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Reality boy, p.13
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       Reality Boy, p.13

           A. S. King
 
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  Christ, Gerald. Have a sense of humor.

  38

  “HOW’S YOUR ANGER?” Roger says.

  “It’s angry, I guess. I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen it,” I say.

  We look at each other.

  “None at all?”

  “Nope.”

  We look at each other again.

  “Seriously?”

  “Seriously,” I say. Truth: I’m a little high on the pain pills I took out of Mom’s medicine cabinet.

  “Proud of you, man.” He pats me on the arm and I can feel it vibrate all the way to my bruised, semi-numb ribs. “Last meeting you were still working on the feelings you had about your sister.”

  “She’s a douche,” I say.

  “Anger level?”

  “Maybe a three or four,” I answer. “Nothing too bad. She called me a loser yesterday and I didn’t care,” I lie.

  He looks at me like he knows I’m lying. “You on mellow pills or something?”

  “No.”

  “You know,” Snow White says. “You should probably tell him the truth.”

  “Anything going on at school?” Roger asks.

  Shut up, Snow White. “I’m good at algebra,” I say.

  “Algebra? Huh. Good for you, man.”

  “Thanks.” Yeah. Thanks for not noticing that most high school students are good at algebra two years ago and I’ve been purposely retarded by my own mother.

  Mental note: Shit. You really need to think on that, Gerald.

  Why would my mother want me to be retarded?

  And, more important, has her inherent need for me to be in SPED class made me the face-eating, Jacko-beating asshole I am today?

  Snow White pipes up. “You can make it sound like you and that boy were just fighting in the ring. That’s not bad, is it? He couldn’t have expected you to last this long without getting into the ring.”

  I shoot her a dirty look.

  “Is something wrong?” Roger asks.

  Everything is wrong. Everything is always wrong. Everything will always be wrong. But Roger doesn’t need to know any of this. Roger just needs me to get better. His supervisor needs to see annual improvement on my anger-survey scores and a decrease in incidents. That’s all Roger needs.

  “Did something happen?” Roger asks.

  “Nope.”

  He squints at me as if to say Come on.

  “I met a girl,” I say.

  I half expect a slap on the back and raucous laughter, even after his warnings. Men talking about girls. Girls: the answer to all of our problems.

  Instead, Roger winces. “Dude. Be careful.”

  “She’s cool,” I say.

  “I get it. You’re, like, seventeen and you like girls. I really get it,” he says. He taps his fingers together and looks for something else to say. “Just be careful. As much as you like her now, she’s going to drive you over the edge one day. I mean, this calm you have… it’s temporary.”

  Snow White makes that annoying giggle in her throat. “Temporary. Oh my. We didn’t expect that, did we?”

  “Gerald?”

  “Yeah?” It’s like he’s the Crapper and he just crapped right on my joy.

  “Did you hear me?” Roger asks.

  “Yeah.” I am so fucking sick of people crapping on my joy.

  “Is something wrong?”

  I look at him and I can hear the blood rushing through my ears.

  I look at Snow White and then at Roger. “How could anyone expect me to train in a gym full of aggressive assholes and not end up in the ring fighting one of them? I mean, shit. What were you guys thinking? Why didn’t you suggest tennis or some shit like that? Why boxing? I was already beating people up, right?” I say.

  Roger nods.

  “I mean, am I wrong to think that was one of the stupidest ideas you ever had? And where were my parents when I came home and told them that I’d be doing this? Are they that fucking stupid? Boxing? Seriously?”

  I’m watching him and I realize that he doesn’t even look disappointed. He almost looks happy that I’m saying this. Snow White is smiling so big I want to smack her. Have a sense of humor, Gerald.

  I look at Roger’s entertained expression and I say, “Hold on. Was this some kind of a test or something?”

  “Back up,” he says. “To the fight.” He cocks his head a little and smiles. “Did you win?”

  I remind myself that Roger was once an angry little jerk-off like the rest of us in FS. He’s been saved and wants to save me. Or maybe not. Asshole.

