Irish, Leaving

The way Irish gets kicked out of school is not dramatic. In fact, on the surface, it doesn’t even look like getting kicked out. But while sophomore Brenna might have accepted the circumstances at face value, held out hope or at least remained cautiously optimistic, Brenna at seventeen knows exactly what this whole situation boils down to.

He catches me in the halls one afternoon, saying my name like he’s pronouncing a new word. Like he hasn’t said it a thousand times before.

But the thing is, maybe he hasn’t, and what he says now is my real name and not some clever epithet or nickname or private joke. I stand looking up at him. He keeps seeming like he’s about to grab hold of me, and then, not.

“I’m leaving,” he says.


“Yeah, they’re shipping me over to [the underfunded transitional school where kids go when the administration doesn’t feel like dealing with them].”


The two-minute bell rings and we just kept standing there. He has his sunglasses on, so I can’t see his eyes.

He shrugs. “I’m pretty much failing everything anyway.”

“Already? Jesus, Irish.”

“So, I’ll be going next week. But I’ll be back next semester. You’re still taking American Lit, right?”

“What? Yeah, I think so. Why?”

“So, I’ll see you then.”

He says it with a wide, unselfconscious smile, like he’s promising me something just that obvious. I immediately spot the declaration for the bullshit it is. Every semester, a healthy crop of problem students gets sent to the transitional school and we’re told over and over that it’s good for them, that they need the rules and the discipline and the structure. They mostly drop out there. Or they get expelled. What they don’t do is come back.

Irish is working his sneaker against a gouge in the linoleum now. He has stopped smiling. “I wanted to tell you, is all.”

The late bell rings. The hall is empty except for us.

“I have to go,” I say, when I’m really just thinking dammit, dammit,dammit like a song.

Later, I’ll feel bad for how abrupt and chilly I was, and how he kept reaching out to take my hand and I wouldn’t let him, but right in this moment, I am so incredibly frustrated that the idea of him touching me is like a lit match. I am one step off from incendiary. I am that powder keg they talk about when referring to political climates and supermax prisons. I go to US History with my ears buzzing.

A few weeks ago, I claimed that Irish leaving didn’t devastate me, and that’s true—it didn’t. Not exactly. Instead, it’s more like I have a cacophony in my brain and no way to let it out. (It has not yet occurred to me that the way I live my life is a lot like a boiler with no pressure valve.) My normal coping strategy will work—it has to! I just have to sit very still and wait for the noise to pass. I have to write it down, because any wailing I do is in the privacy of my notebook. Any lamenting happens on the page.

Today was the last day Irish got to ride the bus. Tomorrow, I won’t see him again. [. . . ]

After school, we stood out in the bus circle, me in front of him so the security guard wouldn’t see the cigarette in his hand.

I don’t like what he’s become. I don’t like how he just ignores me as soon as Megan or Marti or Too-Good shows up. I don’t like how he stands out on the corner and smokes a cigarette. I don’t like how he sells drugs, and how he gets high between classes and drunk on weeknights.

But for all that, I still like him better than if he was my brother. I still care about what happens, even when he acts like I don’t exist, or pulls my hair like a real brother. He told me he’ll come back next semester and be in my English class. (He told me.)

As usual, I make the kind of bald, truthful assessments that I never make in real life, never say out loud. The world is always so much easier once it’s on paper. So I write down my thoughts regarding Irish because that’s what I’ve always done, but for the first time, it doesn’t really help. Nothing is fixed, and the sense of loss stays with me. In fact, it becomes my obsession for the rest of the week.

I repeat the whole exercise the next day and I know I’m repeating it, but still find myself powerless to stop. I’ve slipped off my tidy mechanical track somehow and gotten stuck on the unsolvable problem of Irish leaving.

Irish has to go to [Crappy Alternative School]. Tomorrow. Not in two weeks, or next month, or next quarter. Tomorrow. There’s something awfully dark about that word. Tomorrow. Only, tomorrow is already today. [. . .]

It’s his own fault they’re sending him. He could have tried harder, in his hockey jersey and Nike hat, violent colors, gold and black. He could have gone to class, or tried to do some of the homework, or not got drunk on Wednesday nights. He could have waited ‘til the weekend, he could have at least done that.

