Mrs. Kerr’s first period history class made me think of death.
Ways to die, ways to kill, what happens to a soul after death, what a decomposing body looked like and, most importantly, who would care for me as I lay on my death bed.
For at this moment, Mrs. Kerr’s lecture on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, paved a lane towards my death.
And I am not talking about some existential death; my body and soul atrophied every time Mrs. Kerr droned on about economic indicators, supply and demand or President Hoover’s threatened veto.
Almost out of my seat and on the floor, I stirred when another history teacher - Mr. Wilkins - strode in. I feared the worst: team teaching about the Great Depression. Didn’t they see the painful irony of teaching us about depression?
I had already used up my three bathroom passes for the week. Blinking blindly, I looked at Carrie for relief, but she was elsewhere. I closed my eyes and begged: Please, no more about 100 year-old economic history!
Wilkins coughed and apologized for interrupting our lesson. I detected a distraction. His presence had nothing to do with the 1929 stock market crash. I was saved! I would take anything, nor matter how short or irrelevant – just say something to get us off track, Mr. Wilkins. Come on!
Wake me up!
“Wade Castle has been in a horrible accident and is in the hospital…”
I was now thoroughly awake. Wade Castle, a classmate of mine since kindergarten, owed me $200 for a big bag of pot.
And I needed that $200 for my plan to work.
That goon Wraithe expected his $100 by fourth period and I planned to use the other $100 to buy two bus tickets, one for me and the other for Carrie Unser, to take us out of this god forsaken town before the school day was done.
I looked over at Carrie, who had not heard Mr. Wilkin’s news. Buds in both ears, Carrie resided somewhere else, somewhere better. She was always somewhere better. And she always found that place. What a magician.
She stared out of the room’s one window. A rectangular strip at the top of the wall that from my view revealed only sky but from Carrie’s view a world of fantasy flourished.
Carrie had the ability to break every rule in the book – texting, looking out windows, listening to music, ignoring teachers – and never received a scolding. Teachers thought her mute, when, in truth, Carrie preferred not to talk. But she could talk. I know she could. She had nothing to say to teachers, and teachers, for some reason, gifted her a disability that was like a free hall pass.
I had to get her this news because if we didn’t get Wraithe his money and what we needed for the bus tickets, then, not only did my future look bleaker than ever, but I would have to attend period seven, math with Mrs. Janicle. The pressure was on.
And pressure unnerved me. Carrie dealt with it like a Buddha. She taught me about quieting the chattering monkey, controlling my desires, embracing the opposites that flow in the continuum of my existence, but all I could do was rage and cry.
“May I go to the bathroom?”
“No Brink, you have gone enough this week.”
Denied, I committed myself to staring at Carrie until she looked at me, which she did but didn’t, because she was looking in my direction but not at me. She was floating in her fey way, and my waving at her did nothing to break her spell. If I didn’t love Carrie more than life I’d throw something at her.
“Yes Brink,” Mr. Wilkins startled me, “Do you want to say something about Wade?”
Students in front turned to look at me. They expected me to not only answer Mr. Wilkins, but to make it lengthy. Kill the clock.
“Well, Mr. Wilkins, Wade, he, is, well, was,” I looked up to see the students in front of staring. Their collective countenance expressed a threat: Don’t mess this up Brink! Do your job!
The period had barely begun. I felt a duty to drain those minutes away and to kill any more nonsense talk that involved economics.
“Mr. Wilkins, are you sure he’s in the hospital? Do you know when he will be out?”
“Yeah,” Ludmilla Soares added, “I swear I saw Head in the parking lot this morning.”
Ludmilla had grabbed the reins from me. She – and by extension the class – had no confidence in me. Smart kids. I was not good on my feet.
Students had bestowed upon Wade the heartless nickname ‘Head’ after being hit in the head by a school bus during his kindergarten year.
“Please Ludmilla, do not refer to Wade by that name,” Mrs. Kerr said.
“But he’s not here, so what does it matter what we call him?”
“Respect, Ludmilla. It is about respect,” Mrs. Kerr added.
“Oh, you talk about respect. Do you have any idea what it’s like to sit in these chairs for eighty-six minutes and you won’t let me go to the can no more?”
“Ludmilla, please, this is a solemn moment.”
“Talk to me about solemn…”
Ludmilla earned our respect for her ability to burn eight minutes more of class arguing about the meaning of words with Mrs. Kerr.
She even wiggled a bathroom pass from Mrs. Kerr.
During their exchange, I had looked at Carrie, who remained in her private la-la land. Her head lay on her arms, her face pointed away from me towards the cement wall. Her pink hair slid from her shoulders off the desk.
Carrie had changed me. I looked at her back and she still had the power to evoke so much within me. She opened me up.
I did not know that I existed. That I had potential.
Before Carrie Under I was resigned.
With her I had the strength to escape my prison. And despite this immediate obstacle with Wade, I intend to do exactly that.
Mr. Wilkins delivered what sounded more and more like a eulogy for Wade. How would I be eulogized?
