Read Worlds Apart Online

Authors: Luke Loaghan

Tags: #Fiction & Literature

Worlds Apart (4 page)

Stanton was especially challenging on freshmen, and many first year kids suffered mental breakdowns before Christmas. When I first entered Stanton, I thought all my problems were over, and that I wouldn’t have to put up with the bullies and jocks that other high school kids had to put up with. Instead, there was Sam, and others who ranked higher than I and gloated about it.

Stanton teachers were not inhumane, and took it easy on us the first week of school. That week, I finished my homework by eleven p.m. - just under four hours.

I met a kid named Maurice that first week. He was famous for his brightly colored yarmulke, and for being the only religious Jew at the school. The Stanton hours and schedules were not kind to the Sabbath and religious holidays.

I also met Sal, perhaps the brightest student at Stanton. He was from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Sal was always ranked in the top five, but this year he was in the top three. He was involved in an engineering club that was creating a risk assessment of city bridges, tunnels, and landmarks. Sal hardly spoke, and when he did he mostly mumbled. He always carried surveying and engineering tools on him. Sal was famous for being the weirdest student in all of Stanton. He often sat alone at lunch.

I saw Mr. DeJesus, my former wood shop teacher, who was also the school’s carpenter. He built the stage sets for the school plays.

As September rolled on, I attended all my classes while continuing to look for a job. I quickly re-acclimated to the Stanton workload and the lack of sleep. By the third week of school, I was firing on all cylinders.

Mr. Mash announced that seniors were now required to meet with a designated school psychologist. Stanton was getting bad press because of the suicides and the number of mental breakdowns. I laughed it off, because that would never be me. My mind was made of iron, my soul of steel. I could easily pick out five kids that might break down soon, the way engines would if they were running out of motor oil. Nonetheless, I had no choice; it was mandatory for every student to meet with their designated psychologist.

During my lunch period, I met with mine, Ms. Eris. She was a young woman, no more than thirty years old, and seemed pleasant with a plastic smile and neatly brushed hair. I typically don’t smile when I meet someone for the first time, and when I meet someone who does, I automatically don’t trust that person.

“David, I just wanted to talk to you for a few minutes.” She motioned that I should sit down. These people are often out of sorts if you stand up and walk around. She started chewing her nails.

“So what can I do for you?” I asked.

“I know from your file that you had an incident sophomore year…”

“That was not an incident. I just wanted to take a break and play guitar in the cafeteria. It was nothing serious, just a lack of sleep.”

“It’s just you and your father and brother at home,” she said as she looked at my file. “Your mother passed away a few years ago.”

“I’m fine; my family is fine, and I’m not going to have a breakdown. Don’t worry about me. This school has enough students that will keep you busy.” I was in a hurry to leave.

“David, Stanton is a high pressure environment. If you feel stressed, you can always come and talk to me, and I can arrange a few days off for you.” She seemed too nice, speaking so slowly.

“I play guitar. There is nothing wrong with playing it in the cafeteria.”

“This is Stanton, and kids normally use their lunch hour more wisely.”

“I can assure you that I am mentally fine.”

“David, most students do not commit suicide or end up at Belleview. They exhibit no obvious signs of mental breakdowns. Instead, they lose control of their emotions, and make illogical, irrational decisions and exhibit strange behavior. They do things that they normally would not; they rebel in strange ways, but continue with their normal lives.”

“Thanks, Ms. Eris,” I said. This was precisely why I no longer brought a guitar to school. High school was hard enough without having to answer to a quack.

 

 

Chapter 2

The last weekend of every month we visited my grandparents on my father’s side. This had been our tradition for as long as I could remember. This weekend was different; it would be the last time I would see my grandfather.

My grandfather, David “Lake” Arfayus, had immigrated to the United States many years ago. He was born in a South American colony then called British Guiana. Lake had worked six days a week for as long as anyone could remember. My grandfather was a blue-collared guy, and had worked in the furniture refinishing business. Most people from the Guianas were brought over by the British who were searching for gold. The British claimed they never found any gold.

Lake had lived without electricity and plumbing most of his life, and had worked on several sugar cane plantations while in British Guiana. He was the only boy in his village that had learned to read, and actually earned money reading newspapers and letters to people in the village. Lake also earned money as a bare knuckle boxer, as he explained that “Englishmen liked boxing and scotch and paid good money for both.” Sometimes he boxed three fights a night, just to make enough money for a week’s worth of food.

Grandpa was exposed to many chemicals in his line of work and as a result had become severely ill. But he confessed that he was really sick because he was being forced to retire the next month. “A man’s body can’t just stop working one day. Been working my whole life, without vacation, or sick day, and now no work. No work makes men sick.” He spoke in broken English, similar to that spoken in the Caribbean. I used to chide him about his accent, but he explained that it was hard to make your tongue move like an Englishman if you were born outside of England. He was sitting on the couch watching the Yankees. I was taken back by how much weight he had lost since the last time I had seen him. This once mighty figure in my life now looked frail and weak. He put his glasses on and recognized me instantly. His mind was sharp, but his body was deteriorating fast.

“Eldest grandson…me need talk to you badly,” he said sharply.

“It’s great to see you, Grandpa,” I replied.

“Me not have much time, but listen me before ya speak or say anything. Just lemme finish.” He took a sip of hot tea and continued, attempting his best to speak American, as he referred to my language.

