Monday, February 14, 2011

Because You Suck: Chapter 22: Part 24

Note: Sorry if this totally clogged your inbox! And no, this is not the -end- of BYS. After counting the pages, I realized that if I keep posting sections like this, BYS will hit the SPAM filter. So, I calculated that if I post once a day, the whole thing will be up by the time February ends... marking the real end of BYS. So, it's on. No antisocial flakiness this time.

Just as Zach left Johnson’s office, Nasty snapped her fingers at him. She didn’t say one word, just shoved another yellow note in his hands and told him that the attendance officer needed to see him.
“Attendance officer? You mean Ms.Peruvia, the attendance lady?”
“The attendance officer. Get going, she’s very busy.”
“That’s what she’s paid for,” Zach thought to himself, as he headed over to her tiny office at the far side of the rectangular building.

It all happened so quickly, but somehow it ended with Zach quietly crying in the office, sobbing that,
“I can’t go to Juvenile hall! What would I tell my cellmate? That I’m here because I refused to leave the office? I can’t go to Juvenile hall…”
The second officer stood up and left the office, only to be approached by a slender wide-eyed black woman who demand what was wrong and where her son was. He didn’t have to guess, he already knew whose mother she was.
“I’m sorry. Your son’s all right, nothing happened. Everything just happened so quickly.”

Because You Suck: Chapter 22: Part 23

Johnson breathed in deeply, took of his glasses, and rubbed the side of his forehead.
“I’ve checked the notes written about you and your record… you’ve been written up more than once. And even if Gentry knows his way around computers, I will let you in on a secret. The school keeps those records in written form, and if your future college calls us, we tell them about personal problems we have with you. That’s how, if you keep getting low grades, sitting in detention, and risking suspension, you could be throwing away your future.”
Zach frowned, blue eyes growing cloudy at the thought of a bleak future where it would just be him with his ideas, unable to change the world. Like that homeless man he saw on street the other day, standing outside the convenience store with “Jesus is Dead” stitched on the flea-bitten rug hanging over his cart— A statement ignored by people passing by, a look of silent death on his face. Was this Gentry’s fear, too? Growing old and haunted by missed opportunities, permanently stuck that moment in time when you realize your time of brilliance has passed?
That one brilliant moment.
“You have potential, Zach. You have potential to shine brightly if you do the right things. Your idealism should never get in the way of your education, because education is the key to social advancement. You need to approach the world more realistically if you want to become successful.”
“Why don’t you tell that to Gentry.”
Johnson made a face, then leaned his elbows down on the table.
“Do you know why the cameras in the office don’t work?”
“Gentry would never have made it to the swim team without my help. During his freshman year he torched the office. He destroyed the cameras and every paper file, but no one ever suspected him— I made sure of that. I forced him to join the swim team, then had him lead a fundraiser to rebuild the office. Thousands of dollars of my hard-earned money and every legal resource I had went into my son’s clean record. I can’t remember how many times I’ve asked him why he did it.”

Zach sunk low in his seat, and said in a near-whisper, “What did he say?”

“He told me they should have been prepared, because you never know what happens. Even now he keeps a lighter on him, just to make me angry. But I’m not angry, Zach. I’m frustrated. Gentry lives to manipulate others… he likes to have power, but doesn’t know what to do with it because he has no goal. He also has no steady virtues to go by, but it’s not his fault he was born that way. Yet you can’t fix that, and you can’t fix him.”

“I don’t want to fix him,” Zach protested “and that story doesn’t scare me. I like him the way he is. If you love someone, you take the dirt with the rest. You think I don’t know what you’re telling me? I do. I also know that he was there for me when no one else was. That he gives a fuck about me, and takes me seriously. Whatever bad parts he has, I can handle them. We fight because he knows me like he does, and that’s also why I love him. Because no one else is strong enough to take me on, and no one else cares enough to think about the things I say.”

