was a freshman she didn’t even date anyone till after spring break. She told everyone who asked her out that our mom wouldn’t let her date until she turned fifteen. Which was total bullshit. My mom doesn’t give a shit what happens to us, but Jackie told boys that because she wanted to be left alone. She knew she could date if she wanted to, but she told me that she wasn’t in a rush and that she still liked being a kid and didn’t want to stop being one just because she was in high school.
“Then there was this guy, John something, he was the starting quarterback for the football team, this super-popular guy that every girl in the school was in love with. After spring break he just came out of nowhere and asked Jackie out and was like ‘I know you haven’t dated anyone before, but I think you’re really special and I want to get to know you.’ Everyone knew that Jackie had turned fifteen over spring break too, so it was like this guy, plus every other guy who’d been trying to get her to go out with them all year descended on her all at once.
“So she kind of put herself in this position where she had to date one of them because all year she’d been telling boys ‘oh, I would love to go out with you buy my mom won’t let me till I’m fifteen.’ So she dates this quarterback, and he introduces her to all his senior friends who just seem so mature and put together, and picks her up in his car and then he starts telling her he loves her and how he’ll come back every weekend to see her…” June’s voice cracked and trailed off. I asked if she was ok and she just gave me an evil look and pulled on her cigarette. “I don’t cry about this shit o.k? I’ve watched Jackie cry about this shit when I was eleven and learned quick that crying about fucked up shit happening doesn’t stop fucked up shit from happening and the faster you get over the fucked up shit that happens the better off you’ll be.” Tears were rolling down her cheeks, but her words were clear and her voice didn’t break.
“John dumped her in the lunchroom, in front of the whole school, the day after she let him punch her v-card. He told he just wanted one last freshman girl before he graduated.” She pitched her butt into the snow and fished the last one from her pack before crumpling and tossing it as well. She lit up and inhaled deeply before continuing. “After that, Jackie did fuck a lot of guys, but most of them were older and the ones that were her age always went to other schools. But you know what they say, a rumors like a snow-ball rolling down a hill, the further it travels the bigger it gets. She even swore off sex completely her junior year before she met Nick, but then it was too late, she was like a character in one of those letters to Penthouse.”
I looked at my shoelaces. The left one was double knotted, but the right one wasn’t.
“Anyway… Nick and her got into a fight because one of his friends cracked a joke or something and Nick didn’t even say shit, just laughed along, right in front of her. They were yelling non-stop. Finally Jackie just split. The last thing she said before she left was ‘No one should have to live with stories about them that were bigger than the life they were trying to live,’ and now she’s off somewhere there are no stories about her and I’m here all alone with a crazy mom, just waiting for this final story to catch fire and remind everyone of all the other stories they hadn’t told in a while.” June shivered and stubbed her smoke into a tree-trunk.
I looked up at her and said, “I’m still here,” trying my best not to sound totally lame, but when I heard myself say it, it did sound totally lame.
“Yeah, you are,” June smiled at me and I warmed up inside. She came over and sat on the crate next to me. “Thank you,” she snaked her arm under mine and took a cigarette from my pack, “thank you for being such a sweet friend.” She smiled again and pulled in closer as she lit her cigarette and my heart fell at the word “friend.”
I was nervous now, so I lit another cigarette and asked what she thought about the stories people told about her. June pulled back and straightened up a little as though I’d just said something that was not quite mean, but not very nice either.
“Yeah, see that’s the thing about these sorts of stories. No one ever tells you a story about yourself to your face.” I just nodded. I’d never really thought about it. I assumed no one cared enough to tell a story about me and that was why I never heard any. The way June put it made it seem so obvious it was beyond questioning. “I guess you know some stories about me then? Why don’t you tell me what you think of them?” June stood up now, and I stood up with her.
“I think they’re all bullshit,” I told her.
She gave me another one of her wicked looks and said “I guess you don’t really know me then do you?”
My voice caught in my throat and my heart evaporated in my chest. The snow had melted and refrozen around the double knot on my left shoelace.
“I’m sure some of them must be true.” She was still smiling but it was like something was twisting inside her and the face behind her smile turned from wicked to sickening. “Did you hear the one about how Nick’s friend Karl raped me last year on my dad’s old weight bench in the basement, while Nick and Jackie were fucking upstairs?”
“No,” I looked up at her. “No one knows that one.” The tip of her cigarette was shaking in front of her face. It fell into the snow as she rushed forward to hug me. I didn’t know what to do, so I just hugged her back as hard as I could and we stood there shivering and shaking together in the snow until the frozen earth started turning again.
