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Coming of Age High School

This story contains sensitive content

TW: foul language, non-P.C. labeling

A weird thing’s been goin’ on with me, something I wasn’t thinkin’ would ever happen. I’ma just tell ya this straight: I’ma freak. You would never notice me, and if you did all’s you’d see’d be some too-skinny, too-tall boy (which I’m not) who has a fucked-up face. Getting not noticed is best for me, and as far as me ever getting to like myself, might as well tell me to skateboard up Mount Everest. It’s just too high, too far, and gravity sucks too hard.

If you think about it, there’s upsides to having a deformity, especially a great big portwine spot on your face. Reason is, people never really look at you too long before their eyes get twitchy and slide off. Little kids just stare. 

Mostly I get left alone here, ‘cept when I was going to school where everyone’s so fucking miserable they gotta take it out on someone else. Sometimes strangers on public transportation act extra nice ‘cause they’re curious and wanna hear a Heroic Epic or maybe a Tragic Tale. Ain't got no stories like that. Didn’t get caught in a fire or burned with acid, got no kinda fucked-up skin disease either. Just a big ol’ palm-print where a right-handed god slapped my face before I was even born. 

I heard laser treatments might work, like how they take off tats when a guy changes his mind about his ink. Laser treatments are the penalty for making a stupid choice, but in my case it’d be my punishment for being born ugly. 

They say laser hurts like a mofo, but that part don't concern me none. My body can choose what to feel. Nothing hurts me. I just gotta get a few thou to make that happen.

Sometimes I wonder how things’d be different if I looked different but fact is, after 15 years I’m getting used to it. Almost 15. Well, in a coupla weeks I’ll be 14 but I’m tall and with people not lookin’ at my face they think I’m older than I am. I’m still tryin’ to get the idea through my head that I’ma be alone a lot, so I tell myself the world’s full of fools and not worth the trouble. I think fools are people just too tired to do things the right way anymore. 

Me, I actually wanna do things the right way but I’m still lookin’ for a place where it matters to anybody.

There’s this one thing I do that feels like it matters, at least sometimes. I gotta do the thing ‘cause it’s part of my community service. The short explanation is that I got caught making art with spray cans on public property and had to cut a deal to stay out of the kind of shitty hole they drop kids down when they run out of ideas. Sister Merrie shows up at the station and bails my ass out, so the judge, who went to her parish school back when he’s a kid lets her supervise my five HUNDRED hours of community service. SO fucked up, nobody gets five hundred hours even for drunk driving. You ask me, it was political. I exercised my right as a citizen, left a message. On a bridge. Facing the convention center where the Southern Baptists were all getting together for a national conference. Fact is, ain’t no paint on the bridge itself, only the banner, which let me tell ya, is some tricky business. Took a buddy whose name I’ma take to the grave to dangle me down the side so I could write three words so does lynching, across the bottom. My buddy didn't get caught but I did and since me and Uncle Brook got no money to buy them a new Abortion Stops a Beating Heart sign, they’re taking it outta my hide. Now my ass belongs to Sister Merrie, and besides her tutoring me, which she effin’ tricked me into, I gotta be over at the parish school five days a week to help out. At least I wouldn’t have to be trapped inside some shitty juvie hole with the hard cases.

Maybe this life a’mine sounds ghetto so it’s fair to letcha know it wasn't always like this for me. I’m from another place and different people, but none’a that matters. Tell ya this right now, ain’t no use whatsoever for chasin’ after lost people or lost things - they ain’t comin’ back. I had a home and a family before and now I don't. Now I got me and my uncle and we try and take care of each other but it’s starting to be more me taking care of him most’a the time. Feels like my uncle’s kinda slidin’ away.

That’s why I went with Sister Merrie’s offer about the tutoring and the community service, ‘cause she’s been my uncle’s friend since forever and I seen them in the park all the time in that big group’a old farts that plays chess. She seems pretty chill, so I’m thinkin’ she might cut me a break on the five hundred hours. Right now it don't look much like that’s gonna happen. What the good sister’s got is me locked down with her five mornings a week for tutoring, then home to check on my uncle, make him his lunch, then back for more hours at the school. No time for crime. 

The school is this old rock building that’s gonna just slide down onto the church one of these days and kill a buncha old ladies at mass. Dunno what you do to keep that from happening to a building, but there’s clearly no money to do it with anyhow. Reminds me of abandoned mental hospitals where teenagers in the movies get slashed spendin’ the night on a dare. Seems like a kinda depressing place for kids to go to school. First coupla month they got me doing all kinds of jobs around there, hauling boxes up and down stairs, painting hallways, washing floors, waxing furniture. I wanna ask who did these jobs before I got here? but it’s pretty clear that answer’s gonna be ‘nobody’. This place’s glory days are in its past, man, religion’s gone clear outta style. 

