Banned for Life

by D. R. Haney

The first time I ever saw Peewee was shortly after the start of my senior year of high school…He was tiny, maybe four foot ten…everything about him seemed kind of miniature. His limbs were small, his neck was small, his head, his hands, his ears.  And yet everything he wore was at least a size too big…His nose was pug, his jaw was soft, his eyes were black and beady.

An excerpt from a novel by D.R. Haney

State your age
Set the stage
Start a fire for something new
Where’s your energy?
There’s no energy
—Unwound

The first time I ever saw Peewee was shortly after the start of my senior year of high school. Every day I used to get to school early and sit around the cafeteria with a group of my friends, most of them athletes, just sort of shooting the shit and waiting for the day to begin, when one morning a guy named Mark Powell stopped in mid-sentence and started gawking across the room.  And everybody else was gawking, too, and we’d just gotten a fresh batch of freshman girls, so I figured this must be the pick of the litter, but when I turned to see for myself all I saw was a strange little kid turning the lock on his locker.  He was tiny, maybe four foot ten, but he wasn’t just tiny in the short sense, everything about him seemed kind of miniature.  His limbs were small, his neck was small, his head, his hands, his ears.  And yet everything he wore was at least a size too big:  a motorcycle jacket covered with colored pins and baggy pants with the cuffs tucked inside workboots without any laces.  His nose was pug, his jaw was soft, his eyes were black and beady.  And then, to top it all off, his head was shaved.  Nobody shaved his head back then, not even black guys, who were mostly sporting ‘fros. 

Well, we all just sat there staring at him.  In fact, the whole room seemed to come to a halt.  And he kept trying to open his locker and, for some reason, it wouldn’t, so he started slamming it with his tiny fist.  And then he seemed to give up altogether and went walking away, but after a few steps he came running back to kick it.  He kicked it really hard—you could tell by the sound—and I thought for sure he’d hurt himself, but when he walked away again, he wasn’t even limping.  And then he passed our table, and he looked right at us, and he smiled this smile like he knew we’d been watching the entire time and he also knew how funny he was, and he gave a little nod and said, very simply, “Hey.”  And nobody said a word back.  We just watched him go, his boots flopping around, and when he’d gone, Mark Powell turned back around and said, “What the hell was that?”  Which, since that’s what every last one of us had been wondering, cracked us right up.

Now like most high schools, ours had a stringent dress code.  It was khakis and Izod shirts and Oxford button-downs:  if you deviated in any way you were dead and buried, socially.  And this had everything to do with the local university:  a prestigious school mostly attended by affluent Northerners who often liked the town so much they stayed on after graduating.  That’s who most of my friends were:  their children.  Virtually ever elite student at my school had parents affiliated in one way or another with the university, and they set the standard for the entire high school, or at least the white part of it.  They were smart and glib and going places.  Yet they were also incredibly narrow-minded.  Their instinct for class was infallible, so that if you weren’t one of theirs—and they always knew—you were mercilessly excluded.  I was only allowed in because I played sports and took the same collegebound courses.  And, even then, I knew my standing was shaky.

So that’s how it was for a lemming like me.  I’m sure you can guess how it was for Peewee.  He got to that school and people couldn’t stop talking about him.  Even people at other schools were talking about him.  I remember once I was at a party and this guy from way out in the sticks asked if I knew a kid named Bernard Mash.  (That was Peewee’s real name.  I’m the one who started calling him that.)  And I said, “Well, I know who he is.  We don’t hang out or anything.”  And he said, “Yeah, I met him over at Planet Records.  Is he gay or what?”

That’s what a lot of people decided.  He wasn’t effeminate in the slightest, whereas he really was a brain, and supposedly he was Jewish, and he dressed in Fonzie’s clothes, but those weren’t the things he took shit for, it was mostly for being “gay.”  I mean he was weird, right?  Wasn’t that the same as gay?  So the rednecks would call him “faggot,” and usually he’d shrug it off, but sometimes he’d take on kids more than twice his size.  I never saw it myself, but I heard stories and, once, walking down the hall, I passed our principal, Mr. Wright, holding Peewee by the scruff of the neck and pushing him toward his office.  And Peewee’s face was a bloody mess, and he was cursing like a whorehouse parakeet, going, “I’ll kill his fucking ass!  I’ll motherfucking kill him!” And Mr. Wright said, “Alright, that’s another day.  You want to try for the whole week?”  Suspension talk.  That’s what I heard when I found myself under similar circumstances a few months later, but worse.  Much, much worse. 

But the elite kids dealt with freaks differently.  They—or maybe I should make that ‘we’—were a little too sophisticated for outright taunts.  No, our way was to treat freaks like unwitting jesters, though, in Peewee’s case, it wasn’t truly unwitting.  He hated conformity above all things, and considered my group the worst offenders, so in the morning, while we sat in the cafeteria, he’d go to his locker and act as weird as possible just to freak us out.  He’d slam the door shut with a judo kick or a butt of the head soccer-style and, passing by our table, say something completely off-the-wall like, “I love the smell of Nikes in the morning!” or “Things go better with codeine!”  And sometimes we’d laugh, and sometimes we’d glare till he got out of sight and ask each other that was supposed to mean.  Things went better with what?  Was that some kind of drug?  Well, maybe that explained it.  And yet, secretly, I think we all looked forward to those early morning shows.  He was really kind of riveting in a way.  What weird thing would he think of next?

Well, one morning, about a month after he first appeared at school, he walked by our table with his hair dyed red.  Blood red.  And guys just didn’t dye hair back then, and certainly not a color like that, so we weren’t amused in the slightest—in fact, we were all kind of scandalized.  And Mark Powell started calling him to the table, and my girlfriend Megan said, “Mark, don’t.”  She was afraid he’d beat him up or something.  And Mark said, “No, I’m just going to talk to him.”  And he kept on calling Peewee to the table, and Peewee kept ignoring him.  And, finally, he shut his locker and came walking over with this kind of “Yes?” look on his face.  And Mark said, “What’s going on with your hair?”

“My harem?  They’re fine, thanks for asking.”
And that went over most of our heads.  And Mark said, “No, no.  You dyed your hair.”

“You mean my hair is dead?”  And he reached up to feel it.  “Are you sure?  Feels alive to me.”
And at that point Mark got pissed.

“You know what I mean, faggot.  It’s red.” 

“Really?  It’s red?  You don’t think I’ve got a brain tumor or anything, do you?”
And he turned and, mumbling to himself, walked down the hall, still feeling his head as if for tumors.  At the time, I thought that was one of the strangest, sorriest, most pathetic things I’d ever been a witness to, but when I think about it now, when I think about Mark Powell sitting there in a state of exasperation, it puts a great big old smile on my face.

                                                      ******

I didn’t say a word that day.  In fact, I barely spoke to him for most of that year.  Later, after my whole life had pretty much been shattered, I’d finally get to know him, but till then, we had just one semi-lengthy exchange, and that took place on a late fall day in the library.  He was always in the library.  I knew because there was a long balcony that ran above it, and since he didn’t look like anybody else I’d ever seen, he was always very easy to spot.  He was usually reading by himself or slouched near a window that faced the parking lot and, beyond that, a road leading in and out of town.  I saw him there many times, sitting and looking like the loneliest kid in the whole world.  Which, at that time, he may well have been. 

But on this particular day, I was the one sitting by the window.  A few weeks before, I’d torn my Achilles tendon in a big game with our crosstown rival, and I’d been doing so well before then, I’d been Player of the Week and knew for certain I was being scouted by at least one college, and I was badly in need of an athletic scholarship since my parents couldn’t afford to put me through school.  So now I knew it probably wasn’t going to happen, and I was feeling kind of sorry for myself, though, looking back, it was all a pipe dream anyway.  I mean I was pretty good at football, but not that great.  I played with a lot of heart, as they say.  I played to get my aggressions out.  And I had a lot them, too:  the town, the school, that constant status anxiety.  Plus, I was all sexed up with no place to take it, but I’ll get to that later.  And then there were the times themselves.  Because I wanted something to happen, I didn’t know what, and down in North Carolina it was still the seventies and, next to the nineties, those were the dullest damned years I ever lived through.  I mean I was pretty dim in those days and even I knew something was missing.  Yet, for all that, my dream was to head off to college and get a good job and live like all my friends did in a big house with a preppie wife and all the Oxford button-downs money could buy.  I just didn’t want to do it there.  I didn’t care where it was, so long as it wasn’t North Carolina.