Tall Irish stoner, who cut off all his hair over the summer, but still smiles the same, still laughs the same, is still the only brother I’ll ever have.

And the discipline office hates him, and the teachers hate him too, and still I can’t imagine anyone in the world hating Irish as much as I do right now, because I am so little, and because I barely mean anything to him, and because he is and has been my friend. And because he’s going, and it’s all his fault, and for that I hate him.

But for everything else, for every time he smiles, for every time he shoves his sunglasses up on his nose and says “Rock on,” I love him better than almost anyone else in the world.

I say hate like it has some kind of bearing here, some formal meaning. But really, I’m just being dramatic. I’m saying what I feel, and not what I think.

I even kind of understand this, and the idea disturbs me, but also seems strangely right. It’s to my credit that for maybe the first time in my life, I don’t really try to rein it in. I just put pen to paper and go with it, writing down the inner monologue—everything filling up my head—instead of trying to analyze or justify or sort things out.

So I say hate, when what I’m actually feeling is more akin to aggravation, but does it matter? I still want to yell and break things. I say hate because it’s one of the most substantial words I know—the verbal equivalent to throwing down my backpack or my Spanish book and stomping all over it.

This doesn’t do a whole lot for me as far as personal growth or identifying normal human emotions, but it proves to be a big step in coming to terms with the situation, and on the third day, I reach the place I want to be. I’m still angry (disappointed), but it’s in this cool, removed way, like something has been decided.

I know by next week, I’ll be done caring that he’s gone. But for now, I care. I know he’ll probably be back, he said he would. But I just want him back now. Not next month, next semester, next year. Now.

In half an hour, the bell will ring, and 3rd hour will end and everyone will come streaming out, and I’ll ask Dill what number three on the homework was. He’ll tell me if he knows, but he probably won’t know. He never does. Everything will be the same way it always is.

Jesse will smile that sly, quirky smile, say something dry and witty, just … like … always. And no one else knows that Irish is gone. At least, no one else would care.

“It’s too bad about Irish,” Little Sister Yovanoff said. “I liked him.” 

Oh well, I told her. That’s just the way it is.*

I’m unhealthily relieved to find that things are back to normal. I am the girl I’ve always been, just without Irish. I am self-contained, emotionally stable. I am fine. I existed before him, and I will exist after him.

And if I’m at all concerned that it took three days to get over my dismay, when usually an afternoon would have been enough? Well, that’s just a freak occurrence. A fluke. It is of no statistical significance. Something to keep an eye on perhaps, but come on now. Let’s not get carried away.

I am the girl I’ve always been, the cheerful little computer who thinks relationships should be based on purely rational considerations, and that feeling things is something you can turn on and off like a faucet.


I don’t have a discussion question today because I like them to be large-scale and this story seems very, very specific. But don’t let that stop you.

Tell me anyway, because I want to know. I want to know everything.

*So, I’m kind of infatuated with this idea that I’m telling my sister the things I want myself to believe. Like somehow, she is a person who will believe them, and if she believes them, that will be like me believing them too.

24 thoughts on “Irish, Leaving

      • Oh, doesn’t this make me optimistic! I was a good girl, played the part today on my first day of high school; even bought myself a brand new writing journal because I filled my old journal over the summer…
        And filled a fourth of it in a rant against society.
        What? I had to give my presentation of Fahrenheit 451. Banning books always gets me hot under the collar…

        • Don’t get me started on book banning! And Fahrenheit 451! And society!
          I was really a very self-contained student the whole way through high school, but one thing that was guaranteed to send me on a rampage was people telling me what I could and could not read.
          No matter how sweet you are, no matter how good . . . sometimes it’s just really healthy to have a soap box—something worth ranting over!

  1. My mom used to tell me that hate was a weapon word and you better really mean it before you say it, or you’ll regret it later. I almost never say it out loud, even now when I’m 30 and haven’t lived with my mom for 12 years.
    I know you didn’t say it, but maybe for you this was the same. You wanted it to be a weapon word.
    Did you ever see him again?

