For the first few weeks of my senior year, I am completely obsessed with the idea that whether I like it or not (and mostly not), I’m almost an adult. Whatever that means.
I keep tiptoeing up to the idea, acknowledging very reluctantly that it’s happening, and then scampering away again.
This impending adulthood is still largely hypothetical, though. In the main, senior year is not that different from junior year. As usual, Little Sister Yovanoff and I are pretty much inseparable. We’re locker partners. We eat lunch together and have all the same friends, and we’ve even arranged our class schedules so that we’re taking most of the same electives. Really, the only difference is that now we have a car.
Our last class before lunch is PE, with a focus on team sports. Irish is in the same class, but we don’t really talk to him. Or else, he doesn’t talk to us. We mostly stand with some quiet girls who don’t bother anyone. Irish stands with a bunch of drug dealers.
I’m privately surprised he’s there at all, even though when I saw him filling out add/drop forms in the cafeteria last year, he said he would be, and once I ran into him downtown over the summer and right as we were saying goodbye he told me he’d see me in August, and I’m still surprised.
Thor, our gym teacher, is this relentlessly wholesome viking of a farmboy, who looks like he probably played football in college. We are his first class ever, and he has absolutely no idea what to do with us.
He keeps trying to get us to behave like a little army of avid sports enthusiasts, which is confusing because the kids in our class are mostly the worst kids in school, and not really primed to be avid anything. The general consensus is that Thor is trying way too hard to be a fascist.
Later, he will relinquish his desperate need for order. This will happen sometime around the middle of the sand volleyball unit, and will be so acute that I actually witness the moment in which it occurs.
He’ll be standing on the edge of the parking lot, trying to supervise three courts at once, and failing dramatically. In the background, Patrick and Holden are passing a cigarette back and forth, and the slacker girls are sitting in the sand with their shoes off, working on their tans. Arlo is viciously hungover and doesn’t want to move, so to help him out, Jason keeps throwing the ball into the creek, which is an incredibly effective diversionary tactic because then we have to spend the next fifteen minutes fishing it back out.
Thor will be watching all this unfold, with his shoulders squared and his chest stuck out, and something will break inside him. He’ll press his hands against his forehead and look up at the sky like he’s wondering if maybe he should just quit now, just cut his losses and walk away.
He’ll turn his back on us for a second and then inform us with tragic dignity that we’re done for the day and can go change out.
After that, he will let us do pretty much whatever we want, which is all the class was really looking for in the first place. Once Thor has given up, everyone will adjust their behavior and even follow the instructions occasionally and line up without having to be told five times, and actually show him some respect. Or at least, they will stop smoking on the volleyball court when they’re supposed to be serving.
Later in the year, one of the sophomores in my literature elective will remark upon what a completely awesome teacher Thor is, and Holden will respond, with very little irony, “Yeah, we did that.”
But that particular change is still weeks away and at the moment, we’re in the middle of the baseball unit, which is the first unit of the semester.
I am fabulously bad at it. Also, my badness totally doesn’t matter, because everyone else is fabulously bad too.
What follows is a transcript of my last-ever on-school-grounds conversation with Irish. Also, thanks to my complete lack of responsiveness, it only qualifies as a conversation is the very loosest sense.
Today, I stood behind Irish in the batting line while he whispered numbers to Danny and Adam, who are both huge drug dealers and also extremely uncoordinated.
Patrick came up to us, looking slick and appealing. White undershirt, black track pants. He put his arm around my shoulders in an easy, companionable way without actually acknowledging me at all. He kept me tucked in the crook of his elbow while he talked to Irish.
“You’re sweet,” he said, after he and Irish had arrived at an agreement. “A sweet little lady.” He let me go and raised his voice. “Not like Cobalt over there.”
Cobalt is small and curvy, with dark hair and large, suggestive eyes. When she looked at Patrick over her shoulder, he grinned at her. I wondered if he called me sweet because I didn’t push his arm away, or just so that he would have a chance to tell Cobalt that she’s not. I know that I shouldn’t like standing so close to boys like him, but I’m practicing my social skills, which involves being friendly and not alienating people. Also, Patrick smells amazing.
“I’ve got a court date,” Irish said without looking at me, when Patrick had wandered off towards Cobalt.
I raised my eyebrows, but wasn’t actually surprised. “When?”
“Two weeks. I’m not going to be here tomorrow, though,” he said. “Or after that, really.”
“I think I’m gonna go get my GED.”
“Don’t drag the bat,” called Thor.
I picked the bat up off the ground.
Irish was looking off towards the foothills, up to where our houses were too small to see. He crossed his arms over his chest and turned back to me. I wanted to tell him to take off his goddamn sunglasses so I could see his eyes.
“I figure I should get it before I go in. You know?”
“It kind of sucks being eighteen,” he said, smiling. “Real, grown-up jail, huh?”
It’s horrible to be holding a bat and not have anything to hit with it.
After this uncomfortable exchange, then nothing. We just stand in line, staring out at the brown, dusty expanse of the foothills. I’m suddenly thinking very hard about what it means to be eighteen. How once you hit that arbitrary number, then people start holding you really and truly accountable. I have no idea what Irish is thinking about. Possibly the same thing. He is four months older than me.
“Get on up here,” Thor calls, waving at Irish.
In the infield, Jason is dancing around at shortstop, singing The Sad Ballad of Danny Boy to Danny-drug-dealer, but twice as fast as it normally goes, tossing his mitt in the air every time he gets to you’re giving us a fright. Most of the outfield is sitting down.
Irish takes his place over the plate, looking bored.
Niki is the only person in our class who knows how to pitch, so whoever has her on their team usually wins. She throws an easy one though, like she’s aiming for the bat. Irish pops it up and Froggy moves lazily out from behind the plate and catches it.
Irish hasn’t even started to run. He shrugs, then saunters back to Danny and Adam, hands in the pockets of his track pants.
And this is just one more example of how much he’s changed since I met him. Not that I really expect him to care about baseball, but the shrug is like this perfect illustration of how he never tries or cares or notices anything anymore. How he is only just waiting for a cigarette, a pause, for all this to be over.
“Pick it up, pick it up,” calls Thor, pointing at me, clapping his hands. “You’re slacking.”
I step up to the plate with the bat resting on my shoulder, wanting to hit something harder than I’d ever hit anything in my whole life.
The sun is white-hot, burning the top of my head. Irish is leaning against one corner of the backstop, tapping down a pack of cigarettes against his thigh. His shoulders are slumped and he looks freckled and gangly like he did when we first met, and also nothing like himself at all anymore. His hair is so orange that it seems impossible, and I wonder if it’s going to clash with the county coveralls.
Niki lobs the ball at me underhand and I hit a single.
I always hit singles.
First, an important disclaimer: The entry is not meant to be nearly as depressing as it sounds, I promise.
Honestly, the rest of the story goes pretty much like this—Irish does some time in county and gets out and doesn’t violate his probation. For the next year and a half, he works in the kitchen at the dive bar with me, and we hang out on the roof and laugh a lot and once in a while I get really mad at him because he can sometimes be a total dick, but mostly we get along. Later, he becomes what I consider to be an actual adult, and stays out of trouble and gets married to a nice girl and has little freckled kids. What I’m saying is, this story really does have a happy ending—it just takes awhile and spends a few years looking kind of shaky.
See? Everything is fine. (Also, the rest of PE after the volleyball unit turns out to be just so much fun.)
Now for the discussion topic: This whole adult thing. What does being an adult mean to you? Is the prospect scary? Is it actually any different from being not-an-adult? Does it feel like a huge responsibility, or is it what you’ve been waiting for your whole life?