Finally, June pulled her wet face back from my chest and wiped the smudges of makeup from her cheeks. “Are you o.k?” It didn’t feel lame this time, but I still wished I had something better to say. June was the first girl to tell me she’d been raped, and there was nothing in my experience that prepared me for it. I knew what rape was, but it was like murder. It was something that only happened in the movies or the newspapers. No one had ever suggested that it was something that might happen to someone I was falling in love with.
“I’m fine.” June composed herself. “Can I have another cigarette please?”
“Yeah, sure.” I shook one out and this time she let me light it for her.
“It’s was almost a year ago, and it really doesn’t matter anymore. It’s not like I ever see him or anything, and the couple times I did he just made dumb jokes about needing to ‘work-out.’”
“Yeah, well… I’d still like to kill him.”
June laughed. I wasn’t sure if she was laughing at me or not. “Don’t worry about it, really. I’m sure he’ll end up getting raped in jail sooner or later anyway.” She was still smiling.
“I don’t understand how you can act like it doesn’t matter.” The whole situation made everything inside me squirm with nauseating discomfort. Sex mattered so much to me. June mattered even more. Not simply because I was a fifteen year old boy possessed and consumed by testosterone, who never had sex with anyone but himself. There was more to it. “Sex is like this promise that gets made to us when we’re kids, that if we can just make it through the misery of being a kid we get this beautiful prize when we grow up. Like in fairy-tales, when they say at the end ‘they live happily ever after’ it’s like a code for ‘they get to have sex, and it’s awesome.’ But now it’s just this fucked up thing that you have no choice about and just happens to you when you don’t want it and can’t stop it and aren’t ready for it and on a weight-bench? God, it’s just like everything else. We get told it’s good for us, that it’s going to be great and then it just sucks.” June was still smiling back at me so I lit another cigarette.
June took a drag, ashed, and looked at me like I was a naïve little boy. “You’re just worried about all this because you’ve never had sex,” she smiled slyly. “You’ll feel different about it soon.”
“How can you say that?” I did my best indigent to cover the truth about my insecurity and lack of experience.
“Because sex is great, but it’s not this wonderful ‘prize’ that it’s supposed to be.” She looked at me more seriously now. “You want to know the fucked up thing about getting raped? Once you get over the initial shock of being raped it starts to feel good. Physically, I mean. Emotionally it still feels fucked up and awful because someone is controlling you and making you do something you don’t want to do and taking something very personal away from you.” June paused and took another drag, “but physically you’re still having this very sensitive part of your body being touched, and your body’s sending you these signals that you’re supposed to feel good and you can’t turn them off. That just makes it more emotionally fucked up, because I was like ‘oh my god, I just got raped and l liked it.’
“I talked to Jackie about it. She said that it was just my body’s way of protecting itself. Like when it felt good for me it made it easier for him to finish and leave me alone without hurting me anymore. When I thought about it like that it made me realize how powerful my body was. It made me want to have sex more.”
My brain had stalled out at this point. June was still talking, but it felt like she was shifting in and out of another language. Some words I knew and could makes sense of, but then she’d switch to incoherent syllables that had no meaningful connection to one another that I could comprehend.
“So, now when guys want to have sex with me I just let them. It feels better than getting raped and if I don’t like what they’re doing they’ll usually stop or at least try to make it feel better for me. When Karl was rapping me he didn’t give a shit what I said he just kept doing it.”
I shook my head. “That’s just so fucked up June.”
“Oh yeah?” She looked at me, unapologetic. “What do you know about fucked up?”
“Nothing,” I admitted to her.
“Well maybe I’ll just have to rape you someday. Then we can see how you feel about it.”
“Yeah right.” I didn’t like the game she was playing.
“What? You don’t think I could?” She was moving closer to me.
“You can’t rape a guy June, it doesn’t work like that.”
“Doesn’t it? What makes you think so?”
“Because,” she was standing right in front of me now, “you can’t force a guy to get a boner.”
She looked into my eyes and her chest brushed against mine. I stopped breathing. Her fingertips traced slowly from the button down the zipper of my jeans until she found me growing hard in her hand. I dropped my cigarette and having made her point, she turned and walked away.
I couldn’t go home. Not yet. It was bad enough not having anyone to talk to about what I was feeling, but the thought of sitting at dinner with my family pretending I wasn’t feeling anything made my stomach twist. I walked half a mile to the gas station and called my mom from the pay phone next to the bathroom and told her I was going to have dinner at a friend’s house and would be back around 8:00.
Inside I bought a can of coke, a king-size Snickers, and a pack of smokes. The clerk didn’t ask for my I.D. I put on my walkman and followed a row of adjacent parking lots into the back of a golf course and wandered through the snow until I found a rain shelter near one of the greens. The batteries were dying. The music was slowing to a drone. I lit a cigarette and turned it off.
The silence of falling snow is unlike any other. It is a true silence, whole and unbroken. It puts the world to sleep, to dream, covered in a blanket that hides all that came before.
