Gothkids – E.W. (ꈍᴗꈍ)

Hayley, Hayley, can you not see it is I who knows you best? that it’s only me who has seen your naked soul? She pokes at his chicken sandwich. We’re in the cafeteria. Hayley says, “And you can stomach that?” Noah smiles a smile of someone who has always been good at lacrosse and never had to face existential terror.

Noah: I like it better than my mother’s cooking.

(There is a memory I return to like cold pizza
where we are lying supine in the grass and it
is maybe June and all the kids on our cul-de-sac
are busy scraping their knees on the concrete but
not us as we are deep in the place where the trees
live and we are cupping fireflies into our hands long
enough to sneak a peak and then letting them fly home: oh, Hayley!)

Hayley sticks out her tongue and makes an exaggerated expression like an anime character.

(And it’s the reaction she has grown into like a
hand me down: her identity shrunken
down to pocket size:

The mask she wears for the world.)

Noah laughs and teases her until everyone is laughing and teasing and there’s almost a violence to it and soon enough her thermal lunch box is grabbed by Kenny and passed around.

Kenny: Give us one celebrity.

the story
went something like
the friend of a friend
whose mom met her at
a swim meet
and was so impressed by her easy charm
that she asked if she, Hayley, would
housesit for some of the celebrities
she sold expensive furniture to.)

Layla: Don’t you remember? She’s not allowed.

(She was driven into the city to feed their pets and water their plants.)

Kenny: I think she’s lying.

(This was in the summer. This was the month before ninth grade and, I guess, you could call it a defining moment of her high school career. Now we sat at the popular kid table. Now I sat across from her though she has not looked at me once.)

Hayley: I’m not lying.

Kenny: Tell us the first letter of the celebrity’s name you watered plants for [he removes a plastic baggie with orange slices] or I’ll throw this across—

And I snatch the lunch box from his grip and return it to Hayley and everyone looks at me like I’m psycho, and before anyone can say anything, before Hayley has to justify my existence, I am en route to get a chicken sandwich of my own and I am so full of an antsy kinda emotion that I bump into some people and instead of saying sorry I take a spot in the longest line and dig my nails deep into my arm, and I—

see from across the room

that my seat has already been taken

by the same boy that I just ran into

with a girl by his side.

I head to the exit. I tell the teacher on guard that I have to use the bathroom and it’s an emergency.

(She had admirers.)

He looks up from his book and sighs. He says, “Alright.”

(There was Brandon, Dylan, Liza, Pete, and Andre to name only a few; they followed her around like dogs, one for every class, every lunch period, every school bus ride home; and they’d walk up to her and say, “Christina Ricci.” Say, “Paul Rudd.” Say, “Jennifer Aniston.” Hayley would shake her head.)

The teacher hands me a hall pass.

(She was—of course—not allowed to give the names of her clients. They would bow their heads in defeat and look back up and say, “I
the prettiest hair.” Yuck.)

I walk towards the bathroom until the teacher can no longer see me. I make it as far as the water fountain and put my face down in it like an ostrich to the ground. I can feel the hotness of my tears mix with with the room temperature tap water.

Hayley: Chris.

And she stands before me with a look of someone who has a little piece of God in her back pocket and, if I could be so humble, I might be let to have a nibble of her secret to the universe.

Hayley: The way my friends are — Um. You know? Then there’s the way you are….

….and I can feel it coming maybe like how the bourgeoisie I read about in European History knew it was coming days before the French Revolution…

Hayley: I just think you guys just might be. . . not compatible ?

…and I think of my disembodied head served up on a plate like chicken dinner before—

Gothkid One: Are you breaking up with him?

Their hair is dyed black with strands of blue. They have silver chains which slinkey down their pants and fingerless gloves. They had been sitting together on the staircase as group, observing our melodrama.

Gothkid Two: Ned.

Gothkid One: What? I wanna know.

Gothkid Two: You’re being rude.

Hayley: We’re just friends.

Gothkid Three: Excuse him He’s still in the phase where conflict is scary—

Gothkid Two: Shut up, William.

Hayley, Hayley, do you have to give me that look? and she bites her lips and checks her phone for the time and I am sure she is thinking something like, I cannot be seen with these people. Where—oh where—has my own group gone?

Me: Hayley.

Hayley: I need to leave.

Me: Please don’t leave.

Hayley: I’m sorry, I…

Me: Please—

Hayley: You’re not compatible! It’s not my fault. You’re just not…

And she does not even finish her sentence before she turns her back on me and heads towards the cafeteria and I am soon a zonked out nothingness that stretches out forever and I can feel the soft touch of Gothkid Two as she hugs my waist from behind and it is as if she has given me special permission to cry—and this I do—as Gothkid One and Three walk up to me and place a masculine hand on each of my shoulders and I feel myself melt into their group like ice a popsicle in the summertime until my entire sense of self is melted flat on the pavement.

And what could be said of the beauty, the years which followed my life after—?