Despite my inarguable allergy to grass, I have consistently sat in it for the past three years of high school during lunch. It’s really not too bad if I wear jeans, which I often do- but today was not one of those days due to an obscene heat-wave. The sun, in its unstoppable mission to kill pale gingers like me, decided it would take its throne at the top of an honest, innocent, cerulean sky and exude its burning scorn. Ninety-seven degrees of pure-burn hell; however, I’d rather get roasted by the sun and sit in itchy, terrible grass than be near my classmates for a second more than necessary. Lunch is my sanctuary.
There was nothing appetizing in the fridge this morning and I’d rather swallow grass than eat the cafeteria poison, so I settle on a bottle of blue Gatorade and some almonds. Yes, it must be blue because any other flavor than blue simply does not taste right and I don’t mind that it makes my mouth blue. Not like I was ever going to open it to talk anyway.
I lay my tattered green hoodie (which I always have just in case, even if the sun is on a hell rampage) on the grass and plop backwards. I slide my sunglasses on and pop in some earbuds. It’s Pink Floyd time. “Another Brick in the Wall” on full blast. Blue gatorade in hand. Pink Floyd times are good times.
“We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control!” Roger Waters hisses in my ears through authoritative instrumentals. No one can deny the infectious rhythm and angst of the song itself, but I enjoy it for more than that. I really don’t feel like I need school. Everyone should have an education, but no one should be forced to spend their fleeting youth in a soul-sucking institution- especially the one in my puny town. Puny, insignificant, boring, stupid town. It just doesn’t matter in the big picture!
Oh lord, the Big Picture. Here it comes; I can’t help myself from spiraling into some light thinking.
My stupid school is located on Earth, which sits 92.96 million miles away from an ancient, murderous star. This watery, floating ball of rock called Earth, endlessly loops through space, and holds a mere circumference of 24,901 miles in an endless universe. The United States take up a measly 3,000 of those miles. Nebraska, 430 miles long and 210 miles wide, sits nearly dead center in said country. And if you’d look just near the Colorado-Nebraska border, right under Lake McConaughey, you’d find Ogallala: the sweetest, dustiest slice of yee-haw any perpetually perfect family with multiple copies of babbling blonde-haired babies could ask for on their way to the lake for their family vacation. Population: 4,542, and me. Of all the specks in the universal continuum, this was where I ended up. The outlier from the general populous of elderly couples, creepers, rampant conservatives, in a school with god-awful classmates. The universe knows these facts don’t matter, but apparently it simply must matter to humankind, and me.
My mental tornado is interrupted by a piercing scream. Who dares interrupt my internal lament? I jerk up and rip out my headphones, looking for the source of the howl. A football jock picked up some bombshell girl and was spinning her around, and she thought the proper response was to scream as if she was scared even though she knows that this guy could probably pick up an entire pig and be unfazed. How romantic.
I fall back onto my hoodie and let out a dramatic sigh. Finally moving my body has brought attention to the condition of my skin. The backs of my legs were infested in hives from the grass, and the usual paleness of the fronts of my legs have elevated to a “sun-kissed” bright red. Brilliant. Two for one. I should’ve realized that the Sun and the Earth are trying to kill me.
Despite their annoying existence, there’s nothing I’d love more than to fit in with my peers. Even if they are unnecessarily loud during Pink Floyd time, I’d kill to get sloppy drunk at the lake every weekend and indulge in mindless hookups, but that opportunity was tarnished for the sake of my name. Yes, Shakespeare, there’s actually quite a lot in a name. For my sake, it’s a seal of exile. I don’t have to wear any letters on my chest, but the principle remains the same. My father owns a small auto shop and is well-known for his advent drinking “habits”. I snort at the word. Habit! My father had been fervently dancing around his issues for years, and to use any word heavier than “habit” to address his addiction never ended well for anyone. But despite the labels, my father gets frighteningly violent when drunk, especially toward his customers, who live in a small town, and who talk. Shocker. Talk is basically the main source of entertainment for all of the adults who don’t spend every once of their free time watching satellite TV or tending to their front yard to be properly judged by all of the other neighbors. Adults who then told their children, my potential friends, every morsel of gossip they’ve heard from the bored ladies down the street (one of which who is probably a brilliantly fake blonde named Linda), who then choose to chastise me at school over my troubled dad, and by orders of their parents, banished her from any chance at socializing. Thanks, Linda.
