Pioneers pt. 1
I needed a pen, a goddamn fifty cent Bic either blue or black. My whole life turned on a fucking pen.
I was late. For some reason borrowing a pen is a huge pain in the ass even though they float around like air. Teenagers are so possessive of their things. It’s because they think the things they lose will never come back to them. There was no way I was going to ask half a dozen kids to borrow a pen only to be reluctantly borrowed a click pen stolen from a dentist office. I do not like my peers. I do not like their bullshit.
I worked myself into a complete panic. Time was running out and I had to leave. The only writing utensil I could find in the whole house was the one my little brother LJ was using to scribble on a notepad in the hallway outside mom’s room. I could knock on her door and ask for a pen. I knew she had a least fifty of them in her purse but I could hear country music playing from her clock radio. The smell of perfume and cigarettes leeched under the door.
She might not be alone. Either way, I knew she was getting ready for work at the senior center. Bothering her in anyway was just going to piss her off which is why I had to catch the bus and not ask her for a ride to school.
It was a no win situation but I made up my mind. In one continuous motion I grabbed the pen out of LJ’s hand slipped on my coat and walked out the door. LJ erupted behind me like a hand grenade. He was seven years old but he cried a like a toddler. The baby of the family can always get away with crap like that. The rest of us were told to shut up as soon as we learned to talk. LJ was milking it. You would have thought I’d just kicked his ass.
All this noise punched mom’s rage button hard. She swung open her door and upon seeing LJ crumpled in a heap before her wailing saw red. I took one step outside before she swung me around. She stood before me with in her bathrobe. Her eyes were small and furious. Her hands were raised in fists before me.
“Why don’t you beat me up too?”
This moment right here is where my heart breaks. I hated everything about my life and I resented my situation. I had been pissed off for a long time and did not try to hide it anymore. Even so, I would never hit, kick, bite, maul, or in any way assault anybody. You just don’t do that. It meant our expectations of each other had synchronized.
Standing there, I felt the blood drain from my body. I could hear LJ in the distance, hysterical gasping to catch his breath. My mother bobbing before my like a boxer, robe akimbo exposing bra and panties in the cool autumn morning. It was so absurd I was going into shock.
My voice was calm, without affect. “I needed a pen for school.”
I held the clear octagonal no cap chewed end black ink pen before me. She swiped it from my hand. Then I just walked away. I didn’t look back. Nobody said anything. I made it halfway down the street before I completely broke down.
I could not stop crying. I tried to fight it and it overwhelmed me. I couldn’t see and started to stumble. I eventually stopped alongside the road and crouched down until my face touched my knees then buried my head with my hands. It was so embarrassing. I couldn’t control myself. I was a seventeen year old boy balling his eyes out on Euclid Avenue at 6:30 in the morning. I prayed no one would see me.
All I could think was, “Damn her! Why does everything have to be a fucking crisis? Fucking Defcon 5?! Fucking nuclear?! “
I didn’t always hate my mother. I used to fear her. Things were alright when it was just the two of us and I was small. She wasn’t affectionate but she was attentive. She could always see me play by myself from an adjoining room. Occasionally she could be cruel. She told me I was the reason my father left. That one stuck with me. I remembered it. Otherwise, I behaved myself and we got along fine.
When I was seven she met Larry Senior. When I was eight they got married and when I was nine Jenny was born and a year later Larry Junior. Larry Senior found my very presence annoying but he was too polite to ever make a big deal out of it. He was much more interested in his own kids. I get that.
Jenny was a good kid. She hardly made any noise didn’t stink and stayed out of trouble. LJ was gasoline, noxious, highly flammable. When he got mad he would fly into screaming tantrum rage fits. LJ stayed with mom. Jenny hid. I watched television. I thought about running away all the time.
The problem was that there was only so much mom had to give of herself. LJ used it up. She was constantly tired and angry. It was best just to avoid her all together. Hardly a day went by without some drama. The routine became unbearable. Usually it was just small stuff but whoever was closest got it.
Once she cornered me in the hallway. I hadn’t done anything even remotely wrong in weeks. Still, for a half an hour she screamed at me like I was some great evil she had to exercise. I didn’t crack. I was a champ at taking it. I can’t tell you what happened the rest of the day. I don’t remember.
Then, one day I stopped giving a shit. Mom decided to start fucking some married guy who lived down the street. Larry lost it but he didn’t want to leave. She kicked him out anyways. He stalked us for a year then vanished. Mom thought her new beau with his fancy accountant job would leave his wife and make her his number two but he was just screwing around.
