Tornados and O’s

– Michael Aronovitz

I got in trouble at
school. I cut French class and went to hang out in the bathroom on the second
floor in the lower atrium by the cafeteria. My friend Wally Finnigan was there
by the sinks smoking an E-Cig. When I’d come through the door he’d straightened
and folded his arms, turning the cigarette up into his palm. The “cool look”
made you look stiff and uncool, but he was a sophomore.

“You scared me shit,” he
said.

“Don’t burn yourself.”

“Won’t, no worries.” He
took another drag, his prop-hand back on the rim of the sink area, his butt up
against it as well. Behind him, the depression in the chipped porcelain up by
the faucet had water build-up with soap residue floating the skin like an oil
slick. One sink away someone had jammed paper towels in the drain and left a
scum-pond, and the sink to my right was speckled on one side with curly hairs
that looked pubic. Made me think for a sec about why I was noticing this stuff
and wonder why I was noticing my noticing and all that.  Maybe I was O.D.D. or something.

“You going to take Patty
Marsh to the Spring Formal?” I said.

“Naw.  Ginny Finster.”

My eyebrows peaked up.

“Ginny Finster?  The junior with the pink-tipped bangs and
fuck-me hips?”

He winked, but it was
because he always did that while inhaling.

“The one and the same.”

“She’s good looking,
bro.”

“Yup.”

“You’re kicking past your
coverage,” I said, but he didn’t respond. Thinking about it, when we played
video games on X-Box they were always war related, like Call of Duty – Black Ops 3. I didn’t even know if he watched sports
come to think of it, let alone if he played them.  I’d met him a month or so ago at lunch. He’d
had on a funny black hat that looked like he’d borrowed it from some dude named
Pierre, painting out in the mountains of France or whatever. That took balls.

“Is she sweet or stupid?”
I said.

“Mysterious.”

“You got wheels?  You gonna do her?”

He looked at me.

“She plays clarinet.”

In a crazy way that
defined things.

The door came open with a bang making us jump because
the steel door handle smacked against the block wall by the yellow industrial
trash can. It was Mr. Tulley, the campus aid.
He had a bent over, crooked look to him, he walked bow legged. He had
thinning silver hair and a round baggy face, one of those older guys who
couldn’t admit he didn’t look quite natural in jeans anymore.

“Gimme that,” he said, grabbing Wally’s cig. He paused
to get all deep and look at it like a chemistry professor staring at a beaker. Then
he palmed it meaningfully. “Still warm,” he said. He licked his lips. Wally looked
down at the floor. I felt bad for him. That was a Vuse. He’d gotten it at the
Funky Monkey, not some gas station.

“You’re coming with me,” he said, grabbing Wally’s arm.
You could tell Wally wanted to yank it away, but he didn’t. “You too,” Tulley
said, jerking his forehead my way.

“Why?”

“You’re in this.”

“How?” I put my thumbs under the straps of my backpack
and switched my casual stance from the weight on the left with the right toe
pointed out to the other way around. He blinked and his cheek twitched.

“You’re cutting class.”

“Am not.”

“Where’s your pass?” He
was still holding onto Wally’s arm like a toddler at the zoo.

“You’re kidding, right?”
I said. “I don’t need written permission to take a squirt, yo.”

He moved his mouth a
second and nothing came out. It wasn’t as easy to grab me around, because I was
a senior. There were unwritten rules. I was eighteen and I was bigger than
Wally. It was late April. I was ready for my senior project where I was going
to student teach 4th graders in my mother’s district where she ran
special ed.

“Come with me or it’s
your ass,” he said.  His face had gone a
funny shade of red.  He’d picked a hill
to die on.

#

When Dad got home I was
sitting on the couch button-mashing on my tablet, making Deathstroke beat the
living shit out of Spiderman. Ma was knitting with her glasses on the end of
her nose, lips pursed and sour.

“Hey,” Dad said.

“Hey,” I said. I turned
the tablet up sideways and was tapping so hard my tongue was poked out the side
of my mouth.

“Are the soda cans still
scattered up in your room?” he said.

“Yup.”

“How about the paper
trash?”

“Same.”

“Bed made?”

“Naw.”

He walked past to the
kitchen to get a beer.

“I’m glad we had this
discussion,” he said over his shoulder.

“He got written up by
Bagley,” Ma said.

Dad was back in the
archway quicker than I anticipated he would be. A Heineken was in his hand even
though he preferred his Sam Adams. They’d been out at the drive through
distributor yesterday and he’d gone with his second choice, his stand by, but
they’d changed the recipe. Piss-water he’d said. I didn’t drink, but I knew
every time he took a sip he’d be more and more annoyed as the night went on.

