Saturday, March 10, 2012

I Should Be Laughing: Harry and The Cafeteria

Chewing on his lip while he read, Harry was amazed. He had never read anything like the Anne Rice novel, and he could not put it down.
      ‘The old man begged to be told what we were saying. He called out, 'Son, son,’ and Lestat danced like a maddened Rumpelstiltskin about to put his foot through the floor. I went to the lace curtains.’
Whenever he read, which was most of the time, for books were a sort of refuge, Harry became lost in his novels, far away from everyone and everything. Whether in his room with the door locked, or at the dinner table eating in silence while Mother sipped this or that and Jimmy fiddled with his baseball cards, whether walking up Hesser to school or on the long walk home through Renny’s Forever Fields, Harry read, preoccupied.
As usual, his thumbnail was in his mouth as Harry hunched over the cafeteria table, the book, Interview With The Vampire, splayed out across his knees, his neck stretched beyond belief as he read, unaware. His mouth formed the words silently…
      ‘I could see and hear the slaves surrounding the house of Pointe du Lac, forms woven in the shadows, drawing near…’
…and he was oblivious to the growing swarm around him, whispering and plotting.
Suddenly, a burst of white light unfurled before his eyes. Lightening that instantly became a hand, clipping the edge of his book and sending it sailing down the linoleum floor. Lurching into a trashcan, it stopped beneath a wadded up burrito wrapper and a cardboard cup of cold fries, sliding into a mound of almost, but not quite, dried catsup.
“That what faggots do at lunch, Seaton? Read?”
Harry stared up into the faces that imprisoned him, most of them laughing, all of them smiling. Kyle Greggs stood behind him; his hand had sent the book away. Kyle had always been the one; the one who shoved Harry in the hallways, knocking his head into lockers, muttering ‘queer’ under his breath if Harry spoke in class, an exceedingly rare occurrence since Harry didn’t want to hear that word every time he answered a question.
Kyle was always the one. Throwing balls at Harry on the playing field--basketballs, baseballs, footballs, soccer balls. He coined the nickname ‘Harry The Fairy’ the day Harry tried, and failed, to climb the rope in gym class. Yet another time he tried to fit in, to go unnoticed, and failed. Kyle was always the one, but he wasn’t the only one. Dan Mahoney, Russ Lindale, Dave King helped Kyle; their girlfriends, too, had tortured Harry at one time or another. It was a lifetime of punishment when you considered they attended the same schools for ten years. Everyone did his or her fair share of pushing Harry, physically and emotionally. A kick in the hallway was as good as a snide word in math class; as good as a look or a pointed finger in the cafeteria.
        Fighting back the tears Harry walked home down the long hill toward town. He wasn’t crying, or trying not to cry, because of the scene in the lunchroom; it was because people he had known his whole life, who once were friends, had done that to him. They had robbed him of his book when all he wanted, all he ever wanted, was to be alone.
       While they kicked his book around the cold filthy cafeteria floor like a hockey puck, Harry made a fool of himself trying to get it back. Dropping to his knees, he tried to grab it as it sailed by; running insanely across the room, he screamed at them, “Stop it!” But they didn’t stop; instead they began to mimic him, lisping, “Thtop it!” The more he chased, the more they laughed, but he wouldn’t give up. That book was his, the one thing he cared for, and he would not let them destroy it.
       Kyle, Dan, Russ and Linda, Connie, even some of the teachers, laughed as Harry began to cry. His face turned all shades of red and his eyes went wild with tears, but still they snickered and pointed. Then, just before they tired of the game, before lunch was over and it was back to class, Dan Mahoney slipped, on a French fry or something, and Harry was able to scrape the book off the floor. He grabbed it and began to run.
       It would be okay now, he told himself, flying toward the exit, but everyone was still laughing. Then the name-calling started. Harry The Fairy. Fag. Queer. Harry looked at them through eyes so filled with tears that he could only see distorted shapes of plaid shirts and cheerleader outfits. He ran for the door, slipping on the linoleum, wiping his eyes on his sleeves, clutching the book. Out of control, sprinting like mad, he saw the other boy, at a table near the exit, bundled up in a soiled brown corduroy coat. He was the only one in the room who wasn’t laughing at Harry, who wasn’t calling him names.
       Sean Cooper ate lunch by himself, too.


Cubby said...

Great start.

Sean said...

I had a very similar experience to Harry. I don't remember any gay slurs but from 1st grade on I was bullied because I wore glasses, because I was short, because I did't like or do well at "their" sports and one day in HS because I was reading - Steven King. My book was taken, I was teased (that's what we called it back then) and I yelled back - THOSE OF US WHO CAN READ!"

You might think I was brave but I wasn't. I was tired of being teased and I knew there were teachers around. I grabbed my booked and stayed home sick the next day (Friday). Come Monday he would have forgotten but I still laid low and sat at a table, with people but not talking with them, reading my book.

R.J. said...

I had a similar experience when I was in junior high. I got even a few weeks later when one of my tormenters tried to eat Kool Aid. As he lowered his face toward the mini-mountain of cherry powder, P slapped his hand up. Poof! He never bothered me again after getting his eyes stung.

Miss Ginger Grant said...

Boy, does that story bring back some sad, ugly memories. Wanna know what's funny? Now Kyle Greggs wants to be my friends on Facebook.... wants me to come to the class reunion he's planning..... wants me to come hear him preach the gospel in the church where he is now pastor. It's like he doesn't even remember any of that shit.

I sure do!

Princess said...

The Memories vividly return when reading this.
Funny how years later Kyle phoned me out of the blue and invited me to join his circle jerk group!... Fucking Wanker!

Frank said...

And the "grown-ups" are still at it, still tormenting us at every opportunity, but instead of just calling names, they use words like unnatural, abomination, disgusting, sinful, corrupting children, objective disorder.

No matter how "married" we may be; no matter how "respectable" our lives are, no matter how we try to conform, we will never (in our life time) be sitting at the cafeteria table without having to look over our shoulders.

Homosex and our refusal to hide in closets are radical, political statements. That is why, although I support marriage equality as a civil institution, I am not convinced of its relevance to our forming loving, intimate and often unique relationships.

Forget Kyle and his friends. Except to expose their hate and hypocrisy in vignettes such as this one.

tamayn said...

Miss Ginger Grant, it's amazing how people who made your life a living hell want to be friends after the fact and more importantly that they don't remember everything that they did.

This pulled me right back to my miserable little high school in Cornfield Central.