Even as a kid, I’ve always known masochists who actually looked forward to the first day of school. You know the type of sociopath I’m talking about — the type who’d get excited about summer ending, who’d get “bored” of doing nothing all day and, believe it or not, wanted — genuinely wanted — to get back to learning and socializing and waking up early and growing up.
Like I said: total sociopaths.
But me? I was more the depressed-after-the-first-month-of-summer-ended-because-it-meant-I-only-had-two-months-left type.
Maybe it would have different if I had wasted my summers, but au contraire! I did plenty.
I expanded my cultural horizons by plowing through boxes of Choco Tacos and other ethnic delights. I improved my spacial skills by building indoor mini-golf courses, with plastic cups and stuffed animal obstacles. I learned the construction trade, erecting blanket forts. And I stayed in bed till noon — under the sheets was where I got all my best thinking done.
And plus, I earned the break. After all, you think I suffered through 15 pages of “Siddhartha” from my summer-reading list before falling asleep for bupkis? For my health? What?
Without contest, summer time was the best time. I did OK in school, but I was never truly into it like those other buck-tooth Poindexters (A.K.A. anyone who ever scored higher than me on any test or in any class ever). I thought of it more as a job: Get it done, do it right, go home for snacks. Lots of snacks. And summer, well, it was like a 24/7 snack party.
Once I got a little older, though, back-to-school changed — the weight of it, I mean. Image became a thing. I got a car. People started looking different than they did all those lifetimes ago, at the end of last school year.
I remember the first year I arrived back to school driving my own car — gliding an eight-year-old, teal Chevy Cavalier through the back gates as buses huddled through the front, packed with loud, miserable underclassmen. It felt as if I were there on some special mission, like I was breaking rules that somehow no longer applied to me.
I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I should have gone to the front desk first to sign in and get a visitor’s pass. I had already outgrown that place, figured it out — that much was obvious. Soon, I’d be in college, or married, or whatever, and it felt like the rest of my time in that school was mere formality, a favor to my parents or maybe to my future self.
A long time after the shine of my car wore off, though, I was still in high school. Still 16. Still eating cafeteria food. And I remember how he took a hurried swig of blue Powerade one day, my best friend Matt Clay, trying to force down the half-eaten brownie that was lodged in his throat, his eyes too open, flashing Red Alert.
But the drink didn’t take, so he dropped it from his mouth — a splattered blue mess. Messes only matter, though, when you’re sure you’ll be alive enough to have to clean them.
Matt Clay, who lived down the street from me since I was 5, was panicking.
This was real. His head darted from side to side. His arms clutched the table.
This was really happening.
And I remember how I got up, how I scanned the cafeteria searching for a grownup, a teacher, anyone who could swoop in and take it from here, take it off my shoulders, take charge. And soon one came running. But by the time he got to us, Matt Clay had forced out the glob. He was panting, thanking the kid next to him for hitting his back, hard — a hollow thump.
“You OK, son?” a rounded administrator with a tie and Walkie Talkie asked. And Matt Clay nodded, nervously laughed.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, wow.” He cleared his throat. “I’m OK.”
But I knew he was just saying that. His face was red, his skin probably tingling with all the life he still had left to live. How could he not be terrified? We all were.
BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR