1/10/2006

On Enemies, Part V


This is the fifth in a multi-part series on the subject of the various great and memorable enemies I have had the pleasure of knowing over the years, from the earnest gibbering of schoolyard bullies to the courtly dance of the merely ritualistic antagonist.

This week we turn our focus away from those would make us victims of intimidation to those who those who give us a profound sense of the most morbid kind of heebie-jeebies -- a visceral unease that means their presence cannot be entertained for fear of nausea, their personalities cannot be endured for fear of discovering more about them.

Please see also Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.



The Weird Sisters

I switched schools again. I switched schools a lot. Between the middle school featured in the last installment in this series and the middle school described below I attended an imploding alternative school run by dirty hippies, but that's another story and has already been told.

In the middle of the eighth grade I was introduced into a small class of kids who had been together since kindergarten. They considered the integration of strangers into their cloister to be of dubious value, so while they were basically polite in the classroom itself they didn't invite me to any of their reindeer games.

There was another new boy, a fat kid with greasy hair and grandma sweaters who sat in the corner and didn't talk to anyone. He had arrived a few months ahead of me, and it didn't look like he had eased himself into class society with much success. When I talked with him I discovered that he was clever and French, and despite his general oiliness and grumbling irascibility I felt a connection to him in his pitiful alienation.

His name was Stephan.

At lunch time Stephan would walk over to Mount Pleasant to buy take-out Kentucky Fried Chicken, and I'd wait with him in line with my bagged lunch and then we'd go back to the school's basement cafeteria to eat and chat about outer space. Stephan was a big fan of outer space, the outer the better. He had acquired a copy of Carl Sagan's Cosmos and we pored over it like it was the Bible.

The caf was a dungeon for freaks.

None of the other kids from our class ate down there. It was a hiding place for the ugly, the shy, the maladjusted. There was a retarded kid who only ever ate hot dogs. There was a boy with some kind nasty skin condition who looked like a skinny, feckless version of The Thing. There were many who ate alone. Eye contact was rare.

One day when I happened to look up after being startled by the retarded kid crying over his dropped hot dog I caught the eye of a boy I recognized from one of my old schools. I waved to him and he ignored me, and it took me a moment to remember why: my close-knit classmates and I had not been very warm to him when he had been introduced into our school mid-year. It all came back to me in a rush and, given my current experience as a stranger, it made me feel like a heel.

"Do you know that guy?" I asked Stephan.

"No."

"Is his name David?"

"Yes."

I went over and sat across from David. I thought that he might not remember me by name, so I started to introduce myself. Without looking up he interrupted to suggest that I fuck off and die.

"I'm sorry?"

"You should be. You ruined my life you piece of shit." David gathered his things with shaking hands and left the cafeteria quickly, his eyes on the floor except for a brief glare back at me with narrowed eyes as disappeared through the door.

I sat down beside Stephan again. He was reading about quasars. I felt disturbed and guilty from David's vitriol. I had always thought of myself as one of the ones who had been kinder to him, but in retrospect my efforts were cowardly, meagre and, evidently, invisible to David. To him, I was just another fellow student who had failed to intervene. There was no mistaking that look in his eye: I was The Enemy, or as good as.

David always ate alone. I tried to approach him once or twice more but was always harshly rebuked. On the last time he looked like he was going to cry so I decided to leave him alone. No thirteen year old boy should have to cry in public, even in the freak dungeon.

Over lunches I noticed that David would only take his seat after I had, so that he could orient his back to mine. In deference to his wishes I always tried to persuade Stephan that we should sit in a certain peripheral quarter of tables so as to make this as easy for David as possible. Stephan thought David was an asshole and obliged me only grudgingly.

One day Stephan was sick. I was making friends in class but I hadn't been invited to share lunch with them, so come noon I came to the basement caf alone. David was hovering by the wall pretending to read six month old notices on a bulletin board, so I moved my chair loudly as I took a seat at a respectful distance, so he would notice his waiting time was up.

My mother had made me a ham and cheese sandwich. I sipped a drink box and read a book I largely didn't understand about neutron stars. I hoped to read another book in the future that would shed some light on the nonsense I was packing into my head (a process I called pre-stuffing and Stephan called swamping).

I glanced up as the Weird Sisters sauntered over from the darkest corner of the far quarter and hovered in front of me. "He-llo," said one and then, "Hell-o," said the other.

"Um, hi."

They were giggling girlfriends. They looked at each other and laughed as they talked to me, asking about why I always had lunch with the gross fat guy with greasy hair. They said he was "weird" and this struck me as strange, because the two loitering girls gave me the willies from the second I'd spotted them.

"You're new," said the first Weird Sister, who had a long, horsey face and a body like a skeleton. You could always see her big teeth, her gums seeming curiously withdrawn. She was pointy and restless, constantly rearranging her bony form beneath a pink sweatsuit. Her blonde hair was elaborately crimped. Her breath smelled like battery acid.

"I am new," I confirmed.

"You're cute," said the second Weird Sister, who had a round, cherubic face slathered in make-up -- raccoon eyes and a smeared mouth that featured braces with hunks of crud stuck in them. She wore oddly formal clothes, like she was about to have her picture taken at any moment: black creased slacks, heeled shoes, a shiny blouse pushed garishly open to showcase her zitty cleavage.