“Do tell,” he said.

“I was searched because
they thought I had drugs.”

“What do you mean,
‘searched?’”

“You know.  Strip searched.”

“What?” His voice had
gone quiet, like hushed. Ma put down her knitting and folded her hands in her
lap. She was going into story telling posture.

“Mr. Bagley called me in
the middle of an I.E.P meeting I was having with Andre’s mother, and you know
how tough she can be. It was a mess. I was on hold for ten minutes and when Mr.
Bagley finally came back on, I begged him not to suspend him, you know, because
he’s worked with us before…”

“Katherine?” Dad said,
almost a whisper now.

“Hmm?”

“Do me a favor. Go on the
computer upstairs and find me Bagley’s email address, no better yet, the
Principal’s email.”

“Oh,” she said. Now it
was her turn to talk quietly. She made for the stairs rather quickly.

“Talk,” Dad said, still
in the archway. I put my feet up on the coffee table. My shoes were off. I have
knobby feet and they looked awkward, so I pulled them back down.

“I was in the bathroom
with Wally. He was smoking an E-cig.
Tulley the aid came in and made us go to Bagley.”

“Go on,” Dad said, coming
in to sit across from me in the space Ma just vacated. He didn’t like Bagley;
he’d never met Bagley; they had history, the kind where they knew about each
other indirectly like dogs chained up at opposite ends of the block. When I got
caught cutting a bunch of classes earlier in the year Bagley had sent a note
home claiming I needed to see a social worker. When Dad saw that statement he’d
almost blown a gasket, because Bagley was no “social psychologist.” And I
wasn’t cutting class to piss in the pool and chuck pencils into the drop
ceiling either. The fact was simply that I’d racked up so many hours working at
the Pet Valu that I went to the maintenance closet near the pool to sleep on
the wrestling mats sometimes, during dumb-shit classes like cooking and
environmental studies.  Dad called the
school for me, to basically tell Bagley he had no right to judge whether or not
his son needed to see a social worker, but Mrs. Juniper the attendance lady
took care of it, erasing the suggestion from the record.

“No one likes Bagley,” I
said. “He bullies teachers and disrespects students. He makes comments to the
girls. He used to teach gym. How he got to be Vice Principal is the biggest
mystery on the planet.”

“What did you have on
you?”

“A couple of empty Hookah
containers.  I wasn’t carrying a Mod or
anything like that –“

“English please.”

I folded my arms up high
like a kid.

“I didn’t have a tank and
a canister and a battery or anything. Just replacement bottles.”

“You shouldn’t smoke that
shit.”

“I know. But I like it. I
do smoke tricks. I can do like forty of them – like variations of Ghosts, O’s,
French’s, and Tornados. Gets me chicks.”

He smiled in a thin line.

“You like being old
enough to tell me this shit, don’t you? Well, bravo. I can just feel the moment
of empowerment in the air.  Is it
illegal?”

I laughed.

“They don’t know what it
is to tell the truth. I don’t think so.”

“You like smoking your Hookah
bullshit so much you don’t mind being on this asshole’s radar?”

“Yeah. You keep drinking
beer and eating noodles with white clam sauce even though your asshole doctor
says it flares up your gout?”

Our eyes laughed and
twinkled back and forth for a second. It was good being eighteen.

“So tell me about
Bagley,” Dad said. “What did he do exactly? And don’t leave anything out. Go
slowly. Think. Your retells are always all over the place and I need details in
the right order.”

“Yeah,” I said, “so he
gets me in that small office and starts joking back and forth with Tulley all
about me but in the third person, like, ‘These seniors sure are cocky and
stupid, aren’t they, Mr. Tulley? Just walking around thinking they own the
place, acting like scumbags, sliding through the system like sewage’ and
what-not. Then he empties my bag and finds the juice canisters. Then he has me
take off my sneakers and he smells them.”

“He what?”

“He smelled them, like
putting his nose deep inside and inhaling like it’s a flower and he’s a poet on
first day of spring and all that. Said it smelled like weed. Gave it to Tulley,
and he sort of held it away and sniffed at the general area. Said he couldn’t
smell anything, but Bagley told me to take down my pants.”

“Oh, he did, did he?”

