Dweezil (Alternately Titled: The Time I Almost Got Yelled At)

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.

16 thoughts on “Dweezil (Alternately Titled: The Time I Almost Got Yelled At)

  1. LOVE the story. You are amazing at memoir writing TOO?! Unfair. ;P
    I remember when I went to public school in 10th grade, after being homeschooled since 5th, I was blown away by the “debauchery” going on all around me on a daily basis… like *GASP*…cursing. Haha, I got that “uh… what’s wrong with you” and the “what’s the big deal?” look A LOT.

    • Ironically (uncomfortably), my acceptable-language experience kind of went the other way. Meaning, on the first day of school, I completely scandalized the very nice girls who invited me to eat lunch with them and later wound up writing myself a stern note in the back of my English binder reminding 15-year-old Brenna to keep it PG. I also wound up not being welcome to eat lunch with them anymore, but that was a multi-step process.
      Tiny Disclaimer: and it’s not even that I’m a terribly ill-mannered person. It’s just that I grew up around my dad and my uncles, who all have a way with invective. Which is not to say that they use incredibly offensive language, but . . . they totally do. The fact that Dweezil busted out phrases that I’d never even heard before—well, let me tell you, that guy was a professional!

  2. Once again, great high school story! I can so relate to the fear of being yelled at. (Largely because it always manages to make me cry, which makes being yelled at even more fearsome and embarrassing, heh.)

  3. i just have to say that i read your book, found your blog, and
    the got totally addicted to these high school stories. they’re so
    brilliant! i don’t even care that i’ve lost an hour of homework
    time. this was so worth it and i hope you keep posting more
    of them :)

  4. How did I miss a High School post? Oh, I know… because I fail at staying up with the online world these days. But here I am making up for that.
    I say it every time, but I love your memories of High School. It amazes me how much you took away from it in the short time you actually attended public school. I wish I could remember my High School days so vividly, but I guess I was too busy doing me to really backlog anything about the people around me (well that’s not entirely true, I seem to remember all of the terrible things about High School like they happened yesterday, but maybe that’s because there were unfortunately a lot of them).
    In regards to the actual point of this post: yelling only working on those who fear it. I think that’s pretty true about any fear. It can only have a hold on you if you let it.
    BTW – My replacement copy of THE REPLACEMENT finally came this week so I could finish it and I just want to tell you it was PERFECT! Honestly I was so involved in the characters I didn’t want it to end. And as frustrated as I was with the missing pages copy I think I’ve decided if I’m ever lucky enough to meet you that that’s the one I want you to sign. Seems fitting. :)

    • It amazes me how much you took away from it in the short time you actually attended public school.
      You know, I’ve wondered about this before and I’m not sure I have an answer for why I was like that, but I definitely have a theory: I think being homeschooled meant spending so much time alone that by the time I finally got to high school, I pretty much done with myself. Which is not to say I couldn’t have used a little (lot) more self-awareness, but god I was bored with me! There was nothing to do but turn my attention on everyone else . . .
      Yay for getting a complete copy! That is so weird—I’ve only heard from one other person who got a broken one, and they also said they’d want me to sign that one instead of the complete version. Which I will certainly do :)

  5. I think I have a fear similar to that. I do hate it when anyone yells or gets mad, even if it isn’t at me, but along with that, every time I’m called to the office for something (no matter what), terror strikes my heart. I don’t know why. I’m just a pessimist in that way. I mean, what if those bad things that always happen in the stories happen to me? But then, maybe since I make myself worry about it so much, by doing that I give myself this small immunity to that? Is it just me or is it like this thing that when you try, it never works, but once you’ve forgotten and aren’t trying, it does. Maybe it’s because, if I know what could happen, and act like maybe it has, it can’t. It can’t jump out and scare the breath out of me. Because if I let my guard down, who knows what could happen?

    • I absolutely know what you mean. I am very much a magical thinker and secretly believe that if I think about the bad things and make myself imagine them, then they can’t happen. Because I’ve got my eye on them. Which is funny, because I’m actually very optimistic. And yet, obsessed with disaster . . .
      Also, this might not be related, but any time anyone blames me for something, even if I know for a fact that I didn’t do it, I always feel guilty anyway—like maybe I did do it and I just forgot.

  6. Thanks for reading—I’m glad you like it! (I try so hard to be timely with the HS posts, but they’re weirdly time-consuming—I have so many I want to do, but they refuse to be hurried!)

  7. Wonderful–I can’t wait to read it and the cover is amazing.
    I wanted to tell you about something I noticed yesterday. A new library opened in my tiny town. In the young adult room there were only about three dozen books on the ceiling to floor shelves and only one facing out–THE REPLACEMENT. I was so thrilled. And it was next to SHIVER.

  8. because it’s just really, really hard to learn from other people’s mistakes.
    This, absolutely. I think this is one area where I was and probably still am exactly like you. I can know something logically all I want and it still won’t do me a bit of good until it takes root somewhere, and there seems to be no way to speed up the process or decide what makes an impression.
    Also, I think something really important to remember in this case is that when I sit down to write one of these posts, I have all the benefit of hindsight. I can look at myself as I remember being (it’s never a perfect one-to-one correlation—memory will always mess up a little), and I can look at the things I wrote and pick through them and see myself changing, but at the time, I had no idea that’s what was happening.
    You’ll notice that in the actual journal excerpt, I don’t say anything particularly broad about yelling, or its effect on me, and I don’t make any conscious resolution to do things differently. I just say what happened, as I interpreted it. And yes, I remember being so shocked, so impressed with Dweezil—that part is absolutely true—but I can almost guarantee that I got off that bus thinking I was just as scared of yelling as I had ever been. Any real changes taking place were happening offstage and they wouldn’t even be apparent until months and sometimes *years* later.
    I think the important thing to keep in mind is that you’ll change. Not necessarily in that dramatic, proactive, “You have the power to change your life!” way. I mean, there might be some of that—I don’t know. Mostly, though, I think it’s probably just going to happen. You’ll change because you have to, because that’s what we do as people, and you might be like me and not even notice until way later. And I can almost promise it won’t happen as fast as you’d like, or else it will happen TOO fast, and it won’t always be in the ways you want, or the ways you expect, but the thing is, it will always be you, different-and-the-same, and there will probably even be times when you surprise yourself.
    Wow, okay—I realize just got very presumptuous right there, telling you how it’s going to be when we don’t even know each other! But still, a point—I had one, and it is this: I think for a lot of us, we’re never quite the people we want to be, and I think that’s okay. (Maybe it even gives us something to become.)

    • This. Just… this. *nods vigorously*
      I pretty much agree with you and everything you said, either in a ‘that’s so true!’ way or an ‘I have no idea if that’s true but it seems wise and very likely true!’ way. So… yeah.
      Also, sorry it’s been like two weeks or something. I’m bad at responding sometimes. *grin*

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