  And yet I can’t hold back my smirk. You’re an asshole, too, Gerald.

  Snow White looks disappointed in both of us.

  “Show me your hands,” he says.

  I do. He inspects the cracks and bruises and swellings. I lift my shirt without him having to ask, and show him my ribs. When I stretch my head downward, I see my skin has gone that deep purple-red color in spots and I wonder if I’m bleeding internally.

  And then I see us from the outside—from Snow White’s perspective. I see a dumb kid lifting his shirt to show a dumb grown man his bruised torso. I see them both celebrating the win over Jacko the fake Jamaican. It’s like they enjoy pain. It’s like they want to be angry and bruised. It’s like they’re proud of it.

  When I see it that way, I know it’s true. I am proud of it. I was proud the day I chewed that hole in What’s-His-Name’s cheek. I was proud on Saturday when I bit Tasha’s hand until it bled. I was proud every time I crapped on the kitchen table.

  I am addicted to anger.

  This makes me smile.

  Snow White says, “Gerald, why on earth are you happy about that?”

  What else do I have to be happy about?

  “I could name a thousand things,” she says.

  “So what’s the other kid look like today?” Roger asks.

  I let my shirt drop down, and I answer, “Roadkill.”

  We look at each other, two FS refugees. I want to ask him why he’s so concerned about me dating a girl. Was Roger some wife beater? Did he smack his kids around? Does he really think that girls can only lead to trouble?

  “Roadkill. Awesome. I’d put my money on you any day,” Roger says.

  Snow White and I stare at him. It’s like we just witnessed a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. Except that the butterfly isn’t quite what we expected it to be, because the whole world is full of shit.

  39

  I SPEND A half hour watching the Monaco trapeze video before I get ready for school. I’m late to the breakfast table and as I eat my breakfast and think about how Roger seemed to get off on seeing my bruises last night, Tasha comes upstairs in her bathrobe and says some stuff to Mom while I pretend she’s not there. Then she turns to me. “I hear you have yourself a girlfriend, big guy. You gonna bite her, too?”

  I ignore the bite comment and say, “What are you talking about? I don’t have a freakin’ girlfriend.”

  “Not what I heard,” Tasha says.

  “Aren’t you, like, twenty-one? Why are you hanging around here and gossiping about high school kids? Are you retarded or something?”

  I get up and walk out of the kitchen, and Tasha says, “I’m not the one in special ed.”

  I turn around and face the two of them. “Yeah, well, I’m not the loser living in my mom’s basement because I’m so stupid no college will take me after dropping out three times.”

  “Stop it,” Mom says.

  “I’ll make sure your new girlfriend gets the message that you don’t like girls,” Tasha says. “Danny knows her brother.”

  I shake my head and shrug. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but whatever it is, it sure as hell won’t get you a fuckin’ job, will it?”

  At this, I walk out the door to the garage. Danny is in the garage. I want to just jump on him and punch him until he becomes the garage floor—a big, huge, sticky red spot on the perfect concrete that Mom makes Dad power wash twice a year as if garages sho
uld be clean places where oil doesn’t leak and mice don’t pee.

  “Hey,” Danny says to me.

  “Hey,” I say, walking through the garage toward my car, which is in the driveway.

  “Can I use your speed bag?” he asks.

  “No,” I say.

  I get into my car and turn the ignition to warm it up and then I go back into the garage and Danny is still there, standing in the exact same spot as he was a minute ago when I said no. I think he’s trying to decide whether to use the speed bag while I’m at school. I realize that he belongs here in the Faust family. He is the half-wit son they always wanted. He can take my place.

  I go inside. I say to Mom, who is now standing in the kitchen by herself, “Mom, I figured out what I want for my birthday.”

  “Oh?” she says.

  “How about a gas card? You know—the kind that’s prepaid, so I can save some money this year before college.”

  She chuckles a little. “College?”

  I pick up my lunch, and when I get back into the garage, Danny is still standing there.

  “You can totally use the speed bag,” I say. “Just don’t sweat up my gloves, okay?”

  He’s still staring at me with the rodent stare as I close the garage door behind me.