The school still runs, regular kids K-6 getting their heads filled with moldy crap every weekday. I feel kinda bad for anybody gotta sit in that place try’n to learn. 

After I’m there a month I’ve got almost 50 hours done and it’s gonna be a long effin’ way but I’m starting to breathe again. Then the good sister (that’s Uncle Brook’s name for her) asks me, do I want to do more hours, get done faster and I say sure, thinking it can't be worse jobs than what they been giving me, prob’ly just more of the same and the worst’s gonna happen is suckin’ dust and gettin’ sore muscles, so what? But it’s not the same chores at all. 

See, the parish school’s gotta make ends meet whatever way it can. So it has this section I never been to before with kids that don't mix with the other kids. I knew it was there and ev’ry so often I seen the kids down in the playground when they have their own separate recess time. Just acted like a bunch of ‘tards who wander all over the place and have a lot more adults watching them. All different ages of kids, and they never play together. They don’t even look at each other.

These aren't like, handicapped kids. They have things wrong with them you can't see and you gotta go to college to know the names of their problems to help them, I guess. Doesn’t seem to be doing much. Least, that’s how my mind went the first day Sister Merrie took me down there to be introduced, like if the class gave a flying fuckola who I was, but anyhow the teachers were nice. They looked at me like I’m a plate of brownies, like they so desperate for help even I’m lookin’ to be a good prospect. Like I already said, don't much like it when people stare at me so I didn't exactly what you call socialize with them. I looked around and it ain’t as shitty as I woulda thought, somebody’s gone to the trouble to fix things up nice and bright and there’s different kinds of tables and chairs, comfy rugs on the floor. Toys put away, places for art, coupla different bookshelves, curtains in the windows with galaxies and some with trees. 

Then Sister Merrie’s giving my shoulder a pat and getting ready to go and - leaving me here? 

She up’n leaves me there. I get a half-sec before a teacher starts in tellin’ me ‘just watch today’ and ‘let the kids get used to you’.

Okay I’m s’posta do what now? I say, startin’ to panic. 

She laughs a little, says ‘don't worry, we’re just happy to have you here’. 

Starts like that, what- three months ago and now I’m halfway done my community service. Go to that classroom four, five days a week and there’s been some hairy shit go down ‘cause these kids, they are SO not right. They get bothered by anything like the lights, sounds, smells and even their clothes. They flip out if the routine changes - took them a long time to get used to me. Nowadays I wouldn't say things are predictable but then, nobody expects them to be. Weeks come and weeks go and I wonder if the hardest cases are gonna ever get better, ever gonna have real lives.

I’m not even thinkin’ about my fucked-up face when I’m in the class. For sure, they don't give a flying crap about what I look like ‘cause they don't look at anyone’s face. At first, they didn’t talk to me. Now some of the kids do, just randomly when they feel like it. Can't just ask ‘em a question and they give you the answer. Prob’ly the most normal one is Peabody, who’s eleven. He’s real quiet. 

There’s one girl who only walks on all fours. She was found in some forest I think. She’s around eight. And a nine year old girl who just wants to start fires. She only paints pictures of fire, uses up all the yellow and orange. That one’s gotta be watched like ya wouldn't believe. There’s little twins, a boy and girl and he never talks but just watches over his sister. 

I think that tragedies or something happened to these kids, ‘cause they look totally normal and some can do some things like read and write, but they act like they left the human race and ain’t coming back.

Sorta like my uncle did after his wife died. Left humanity. And like the kids my uncle’s gotta have his rituals too. Like shabbos. On Friday afternoons we take a bus to the Jewish cemetery so he can visit his wife’s grave. He has a prayer shawl and a prayer book that he never opens. I give them their space together, ‘cause it feels like I don't really belong there. I’m not really Jewish ‘cept my mother was Jewish so that makes me one. The good sister is making me learn Hebrew from Uncle Brook, but I don’t believe in any religion. My Aunt Zibbie died when I was six going on seven. They put her in a double plot. Double so Uncle Brook could be buried right next to her, ‘cept he won't be now ‘cause he had a fight with G-d and they parted ways and you can't be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you break up with G-d. But even if he’s only a tourist my uncle still goes there on Fridays to say kaddish over hs Zibbie. I have this little hillside spot that I can watch him from. It’s far enough away to give him space for praying, and he can't smell my cigarette. He and me’ve been doing this Friday cemetery thing and now it’s just my regular Friday. 

