--YOU DON’T SEEM TO LIKE ME VERY MUCH, BUT THAT’S OKAY
Every family is damaged. That’s one of the things Mr. Cavanaugh taught us. He was speaking about the Montagues and Capulets, but he said it could apply to modern day. For instance: if you searched long and deep enough you’d find hideous secrets stuffed in any family’s old shoe box, even the Obama’s.
It’s hard to believe this was Mr. Cavanaugh’s first year teaching, or that he’s so young, because he’s the wisest person I’ve ever known. Even the Dali Lama or Jesus would have their hands full debating a guy like Mr. Cavanaugh.
Sometimes when he’s speaking I go blind studying his musculature, imagining him naked. My thoughts aren’t vulgar, just as Michelangelo’s David is not considered obscene. I go deaf watching Mr. C’s lips move, wondering about their pulpiness. And that blonde hair of his, curly and long as a surfer’s—it’s a queer shimmering shade that looks as if it has actual sand crystals in it. How many nights have I imagined his head on my lap, staring at me pearly-eyed and wistful while I fingered those locks?
It’s a crush, I know. But I’m not the only girl—just look around. I’m only the fattest.
I heard the others talking in the restroom. They never care that I eavesdrop as long as I hang back a ways. I’m large but I’m also invisible most of the time.
Candy Reeb tells all her friends how she’d do him in a heartbeat. You have to understand who Candy Reeb is to get the full import of such a declaration. Candy is just like her name: delicious, tempting, and too good to be true. I’ve been in love with her since second grade when Mom moved us here from Oregon, and that was seven years ago. Candy has honey-colored hair and she uses such a heavy dose of strawberry lip-gloss that you can see and smell her from half a block away. She’s tall but thin, with boobs. I’ve seen them in the showers. She has a bush of pubes, too. One week she came to school and the entire bush was gone except for this astonishing, frail V pattern. We all noticed. Everything Candy does gets attention, so when she says she’d do Mr. Cavanaugh in a heartbeat, that’s really saying something.
We moved to Renton last year. Mom said it was because of the divorce and that she’d met Butch, but I knew the real reason. She won’t say, but I know.
In ancient times philosophers were the brilliant people of the day. Heidegger, Kant, Sartre, Voltaire ….. If time travel existed Mr. Cavanaugh could journey back and he’d fit right in with any of those guys. The stuff he says. For instance: “Life is wakefulness.” I mean, Wow! right? And he catches material others overlook, like Alice Cooper, this snake-wearing precursor to Marilyn Manson who was big in the seventies, the same one that wrote “School’s Out,” well he also wrote another song called, “Only Women Bleed” which is not necessarily what you think it’s about. It’s a ballad dealing with misogyny and how women pay the price day after day, night after night, so that men can go on playing hero. Sample lyrics:
“He lies right at you.
You know you hate this game.
He hits you once in awhile and you live and love in pain.
Only women bleed. Only women bleed. Only women bleed.”
It was a sacrifice to take my eyes off him because class is just fifty-five minutes, but I knew about Ali Larson and her cutting, just as everyone did—the skin around her wrists scarred like a burn-victim. When Mr. C played that song off his IPod and wrote the words on the blackboard, I watched Ali’s eyes tear up and I felt such a kinship with her that I started crying, too, only I fell ass-over-tea-kettle into hysterics. I hate how I look when I’m bawling. For the longest time my nickname has been Buddha even though I’m not Asian. When I’m upset like that I’m a wedding cake of blubber stirring up an earthquake. It’s gross, sure, but what was I supposed to do? Mr. C couldn’t have been more than a baby when that song came out, yet he found it somehow and made perfect, poetic use of the message in order that Ali and all of us young women would know we’re more than sex organs, body parts and free labor. I mean, that kind of man, a feminist really, he’s sort of a God, don’t you think?
Class was getting out soon anyway, so Mr. Cavanaugh dismissed the group. Just as I would have expected, he knelt down and asked if I was okay, if I needed anything. I buried my face in my hands but he pried my fingers apart, like plucking jungle vines out of your path, and spoke directly to me.
His eyes were such a shade of blue that I panicked and just… well, I just grabbed him. I took Mr. Cavanaugh in my arms and pushed his sandy-haired head right up under my chin, cheek to neck. I could smell his Axe cologne and a twinge of pineapple in his hair from the conditioner he used. He let me hold him longer than I thought. The extra weight I carry provides me with an ample bosom and I pressed slightly against him, wondering if the gesture would register. Out of habit, my hand dropped lower, but he stepped back and that’s when the idea came to me. I was ashamed at first, but the more I considered my options the more I convinced myself. I was thinking about Darwin.
My mother’s new boyfriend has his hang up’s, too.
“Call me Daddy. Do it, or I swear, I’ll kill you right here.”