I sat in the silence, watching smoke rise through falling snowflakes. I dreamed awake.
It was late spring and the flowers had just opened into bloom. I was riding my bike down June’s street. I saw her house approaching and expected her screams before I heard them. My bike skidded into her driveway leaving a swooping black trail on the concrete where I threw it down. I cleared the steps to her porch in a single bound, but found the front door locked. The screaming grew louder.
I circled around to the backyard. Her screams were deafening now. Everything was vibrating. The backdoor was locked too. A filthy basement window poked up over the grass and I peered in through the grime.
A man held June down on an old weight bench. From my vantage point he was facing me and June was upside down. He wore a dirty grey flannel shirt with a stained, white thermal beneath. His greasy hair had the matted look of someone who rarely removes his cap and the patchy stubble across his chin seemed to accent the missing incisor in his top row of greenish teeth. He was grinning wildly like a dog that caught a squirrel. If he had a tail it would have been wagging.
June twisted beneath him. Her skirt rode up to the top of her thigh. Her shirt was torn open. The man snarled and undid his belt. June had stopped screaming and was sobbing silently. Then there was no sound but my pounding heart. His pants half open, he looked up into my eyes and howled with anger. I knew he hated me as much as I hated him. He was an animal protecting his kill.
I ran to the back door, tearing it from its hinges. Flying through the house to find him waiting at the foot of the basement stairs, I vaulted off the railing as he charged toward me. My boots connected squarely with his chest and I felt his rib cage shatter. We tumbled down to the hard, bare floor of the basement. Following the momentum of our fall I rolled on top of him and clenched my fist around a clump of dark matted hair and bashed his head onto the concrete floor. Droplets of blood scattered in a beautiful sunburst, like a dark, red halo around his crown. His body fell limp beneath me as blood pooled from the back of his skull.
I got up and walked towards June, “Are you ok?”
“I am now.” She threw her arms around me smiling. The intense warmth of two passing suns filled the basement.
“Come on, let’s go to your room and clean you up.” I scooped her into my arms like she weighed no more than a kitten. She nuzzled her face into my chest.
Upstairs the house was filled soft spring sunlight. Everything shimmered like we were inside a mirage. I set her down gently and told her I would draw a bath. She nodded.
The sound of hot water on porcelain poured down through the pipes and into the basement, washing memory away. June asked me to help her undress. There was no shame, only love. Together we revealed her.
I led her to her waiting bathtub where steam danced around her toes as she slid her body deep inside, far beneath the surface to the depths of its warm embrace. Her head burst forth like a new born emerging from the womb. She smiled at me and held my hand, “You know you’ve always been the one I wanted to rape me.”
This paradox was a wrecking-ball through my stained-glass daydream. Colored fragments of my vision shattered into snowflakes. I was a failure even at fantasy. I lit a cigarette and began walking home.
Basketball season started the following week. We had a team meeting on Monday and our first practice Tuesday. In the locker room all eyes were on me.
“I don’t want to tell you what to do, but if you’re going to be on the team this year you can’t date June Talbot.” Christian Culver was starting point guard and our team captain. “If it were any other girl I wouldn’t say anything about it. Even if it were June and anyone else on the team, it would still be bad, but not as bad.”
I gapped at him. The rest of the team looked on in agreement. Jordan seemed to be biting his tongue. “What are you talking about? June and I aren’t even dating, we’re just friends.”
“It doesn’t matter what you are,” he explained. “People think you’re dating and that’s just as bad.”
I was more shocked by the thought that anyone would believe I could be dating June than I was by the confrontation I was facing. “What are you talking about? It’s not like…”
“She’s a fucking dirty slut like her sister!” Jordan cut me off. “You’re making all of us look bad!” He stepped towards me.
I opened my mouth but no sound came. Christian put his hand up to Jordan’s chest, as if to remind him he was on a leash. “Jordan’s right. I don’t know June. She could be a really nice girl, but everyone knows about her sister and she’s going to have to prove she’s different. Maybe that’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.” Christian spoke with a brutal practicality. “The problem is that people already think you’re a little weird. You’re the tallest kid in school, so we’re happy to have you on the team, but you don’t play any other sports, you do all these weird activities, everyone knows you smoke, and until you started dating June, most of us thought you were probably a fag.”
I looked at the ground. “We’re not dating.”
Christian checked Jordan again. “Like I said, it doesn’t matter. You’re not doing anyone any favors by hanging out with her all the time.” Christian wasn’t a scholar, but he was smarter than most and dispassionate in his view of high-school social politics. “You’re not doing yourself any good because people already think you’re a freak and spending all this time with someone everyone assumes is a slut is just going to make sure that reputation follows you to graduation. You’re not helping June either for the same reason. She has to overcome her sister’s reputation if she’s ever going to be happy or popular, and when people see that she’s dating a freak like you, they’ll assume she must be a slut.