So that’s what I thought while I sat by the window.  Not that I remember that exactly, but since that’s all I ever thought about (when I wasn’t thinking about sex), it’s a safe bet I was thinking it then.  It was sixth period study hall, the one “class” I shared with Megan, and she had to write a paper on Freud so she’d gone off to find a book on him, and she stayed so long I started asking everyone that passed me if they knew where she was.  And finally somebody said, “Yeah, she’s back there talking to Bernard Mash.”  (That’s the way he was always referred to him in high school:  always by the first and last name, as if to keep him separate from all the other Bernards, though he was the only one.)  And the second I heard that, I could see the whole scene.  She’d bumped into him and said hello, the same way she said hello to everybody, and he’d taken it for a sign of genuine friendliness, which in a way it was, and now she was stuck talking to him.  It happened all the time.  She didn’t know how to say “Got to run now.”  She had this thing about being liked so that she was nice to everybody, including misfits, and since that’s a pretty rare trait for a cheerleader, she was easily the best-liked girl in the entire school.  It didn’t exactly hurt that, except for a too-high forehead and a slight problem with pimples, she looked just like a Barbie. 

I thought about leaving her back there.  I was always telling her she needed to assert herself—a big word back then:  everybody was always asserting themselves—but she’d still strand herself with people she didn’t like and bitch about it later.  So maybe this time she’d finally learn her lesson.  But then she didn’t come back, and she didn’t come back, and I thought, ‘Alright, let’s go bail her out.  I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.  Maybe she’ll even fuck me for it later on.’  (Fat chance!) 

So I got my crutches and pulled myself up and walked back to the stacks where this kid had said he’d seen her, and, sure enough, there she was, and there was the freak, too, running his rodent mouth a mile a minute.  And Megan’s back was turned, and the closer I got, the more I could make out what the freak was saying and, holy shit, it was a language I’d never quite heard before.  I mean, yes, it was English, but he was talking about Freud, about whom I knew nothing, and sounding almost like a book himself.  It was:  “This whole idea Freud had, that people have to repress parts of themselves in order to function in society, is complete bullshit, in my opinion, because animals have societies and they’re not doing a whole lot of repressing.  I mean, apes, yes, that might be possible.  And dogs—dogs are very similar to people, their brains are virtually the same, apparently.  But a lot of lower animals have societies.  Fish, for instance.  And birds.  And ants.  Now much repressing do you think ants do?”

Now maybe this doesn’t sound all that earth-shattering, but you have to understand it was coming from a sophomore in high school who looked even younger than that.  Plus, there was just this intensity about it.  He looked like a fucking maniac while he stood there, his black eyes like BBs lit from within, his hair like a blood-soaked beanie.  There was a sense of stumbling on a secret, somehow, like you pull up a rug and there’s a door to a lair full of God-knows-what you never knew existed.  And that window in the library was really big, so if it happened to be cloudy outside, it got dark in the library, too, especially back in the stacks.  And it was cloudy that day, so this whole episode took place in shadow.

So what I’m trying to say is there was something spooky about it, something disturbing but fascinating, too.  And then he realized I was standing there, and he broke off, and Megan turned to see me, and I could tell from her eyes she felt the way I did:  Did you hear that?  Can you fucking believe it?  And she moved closer to me and said to Peewee, “Well!  Thank you for that!  That was very…helpful!”  And he gave this kind of “Aw shucks” shrug and turned back to the shelf, and Megan held up the book she’d gone to find as if to say, “Got it!  We can go now!”  And yet I couldn’t move.