“Zach, you’re a sweet kid. You have all these ideas about what love is and isn’t… about what’s right and wrong. And you have hope that people will do something just because it’s logical and fair. But people aren’t always like that. Gentry isn’t just fighting you, he’s fighting everybody. Why? Because he wants to prove that he’s strong enough not to need anybody. You aren’t like that, Zach. You want people, you want to make connections, have friends, be loved completely. That’s perfectly normal, but not everyone is born that way. Some people are exceptions to the rule. Some people are born to be wrong. And no matter how sincere you are, there will come a time where will drift apart. Eventually you will get tired of his constant problems, his destructiveness, his anger. You want things, too, Zach… things he can’t or won’t give you.”

“Yeah, well. You can’t just give up on someone because they don’t give you things.” Came the reluctant reply.

“It’s your call, Zach... but don’t let your idealism get in the way of your education.” Johnson stood up and slid him the grade report, “It’s a harsh world out there, and if you don’t fight for yourself, no one will.”

Because You Suck: Chapter 22: Part 22

“It’s quite a leap from the D you had in your first quarter, yet I won’t ask how that happened because I have a feeling I already know. Generally, you get good grades. Your Estonian records show all-A’s. I find that remarkable, and proof of your capabilities. Yet during your freshman and sophomore years, you began to get C’s and B’s.”

“I don’t know why you’re telling me what I already know.”

“You have a lot of potential, Zach. You have the potential to be the star of this school. To be a leader.”

“Why would I want to lead a bunch of morons?”

“I have a question for you.” Johnson paused and leaned back into his seat, hands folded in his lap, “Why are you so defensive?”

Zach sunk back in his seat, shrugged limply and said, “I’m not defensive.”

“You talk quickly, and frown a lot. I can see it in your eyes, you are waiting for me to stop talking so you can say something. You may say you aren’t defensive, but your body language and your eyes say that you are. But I don’t blame you, it’s a tough world out there— What are you exactly, Zach? I’ve been to Estonia before, yet I’ve never seen anyone who looked like you.”

“No two people look alike. But I know what you’re saying, since I hear it all the time. I’m mixed.”

“Well, Zach. I don’t know how tolerant Estonia is, but in America, we have scholarship opportunities for this. You could be eligible for quite a few, and you already have the intelligence and capability to unite people. Biracial is the future.”
Zach eyed him warily, drawing back and crossing his arms over his chest.

Johnson continued, “However, I believe you’re heading down the wrong path. Right now, you may care about clothing or gay rights, or about true love. But all that will change. Things come together and fall apart, experiences deepen your mind and shift your priorities. Yet whoever you are, it won’t matter if your grades are low. Your grades reflect how much you learn, and how much you understand what you learn. They allow you to become powerful enough to change things.”

Because You Suck: Chapter 22: Part 21

Johnson hesitated for a moment, but then nodded somberly. He had expected this as well.

“I thought as much. I don’t think I’ll ever see it again, and I can only worry what will happen to it now. You probably gave it back to him for nothing, since you view protecting his secrets as more important than protecting yourself… or even what you believe in. You’re a good kid, Zach, you love with all you’ve got. If I had a friend like you in high school, who knows…” his voice drifted off.
“Back when I was your age, I strongly believed in a greater moral order. When injustice happened, I believed that someone would come and make it right. And when nothing happened, I thought life would end. But life didn’t stop for me; it doesn’t stop for anybody. My son… I realized early on what he is; that he is a homosexual. I tried my best to be a father to him, but I don’t think he ever accepted me. We have our differences, but I don’t and simply can’t hate him for the way he’s born. He’s my son.”
“He’s your son, and you raped him.”
“I understand I can’t change your mind.” He released the breath he'd been holding and leaned forward on his elbows, “I guess I could have been there for him more when I had the chance, when he first got involved with that older boy. Things got out of hand after that, but judging this isn’t as simple as deciding what’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad.’ I have my problems, Zach, and he has his. Two problems was all it took, and it’s what keeps us from healing and being the family we could be. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just how it is. I’m getting help, but he still needs to admit that he needs it.”
Zach shifted uncomfortably, and Johnson coughed. He leaned over to his computer, clicked a few keys, then leaned back as the printer began to buzz. He took a sip of water from the mug on his desk, then affirmatively said,
“I’m going to give you a copy of your grade transcript. Are you aware that you currently have a B+ in literature?”
“… No.” Zach said, startled, “I didn’t know.”

