||[Aug. 18th, 2006|11:26 am]
The Irascible Cripple
S'funny that I knew a guy just like a little Wilson when I was a kid. |
Say 'kid', mean 'sixteen'. We both got shoved against lockers, but I knew I got shoved 'cause the other guys -- well, the guys who bothered shoving other guys against lockers -- were jealous of me. I got all their girlfriends. Their girlfriends came to me when they wanted some lovin' that weren't blue-eyed and wholesome. I was blue-eyed, but, y'know.
Wilson-guy got swirlies. I didn't. I was a ball-heeler and an eye-jabber when they tried to muscle me in the bathroom door. Whoops! Foot slipped there, guys. Not to say I didn't get beat up -- couldn't always escape, there's a lot of arm and leg and vintage shirt to grab with a sixteen-year-old me -- but hey, I never got traumatised. I just got even. And I was more crafty than they were.
Nerds hardly ever think of getting even unless it's something like "telling a teacher". They're either cowards or they trust the system (they don't know how brave it is to actually tell) Once I came upon Wilson-guy in a corridor with his hair stinking of piss and toilet water, and his glasses sitting on the floor, dabbling at himself with tissue in both hands. Looked like a kind of Bathroom Justice. I threw him my gym towel, and once I'd had it back and passed on, I heard him say really loudly, with that kind of desperate caw,
"I'm gonna tell on those guys this time, I really am. I mean, seriously."
Tell on? Don't know who he was talking to. I didn't turn around. All I knew was that next day he was getting beat up worse than before.
Everyone at school (the school I went to for more than a year) thought I lived on the streets. My parents just never came into school because I broke off the lines of contact between school and parents with the greatest little sever-motions. I gave the school the wrong address. I gave them a P.O. Box and only took home what I wanted them to see. Report cards were always snaps, even though I skipped most classes and cheated on the tests (never caught, near misses). That means luncheons, parent-teacher interviews, letters about "truancy", letters about "conduct", letters about "attire" were all disposed of in inventive little fire shapes. I didn't deny it, but I didn't ever say I was living on the streets, 'cause someone was bound to find out I wasn't before the end.
Wilson-guy was the first person from school that came to my house. He was my lab partner. Whatsisrealname? Justin or Dustin or Dustpan or something like that. His last name rhymed with something funny, like "Dick" or "Ass". He thought that to counteract people laughing at his last name, he'd just say it really loudly and boldly whenever he had to say it, to show them he wasn't afraid. He'd stand up in class and go, "Dustin BICK". Everyone laughed until they hacked. I thought he was an idiot. I could deal with some locker-shove blood-noses. He couldn't. He should have sat down and shut up, changed his hairstyle to look more casual, worn contact lenses, stopped carrying a briefcase, and not wear a tie to school.
Seemed simple to me.
Woulda thought he was brave, but he seemed like he just didn't know what to do to make it stop. I tried telling him in Bio over a split frog -- just a couple of pointers, a heads-up on what's immortally cool, which the fashionistas at our school didn't know, but I did -- but didn't. I didn't tell him. I didn't want him thinking he was my friend. I knew he would. I knew he'd photocopy his notes and give them to me. I knew he'd try to give me a goddamn high five.
I didn't care if people saw me with him, I just didn't want him to keep popping up when I didn't want to see anyone. Sometimes I went around the back of the tennis courts and just walked on the big piles of sand there, or threw rocks at the wire fence, or made a trip-wire for guys running the school course, or distracted the girls playing tennis. I liked to do some shit alone in the lunch hour. So.
I wasn't his lab partner at first. I was the lab partner of some plastic marvel, almost-girlfriend of Clint Steele or whoever was football captain at the time. I could see Wilson-guy-Dustin sliding his notes over the workbench toward me, but she popped up and shoved her notes and breasts at me, going,
"Hi-iii, Greg," like we knew each other or something.
I liked bio. I was good at bio. I aced at science. I was the only guy in the class who was cool and good at bio, and she came to me fully loaded to go to second base for her half of the report by me.
Hey, who'd complain?
But she was a dumbass, and she annoyed me. When I came to her house she made out with me and made so much noise about it that I kept hearing people stop outside the door and I had to get her off (not in the good way). Then the next time I came over, she said she had a cold and couldn't kiss me. I kissed her anyway and said I needed snot to put in [people's] drinks. She screamed and said I could never kiss her again.
