Lilly Chester’s Dream:
Get It in Writing
In biology, I’m confused about the difference between macroevolution and just plain evolution. I know the terms are going to be on the test. We’re in small groups, supposedly helping each other study, but no one in my group knows the answer. Jonny Meacham says the difference is that macroevolution has the word macro in front of it and regular evolution doesn’t. He and Gail Moore seem to think that’s a pretty funny joke because they can’t stop giggling. I ask again if anybody knows. Jonny and Gail keep giggling, Meg Delaney shrugs and Paul Stryfer says, “Macro, micro, whatever. I’m gonna flunk this thing.” So I go up to the front desk to ask Mr. Gunderman my question. He’s staring intently at his computer screen; I catch a glimpse of the fishing gear advertised on the site before he closes his laptop.
“I don’t understand the difference between macroevolution and regular evolution,” I tell him.
“Have you asked your group?”
“Yes, but nobody else knows the answer, either.”
“I’ve gone over this, Lilly.”
“I know, but…”
“And I’ve given you a reading on it.”
“The reading confused me, too.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. Go back to your group and have them help you review the concept,” Mr. Gunderman says. I go back to my desk, but I don’t rejoin my group. Instead, I fish through my backpack to find my folder of handouts from biology class. I have them arranged chronologically, most recent on top. I flip through until I find what I’m after, then march back up to the teacher’s desk. Mr. Gunderman doesn’t bother to close his computer this time. He probably thinks he’s going to head me off before I reach him.
“Lilly, you need to use the knowledge within your…”
I read loudly from his course description. “I want to provide any help possible to aid your success in this course. One of the most important educational skills one can learn is how to ask questions. My promise to you is, if you put forth the time and effort required to ask, I will put forth the time and effort required to give you a thorough answer.”
Mr. Gunderman’s mouth drops open; he looks like the fish on the website he’s got up. “All right, Lilly,” he says, “I hear you. Everyone hears you, as a matter of fact.” He closes his laptop and tells me to pull a chair over next to his desk. After ten minutes of explanation, including some hand-drawn illustrations because I tell him I’m more of a visual learner, I leave Mr. Gunderman’s desk knowing the difference between macroevolution and just plain evolution.
Out in the hallway between classes, I see two boys grabbing one another by their shirt fronts and cursing. I walk up near them and read from the poster-sized copy of our school’s mission statement posted not more than two feet away. “Safety, both physical and emotional, is of utmost concern at our school. In order to build a respectful educational environment, all community constituents must work, at all times, to ensure the safety of every one of its members.” I turn to the boys so they know I’m talking about them. They get it. They release one another and move along.
In gym class, we’re getting ready to play floor hockey. Coach Simmons assigns two girls to be captains who choose the teams. I’m not sure of their names; one might be April. I do know they’re popular and like to wear clothes that show off their bodies. They each pick the best-looking boys first, then the rest of their girlfriends, then the less good-looking boys, and then only I’m left. About me, one of the captains says to the other, “You can have her.”
“No, we’ll play a person short. She’s yours.”
“We don’t need her.”
I walk away. Everyone starts playing floor hockey without me. I go into the locker room and get out my student handbook. I walk over to Coach Callahan and ask her, “Coach, do you think it’s fully in my control how good I am at floor hockey?”
“Let me put it another way, Coach. Is the fact that I am bad at floor hockey and not a good-looking boy and not a popular girl entirely in my control?”
“Well...no, of course not.”
“I didn’t think so, either. So I think this statement from page 15 of the student handbook applies to the fact that nobody will have me on their team.” I read about how it is the policy of the school board “not to discriminate in admission or access to, or treatment or employment in, its programs and activities on the basis of sexual orientation, race, language, sex, age, national origin, disability or any other factor beyond an individual’s control.”
Coach blows her whistle, stops the game, and counts everybody off into ones and twos, starting with me. I’m a one. I join all the other ones as we play floor hockey against all the other twos. We win.
At lunch, after the servers put fried potatoes and steamed hot dogs on my tray, I read to them from the food services pamphlet you can get near the cafeteria door. It says the food services company “strives to provide a balanced meal to students, with a wide variety of healthy options.” After about ten minutes and lots of pots banging in the back room, the servers bring me a salad with fruits and nuts and several vegetables. Of course, I also eat one of the hot dogs because they’re very hard to resist. In math class, when Mr. Bluthen assigns the class 20 homework problems on top of studying for a test on top of working on a portfolio project due at the end of the week, I stand at my desk and read from page 43 of the handbook: “Nightly homework in any given class should, on average, not exceed one hour per night.” Mr. Bluthen cancels the 20 problems. Some of the kids clap and Zander yells, “Way to stick it to the man, kid!”