State your age
Set the stage
Start a fire for something new
Where’s your energy?
There’s no energy
—Unwound
The first time I ever saw Peewee was shortly after the start of my senior year of high school. Every day I used to get to school early and sit around the cafeteria with a group of my friends, most of them athletes, just sort of shooting the shit and waiting for the day to begin, when one morning a guy named Mark Powell stopped in mid-sentence and started gawking across the room.  And everybody else was gawking, too, and we’d just gotten a fresh batch of freshman girls, so I figured this must be the pick of the litter, but when I turned to see for myself all I saw was a strange little kid turning the lock on his locker.  He was tiny, maybe four foot ten, but he wasn’t just tiny in the short sense, everything about him seemed kind of miniature.  His limbs were small, his neck was small, his head, his hands, his ears.  And yet everything he wore was at least a size too big:  a motorcycle jacket covered with colored pins and baggy pants with the cuffs tucked inside workboots without any laces.  His nose was pug, his jaw was soft, his eyes were black and beady.  And then, to top it all off, his head was shaved.  Nobody shaved his head back then, not even black guys, who were mostly sporting ‘fros.
Well, we all just sat there staring at him.  In fact, the whole room seemed to come to a halt.  And he kept trying to open his locker and, for some reason, it wouldn’t, so he started slamming it with his tiny fist.  And then he seemed to give up altogether and went walking away, but after a few steps he came running back to kick it.  He kicked it really hard—you could tell by the sound—and I thought for sure he’d hurt himself, but when he walked away again, he wasn’t even limping.  And then he passed our table, and he looked right at us, and he smiled this smile like he knew we’d been watching the entire time and he also knew how funny he was, and he gave a little nod and said, very simply, “Hey.” And nobody said a word back.  We just watched him go, his boots flopping around, and when he’d gone, Mark Powell turned back around and said, “What the hell was that?” Which, since that’s what every last one of us had been wondering, cracked us right up.
Now like most high schools, ours had a stringent dress code.  It was khakis and Izod shirts and Oxford button-downs:  if you deviated in any way you were dead and buried, socially.  And this had everything to do with the local university:  a prestigious school mostly attended by affluent Northerners who often liked the town so much they stayed on after graduating.  That’s who most of my friends were:  their children.  Virtually ever elite student at my school had parents affiliated in one way or another with the university, and they set the standard for the entire high school, or at least the white part of it.  They were smart and glib and going places.  Yet they were also incredibly narrow-minded.  Their instinct for class was infallible, so that if you weren’t one of theirs—and they always knew—you were mercilessly excluded.  I was only allowed in because I played sports and took the same collegebound courses.  And, even then, I knew my standing was shaky.
So that’s how it was for a lemming like me.  I’m sure you can guess how it was for Peewee.  He got to that school and people couldn’t stop talking about him.  Even people at other schools were talking about him.  I remember once I was at a party and this guy from way out in the sticks asked if I knew a kid named Bernard Mash.  (That was Peewee’s real name.  I’m the one who started calling him that.) And I said, “Well, I know who he is.  We don’t hang out or anything.” And he said, “Yeah, I met him over at Planet Records.  Is he gay or what?”
That’s what a lot of people decided.  He wasn’t effeminate in the slightest, whereas he really was a brain, and supposedly he was Jewish, and he dressed in Fonzie’s clothes, but those weren’t the things he took shit for, it was mostly for being “gay.” I mean he was weird, right?  Wasn’t that the same as gay?  So the rednecks would call him “faggot,” and usually he’d shrug it off, but sometimes he’d take on kids more than twice his size.  I never saw it myself, but I heard stories and, once, walking down the hall, I passed our principal, Mr. Wright, holding Peewee by the scruff of the neck and pushing him toward his office.  And Peewee’s face was a bloody mess, and he was cursing like a whorehouse parakeet, going, “I’ll kill his fucking ass!  I’ll motherfucking kill him!” And Mr. Wright said, “Alright, that’s another day.  You want to try for the whole week?” Suspension talk.  That’s what I heard when I found myself under similar circumstances a few months later, but worse.  Much, much worse.
But the elite kids dealt with freaks differently.  They—or maybe I should make that ‘we’—were a little too sophisticated for outright taunts.  No, our way was to treat freaks like unwitting jesters, though, in Peewee’s case, it wasn’t truly unwitting.  He hated conformity above all things, and considered my group the worst offenders, so in the morning, while we sat in the cafeteria, he’d go to his locker and act as weird as possible just to freak us out.  He’d slam the door shut with a judo kick or a butt of the head soccer-style and, passing by our table, say something completely off-the-wall like, “I love the smell of Nikes in the morning!” or “Things go better with codeine!” And sometimes we’d laugh, and sometimes we’d glare till he got out of sight and ask each other that was supposed to mean.  Things went better with what?  Was that some kind of drug?  Well, maybe that explained it.  And yet, secretly, I think we all looked forward to those early morning shows.  He was really kind of riveting in a way.  What weird thing would he think of next?
Well, one morning, about a month after he first appeared at school, he walked by our table with his hair dyed red.  Blood red.  And guys just didn’t dye hair back then, and certainly not a color like that, so we weren’t amused in the slightest—in fact, we were all kind of scandalized.  And Mark Powell started calling him to the table, and my girlfriend Megan said, “Mark, don’t.” She was afraid he’d beat him up or something.  And Mark said, “No, I’m just going to talk to him.” And he kept on calling Peewee to the table, and Peewee kept ignoring him.  And, finally, he shut his locker and came walking over with this kind of “Yes?” look on his face.  And Mark said, “What’s going on with your hair?”
“My harem?  They’re fine, thanks for asking.”
And that went over most of our heads.  And Mark said, “No, no.  You dyed your hair.”
“You mean my hair is dead?” And he reached up to feel it.  “Are you sure?  Feels alive to me.”
And at that point Mark got pissed.
“You know what I mean, faggot.  It’s red.”
“Really?  It’s red?  You don’t think I’ve got a brain tumor or anything, do you?”
And he turned and, mumbling to himself, walked down the hall, still feeling his head as if for tumors.  At the time, I thought that was one of the strangest, sorriest, most pathetic things I’d ever been a witness to, but when I think about it now, when I think about Mark Powell sitting there in a state of exasperation, it puts a great big old smile on my face.
******
I didn’t say a word that day.  In fact, I barely spoke to him for most of that year.  Later, after my whole life had pretty much been shattered, I’d finally get to know him, but till then, we had just one semi-lengthy exchange, and that took place on a late fall day in the library.  He was always in the library.  I knew because there was a long balcony that ran above it, and since he didn’t look like anybody else I’d ever seen, he was always very easy to spot.  He was usually reading by himself or slouched near a window that faced the parking lot and, beyond that, a road leading in and out of town.  I saw him there many times, sitting and looking like the loneliest kid in the whole world.  Which, at that time, he may well have been.
But on this particular day, I was the one sitting by the window.  A few weeks before, I’d torn my Achilles tendon in a big game with our crosstown rival, and I’d been doing so well before then, I’d been Player of the Week and knew for certain I was being scouted by at least one college, and I was badly in need of an athletic scholarship since my parents couldn’t afford to put me through school.  So now I knew it probably wasn’t going to happen, and I was feeling kind of sorry for myself, though, looking back, it was all a pipe dream anyway.  I mean I was pretty good at football, but not that great.  I played with a lot of heart, as they say.  I played to get my aggressions out.  And I had a lot them, too:  the town, the school, that constant status anxiety.  Plus, I was all sexed up with no place to take it, but I’ll get to that later.  And then there were the times themselves.  Because I wanted something to happen, I didn’t know what, and down in North Carolina it was still the seventies and, next to the nineties, those were the dullest damned years I ever lived through.  I mean I was pretty dim in those days and even I knew something was missing.  Yet, for all that, my dream was to head off to college and get a good job and live like all my friends did in a big house with a preppie wife and all the Oxford button-downs money could buy.  I just didn’t want to do it there.  I didn’t care where it was, so long as it wasn’t North Carolina.
