Saturday, July 13, 2013

Putting the Past Away

What an emo week. I had a lost wedding ring scare and some quality fights with the people I love the most. Then there was the online high school reunion.

I don’t know why I finally got around to updating my Facebook photo. Just did. Time to join the herd and all. And then all these people found me. Some of them were people I had deep friendships with once. Some of them were just people I was glad to be reminded of. One of them was the first person I ever fell in love with (and never told).

Guess what I was writing this week before any of this happened? A series of letters to everyone I’ve ever been in love with. Sometimes fate just fucks with you.

You may be wondering, “Who recreationally decides to write a series of letters to everyone they’ve ever been in love with?” I know I’m weird. I’ve known since I’ve known what “weird” meant.

Truth is, I was trying to put the past away. And then the past found me on Facebook.

But it was a good thing.

I was surprised at the support a lot of the guys showed, once I’d friended them and they had access to my little gay wedding photos. Talking to some of them made me realize I wasn’t the only one who had a terribly hard time in high school and the years after. I wasn’t the only one who felt beaten to shit by the guilt-ridden, hostile-to-sex environment at my school. I wasn’t the only one who broke down from it.

In that spirit, I’m sharing a new story on my Amazon author page. Writing it helped me recover. My new old friends will definitely recognize the religion class the story is set in. “Period Three Damnation” is my fourth 99 cent story that I’m selling.

This week marks a milestone for me as a writer as well – I’ve finally been paid for my work. It’s only a handful of dollars so far, but it represents a future I’ve been working toward.

Here is the first half of “Period Three Damnation”. The rest is available for the price of an assembly line cheeseburger.

