JOHN SAAVEDRA JR.
Columnist

15. Why I Hated High School
The annals of St. Mary’s of the Assumption High School remind me of when Lyndon B. Johnson used to get up there on his podium and tell us how great the war was going.
At some point in the school’s history, the girls stopped wearing short skirts and adopted slacks. This was done to maintain the image of the school. The skirt-wearers of yesterday didn’t like the methods of the skirt-wearers of today. The skirt-watchers of yesterday wished they were the skirt-watchers of today.
Alas, I was not part of the glory days of staircases. No one had a behind in those slacks, either.
I spent most of my high school career running. There was always some kind of trouble, always something to get worked up about.

16. The Past is a Grotesque Animal
2006 – They’re all over my neck. This is the second time I’ve gone to see this film, but I’m not really watching this time. It’s all a blur from the moment the lights dim to the moment when she tells me I’ve done it now. It was our first date. I try to spend the rest of the weekend with my collar up. I only sport polo shirts, even to bed.
When my dad finally sees the marks on my neck, he asks me what bit me. My mother overhears from the kitchen. She doesn’t say anything to me, but she knows her son has started to experience things that are beyond her control. Mom has given advice, has taught her lessons. When I do something wrong, I see my mother, as if making bad decisions triggers a holographic image of her. My dad tells me to put wet newspaper on my neck. This is the most embarrassing moment of my life, but I’m one step closer to…
2007 – It’s a small office, cramped full of papers and board games. There is a couch and that’s where I make myself comfortable. I cross my legs and stretch my arms out. I don’t want her to know that she’s piercing my defenses, that in reality I have no defenses. She’s trying to see into my soul. I’ve been sitting on this couch for the last few weeks, but I haven’t gotten used to any of this. I’m beginning to feel crazy and I suspect that at any moment she’ll send me to the psychologist. Now I know that I’m just an idiot. Back then, I was scared.

The same phrase keeps playing in my head: “Sure, this time you kick her books across the hallway, but next time it could be her head.”

The counselor administers her listening technique followed by her speech on how everything you’re doing is incorrect. Every week I have to bring her a new piece of writing because she knows I like “that sort of thing.”

So every week I hand in another convoluted piece of crap that doesn’t show her who I am.
Every week she asks me to read it out loud so that I can hear my own words of “self-realization.”

Every week I’m coming in here to bullshit this lady.

“What I’d like from you, John, is to find a way to control your anger. I know this whole thing might be new to you. Feelings can alter your perception of things. These things aren’t easy, but we learn to overcome them. And when you do, who knows, you might write the great American heartbreak novel,” she says.

Mostly, I just try to look confident. I tell her I’m feeling better.

2008 – I’ve lied to everyone. I’ve already mentioned the counselor. There’s also my best friend – countless times. And my parents.

I spend most of my time at her house; and after, I have to sprint across town to get back home on time. Sometimes I ride my bike up and down hill to go see her. Every time she calls, I’m there.

She’s with someone else.

She’s with many others.

One time (many times) she makes me stand outside in the cold until one of her boyfriends leave.

This is my low: sitting on a park bench waiting for another guy to walk out of the apartment building just so that she can have repeats. I am pathetic.

People are trying to help.

But we’d built walls, huge brick structures that the Dean of Students couldn’t climb with her threats of expulsion, the principal didn’t care to climb, and our parents didn’t want to accept existed.

So when my father walked in to me crying over a phone call from the girl’s mother, he stood there and said, “Don’t put this on me. I’m not the bad guy.”

I’d tell them all as I cried against a locker – partially because the hot girls thought it was cute – that I loved her.

The truth is that she was convenient, the sum of all my masculine desires.

When we began to argue, she knew I still wanted her; when I’d pull her roughly back to me, kick her books across the hallway, and insult her so everyone could hear.
The others would turn to each other and ask, “What is their problem?”
Then we’d go to her house and do it all over again.