So that’s what I thought while I sat by the window.  Not that I remember that exactly, but since that’s all I ever thought about (when I wasn’t thinking about sex), it’s a safe bet I was thinking it then.  It was sixth period study hall, the one “class” I shared with Megan, and she had to write a paper on Freud so she’d gone off to find a book on him, and she stayed so long I started asking everyone that passed me if they knew where she was.  And finally somebody said, “Yeah, she’s back there talking to Bernard Mash.” (That’s the way he was always referred to him in high school:  always by the first and last name, as if to keep him separate from all the other Bernards, though he was the only one.) And the second I heard that, I could see the whole scene.  She’d bumped into him and said hello, the same way she said hello to everybody, and he’d taken it for a sign of genuine friendliness, which in a way it was, and now she was stuck talking to him.  It happened all the time.  She didn’t know how to say “Got to run now.” She had this thing about being liked so that she was nice to everybody, including misfits, and since that’s a pretty rare trait for a cheerleader, she was easily the best-liked girl in the entire school.  It didn’t exactly hurt that, except for a too-high forehead and a slight problem with pimples, she looked just like a Barbie.
I thought about leaving her back there.  I was always telling her she needed to assert herself—a big word back then:  everybody was always asserting themselves—but she’d still strand herself with people she didn’t like and bitch about it later.  So maybe this time she’d finally learn her lesson.  But then she didn’t come back, and she didn’t come back, and I thought, ‘Alright, let’s go bail her out.  I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.  Maybe she’ll even fuck me for it later on.’ (Fat chance!)
So I got my crutches and pulled myself up and walked back to the stacks where this kid had said he’d seen her, and, sure enough, there she was, and there was the freak, too, running his rodent mouth a mile a minute.  And Megan’s back was turned, and the closer I got, the more I could make out what the freak was saying and, holy shit, it was a language I’d never quite heard before.  I mean, yes, it was English, but he was talking about Freud, about whom I knew nothing, and sounding almost like a book himself.  It was:  “This whole idea Freud had, that people have to repress parts of themselves in order to function in society, is complete bullshit, in my opinion, because animals have societies and they’re not doing a whole lot of repressing.  I mean, apes, yes, that might be possible.  And dogs—dogs are very similar to people, their brains are virtually the same, apparently.  But a lot of lower animals have societies.  Fish, for instance.  And birds.  And ants.  Now much repressing do you think ants do?”
Now maybe this doesn’t sound all that earth-shattering, but you have to understand it was coming from a sophomore in high school who looked even younger than that.  Plus, there was just this intensity about it.  He looked like a fucking maniac while he stood there, his black eyes like BBs lit from within, his hair like a blood-soaked beanie.  There was a sense of stumbling on a secret, somehow, like you pull up a rug and there’s a door to a lair full of God-knows-what you never knew existed.  And that window in the library was really big, so if it happened to be cloudy outside, it got dark in the library, too, especially back in the stacks.  And it was cloudy that day, so this whole episode took place in shadow.
So what I’m trying to say is there was something spooky about it, something disturbing but fascinating, too.  And then he realized I was standing there, and he broke off, and Megan turned to see me, and I could tell from her eyes she felt the way I did:  Did you hear that?  Can you fucking believe it?  And she moved closer to me and said to Peewee, “Well!  Thank you for that!  That was very…helpful!” And he gave this kind of “Aw shucks” shrug and turned back to the shelf, and Megan held up the book she’d gone to find as if to say, “Got it!  We can go now!” And yet I couldn’t move.
by D. R. Haney
The first time I ever saw Peewee was shortly after the start of my senior year of high school…He was tiny, maybe four foot ten…everything about him seemed kind of miniature. His limbs were small, his neck was small, his head, his hands, his ears.  And yet everything he wore was at least a size too big…His nose was pug, his jaw was soft, his eyes were black and beady.
Because now that I’d heard this creature speaking in tongues I wanted to know more about his—its—background.  I mean all these stories I’d been told—were they really true? 
So I said, “Hey, Bernard?  That’s your name, right?  Bernard?” And he looked like he couldn’t believe I was speaking to him in a somewhat friendly voice, like it was all a trick to set him up for the inevitable insult.
“Uh-huh,” he said.
“Did you really burn down your last school?”
And with that he lowered his guard a shade.
“Well,” he said, “kind of.  See, what happened was, I was smoking in the boys’ room, and instead of throwing my cigarette down the toilet I threw it in the trash.  And the bathroom caught on fire and—well, they caught it before it went too far, but it was bad enough they had to shut down the school for a couple of days.”
“And this was in New York?”
“Brooklyn,” he nodded.
Which meant practically nothing to me. I knew vaguely Brooklyn was close to Manhattan, but that was the extent of it.  So I asked how he’d managed to end up here, and he said that’s where his parents had sent him after burning down that bathroom.  He said his sister was a graduate student at the university and, the way he made it sound, his folks were basically paying him a salary to live with her and away from them.
“I’m quite a handful,” he told us proudly.
“So what do you think of this place?”
And he laughed this do-you-really-want-to-know-what-I-think laugh and said, “Does the word ‘hell’ mean anything to you?”
And it’s funny:  I thought it was hell myself but, when he said that, I almost felt like sticking up for it.  Why didn’t he just leave?  Nobody liked him here anyway.  And there were a few other things I wouldn’t have minded asking, such as why he never seemed to change his clothes, and why they didn’t fit, and what was the meaning of all those buttons he wore, and also, of course, his hair.  I knew it must be connected with rock music in some way since I’d seen pictures of David Bowie, for instance, with his hair dyed even stranger colors, but why
would anybody want to look like David Bowie?  And why did he always say such weird things in the morning?  Why?
But I’d had all I could take for the time being.  So I hobbled off with Megan and, as soon as she thought he couldn’t hear, she said, “God, he’s weird.  But he is awfully bright, don’t you think?”
“He’s a Jew,” I shrugged.  Which was all I knew about Jews:  they were really bright.  Not to mention evil.
******
That Christmas, Megan went to Kentucky to visit her father.  Her parents had recently filed for divorce after her father had run off with a woman half his age, and Megan was pretty pissed about it, while her mom sought comfort with old John Barleycorn.  Not that she barhopped.  She only drank behind closed doors, and even then she wouldn’t touch the stuff till six or seven at night, but once that rolled around she couldn’t mix the drinks fast enough.  A few times I drank with her.  I’d drop by and she’d say, “Well, Jason, can I get you a beer?” And Megan would say, “No, Mom, you cannot.” And Gail, her mom, would kind of laugh and say, “Oh, Megan, don’t be so naïve.  I’m sure Jason’s had a beer before.” And I had, of course.  I’d only been going to frat parties since I was fourteen.  And Mark Powell was a pothead, and so were others in that crowd, so I’d done my share of that, too, and I thought it was really cool how Gail took that shit for granted whereas my own parents didn’t.  They were both teetotalers.  And they’d both grown up in the sticks and spoke like it, lots of Y’alls” and “ain’ts,” and I was really embarrassing by all that.  But Gail came from the Midwest, so she spoke like a regular person, and she’d traveled some and lived in different places before settling in North Carolina, whereas my own parents had hardly ever left the state.  So I thought Gail was a terrific mom, even if she was a drunk, and I could tell she liked me too.  She always talked a lot to me, so much so that Megan would get kind of jealous.  She’d say, “For God’s sake, Mom, he’s my boyfriend.” Other times, if she didn’t like the way Gail was behaving, she’d tell her to go to bed, and I don’t mean she’d ask her, I mean she’d say, “Go to bed, Mom!  Now!” And Gail would do it, too.  Yeah, it was a pretty weird relationship.  They were more like sisters than mother and daughter, and so far as that went, Megan was more the mom and Gail more the kid.  They even looked like sisters.  At that time, Gail would have been at least forty, but in the right light she could easily have passed for ten years younger:  blonde, like Megan, with Megan’s big tits and high forehead, but without the boxy shoulders Megan had gotten from her father who, at one time, had been the lacrosse coach at the university.  Then he met this girl at a game in Kentucky and, since he now planned to marry her, he wanted Megan to come up for Christmas so the two could finally meet.
At first, she refused.  She was always intensely preoccupied with what people thought of her, so she found the whole affair very embarrassing.  But she was also an only child and something of a daddy’s girl who knew she’d have to bury the hatchet sooner or later, so it might as well be now.  And that was Gail’s advice and mine, too, so the night before Christmas eve I drove her to the train station, and just before she left—her last words, in fact—she said, “Jason, would you do me a favor?  If you aren’t doing anything tomorrow night, could you stop by and see my mom?  Because we’ve never spent Christmas apart, and she’s going to be all alone, and I’m a little worried about her.” So I told her I would, and the train started moving, and I went running down the platform while she waved goodbye from the window.  And that’s my fondest memory of Megan.  She really was a nice girl, even though it was partly camouflage.  The real Megan was much more complicated than she liked to let on—in fact, I didn’t know myself how complicated she could be till a few months later, and, boy, did I find out then.