Now I had a half-finished report and no lab partner. Wilson-guy ran up to me in class the next day, having been set on by the teacher. I don't think he'd had an actual lab partner before.
He was a good-looking guy without all the nerd trappings. Just like Wilson probably was under whatever disgusting things he wore and carried as a kid. Wilson-guy wasn't short, wasn't fat, had a dark kind of side-sweep of longish hair in blue-collar style and stubby energetic hands. The one thing I remember is him clicking his pen with his palm. Oh yeah, and tossing his hair back like a girl when he was writing. He didn't think about how he looked when he did that. That was something I kind of liked. Though he was a total sissy.
He was so excited about my coming around to his house. I could tell. He kept saying,
"Are you really coming over? Coming over tonight?"
And I'd be like, "No," and let himd droop before I gave him a look that I thought would tell him I was kidding. He took it as some resentful glare. He didn't know how to read people. He didn't understand sarcasm or innuendo or anything. He sucked.
I got sent out of the class that day for putting my foot up on a clean space and showing everyone my bunion.
Then as I was going out the door, and everyone was quiet, Wilson-guy said really loudly, with a shrill attempt at nonchalence, "Hey Greg, you're coming over tonight, right?"
I put my head against the doorframe and pretended I was asleep.
He came up to me again later, when I was making out with some girl between two blocks of lockers, and sort of waited there until I finished, just standing there, holding this stack of books and with a shoulder strap for his briefcase, and he tried to look like he didn't care or notice or something about all the kissing. But his ears and dimply bits were pink.
But he waited. Politely.
I broke off for a second, and held her shirt so she didn't just disappear or something, and said,
"Yeah, Fustin, I'm coming over tonight," or whatever his name was.
"Oh, good. Great," he said, "but I just wrote some stuff off that I think you should look at for our experiment." And he tried to find some place to put it on me, but I didn't have a bag, so he tried to roll it up and put it into my pocket.
"That means 'get lost'," I said. The girl laughed. I remember what I most liked about that one was her laugh. It was like an old woman's and really sort of sea-witchy and interesting. When she did it I wanted to kiss her again.
"Okay!" Justin said really optimistically, "I'll just put these here." And he put them at my feet, flat, and neat, and said 'hey, hi' with an awkward wave to the girl, and went off. Then the girl's guy came up and I ran into the girl's toilets, because I was the only guy brave enough (at sixteen! People are stupid) to go in there. He didn't follow me in, just said, "You can't stay in there forever, House!"
And I said to some girls at the mirror, "Oh, yeah I can," and I got some action in there as well, 'cause I was charming and said some other stuff, and made some jokes, and it was easy. Of course, 'action' back then wasn't anything beyond making out and the lightest of light petting, but I thought I was a pretty big man nonetheless.
I went to Gustin's that night just so he wouldn't whine at me the next day, like a whiner. I let myself into his house and got some food from his kitchen. His fridge was all butter and soy and no-carb, and his mom or him labelled all the stuff in the freezer. I put some sugar in a bowl and went upstairs with it. The banister was slick and polished and I wanted to slide down it, but I didn't. The stairs had carpet on them. There were gladioli downstairs and upstairs. Ticking clocks and shelves of books every two paces. I looked in the doors of at least three studies.
Mustin's room had no TV, despite this wealth. I was disappointed, but not surprised. He had about six bookshelves and two hundred desks in there, and his bed was really narrow, but with silk sheets.
"Hey!" he said, and got up, probably waiting all day until I'd got there. The kid was trying to dress like me. He was wearing a faded shirt, but it said "Princeton" on it rather than "Iggy Pop", which was what I was wearing. I shook my head at it.
"You're an idiot," I said, sat on his bed and ate the sugar.
"So -- what do you want to do?" he asked me, even though he'd laid the project out on the desk, fresh snowy paper, a fountain pen for me, a quill for him, two yoghurts and two spoons.
Wilson. Though kind of less cool. Though I think he'd've grown up to be like Wilson. He was a good kid. Not bad-looking either.
"I dunno," I said, vowing not to eat 'my' yoghurt.
"How about, uh -- maybe we could, like," a double-handed gesture toward the desk, "do the lab project? Or something?"