"Er," I said, and they laughed hysterically and told each other I was blushing.

The Weird Sisters continued to pester me with stupid, sing-song questions while I tried to dispose of my lunch as quickly as possible. The Skinny Sister had a plastic ziplock bag full of Arrowroot biscuits which she would nibble on for a while and then get up periodically to step over to the garbage can.

I interrupted the Braces Sister to ask, "What does she keep getting up to do?"

"She's throwing up," said Braces. "She's really good at it."

I blinked. "She's what?"

"I have to go to the washroom, because I'm loud. But she's such a pro she can just lean over the garbage and it's like whatever."

I furrowed my brow, certain I was being joked with. I looked over at Skinny again as she stood before the garbage, and as I shifted myself over on my seat I was able to see her quietly unload a stringy stomachful of biscuits and bile into the can. A wave of queasiness overtook me. "I don't...understand..." I stammered weakly.

"It's because we're too fat," replied Braces.

Skinny returned and sat down again, toying with her ziplock bag. "Hey, have you ever kissed a girl?" she wanted to know, looking at Braces.

"Yes," I admitted.

"Have you done frenching?" asked Braces.

"Um, I had a girlfriend at my old school..." I trailed off uncertainly.

Skinny leaned across the table and smiled toothily. I caught a pungent whiff of bile. "We do it all the time," she assured me. "In the lower washroom."

Braces giggled. "Do you want to make out with us?"

I did blush. I also stood up and tossed my knapsack over my shoulder. I felt ill. "Maybe some other time. I've got to go now."

I moved to leave and Braces caught my elbow. "We do blowjobs," she said, glancing over at Skinny who nodded and laughed and then leaned casually over to the garbage can and vomited soundlessly.

I fled.

The next day when Stephan returned the Weird Sisters continued to haunt the periphery of the far quarter like vultures. Whenever Stephan got up to use the washroom or get some desert they would sidle over and giggle at me. "We're going to the lower washroom now," Braces mentioned with a teasing tilt.

"Wanna come?" invited Skinny, burping behind her hand.

"No thank you," I murmured, casting about for Stephan's return. When he sat back down and the Weird Sisters retreated I told him that I couldn't stomach the dungeon caf anymore. Keeping a constant scope out for The Enemy was making me edgy. "It's spring -- why don't we just eat outside?"

Stephan grumbled dubiously.

I starting eating lunch the park. I discovered that's where the rest of my classmates congregated, and soon I was invited into their eating circle. Once one of the middling popular girls began to "like-like" me more-than-a-friend I had my ticket to be invited to extracurricular outings, too. Everyone went to a movie together one day after school and I held that girl's hand in the dark. It was only later that I realized Stephan hadn't been invited.

I tried my best to include him, to make up for my inaction when David had been excluded. I pestered my new friends to invite him along. Stephan would come, but he was sullen and grouchy. He always ended up slouching alone at the periphery, as he did in class. "Let's eat lunch in the caf today," he would suggest to me if I came over to talk to him.

"I can't," I'd say, shaking my head. "I hate that place."

Stephan would look at me sadly and nod. He did not understand how the basement cafeteria was forever tainted by the stink of Enemies for me now -- I could not bear to continue skulking in fear of the nauseous vixens with David's unforgiving curse at my back. Though he listened patiently to my explanations it was clear he thought I had forsaken him. He bore me little malice. Like David, he had accepted rejection as the norm.

To Stephan and the other freaks the dungeon caf was infinitely better than the alternative. Self-exile is easier to swallow than feeling unwelcome.

For him, The Enemy was everywhere.


4 comments:

Erica said...

My God, you have really captured the misfit hell of middle school/high school. I was one-half of a Weird Sisters pairing, but not quite to the extent you have described. We just were rarely seen independent of one another and we stalked hapless boys - but did not offer BJs or vomit on cue. Being from the South, we might have had a greater stalking success rate if we had. :-)

But truly, that is a salient point: it's often preferable to exile oneself than be unwanted. I still do that now, as a 'grown-up' who is no longer an external misfit. Inside, I'm still that Weird Girl. And I'm okay with that! (my mantra)

Simon said...

I was a self-exiled introvert for most of my early scholastic career, so can relate rather well to your end of things. I remember getting out of language arts class for good grades so I could go to the computer lab and learn all about some LOGO program. All I recall from that is writing a program to move a turtle around on the computer screen. Really cutting edge in the early '80s!

Loving the series, by the way.

anne arkham said...

I moved to a new school in fifth grade and ate lunch sitting underneath the table. The other kids wouldn't make fun of me if they forgot I was there.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Erica: As long as one doesn't offer both at the same time, I'd reckon. I'm sure your girl pairing was much more cute than repellant, as was the case with the Weird Sistsers. Being weird is usually a fine thing, but they managed to do it in the least intriguing way possible.

Simon: I was always jealous of the kids who could make pretty designs with LOGO. Those kids later went on to perform well in mathematics. I...did not.

Anne: Jack, from a previous installment, used to do the same thing in the third and fourth grades. I've always admired people who take meals in unusual places, myself.

Love,
CheeseburgerBrown