A while ago this cat started showing up and being all friendly with me while I’m waiting, smoking, and thinking my thots. He’s black and white, has this wishbone mark on his head, so that’s what I call him. Guess me and Uncle Brook and Wishbone all have the same shabbos ritual now. Don't know what the cat wants except maybe attention. I never feed him - don’t want him tryin’a follow us home and getting hit by a bus. 

And now I wanna talk about something that’s still freakin’ me out some. In a good way.

Three weeks ago it’s a typical shabbos afternoon with me up on the hill and Uncle Brook down below wrapped in his shawl rocking back and forth. Wishbone’s already come for his pat and left again and I see that one a’his white whiskers got dropped on the ground. So I tuck it into my cigs and I don't think about it till later that nite when I pop my bedroom window open to light one up and there it is under the wrapper.

It was Clare’s way when I was a kid to find magic in the lamest things. She was big on hope, had these ideas, I don’t know where they came from. Ways to make wishes. Dandelions, pennies in fountains and blowing out candles, but also something about cat whiskers - what the hell was that? Takes me a second’a remember, then there it is: cat whisker into flame, give your secret wish a name. 

 I’m dangling the cig between my lips, taking out the smooth, bristly thing and flicking my lighter to make a tall finger of fire. It’s the end of the week, I been with those kids in that class every day watching the teachers doing everything they can to get thru and they mostly don't and that don’t seem to me any kinda fair. The teachers try and the parents try and I dunno if there’s a God anywhere tryin’a help but nothin’s happening and I realize that some kinda feelin’s been hurting inside me now for a while. 

Shouldn’t matter, ‘cause the kids’re nothing to me. I’ll be gone in another five months and them still going back and forth always apart from the normals. 

I don't make the wish. The wish makes me - next thing the whisker’s in the fire crackling away to nothing at all and it stinks

Well, that’s worth fuck all I say, finish my smoke and close the window.

Monday I’m back in the special class. The teachers announce that the school’s open house is coming up and they’d like to display something from everyone in the class. 

Mighty big dreams, I say to myself. I’m working with the eleven year old that day; he hardly talks but he’s almost past high school math. Won't be long before he needs a calculus tutor and I’ll be useless. Kid’s got a talent - writes forward with his one hand and backwards with the other at the same frickin’ time. Been telling him this is pretty cool, and we start working on a problem he’s writing out with his right hand, but today the left isn't doing the mirror thing. It’s making a drawing. The more numbers Peabody writes with his right hand, the more this sketch comes out till I can see it’s a blimp. Very cool airship I tell him, then he’s adding on detail and I’m understanding exactly what it means. It’s something he wants to build out of a soda bottle. He’s gonna use all kind’a spare stuff to make the little basket and the propeller. Got a control panel and windows along the sides for the passengers to look out.

You want me to help you do that? You wanna put that out there for the open house? I’m asking him alluva sudden. 

Now, this ain't like me at all. I know better than to fire questions at him like that, it’s rude to kids like these. But it’s like I know what he wants, for sure. I’m seein’ him looking at me, right in my eyes. He doesn’t zoom in on my birthmark. He starts nodding. 

Peabody’s dirigible ain’t done yet but you should see what the little dude’s building. 

Then there’s Bel, the little twin girl. Girl only ever wears purple. When we go to the school library Bel finds books with orchestras and musical instruments, she brings in a little statue of a poodle playing the harp and pictures of a bear rocking out on a set of drums. Bel and me spend lotsa days finding pictures of all kindsa musical instruments for me to go and copy. She’s painting, cutting, gluing together a little animal orchestra. Do normal kids get so excited about an open house? I think it’s just the tards. 

Me, I got a little bit of swagger and I’m likin’ how the teachers are giving me time with different kids, how they’re asking my advice on what supplies to bring in.

The little girl who walks on all fours, that one wanted a shelter. To hide in, to be safe. We cut up clothes and cardboard in shapes of leaves, put ‘em together, coolest fort ever. 

It’s getting so I don’t like saying goodbye in the afternoon just to go home to a grouchy old man. I kinda like the little batshit nutjobs.

The kids been tryin’a tell stories their own way. Teachers thinkin’ in words, all that education gettin’ in the way. Kids with minds flyin’ all over the place like dragonflies, high and fast. Messages not gettin’ delivered. The world never understanding.

‘Cept for me, the freak.  I c’n hear the messages now. 

And ya know, I’m pretty damned proud of me. I’m on my way up the mountain.

January 21, 2023 03:35

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1 comment

Tommy Goround
01:00 Jan 27, 2023

Clapping I knew a guy like this. He married an Olympic swimmer and sold houses against pretty people with nice teeth.


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