The last day of high school, nobody forgets it. Nothing happens with ninety-nine percent of us. You try to remember where you parked because your car is in a different spot than it’s been for the past two years. Is it next to the gym? You Nazi-salute yourself in the bathroom mirror. You almost fall asleep in third period, despite all the adrenaline. That teacher you’ve hated (there are even pictures in your sophomore notebook with fatal head wounds) is conspicuously absent. Or maybe she’s there and arrogant as ever and since you’re sleepy and can’t find your car, you let her off the hook.
There is a kid on the bus who everybody knows is one bad day from killing himself. But all anyone does is try to make it worse for him. You even kicked a rotten orange under his seat.
All of fourth grade was you with your left shoe untied. The string was shot, damaged by walking in the rain when you had missed the bus. You developed a limp that got you sent to the principal’s office and the nurse had a way of accusing you of seeking sympathy. You went home seeking sympathy for meeting a deranged nurse. Your mother bought you slip-ons and then everyone thought you were retarded. You failed math one six-weeks. You read the wrong Roald Dahl story. Someone put a green bean up his nose and displayed it on his tongue seconds later.
There was a rumor that this kid had an erection in the library. Everybody whispered about it and the event reached stratospheric status when a girl drew a picture, a crude Lascaux effort which became a silverpoint in the school art contest. Red ribbon stuff, no advancement to District. This was the learning of the difference between famous and infamous. Boners became a dirty word.
Yogurt. Everybody wanted yogurt because it came in so many varieties of packaging. Someone said it should be put in the water fountain and this was the kid who had the boner. He was a smart kid now. He went to District after the science project (sixth grade, fungus on the feet now for the kids who played too many sports). He started wearing glasses and they took to calling him “Dr. Yogurt.”
The assistant principal dies. She had arrhythmia. I thought white people didn’t have rhythm! The sand under the swings on the playground was infested with cat turds. The girl who was the artist claimed she saw a rat in the boiler room. What was she doing in the boiler room? Does she work here now?
The new assistant principal was a foreigner. Nobody trusted him. He was at the junior high when you arrived and somebody said he was the kind who made soup late at night. You wondered who made soup at any hour. Soup came in cans. They had big cans of it in the cafeteria, cans the size of your head. This Mr. Sharma had vampire eyes: no expression whatsoever. They said his teeth had to be filed down every morning or else they would be noticeable. Mr. Sharma got cancer and went back to India to die and you all breathed a sigh of relief. The vegetable soup was better than ever.
One of the quiet girls got pregnant, freshman year. Who fucks a quiet girl? She started groaning in English while you were reading “Macbeth” and they said maybe it was all the blood. Either way she had to leave for a while and when she came back she wore a mean look on her face all the time. And she talked now, a lot. Hateful. She went around with the stoners and pinned hoops and studs to her face and one day she was led out by the deputy sheriff who stands by the front doors and whistles, nodding only at the white kids.
They brought in a sculpture one day and somebody said it farted. It was a white marble torso with just enough of its buttocks to make someone say it farted. The girl who was the artist exclaimed that its penis had been removed. Everybody went to look but it was already gone. The Funny Guy (he was new, a mid-semester arrival, sophomore year) said it was Dr. Yogurt’s handiwork. That our Harvard applicant had chiseled off the dick. Somebody asked him how he knew of Dr. Yogurt’s history so well. Funny Guy said it was all we ever talked about was the past.
The kid you all remember as “Monty” who wore a fur coat in second grade returns. Somebody says Monty’s dad got out of prison and that he has come back to live with this shameful villain. Monty has only gotten a couple inches taller and now they call him “Lil Monty.” Then this tall girl with a beak nose calls him “Pee Wee” and Monty is doomed, forever to be Pee Wee. You sign his junior yearbook “Wassup, Pee Wee?! Sweet to have you back, bro!” and he frowns and blacks it out with a magic marker that you swear has “PROPERTY OF STATE PRISON CAMP: ROSE DUCHAMP” on it. Monty starts wearing his fur coat again that winter. The rumor is he stabbed a D.C. cab driver over the summer.
You’d think drugs would provide a long-term cure for depression. They cost so much and the risk is so steep in getting them. This fifteen-minutes-of-fame world they offer is clearly a steep failure. But the lines at the corners are long. You can’t stop what’s coming, it’s already on its way. Tori Amos was writing about either trains or morphine.
Senior year includes Home Ec and the kidding around about who wears aprons and who doesn’t. You all start cooking and sewing. Funny Guy is a whiz at french toast. Dr. Yogurt can get a grocery list together in seconds. Boiling water is infatuating. You cook things just to see it. It warms the room in winter. It has no smell. You imagine strange things in it, coming to fruition. Those bubbles are perfect. Steam has a mind of its own. It looks different when the lights are on.
You see the biology teacher at the mall and she has her arm around another woman. Your plans are to tell everybody first thing Monday but then your dad gets arrested that night for drunk-driving and you stow it away for later, maybe never. Your dad spends all Sunday afternoon crying in the den where he is drinking beer and watching football while your mother fumes in the kitchen. Your best friend calls and asks if you want to go to the mall because he has to buy shoes for his brother’s wedding. You tell him about the biology teacher along the way. He yawns and tells you he is gay. At Brooks Brothers he buys the most expensive pair of leather monks you have ever seen.
There was a tornado in kindergarten that blew out windows in the teachers’ lavatory and you remember having to pee into a rust-stained trough with giant-headed Mr. Onslow unbuckling and buckling his pants. He breathed through his mouth and would flutter his eyelids when urinating, as if in great pain or pleasure. You remember this when you see him using a cane in the pharmacy (where you work summers in high school) and he is getting diuretic prescriptions filled. He does not remember you, something you feel is appropriate and in everybody’s favor.
There is a black girl who runs the high hurdles, a rubbery short-haired African who has large cubed teeth and has problems with motion sickness. She wins four state titles and sets a pair of records that stand until she dies in an auto accident in France. Everything about her seems incongruous and strange, like James Dean. They name a scholarship after her and they misspell her name on the plaques every year.
Bad LSD went through the marching band the week after you tried out and were told to stick with doing jazz in your bedroom (Hahaha!). No sympathy for those turds. They deserved to get trapped in the parking lot at an away game with Central. Now they know what it feels like to look stupid in front of everybody. This girl with a big nose (trombonist) never comes back to school, and ends up going to California to be an actress (comedy) where she meets this track star and they fall in love and then die in a car crash in the Alps. Weird things happen.
Somebody takes all the F books out of the library and then the U section. It takes five years for everybody to get the joke.
There was a sad February day in elementary school, a gray rainy day when the teachers all gathered in the lounge and whispered for half an hour. They left the door open just enough for artist girl and Dr. Yogurt to hear as they went around checking for rats and having boners. In the hallway for the day’s dismissal it was passed down the line that one of the teachers had been fired for punching a parent in the face. The parent had been punching his kid in the face. That kid was Lil Monty, our beloved Pee Wee, who went away and came back to us just as he left.
Sweet to have you back, bro!
But that teacher was somebody we all forget. That’s the way it works in life. You get this teacher – let’s call her Miss Haymaker – who does a grand deed, goes virtual superhero on a bad dad, and we forget about her in the time it takes to scarf our tapioca pudding. But you let a dude get a boner in assembly, and you may as well call for the guys who do the chiseling on the gravestones – because that’s one we’ll never forget.
Causes Sean Jackson Supports
PFLAG, Amnesty International, AA, Catholic Social Services