By the time she figured that out we were living in a damp moldy shithouse in a shitty neighborhood. Every couple of months we’d get to have breakfast with different beer soaked loser. Each of them was a potential serial killer. Eventually, drinking would lead to fighting which led to retraining orders. Before the ink was dry she’d be on to her next dream date.
I lost it. I stopped being nice. I could not, would not lie about what a godawful mess we were living through. I was defiant and I was miserable.
Lately, things had been bad. Mom’s new boyfriend Todd was a total asshole. He painted cars. He thought he was hot shit. He threatened to be beat me up at diner over a piece of fried chicken. Mom loved it.
Now I had to deal with the fallout from this pen bullshit. I didn’t know how I could have fucked up so bad but nothing about that morning should have come as a surprise. It was always going to be something.
I missed the school bus which meant I had to take the city bus which meant I was going to be late to school. That would make three violations along with two early outs since the start of the year. They were going to call my mom. God, I would have killed for a fucking break.
I thought about it and decided that if I was going to get into trouble no matter what I did I might as well do whatever I wanted. I got on the city bus and after three transfers and ninety minutes I got off on NE 45th street. A quick walk past George through the quad and I was in Haggit Hall getting stoned by ten thirty in the morning.
Eric was my best friend from high school. He graduated last summer and was living in the dorms at the University of Washington. His roommate killed himself a week into class so Eric got to keep the double room to himself to help with his pain and suffering. As morbid as it may seem the situation was kind of awesome. The kid hadn’t moved in. He checked in took a look around went home and offed himself. He and Eric never met..
I know it is a sin to delight in the suffering of others. This was delighting in the unanticipated byproduct of someone else’s suffering. We laughed like ghouls about it. That was probably wrong.
I met Eric when I was a freshman in high school. He had just transferred in from California. All the cliques had already formed and he was left out in the cold, not that he minded. Eric thought that his fellow students were and most people are ignorant amoral jerks who lead lives guided by self-obsession. I couldn’t agree more.
The bully alpha male from my old neighborhood thought it was hilarious that my mom was a whore. I told him to fuck off so. He wanted to kick my ass so bad. But, he had to catch my ass first. Donny was twice as big as me and a couple years older. There was no way I could beat him so I avoided him. He was a stoner so he spent all his time at the smoke tree or in metal shop. Most of us kids smoked pot but vast majority of us knew not to draw attention to ourselves. Stoners didn’t care. As long as I didn’t go near the gym our paths wouldn’t cross.
The safest place was the library. It’s where I met Eric. He would spend his lunches in the back chewing on a sandwich while reading a sci-fi novel. I could care less about space dragons but we got along.
His parents were college professors at different schools. Burien was middle ground and made sense before his folks got divorced immediately after moving to town. His dad moved to Tacoma and his mom kept the house. There was no drama. They were just so matter of fact that Eric had to wonder if anyone really cared about anything other their own pursuit of happiness.
We had solitude in common. Both of us had very little supervision or interaction growing up. It’s always easier being alone. He was just about the only person who didn’t feel like a stranger.
Lunch was the time I didn’t feel like a catatonic zombie. I was doing horrible in school. I couldn’t concentrate surrounded by so much stress. I worried that others could sense my insecurity so I became aloof, bordering on invisible. My greatest goal was to go unnoticed. Lunch was all I had.
When Gina joined sophomore year our triumvirate had achieved perfection. She was loud and rambunctious. Teenage girls are bitches and Gina was the poorest of the poor white trash. When a girl in Algebra told her she could smell her va-Gina. Gina glared at her. When she told Gina to take a bath Gina beat her with a text book. It was legend.
She wasn’t a beefy softball player type. She was a little pixie with a self-styled haircut, but she was wiry like a featherweight. The three of us were inseparable in and out of school. Even after Donny dropped out (Thank God, what a fucking prick. Jesus hates you Donny. You piece of shit) and I could once again walk the halls in peace I spent all of my free time at a wood table behind the magazine stacks.
I think instinct brought us together. The same way you can meet someone and not like them before they even utter a word you meet people you like the same way. Whether it’s chemical or some sense of psychic compatibility I do not know but we all clicked.