“If it were just that, I wouldn’t care, but you’re also on a team with the rest of us, and we need positive support from this school, not negative attention. I don’t want to have to think about the possibility that people are showing up to games just to gossip and heckle you, and you know it’s going to happen if you keep dating June.”
I said it for a third time, “I’m not dating June!”
Jordan burst forward and grabbed me by my jersey, “You’re fucking right you’re not! If I ever catch you in the same hallway as June, I’ll make sure you remember.” I looked him in the eye. His nostrils flared. The team watched. The moment was longer than time itself.
Christian’s voice broke into a new eternity. “That’s enough Jordan. Let’s go to practice guys. COME ON! HUSTLE UP!”
I caught up with June Wednesday morning between first and second period and asked her to meet me in the woods at 5:00 after practice. She said she’d try.
Before practice Jordan called me out in the locker room. “I saw you talking to your little whore girlfriend this morning,” his lips made a round “o” that didn’t fit the rest of his face when he said “whore.” “I hope you were saying goodbye.” He laughed. I said nothing.
I smoked seven cigarettes waiting for June but she didn’t show.
The next morning I found her again between classes. “I didn’t have anywhere to go while you were at practice and I couldn’t come all the way back here after going all the way home.” She had a point, but her having a point didn’t make me feel any better.
“I’ll cut practice today,” I told her, “Just meet me after school ok?”
This time I waited for an hour and a half, long past when I knew she wasn’t going to show. My parents weren’t expecting me till after practice was over and I didn’t want them to know I’d cut.
At 5:00, I was down to two cigarettes. I walked out of the woods and down the dirt path leading from the equipment shed to the football field.
Headlights flared towards me from the far end of the path. Patrick’s Iroc opened and Jordan and his brother stepped forward into the light.
“What the fuck guys?” I should have just run. Either one of them could have taken me one-on-one, but against both of them I didn’t even stand a chance of getting a few licks of my own in.
“I told you,” Jordan’s voice boomed through the open air, “I told you if you didn’t listen, I’d make you remember.”
I ran. Footsteps followed close, gaining closer. If I could just make it into the trees, into the woods I knew better than anyone, into the darkness. Feet pounding in time with my heart, ten yards to go, Jordan and Patrick twenty behind, my right foot cracked the surface of a frozen puddle, sinking into the cold mud below. I landed face flat on the ground with the wind knocked out of me before anyone threw a punch.
I suppose it’s some kind of a blessing that my brain stops recording whenever I take a beating. I can always remember the first blow and the last blow, but beyond that I have no recollection. Even if it goes on for several minutes, it all disappears the second it ends. If I’m in a fair fight I can recount every gory detail, but if it’s a straight up beat down I won’t know a thing about it. It’s almost as if I go into a kind of trance and my mind leaves my body until it’s over.
When I came back, Patrick was dragging Jordan back towards the headlights, saying something about how it can’t be so bad that it comes back to them.
I sat up felt the places it hurt the most. Nothing felt broken. Nothing was bleeding badly. I reached into my coat for a cigarette. They were both broken. I got to my feet, and lit the longer of the two broken ends and walked home.
I told my parents that I’d fallen off my bike. They didn’t ask any questions even though my bike had been in the garage all day. I stayed home from school the next.
By Monday the swelling had gone down and my injuries could pass more easily for a bike accident. I looked for June during the morning break. When I saw her she was talking to Jordan. She was smiling. They both were. They were both smiling and laughing.
She must have sensed me, because she turned towards me and her smile faded. Jordan turned too, but smirking triumphantly. June turned back towards him said something I couldn’t hear, but touched his chest lightly as she left him. I turned away.
I found her later in the day and asked her where she’d been, what had been going on.
She had to go.
I walked out of school for the first time. I didn’t even think about it or make any kind of a plan. I just walked out the doors like I had every reason to leave, and no one stopped me. I walked down the steps and across the parking lot to the football field. I picked up the trail to the equipment shed and opened a fresh pack of smokes. The smell held me for a moment. Then I stepped behind the line of trees and down into the woods. I slid the long white stick from its box. I brought flame from my pocket across its tip and breathed in deeply. I was safe in those woods. Nobody knew them better than me. As long as I had cigarettes to burn and batteries for my walkman, nothing and no one could touch me.
(to be continued in part 5)
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Changes of Mind: A Holonomic Theory of the Evolution of Consciousness
An original theory of the development of consciousness that brings together research from neurology, new-paradigm studies, psychology, and mysticism. B¡ɡ dísсount!b~ Būу onе, yοū will lοvе It!!