As promised, news and announcements are taken care of, the contest is all squared away, and it’s time for another high school post!
Looking back over my First Semester Ever of public school, I’m beginning to notice a pattern. We might call it a pattern of inactivity. Or, we could just be honest and say that sixteen-year-old Brenna is wildly, tragically passive about a whole parade of highly unacceptable things—watch-theft, face-licking, etc. In a perfect world, I would cue the voiceover and say, “But that’s all about to change . . .”
Unfortunately, this is the actual world and profound transformations don’t happen by the end of the episode. However, I will make allowances and say that it’s all about to change a little. This is because of three things that happen in relatively quick succession and today, I’m going to talk about the first thing.
Some quick background: there are 24 boys on my bus route, but I only like three of them. Irish, naturally. And Trip, because he’s slow and sleepy and once SugarRay (who can be a total jerk) slapped him in the face and made him cry, which was very embarrassing for everyone involved and then I felt sorry for him.
The third one is Dweezil.
Dweezil is fifteen, with dark shaggy hair and half-closed eyes. He’s skinny and sullen-looking and most of the time he doesn’t wear a coat, even when it’s obscenely cold out. I like him for various reasons—how flat his voice is, how completely tasteless his jokes are, but mostly I like that on days when Irish would rather sit with SugarRay, Dweezil will sometimes flop down next to me and not ask first if it’s okay. He never talks to me, but I like the way he nods sometimes and doesn’t quite make eye contact. I like that when he tells jokes, he includes me in the audience. On his radar, I am completely, perfectly neutral, and that is the most relieving thing.
Irish also likes Dweezil. According to him, this is because they share similar taste in music. However, I suspect it is mostly because they are both new in town and like smoking pot.
Various unsubstantiated things Irish has told me about Dweezil:
- He moved here from California to live with his mother.
- He is almost exactly a year younger than Irish even though we’re all in the same grade.
- His real name is the same as some guy who played with Frank Zappa once, and Irish thinks this is the best thing ever (most of the music that Irish likes is much older than we are).
I keep track of what Irish tells me, but it’s perfunctory. These details are far less interesting to me than Dweezil’s coatlessness and the fact that once, when the Hobgoblin was being exceptionally awful to him in Geometry, Dweezil slammed his textbook down on the table and called the Hobgoblin a whole litany of really amazing expletives. Because I’ve already set a fairly conservative precedent for the language rating on this blog, I won’t repeat them here. But they were awesome.*
As a result, I respect Dweezil in a vague way. Most of the time he seems quiet and easygoing, but he is completely indifferent to getting in trouble and that is astonishing to me. I have other fears (centipedes, water I can’t see the bottom of, M), but none of them even come close to rivaling my deep, irrational phobia of being yelled at. I know that it qualifies as a phobia because I don’t actually know what I think is going to happen. If I get yelled at, then . . . I will have gotten yelled at. Logically I understand this, but I still live in mortal fear of raised voices.
And now we come to the first in a triad of character-defining events—The Time I Almost Got Yelled At:
It’s been freakishly cold lately. The sky looks like primer. We were [on the bus] in the southern housing development where Dweezil and some of the band girls get off. We’d just pulled up to the curb when a guy in a pickup truck went around the bus, even though George** had the stop sign out.
“Sit down,” George said, putting the bus back in gear. When no one moved, he said it again. “Sit down.”
Dweezil dropped down next to me, looking bored.
George followed the driver all the way to his house. Then he parked the bus, got out, and booked it across the street to catch the guy before he could go inside. They stood facing each other on the lawn, yelling.
Dweezil folded his arms across his chest and sighed, but he didn’t say anything.
Trip opened his window and leaned out. “You tell him, George!”
George swung around, stabbing his finger at Trip. “Sit down and shut up.” Then he turned back to the driver, still irate.
With Trip’s window open, the bus made a kind of wind tunnel. Irish and SugarRay were throwing Jolly Ranchers at Trip and telling him to close it. Out in the street, George and the truck-driver just kept screaming at each other.
“Do you not know what that red eight-sided shape means?” George shouted. “Do you think it’s some kind of joke, endangering children?”
Dweezil sighed again. Then he reached across me and shoved our window down.
[At this point, Dweezil is standing up, leaning over the top of my head to yell out the window.] “God damn it, George—get back on the bus and drive. We’re @#$%ing fifteen years old, we know how to cross the street. We just want to go home!”
His voice cracked a little, jolting up and then leveling out again. Mostly though, he just sounded supremely annoyed.
George slapped the air with his hand, like he was waving the truck-driver off. Then he charged back onto the bus and down the aisle.
“You,” he said, standing over us, glaring down at Dweezil. When he started shouting, it was much louder than when he’d yelled at the truck-driver.
I flattened myself against the seat, but Dweezil just stared up looking irritable while George screamed at him about common courtesy and traffic safety, which sounds like it would be funny, but it wasn’t.
Okay, so I realize the title I’ve given this incident is kind of misleading—I did not personally almost get yelled at, I just happened to be about 18 inches from where the yelling was happening. This is less like almost being indicted for mail fraud and more like almost being hit by a foul ball. But in a very real sense, it sets off my irrational fear of conflict, because George is right there, standing over me, shouting.
And the thing is, Dweezil doesn’t flinch. He barely even acknowledges that it’s happening, just stares up, looking irritable and bored like he’s waiting for George to finish.
Huddled in the corner, I realize that apart from the scene in Geometry, this is my first real glimpse of Dweezil, ever. And it changes something in my head. After this moment, he will never again surprise me (except once, which I’ll get to later). For the next three years, I will watch, unfazed, as he kicks the hell out of his locker because it won’t open, changes the radio station in the art room even though our drawing teacher has expressly forbidden us to touch it, and drives over places that are not roads. Once when we have a sub in Algebra II, he gets into it with O.C. over whether we should watch a Law & Order rerun or The Price Is Right, informs O.C. that Bob Barker is the man, then calls him a whiny bitch in a voice so loud that everyone looks up. I don’t even blink.
But at the precise moment that George is yelling at him, none of these things have happened yet and all I know is, Dweezil has narrow sleepy eyes and bony shoulders and no coat, and once he called the Hobgoblin every offensive term I’d ever heard and some I hadn’t and the Hobgoblin stood there and took it because . . . well, I don’t know why. Maybe because when someone isn’t remotely bothered by you yelling at them, there just isn’t much point.
After George’s rage had died a slow, awkward death, he stood over us, breathing hard and looking very red. “Are we clear?”
I nodded rapidly, because I am nothing if not obedient, but Dweezil just stared up at him and said in the chilliest, most patient voice, “George, we’re not five.”
And sitting there, wedged into the corner of the green vinyl bus seat, I wanted to laugh or faint or clap or something. Because right then, I had the rather life-altering epiphany that yelling only worked on me because I was scared of it. And if you weren’t scared of it, then . . . nothing.
Which is the story of how I stopped living in mortal fear of being yelled at (but was still absolutely terrified of M).
*I am not saying that Dweezil’s outburst is admirable, or even wholly justified, but the Hobgoblin has this really (really) nasty habit of ridiculing people in front of the whole class. Case in point: Once, while handing back Irish’s test (face-up, naturally— and with the F drawn theatrically larger than necessary) he said in a hard, carrying voice, “Tell me, Mr. [Irish]—are you taking slacking to new heights, or are you just stupid?”
Things like that. Every day. Therefore, Dweezil wins for refusing to take it.
**George is our bus driver. He looks exactly like George Wilson from the Dennis the Menace cartoons. He is rarely what you would call jovial, but sometimes he lets us listen to the radio.