The Boy in the Back of the Room, chapter two


So the next class was with Johnny Cash, you know, The Man in Black, AP English. We were supposed to make little presentations on this book by Kate Chopin, The Awakening. Good book, actually, part of this teacher’s “radical” curriculum this year: only women authors. So we got Aphra Behn instead of Shakespeare, Edna St. Vincent Millay instead of T. S. Eliot, Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, etc. He got busted for putting Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love on the curriculum and had to withdraw it. But I read it. Best book ever.

But the buzz was on about the big event in the hallway. Mr. T (what we called him, that or just T) tried to suss us out, and of course a couple of girls said that Becky had assaulted school legend super jock Scott. No one spoke up for her, and not missing her cue, in walks Becky, about ten minutes late to class. She never said a word as the hush descended like night in the tropics (that’s kinda from the Chopin book). Taking her seat as sweet as you please., Mr. T said, “Well Miss Severidge, you are quite the topic of discussion here today.”

She said nothing.

“I understand there was an some sort of altercation before class. Is that right?” T wanted to seem cool, non-confrontational, understanding.

“An altercation? No, Mr. Townshend, I wouldn’t describe it as such.” Wow. So steady, so relaxed, it was amazing.

“And, I’m curious Becky, how would you describe what took place? My ears are burning.” Long pause. “”I’d like to hear from you really, before you have to go to the office and get this straightened out. I think we all would.” Somebody murmured to leave him out of it and this ticked off T. “Enough!” Cool lost, but the chill in the air was palpable.

In the silence, Becky slowly rose, took her sweet time adjusting the ever-present scarf, “To try and satisfy your curiosity, yours and I’m sure others, I would describe what took place as, well, as garbage disposal, to put it in simple terms. And I’m very sorry for the disruption Mr. Townsend, perhaps I should just go along to the office now?”

“That’s probably a good idea, you go do that. We’ll try to carry on without you.”

She was already on the move when she said “I’m sure you’ll all do just fine exploring the semiotics in Chopin’s exquisite symbology. I so wanted to discus the heroine’s existential crisis as seen from the point of view of her parrot.”

And the door closed. Nobody said anything. We all looked at T, who said, “Well, I am certainly sorry to miss Miss Severidge’s discourse. All right then, to work.”

The Vice Principal, the V.P. or Veep as he was known, was an ex-football coach who handled school discipline. The hierarchy of favoritism that he employed was widely understood and held by those at the top of the food chain, who benefited greatly from the Veep’s largesse, to be just, fair, a privilege they had somehow earned. They loved him. The rest of us, the plebes, who got no breaks, whose word meant shit, well, many hated him. But me, and people like me (there’s no one like me) couldn’t be bothered to bring the energy needed to despise the guy. He was a joke, a laughable, predictable joke. I couldn’t think of him without busting up.

So Becky left and I ignored all the smart talk about Creole culture and feminism and censorship. I was worried about her, and then, there she was, back in class as though nothing had happened. Later at lunch I overheard the chatter between a couple socialite girls who had reported to The Office as witnesses. Of course, they had it in for Becky, being all rah rah. As I’ve said, I’m invisible to these people, so the eavesdrop is a snap; it’s the actual listening to their “I’m all” and “She’s like” and their “Whatever”s that’s the hard part. I’ve done my best to translate their semi-literate command of the language, with maybe a little embellishment.

Becky had apparently demanded from the Veep. that she be confronted face to face by these two. From what I put together, what went down was something like this:

Veep: “Becky, you know that Scott is on his way to the hospital right now?”

Becky: “Oh, why?’

The two girls did the eye roll and the OMG thing apparently, only to get The Look from the Veep.

Veep: “I believe you know why young lady!”

Becky: “I wish to make very clear the fact that I have suffered continual and unwanted sexual advances since I arrived at this school. I have been victimized, verbally raped if you will, my reputation has been slandered, and my dignity besmirched in plain view of students and staff. Now, what have you and the other administrators done about this appalling and illegal situation? I’ll tell you, the school administration has chosen to turn a blind eye to these criminal assaults which have placed me in no small psychological distress as well as physical danger.”

Apparently there was a long silence here.

Veep: “I’ve heard nothing of this. Did you report these assaults as you call them?”

Becky: “And why has nothing been done? Could it be, just saying, that the perpetrator of these crimes is a major athlete at this school?’

Veep: “Come now, that is quite an accusation little lady, and most unfair, and I repeat, the school cannot act to protect its students if they don’t come forward and report!”

Becky: “Little lady? Really? I’m so sorry that your sense of fair play is injured, but are you sooo out of touch with the climate here that you are completely unaware that this boy, this star athlete on his way to the hospital, is a stalker, someone who brags of his sexual conquests, real or imagined, and who, today, attempted to violate me on campus?”

Witness girl #1: “Like it wasn’t that way at all!”

Becky: “With all due respect, why don’t you ask this witness about her own sexual history with my harasser?”

Veep: “Is that relevant to this incident?”

Becky: “So, in addition to failing to provide a safe environment for your students you don’t question the veracity of so-called witnesses? You know, I have been planning to attend the school board meeting, when is it, next Thursday at the District Office at 6, yes? To ask them why I am being denied the very basic rights due to me by District policy, state and federal law, and just plain human decency. Perhaps my speaking out about how I am being treated for protecting my person, when I have acted purely in self-defense, will spur a larger debate in the community. You know, it is just possible that some members of the Board and the greater community might conclude that you are enabling my attacker and blaming me as the victim.”

I gather there was a longer silence here, really long. The two girls were dismissed, and like I said Becky was back in English even before the end of class. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to hear her presentation on parrots and Edna Pontellier. A couple weeks later there was an all-school assembly dealing with sexual harassment and a “Respect One Another Day” where students were encouraged to “Share.” Like, whatever.

Scottie Boy went into hiding, was placed on a home school contract and missed spring athletics. Later it got around that he’d had a ruptured testicle and needed surgery. Ouch.

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.