After school my guidance counselor, Mrs. Shreve, my parents and I all meet to talk about my progress in school. We chat for a while. Then my parents ask me if I wouldn’t mind leaving the room so they can have a few minutes with Mrs. Shreve. I sit down near a vent and listen to how disappointed my parents are with my social skills, how they wish I weren’t so awkward with other kids.
I take out my bookbag and look in the pocket where I keep lots of old, important writings. I pull out the card from my tenth birthday, the one from my parents. It had a hundred dollars in it when they gave it to me, but that’s long gone. I open it up and underline where my father wrote, “We will never hurt you, Sweetheart.” I write something under my father’s words and slip the card under the door. The talking stops. After a while, I hear my mother sniffling.
What I added to the card was this: “If you don’t mean it, don’t write it.”
Reality Check: Dream 53
ü E-mail from Keith Connelly to Robert Gunderman: “Bob, I’m going to have a hard time defending the idea that Lilly reading aloud from your own syllabus constitutes insubordination. Have you talked to guidance?”
The Blow Up
We’re in the auditorium listening to the finalists of the frigging 800th annual recitation contest, which means listening to a bunch of heads-up-their asses A+ geekoids pretending to be Martin Luther King Jr. or JFK or Abraham Lincoln or some other who-gives-a-frig historical figure. They’re dressed up, too. There goes Abby Kolinkowicz wearing some Victorian thing that’s got her tits cinched up so tight you wonder if they’ll ever bounce back. She probably grew her own sheep so she could knit the damned dress herself. She’s announcing that’s she’s going to be presenting a monologue from Taming of the Shoe or some other Shakespearean crap. She’s speaking in a British accent. As if she couldn’t be boring enough in regular American, she’s talking with a stuck up English accent like the garbage on PBS you flip past when you’re switching channels.
Jackie Donnaly leans over to me and whispers, “Dude, shoot me now. How long does this thing last, anyway?” I just keep staring at Abby with her chest bound up like those pot roasts my mother brings home, the ones she always serves on Sundays with the string you have to cut off before you can eat the things. Every Sunday, the meat with the strings. And the baked potatoes. And the Jello salad with the pineapple that makes me want to vomit. And the lace tablecloth.
Every Sunday. And then every Monday with the “get out of bed,” and every Tuesday with the same thing and Wednesday and Thursday, the same “apply yourself, young man” and “why do you listen to that music” until I’m feeling as tied up as Abby’s tits, as bound up as one of those Sunday pot roasts.
Jackie leans over to me again and says, “Dude, what’s with the big jacket? You cold, man?” And even that. Even Jackie starting every frigging sentence with the word “dude,” like he can’t even begin to speak until he’s said “dude.”
Next up after Abby is Miss Routine herself, Melissa Eisner, on time for everything, on track with everything, broomstick surgically implanted up her ass so she walks like the neck of a giraffe. She’s about to get up there, and I swear to God she has decided to dress like a guy and wear a pin-striped suit with a bright yellow bow tie. If I don’t do something she’s going to open her mouth and my frigging heart is going to grind to a stop from the boredom.
So I stand up. “Dude?” Jackie says and I step out into the aisle between all the seats.
“I’ve got a speech!” I yell, and a few kids laugh and some others clap. A teacher I don’t know with his neck all dried out and stringy like an ostrich’s stands and tells me to sit down. He starts to walk up the aisle toward me. “No, I’m going to give my speech!” I yell again.
“Zander,” I hear Connelly say behind me. I get a little clinch in my stomach, but I think what the hell, I’m doing this thing. Connelly’s coming up behind me and ostrich neck is coming up from below. Melissa is down on the stage looking at her watch, pulling at her bowtie, getting ready to cry. All around me kids are buzzing and hollering and clapping. Connelly says, in that voice of his that’s supposed to stop the world, “Zander, that’s enough.”
I turn around. I whip off my coat. I yell as loud as I can, “You want to see enough, Connelly? You want to see enough, old man? This is a bomb I’m wearing, so back the hell off!”
For about half a second the whole place gets quiet like somebody’s sucking in a breath; then it’s nothing but screams and panic. I’m yelling I’m going to give my speech, let me give my god-damned speech or I’ll push this button, swear to God I’ll push the button and Jenna Clarence is hanging on to her seat like she’s trying to climb inside it, all the time saying please, please and Connelly’s doing his voice of God thing telling everybody to stay calm, just stay calm and I’m thinking this contraption I rigged up last night and strapped on this morning worked. It freaking worked!
After a couple minutes, Connelly and the teachers have got the place calmed down to just some whimpering and sniffling. I smell piss and I look over to see Jackie gripping the wet stain on his crotch. He’s shaking so bad I don’t even think he can manage to say “dude.” Connelly’s talking in what’s supposed to be a calm voice—“Zander, you don’t want to do this, Zander”—but I can tell he’s scared spitless. It’s all beautiful. I do the only part of the speech I’ve practiced.