Then Eric graduated and Gina dropped out over the summer. Eric was real smart. He was into quantum physics and experimental mathematics. I did not even pretend to understand any of it. For him to go to college was a forgone conclusion. Gina wound up on the streets squatting with a bunch of kids. That always seemed likely. I didn’t know what the hell was going to happen to me.
Eric was at class so I camped out in the hallway. He let his Reaganite dad fill out his housing application and as a result found himself on a floor full of ROTC meatheads. Apparently he does not know that his son is a super nerd anarchist. They grunted when they passed by.
I began to wonder if they found me offensive and if so what part me bothered them the most. My hair was long but not stoner heavy metal long. I wore a trench coat covered in punk rock buttons that expressed my inner beliefs. Maybe it’s because I didn’t tuck my legs in and they had to step over me.
I was relieved when I saw Eric and stood up to greet him. He looked me in the face and I am sure he saw a man who had been through hell. “Wanna get high?” he asked.
“If I say I love you out in here in the hallway will your neighbors think we’re lovers?”
Eric laughed and pushed the door open. “Shut up and get in the room.”
The whole floor thought Eric was weird. He was so obviously out of place. They didn’t drink, smoke, play music, or party in any way. They studied and did pushups. They were god fearing republican uber menschen. As best we could figure they thought Eric was a satan worshipping homosexual who most likely has taken part in at least one ritual sacrifice. I think they were too afraid of him to fuck with him.
Eric tucked a towel under the door and cracked his window. He turned on the stereo and the Thompson Twins filled the room with an accented moan. Eric had a conniption and reached for the tuner.
“That was awful. I’m sorry you had to hear that.” Eric apologized and slapped in a cassette. “I can’t listen to the radio anymore. It’s all fake. New wave is the worst. They’re so serious in their artificiality. It seemed smart but now it’s just corporate.”
Bauhaus droned out of the speakers. Eric loaded his little green plastic bong took a big hit and passed it to me. There with a lighter in my hand while smoke slowly curled around lip of the pipe, I took the opportunity to reply.
“First of all, this music is the reason your neighbors think you kill cats. Secondly, most new wave sucks but what are the alternatives? Top forty? Have you forgotten about Toto? Do you want to go back to that? Do you want to bless the rains down in Africa?”
Eric was waving at me with his hand and motioning to the bong. “Smoke.” He was trying to hold his breath but squeaked out a word. “You’re letting the smoke out.” He knows priorities.
I got high and told Eric all about my morning. He knew I was dealing with a lot of bullshit and let me vent. Eventually I just threw my hands up in the air and I was done. I couldn’t dwell on it anymore.
Changing the subject, Eric mentioned that Gina had spent the night at his place the day before and had done so a few times. I had often worried about the two of them hooking up. I convinced myself it was because I was concerned about the whole friend dynamic. Actually, I had an enormous crush on Gina. She was the only girl I ever thought about. I felt a green streak of jealousy when I asked jokingly if they had done it and was relieved when I found out they didn’t.
Neither Eric nor I would ever make a move on Gina. It was against the rules. Then again, if she were to choose one of us it was understood that we would both go for it. I’m sure Gina knew it too. I hoped it would be me.
Mid-morning drifted into early afternoon and I asked Eric if he had class to go to. I didn’t want to leave and was hoping I could stay awhile.
“I have a pointless class at,” He strained his neck to look for the clock, “now.” He slumped back into his seat. “I’m not going. It’s an English class. I see no reason why I should have to take it. I came to school to do science things. An engineer need not be an essayist. A violinist need not dissect a frog. Obviously, I already know how to read and write. I got accepted here after all. Other than to reinforce skills I already possess it is a complete waste of my time. Also, they don’t take role. I just have to turn in a paper a week and I’m good. “
Then in an abrupt change of thought Eric asked, “Do you want to get nachos? I know where we can get nachos. Let’s get more high and get some nachos.”
We both giggled like little girls which made us laugh like maniacs. We shuffled to the hub like blurry eyed fools. I don’t even remember getting food but there is was before us, salty tortilla chips and ultra-processed fake orange cheese. It was so good. I used the sharp edge of a chip to scrape the congealed sauce from sides if the carton basket.
It was getting dark and I knew I had to leave. My buzz was wearing off. As it was it’d be a least seven o’clock before I got home. Everyone was already pissed off at me. I shouldn’t make it worse. I figured I’d plead my case. After all, the whole scenario is ridiculous. I’d apologize for everything including missing school and promise to do better. I’d convinced myself that even though the tension at home would be unbearable for a minute but it would fade.