Period Three Damnation
I don’t hate Miss Minor anymore. After years of therapy, I can say that and mean it.
I’m still trying to forgive. I hate myself for ever taking her seriously. Because the truth is Miss Minor said all these things and, in my head, I should’ve said the same thing most of my friends must’ve said. I should’ve left her room with just one certitude: this bitch is nuts.
My friends, the ones who were smart enough to ignore her, were Kevin Woods, Tom Evans, Jake Hurtado, and Carlos Gonzales. Tom looked like Jim Carrey. Jake looked like a Puerto Rican Kermit the Frog. But they were nice guys, affable and all.
Except maybe Carlos. He was only really a friend-of-a-friend type, though I’m not sure which, if any of my friends, would’ve claimed to be close to Carlos. For an honors student, he never struck any of us as bright. It was impossible not to notice, in the locker room, the skid marks on his tighty-whities. There was this zit right on the edge of his nose that never really flattened out. He always smelled like a mix of French Onion Soup and hot garbage.
Plus, he was one of those kids who never knew what class it was. He rotated asking, after every single class, what we had next. Since the honors classes were tracked at Holy Cross, we never met half of our grade, and we knew each other far too well. Carlos rotated between asking me, Tom, and Jake, rather than just checking his fucking schedule like we did.
He usually knew better than to ask our other friend, my best friend, Kevin. I loved Kevin like a brother and I think he felt the same, but even I didn’t annoy him with bullshit inquiries. You just didn’t do that with Kevin. Even as a friend.
           “Yo, what class we got next?” Carlos said. That’s another thing: everyone was ‘yo’ to Carlos. The day of the big meltdown, October of Junior year, the day it happened, I didn’t have the strength to answer. Thankfully, Tom did. 
“Day C, period 3, bitch,” Tom said. “You know what that means.”
“Damnation, always a fun class,” I mumbled. “Kev’s out today too.  No entertainment.”
“Aw, Chrissy misses his girlfwiend,” Tom pinched me on the cheek. I punched Tom in the arm. I remember thinking maybe I’d been too close to Kevin, maybe we were starting to look a little gay. But he was the only kid I knew from before Catholic school.
Twelve years before, at a local park, our mothers got to know one another, they had a casual conversation on a little red bench while Kevin and I shoveled a moat in the sandbox. I can only guess their conversation. I love your purse. I love your shoes. Wouldn’t it be cute to send our boys to Catholic school together? And Kevin and I shoveled away, working on the moat that we were certain would protect us from any threat, on the sandbox island.
We had no idea our fates had been decided. But even then, I remember thinking at least if I have to go, I’ll know somebody. I’m not going to the big brick school alone. I’m going with Kevin, a sandbox friend. You don’t get many, and the ones you have are very hard to keep.
By the time we got to high school, one of my favorite things about Kevin was how he never took any of Miss Minor’s shit. Like I said, our religion teacher was the Pope’s bitch puppet.
“Look what I did, last time we had her,” Jake said in monotone. He opened his normally immaculate notebook to the section set aside for Religion class. At the top of the page, in his neatest print it read, “Reasons I’m going to HELL.” Jake had even taken the time to set the capital H-E-L-L on fire, complete with pencil-sketch smoke rising into the page’s upper margin.
“Yo-oo, that’s hard,” Carlos complimented.
“I’m going for jacking off too much,” Tom said. “So I can be a prick about everything else, I figure, since I’m going anyways.”
“I’m going for what I do with your mom,” Carlos humped the air in case the nuance of his point had been lost on Tom. Tom spun and thrust-kicked Carlos right in the ass.
“Yo, chill!” Carlos said.
“We should get to class,” I said. We had this habit of loitering by the statue of the Virgin Mary just outside the Algebra room on days when we had Miss Minor’s Religion class, like we were waiting for Jesus’ mom to write us a “Please excuse” letter.
I was the one to move us along. Somehow, I was the grown-up of our crew. Even when we did “group work” in class, they always wanted me to take the lead. On our previous group assignment in Religion, we had to rank the seven deadly sins 1-7, in terms of which were most prevalent in today’s world, and explain our choices. I put pride first, explaining that any person who presumes to know the divine was capable of great evil, in “God’s” name.
Judging from our excellent grade, Miss Minor didn’t care to know I was talking about her.
I wondered what she had planned for us as we wound our way up the steps of the old brick building. We passed the brown, hissing radiators and landed on the third floor. We shuffled into Miss Minor’s room, a poorly-insulated brick chamber that blazed in September, May, and June, and froze the rest of the year.
She stood just inside the entranceway. She was small at 5’’ 6’, but she had a big presence, aided by the monolithic height of her spiritual certitude and, to a lesser degree, her poofy red hair.
We shuffled past her. We sat and were still.
When the last student entered, Miss Minor spoke to the back wall. “Papers in the basket, let’s not make a production out of it. No stories, no excuses, just drop them in.” She passed a wicker basket around to collect her papers. It had been used to collect money in a local church before that, so our assignments always felt like offerings to some insatiable deity. “Your assignment was to find examples of the Ten Commandments’ influence in modern American law. I would like to start today by discussing what you came up with.”
No hands. 
“C’mon gentlemen, I want to have an adult discussion here, the type you’re going to have to get used to for your college classes.”
No hands.
“Dudes, might I remind you that class participation is a quarter of the grade in this course? And that you have to see my smiling face for two more years?” That’s another thing, we were ‘dudes’ when she wanted to seem human.
Thankfully she got her one hand – Jake’s. I was so glad Jake was in my classes. He was great about smothering the grenades. No one discussed because she wasn’t interested in discussion. Echoes and affirmations of approved dogma – that was her game. Any time you tried to actually express an original thought, it only ended in submission or detention. Collectively and without conspiring, we had chosen a spiteful silence.
“Mr. Hurtado, thank you so much. Where did you find an example…” she stopped because Kevin was sulking in, longish auburn hair in a bedhead tangle and a yellow pass in his extended hand. Kevin’s wrinkled dress shirt seemed confused to be on his torso. Even his freckles looked lost. “Good morning, Kevin.” The class shifted from casual-attentive to upright-attentive. I remember thinking this was late, even for Kev.
“Morning,” Kevin confirmed.
“Do you have your paper on the Ten Commandments in modern law?” she pointed to the wicker collection basket full of our contributions. 
“Can I talk to you later about that?”
“Do you have it or not?”
He lowered his voice. “Please? Later?” She took the pass, tossed it in her garbage and thumbed him towards his seat. He shuffled to the back and unpacked as delicately as he could. Right away my alarms were sounding. This wasn’t the Kevin I knew. That Kevin strutted in, late and proud. This Kevin was a zoo lion behind fogged Plexi-glass, licking his great paw where the claws had been surgically removed. When Kevin melted into his seat, much of the class settled back as well.
No show today.
“Jake. Continue, please.”
“Oh, uh, the Seventh Commandment seems to be represented in the laws of many cultures. People not stealing is important for the economy. I thought it was really important for the powerful not to steal, if you look at how our economy’s been. A lot of our problems relate to greed. So you could say Securities laws are based on the Seventh Commandment.”
“Great, Jake! Let’s not forget how that relates back to the First Commandment also. Not having other Gods refers not just to polytheism, but also not allowing personal ambition to twist one’s priorities. It’s important to follow these rules, always, exactly as they are written. Who else?”
No hands. Once again, certitude rendered discussion pointless.
“How about you Chris?” I always wished for better camouflage on days we had Miss Minor. I had this one dress shirt that was almost a brick hue, but it never helped me blend. “Chris, which commandment did you relate to modern law?”
“Interesting. That’s by far the least selected commandment for this project.” I sat there with my notebook page blank, silently praying she would move on. “How did you relate that commandment to modern law?” Show time. It seemed like such a good idea last night. I was always so brave, typing in my bedroom the night before.
“Well, as you know, the Third Commandment is about not taking the Lord’s name in vain. I related it to politicians, or anyone in power really, using God’s name to do evil things. Like when people use religion to judge others harshly or to justify sinful, self-serving behavior, I think that breaks the Third Commandment.”
“How does that relate to modern law?” Here we go.
“Well, a lot of the people in government who claim to be the most devout, the laws they pass victimize the poor, or start unnecessary wars for profit, and a lot of those people use God’s name to justify it, so they’re missing the point.” I sat up a little taller. “But it doesn’t have to just be politicians. It could be any person with any power or authority.” This was, by far, the most ballsy I’d ever been in Damnation.
“Like police?” Miss Minor asked.
Or teachers, I thought.
“Like police, politicians, or whoever has power…or influence,” I said, looking right in her eyes.
“Hmmm…interesting thought. I think you may be overreaching, Chris. Sometimes the Commandments are very literal. The Third Commandment is ‘Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.’ That means having respect for authority, the final authority – our Lord God the Father. Maybe I should give you your paper back. I’d hate for my class to be the only one keeping you off honor roll this quarter.”
My reply caught in my throat. She always knew where to hit me. Junior year is college audition year. In English or any other class, I always found I got the best grades when I told the truth in my papers. I liked telling the truth, even more so in Miss Minor’s room, where dogma radiated, thick as the hissing heat.
She walked over to the wire basket and flipped through for my paper. She walked up the aisle and plopped it unceremoniously on my desk. I looked at my handsomely-formatted rejection and sulked.
I liked telling the truth, but I liked maintaining my grade point average a little bit more.
“Okay dudes, does anyone else have a…”
Kevin’s hand shot up. He had a wonderfully combative little smirk. My attention was no longer on my returned paper.
Check out the rest here:


No comments:

Post a Comment