“You want to know something, ladies and gentleman, boys and girls? The other day, I woke up in the middle of Health class, and good ol’ Miss Tingdale—who, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, has a very nice ass…”
“Zander!” Connelly yells.
“Connelly!” I yell back. “In case you haven’t noticed, I got a bomb device strapped to my chest, so if you think I’m worried about getting in trouble for talking about Miss Tingdale’s ass, you need to think again. My turn, dickhead! Sit down or I’ll push this button!”
Connelly sits. It looks like it hurts, but he sits. I figure I’ve got about a minute left before the authorities come crashing in since everybody with a cellphone 9-1-1-ed the second I took off my coat.
“I woke up in Miss Tingdale’s class,” I say, “to find her writing down a new vocab word on the board. Do you know what that word was? Do you? Check this out, boys and girls—Zander learned a new word. Stultifying. Stul-ti-fy-ing! And do you know what it means? It means bored into inaction. It means deadened by routine. It means, in other words: Here! This shit-hole called school! These speeches! This life! We have been stultified, you hearing me? And today, I am your savior. With this button, I am going to save you from stultification!”
When I mention the button, when I lift my thumb over it, the place turns back into whining and yelling and pleading again and I’m not sure even Connelly’s going to be able to keep the panic from spreading right out the doors, so I push the button.
Actually, the paint cartridges on my chest explode and spray the place with blue, red and green paint. It sprays it all over the seats, the floor, the kids, Jackie, Jenna, Connelly, ostrich neck, Abby’s cinched-up boobs, Melissa’s yellow bow-tie—this rainbow of excitement bursts from my chest and my back and sprays the whole auditorium. At the very same moment, the windows explode and a SWAT team comes busting in. I know in a few seconds they’re going to have me down and hog-tied and hustled out the door, so I yell for all I’m worth:
“I saved you, you suckers! You’re going to talk about this for weeks! For months! I saved you from being stultified to death, you zombies! You should pin a medal on me for giving the best speech in the history of this…”
But that’s all I can say ‘cause now they’re dragging me down and I’m lost to everybody in a sea of black SWAT uniforms but just before they Tase me, just before my brain is nothing but pain, I smile and think, “What a day. What a beautiful fucking day.”
Reality Check: Dream 54
ü Graffiti outside Principal Connelly’s window: “Connelly you shithead!! ZP”
ü Illegal/suspicious items found in Zander Paolino’s locker: 3 cans of spray paint; two ounces of marijuana; one hunting knife with 4” blade.
ü Illegal/suspicious items found in Zander Paolino’s locker actually placed there by Zander Paolino: One hunting knife with 4” blade.
Jenna Clarence’s Dream:
I look at the text again, for the hundredth time since Robbie sent it last night:
i dont think i no were we r going with us. dont think we r the best match 4 now. i think we need to tak a break 4 now. i dont want to hert u 4 sure. we r young right? c u later. dont b a stanger.
This is not a break-up text. How could this possibly be a break-up text? It doesn’t make sense! Me and Robbie were perfect for each other, everybody said so! And romantic? Robbie was definitely...is definitely romantic. I remember, like, three days ago when we were walking into WalMart to get a new oil filter for his truck, he held the door open for me. I mean, he went in first, but he opened the door and then he held it so I could come in. Or no, that couldn’t have been at WalMart because they have the automatic doors. No, it was at Five Guys. That’s right, because I remember just after he opened the door for me, I walked in and slipped on a ketchup packet. I got a little mad that Robbie laughed at me instead of helping me up, but anyway, he can be romantic! How could he have sent me this?
I wipe my eyes again as I head into English class. On the board, Ms. Warren has written down “Today’s Agenda: Poetry Analysis.” Oh, perfect. She’s going to hand out some lame old poem by Shakespeare or Emily Dickerson or some other dead white guy, and then she’s going to make us feel like idiots when we can’t unlock the deeper meaning. This is going to be torture, especially since all that matters to me is finding Robbie and trying to figure out why, why he would send me this text!
Ms. Warren starts the class like she always does, with a quote we’re supposed to respond to in our journals. At least today’s is pretty short: “What you see depends on what you’re looking for.” I write it down and try to do my response, but all I can think about is how am I going to live without Robbie?
The next thing I know, tears and snot are spilling onto my journal entry. Ms. Warren brings me over a box of Kleenex, which is nice of her, and she leans down and asks me if I’m all right. I tell her that I must be allergic to something. She says, “I hope it’s not poetry.” I smile a little at her stupid joke and say again that I’m all right even though inside I’m totally dying.
After our usual three minutes of writing, Ms. Warren collects our journals. She says, “And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for—poetry analysis!” We groan.
