by John Colt

THE room was a hell of red carpeting and deep orange chairs and Ryan screamed like one of those poor souls cut off from God forever, damned to live eternally away from His presence. The teacher, Mrs. K, tried to calm him, but he could only scream, “I just want one more hug!” His face bright red and his eyes full of tears.

We felt so big, riding to school on the bus with the older children, carrying our worldly possessions in a cheap vinyl backpack. A whole half-day away from home. It was like traveling to a new world. A world, so far from Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers while my mother did those things a mother does after her youngest child finally leaves the house for school.

The teacher constantly asked questions and we learned, sponging it all in. The alphabet had twenty-six letters on the chart above the blackboard but only twenty-two when you "ellamenoh'd" your way through it. Our bodies became strange as we learned the common schizophrenia of left and right. Mr. T had very tall, tall teeth and lived in universe of educational alliteration and whimsy.

Growing up on a steady diet of public television, sans video games and other distractions, I thought I would shine in the mundane activities meant to make learning fun, but I quickly discovered that coloring meant filling the entire white space within the thick black line, not just a patch of it to create shading and the illusion of color like Bob Ross and Commander Mark. This was not a world of abstracts and ideologies, but one of absolutes—it was wrong for Kenny to push children out of their chairs and one always raised their hand when they had something to say.

On the playground, Dunkelburger picked on us until one day Justin came to school with his right arm in a cast. We all signed our names it reds and blues and black and then he hit Dunkelburger with it at recess. We watched him cry with a mix of guilt and hatred. But we were all thankful that he was too embarrassed to tell. Justin was a hero, there was no question, the same way there was no question that he was different because his mother had died so young and he lived alone with his father.

photo by Hobart

Shawna was the girl that every boy had a crush on, but I was the one she called to say that her bigger sister had taken her to see Gremlins. She hadn’t been scared one bit. I pretended I'd seen it just to keep the conversation going. At school I bragged to Mike and Justin that she was my girlfriend, even though she ignored me, and we all wondered what it would be like to kiss her smooth, white cheek. It was years before blood flow could turn our innocent crushes into lustful inflammations. It was months before, in his tree house, Aaron would pull my pants down and lay on top of me, grinding his genitals against mine, telling me that he would stop soon and that it was okay. He was older, he knew best. And all the while I wondered about her hands, so smooth, and her warm, warm cheek, so soft, so white.

main *|* reviews *|* essays *|* fiction *|* art *|* (dis)likes *|* links *|* submit *|* us *|* interviews