And now, for something completely different.
Failing Love and School
“I’m sure there’s someone out there who’s just the right person for you,” he said. “I mean, I hope there’s someone out there who’s just right for me!”
He says that last bit with flair and enthusiasm that makes me bury my face in my palms.
“Come on, dude,” he pleads, “why you gotta be so down all the time?”
“I’m not down, Josh,” I try to say as seriously as possible, stopping all but one giggle from escaping my lips. “I’m just not interested in that stuff.”
“That stuff!” Josh cries, waving his hands in the air, aggravated. “It’s great! Being with the girl of your dreams! You can talk to her about stuff, or go to the movies with her.”
“What, are you hitting on me?” It’s hard to believe he’s taking himself seriously, what with all the embarrassing shit he just spouted.
“Nooooo!” He recoils. “You’re my best friend,” he adds, an expression dancing over his features like he’s worried he offended me with his denial, “and we go way back. We know each other too well!”
“I’m just sayin’, it’s kind of weird to be talking about that stuff with me.”
I look around the almost-empty classroom, glad for its almost-emptiness. It’s kind of comical that the Latin teacher is standing there, in the corner, doing a very good job of pretending not to be interested in our discussion. He’s really awkward, but a fun, energetic, young guy, late twenties, enthusiastic about teaching, cheerful, all that. Hates failing kids. Hates giving anything less than As, really. Josh gets straight Bs on tests despite working really hard.
I’m not entirely sure of where I was going with that.
“Did you finish the homework?” I ask Josh, trying to spark conversation after things had gotten kind of quiet.
“I only made it halfway through,” he whines. “The translations are really hard, you know?”
Mr. Bett—and yes, embarrassingly enough, my Latin 1 class of mostly Freshman loves making fun of that name—chuckles a little at this. Not at Josh’s predicament, of course, but at the very idea that Latin could be hard. He’s not a very good teacher… awkward, and stuck in the mindset of someone to whom Romance Languages come easy.
Josh and I are both Seniors, taking the beginning Latin class in order to fulfill a requirement we both skimped on early on. It’s like he said just before—we’ve known each other for a long time. We were in middle school together, and before that, elementary. We competed viciously for the top grade in our Honors Geometry class Freshman year, and when we both began struggling in Honors Algebra 2, we realized it was time to unite our powers and become study-buddies… and, more importantly, friends.
Now, Junior year was smooth going. We had no classes together but stayed in touch, hung out at lunch, got along well.
This year… ugh. Suddenly, Josh has this immense yearning for a girlfriend. From snippets I’ve heard him include in his complaints, he does indeed have a particular girl in mind, but more often than not he seems to be saying, “screw love! any girl, you, OVER THERE, COME HERE! GO OUT WITH ME!!!”
And it’s kind of embarrassing and lame to sit here with him at lunch, finishing up Calculus homework under the watchful eye of Mr. Bett our Latin teacher, and listen to him go on about all the reasons why he should get the girls. For the longest time, it was that he was a nice guy, and really polite and kind. And that much is true. As I’ve stressed a million times in conversation with him, I’m jealous. I wish I were half the good person he is.
Then it was that he “finally” got his growth spurt, and the tall guys get all the girls.
Then it was that his hair was perfect.
Then it was that he was lonely and, without a girlfriend, he had nothing better to do than become less desirable to the girls.
Over the last few days, things have heated up. His reasons are getting more and more far-fetched. What was today’s reason of the day? I uh, I don’t know. It sort of flew in one ear and out the other. I can’t deal with his complaints that much anymore. Especially not when we’ve got a big Calculus test coming up later in the day, and, dorks that we are, are supposed to be cramming hard.
“But c’mon, don’t you think there’s gotta be someone out there, some perfect someone, just waiting for you? Absolutely perfect, you know? You love him, he loves you. You know? You go out, to cafes and restaurants, and hold hands, and feel perfect?”
“I doubt it,” I muttered. “I’m really not thinking about that stuff, and besides, there’s no guy out there who wants a dork like me.”
“Oh, come on! You can’t have such a tunnel vision approach… I mean, that one perfect guy could just pass you up someday without you even noticing, right? You gotta grab your chances while you’ve got them. You gotta say what you feel to the people you love!”
“I think it’s amusing as hell that you’re pursuing such things, though. Keep it up. Fight for the team, alright, Josh?”
“Aaaargh,” he utters, then falls silent upon seeing the time, busying himself with his Calc homework. The room uncharacteristically quiet, I set about mine, slaughtering a set of integrals with ease. Maybe that test won’t be so hard.
The first bell rings after some time, and Freshmen start filing in, occupying desks. Mr. Bett puts his coffee cup down on his desk, readies a whiteboard marker, and scrawls the translation warm-up on the board. Josh groans, I giggle. The second half of the day had begun.
“How did the test go for you?” I ask Josh as we join the rush of people out of the math building.