Because You Suck: Chapter 22: Part 20

“As you might be aware, I am your guidance counselor. And we need to have a relationship where you can trust me, and I can trust you. Do you trust me?”
“I don’t know you,” Zach drawled absently, “so I can’t trust you.”
Johnson nodded soberly.
He briefly eyed the belongings on his desk, making sure they were still in their place.

“I’ll try this again.” He said patiently, “You aren’t a stranger to me, Zach. I’m fully aware of what my son is doing with you.”

Zach again remained silent, because it was true. And there was nothing useful he could say at this point, when silence was run over by his wildly beating heart. It was a little eerie the way his voice had the same rhythm as Gentry’s, and how his eyes lit up in that same murky stare. They were the same smoldering dark he’d grown accustomed to, holding something wild about them. Gentry had that too, sometimes… as if there was something waiting to leap out, a word waiting to be shouted. Undoubtedly, this guy was Gentry’s father. Yet it still felt odd to think about Gentry as this guy’s son.
“…Oh.” Zach finally replied, sensing right after that his timing was probably off.
Johnson drew a long breath, rolled back his seat and stood up to close the door.
“Well, seeing as you won’t talk,” he drawled retaking his seat, “I hope that you will listen.”
Johnson sighed and leaned back, hands folded over his stomach.
“What you see in Gentry is what he wants you to see. And you’ve probably learned a few things about me, and that my family’s homelife isn’t perfect. I’ll admit, we’ve been through some tough times. But I still like to think that we’re a family.”

“—You’re not.”

Johnson’s eyes lit for a moment, yet his voice remained firm and even.
“Why would you think that?”
“… Families live together.”
Lee Johnson sighed.
“My son left home, and it’s pulling the family apart. But he decided that on his own, and I’ve given up asking why he does anything. Believe me, we both know that he can be convincing when he wants to. If he’d wanted to stay, he would have— he’s got a strong mind in him. But he also has problems, and don’t think for a second that just because he isn’t living with me that I don’t care about him. My wife and I were there for him before you knew who he was— and it hurts us as much as it hurts you to watch him destroy himself, knowing there’s nothing I can do. Yet he’s my son, and I know better than anyone that I can’t force him to come home.” Johnson took another deep breath, and softly added, “However, I don’t think that your apprehension towards me stems from that.”
Zach gazed at him critically. He turned the words over in his head, but couldn’t find any flaw. Just wild thoughts racing through his mind.
“Do you think I’m a monster?” asked Mr.Johnson, “a child molester?”
Zach’s mouth went dry.
Johnson gave an affirmative, close-lipped smile.
“I thought it would come down to this. There’s no use in skirting around the issue, so let’s get to the heart of the matter. I believe that you’ve come across a picture which belonged to me.”
“I did.” Zach replied without hesitation, “And that’s why I don’t believe you. You don’t care about him; you caused his problems. If you want that picture back, you’re not getting it.”

Because You Suck: Chapter 22: Part 19

“I would like to ask you something.”
Zach inhaled suddenly, and shot up to meet the man’s eyes.
He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. The secrets he’d learned were like a gag. He couldn’t talk about them, couldn’t act on them… all he could do was try to ignore the sick feeling which throbbed to life in his gut.

Although the picture was no longer in his dresser drawer, it still lingered in his mind. Stale as ashes and heavier than smoke; he hadn’t been able to look directly at it, and yet he couldn’t forget what he’d seen. The bony angles distracted him from faces. It was the starkness of it which drew his mind away from the dark eyes and to the stiff body, eating away at the signs of life. It was a crime frozen on paper, an indelicate rendering of something which no one talked about in public. Something which always happened to other people, and was left to linger the dark corners of newspapers and the back of peoples’ minds. Knowing it existed was nothing like seeing it. The crime had happened before he had witnessed it, and now it couldn’t be helped. The past was past, life had moved on.
And he was as powerless now as he felt then.