Anyway, the next night I dropped by Gail’s, just like I’d promised, and as soon as she came to the door I could tell she’d been drinking.  Not that I cared.  I was used to it.  And I’d brought her a gift—a box of chocolates— and she seemed really pleased about that, so she invited me in for a beer.  And, again, that was par for the course, so I went inside, and she got me a beer and made herself another drink, and we sat in the living room, talking.  I remember a lot of it was about my future plans:  the schools I’d applied to, and what I should study if and when I went to one.  I’d never been too sure about that.  When I was really young I’d wanted to be an Indian, then a cement truck driver, then a professional football player, and it wasn’t looking too good for any of those, except maybe for the cement truck, and that was exactly the kind of life I was looking to escape.  So we kind of talked about all that, and Gail said, “Well, you’re young.  You’ve got plenty of time to figure it out.” And she got me another beer, and that was not par for the course:  usually, I’d have just one.  But it was Christmas eve, and I was having a good time, and there was a really good feeling in the room.  It was like, without Megan there, we were more the way we really were, a little more natural, somehow.  And I had another beer, and another one, and Gail kept drinking herself, and I knew I should be going, I knew my parents would start to get worried, and a couple of times I said as much but somehow, I just kept sitting there.  And everything was fine, Gail seemed perfectly okay, when all of a sudden, right in the middle of a sentence, she broke down crying.  It came completely out of the blue.  One minute she seemed happy, the next it was, “Waaaaaaa.” And I said, “What is it?  What’s wrong?” And she went, “Waaaaaa.” And I said, “What?” And it looked like she was trying to explain, but it all kind of sounded like “Waaaaaa” to me.  And I had no idea what I should do or what I should say, so I just kind of put my arm around her shoulder and said, “It’s okay.  Don’t worry.  Everything’s going to be just fine.” And she cried for quite some time on my shoulder and then, finally, she stopped—in fact, she stopped moving altogether.  I thought, since she’d had so much to drink, she must have passed out.
So I was stuck.  I sat there with this drunken woman sleeping on my shoulder, afraid to move, otherwise she might wake up and start crying again.  And the TV was going next to the Christmas tree, and they were showing The Homecoming, that freaking Waltons Christmas special that used to come on every year.  And that ended, John Boy got his Red Chief writing tablets so he could go on to write a holiday special one day, and then the local news came on with their annual “Disadvantaged children celebrate the holiday” story.  Or maybe somebody’s house had burned down—that was the other annual Christmas story.  And, the whole time, Gail just sat there sleeping with her head on my shoulder, and I could feel her heartbeat, and I realized I had a hard-on.
Now, in those days, I had a hard-on around the clock.  I could hardly pass a single woman without wanting to fuck her, and for that matter, I could sexualize just about anything.  I’d see a chair and think, ‘How many pussies have sat in that thing?’ Instant hard-on.  I’d pass a motel and think, ‘How much fucking is going on in there right now?’ Instant hard-on.  And I would jerk off two and three and four times a day and, boing, the goddamned thing would spring back up all over again.  It had a mind of its own!  And then I was dating Megan, who would not let me fuck her.  I could dry-hump her, I could play with her tits, once she even started giving me a hand-job, but after a few strokes she stopped and made me take her home.  More reputation paranoia.  And no way could I could break up with her, and no way was I going to fool around either, because was Megan: cheerleader, homecoming queen, queen of the junior prom.  Which made me king.  Yep.  It’s hard to believe, but I ruled the fucking prom.  And half the school got laid afterwards, but just guess what the king got?
Nada.  And yet I knew I was unbelievably lucky she’d ever agreed to go out with me in the first place.  Even my own parents used to tell me that:  “You don’t know how lucky you are to have a girl like Megan.” And I did know, absolutely.  But it was also torture.
So there I was with Gail, and like I say, she looked just like Megan, and I’d be lying if I said I’d never thought about fucking her, but I thought that about every woman.  And it’s not like I would ever have tried.  I mean she was Megan’s mom, for fuck’s sake.  But then she rearranged herself, as if in her sleep, inching a little closer.  And then she did it again, and this time she put her hand on my chest, stroking it almost like she would a pillow.  And I thought, ‘You know, if I didn’t know any better I’d swear she’s coming onto me!’ And she was breathing kind of hard—it was hot on my neck—and I was getting more and more excited but also more and more nervous.  I couldn’t see her eyes, I couldn’t anything but the top of her head, but I had the distinct impression she wasn’t asleep but was wide awake and hoping I’d make a move.  And I did not make one.  But, at the same time, I didn’t get up either.  I’m not sure why, except the whole situation was so awkward I wasn’t sure how to make a graceful exit.
So okay:  her hand was on my chest, right?  And she was stroking me?  Well, gradually, she moved her hand down to my crotch and started rubbing my dick through my pants.  I kid you fucking not.  And I just sat there petrified but, meantime, I never lost my hard-on for a single second.  I couldn’t believe this was happening!  And then she looked up at me, eyes wide open, and she smiled a drunken smile, and she moved to kiss me, and at first I didn’t kiss her back, but she kept rubbing my dick, and her tits were were pressed right up against my side.  So then I did kiss her back, and our tongues rolled around, and I grabbed her tits, and she was all over my dick, trying to pull my zipper down, trying to pull it out, and finally she succeeded, and that was the deal closer, right there.  Before then, I was sure we’d stop at some point and say, “What the fuck are we doing?,” but, after that, I knew we never would.  I could barely think at all, and insofar as I could I thought, ‘We’ve gone this far, we might as well go all the way.’ And I could’ve fucked her right there on the sofa, but it was pretty cramped, and also it felt kind of weird with the Christmas tree there, so I tried to get up, and she tried to restrain me.  And I said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere,” and she let me up, and I pulled her up, and I threw her over my shoulder and walked her down the hall to her bedroom with my dick still hanging out, and I threw her down on the bed and fell on top of her.  And we dry-humped for a couple of minutes, and I said, “I want to fuck you so bad,” and she said, “I want you to fuck me.  I want your big, hard dick inside me.” I swear to God, those were her exact words and, hearing them, I nearly shot my wad on the spot.  So we started tearing out of our clothes—and they came off fast, too, boy!—and then she spread so far apart it looked like she’d snap in two, and I popped my dick inside her and, man, her pussy felt like it was filled with hot syrup, and every time I thrust she’d scream to raise the dead while staring up at me with these wide, astonished eyes.  And that look, and her smell, and the way she looked like Megan—all of it sent me right over the edge so that I probably wasn’t in her a full thirty seconds before my whole body started convulsing.  And I said, “I’m going to come!” and she said, “Don’t come inside me!” and I pulled out just in time and, man, I am telling you the hole in my dick opened to size of a dime and cum was just flying out, and every time some of it splashed on Gail, she’d jerk in this really violent way and say, “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!” It felt like my whole body had become a giant dick—a dick having an epileptic seizure—and finally it stopped, and I collapsed on top of her.  But I was still as hard as a femur so, after a few seconds, I popped back inside her.  And I wasn’t a virgin, I’d fucked a couple of chicks I’d met at frat parties before I’d dated Megan, but I hadn’t lasted long with them either, so now that I had Gail I was going to ride her as long as she’d let me.  And we fucked a second time, even harder, and once again I came big.  And a third time:  ditto.  Every time I did it I could last a little longer so that, finally, on the fourth round, Gail said she couldn’t take it anymore.
“I can’t,” she panted.  “You’ve worn me out.”
But she wouldn’t leave me hanging.  No, she flipped around and sucked my dick while I ate her raw pussy, and when I came she licked up every up every last drop, going, “Mmmmmmm,” the whole time.  And I write all these details just so there’s not a single doubt she was a willing, eager participant every step of the way, and, also, because it still turns me on after all this time.  It was the purest fuck I ever had:  the most animal; the most apocalyptic. And when it was over, when she’d finished drinking all my sperm, she moved back up to the pillow and stroked my face and thanked me.  And, once again, she started to cry.  She didn’t explain and I didn’t ask, too afraid she’d mention Megan.  And she cried till, once again, it was like she’d passed out, and I got up and got dressed and drove home to face my parents, who were both awake and beside themselves with worry.  “We thought you were dead!  We called the rescue squad three times!” So I said I’d gotten a flat tire, and the spare was flat, too, or some bullshit, and of course they weren’t buying it.  My dad even came over to smell my breath for drinking, but by then the beer had worn off.  But I still got grounded, anyway, and when I went to bed that night, I lay awake for a long time plotting ways to sneak back over and fuck Gail.