  I don’t turn on any tribal music on my drive to school. I check twice to make sure I have my work pants in the backseat. Today I chose khakis. I think they make my ass look firmer and now I care about shit like this when I’m serving hockey fans from register #7.

  I’m so early, the student parking lot is empty. I open my backpack and pull out my library copy of Romeo and Juliet, the kind with plain English on one side and real Shakespeare on the other, which I started reading last night.

  As I read, I’m surprised by how it doesn’t go over my head, and angry that I thought it would.

  I am not retarded.

  My mother has a screw loose.

  She needs me to be dumb so Tasha will be happy.

  She wanted Lisi to not go to college so Tasha would be happy.

  Fuck.

  Have a sense of humor, Gerald.

  I try to have a sense of humor about this. Isn’t it funny how messed up this all is? It’s not you! It’s her! It’s them! That’s funny, right?

  When Hannah gets to our lunch booth, I’m still reading Romeo and Juliet and I’m just getting to the part where Romeo says “Ay, mine own fortune in my misery” and I read it twice—and I check the other page, in plain twenty-first-century English to be sure, and I laugh.

  “What’s so funny?”

  I can’t tell Hannah that I’m happy to not be retarded. So I say, “Oh, nothing. Just Shakespeare. Funny guy.”

  She nods and slips into the booth. “No lie. Have you read A Midsummer Night’s Dream yet?”

  “No.”

  “It’s hilarious,” she says.

  I suddenly feel dumb again. It’s so easy to feel dumb. There is no pressure there, in Dumbville. When you’re expected to be dumb, then crapping on stuff and never having read A Midsummer Night’s Dream is all the same big zero in your life.

  “Gerald?” Hannah says.

  I look at her, but I’m still thinking about how it’s more comfortable being dumb.

  “God,” she says, and sighs. “Sometimes you are so hard to talk to.”

  I say, “What?” like I’m irked, because I don’t want her to say that.

  “I said: You’re hard to talk to,” she says. “Because you go off in your own little world.” She leafs through a textbook while she says this, as if she’s not angry. Or maybe she isn’t angry. I can’t tell. She adds, “You always did, too.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?” I say. “I always did? You mean like since last week?”

  “No, Gerald, I mean like since you were a kid. On TV. You used to do it then, too,” she says.

  And I realize why dating is not a good idea for Gerald Faust.

  Dating isn’t good for Gerald Faust because everyone knows his secrets.

  And everyone has psychoanalyzed him.

  And everyone knows what his problem is.

  And everyone knows he has baggage.

  And everyone thinks they know how to help him.

  Because everyone believes what they see on TV.

  Because no one has realized yet that it’s all full of shit.

  “You don’t know shit about me when I was a kid, and not only did that break rule number three, but it was a stupid-ass thing to say and you’re completely fucking wrong.”

  She stares at me. She seems surprised.

  “I want an apology,” I say. I stand and gather my things from the booth.

  “But you did, Gerald. You did used to go off into your own world,” she says. “And you still do it.”

  “You don’t know anything about anything,” I say. “You’re just a fucking brainwashed moron like the rest of them,” I say—okay, I mutter—on my way past her toward the cafeteria door.

  I eat my lunch in the hallway outside Fletcher’s room, where Deirdre and Jenny are eating and talking about TV shows.

  Mom packed her famous chicken salad today and it doesn’t taste anything like it tasted last week. That’s probably because I’m realizing that her needing me to be learning disabled could compare to her wanting me to be in a wheelchair… all so Tasha could run faster.

  It would take a lot of kick-ass chicken salad to make me un-realize that.

  40

  “YOU CALLED ME a brainless moron,” Hannah says.

  She’s walking me to my car and I haven’t offered her a ride, so I’m about to tell her not to get in when she gets in. Mental note: Lock car from now on.

  “Well? Didn’t you?” she yells.

  “No,” I say, now trapped in a cold car with a screeching teenage girl. I am thankful for rule #5. I am thankful this hasn’t gone far. “And who invited you into my car?”

