Saturday, January 24, 2009

Memory Shuffle #1 - Dean

Normally for me, sentimentality towards the convention of reunions and educational institutions of years past escape me. Not that I’m beyond understanding why – it’s just that once I’ve moved on, it tends to be a fairly permanent situation. Maybe I just never decide to put much emotional investment in such things or, perhaps, whatever emotion I do invest I prefer to share with the people in my life currently (or at least recently). Either way, it’s odd for me that I would suddenly start recalling memories from those times. Particularly as the year of my ten-year Middle School Reunion approaches – a fact revealed to me only in the past day or so. Call it vibes, chakras, feng shui, internal clock, lingering emotion, unconscious recognition, random neuron firings, whatever: I felt that it was best to address these memories here and amongst gentlemen. My first memory is of specific interest, especially since it’s about someone I never really knew.

Dean was a fairly large boy. Corpulent isn’t quite the right word, but it’s certainly the first one that comes to mind. His hygiene was questionable as he always seemed sweaty, his hair greasy, his elbows crusty (seriously). He stunk a little, as it was, and there wasn’t much variation in his clothing. He wore a lot of big shirts (often the same big shirt), baggy jeans, wrestling paraphernalia, and the occasional hat. He wasn’t particularly bright, either. And he was on my bus route. Like most kids who attended public schools, I rode the bus in the mornings and afternoons. Our bus was overcrowded and not all the kids were as well-adjusted as your delightful, charming narrator. It goes without saying that kids can be cruel.

Dean’s weight and hygiene became a part of the daily musings of the busload; attacks only alleviated by Ms. Karen the Bus-Driver and his continual retreat into a world of television wrestling. Anyone could tell that he enjoyed wrestling thoroughly. He had several “Degeneration X” t-shirts and Undertaker shirts. He was constantly throwing out the “Suck It!” symbol and flipping off the sky. When he was frustrated, he would roll his eyes back into his head, evoking the qualities of his favorite wrestling anti-hero. This, of course, just added more fuel to a fire set by a group of kids who didn’t understand that most of what they made fun of were probably the symptoms a difficult home life. I never heckled him, but I didn’t stand up for him either. No one really did. Shocking.

I had a conversation with Dean once. I didn’t really want to talk to him and I don’t really understand why I did. Recognition of his humanity, maybe. I definitely don’t remember what it was about. Seriously, in my head, we open our mouths, and I hear nothing but a low “maaaaaaaaah”. Weird. It certainly didn’t improve my opinion of him. The following day was the last day of classes. And the kids decided to step it up for the occasion. Kids roared over his dismay, cajoling, cackling, like hyenas. Right before his stop, someone lobbed a paper ball at him and hit him smack in the back of the head. Bulls-eyed. He looked around to a bus full of possible perpetrators. Wounded. When he looked at me, I raised my arms. And the only thing I was able to say was, “Hey. It wasn’t me.” Someone's response was, "Look out, man! He's gon' eatcha!" Ms. Karen pulled the bus over, threatened a suspension or two, which seemed to stop everyone. Well, until someone lobbed a milk carton across the bus and bad milk splashed all over the poor kid. Dean was covered in warm, stinky cow-milk, kept in someone’s pocket for god knows how long for this specific occasion. And he shut-down. No wrestling threats. No eye rolls or profanities. Just blank. His sister, however, flipped a shit.

Dean had an older sister who rode the bus with the middle schoolers because she had to attend a court-ordered alternative school. She smoked Kools (or Camels?). She was 16. And, she had anger issues. A whole lot of yelling, complete with its fair shair of “fucks”, “shits” and death threats, concluded with a sworn promise that when she left the bus, she would call her friends, get in a car, chase us down, and kill us. All of us. It got the bus to shut up for a few minutes. They left the bus, and we made our way down the road. The next stop was a ways farther. Suddenly, a rusty old red car came around the bend, speeding up behind us. Dean’s sister was driving, moving as fast as the car would go. The bus collectively shared a “holy shit” moment. At about 10 feet away, the car backfired and spewed out smoke. Gray smoke started pouring out of the hood when the car made a sharp U-Turn in the opposite direction. The bus stopped at a stop sign about 5 seconds later, and we made our way. Quietly.

I never saw Dean after that. It’s weird when a person who takes up that much space disappears. I heard rumors he moved away or that he transferred to a school where he actually had friends. These days, I figure his fate turned out far direr. But, I suppose I’ll never know. If I were to go to that Middle School Reunion, I’d probably only be interested in seeing if he was still alive. But, then again, if he were, he probably wouldn’t show up anyway.

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