Thursday, June 23, 2016

Chapters 65-67

Keith Connelly’s Dream: 

     Nine years.  That’s how long ago Grace’s parents sat in this office pleading with me to recall every scrap of conversation I had had with their daughter.  It was a day just like today, in late March.  I remember looking out this window:  sun blazing, temperatures in the 60s after a long winter, the snow gone everywhere except for a few dirty piles in the shadiest corners of the building.  I had been looking forward to a long walk.  Grace’s parents came in at 3:00.  By the time they left, the temperature had dropped 15 degrees and night had fallen.  Not that I had the energy for a walk anymore, not after that meeting.
     Grace had run away.  Understandably frantic, her parents were turning over every stone.  So they came to me, and I lied.  I told them that I had advised Grace to be more diligent with her studies.  I told them that I had cautioned her about her choice of friends.  I told them I had assured Grace I cared about her welfare, as did all of those who worked with her at the school.
     In truth, I had completely lost my temper with Grace the last time I saw her.  Perhaps because she looked too much like my own daughter, then off at boarding school, or because she rolled her eyes so often, or simply because she was the last straw on a day full of belligerent students, I did not even try to check my anger at Grace.  I screamed and threatened and told her that her days at this school were numbered and if I heard one peep of complaint from anyone in the school, I would bounce her out so fast it would make her head spin.  I lied to Grace’s parents, making them believe that my last interaction with their daughter had been supportive.  To protect myself, to hide my shame, and knowing that any story from Grace would not be believed over mine, I had lied.
     For most of the meeting, I sat and listened to them unpack the catalog of difficulties they had had with their daughter--her defiance, her sneakiness, the hints of her drug use.  I couldn’t do anything but make sympathetic noises and tell them that their daughter would surely be back.  “They come home,” I said.  “They think things will be better out in the world.  We adults are just idiots trying to control them.  Grace will learn, though.  You’ll hear from her.  I’ve been doing this long enough to know that.”    
     Grace didn’t come back.  Despite the posters, the alerts, the reward offers, her parents never heard from her again.  Now and then, I run into them at the gas station or The Home Depot.  Though they’re both younger than I by a few years, they look old.  The husband has put on probably a hundred pounds; the wife looks as if she’s lost as much.  Every time I see them, I have an impulse to confess.  I just say hello, though, and pass the time with comments about the weather.  We never bring up Grace.  
     Today reminds me so much of that day nine years ago.
     I am just finishing up a letter to Peter Gibson’s parents, warning them about his abysmal attendance, when a woman comes into my office.  She takes off her sunglasses and gives me a firm handshake.  “Mr. Connelly, do you remember me?”  She looks vaguely familiar.
     “I’m sorry.  So many students over the years, I just can’t…  
     “I’m Grace Parker.”
     Fortunately, I’m sitting down.
     “Grace?  I...I didn’t realize you had...when did you…?”  She laughs gently at my confusion.
     “I’m back,” she says.  “I don’t blame you for not knowing.  Nobody does, not even my parents. Don’t worry; I’m planning to see them.  I was just passing by here on the way, and I thought I’d stop in.  I wanted to tell you, Mr. Connelly, that if it weren’t for you, I probably never would have come back.  I mean, who knows where I would be?  Maybe dead.  God knows I’ve been close.  I’ve been through just about every kind of trouble you could imagine.”
     “I’m sorry to hear that.”
     “Nothing you could do. I was bound and determined that I knew the right course for my life.”  Grace pauses and looks around.  “This place hasn’t changed much, Mr. Connelly.  Even looks like the same plants.”  
     “Oh, no--I’ve killed a few since you were here last.”
     She smiles, pauses and says, “You were pretty rough on me nine years ago.”
     “I was, Grace.  Too rough.  I lost my temper, but I want you to know, if it’s any solace at all, that I learned something about myself and my profession when you ran away.  I can honestly say that, while I may still yell now and then, I always stay in control.  Not like with you.  I was unprofessional, and I’m sorry.  If it contributed to your…”
     “Hey, whether you yelled or not, Mr. Connelly, I was going to leave.  The point is, you were right, and some of the things you said never left my mind.  Ever.  You were the only one willing to really lay it on the line and tell me the truth, no sugar-coating.  I hated it at the time, but, over the years, I came to understand you were right.  I stopped by to say thank-you, sir.”  
     I can’t speak.  Finally, I get out, “I appreciate that, Grace.”
     “I’d better be getting over to my parents’ house.  Do you suppose they’ll have me back?”
     I don’t mind that she sees the tears in my eyes.  I tell her I know they will; I absolutely know they will.  I hold out my hand to Grace, but she hugs me instead.  “Thank-you,” she whispers, and then she leaves my office through the same door she walked through nine years ago.  This time, she’s heading home.  