It doesn’t usually take much prodding for me to respond to Butch. I’ve played the game plenty of times, I know the rules. I say whatever I’m told, same as I did with my own blood father. It’s not as if my pride gets in the way, but tonight while he’s on top of me I keep thinking about Mr. C. “Every family is damaged.” How does he know, I wonder? Maybe he’s making this all up, a fraud? It wouldn’t surprise me.
“You feel nice, Daddy.”
Not much surprises me anymore.
I confessed many things to Mr. Cavanaugh. I told him about my father’s visits but I didn’t let on about Butch. Mr. C wanted to call the police, of course, but I’d made him promise. I had gotten to know him so well that I was certain he’d never break such a vow.
He wanted me to see a counselor, or a shrink, but I told him he was the only one I trusted, and as I said it I raised my quivering chin. I’d practice that maneuver in the mirror all week. I stalled my pupils, probably looking cross-eyed or possessed. He took me in his arms, scared. Laura Pixley walked in on us. Mr. Cavanaugh’s back was to the door and I was shrieking pretty hard, so he never even heard a thing. I was impressed with myself and the fine actress I’d become because I didn’t miss a beat. I continued to cry even as I gave Laura an assured wink.
Our “Check-ins” as he calls them were on Fridays. I could tell they were wearing thin. His eyes no longer centered fully on mine, even if I sobbed or threw an epileptic fit.
That’s how I knew he was a sham, because of his eyes.
But when I told him how all the girls in class thought he was handsome and how some wanted to sleep with him, that’s when his body tensed in alertness. He’d never say, “Go on, tell me more,” and he didn’t have to because his silence was the answer for what he wanted. Men usually don’t have to give much away in terms of direction. “Like who says what?” was what Mr. C thought and wondered, so I gave him a story about Candy Reeb. In a bold move I described the V insignia she’d shaved above her pudendum, and he squirmed uncomfortably, but didn’t tell me to stop talking.
And that’s when the raw remainder of my desire bled away and I knew my plan was fine, that I had nothing to be ashamed of.
I said, “You should grow a soul patch.” He asked what that was and I told him Candy’s ex, Austin Dodson had one. I explained that a soul patch was not a beard or a goatee but a strip of hair hipsters grew out just below their lip so that it imparted a shadow effect.
He said, “I’m not a kid, you know.” Sure, but the truth was Mr. C wanted to hear me say he might as well be one, he looked that young.
Instead I played hard to get. “Suit yourself,” I said, walking out.
So many important events happened in the school restroom that I shouldn’t have been surprised. Still, no matter how prepared you think you are, it’s like a car crash the first time Candy Reeb looks in your eyes and says your name, even if the name is a nickname.
“Hey, Candy.” Her name stuck in my throat like a Jolly Rancher, sugary but also cutting off my wind.
“She’s gonna blow!” Ashley Moynihan said. “Oh my god, her face is turning purple.”
I swallowed and thought of Butch to settle myself.
“What’s this I hear about you and Mr. C?”
“What do you want to know?” I couldn’t believe how suave I was. My knees weren’t shaking anymore and my voice felt velvety, as if I was spewing lotion-coated words.
When she asked for details I gave her more than she bargained for. She and Ashley were sitting on the sink counter and Morgan Porter was handling the door so that no one could come in until Candy gave the okay. They were eating out of my hand. However, I could tell Candy only half-believed me. My experiences with Dad and Butch lent an air of authenticity to the descriptions I spewed, and I saw her confounded expression as she tried to reconcile what she was hearing with what she saw—me, fat, lard-ass me.
“Anyway, he’s going to grow a soul patch. He said it’d be a sign of how he feels about us as a couple.“
“See for yourself,” I said. Cutting them off was the most difficult part of the entire episode. I was talking to Candy Reeb, for goodness sake. Candy Reeb! But will power is key in situations such as the one I found myself. I cleared my throat and Morgan Porter opened the door and I walked out of the restroom fighting hard not to skip or squeal.
At first Butch was intrigued by my back-talk. It must have sounded like a come-on, so I growled and spat in his face. He called me a bitch. I bit his hand and he slapped me. I told him to hit me again and he complied. This went on for some time.
Despite my condition, Principal Gergen seemed skeptical until Laura Pixley showed up and validated my incriminations. I didn’t have a hard time looking Mr. C in the eye or anything like that. I’d rehearsed. Moreover, I focused my attention on the soul patch he’d grown, the conclusive, convicting evidence.
I don’t know where Mr. C ended up. I do think of him sometime. He’s a smart man, so I’m certain he’s in good shape wherever he is.
I’ve started working out but the truth is I’ve gained about six pounds. Candy, Morgan and Laura never mention my weight. No one does. I’ve fit right in, maybe even more than that. I’m something of a legend around our school.