Thursday, September 27
I remember the last normal day of school so perfectly. It’s like it happened yesterday. Like it’s still happening somewhere, in another place where we were all innocent forever. Before the blood. Before I became afraid to open my own damn curtains.
That last normal day at Jefferson Waller High School, aka “The Wall,” was an ordinary Thursday. It was warm for late September in Missouri. The sun was shining. I was in the second lunch period, Lunch B. I sat in the cafeteria with Jake, Cameron, and Gordo, like I always did.
The four of us were on the football team, and we’d hung out together since freshman year. We always sat at the same table near the wall of windows. That was our spot, and if any clueless individual dared sit there in Lunch B, they soon scrambled out of the way when over seven hundred pounds of all-American football players came walking toward them with loaded trays. Cameron’s ugly mug probably helped chase them off too. Sometimes girls sat with us. Jennifer and her friend Kat, when I was dating her. Rachel, when Jake had been dating her. But on that last normal day, it was just us four.
There’s a video game where you roll a ball around a landscape and things stick to it, making the ball bigger and bigger. A lot of things in my life felt like that, like they’d gotten stuck to me by sheer proximity, rather than being a deliberate choice I made. My man Jake, though, was a choice. We’d been best friends since sixth grade. We’d been on baseball, football, and basketball teams together for ages, always watching each other’s backs.
Jake had gotten big over the years. He was a defensive linebacker for The Wall, four inches taller and fifty pounds heavier than me. He had way more dark stubble and chest hair and stuff than I had too, even though we were both seventeen. I gave Jake shit, calling him Neanderthal Man. But then, he called me Baby Face, so we were even.
Cameron and Gordo, though—they were like the things that stick to the ball. Because we were all on the football team and in Lunch B, we started sitting together. And sometimes I’d show up at Jake’s house to play some b-ball in his driveway, and Cameron and Gordo would be there. Wouldn’t have been my choice to hang out with them, but whatever.
Cameron was big too, only he wasn’t exactly a chick magnet like Jake. Cameron’s face was squashed in, like he’d been hit by a fist while in the womb. His buzzed blond hair and flat face made him look like a bulldog. He had a mean streak, which he used in force as an offensive lineman.
Gordo was smaller than Jake and Cameron, though still bigger than me. He had red-brown hair and lots of freckles and zits. He was the sort of guy you didn’t notice. He never said a whole lot other than to agree with Cameron. About everything. And he was an offensive lineman because Cameron was. I kept that opinion to myself.
I got along with Cameron and Gordo fine when we played ball. But sometimes when Cameron got on one of his rants, it was all I could do not to smash his face in some more. He could be a bigoted asshole, and God knew, I got enough of that at home. That Thursday, as we finished scarfing our lunch, Cameron started going off on this black girl, Simone Lawrey, from his Calculus class, calling her a stuck-up cunt because she wouldn’t let him cheat off her homework. I stood up and shoved my chair back.
“I’m gonna go toss some ball,” I said.
Jake grabbed the idea like a lifeline. “Hell yeah, let’s get out of this building for ten minutes. You coming, or you just wanna sit here and whine like a little bitch?” he asked Cameron.
“Fuck you,” Cameron said without any heat. He crammed the rest of his burger in his mouth and Gordo copied him. They grinned at each other with pieces of bun sticking out of their mouths, like it was funny.
It was sort of funny.
The four of us headed out. The cafeteria, main entrance, office, auditorium, and gym are in the center of the school. A, B, C, and D wings come off the center like spokes and have most of the classrooms. We cut down D-Wing since it was the fastest way to get to the football field. A group of girls passed us, and they giggled and flirted with Jake and me. I gave them a smile and a “Hey, how’s it going?” I mostly did this because it pissed Cameron off that girls liked me and Jake but not him.
Revenge is sweet, however small and petty.
When we burst out the doors, the day was so fine, I immediately felt better. I got the football out of my backpack. That ball was my own personal happy place. There’s a whole thing about living in the moment, right? When I played ball, I lived in the moment. In that moment, no one was lecturing me, trying to get something from me, or talking smack. There was only the ball and my body and movement. Strategy. A goal. Teamwork.
When I played ball, I was what my dad and everyone else wanted me to be, and at the same time I was 100 percent myself, because I loved it.
No surprise that I played ball as much as I could. Football in the fall. Basketball in the winter. Baseball in the spring.
Of course, all of that was before.
We walked under the portico toward the football field, the big north parking lot to our left and the school’s front lawn to our right. I tossed the ball up in the air and caught it, over and over. Jake was talking about Friday night’s game against Kennett. There was a rumor their quarterback had taken a bad hit a few weeks ago and his knee was bruised. It had slowed him down.
I half listened, stoked that Kennett’s kick-ass quarterback would be weakened for our game.
Karma, man. It’s a bitch.