I look up again at the kids eating lunch on the outdoor tables, wondering if I could fit into one of the multiple groups. Too lame for the sport kids, too country for the art kids. I could hypothetically get along with the emo kids but I just can’t bear to be an even bigger target to the sun by wearing black all the time. I fall back once more in defeat. “Us And Them” from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album blares.
My “boy” length, curly red hair and old, worn-out “boy” clothes don’t help things either. I don’t feel like being a female should require presenting herself as “femme”. I really think females, or anyone, should be able to wear whatever the hell they want and simply leave it at that because it’s just clothes and gender is a social construct, right?
No. Not according to my town.
I’m actually quite comfortable being a female, but because of my masculine exterior, there’s only one conclusion to be made by all 4,542 occupants of Ogallala, Nebraska: I must be a lesbian. Or a dyke. Or a homo. Or a faggot. Whatever label the bravest conservatives at school decide to sneer at me for the day. I mean, they’re right, but why can’t I be in charge of my own label?
It’s all the same to me now, and it doesn’t bother me too much anymore. As long as I can keep my father convinced there’s not an ounce of gay inside my whole being, I can somewhat handle the attacks at school. Do I enjoy being called names? No. Again, there’s nothing more I’d love than to just be a part of something. A clique, a group, a club. Just anything. But unfortunately, the universe just had to make me a big lesbian red-head with no friends that has to eat lunch alone everyday on the grass even though it’s trying to kill her. Thanks, Universe. Or God. Or who/whatever decided that little ol’ Robin should get a big pile of shit dumped on her for... existing, I guess? Whatever. I know, whoever you are, that you don’t care. It doesn’t matter in the Big Picture, but I’m sure Linda had something to do with it, too.
I shouldn’t be too entirely cynical since the world was kind enough to give me one good thing- one person I can always count on to protect me: my mom. She always tells me: “As long as you’ve got one good friend in life, you’re set”. She never said they couldn’t be on the internet. And I, in fact, have TWO friends! One homosexual, Iowa-based Shilo who also, thanks to the CLEARLY homophobic universe, has the pleasure of being a closeted gay individual in a gossip-riddled community. My music grows quiet and my phone vibrates- speak of the devil.
“For fuck’s sake, we’re in the locker room changing and showering after practice and you’d think they were being forced into some strange homosexual performance with the way they behave. So I walk to the lockers after showering only to find a huge ring of stark naked guys surrounding these other two naked guys, right? You wouldn’t fucking believe it. The two in the center were trying to grab each other’s dicks and the rest of the guys were cheering them on. They were seriously more intense about THAT than they are about our literal games. I swear, whenever straight males show an ounce of platonic affection to each other in public it’s all “NO HOMO, BRO”, but we get to the locker room and suddenly I feel like the straightest one there. Just... why?? Also, did you know that the ancient Romans used to go into battle naked, with boners, in order to intimidate and distract their enemies? I wonder if they had “no homo” rules in Rome thousands of years ago.
Anyway, how was your day?”
That about sums up Shilo’s agenda. Though we live in similar towns, we couldn’t be more socially different. He has a million friends, plays sports, gets pristine grades, and has a perpetually perfect life set out for himself. For his straight alias, at least. Not a single soul in the state of Iowa knows that he’s gay. Just one ginger girl in Nebraska. Me. 461.2 miles and 6.5 hours apart, and our friendship is simply indestructible.
I didn’t forget about my other friend-- I could never just forget about her. She’s pretty much all I think about and all I’ve been waiting to talk about. Yes, this is very sappy and very gay, but I can’t help it. Her name is Peony and she’s perfect and I love her and she’s my girlfriend! Peony!! How am I supposed to get over that name?! It’s a perfect title for her-- the name of a puffy, voluminous, gorgeous flower. The fullness of the petals mimic her magnificent natural hair- a wonderfully curly, unruly afro. Yes, nature mimics her. She’s that lovely! Okay, enough gushing. I’m sorry. Not really. Anyway-
Peony and I met on Tumblr 3 years ago, when we were just starting high school. We were both loyal curators of aesthetically pleasing “grunge/pastel” blogs. We’ve never met in person but we’ve seriously been through it all together. We shared grunge pictures, we shared horrible secrets, we shared love. I’ll save the rest for later- I’m being so sappy.
The sun starts to grill my pasty-white ginger skin and I finally sit up. Thinking really does take up a long time, especially when my classmates haven’t been screaming for a while. My head rushes from the heat and spots dapple my vision. I run my eyes to reveal empty lunch tables, leftover trash, and not a single soul in sight.