Ms. Warren’s approach is nothing new. She’s using the overhead projector and a piece of paper as a block so she shows just the first line of the poem. She’s done that before because line breaks are supposed to be super important because the poet wants to isolate certain words to force the reader to consider them more deeply and whatever. This is nothing new, but the line she’s showing us blows me away:
“i dont think i no”
“Now, what do we learn from this line in isolation?” asks Ms. Warren. The usual silence and blank stares from everybody but me. What do we learn? What do we learn? I need to get this started. I raise my hand, which I never do, especially not first, so Ms. Warren looks surprised. “Jenna, do you need to use the bathroom?”
“No. I want to say something about that line, that line of poetry.”
“Well, by all means, comment away.”
“Um...he used the wrong no.”
“Interesting observation, Jenna. Very good. But is it the wrong no or is the poet trying to challenge us with the misspelling?” Silence again. I want to say more, but I need to know what other people think. I know how this goes. Ms. Warren won’t let us off the hook. She’s not going to swoop in and just give us the answer; she’ll let us sit here for forever until someone comments. After a few more seconds, I just can’t stand it.
“Somebody say something!” Now everybody looks shocked.
“Dude, cool it,” Jason Archer says. “What’s your problem?”
“I don’t have a problem,” I say. “She asked a question. This is a class. The teacher asks questions; we’re supposed to answer them, or try to at least. Why doesn’t somebody say something?”
“You say something,” DeeAnne Cross spits back.
“I did. I want to know what other people think.”
“Who died and made you teacher?” says Marta Green.
Ms. Warren pipes in, “People, people, let’s not be anti-educational here. Jenna, for whatever glorious reason, has some passion around this poem. For once, I’m not the only one excited about the subject matter. So let’s contribute. It’s a reasonable request.”
After just a short pause this time, Kristen Dickerson says, “Well, it’s like the word no sort of reverses the line.”
“Go on,” Ms. Warren says.
“I mean, it’s kind of confusing.” You’ve got that right. “But maybe the word no sort of cancels out the rest of the sentence, even the word it’s replacing. Like the know of knowledge is replaced by the n-o no, so the line means the opposite of what it’s saying.”
“So it really means ‘I do think I know?’” I ask.
“Yeah,” Kristen replies.
“Excellent!” says Ms. Warren. “Now let’s go on to the next line.”
I’ve been holding my breath for this moment. Maybe some random big-wig poet happened to come up with the same first line for his poem as Robbie did for his text. But there’s no way the second line will be the same. Ms. Warren pulls down the paper to reveal the next words, and I almost pass out:
were we r
So what Robbie sent me was a poem? Or did Ms. Warren somehow get Robbie’s text and turn it into a poem? If that’s true, my English teacher is a total creeper. Or maybe Robbie showed her the text before he sent it, and Ms. Warren saw it as poetry and she’s sharing it with us? It doesn’t matter. Robbie sent me a text that we’re now analyzing as poetry in English. This class has suddenly become the most important thing I’ve ever done in school. By now, Ms. Warren has shown the first four lines:
i dont think i no
were we r
going with us.
“What other poet have we encountered who manipulates spelling and capitalization like this?” she asks.
“Oh, yeah, yeah, that e.e. guy,” says Phil Dixon.
“That e.e. guy is right--e.e. cummings. Do you suppose that this poet might be trying to communicate some of the same things e.e. cummings is in, say, ‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’”?
The conversation gets going. The class discusses line breaks, repetition, punctuation, deliberate ambiguity, even symbolism and metaphors--all the poetic stuff. After 40 minutes of discussion, the whole poem is projected on the screen.
i dont think i no
were we r
going with us.
we r the best match
i think we need to tak
i dont want to hert u
we r young
c u later.
“So, what do we conclude?” asks Ms. Warren, and she doesn’t have to wait long at all before Kristen raises her hand.
“It’s a love note,” she says. “I mean, it’s pretty cool, actually, pretty clever, because it looks like a breakup note or even a text from somebody who’s not very smart, but after you really take it apart, you see there’s a lot of thought there.”
“And a lot of love,” says Ms. Warren. Everyone nods. “I have to agree. This is a very clever, very touching declaration of love.” The bell rings. As I excitedly gather up my stuff, Ms. Warren says, “Jenna, you were fabulous today. What great input.”
I hug her. I give Ms. Warren a big old hug and whisper, “That was the best lesson of my life!” and I leave her there, shocked, as I run out the door to go find my Robbie.
Reality Check: Dream 55
ü From Mrs. Shreve’s activity log: “2:00-3:00, met with Jenna Clarence, trying to console her over breakup with boyfriend. ‘Can’t live without him, etc.’ Sent e-mail home advising they watch her.”
ü Caption under prom photo of Jenna Clarence and Jonny Hoff: “The Forever Couple.”