Reality Check:  Dream 65
ü  Keith Connelly’s blood pressure two minutes before presenting the Second Annual Grace Durnan Memorial Scholarship to Abigail Kolinkowicz:  164/100.

ü  Note in Keith Connelly’s personal journal:  “Top goal for school year:  expel Zander Paolino.”

Peter Gibson’s Dream: 

     The official story, the cover story, is that first I got a concussion falling off a skateboard, and that kept me out of school for a week, and then, the morning I was going to go back, I woke up feeling like complete crap.  I could barely move; I could barely swallow; I felt like someone had stuffed my head chock full of packing peanuts.  My mother thought I was faking it at first, that I was used to staying at home so I was trying out the old pseudo-flu.  She did the usual:  came into my room five times, each time telling me more loudly to get up.  I just groaned.  She brought in a pitcher of cold water, made like she was going to dump it on my head.  I croaked out, “Go ahead.”  When she heard my voice, she knew I wasn’t kidding.  After two days of me not getting better, off to the doctor’s I went again.  The verdict this time:  Mono.  Two weeks minimum out of school, maybe more.
     That, like I said, was the official story--the e-mailed report that went out to the school nurse, the administration, guidance, my teachers.  They could send me the instructions and materials to try to keep up, but chances were that I wouldn’t be able to do much.  
     So here I am, three and a half weeks after my supposed dumb skateboard move, coming back to a hundred variations of “Where the hell have you been?”  I tell them:  Can you believe it?  First a concussion, then mono.  
     Typical response:  “Dude, that’s rough.”  Pause.  “How’re you gonna catch up?”
     Thankfully, my cover story is only that.  Otherwise, after only half a day of going to my classes and realizing how totally lost I am, I’d be tempted to crawl back into bed and never come out.  No, I don’t have to feel that way because of what I’ve actually been doing in my absence.
     Apple and Windows, in an unheard-of alliance, collaborated to create the most powerful operating system and interface yet launched:  The iMe.  I am the prototype.  For the past three and a half weeks, a crack team of technicians has transformed my room into an elaborate laboratory--a sealed off, completely undercover clean room.  Even my own family was not allowed into the space.  In the center of the banks of computers, the miles of cable, the sheets of plastic, the intense army of techs covered in clean suits head to toe--in the middle of all that...was me.
     So now here I am meeting with Ms. Warren, my sophomore English teacher.  She rattles off my list of work and the due dates:  Finish reading Frankenstein; create 30 multiple-choice questions on the novel; memorize 50 vocabulary words; write the first draft of a paper that demonstrates why the book is still applicable to today’s society; create a collage including at least 20 different images; write a paragraph that mirrors Shelley’s use of sentence structure and punctuation.  With each one of these assignments, Ms. Warren hands me a flurry of papers and gives me an avalanche of explanations--all stuff that would have definitely overwhelmed the old version of me.  Equipped as am with a subdermal network of wiring creating an interface directly between my brain and the Internet, not to mention hundreds of software innovations created specifically for the iMe application, I take it all in and feel the machine that is me eat it for breakfast, a light one at that.  
     As Ms. Warren speaks, iMe transcribes her words into a text document for later reference.  The papers she hands me I could toss right in the recycling bin since the moment I glance at them, they’ve been scanned and stored.  The 50 vocabulary words are already “memorized,” which is to say I can whisper any one of them and see the definition in my peripheral vision (interactive contact lenses, of course).  Only 20 images for the collage?  I’ve already started to scan through the top 100 pictures iMe has selected from its search of Frankenstein, both the original text and the critical writings about the novel from its publication up to the present day.  