I wasn’t always such a despairing lump. How would some student begin to fashion me that captured my entire self, and not the latest incarnation? How would – could – someone make me look good, worth tears and lamentation. Oh, Brink was gone – how she would be missed!
Mr. Wilkin’s talked to us for twelve minutes. Ludmilla and Mrs. Kerr ate up those eight minutes. Twenty minutes down. There remained sixty-six minutes. Impossible challenge. If Mrs. Kerr would let me out I’d pull the fire alarm. I would. Someone should. Ludmilla! I willed Ludmillla to pull the alarm. Please Ludmilla – pull the alarm!
The chair prevented me from moving. I couldn’t cross my legs. When I sat at a right angle Mrs. Kerr instructed to sit correctly. Carrie counseled me at moments like this to find a place to inhabit.
“A fairy land?” I asked. “I’m not really the fairy land type.”
“It doesn’t have to be a fairy land. How about this – put yourself into a story.”
“Yes, one that requires a long narrative arc. Keep building upon it. I have stories hundred, thousands of pages long in my head. I go to them often, add to them, edit parts out.”
“What do you do in your stories?”
“Oh, many things. I used to be a heroine, saving people from bad people. Yes, lots of saving. And I’d be given rewards, vast rewards.”
“What were the rewards?”
“You don’t seem to be the materialistic type, Carrie.”
“Oh, once I was very materialistic. Now I understand its Venus flytrap qualities.”
“So what makes our narrative go now?”
“Imagistic, surreal, dada.”
“I love that you know so little Brink. You know, dada – the absurd.”
Yes, I suspected Carrie had the absurd down. Despite her strange way of saying she liked me, I tried out her idea of inhabiting a story. I decided to become the person who effaced the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.
I did destroy the Act and I was feted to a street parade!
Sixty-six minutes went by surprisingly fast.
The bell released me. A torrent of tension flooded space. Students caught in a mire, I pushed past them all out into the hall where I breathed like a surfer surfacing from a wave that had held her under water for dangerously long seconds.
Carrie found me leaned against a row of lockers like a person on a ledge thinking of jumping.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“My death is imminent.”
“Carrie, you didn’t hear what Wilkins said?”
It went like this with Carrie. A mix of non sequiturs, puns, zen koans, which have that leveling affect that disarmed strangers. But I was not a stranger.
“Wade’s in the hospital.”
“He is not.”
“He is. That’s what Wilkin’s told us.”
“Really? There’s no sense of melancholy in the atmosphere. I can detect melancholy. Are you sure?”
“Carrie, Wade owed us money?”
“Me. Okay, me, he owed me money. But the money was for us, to escape this hell.”
“This is hell?”
“Carrie, you know the plan. Period six we head for the bus station and we move to the city.”
“I thought that was your individual plan?”
“Carrie, no, we are getting out of this place. We have to. My life depends upon it. My home, my dad, you know all about this. Don’t do this to me.”
“I haven’t packed.”
“Forget that. Look, we need to find money. Wraithe is expecting his money by fourth period. Who can we get money from?”
“I have no money.”
“I know Carrie. That’s why we have to think hard right now. Come on, think!”
Carrie did her best to think about the matter at hand, but I didn’t trust her to stay focused on it for long. She already looked distantly down the hall. I was on my own.
“Pain and anguish worry me. You don’t seem worried that Wade is hurt. What kind of person are you Brink?”
“You know that creep tried to rape me. Don’t you listen to anything I say? When I gave him the pot he and his shadow Jenson threw me on the ground and ripped my shirt.”
“That’s not rape.”
“It’s enough for me not to care that he’s hurt, other than he owed me money.”
“Owes. He’s not dead.”
“Don’t get grammatical on me.”
“I have a strong suspicion that Wade is not hurt.”
“You don’t have much use for reality, do you Carrie?”
She looked down the hall.
I kissed Carrie, told her I’d see her at the end of period two and headed towards Mr. Dykstra’s office.
“Brink, nice to see you. I have a meeting. Can’t talk.”
“I need money Mr. Dykstra, bad.”
“Forgot your lunch? Sure, what do you need? Will five dollars do?”
“No, Mr. D, five dollars will not do. I need $200, bad.”
“What do you need $200 for, Brink? We’ve talked about drugs.”
“No, it’s not about drugs, well, not exactly. Mr. D – you know my story. I can’t survive one minute longer at home, and this school is destroying me. I see enemies everywhere, I can’t collaborate with my peers, I feel these walls have teeth and claws and…”
“Brink, we’ve gone over this before. Your parents are wonderful people who care about you, you are not disliked at this school, and as for the teeth and claws - ”
“Mr. D, stop! You don’t know what it’s like to be me. I’m telling you, my end is near.”
“How will $200 help?”
“I’m heading out of town today on a bus, after period six, with Carrie.”
“And where are you and Carrie Unser headed?”
“Brink, here’s five dollars. Go to the cafeteria and buy a muffin. You look hungry. Come by later and we’ll talk.”
Mr. Dykstra squeezed by me and left the guidance office. $195 to go.