  “You called me a brainless moron,” she says again.

  I look at her. “No, I didn’t. I called you a brainwashed moron like the rest of TV viewers who think they know Gerald Faust but who don’t know anything about Gerald Faust. And no, I’m not apologizing. You broke rule number three in a big way. Using some bullshit you once saw on the TV against me is way out of line, Hannah.”

  I get out the driver’s-side door, I walk around the back of my car, and I open the passenger’s-side door like a gentleman. I stand there until she gets out, and once she walks toward the buses, I walk around to the driver’s side of my car and get in.

  And that’s when I see she’s written ASSHOLE on my dashboard in silver Sharpie marker.

  My drive to work is fast.

  When I get there, Beth, who is hovering over a full hot dog roller, says, “It’s Dollar Night. I have to make four hundred of these before we open. And I haven’t even started anything else.” At this moment, I try to imagine her skinny-dipping and drinking beer with her friends and I can’t see it. I can’t see anything but the wrinkles of Dollar Night worry on her forehead.

  My phone buzzes in my pocket and I don’t want to look, because I’m sure it’s Hannah playing some ASSHOLE game with me. “I’ll get everything else,” I say. And I do. I fill the ice, count my cash, set up the condiment stand, fix the cheese dispenser for the trillions of Dollar Nachos to come.

  By the time I’m done, Hannah has been at register #1 counting her cash for ten minutes. Each of us pretends the other isn’t there. It’s perfect until Beth asks her to come over and help her wrap hot dogs. I’m already wrapping hot dogs, so we stand there and wrap silently and I give her a few dirty looks and she gives me dirty looks and then we go back to not looking at each other.

  After a minute, Beth says, “Shit. The tension here is intense.” When neither of us answers, she laughs to herself and answers for us. “Yes, Beth, it is. It’s because we’re teenagers and can’t figure out how to talk to each other.”

  “Hey!” Hannah says. “I’m not some idiot just because of my age.


  “Yeah,” I say.

  “So what’s the problem?” Beth asks.

  I shrug.

  Hannah says, “I asked Gerald today to stop going off into his little dreamworld because it’s hard to deal with him when he does that and he freaked out on me and called me a brainless moron.”

  “I did not call you a brainless moron. I called you a brainwashed moron because you brought up the bullshit you saw on the TV from when I was five. Jesus! How the fuck would you feel if I had twenty-four-seven movies of your house when you were five and said something like Hannah, stop being so emotional. You’ve always been emotional—don’t you remember that time when you were five?” I take a breath. “Anyway, if you believe that’s really what my house was like, you’re wrong. And so making judgments from those bullshit shows… or even bringing it the hell up is just out of line, man.”

  “But you do space out,” Hannah presses.

  “Yeah, I do. So fuckin’ what? Who doesn’t need a minute to themselves every now and then, okay? I space out. I go on a journey. I zone. Whatever. Who cares? And why does that give you the right to psychoanalyze me?” I say.

  Hannah sighs. She has tears in her eyes. “Look. At lunch, I was just trying to say that sometimes you’re hard to talk to. And you’ve proven that I’m right in every possible way. Whatever. Be immature if you want. I don’t care.”

  She walks away from the hot dog–wrapping table and leaves me and Beth here, wrapping. My phone buzzes in my pocket again and I can see it’s not Hannah texting me, so I stop and take off my plastic glove to check the message.

  It’s from Joe Jr. Can you talk? That’s the first text, from earlier.

  Dude. Can you talk? That’s the second text.

  I tell Beth that I have to go to the bathroom and I find my way to the smokers’ alley, where I first met Joe. I dial his number, but he doesn’t answer. I leave a voice mail.

  “Hey, Joe. It’s Gerald. I just got your texts and wanted to talk. I’m working, though, so I have to go back now, but I’ll call you again on break.” Oh shit. I remember it’s Dollar Night and there are no breaks. Okay. “Or I’ll call you when I’m off work. Hey, I was serious about me coming to see you. I want to do it. My birthday’s in a week, and I asked my mom for a gas card.”

 
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