     Ms. Warren has stopped talking and is staring at me.  I’ve been so busy starting my work that I must have missed something.  “Sorry?”  By the time Ms. Warren has sighed and shaken her head, iMe has played back her last four seconds of talking, about how she also expects me to keep up with the current class work.   I quickly say, “Oh, right, I’ll do my very best to keep up, Ms. Warren. ”  I know this sounds a little wimpy, but the iMe installers have warned me not to act too confident; after all, this is top secret stuff, and I can’t let on that I’m returning super-charged.  iMe will need to be rolled out carefully to maximize profits.  In fact, the release probably won’t be for another year or more.  In the meantime, though, I am the very lucky guinea pig.
     Ms. Warren surprises me by getting a little soft.  Contrary to rumor, maybe she does have some sort of heart.  She says, “Peter, maybe we need to spread these assignments out a bit more.  You’re looking a little lost.”  
     What she interprets as me looking lost is actually me being totally distracted by the functions zooming around inside me, all designed to make short work of her homework.  The collage is done.  The vocabulary is a non-issue.  The novel is read, meaning I can access any part of the story I need whenever I need it.  The multiple choice questions will probably take me five minutes of decision-making--automatic iMe functions have chunked the novel into the most important concepts, one for each 30th of the book.  I’ll just need to choose which ideas I want to focus on and then pick from the generated array.
      None of this is cheating, by the way.  I’m not plagiarizing.  iMe has uploaded and analyzed every paper I’ve ever written, so when I put together the multiple choice and the papers, I’ll be using my own language.  The paragraph is about done.  I’ve quickly chosen a topic--swimming lessons.  Now that iMe has accessed everything in my personal database about this experience and created a template of Mary Shelley’s most common sentence structures and punctuation, it’ll be practically a fill-in-the-blank assignment.  Still, I’m going to have to work on looking like I’m paying attention when teachers talk to me.  Humble is good.  Lost might raise suspicions.  
     “Uh, I really appreciate your help, Ms. Warren.  I think I can handle the makeup work with the schedule you’ve given me.  I mean, you know, I’m all over my concussion now, ha, ha.  No more skateboards for me.”  
     “Well,” she says doubtfully, “we’ll see.  You keep me apprised of your progress.”  A voice in the back of my head defines the word “apprised” and I answer, “Oh, yeah, I’ll definitely keep you informed, Ms. Warren.”  Her eyebrows lift a little and I think, That’s right, you’re not the only professor in the house anymore.
      As I leave the room, I say good-bye and thank-you very much and I’ll work really hard to get all the make up work done.  Truth its, it’ll all be finished within the hour,  along with every other assignment I get today. As I check out the hallway full of students rushing around to get to their next class, their next test, I can’t help feeling like a god looking down on all the puny humans.  What am I going to do with all my time?
     That question stays with me for about half a second.  It’s gone when I see Roya Sundaram.  My gaze hangs on her long enough for iMe to kick in.  Within seconds, all her on-line information, from Facebook postings to the fact that her father is an insurance salesman, has been fed into me along with general information about all the Roya-like girls who have ever existed.  Suddenly I’m knowing exactly how to approach this set of curves that’s been making me crazy for the past year and a half, and the likelihood of me kissing her within the next week is hovering around 97%.  If there was ever a concussed, barely-mono-recovered, totally overwhelmed kid in this world, I am definitely not him.  
     I am iMe, and iMe is awesome.  
Reality Check:  Dream 66
ü  From e-mail sent from Guidance to Peter Gibson’s teachers:  “This poor kid has had quite the string of bad luck—first a concussion, then mono, now a bout of depression.  Let’s put our heads together to see what he can salvage of the year.” 