***

Doubts. We got in the car and drove.

“I’ll show you,” he said.

There was always a smile on his face. He could do no wrong. She was walking down the street and we followed her. We parked a block from her apartment and I hated him for it.

“He’ll come,” he said, “and when he does, you’ll know for sure.”

I watched. Nothing. No one came that day. I hated him for it.

He laughed and said, “See, those are the kind of things that will get you in trouble.” The school day was over.

We drove home.

2009 – What can only be described as a graduation. I leave everything behind.
I had a new girlfriend, but I dumped her before prom. No skin off my bones. I went to prom with the foreign exchange student and I’m never going to see her again.

There are pictures and I put them in my drawer. I don’t want to revisit these things. No skin off my bones. I left church that night, pushing through the crying crowd of students. I didn’t hug as many people as I should have. No skin off my bones.

I smoked for the first time that night. The smoke filled my lungs and somehow crawled out of my eyeballs. The first few pulls are like razor wire up my nose. I’m living the life.

17. You
You let go of the things you were ashamed of once. There, in front of you, is a guy who is not afraid to bear his naked chest. There, in front of you, is a guy who says the things you wish to say. Sometimes he sneaks up on you and says something that makes sense. You want to live by this guy’s words.

Sit down and have a talk with him. At first, he’ll talk at you. That’s how it happens. He’ll talk at you, but sooner or later everyone shows his or her human side.

“I can’t believe you did that,” he says.

“I can’t believe you’d do that,” he says. “How’d you get away with that?”

The whole time you look down at the carpet and remember when you would run out of her house, down the street, down the neighborhood, down to uptown. You made it just in time. Your lungs tightened and the sweat became part of your dress shirt. Your tie was undone. You still had those things on your neck.

Sometimes you’d think of something clever to say, but most of the time it was understood. You didn’t bother to hide it anymore. Your legs were shaking and you could barely stand up straight. There were people watching you run up the street. They don’t need you to tell them where you’ve been. You’re obvious. All the time you’re yelling at your father on the phone, telling him he doesn’t understand you. Dinner becomes uncomfortable. Your parents scoop up the rice, put it in their mouths, look at you as they drink from their glasses, and then scoop some more rice. This is you losing your appetite. This is you locking yourself in your room, calling…no answer. Calling again. No answer. Finally, you roll over and go to bed. There is no enjoyment in life. You’re being melodramatic. You didn’t think it was foolish at the time —

“But do you see why that was wrong?” he says, sticking out his chest. The guy cracks his fingers by squeezing his fists. You wish he’d punch straight in the jaw. Sometimes you wish someone would inflict physical pain on you.

“Did you learn a lesson?”

18. Lesson?
Yes.
No.
Maybe.
Dodge the question.

19. College
I am the happiest I’ve been in a long time. Things have been going my way. I earned this column last semester, I became a Resident Assistant, I found a group of friends I’m comfortable around, and I have a significant other.

How did this happen?

Only three years ago, I was slicking my hair down with gel and listening to My Chemical Romance.

I did learn something from everything that’s happened up to this point: how to be self-sufficient. This is vital.

You need to learn to be happy with yourself.

I was the type of guy that couldn’t be alone. One thing fell apart and I immediately jumped into something else. I never allowed myself to heal or to reflect on my mistakes. There was never space for me to learn anything. I just kept on doing and moving on with my life. Sometimes life puts a foot down, sits you down, and suggests that you think for a damn minute.

What about being alone is so scary? What about looking into yourself for fulfillment is so hard?

There is something inside of you that no one else has. No one has the same existence as another person. There is something special about that.

Sure, there are people that aid you on your way.

A friend brings a hookah and you smoke through the night.

A friend buys you a box of wine and you drink it through the night.

A friend comes over and becomes more than your friend.

Had none of this happened…Well, I’d still have myself. That’s what matters. That’s what counts.

I stand from wherever I slipped and take another step.

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