Tragedies, minor and major

June 20 2017

When I was in the eighth grade, I had a crush on a boy. He invited me to go to the school dance "together" which meant meeting there and hanging out, and I was thrilled. He never showed and I spent the whole night crying with my already fragile middle school self-esteem in tatters. I got over it as quickly as one could expect and we went our separate ways to separate high schools, where two years later in a creative writing class I wrote a story based on the experience (which is below if you want to read it).

In college, in the fall of 2008, I came across him on facebook and messaged him to reconnect; the first thing he said was that he still felt terrible about the dance. We chatted back and forth for a while about where life had taken us and reminisced about our shared formative years, but my last message to him never got a response.

This week I got a facebook notification that it was his birthday, and for the first time in almost ten years I remembered that he existed. I clicked on his profile for a dose of nostalgia and voyeurism and found that he had died by suicide in the spring of 2009. I keep thinking about him and the life he lived, and the life I lived while I simultaneously assumed and forgot he was alive at all.

Thanks for the chance to share.


Ammonia and Amontillado

She walked into to the classroom, brightly lit by fluorescent lights, with hideous orange bookcases and rows of scarred desks and plastic seats. The windows were covered in black paper and there was no indication of the time, since the clock in the front of the room had been around since 1964 and finally quit last week. The room was empty except a short, squat lady wearing a purple striped blouse and matching pants, shoes, and jewelry. She sat at a round table made of the same pukey orange plastic as the cabinets, sipping a cup of black coffee, leaving a cherry kiss on the white rim. She was making marks in a spiral bound book, which sat next to a stack of stapled papers. As she tainted the students’ efforts with degrading words of castigation, the monotonous note signaling the start of class sounded, causing the heavy teal door to open and the eighth graders to file in, thumping their backpacks on the ground and dropping into their seats unceremoniously. The teacher flinched with the first thump and then got up to the front of the room and began to instruct.

All the faces of the students looked uninterested and tired. One boy was sneaking food from under his desk to his mouth. A few doodled on their skins, and one carved his initials into his desk. There was only one girl who appeared to care about the teacher’s words, set apart by her bright, awake eyes. She took notes on a sheet of loose-leaf. In the desk next to her sat her foil - a male chewing gum, text messaging a friend under his desk. He loudly popped a bubble, catching the girl’s attention, and she looked at him. He grinned and she turned her head quickly, trying to hide the corners of her mouth as they involuntarily began turning up. In between bullet points, she scrawled something on a crisp piece of binder paper and slid it across the desk to him. After a bit of discreet note-passing, he had convinced her to distract the teacher while he left to grab lunch before the lines became fatally long. One would die of starvation if they weren’t crushed by the stampede of famished students first.

She raised her hand and waved it around. “Mrs. Jones? I don’t understand. Why didn’t Fortunato realize that Montresor was leading him to his death?”
The boy quickly interrupted with a request to use the restroom, while the stout teacher nodded and then returned her attention to her favorite student.
“Well,” she began, “To answer your question, Montresor was baiting him by flattery...”
But before she got a chance to elaborate, the bell rang once again, this time releasing the flood gates as the room was quickly deserted, leaving the old woman to try to break through the closed minds of a new batch of students.

Once again outside of the heavy teal door to the classroom, the boy and girl could see Mrs. Jones inside settling back down to her coffee and grading through a tear in the black paper covering the plexiglass window. Students swarmed out to lunch, but the girl pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and shuffled the books in her backpack, not moving as the boy shoved a burrito in his mouth. The boy began to speak, his mouth still crowded with flour tortilla.
“Well... See, the Valentine’s dance is coming up soon, and I was thinking, you know, I only have to pass one more assignment in English before I can get off of academic restriction... And, you are really good in that class... I mean, you are smart and all, and you’re really cute, too... So I was thinking, maybe you could help me pass this essay, and then I will be off of probation and then maybe you would want to maybe sort of come with me to this dance on Friday?”
Startled, the girl almost dropped her books. She cleared her throat and calmly replied, “Sure, I’d LOVE to,” accidentally letting her emotions through a little too much on the “love”.

Outside of room 132 during break two days later, the boy leaned against the concrete wall of the building and talked with his friends while the girl bent over a sheet of paper, writing furiously. Just as the bell rang, she straightened and triumphantly handed the paper over to him. He grabbed it, glanced at it, and shoved it into his pack. As he thanked her, the rambunctious voices of the students drowned out his gratefulness as they shoved through the small door, which slammed resolutely after the boy.
Once again in their weathered desks, the boy and girl sat side by side. She was taking notes diligently, scrawling in messy cursive, when her nose began to burn. Turning to the boy, she wrinkled her nose.
“What’s that horrible smell?” she asked, grimacing. “I took a vial of ammonia from the science lab last period”, he said, grinning.
“Why the heck do you want ammonia?” she questioned. “I don’t know,” he replied. “Why not?”
She smiled, rolling her eyes at his antics. “So,” she whispered, “I’ll meet you at the dance tonight?”
“The... Right, the dance!” he stammered, “I’ll meet you there.”

Standing in line, the girl waited to push past the students who still needed to buy their tickets. She clutched hers, a yellow square of paper that read “A Kiss From Me to You, ASB Valentine’s Dance. $5.” She looked around, searching for her date, hoping he’d be there soon so she would feel slightly less awkward in the element not her own. She noticed a group of four girls who she knew relatively well and approached them, hoping they would accept her into their huddle. She joined them, and they walked towards the doors together, chatting nervously. They migrated over to a group of guys, and, after waiting for her date to arrive, they decided to wait inside where it was slightly warmer. They walked through the gym, which was gaudily transformed into a dance floor. They handed their tickets to an ASB student, and then passed through the streamers that separated the gym from the quad. The crepe paper floated back into place, closing over the group as they dissolved into the vibrations of the DJ.

Three hours later, the gates of the gym opened and the overhead lights flashed on. Students rushed out into the chilly night holding balloons stolen from the arch in the center of the room, with the flowers that their dates bought them tucked behind their ears. The girl and her friends walked out slowly, and the light caught on an inky tear as she realized that she and Fortunato were both suckers for ammonia and amontillado.

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