******
Well, of course, I was dreaming.  There was no way it could’ve happened again.  She called a few days later and said, “We need to talk,” and sounding so serious from her first words I almost thought I’d puke.  And she asked what we’d done, and I said, “You don’t know?” I mean how could she not remember?  So I led her through it as best I could, and she said, “Oh my God, we did that?” and started crying, of course, and said she was so sorry, she was such a bad mother, and poor Megan, and poor Jason, too.  And she said, “Please don’t tell Megan.  It would kill her.” And I thought, ‘Yeah, right.  Like I’m going to go telling Megan!’ I mean Gail was the one I was worried about.  But we both promised we’d never say a word.  “It never happened,” she said.  So, fine, got that settled.
But then Megan got back from Kentucky, and you talk about wanting to puke!  She was so glad she’d gone now.  Her dad was so happy with his new fiancee, and Megan really liked her, they’d had gone shopping together, and blah-blah-blah.  Jesus Christ, why’d she have to be so goddamned sunny?  It made me fucking hate her!  Plus, if she’d just fucked me or blown me or something, this might never have happened.  I could barely even meet her eye.  And she asked me several times if something was wrong, and I kept telling her nothing.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.”
“Then why are you acting like this?”
“Like what?  I’m just not in a great mood, okay? .I mean just because I don’t walk around smiling every hour of the day doesn’t mean something’s wrong.  I mean not everybody’s you.”
So then I felt even worse.  I should’ve broken up with her, except lashing out got her so upset I couldn’t see myself doing it.  Plus, what reason could I give?  We’d been getting along so well till then.  Also, by losing her, I would’ve been losing all the status that went with her.  That’s how it was in that goddamned town:  you were gold or shit, take your pick.  Which is how it still is.  And that’s one reason, you may have noticed, I never mention the name:  even the word makes me nauseous.  Plus, there’s some legal reasons why, but I’ll get to that later.
Anyway, I was too selfish to break up.  I’d just have to have to make it up to her.  And I did.  I became the nicest goddamned boyfriend you ever saw:  tender, generous, so perfectly attentive she should have been suspicious, but, somehow, she never was.  I guess I was so perfect she didn’t want to rock the boat.  I bought her things, expensive things, and got a part-time job bussing tables at a steakhouse so I could afford them.  When spring got close, I made a big point of not playing baseball so we could spend more time together.  (I’d lettered as a pitcher in my sophomore and junior years.) Plus, I stopped bugging her for sex, but that’s because I’d lost interest in sex, or at least sex with her.  Not that I wasn’t horny.  I was!  I still wanted to fuck every last woman I saw, even ugly women, even and especially Gail, but with Megan I felt so guilty I could barely get a hard-on.  And the more I backed off, the more she started bugging me for sex.  Can you believe that shit?  For almost two years she’d freak if I did the slightest thing, and suddenly she was mine for the asking.  And I kept saying, “Look, are you sure about this?  It’s an awfully big step, you know.” And, with no pause at all, she’d say, “I’m sure.”
So, finally, I was forced to do it.  I fucked the pussy that came out of the best pussy I’d ever fucked.  This happened at the Ramada Inn, a local hot spot for devirginizing, and let’s just say it was pretty weird, especially the blow-job.  Gail was a champ at sucking dick.  With Megan, all I felt were teeth.  So I made a few suggestions, and then I realized they were all coming straight from the old lady and shut my mouth and let her munch away.  Fortunately, the next day she was full of paranoia, afraid she seemed like a slut, and I let her think she might be to get her off my back.  But there were other little problems I was always facing, such as how to act around Gail.  We barely spoke when I called the house.  I’d make up excuses not to come over, and when I did come over, I wouldn’t go inside but just beep the horn in the driveway.  And then, sometimes, I had to go inside, and Gail would shoot me these fleeting looks, some wistful, some with a touch of a lust, and fuck only knows how I looked at her.  I was constantly afraid Megan would piece it all together.  Maybe Gail would get drunk one night and spill her guts.  Maybe she’d tell some friend of hers who’d spring the news on Megan.  For myself, I kept it quiet for the longest time.  Which was killing me, actually.  I wanted to say something to somebody to get it off my chest.
Well, one night that March, I was smoking pot with Mark Powell in his parents’ basement, and he told me that a few nights before he’d fucked the school slut—the shameless Tammy Ducey—in the high-jump pit.  Everybody fucked Tammy Ducey.  I could’ve fucked her myself if I hadn’t been seeing Megan.
But the thing was, Mark was seeing somebody himself—a good friend of Megan’s named Paula Welk:  also one of the best-known girls at the entire school, but nowhere near as nice.  In fact, she was a stuck-up bitch—just perfect for Mark Powell.  So when he told me about Tammy, I figured here was my chance to talk about Gail.  I saw it as a sort of nuclear pact:  two nations who’d never strike first since each had the power to annihilate.  Plus, I considered Mark one of my best friends, and if you can’t trust one of your best friends then who can you trust?
So I told him.  And he sat there, stoned and stunned, and said he couldn’t believe it.  And I swore it was true.  And he said, “Man, three times in one night!”
“Four, including the blow job.”
“And she knew how to do it, huh?  She really knew how to clean your pipes.”
“Buddy,” I told him—since in that circle we called everybody ‘buddy’—“you’ve got no idea.”
And he said he didn’t blame me.  Hell, Megan’s mom was pretty hot.  If he’d been me, he would’ve done the same thing.  Which was pretty reassuring, actually.  For some reason, we never talked that much about sex in that circle, and when we did nobody ever came across as chronically aroused as I was.  It made me feel like a freak; like some kind of redneck breeding animal.  But here was Mark Powell with the big thumbs-up.  I was alright.  I was a regular guy.  And right before I left that night, I said, “Hey, buddy, let’s keep this between ourselves.” And I have to give him this:  he never specifically promised me anything.  But he did give me a look that said, “What, are you crazy?” Which was good enough for me.
Well, a week went by, maybe two.  And then one day I was walking down the hall, and who should I run into but Paula Welk?  And I said hello, same as always, and she shot me a look like I was the lowest life form every to crawl out of a compost heap and kept on going.  Like I say, she wasn’t that nice, so, at first, I wasn’t concerned.  But then she did it again.  And then it happened with another girl who I knew was good friends with Paula:  I said hi, and she said nothing but just kept on walking.  So, at that point, I was concerned, and sought out Mark and said, “Hey, buddy, you know that thing I told you about?”
“What thing?”
“You know.  About Megan…?”
“Oh.  Yeah.  What about it?”
“Well, you didn’t say anything to Paula, did you?”
“Why?”
“She’s acting kind of weird.”
“What do you mean ‘weird?’”
“I mean weird.  Like she’s mad at me or something.”
“It’s your imagination.”
But he wouldn’t meet my eye when he said all this.  And, come to think of it, he’d been acting weird himself—a little more distant, somehow; a little less friendly.  And, suddenly, I looked at him and knew he’d done it.  I knew he’d told Paula.  And I said as much, and he said he hadn’t, and I said, “Look, buddy, just tell me the truth.
Because I don’t want Megan hearing it from anybody but me.”
“But I didn’t tell Paula.”
“Mark, man, I know you did.”
“And I’m telling you I didn’t.  But you know what?  Maybe I should.  I think it’s really shitty, what you did.  It’s low, man.  Megan’s a great person.  She doesn’t deserve this kind of shit.”
I wanted to kill that motherfucker!  It’s a wonder I didn’t do it then and there.  But I was still kind of in shock about the whole thing.  I was hoping it would just all go away.  But the more I walked around school, the more I saw signs it was spreading.  And this definitely wasn’t paranoia because, pretty soon, a sort-of friend of mine named Jack Horn came up and told me the story that was making the rounds:  I’d “molested” Megan’s mother.  That’s right, folks.  That’s how it played on the grapevine.  And Jack was just kind of joking when he told me that, but I flipped out and pushed him against the wall and asked where he’d gotten it from, and he named some kid I’d barely heard of, so I went out and pushed him against the wall, and he swore he had no idea what I was talking about, and so convincingly I decided Jack must have fed him to me to conceal his true sources.  You just didn’t want to cross those elite kids.  For myself, I’d all but stopped seeing them.  What was the point?  I could tell they all knew.  Besides, they were a lot closer to Mark than they’d ever been to me.
The weird thing is that, for the longest time, Megan had no idea what was going on.  To this day I’m not sure how she stayed in the dark.  I guess people liked her so much they formed a wall of silence around her to keep her from being hurt.  Also, being a girl, it’s not like Jack Horn or somebody was going to walk up and say, “Hey, what’s all this about Jason molesting your old lady?” But she did notice I’d stopped hanging out with Mark, and when she asked me why I said he was, simply, an asshole.
“Why?”
“Because he is.”
“Well, did something happen or– ?”
“No, nothing happened.  I just don’t like the way he treats people, that’s all.”
And she agreed with me.  Megan always had a lot of misgivings about the town and school both, which was one thing we had in common.  We were both hypocritical insofar as we sought approval from the very people we partly disliked, but we had an unspoken pact about that:  you don’t call me on my bullshit; I don’t call you on yours.  I later learned that’s how a lot of relationships work.  But now my own bullshit was spinning out of control.  The girl had to know.  But how was I supposed to tell her?  There were so many times I almost said something, but the circumstances were never quite right.  And then one night I was driving home from the steakhouse and decided I’d write her a letter.  More than one English teacher had told me I showed some flair for writing, and I thought if I worded things well enough I might be able to minimize the fallout.  So, after my family had gone to bed that night, I got up and started writing, and the whole next day at school I was working on this letter, till, finally, I felt pretty satisfied.  I’d love to see it now.  I remember trying to adopt this worldly tone—“There’s no one to blame, it just happened”—with a lot of reassurances I’d never sought to hurt her, which, of course, I hadn’t.  And I remember I wrote this thing on a Thursday, and the plan was to give it to her the next day so she’d have the whole weekend to collect herself.  Thoughtful, huh?
