I’m probably dead. Everyone else might be, too.
That, or maybe we’re all living like Mad Max thanks to Reagan and Gorby and their fingers on the buttons. The end of the world as we know it didn’t start in my sophomore year. And it didn’t begin with R.E.M. It probably happened sometime in the future, maybe in 1990 or 1995, and maybe you, person of the future, know how, because I sure as hell don’t.
Fall of 1987. Just another sucktastic Monday at just another completely boring high school in suburban New Jersey.
November sucks. Halloween is over, and the malls start hanging up the Christmas decorations. Fake Santa and his fucking elves set up the “Wonderland” across from Spencer Gifts, and it doesn’t look anything like Higbee’s in A Christmas Story. You can’t hang out and rag on kids still wearing parachute pants if “Jingle Bells” is ringing in your ears constantly.
That’s probably why I was in such a pissy mood on that November second. I didn’t have plans for the weekend yet, although I knew it’d be like every other weekend—trying to score booze or weed before heading to the mall. Mr. Jones had been all over my shit in third period American Civics, and by the time I got to my locker at dismissal, I was maxed out.
I turned my head in time to see Hawaiian prints and stonewashed denim. Fucking jocks. At least Jason Friedman and his jock-tourage weren’t talking to me. For once.
“Hey, Jason,” said the kid whose locker was next to mine.
Jason opened his dumb square jaw and yelled, “Don’t ‘hey’ me, spazz. You owe me three seventy-five.”
I really didn’t know the kid’s name. His locker had been next to mine since the beginning of freshman year, but we weren’t in the same classes and were rarely at our lockers at the same time. I had the inside of my locker door covered with pictures of Robert Smith and Dave Gahan while he had cut outs from Hit Parader—Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe. Whatever. At least he listened to music, which was more than I could say for half my peers.
Jason coming after this kid wasn’t unusual. He’d tried bullying me one time, calling me a faggot because I liked The Cure. As if. He didn’t even know what that word meant. Being a girl, I think I got off easy. The New Wave guys in my school got picked on all the time. And most of them had their left ear pierced.
“I paid you yesterday. Remember? Even bought you a Little Debbie from the vending machine outside the cafeteria.”
Georgie? Frankie? I knew his name was something totally dorky sounding. Jason and his jock friends had formed a circle around the kid, and because I was at my locker, I was in the middle of it now, too.
“No way, Freddy-pie. You didn’t.”
Freddy. Too bad the kid’s last name wasn’t Krueger. No dice. This little boy wasn’t a Dream Warrior—he looked too small to ride a full-sized bike let alone give nightmares to anyone bigger than a mouse.
“C’mon, guys. I gotta get to the bus. If I’m late again, my mom will kill me.”
Jason took a step closer and grabbed Freddy the wanna-be prep by the collar of his Izod. Pink, of course. “You. Owe. Me. Money.”
“Leave him alone.” I heard the words at the same time they were coming out of my mouth. I was feeling surly, courtesy of the civics homework I knew would take me two hours to finish.
“What was that, faggot?”
There it was again, the insult that kept on giving. Why did all the jocks and burnouts think New Wave was gay? Probably because the dudes into The Cure were stealing all their girlfriends.
“I said leave the kid alone. He’s not bothering you.” I felt a surge of adrenaline in my feet and fingertips. The way Jason’s jaw only grew quarter-sized patches of stubble was pissing me off.
One of the other jocks grabbed Freddy by the arm and pulled him out of the circle while Jason turned to face me. He had his Oakleys sitting on top of a brown nest of feathered hair. He smiled, his braces filled with whatever bright-orange junk food snack he’d just eaten. The boy’s blue eyes flashed, and when he opened his mouth, the mystery was solved. Doritos. Gross.
“Shut up, Janie. This ain’t none of your business.”
Yeah. Fuck that. Hearing him use the same nickname my dad did made me snap. It was like this bully had morphed into my asshole-father right in front of my eyes.
Time slowed, and it felt like everyone in the hallway and at their lockers stopped. My face burned and my palms sweated. I think I might have giggled right before I did it—I swiped my jet-black hair away from my face and smiled through onyx lipstick.
Then I drove my knee so hard into Jason’s balls that I thought I felt them pop.
Things blurred after that. I felt a hand latch on to my black denim jacket, then through all the yelling, I heard the sound of fabric tearing. I blinked, and when I opened my eyes, I was in Assistant Vice Principal Tony Lagrange’s office.
“You’re not leaving me any options, Janet. You’ve accrued ten detentions this semester alone. And that’s a gift, considering I’m not counting the ones you earned freshman year. Not to mention the incident in the bathroom.”
He was right. The dude had been rad for a principal. The Vice had not suspended me for smoking in the girl’s room. What could I say?
He spoke again before I could. “Why? Why did you assault Jason Friedman?”
Why do adults always ask why? It’s not like we know, and if we did, would it change what happened? My dad always asked the same thing, and it made my hackles rise every single time.
“Assault him? He came at me first!” Okay, technically untrue, since he’d been gunning for Freddy, but I’d have been next. Probably. Better safe than sorry, right?
Lagrange groaned like I’d given him a bellyache. “I don’t have time for this. You’re suspended for five days. Are you going to tell your parents, or do I need to call them? I’ve got a school board meeting in thirty minutes.”
“I’ll tell them.” Fuck. Fuckity, fuck, fuck.
“You’d better. I’m sending the letter home tomorrow which means it’ll be in your mailbox by Wednesday. Please, Janet. For your own good. Quit trying to damage your permanent record. You think you’re going to get into Rutgers with this kind of antisocial behavior? When are you going to grow up, ditch the rebellious attitude, and become responsible?”
Responsible meant pink lip gloss and low white heels. Responsible meant being a Good Girl. The answer was not yet. And definitely not now. “Fine. I’ll tell my dad. Tonight.”
Lagrange opened his eyes like a sleepy cow wandering into a slaughterhouse. “I know how you feel, kiddo. I was a teenager once, as hard as it might be for you to believe.”
Ugh. The last thing I wanted was another lecture on how he understood me, what I’m going through. Bleh.
“I know. I’ll do better.” It was what he needed me to say, and damn it, I needed a smoke.
“You’re damn right, you will. I expect to see you back in school a week from today. Maybe by then you’ll clean up…all of this,” Lagrange said, waving his hand at my hair, my clothes, my entire fucking identity.
“Yeah, Vice. Maybe I will.”
Funny. Now that I’m thinking about it, that was the last time I’d ever be in that building, and it had nothing to do with Lagrange’s tough love approach to discipline.
I skated home, my beat-up Powell-Peralta rattling under my feet, and went straight to my room and shut the door. I’d had enough drama for one day. Lagrange said my suspension letter would arrive on Wednesday, so as long as I faked going to school tomorrow morning, I had another twenty-four hours to tell my parents about the suspension—and prepare for the beating of my life from my dad.