Roya Sundaram’s Dream:

     I watch myself walk through the door of the high school.  I’m not thrilled with what I’m wearing today.  I took a risk with a turtleneck.  I like the comfort of it, but I see that it makes my head seem to float above the rest of my outfit.  The turtleneck is black, which particularly adds to the effect. I shouldn’t have worn the turtleneck.  Who wears turtlenecks anymore?  Maybe they’re coming back, but they’re not back yet.  As I look around, no one else is wearing a turtleneck.  
     I pass by Diana Broomquist and give her half a smile.  She gives me the same sort of smile back, but just as we are side by side, she says, “Hey,” but by the time I’m able to say “hey” back, she’s already gone.  She’s going to think I’m a snob; I know she is.  I see the interaction in my mind’s eye, replay it from Diana’s point of view, and I definitely come off seeming like a snob.  I can’t afford to come off like that to Diana.  She has a lot of the friends I’m trying to be with, and if she starts saying I’m a snob, it could ruin my chances with that whole circle.
     I get to my locker and begin my daily battle with my lock.  How many times have I gone through this?  36, 12, 11.  Spin to the 36, spin past the 12 once, hit it the second time, then spin back to the 11.  Why is not working again?  I try it twice.  No go both times.  I puff out my cheeks and breathe out heavily, letting the lock clang against my locker. I realize I’m making too much noise.  I’m coming off like a lowly freshman who can’t handle her locker.  
     I instruct myself, correcting the image I should portray:  Step away from the lock.  Crouch down and reach into your bookbag.  Pull out your notebook.  Look at an empty page as if you’re actually checking something.  Keep pretending to read.  Make an upward motion with your eyebrows as if you found the thing you were looking for.  Nonchalantly put the notebook on top of your bookbag.  There, that’s a much better look.  
     Jarrod Towne passes me and says hi.  I turn to him a bit too quickly and say, “Oh, hello.  Hi.”  “Hello, hi?”  Could I possibly come off more desperate to please, more eager to be liked?  Damn it!  I might as well have been the freshman in the losing battle with the lock.  Jarrod might at least have been a bit amused by that picture.  Me with my three-word greeting--the I’m-surprised-to-see-you “oh,” and then the too-formal “hello” followed by the forgive-me-for-being-so-formal “hi.”  What was that?  Why do I have to get so flustered when guys like Jarrod walk by?  
     All right, class will be starting soon.  Have to get myself together.  I need to pull this off--unlocking my locker without looking as if it’s my third attempt.  No deep breaths, no signals of anxiety.  I need to look like I just arrived at my locker and I’m very confidently spinning it to the 36, the 12, the 11.  Done.  Now a smile, just a tad, to indicate assurance that it will work.  Pull down.  Yes!  No.  My face registered too much relief just then.  Why should I look relieved when I knew it was going to work?  I’m not having a good day.  Every image of myself I’m creating is just off.
     Just then, Heather Demeres comes up with a camera around her neck.  Heather is generally a nice person, but when she has that camera, she’s in yearbook mode, and then she must be feared.  “Candid!” she yells and lifts the camera to take a shot.  
     “No, no!”  I raise my hands.  I see the image of me with my hands raised like I’m in an old-fashioned stick-up, with my mouth in a circle from saying the O of  No, and the picture looks ridiculous.  Before I can shift my expression, Heather snaps the photo.  The sound of the camera when she pushes the button seems strangely loud, practically echoing down the hallway.
     Heather looks at the display on the back of the camera and says, “Very cute.  Look for it in the yearbook!  Did you put in an order yet?”  I don’t even have time to respond when she’s off looking for her next victim.  
     As I walk toward Spanish, something feels different.  I’m taking a familiar path, passing the normal lockers, walls, rooms, bulletin boards, other students.  Yet everything seems new now, in sharper focus.  It’s like when I’m home watching a show on the computer and the Internet is slow, the picture is just slightly blurry, but then the bandwidth gets uncluttered and the show snaps into focus.  Sometimes it feels like I’ve put on 3-D glasses.  
     The walk to first period is like that.  The drunk driving poster has been there for at least two years; I’ve passed it hundreds of times, yet I feel as if someone has painted the bloodstain on the pavement a much more vibrant red than I ever remember.  It’s really disgusting.  Jonica DuMoulin walks by with two of her friends.  They’re chatting together and don’t acknowledge me.  Jonica is short.  That’s not new information.  If someone asked me to describe her, I would have said she was shorter than me.  Today, this morning, I notice she’s shorter than just about everybody.  She can’t be more than four and a half feet tall.  How strange that I never saw that before, how short she is.  
     The walls are two-toned—light green on the bottom and white on the top.   That’s fascinating.  These walls in this hallway are two-toned!  Are all the walls in the school like that?  I want to know.  I’m suddenly very curious and excited about my surroundings.  Why do I feel this way?
     In Spanish, a class that usually bores and baffles me, this feeling of newness hangs on.  I notice that Senora Backus is wearing a multi-colored blouse, a typical top for her, but she’s clearly taken care to coordinate it with her earrings and her eye shadow.  When she talks about the culture of Spain, I raise my hand and ask her if she’s ever actually been to Spain.  All this time I’ve been in her room and seen all the posters of Spain and listened to her lectures about the customs of the place, but suddenly it occurs to me that Spain is a long ways from here.  And Spanish is a language very different from English.  And Senora Backus is many years older than I am and not from around here.  I actually want to know if she’s been to Spain, so I raise my hand and ask her.  “Yes,” she says.  “I believe I’ve mentioned several times that I was actually raised there until I was a teenager.  My father taught at the University of Madrid.”  
     “You moved to the United States when you were our age? Really?”
     Senora Backus smiles and nods, surprised by my interest.  I’m surprised by it, too, but it’s not fake.  She keeps talking about why she lived in Spain and what it was like to move here.  I find the story amazing.  I find the world amazing!  Why, though?  Why do I feel such a lightness now, such curiosity about things that have always surrounded me?  
     I look over at Dawnelle Grossman and Sarah Malleck.  They’re not paying any attention to Senora Backus.  They’re leaning their heads close together so Dawnelle can snap a selfie.  
     That’s it! I know what’s missing, and by its absence, everything looks entirely different to me now.  My cameras have shut off.  
     I’m not looking at what I look like.  I’m sitting here--listening, looking, smelling, feeling, experiencing, being--and that’s all.  I’m here.  Just here.  Not beside myself, above myself, behind or ahead of myself, second-and-third guessing myself.  My self is not a thing at all, not until now when I’ve realized the loss.  
     But it’s a loss that feels like a gain.  I shut off the realization.  I just live.  
Reality Check:  Dream 67
Consecutive days Roya Sundaram updated her Facebook profile with a current selfie:  315. 

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