Well, it never happened.  That Thursday, Paula Welk took it upon herself to tell Megan what was being whispered all over school.  Megan freaked out and ran home to confront Gail, and after a big, ugly showdown, she locked herself in the bathroom and swallowed half a bottle of over-the-counter sleeping pills.  But Gail broke down the door down, or something, and rushed her to the hospital, where she had her stomach pumped and passed the whole thing off as an accident.  So she got released, and when I called her the next day to ask why she hadn’t been at school, she told me the whole story.  Only, of course, she had it all wrong.  When the shit hit the fan, Gail sold me out, telling Megan I’d “taken advantage” of her when she was too drunk to know what she was doing.  But she knew.  Besides, I’d been buzzed myself, and she was the one who’d served me the beer—I mean who’d taken advantage of who?  And that’s what I tried to tell Megan, but she was too upset to listen.  She cursed me out, and said she never wanted to speak to me again, and slammed down the phone.  And, by then, I was so upset myself I broke down and confessed the whole thing to my parents.  And that’s when things got really ugly.
******
One thing about my parents:  they were Jesus freaks.  Not too bad, but my mom did pray on her knees every night, and my dad was kind of cool about it, except when a crisis hit, at which point he’d start quoting scripture left and right:  “It says it right there in James Ten Verse Five!” But a situation like this —there was nothing in the good book about fucking your girlfriend’s mom.  Not even God was ready for that one! Yet my parents kept throwing His name around and, after so much of it, I said, “Would you guys stop with all this God stuff?  I don’t even believe in God.”
“What?  What did you say?”
That’s right, Jason, let’s get it going in all directions!  But at least that admission side-tracked us off of Megan and onto the larger matter of my immortal soul.  By the end of that night we were having a relatively peaceful conversation about why they believed and how I’d come to decide I didn’t.  It wasn’t very complicated.  I just didn’t see the evidence God existed.  And my parents said there was no evidence, that’s what faith meant, and maybe that’s what I needed to do, maybe I needed to start spending a little more time in church.  So I said I’d give it some thought and went off to bed and, after all that, you’d think I’d have had trouble sleeping, but no, I slipped into, virtually, a coma.  And the next morning I woke to hear my whole family—mom, dad, two kid brothers—leaving the house for a Little League game.  Then I fell back asleep, and when I woke again a few hours later, the house was still empty.
By now I’ve dealt with some pretty bad shit, but this one still hurts since I was so young and the pain you suffer at that age has a way of sticking with you, or at least it has with me.  I’m telling you, I felt like an amputee, ambling around that house, and the thing that burned me most of all was Mark and Paula were going around like goddamned heroes when Mark especially had stabbed me in the back in the worst way possible.  He seemed to forget I had weapons, too.  If he was so big on talking to Paula, then maybe I should speak to Paula myself.  It seemed kind of pussy, but fuck it:  pussy measures for pussy people.  But something in me said, ‘No, don’t do it, don’t make a bad situation worse than it already is.’ And then I remembered I was supposed to work my shift at the steakhouse that day, and at first, I was going to blow it off, but then I decided it might do me good to get out of the house.  So I drove out to the restaurant, and I was right, I was so busy bussing half-eaten sirloins for the next few hours I could barely think about anything else.  And then the restaurant closed, and I saw my boss, a guy named Nick Campanis, doing the books, and I had a lot of respect for Nick, he’d been in Vietnam and traveled the world, so I figured this might be just the person to advise me.  So I went over and asked if I could speak to him and, for the second time in a little over twenty-four hours, I told the whole story.  And he was a little shocked and a little amused, and he assured me I was a good kid who’d made a big mistake, but the important thing was I’d graduate in a couple of months and, after so much time, it would be like this whole mess had never happened.  As for Mark Powell, I should leave it alone.  “He’ll get his,” he told me.  Yes, and who’d give it to him?  Not me.  I’d never have the satisfaction.  Besides, Nick wasn’t from here; he was from Pennsylvania, and maybe didn’t realize how golden people like Mark Powell always got away with murder.
So I took Nick’s advice—and it was good advice, too—and flipped it inside out.  I called Paula the following night, and when she got on the line and realized who it was, said, “What do you want?” in a voice just oozing with contempt.  That was the thing that decided me.  Before then, I could’ve pulled back, but after that, I couldn’t.  So I said, “Well, not much, you know.  I mean Megan tried to kill herself, but I guess you already know that.  I mean you should.  You’re the one that caused it.”
“And you’re the one that — never mind.  You know what you did.”
“Yeah, you know what?  I do.  And you don’t.  There’s a lot of things you don’t know.  Like Mark and Tammy Ducey.  You know about that, right?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh, you don’t know?  Yeah, he fucked her in the high-jump pit.”
She freaked the fuck out.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t savor it.  At the same time, though, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I knew I’d just opened a huge can of worms.  I knew there were going to be some serious consequences.  But if I was going down, I was taking Mark with me, and maybe my strike hadn’t damaged as much as his, but a little damage was better than no damage at all.
That was Sunday night.  The next day I thought about cutting school, but I didn’t want to be like Mark, spreading stories and pretending I hadn’t spread them.  I’d done what I’d done.  I wasn’t going to run away.  So I drove to school, and that whole morning, I just knew some bad shit was about to go down.  By then, it felt like the entire school knew about Megan’s suicide bid and, even though nobody said anything, I could sense the hatred flowing my way.  Even black kids, who seemed to exist in a parallel dimension with their own rules and a caste system all their own, were staring me down, which tells you a lot about Megan’s popularity.  They all loved her, and they all hated me, and if that was the way they felt then fuck them.  Fuck every last goddamned one of them.
So, finally, it happened.  I ran into Mark.  Right after lunch I was walking down the hall and, through the crowd, I saw him walking toward me.  And our eyes met, and I was all pumped up, heart beating fast, still feeling sick, but sometimes, like any performer can tell you, that gives you just the edge you’re looking for.  And he got closer and closer, and right as he was about to pass, he sort of looked away, like I wasn’t worthy of his full attention, and said something out of the side of his mouth.  It sounded like “You’re dead.” It was:  several witnesses later confirmed it.  And I stopped and turned around and said, “Did you say something?”
“You heard me.”
That he said loud enough so I could hear.  But he’d never broken stride, so I kind of went after him and said, “No, I don’t think I did hear you.  Why don’t you say it to my face?” And he stopped, and I could feel other people stopping around us, but I never even saw them, I was so microfocused on Mark.  And he looked right at me, and I could tell he was scared, but he was trying to act all tough and shit.  And he said, “I’ll deal with you later.”
“Yeah?  Like when?”
“You’ll find out.”
“So, what, you’re going to sneak up on me?  Yeah, that sounds about like you.  Well, I’m waiting for you, buddy.  Whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it, I’m right here.”
And there was a kind of flash in his eyes, and he gave me a push, and that was it:  I barely know what I did after that.  I literally saw red, like someone had slipped a red stocking over my eyes and the whole world had taken on a pinkish-orange glow.  I remember my fist smashing his face a few times, that I remember.  And I remember him falling to the floor and me kicking him in the ribs once he went down.  It all seemed to happen really fast, and yet I’m not sure it did from what I was told later.
I just entered this whole other place.  And then, suddenly, somebody grabbed me from behind, their fingers digging in, and I kept trying to get free and back at Mark.  And there were more hands, and I was dragged away and, next thing I knew, I’d been slammed against the wall, and a teacher named Mr. Sloan was staring straight at me.  I’d never liked him.  He was a preppie motherfucker, always trying to act like one of the students.  And he pushed his face inches from mine and said, “Stop it!  Do you hear me?!  Stop it right this minute!” And then I realized there somebody else right beside him, a black basketball player named Boyd Mosby who was looking at me like I’d gone insane, which at that moment, I probably had.  Boyd was the one pinning me.  Mr. Sloan couldn’t have done it.  And Boyd was going, “Calm down, man, chill out, calm down,” and the world started to lose its reddish glow.  And I looked past Boyd and Mr. Sloan, too, for a sign of Mark, and all I saw was a crowd of people staring straight down at the floor.  And then Boyd let me go, and Mr. Sloan told me me to follow him, and I started to, but after a few steps he stopped and said,
“Are those your books?” And I looked down and saw my books and Mark’s, too, were lying all over the floor, and I leaned down to get mine and, while I was there, I noticed a gap in the crowd surrounding Mark and caught just a sliver of his light-blue Oxford button-down speckled with what looked like cranberry juice.  Then a female teacher came running down the hall and toward Mark, and when she got there the gap in the circle closed.