I looked over like you
did when you realized you were talking to someone but saying it to the wall,
and sweat broke out on my forehead, because Dad was a bit psycho about stuff if
he got riled enough. He’d taught English for years in the city and always
struggled with Principals and authority figures and bullies. He especially
didn’t like big bullies, physically big, like Bagley. Even though I was five
foot eleven inches, Dad was small, like five foot five and three quarters, not
small enough where you look at him and say, “Whoa, that guy is short!” but
short enough that big guys with attitudes could present a problem in certain
circumstances.

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “So I
take down my jeans, and I’m not wearing undies, but instead I have on my
flannel jammies, the black ones with the stars on them. So he frisks up the
sides of them, grabs at the pockets, and suddenly I got paranoid thinking he
was going to pull them down and shit. I grabbed the top band and said, ‘Get off,
Bagley,’ and then he went to call Ma.
Gave me a detention.”

Dad got up without
another word.

He emailed Principal
Larraby. He showed me the email. He was mostly bitching about the shoe
sniffing, but he claimed he wanted a meeting with everyone involved, especially
Bagley. Larraby got back to him saying they were allowed to search students
suspected to have illegal substances. He said he was at a conference and if Dad
wanted a meeting to email his secretary. He said I would have to be there and
that my Dad would have to face Bagley…he said it just like that too, as if my
Dad wasn’t the one to have made that suggestion in the first place.  The secretary gave us an appointment Tuesday
of next week, and Dad sent another email saying that Tuesday wasn’t good enough
especially since he wanted to discuss “an administrator’s improper conduct with
a child.” Larraby agreed to a meeting tomorrow at 4:00.  Dad asked if Larraby was going to have
Bagley’s union representative there and counsel. Larraby said, “No, will you
have counsel?” Dad answered casually, “No.”

Larraby and Bagley were
counting on the helplessness parents felt when put in a board room to face authority
figures. They were counting on unspoken rules of custom and decorum.  They were bullies, ready to prey on the
instinct most people had to be courteous, to listen, to do what they were told,
to be team players and rational adults.

Dad retired from public
schools last year. He taught a couple of courses at community now. He had been
a good father to me, and if there was ever anyone who believed in decorum, it
was Dad.  

He’d also never won the
boardroom; we’d heard his war stories. Said they were snake pits, no place for
anyone with an ounce of decency even though everyone talked in these soft silky
voices.

The next day after my
detention I went down to the lobby for the meeting.

Dad was waiting.

#

He was in the waiting
area, sitting in a chair facing the hallway, staring blankly through the big glass
picture windows. His feet were together and his hands were in his lap. He was
wearing his black dress pants, a black sweater, and his purple tie. He’d gotten
a haircut and the sides were buzzed nearly to the scalp. He was staring
straight forward and his eyes were stone. His hands were folded in his lap and
his knees were together, almost as if he was trying to make himself look
smaller than he was. The stare was unnerving and weird. I knew the offset was
purposeful.  He looked like a little
psycho.

I took a seat next to
him.

“I hear Bagley went canvasing
my teachers today,” I muttered through the side of my mouth. “Asking whether I
was late all the time, sleeping during lecture, you know.”

“That’s fine,” Dad said. I
had to strain to hear him. “When we go in,” he continued, “don’t speak unless I
invite it, clear?”

“Yeah,” I said. This was
important on a whole new level, I could tell. Dad usually joked about things, all
sarcastic and shit, especially when he first saw me after not seeing me for a
day at school or a sleep-over or whatever, but there was no joking now. He’d
told Ma to stay home.  She’d been
disappointed and he’d said there would be no place for her in this boardroom. What
he’d meant was that it would be no place for cooperation, discussion,
commiseration, compromise, or listening.

And the little guy
sitting with his hands folded and his little leather bag at his ankles was
going to be underestimated. In fact, he had been counting on it.

Someone walked behind us,
and I turned to look. It was Principal Larraby. He’d been in the nest of offices
back here all along, probably noticing us through the slit in a door or
something, but not positioned close enough to listen, at least it didn’t seem
so. He was wearing a dress shirt, a brown tie, and dark pressed slacks. He had
pointy administrator’s shoes that were shiny and an identification card in
plastic fastened to a lanyard around his neck. Larraby was a little guy too,
but a different breed than Dad.  Larraby had
a sharp and skinny lawyer’s sort of a face.
He had a wiry stance, and that sober expression that always defined the
smartest guy in the room, the one who came from money, the captain of the
debate team, the one who aced all his college classes, the little guy’s guy who
always knew how to win over the thugs, speaking for them and laughing at those just
outwitted behind closed doors. He was bald up top and had one of those pronounced
ridge bones going front to back on his skull like some warrior’s helmet,
perfectly shaven and shining under the lobby fluorescents.