“Shit,” I curse under my breath as I stumble to my feet. Pink Floyd time was interrupted by a brief review of my entire life story and a minor existential crisis, I’m sure Mr.Brown will understand why I’m (God knows how many) minutes late to Trigonometry. Oh, yeah. Wonder how many times I’ll get away with that one.
I sling my ragged black backpack over my shoulder and start to run across the field, which quickly turns into a jog. I can feel my thighs jiggle and chafe as I run. Goddamnit. Running makes me feel like a jello. Unfortunately, burnt red jello, not blue. My skin is already screaming at me for daring to move at a fast pace so I slow to an uninspired walk. If I’m already late, might as well be late, right?
The my mind races significantly faster than my body on the way to class, a constant repetition: “I hate this class, I hate this man, I hate this school, I hate the sun, I hate the grass, ect...” I consider darting into the bathroom and make up some story about getting sick during lunch. No- I got my period. I don’t understand why male teachers are so uncomfortable by their students getting periods, but it truly is a one-way trip out of class. Too bad I’ve already used that excuse, twice. As I approach the dreaded door to Brown’s class, I can hear his bellowing, guttural voice rudely invade the air. The man is a bear, and no, not a furry, thick, masculine gay man type of bear. He could’ve been a voice actor for a cartoon bear, which is ironic considering his massive bear-like stature. He is at least 6′5, and has a huge stomach which hangs over the same belt with his same clothes with the same sad, bland colors every single day. If his voice acting career failed, he could’ve been one of those whacko Alaskan wilderness men who pulled in 300 pound fish and built their own houses which you had to take an airplane to even get too because the terrain is just so rugged and manly. Like a BEAR! But luckily for Ogallala High School, he became our math teacher- and clearly by luckily I mean unluckily. It’s more like a fucking curse. Actually, I’d rather have some ancient Egyptian god send a killer locust curse than enter the door right in front of me. I wish an actual bear would maul me.
I wait until he’s turned away from the door to make my grand entrance- and by grand entrance I mean that I slip in as gingerly possible and make an awkward sprint-jog to my seat. My classmates roll their eyes, a greasy looking boy sitting behind me snorts and flashes a look at some pretty girl. She grins and shakes her head. My face burns and I realize that the classroom is silent. Bear-Man towers over my desk. He purses his bear lips and raises his bear eyebrows, waiting for me to elaborate on my elaborately long excuse as to why I am approximately twenty-ish minutes late to his precious Pre-Calculus class.
I want to yodel... in fear.
“Robin,” he grumbles, “do you care to share with the class why you seem to think being tardy to class multiple times a week is exceptional? Do you care to tell us?”
I really don’t care to tell the class. I don’t! Don’t care for it one bit! Yet my palms start to sweat and I can feel the lasers of a million eyes pierce my already burnt skin. Pathetic.
“I-I, uh, um...” I grow silent and stare at my ratty shoes. God damnit. If only I could just scream and yell and get up on my desk and tell Brown why Calculus is not beneficial to me and so therefore it does not matter if I am twenty minutes late to class. In fact, I am so confident in this notion that if I were to experimentally never show up to class again and continue to live the remainder of my measly life, it would have no effect on me whatsoever! Please, let me do it. Sacrifice my mathematical knowledge- it’s for science. That’s another class I have to take, right? Science? Can that count as a math credit? No? Well, I don’t care! You are a Bear-Man and I don’t enjoy, nor benefit from, being taught a single textbook unit in twelve seconds then you use your big, manly bear voice to passively tell us that we are stupid. So what if we’re stupid! We know! We’re just atoms! Mere carbon creatures plummeting through consciousness! Why can’t we talk about that? The possibility that nothing is real, the possibility that we are literally a simulation created by some higher intellectual being. THAT is important. THAT interests me. If we talked about that, I’d be twenty minutes early to your goddamned Pre-Calculus class! But no- if I don’t memorize the fucking quadratic equation, I’m an idiot, right? I need more detention, right?!
But I say nothing. Societal expectations. School rules. The fact that I am not brave enough to live my truth- all withhold me from living my truth. Speaking my truth.
Mr. Brown shakes his bear-sized head and grunts as he makes his way to his desk to fill out a detention form. The same pretty girl from before is laughing at me and I realize that my mouth is still open. Bright blue inside.
I wonder what would’ve happened if I said what I really meant.