So I followed Mr. Sloan downstairs to the office and, the whole way, he was going before me and opening doors, waiting till I’d passed through.  And for the most part we didn’t speak but, at one point, he shot me a grave look and said, “You’d better hope Mark’s okay.” And I didn’t say anything.  And he said, “Why’d you do it?” And I said, “None of your fucking business.” I remember it felt so good to say that.  I was already in deep shit.  I could say whatever I like saying.  And then we got to the office, and I sat in reception while Mr. Sloan went up to the secretary and said, “Is Mr. Wright around?  Because Jason here just beat up Mark Powell pretty bad.” And she gave me this kind of “Oh, no” look, and Mr. Sloan walked down the hall, and after a minute, he came walking back with Mr. Wright, who was somebody else I’d never liked.  He looked like a mortician.  He acted like one, too.  And he kind of glanced in my direction and said, “Hello, Jason,” and walked out the door with Mr. Sloan.  And they were gone a really long time, and I just sat there, listening to telephones and typewriters and footsteps thumping up and down the carpet, feeling disengaged from the whole world.  Nothing felt quite real.  And then, finally, Mr. Wright came back alone and said, “Jason, you can wait in my office,” and I walked down the hall and, behind me, I heard him say to the secretary, “Yeah, we’re going to need an ambulance.  This boy is messed up pretty bad.” That’s when I knew I was in bad, bad trouble.  I’d known already, but if they were calling an ambulance, it must be worse than I’d thought.  Yet none of it still felt real.  And I sat in Mr. Wright’s office for the longest time and noticed my jaw felt kind of funny, like it might be popped out of place, but I had no memory of Mark ever laying a hand on me.  Plus, my knuckles hurt.  Plus, my shirt, too, was splattered with blood.  Was it my blood or Mark’s?  I had no idea.  And then Mr. Wright came in and shut the door behind him, and he took a seat in his rolling chair, and I saw he was holding a rolodex card, and I knew what that card contained:  contact numbers for both my parents.  And he didn’t say a word to me.  He just picked up his phone and called my dad to say, first of all, I was being expelled from school and, second, the police were on their way to arrest me. 
******
So I sat there and listened, a nightmare beyond my wildest imaginings, and thank God I couldn’t make out my dad’s voice.  Not that I had to.  I could easily fill in the blanks.  Mr. Wright was saying things like, “Well, sir, I’m sorry you feel that way, but if you could see what Jason did to this boy I’m sure you would understand.  His nose is broken, he’s got cuts all over his face, he might even have a concussion.  We don’t know yet.  And I realize Jason’s only got two months to go before he graduates, and I realize he’s been a model student up until now, but we simply can’t allow this kind of thing, and if I made an exception for Jason, I’d have to make one for everybody else.” This went on for at least ten minutes, and I kept hoping my dad could turn him around but, finally, Mr. Wright hung up and said he had a message for me:  I was “on my own.” Which meant—what?—I could rot in jail?  And I could feel myself close to tears, and I tried to fight them back but couldn’t, I broke down like a goddamned baby, sobbing.  And I said, “What am I supposed to do now?  I can’t even graduate?” And Mr. Wright said, “Well, you can still make it up.  If it’s not too bad with Mark—and that’s a big if—you can go to the community college and pick up the credits you need to graduate and take it from there.  But I simply can’t let you stay at this school, that’s something I simply cannot do.” And, like any moritician, he had plenty of kleenex on hand, and he slid me some across his desk, and I asked if I could do my schoolwork at home, and he told me no.  So I asked if could re-enroll if Mark was okay, and he told me no again.  I just kept looking for the magic words before the police got there or, hopefully, the police never would.  But then the secretary knocked on door and said, “The police are here,” and Mr. Wright stood up and said, “Well, let’s go.” And I just sat there.  And he said,
“Come on, Jason, let’s not keep these men waiting.  They’ve got a job to do.”
So I dried my eyes as best I could and followed Mr. Wright down at the hall where, at the far end of it, I could see two cops standing with this kind of quasi-military posture.  And while I walked, people stood in doorways to watch me go, almost like I was being drummed out of the army, and when I got to the cops, they said to face the wall, and one frisked me while the other read my rights, and then they slapped on the cuffs.  Boy, did they fucking hurt.  They hurt much worse than anything Mark Powell had managed to do to me.  And they took me outside to the parking lot, where their cruiser was waiting, and right before I got inside, I looked up and saw a long line of students staring down from that big window in the library.  And then the cops pushed my head down so I wouldn’t bump it on the roof, and they shut the door and got in the front, and we all took off for the police station, fifteen minutes away, and the whole time one cop talked about buying a house while the other one gave him real estate tips.  And it was a partly cloudy day—in fact, I can tell you the date: April 6, 1981—and along the way I looked out the window, and every so often a driver in the right or left lane would glance over at me, as if wondering what I’d done.  And then we got to the police station, and they took me inside and talked to the desk sergeant about what to charge me with.  And the desk sergeant said, “Well, how bad were the injuries?” And the cops who’d arrested me said, “Well, we didn’t see them, but we don’t think they were too bad.” And then they asked me how bad they were, and I said, “I’m really not sure,” and they all kind of laughed and said, “That bad, huh?” So, for the time being, it was decided I’d get a misdemeanor battery charge, only if Mark’s injuries turned out to worse than believed it might get bumped to a felony.  And they asked my age, and I said eighteen, and they said, “Well, that’s too bad.  Now we’ve got to charge you as an adult, and it goes on your permanent record.” And they took off the cuffs, and the desk sergeant said I could make a phone call, and I was sure by then my dad had called my mom, and I wasn’t sure how seriously I should take this whole thing of being “on my own,” but when it came to trouble I much preferred dealing with my mom.  So I called her “Well, you’re at the police station, aren’t you?” She was very tactful about the whole thing, and I’m not “Well, you’re at the police station, aren’t you?” She was very tactful about the whole thing, and I’m not being sarcastic in any way, she really was.  And I hung up and said my mom was on her way, and the desk sergeant said, “Well, she’s going to have to wait.  We can’t release you for a while yet.”
So I sat with the cops who’d arrested me, and they took my account of the fight, asking where I lived, my date of birth and so on, jotting it all down for the arrest report.  And then they took me off to another room for fingerprinting, and the guy doing it looked at me kind of funny and said, “Hey, don’t you play football?” And I said I did.  And he said, “Yeah, my boy was on your team.  Charlie McIntyre?” And I said, “Oh, right.  Charlie.” And he kind of frowned and said, “He ain’t much of a ballplayer, I can tell you that.  But you were doing pretty good there.  Too bad you got injured.” And he started going through the whole season, every play of every game, just about, and the whole time I had my fingers in ink, and he’d go, “Relax the joint, that’s it.” And then I was taken off to get photographed, and somebody said I’d have to post a hundred dollars for bail, and I said, “Well, I guess my mom will pay it.  Or I hope she will.” Because I could see her walking in and somebody saying, “A hundred dollars, ma’am,” and her saying, “A hundred dollars?  Forget it!” I mean, after all, I was “on my own.” But then somebody else said, “Oh, she already paid it.” And from there I was taken back to the front desk, where my mom was now waiting, and even though she was wearing sunglasses, I could see at a glance she was fit to be tied.  She barely even looked my way.  She just stood up and said, “You got everything?” And I said, “There’s nothing to get.”
So we walked out of the police station to a five-story parking garage right next door, and the whole way my mom was quiet.  I was, too.  And we got in the car and rolled out to the street, and I was just about to thank her for bailing me out, but then she started talking.  She sounded calm at first, but her voice was shaking, and the more she spoke, the more she lost control.  And she said, “Jason, I think you’re going to have to get your own place.  Your father feels the same way.  Sleeping with Megan’s mother, and sending people to the hospital, and getting kicked out of school!  You’ve got two younger brothers, did you ever think about that?  What kind of example are you setting?  Where did we go wrong?  What did we ever do to make you act like this?”
“You live here, don’t you?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?!” And my mom never cursed, never, so I figured if she could, I could, too.  I said, “What the hell do you think it means?  Look around you!  We’re nothing as far as these people are concerned!  We’re shit!” And, all of a sudden, she just hit the brakes right there in the middle of traffic and slapped me.  She got me in the face, the chest, the legs, the shoulders—anyplace she could land a punch.  And she said, “How dare you speak to your own mother that way!  Do you know what your grandparents would have done to me if I’d spoken to them like that? Do you?!” And cars were backed up behind us, and pedestrians were stopping to watch, and somehow I managed to reach for the door and got out, and I went walking down the sidewalk, and my mom pulled up alongside me and yelled at me through the passenger window.  And she said, “Jason, you get back in this car!” And I kept on walking.  And she said, “Jason, you get in this car or your father’s going to have something to say about this!” And I stopped and said, “He already did!  I’m ‘on my own’!  And you’re saying the same thing, so, fine, that’s what I am!  You think I’m happy about this?  You think I enjoy being arrested?!  But you don’t give a shit!  All you care about is what other people think about you!  Which makes you just about perfect for this place!” I was saying shit I hadn’t known I thought!  And people stopped to stare, and I couldn’t have given a fuck less.  Stare, bitches!  Stare at the freak having a fit on Main Street!  And don’t forget to tell the whole world what you saw!
So, after that, my mom drove off and left me.  I was glad to see her go.  Well, I was and I wasn’t. But if I’d gone home there would’ve been weeks of lectures and cold shoulders and constant reminders of what a fuck-up I was—no thanks.  So I just walked on, not knowing where I was going, depressed one second, pissed the next.  And I came to a bridge and stopped in the middle, and I thought about Megan taking those pills and thought, ‘You know, she had the right idea the whole time.  You ought to just jump.  Boy, will people regret it then.’ And I pictured my family and all my former friends crying while I laid in my coffin and thought, ‘What, are you fucking nuts?  They’ll be so happy they’ll practically throw a dance to celebrate!  No, you’ve got to live and make them feel even worse!  And I hope Mark does have a concussion!  I hope he’s got fucking brain damage!  It’d be worth it to spend a couple of years in the state pen, knowing I cracked that fucker’s skul


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