“I’ll be with you guys in
a second,” he said, all “friendly coach,” the confident camp counselor, walking
briskly past the front desk and to his office behind it back to the left.

In front of us two men
were approaching from the hall, talking to each other, but you couldn’t hear
anything through the glass.  

“That’s Bagley,” I
whispered, “the bigger one. The older guy is the campus aid, Tulley.”

Dad might have looked but
I couldn’t tell because he wasn’t moving his head. I believe he flicked his
eyes for a glance, but I couldn’t be sure.

Tulley looked like the
eager side-kick walking alongside the reigning school bully. Bagley was wearing
loafers, khakis, and a green golf shirt. He was six foot five with thick black
hair slicked back. He had those flat hard eyes that sneered at you, letting you
know up front that he might not have been Ivy League material, but he had a
lifelong track record of being cunning and cutting and personal and mean,
making people submit. He was the big kid who threw a kickball into your face at
recess, the creep who took your lunch money and shoved you hard against a stall
door in the bathroom, the big drunk at the Phillies game wearing a cap turned
backward and his collar up, thinking it was cool to get out of his seat, groove
to the music between innings with his eyes slitted and his lips puckered, and then
yell at some quiet guy five seats down, saying he was a faggoty-ass Red Sox fan
who needed to go shave his armpits or what-not.

When he came through the
door I saw him size Dad up and smirk. He’d already seen Dad through the glass,
so this close up display was for show, for us, so we’d sweat. He shook his head
ever so slightly, all cocky and subtle, looking at something he picked up on
the counter and letting breath come through his nose. Before he went off to the
office, he hitched up his pants and rubbed his nose. In his mind it seemed he
was bathing himself in the roar of the mob as an announcer reeled off his
corner color, his weight, and the fact that he was currently undefeated.

They called us in right
off, and Dad told me later that this was a huge mistake. Trick number one was
to make parents sit and sit and sit, minimum of forty-five minutes so they
would rethink things, out-guess themselves, let their argument lose focus and
venom.

But they had already made
a plethora of errors.

Similar to the above,
they’d granted Dad a meeting soon after the fact instead of a week later, when
he would have had time to think and rationalize and measure the idea of making a
stink, slowly wearing down to admitting to himself that he “just didn’t want
any trouble.” Larraby had insisted on email that they didn’t do strip-searches
and had divulged the fact that he was not bringing counsel.

I followed Dad into the
boardroom.

#

Tulley moved to the head
of the table on the near side, and Larraby was set up at the far end.  Dad and I had the left side and Bagley was
across from us. We were all standing for a second behind our maroon cushy
chairs. Larraby leaned forward and shook Dad’s hand. Then Bagley reached across
the table. Dad shook his hand with the old grip-firm and one-pump, but he
looked away when he did it, letting Bagley’s hand go with a cast-off just hard
enough to send a message like calling a guy “pal” or “chief” when everyone and
their mother’s knew you weren’t talking “friend” or fearless leader” or
anything.

We sat. Larraby had papers
in front of him, two piles. Bagley had a manila folder open on the table at his
elbow. Tulley was sitting a bit back and away with his forearms on his thighs,
hands folded. He had a smile in his eyes, the bench player on the team stacked
with hardened veterans. Larraby sat back, legs crossed, pen up by his ear as if
he was about to click it for punctuation.

“This is Mr. Bagley, our
Vice Principal and Dean of Student Discipline,” he said. “And this is Mr.
Tulley, our head campus aid. He retired from the police force three years ago
and we’re fortunate to have had him come aboard.”

Dad hadn’t moved. He was
on the edge of the seat cushion, knees together, looking quiet and small. Larraby
sat forward with purpose then, all business, eyebrows furrowed as if drawing
together his concentration for the next phase where the going got tough and he
was the man to put all the ducks in rows. He put down his pen and spread his
hands over his papers, looking at them.

“Ok,” he said, “We’ll
start with –“

“It’s not Ok,” Dad
said.  Larraby’s eyes flashed up.

“What?”

“It’s not Ok,” Dad said. “This
isn’t your meeting.  I called this meeting.
I’m not interested in your papers and your agenda. I’m interested in telling
you what I’m after. I’m going to tell you how this is going to go, and you are
going to sit there and listen.”

“Really?” Larraby said, sitting
back, eyes wide. He was amazed and smiling a bit with amazement. Bagley started
to say something.  