"Nah," I said, which crushed that idea absolutely and totally, because he nodded really hard and leaned on what he had prepared as though it just happened to be there. I was amused at the power I had over him with non-committal words like "I dunno" and "nah".
"Is that sugar?" his face contorted.
"No," I said, "it's salt."
"Really?" he was impressed now.
"Yeah," I ate the rest of it quickly before he decided to do tests.
He tried to talk to me about girls, and sex, and drinking, but he had nothing insightful to offer about that. He'd held hands with a girl in first grade. He'd had a champagne at a cousin's wedding. Made it seem like a big deal. Then he sat down with me. Then we lay down on top of the blankets. Then I had the best conversation about science I'd ever had with anyone, ever. We actually made plans to do the best lab report ever, and I was going to pose as a junior doctor and go into a morgue and try to get an actual cadaver to do stuff with, and he was as thrilled by the idea that it would be illegal as I was (surprisingly). He asked me if we could be friends, and I said, "okay. Sure". His leg gave this big excited twitch at that. I laughed at him really loudly and he got embarrassed.
I'd thought I had way more friends than him, but I didn't actually. I was just cooler. I didn't have any friends. Hadn't looked for any, really. I just knew people.
So he was okay for a while. I didn't get the cadaver in the end, though I made a damn good crack at it and almost had the morgue guy convinced that I was twenty-three. Wilson-guy and I still got the best marks in the year.
We still didn't really spend much time together. Sometimes I came over to his place, and I met his boring parents, and sometimes he came over to my place, and he met my boring parents, but we didn't really talk at school, though he seemed to walk faster now, speak with a little bit more confidence. Raise his hand to ask even more nerdy questions than before. He loved it when sometimes, I raised my hand too and asked something that was similar, but had some funny twist to it, and it made him look like he'd thought of that too.
He went on to get some scholarship to Yale or somewhere, that I didn't get because I was so slack with the work. Teachers told me they were disappointed. I said I'd be okay, and that school was no measure of anything, and they said We Know, Greg, But We're Still Disappointed. I keyed about five Jaguars on the last day of school for that.
So he went to Yale or Princeton or something like that, and I went to the good old local with Lisa Cruddy. Wilson-guy never called me, because all he did on the phone was heavy-breathe and make nervous Zebra noises, so he wrote me long eloquent letters about medicine (guess what he wanted to do?), and hinted that he wanted to come visit me. I had to reply to his letters because he wrote medical stuff in them that I wanted to reply to, but I never invited him. Once he said he was, "in town", and we met up at a coffee shop.
He was really nervous. Wore a scarf and a long coat. Dressed a little better. Had even bigger glasses. Pale and veiny. Asked me "how I was doing". I shrugged and put lots of sugar in my coffee. He tried to make coughy little segues into science-speak, and I said a word or two about that, but it never got into the same thing as the conversation we first had at his place. He asked me if I had a girlfriend, I told him no (lie, but I didn't want to talk about it). He said he was thinking about coming back to live here, and go to the Local, and then maybe we could "hang out". He still used slang with the same tense self-consciousness, the relieved slackening of fingers and wrists when the colloquialism was expelled. I still remember most of the conversation.
I said that if he came back here to study just to spend time with me, I'd never speak to him again. It sounded horrible as an idea and I hated it.
He asked me if we were friends still and I said, "We don't live in the same state."
"That's the point!" Spilled the milk. "I wish we had conversations like that one we had back, you know!" Spooning the milk from side to side, all usual neatness forgotten. "I don't have anyone to talk to like you over there. Hey, what if I can put in a word for -- "
I gave him such a look that he ducked his head and slapped a napkin to the milk.
"Go home," I said. "Look; we're still friends. You've just gotta make new ones. Just talk to people."
"I can't," he said.
"Too bad. Grow a spine."
"I want your spine," he said, and he had a weird look on his face. I didn't know if I wanted to see him again.
"What'ja mean?" I said casually, but he couldn't speak anymore. I knew what he meant by his look. After a moment I said, "You've got to be kidding me."
So the difference between him and Wilson was that Wilson didn't "want my spine". I didn't ever see Wilson-guy again, though, because the conversation was cut short after that, and he went home and swallowed a lot of painkillers and died, a "great loss of enourmous academic potential". I showed Stacy his letters one time and she said, "You're an idiot, it's obvious from these that he was in love with you. But it's not your fault."
"I didn't think it was my fault," I said.