    • My mom used to tell me that hate was a weapon word and you better really mean it before you say it, or you’ll regret it later.
      Yes! I grew up in a household where that was a really bad thing to say, so at 17, I think I was only using it because it was basically the worst word I could think of.
      (And yes, I did see him again. But it took awhile. And was marginally disappointing.)

  2. So, I’m kind of infatuated with this idea that I’m telling my sister the things I want myself to believe. Like somehow, she is a person who will believe them, and if she believes them, that will be like me believing them too.
    I do this a lot with my family too. I usually tell my mom things that I want her to believe thinking that maybe if she believes it, then I can believe it too. Or sometimes its the opposite. I have several regrets even though I’m only seventeen and sometimes I’m afraid that because of some of the things I’ve done, I’m a bad person and if I tell my mom that I’m a bad person and she doesn’t believe it, then I can believe that I’m a good person with her. I equally long for and dread the day when she sees the bad in me that I see, because if she believes it, then I know its true but if she doesn’t believe it, then I’m going to be afraid that I could disappoint her. Lol I know you like dysfunction so you would probably be entertained (in a way) by my family stories.

    • I have several regrets even though I’m only seventeen and sometimes I’m afraid that because of some of the things I’ve done, I’m a bad person
      I so, so, so remember this. In fact, I *still* do this sometimes! I think some of it is just being human—this idea that sometimes the failings that seem so cataclysmic to us are totally unremarkable to other people, who are busy thinking about their own failings.
      I equally long for and dread the day when she sees the bad in me that I see
      AND this—the hypothetical relief at not having the sword hanging over you anymore! I always wanted to keep all my thoughts to myself, and at the same time, just tell everyone the weird stuff and the feelings and get it over with.
      (Really, I opted to keep things to myself. But I *daydreamed* about communicating.)
      (Also, I think even then, part of me knew that none of the bad things were as bad as I thought they were.)

      • I also try to keep my thoughts to myself, but I usually keep them to myself for so long and keep thinking on them that I explode and expressing my feelings at that moment becomes worse than what it would have been if I had just opened up to begin with.
        I debate with myself on whether my bad things are that bad. I know I shouldn’t have thought and done those things but some part of me hopes that if other people can forgive me then I can forgive myself. But then I’m afraid if I forgive myself, I’m belittling it and forgetting about what I’ve done. I don’t know if it’s better to be in a constant state of apology or to just forgive yourself and hope others can forgive you as well.

        • I usually keep them to myself for so long and keep thinking on them that I explode
          I do this too (still!). I feel like one of the worst things about it is, people are always so shocked—because if you keep things to yourself and never get upset, they get a certain picture of you, then exploding-you is completely foreign to them and everyone is caught off guard.
          I read once (I don’t remember where) that it’s often harder to forgive oneself than it is to forgive others. I don’t know *why* that should be, but in my experience, it’s very true.
          I think different techniques work best for different people, but for me, I have a much easier time forgiving myself for things once I understand exactly why I did them. (I’ve found this also works for forgiving other people, but sometimes it’s harder to understand them—or at least, it can take longer.)

  3. Oh, I love this! To be honest, I kept checking all morning to see if you’d posted yet, and then the afternoon came and I realized I actually had to work…But this is so, so great.
    “The world is always so much easier once it’s on paper.”
    I loved this. And its so true. I always feel that when something major happens, something I don’t want to deal with, I write it down. So long as its written down, I can deal with it and move on. This is probably why I write to-do lists all the time. If its on the paper, its not in my head, and I don’t have to stress about it. I’m not sure if that makes sense or not.
    Its the same with writing. I can’t write the next scene unless its already outlined. And if I don’t have the key scenes (even if I know they’re going to change) at least written down in little bullet points, then the whole book is suddenly vague and scary and cloudy and nothing happens. It’s just easier when there’s something on paper. Even if it’s not true, or not true enough yet.

    • So long as its written down, I can deal with it and move on.
      This, exactly! I think for me, writing things down has always been like having an external hard drive. If there’s too much stuff cluttering up the works, remove some of it and then focus on what’s left.
      As for outlining though, I wish I was like that! When I write fiction especially, I am the opposite of an outline—I’m unbridled chaos. I don’t even finish sentences as I’m writing! The only thing I can compare it to is, when I was (briefly, ill-advisably) an art major, I did a lot of sculpture. And yes, a big part of the process is making the clay look like a person, but the first part is getting a handful of clay of the plastic bag. And that’s harder than it looks. Sometimes it only happens in dribs and drabs.