“Quiet!” Dad said to him,
pointing across the table. “Nobody’s talking to you!” He said the word
“talking’ with percussion, with force, making the “a” sound have an “h” before
it, like “t-haw-king,” almost yelling
but not crazy yelling, more like a crisp spanking, a scolding, the start of a
hard lecture. Bagley bit his bottom lip hard and pushed back from the table
looking away, rolling up his eyes. Dad’s tone went up a notch.

“And stop making faces.
You’re disgusting. You put your nose in my son’s sneaker? What are you, a
pot-sniffing dog? Do they hook you up to some special machine where there’s a
reliable measurement for levels of marijuana they track from your nasal
passages? What if you thought he had pot in his underwear? You gonna sniff his
drawers? There’s a guy who used to do stuff like that up in Grays Ferry in the
90’s. They called him ‘Fast Eddy,’ and he’s in jail now.”

He turned back to
Larraby.

“This can go two ways,”
he said. “Option A is that we talk about the strip-search incident and that
incident only.  At the end of that
conversation, this disgusting person will be made to stay no closer than fifty
feet from my son, like a restraining order.” He calmed his voice, but only
slightly. “And I have some advice for you, Mr. Larraby.”

“Really?” he said, eyes
still hot and grinning with amazement, but the fire had withered to embers.

“Really,” Dad said. “Were
I you, I would contact my pit bull in Human Resources and launch my own
investigation into this disgusting member of the staff.”

“Now wait a –“ Bagley
said.

“Shut-it!” Dad said,
putting up his palm like a stop sign, eyes closed. “Keep your place, Bagley,
grown-ups are talking.” He opened his eyes. “Distance yourself from this…person, Mr. Larraby, and contact the
state because now I know that you know and I would testify that I do, is that
clear?”

Larraby didn’t answer
right off, and Dad pounced on his moment.

“And now, sir,” he
continued, working himself up again into a rant again, “I’m going to tell you
about Option B. You don’t want Option B. You want to avoid it like the plague,
see?  Because this is the version where I
go nuclear. This is the version where you bring out some mysterious file on my
son with all kinds of issues and professional observations that would indicate
that you feel he might be a drug dealer or killing people up in North Philly on
the weekends, and let me tell you, if you decide to assassinate his character I
will hold you criminally responsible for each and every detail I wasn’t
informed of prior to this moment. I will look at it as a cowardly, spineless
attempt to attribute blame elsewhere, and I will go to the Superintendent, the
State, and then I’ll do a nice community outreach through social media and all
the parents I know, those who will cringe by the way, when they hear about the
shoe sniffing, bank on it, I’ve already told a few and they’re not pleased.”

The room was ringing.

“Can I talk now?” Larraby
said.  It was sarcastic, but there was no
way to avoid the fact that he was asking permission. It was a deek too, a hit
he took to divert attention from the fact that as he’d said it he’d casually
turned one pile of his papers over, probably the official record of my class
cuts earlier in the year. Bagley also oh-so-casually closed his manila folder,
and I would have laid similar odds that it contained the one-sided, edited
results of his little teacher poll. Larraby put on his reading glasses and read
Bagley’s report of the incident. His voice was shaky and you could tell he
hated that fact, but he couldn’t make it stop wavering. The report was short
and full of lies. It said stuff like Bagley politely asked me to empty my
pockets, and I volunteered to take down my jeans. It also said that Tulley
corroborated the fact that my sneakers smelled like weed. At that point, Dad
interrupted the read, turned to Tulley and said smoothly,

“You’re backing the wrong
horse, champ. I don’t know how many parking tickets you wrote in your day, but
this is a different world. If I put you in front of a panel put together by the
state and you are found to be lying, it’s perjury and you’ll do time, look it
up.”

Tulley put his hands up
like, “Oh, I’m at my wit’s end with you!”
but it didn’t look like the hard-ass baseball coach fed up with a batter
who kept lunging, seeing a strike out of the hand and getting caught with all his
weight on his front foot. It looked like Tulley had become a housewife. Like he
burned dinner. Larraby tried to save it by switching tactics, talking to me
directly, bringing me into the ring.

“Why were you in the
bathroom in the first place?” he said.

“I had to go.”

“Your friend had pot on
him.”

“Yeah, I heard.”

“He had a pot brownie on
him.”

“Yeah.”

“So why were you in the
bathroom with a guy who had a pot brownie on him?”

It was Dad’s turn to put
his hands up, but he didn’t look like a housewife. He looked like the thug in
the bathroom about to slam you up against a stall door.