“David, such high hopes for you, and me just wanted to tell you few things. First, in my life, have seen so many people succeed and fail. Most of the time, the same people doing both. But me wanted to tell you that you are getting older and you are now grew up and me don’t want you to make the same mistakes me make in me life. First, think your actions through. It will always be your actions that count, not your intentions, or your thoughts, even though they may be all well and good. So much time is wasted wondering and thinking about the right decision or the wrong decision. Me know that you want to go to college, and that you want to go away, some place far. You going to be the first member of our family – ever – going back generations, ever go to college. That’s what I’m talking about. Go and get an education. Become smart in life, and learn to speak and write clearly. There are people I’ve met that have been to college, and they really don’t impress me at all. They can’t speak or communicate properly. Don’t be one of those people. In life, many people become rich then lose it all. Me lived through some tough times. Through race riots between the blacks and the Indians in my native country. Lived through famine and drought. People are quick when they judge you. But when you walk into a room full of people and start speaking, everyone knows if you are a fool or an educated person. They know right away based on how you speak. Your mother was so smart. She spoke so well. She taught piano and music to so many. She read poetry for pleasure. Get educated. Make good decisions in life and then pursue the decisions you make. Don’t be one of these indecisive persons, like you uncles or you father. They have spent nearly ten years thinking over things and trying to make decisions that successful people make in one hour. Even if you don’t know something for sure, trust you instincts and just go for it.” Other people then entered the room.

“Also, and this is the most important thing. I see your father full of regret. His mind is stuck in the past, and he can’t live in the present because of it. What’s over is over. Don’t spend your life like your father, always looking back. David, just promise me that you’ll take my advice.”

“I promise,” I said. “I swear it.”

Grandpa took a sip of his tea, handed me some money, and started talking to everyone else. I could tell that he wanted to finish our conversation, but now my aunts, uncles, and cousins were in the room, and he was not free to speak.

That night, I kept thinking about his advice. He wanted me to be educated, to speak like an educated person, and to carry myself as such. And he emphasized that I should be a decisive person. I can seem a little wishy-washy. I usually answered important questions with “I don’t know,” like I sometimes did when people asked me, “What are you going to do after high school?”

I really didn’t know if I wanted to go to college or if I needed a year out of high school to work. When people asked me, “What college are you going to?” I replied, “I don’t know.” I wondered if my grandfather was disappointed in me, and that’s why he was giving me this advice. I hoped he did not foresee that I would become just like my uncles or my father. My father was stuck in the past, always lost in thought about my mother and their short life together. My relatives were very careful decision makers and often spent more time unable to make decisions than they did making the decisions. I didn’t want to be indecisive any longer; especially if it meant that it would disappoint my grandfather.

The next morning, the phone rang at six a.m. with the news that my grandfather had passed away in his sleep. I was devastated by the news, although I tended to exhibit a lack of emotion when it came to death. I would miss my grandfather. He meant the world to me. All I could do was make good on my promise to him.

At the funeral, I told the story of how my grandfather had once bought me a fancy jacket when I was in the fifth grade. Lake was in the city working at a fancy law firm, refinishing their conference table. The head lawyer had just bought his own son a fancy bomber jacket, but realized it was the wrong size. It was Christmas Eve and too late to return the jacket, so he sold it to my grandfather at a tremendous discount. When I received the jacket on Christmas Day, I was stunned. It was the most gorgeous leather jacket I had ever seen, the kind worn by Air Force fighter pilots. It was heavy, thick, and had wool around the collar, and patches with names of flying squadrons on the sleeves. It was a jacket I had only seen in the movies and in clothing catalogs, not something my family could otherwise afford. When I wore the jacket to school, some kids liked it, and some loathed it. The fifth grade bullies decided to tease me about it. I felt angry, but also dejected, because I knew how incredible it was that my grandfather was able to get me this jacket.

I complained that I didn’t want to wear the jacket, that it brought me unwanted attention. Lake put his hands on my shoulders and lowered himself to where he could look me in the eyes. He said that if I couldn’t wear that jacket in the fifth grade, then later in life I wouldn’t be able to wear success either.

“It’s not about the jacket, it’s about having confidence. There will always be people that will have something nasty to say when you have something good in your life. You have to be able to block out these people and walk in confidence. That’s how you’ll get to the Canyon of Heroes in Manhattan one day. And they’ll throw you a ticker tape parade.” I kept wearing that jacket, even after one of the bullies slashed it and ripped a hole in it.

His casket was lowered into the ground at St. Michael’s cemetery in Astoria. He had a small, engraved piece of brick instead of a fancy headstone. After everyone left, I approached the burial spot. I was ashamed that we were so poor that we could not afford a nicer headstone. He deserved better and one day I hoped to make enough money to buy him the best headstone in the entire cemetery.

Death is a reminder that life is short. When I returned to school, I was determined to ask Delancey out on a date.

Consumed with nervous energy and anxiety, I paced non-stop outside her last class of the day. Breathing no longer was automatic for me. Perspiration trickled down my temples. The bell rang and her class dispersed. Stampeding students savagely exited the classroom, and within seconds their bodies evaporated from the hallways. She was still inside, speaking to her teacher. Peering conspicuously, my eyes fixated on her long hair and her long legs. Forcing breath to fill my lungs, I repeated the lines I had rehearsed all night. Inadvertently, some of the rehearsed lines could be heard outside of my head, as I mumbled the phrases that I no longer felt would adequately suffice.

Delancey walked out of the classroom. I called out her name. The world slowed down for me, and as her head turned in my direction, I abandoned my seasoned script.

“David? What are you doing here?” she asked, smiling, but looking mostly confused.

“Delancey, …uh…how’s it going?” I asked.

“Fine. I had to talk to Mrs. Moynihan about a project due for her class next week. How’s it going with you?”

“Great. So busy. Looking for a job on the weekends. You know…need extra money for senior year.”

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