The Boy in the Back of the Room


Being a fragment of a larger piece. I wasn’t a high school teacher for nothing.

I’m the guy sits at the rear of the class, hoodie up, head down. You think I’m oblivious, tuned out, maybe stoned, but it’s not true. I pay attention, I watch, I observe. This “education” thing is so freaking boring it’s the thing I do to entertain myself, watching. The other kids come in, laughing, talking loud, especially the girls, on their phones, phones are always out, texting, YouTubing, whatever, comparing notes, talking some school rah rah stuff, and like that. I just watch. The information on the board is like, what? I do what I can to get by in school; I don’t care that much. They say it’s important, but who are “they” anyway? People invested to have your butt in a seat. Quoting the least ridiculous of the teachers, “The paradigm has shifted; the necessity of a college education is less imperative than it used to be.” He admits this is a minority point of view, but I’m prone to favor minority points of view. Suits me. So as I said, I watch. The girls are all like “whatever.” I would never say “like whatever.” Never. I do say “like,” but I hate myself for it.

It all changed the day we buried the Flicker. That was the day it all changed. I was with my sister. We buried the Flicker – that’s a bird, you know, a beautiful bird, a kind of woodpecker, amazing patterns on this bird, beautiful colors. Anyway one flew into the window, cracked its head or something, and anyway, it died. We got to it before the cats did. We buried it, and I came to school. That experience seemed to mark the whole day; in fact, it marked everything that came after, including why I’m telling this story. Everything died with the Flicker, and the irony is, things weren’t buried with the Flicker, they were unburied.

No wait, that’s tacky, that’s too soap opera. Let me just start with Becky Severidge, when she walked in the classroom. I’m telling you, it was instant hard on, and I wasn’t the only one. She moved slow, careful. She was clearly aware of the effect she had on everybody. New transfer from somewhere else, but no one, no one new or familiar has ever claimed this much attention just by making an entrance. What a look, big black boots, loose skirt with what looked like some native print, Clash t-shirt, and what had to be a very expensive silk scarf with pinks and golds. A walking fashion mixed metaphor that somehow worked crazy good. Girls whispered, of course, instant jealousy. Guys were shifting in their seats, adjusting their dicks. It was unprecedented, that’s the word, unprecedented. It didn’t take long for the cool kids to stake their claim to her. Cool kids, in crowd, freaking bullshit. Ever noticed how all these kids with their newish cars and their stylish clothes in their fake-ass hip-hop attitudes and their school spirit and all that bullshit are self-appointed? No one says “Wow you guys are so cool you’re the in crowd I want to be just like you.” No, these kids just assume the mantle, as in “to the manor born.” I read that phrase somewhere.

I read. A lot.

Cool guys, big jocks, small cocks, salivating, staking their claims. It must be the same out there in the so-called civilized world, same shit: we are better than you because we say we are. That’s it, that’s all it takes. Why else would people run for Congress or be a Judge and stuff like that? We are better than you, we know it, and you know it., and you’d better get in line. That’s how it is.

Becky. She was something else. That first day, even the teacher was rocked, I could tell. Same guy I quoted, “Advanced Placement English.” He got me placed in there, over some objections from the higher ups. I didn’t qualify, my grades sucked, but he argued for my potential. I think I was meant to be a “project” of his, a rescue job. That didn’t last long. I can be a turn off when I want to be. This guy, this teacher, he liked to swear a lot in class, like it made him cool with the kids, like he was daring, bad, he could relate, ooh. Dressed in Black always, little stud earring, Dylan, Lennon, Samuel Beckett pictures on the walls and little Day of the Dead sculptures in his office, patronizing I am wise and know what’s best for you attitude. It was just dumb. I got tired of his routine. It revealed that he was super needy, like he had to be seen as happening, cool, whatever. If you are so whacked out that your self-esteem depends the approval of a bunch of high school students, then you are freaking pathetic. Yes, and the sad truth is, this 60s refugee was probably the best of a very sad bunch of faculty rejects. HE, at least, I listened to, sometimes.

Becky became an object of status acquisition. Those cool kids, the preppies, the stars, were in heat, and in competition. I heard them talking in class, in the halls, at P.E. The thing about me is that I made myself invisible. Guys, and girls, talked around me as if I wasn’t there. It was incredible. I could sit between two of them and they would lean forward and talk about the most personal shit like they were alone. I freaking loved that, loved it. I heard about the fight in the locker room between Jockerama A and Jockerama B about who had the rights to go out with Becky. The rights, like this is a thing? I have the rights to this person, and you don’t? They hadn’t consulted her about it, this I know, because Jockerama A started talking some shit about Becky, like he had gone out with her, made out with her, had sex with her, his story escalated over the first few weeks after her arrival. Of course, no one had seen them together outside of school, or even in school. When she saw him he would sort of slink over near her as she just smoothly glided by, scarcely even noticing his presence. That’s how she was with everybody. The guy, Jockerama A, had this story about her apparent disregard, like their relationship was this big secret between them that no one could know about because her dad was strict and blah blah blah. He said that Becky liked to “suck my beverage,” and so for a while, Becky Severidge became “Suck me beverage” among the clever Neanderthals around campus. That didn’t last long, not long at all.