“Yeah,” he announced. “So
according to this thread of logic, Bagley walks into the bathroom when some
tenth grader has a brownie in his book bag and Bagley’s a pusher now by
association. So, Larraby, why don’t I drop my drawers and walk in front of your
secretary, buy a dime bag from Bagley, and we’ll all smell each other’s
sneakers?”

“Enough,” Larraby said.

“Oh, is it?”

“We are allowed to search
students.”

“And frisk them?”

“In some ways we have
more power than law enforcement, yes.”

“I feel like I was
sexually assaulted,” I said. “I felt like Bagley was gonna pull down my
jammies.”

That one silenced the
room. Dad sat back and said,

“Slam dunk.  I have a copy of Mr. Larraby’s email claiming
in bold print that you don’t strip search students. You have a white-washed
version in writing that splits hairs, claiming you can if it’s voluntary. You
just said you’re more powerful than the police, and my son feels sexually
violated. Game changer, boys. I’m thinking S.V.U. and Channel 3.” He got out
his cell phone. “Stay put fella’s. And don’t touch your Samsungs. I’m sure
they’re going to want to see your emails to each other before you have a chance
to delete them. They’ll probably get a warrant for Bagley’s PC at home too,
maybe do a scan of the hard drive.”

“What do you want?”
Larraby said. Bagley leaned in toward him and tried to indicate that he was
dying to defend himself, and Larraby moved his palm across like he was
polishing a table in slow-mo, his eyes never leaving my Dad’s. “Well?”

“Option one,” Dad said.
“Fifty feet away, no closer. Like a restraining order.”

We got up and left. No
one shook hands. I never really thought I was sexually molested, just
humiliated, and everyone knew this I think. I hadn’t planned to interject when
I did, and it wasn’t a lie. Not quite, I don’t know. I did get paranoid and
grab my jammies when he was frisking me. I did feel uncomfortable, but I also knew
he wasn’t going to actually pull my pants down. It wasn’t a lie, but it was,
sort of. It was the truth when you looked at it one way and not so much when
you looked at it another. It was complicated and I wanted to forget about it. I
would have loved to have been a fly on the wall after we left, and then again I
was glad I’d never know. I should have been happy that Bagley just got
ass-fucked probably worse than ever before in his life, but I wasn’t. It’s not
that I was sad or anything, but it wasn’t cut and dry.

We didn’t talk in the
car. There were no high fives.

When we got home there
were no war stories. Dad just told Ma it went fine and his expression nixed all
her questions. I went upstairs to play Madden Live. It felt weird. Dad should
have been pumped. He kicked ass. He took no prisoners. He won.

That night I heard him
get up like five times. It’s a small house, we live in a twin. Usually I don’t
wake up when he wakes up down the hall. It’s like assumed privacy you program
yourself for, it just happens, same as any given day in an assembly in the
auditorium, where there are probably at least a tenth of the girls that have
their tampons in but you don’t think about it that way, that’s all I’m saying.

I heard Dad get up five
times. He had to keep taking a shit. He got stopped up when things weren’t
right with him, when he was thinking about things, and I thought about it now even
though I usually blanked that stuff and rolled over.

He’d protected me today,
but more, it seemed he’d initially done all this as a favor, like a goodbye
before college. It wasn’t even the idea that Bagley stuck his nose deep inside
my sneaker and inhaled, as gross and strange as it was. It’s that he talked
down to me. I think that Dad didn’t want my last days around here to be
darkened with that shit gnawing at me, but go figure, now I’m thinking about it
more than I would have done otherwise. It brought up all the weird “people-math”
Dad was always so good at, only this was the one time I couldn’t ask him to
help me decode it because he was too close to it, living it, wearing it,
smelling it beneath his own skin.

I’m sorry for getting in
trouble, Dad. Sorry I got you dirty, turning you inside-out making you look at
how far you could go. I just wonder, now that I’m eighteen, half out the door
to college and grown, what the lesson was here and who was supposed to be
learning it.  Did you teach me that as a
parent you sometimes have to make a spectacle of yourself for the sake of
family?  That men like to fight?  That in the end no one wins?

Or is the real message
here not to smoke Hookah, that every time I blow out a trick from now on I’ll
see you in it, a shifting vapor shaped like a snake in the grass, clamped permanently
to Bagley’s heel and making it so he’ll have to go the rest of his life
swearing to himself that you were nothing in the end but a cheap nightmare that
leapt from the dark, fought dirty, and bit him down low when he wasn’t looking…

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