Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Graceland--Excerpt 2


It's not really worth going over that next year in detail. The stuff from the mango incident to the conversation I just talked about took place between something like August and May. I had to wait until the following August to go off to boarding school. I would be sixteen in October. They enrolled me as a Sophomore. Over the summer they pretty much let me do whatever I want, as long as I didn't do it in front of them. I calmed down somewhat. I stopped smoking pot, and I never drank that much at a party (or anywhere else, for that matter) ever again. I did have a few drunken make out sessions, and the little bit of a romantic who survives somewhere inside me is kind of sad that I don't specifically remember my first kiss, and that even if I did it would be a memory of two drunk people sort of slobbering on each other.

The boarding school (I prefer not to remember its name) wasn't awful in the way that you hear about British boarding schools being awful. There was never any rape, as far as I know, and there was no physical abuse or anything like that. There was a lot of scheduling, though. That was one of the two things that put me on the phone with my parents one evening in April, just barely too dignified to be begging them to take me back.

Just to show you what I mean: we would get up to one of the Mentors banging on our dorm room door or ringing a bell down the hall at seven. We would have fifteen minutes, during which we must brush our teeth, wash our face, and get into our school uniforms. We would file down to the cafeteria, have half an hour precisely to eat breakfast, then go to school. And the end of four very precisely measured fifty five minute periods, with five minute breaks, we had precisely half an hour for lunch. Three more class periods later, we would go outside for some kind of physical activity; tennis, soccer, distance running, sprinting, and so forth. We would then have a forty five minute supper period, after which we had two hours of free time, followed by an hour of study hall, after which we had an hour to prepare for bed before lights out at eleven thirty.

I learned a lot, sure. But this was not the freedom I was looking for.

There was a group of us who got into the habit of skipping study hall and going out into the woods down by the pond and drinking Boone's Farm or smoking. I didn't like them, really, and I didn't (and don't) like Boone's Farm and I never could stand the taste or smell of cigarettes. But they were the only people who made any effort to be free, and at that point I only really had the ability to do what other people were doing.

One night we were there and the Dean of the school and a bunch of Mentors came and told us we were surrounded and shouldn't run. I didn't run, but I hid, under the trunk of a fallen, rotting tree. At least two mentors and the Dean (I recognized him by his black wing tips) walked right past me.

After that I was sort of a hero to the “rebellious” kids. I remembered how to flirt, suddenly, and on top of my cache as hero I used my flirting to make a few of the boys fall in love with me. That really wasn't nice, but I was so not used to being thought of as anything like hot that it went to my head.

Well, one of the boys tried to kill himself. I don't know if he had other problems (you don't really get to know people when you're flirting with them), but his roommate said it was my name all over his notebook before he passed on from falling off the chair. His roommate, who was not in love with me, hid the notebook before the authorities searched the room for evidence, and the kid who tried it, Blake, never mentioned my name at all.

Writing this brings back an urge I've had several times over the past three years: to track Blake down and apologize to him, unconditionally, to tell him I'm sorry and ask for his forgiveness, knowing I don't deserve it. Sometimes that urge is overpowering, but I can't get to the point of actually doing anything about it. I'm a coward.

Anyway, after that I got away from the rebellious kids, even though they kept wanting me to hang out with them. I started going to church a lot. But church was a prison too.

Let me put it this way: what I learned at church was, You need to be converted, say the Sinner's Prayer. Okay, you've said that? Good. Now you're saved. Now, if you pray hard enough, and believe hard enough, and have enough faith, then God will give you everything you ask for, and will make you into a wonderful person. Oh, you're not a wonderful person? You're not getting all the things you ask for? You haven't prayed hard enough, or believed hard enough. You don't have enough faith. Better recommit yourself, pray the Sinner's Prayer again, make sure you actually believe it and actually mean it. Now, pray for all that stuff again. Oh, it's still not working? You obviously don't have enough faith. Better recommit...

I'm a broken person, I wanted to cry. I can't bring myself to think about the things I want to do, the things I should do, let alone to do them. Please God (I would think), can't I just crawl into your lap and cry for a while?

I finally didn't want to deal with it any more, any of it. If I couldn't crawl into God's lap I would crawl into my basement room and cry there for three years or so. I called my parents and I cried, and I gave them apologies I'm still not sure I believed, and I asked them to take me back, to let me come home. They sounded like they truly wanted to; my mom cried too. I had a flash of insight, then. I told them I'd follow their rules, but I would need some freedom, I would need them to trust me somewhat and let me out of their sight and out of the house, sometimes on the spur of the moment, sometimes until late at night. There was a long pause, to the point that I was afraid they had hung up or the connection had gone dead, then Dad said, All right. I hung up with them and suddenly I was really happy. Maybe it wasn't a perfect place, maybe it wasn't a castle in the sky, but I was going Home.

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