      • “I’m unbridled chaos. I don’t even finish sentences as I’m writing!”
        Sometimes I really wish I was like this actually. Part of my problem is even if I have everything outlined, if I don’t know how it ends, it won’t get written. This is more important with scenes than the actual book ending though. I can have a vague sort of idea of an end for the whole book, but I need an absolute firm ending of the scene I want to write. This might be why I write everything down, too, so that there’s some sort of path towards an end.
        As for sculpture, that’s awesome! I work in pencil, and I find a ton of similarities between how I draw and how I write. When I draw, everything is lightly sketched so I can do all the erasing I know I’m going to have to do. And then I slowly add layers using increasingly darker pencils. I do the entire drawing over each time I add a layer, which makes for a hugely long process, but also a better drawing. I also only draw upside-down – I never learned how to draw right-side up – but I don’t know what that says about writing, or if there’s even a way to write ‘upside down’?

  4. I’ve never heard of a “transitional school” like that before (I can’t think of any equivalent in my district) so the concept of troublemaking students disappearing to one and never returning seems vaguely dystopian…
    These posts always make me think about how, despite being a writer and an enthusiastic mental narrator, I’ve never been a consistent journal writer. I also haven’t tried in years, but it always felt redundant. And then I realize that somewhere between near-compulsive use of Twitter and almost constantly photographing my surroundings… I pretty much record 90% of my life experiences, especially considering I’m the kind of person who can look at a picture of a table and tell you when it was and who was there and how late I was up the night before and how it felt and what song was stuck in my head… years later.

    • We had a couple different kinds of transitional schools—they came in varying degrees of militancy and faculty-investment, but even the good ones did always feel very Orwellian. People could disappear just like that.
      And that’s really true about Twitter, etc. (smartphones really have changed everything!). Even before camera phones though, my sister never wrote anything down, but she still has this huge collection of scrapbooks, filled with thousands of pictures. Which I guess was her way of doing exactly the same thing I did.
      Actually, there was an old Barenaked Ladies song that we used to joke about (and I mean, it was old even when *we* were listening to it). Anyway, there was a line in it that went:
      She says she wants to live in a movie./I say I want someone else to stand behind me/and write it all down/’cause I can’t be bothered doing it myself/and I don’t want the responsibility of proving it’s important.
      We used to laugh about how that was just like us—her with the camera and me with the notebook.
      Only, the truth is, proving it was important was all I really cared about.

  5. This is funny in a sad, bitter way. I remember having a similar kind of reaction when one of my friends had a baby at the beginning of senior year. Instead of feeling anything normal or heroic–you know, like sympathy or understanding or a sense of sticking-togetherness–I felt completely betrayed. As if the reason she was having a baby was because she didn’t care enough about our friendship or about growing up and having all of those normal developmental milestones together. It seems kind of absurd now, but also sad. I don’t know if I’ll ever have those weird, sharp emotions ever again.
    On the west coast we have alternative placement schools and continuation schools. An alternative placement school is basically a warehouse for kids with emotional issues that make it dangerous for them to be in mainstream public schools. A continuation school is where kids go when they don’t have enough academic credits to graduate due to pregnancy, truancy, illness or not passing. I did an observation in one a few weeks ago. It had this weird aura of superficial happy-happy.

    • Instead of feeling anything normal or heroic–you know, like sympathy or understanding or a sense of sticking-togetherness–I felt completely betrayed.
      Absolutely! When Irish left, the feeling I had on top was the indignant, grown-up one that says, I’m really mad right now, because you’re BETTER than this! But underneath, everything was fueled by this much more self-centered feeling of being left behind.
      We had versions of both the alternative placement schools and the continuation schools, but I never personally knew anyone who went to the continuation schools—I just knew they existed.
      It had this weird aura of superficial happy-happy.
      Upon attending the crappy alternative school, Irish immediately got kicked out for refusing to clap. For real.

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