Johnson motioned for him to take a seat, which Zach silently did. The man opposite him took a deep breath and said,

“I noticed you seem fearful around me. Even now, you’re fidgeting.”


Zach immediately sat up a little straighter, and gave a simple nod to hide the fear in him. He reasoned he shouldn’t be scared, schoolishly reminding himself that pedophiles only targeted children, which he was not… He was not.

Because You Suck: Chapter 22: Part 18

That unearthly voice jolted him from his reverie.
Mr.Lee Johnson stood in front of him, blocking out the fluorescent light. It beamed behind his thinning dark hair, which was severely combed in thin strands over his scalp, giving it a strange and severe kind of look.

“Are you all right?”
Zach gawked at him. He wasn’t sure what to say, so he blurted out what came to mind:
He instantly realized he had said the wrong thing, but it was too late to take it back now. Johnson was eying him firmly, churning out the words,
“I’d like to have a word with you… I sent that note.”

Zach decided not to fight this one, and simply nodded slowly as he rose to his feet. He followed Johnson to his office, which hadn’t changed much since Nilla had occupied it. He slammed the door behind him, at which Johnson jumped and quietly snapped at him, “Don’t slam the door.”
“Sorry,” Zach murmured, although a part of him wasn’t. He liked slamming doors; it made him feel less angry. His gaze shifted around the room, taking in an empty goldfish bowl on top of blue file cabinet and a law degree in a gleaming silver frame.

Slowly, Zach’s eyes drifted down to the steel-framed photo on the desk, idly guessing that the madly grinning woman was probably the guy’s wife, mainly because that kid next to her was definitely Gentry. Even though she was smiling, it looked very grotesque since her eyes were glaring out from beyond the frame. Her paste-colored arms were rigidly clasped around this ugly gremlin of a kid, who squinted at the camera with his weird old-man face. Those amber eyes hadn’t changed, not one bit. Staring out from under a gray hunting cap, peering over the coarse green scarf; murky then as they were now. It felt weird to think how this fantastically ugly gremlin was the same boy he had currently— well, fucked.
In fact… it was downright weird to think about it that way.

Because You Suck: Chapter 22: Part 17

Zach sighed quietly and truged to his chair outside the door, sourly taking a seat. It hurt to speak, but who cared. He’d talk anyway— He’d talk until his lips fell off to anyone who would listen. The office kept working, students passed by. Some stared, some didn’t. Some were turning in Valedictorian speeches. He hated sitting outside in the office like that, because he always felt like a criminal. At least, he looked like one, sitting in the office with a swollen mouth, seated next to people who were in trouble for one thing or another. Next to students with emotional issues who needed to see the counselor, and people thrown out of class for their disruptive behavior.

“I’m not like them, though. I’m not here because I’m being punished for something wrong, I’m here because I chose to be. I was always here because I chose to be… for better or worse, I’m fighting for a reason.” And he would keep fighting; they would not change him.

He told himself:

“I’m here because if I don’t stand for what I believe, no matter how sore things get, no one else will.”

Ms.Nasty walked by him, but didn’t look at him. Zach suspected that if she didn’t have anything mean to say, she wouldn’t say anything at all. Her gaze always shifted to avoid making eye contact with students, to avoid recognizing them. And keep from greeting them, because she often got their names mixed up. She only memorized the names of trouble-makers and honor students, and she would only acknowledge their existence if they stepped out of line--- and then it was to put them in their place. To enforce the dress code, school code, or whatever code she was supposed to enforce. In her line of duty, mingling with the lower subjects are was dangerous… as was acknowledging their existence, their feelings, or their point of view. Siding with students was siding with a threat; something volatile and difficult that needed to be monitored, overruled, undermined. Youth were radical, crazy teenagers--- could not be trusted.
It was easier to keep them in line and stay out of everything else.

