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.