“Piece of cake,” he declares, beaming. “You?”
“I… I did great, hopefully,” I smile back. I’m actually not sure at all. There were a bunch of questions I didn’t recognize from any exercise on the homework or quiz, and I’d pretty much guessed on them. Actually, yeah, there was no way I’d gotten above a C.
“Well, I’ll see you tomorrow at lunch,” Josh says cheerfully, turning into a side hall and heading off to his track practice.
“Yep.” I continue on down the main hall, into the language building, headed toward my bus stop. As I’m walking past the open door of Mr. Bett’s room, I take a casual peek inside. He’s alone, sitting at his desk, elbows on grade book. Upon closer inspection, he’s massaging his temples. I guess his youthful cheer and enthusiasm with regards to teaching get to be draining after a long day.
“Miss Sim?” he asks, looking up at me, and I realize that my closer inspection has brought me to a position hovering across his desk from him. He rises, discarding his weariness and smiling like the total dweeb he is. Did I call myself a dork, earlier? Mr. Bett is like, ten times dorkier than me and Josh combined.
“Oh, sorry,” I reply, the first response I have to any authority figure. What did I do wrong? Whom did I offend? Where should I go to be out of the way? But for the life of me I couldn’t decide what I should be apologizing for, so I said the lamest bit of crap a dork like me can say. “I uh… I’m going home.” Right, because I come to my Latin classroom to tell my Latin teacher that I’m going home.
Anyway, so saying, I turn for the door.
“Wait, Miss Sim,” he says. I wait.
“What’d I do wrong?” I ask, hesitant.
“Nothing at all,” he says. I think he’s trying to smile to calm me down, but it’s actually just incredibly dorky, and kind of comical. “Mr. Silburg”—that’s Josh—”said something interesting at lunch today.”
“Yeah, he says interesting things all the time,” I say, my reaction to a mental recollection of Josh’s prize lines overwhelming my tendency not to let humor slip in front of teachers.
“I’ll be perfectly frank, Miss Sim,” Mr. Bett continues, ignoring my jab at my best friend, “I’d never really thought about what he was talking about—perfect partners out there waiting for you, or what have you—before today, when he talked about them. And I think he had a reasonable point, that you need to reach out and take your chances when you can.”
“Yes, sir,” I reply without blinking.
“That applies to everyone. So, I’m not going to just let things go unsaid and leave my chance to fate, either. Miss Sim, I love you.”
I wouldn’t say that I feel particularly horrified. But by the way his smile vanishes, I sure look the part. I actually don’t feel a whole lot. To tell the truth, the whole thing is kind of comical. I almost feel like laughing. Almost. This guy isn’t Josh, isn’t my best friend with whom I can make and take jokes. He’s dead serious.
“Alright then, opportunity grasped, words said, and now that I know you’re not the perfect woman for me I can go along and find the next opportunity,” he says, shakily.
Oh, fucking shit.
Yeah, it wasn’t a joke. For some reason it took until now for that to truly set in.
“I’m seventeen,” I say, almost instinctively. Not that I actually care about ages. Just, nothing about romance with anyone interests me, and I feel like pointing out the obvious. He just said something completely inappropriate and I am not sure if he’s fully aware of what he’s saying. Maybe he has a fever. Maybe he’s sleep-talking.
And then I figure he really, really doesn’t want to talk to me right now, and that presenting law-related bullshit to him is probably a stupid idea.
“Sorry,” I say, and flee the classroom as slowly as I can.
The next day is Friday, and we have a pop quiz in Latin—a short translation. Josh groans and mutters something about translations not being fair. I give the quiz a quick look-over; it seems easy. I decide to leave mine blank and see how badly Mr. Bett wants to keep his job. If he gives me an F, I’m reporting him to Child Protection Services or something like that.
Oh, and I get back my Calculus test. Josh gets his perfect A. As expected, I get a mid-range C. Not bad for the class, but of course I’m disappointed in myself. It’s my first C in a math class, ever. Embarrassed, I hide it from Josh.
On Monday, I get to Latin just in time for the start of class. Josh has of course been there all lunch period, waiting for me. I haven’t told him about Mr. Bett’s transgression—I think it’s safe to call it that, at least—and he asks me where I was. I reply with the vague, ‘I had something to do,’ and class begins.
Mr. Bett hands back our quizzes, mine with a zero.
After Calculus that day, I ask Josh if he’s off to track practice as usual. He shakes his head, he’s got a hot date.
“What?!” I exclaim, getting odd looks from other students marching down the hall around us.
“Mmmhm,” he nods smugly. “With Rachel. I asked her out on Saturday.”
I forget what happened immediately following that, but next thing I know I’m standing with my back to the wall in one of the side halls of the science building, alone. Students continue to stream back and forth through the main hall, between entrance and exit and department buildings and appointments and clubs and lab classes and hot dates. I let my backpack slide to the ground and begin crying.