Because You Suck: Chapter 22: Part 16

The nurse prescribed ice packs for everything.
Sore throat, sore mind, sore heart… an ice pack would fix it. And if an ice pack didn’t, she called the parents to tell them their child should get a Doctor’s opinion. Most people knew that she wasn’t a nurse at all, but the attendance lady, and that she couldn’t a headache from mental insanity. However, not having a trained nurse saved Kennedy a good deal of money, which was why The Principal was very pleased that he helped instate her, privately considering it his proudest moment. With ineffable glee he would sit in front of his computer, picking out colors for pie charts, wondering which color would best show the world what a success he was.

There were few things that he loved more than to give monthly staff presentations about how he had saved the school 5% more money, and cut costs down 10%. In fact, there had been enough money left to decorate the nurse’s office with a plastic-covered medical-style couch, which impressed the Department of Education whenever they visited for their annual review. Very few schools could afford such a nice, official-looking couch. In fact, this couch was approved by NASA, which made it a valuable asset to the school. Best of all, it was easy to clean and, if needed, students could lie on it.
But he specifically told the nurse that this was only to be used in emergencies, since it could only fit one person. Therefore, students should instead sit on the blue plastic chairs lining the office walls, as Zach did until the nurse called him into her office.

“Yes?” griped the nurse, glancing up at him with heavy lidded eyes. She was a large old woman with hair under her lip, a slightly darker color than that of her mousy brown bob. She was the kind of woman who kept people from going to the nurse, heavily cold and complacent.
“What is your problem?” she rasped, with a very strained low voice.
“You’re a nurse, you figure it out.” Zach spat at her, meanly enough to solicit a grunt.
With bovine lethargy, she hunched over the desk and raised her eyebrows.
“I can’t help you unless you say something is wrong.”
“My lip’s infected.”
“That’s all?”
She clicked her tongue and slowly rolled her chair back. She reached into the cabinet, past the aged cotton, and pulled out an ice pack.
“Take this…” She said, “And call your parents from the office phone.”

Because You Suck: Chapter 22: Part 15

Note: V-day is here! Sorry if this clogs anyone's inbox.

"Loser, loser, double loser, eating out of a TRASH CAN!!"

Gentry was vaguely aware that his table-mates were throwing pieces of paper at each other. And that Kylie still shared his table, talking loudly, although she wouldn’t look at him. But at this point, he no longer pretended to pay attention.

His mind switched off, and let nothing in or out. Soon he would graduate, and never see them again. All this conversation amounted to nothing. It never delved deep enough to establish a connection; they could never settle down long enough to listen. Because the moment you opened your ears to someone, you inevitably opened your heart--- a commitment they didn’t have the time or energy for.

“Oh MY god NOWAY!”
“Awkward turtle…”

A commitment. Gentry’s gaze lingered on Zach. He'd been staring at him for the last few minutes, remembering how many students came in that morning asking about the test location, only to leave with long, grim faces and timid resignation.
But not Zach.
No one else had hitchhiked to Church.
That took something.

His fingers ached to brush over the nape over Zach's neck. Linger just long enough to nudge his shoulder and exchange warm glances; long enough to share silence from words unspoken that—
No. Gentry exhaled. He had to stop having these daydreams. They were what got him into this mess in the first place, the idle fantasy of that “what if…?”

Fact was, Zach could handle himself.
He didn’t need it.

So Gentry duly turned away--- yet it was too late. Zach had already spotted him. He put down his book and briskly walked over to the table, slamming his hands down and looking them all over, particularily Gentry. Kylie didn’t notice right away, she went on talking,
“… Ohmygod, I hate sluts…”
“---They hate you too.” Zach cut in, then leered over all of them, “Got something to say?”
“Um, were we talking to you?” Drawled Jenny. The table laughed, because laughing overpowered awkward silences.
Zach pulled away sourly, and turned to go back to his corner of the room.
“Zach.” Mr.Handson spoke up.
“I’ll need you to go to the office.”
“I didn’t do anything—”
“I know.” Said Handson, “But the note’s asking for you, something about a dress code violation.” He pushed a yellow note into his hand, “While you’re there, I suggest you go see the nurse. That lip ring looks atrociously swollen.”