I was so glad I got to witness the termination of that initial chapter in the lore of Becky. It happened like this: the bragging supposed boyfriend, Jockerama A, I’ll tell you his name was Scott, aren’t all pricks named Scott, or Robbie, or Craig, or something equally vanilla? Scott was hanging with his acolytes between classes doing the nudge nudge wink wink as she came sliding down the hall. They’re standing there, clone-like, all knowing in their dumbass school colors red and green baggy basketball shorts and their backwards baseball caps looking like they escaped from some factory of Bro-Love cookie cutter assembly line manufacture. Scott nodded at her, all cocky like, and Becky did what she always did, the unexpected. She stopped. She said “Hello Scott.”

Scott, being as bad an actor as he was a liar, tried the ultra-hip in response: “Becks, babe, how nice.”

She said, very sweetly, “I know you’ve told people that you fucked me and that I sucked your cock.” Whoa, now heads were turning, and the herd was beginning to gather ‘round.

“Whoa Becks, that’s personal for right here, ya know?” the big man on campus stammered with his fake grin starting to quiver.

“So fuck me now. Right here, in the hallway, let me see that thing.” Man, the herd was riveted now man. Even I felt part of the crowd as we stared at this. The outcome was never in doubt

“Wha-what?” was all doofus could manage. Becky then put her hands on his belt and started to undo it.

“Come on big man, show me what you got,” she was smiling, talking softly, cool as could be. Scott backed away.

“Hey bitch, what’s your game?” he busted out. Mistake. She had that belt out and whipped him across the face so fast he never saw it coming. His hands went up as he screamed “Fuck!” Becky flew one heavy boot in a well-aimed and highly predictable kick to his nether region that buckled this bad boy’s knees. Everybody, of course, loved all this, even his “pals.” Some kid shouted out that this was “better than effing UFC.”

His hands having migrated swiftly to where the major pain now was left his face open for another belt swipe. Down he went, all the way down, fetal style. Scott was a big guy, you understand, and Becky was maybe half his body weight, if that. She tossed the belt onto his writhing ass and said to him, still in that ultra-cool, softly measured tone, “Make sure you never lie about me again, you asshole. I would rather drop dead than have you within a hundred yards of me, you stupid shit. And I am someone who loves life. I love it. Don’t you ever mention my name again, ever.” She walked away like nothing had happened, calm and serene. I doubt her pulse even elevated a tick. It was so cool.

Letter From Hell

Wrote this a few years back as a dramatic monologue. I performed it at The Sierra Storytelling Festival where it was modestly received. It should be performed by a woman, obviously, and has been done that way a couple of times.
I like it still.
As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods.  They kill us for their sport.
                                                                                          King Lear, III. iv. 36.

I write in advance of the arrival of your shade here below in the underworld, the nether regions, Hades. I am told you are expected shortly. I wish so much that you should receive this epistle while the spirit of life still breathes in that body I briefly called husband to mine. Yes, Orpheus, it is Eurydice, your bride of a single afternoon. Your bride, snatched from your embrace by the serpent’s sting on the day of our wedding. Your bride, Euriyice, whom you followed into hell with your song and your . . . lyre. Eurydice, the dead.

With the dead, here I arrived, having awakened from the sleep of life. After a time, you followed, to free me, to walk me once again into the light of the sun, so that like you, I should feel Helios’ warmth caress my cheek. O Orpheus, your song echoes in the vast vaults of hell still, still the shades residing here forever speak in hushed tones of Orpheus, the Divine musician, Orpheus, who braved death to free his love from Hades’ icy grip, Orpheus, whose anguished song of sorrow moved even the indifferent gods to tears.

What did you think you were doing? I was and am dead, doomed to haunt these vaults in waking sleep and then there you are with your seven-stringed-toy and your sweet song of supplication that sways the boatman to sleep and caresses the teats of the triple-headed beast Cerberus. So you charm your way here, even here, the first undead to do so, and you bring all that hope, all that certainty, Euridyce will be free, unthinkable, to live again, into the warmth, all that hope, to live again, it must be destiny, the charmer, the gods have willed it, the charmer, his immortal lyre.

What did you think you were doing? There was one condition, one condition only, don’t look back. Up we climbed, the long long walk through eternity, you leading, singing, charming, parting the way, I following, clutching hope, approaching life, climbing, upward, there, standing, the shore, you are standing there, in the light, the warmth, the hope, you, there, turning, smiling, rapt, entranced with your song, smiling, singing, turning, No! Turning. No! Stop! No!

No one has died twice but me. Eurydice, the twice dead. Eurydice, beloved of Orpheus. Orpheus, fool of the gods.

I wrap myself close in the blanket of my hatred for you. It is the only thing that warms me against the cold. The heat of my hate is my last connection to the sun; I clutch it closer even as the warmth of it ebbs away into that cool forgetfulness we dead awaken into for the remainder of our days.

Orpheus, I have seen your end. When the Thracian women tear that ringleted head off those terrified shoulders your mouth will still shape the song of your lamenting, and as your bobbing head floats downstream toward Apollo’s temple your broken lips will bleat for mercy. I want you then to listen for my voice crying out that you deserve none.

Charmer, singer of false hope, I, Eurydice, want to say, want, want to. I, Eurydice, grow colder, cold. Cold. No more sun. The halls of Hades, searching, I, Eurydice, walk, twice dead, I, I, forget . . .