HIGH SCHOOL NORMALITY contains strong language and some themes not suitable for audiences under 17. Viewer discretion is advised.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Whisper to a Scream

"I almost forgot. This is a ticket for you. One day, when you do understand all of this, please come find me."

"I think that we need to spend some time apart before we make any decisions."
"But this isn't goodbye, right? We still have hope?"
"Of course we do. We're not ending things forever. We're just--taking a break."

"Do you have a condom?"

"What do you say we end this break and go back to being boyfriend and girlfriend?"

"So I suppose you'll tell her about Joy tonight?"
"I don't know if it's really necessary at this point. Everything is good again, and I don't want to mess it up."

"You know for a first-timer, that was oddly really good."
"Have you ever made love to a virgin before?"
"I've only had sex with one other guy, and he was quite far from virginity."

"I came to tell you that Callie and I got back together yesterday."
"You did? That's really great! I'm so happy for you guys."
"But this means you and I can't see each other anymore, okay?"
"You guys were seeing each other?"

"You know you're not totally innocent here either, Callie. You went to the movies with that guy on Valentine's Day and said if I wanted to see other people that was totally fine."
"I didn't mean see their entire bodies!"

"What's going on?"
"My father's dead."
"Oh my God."

When you tell someone of a tragedy in your life, that is usually the first response.

"David, I am so sorry."

That is usually the second.

"Is there anything I can do?"

And that is usually the third. So, since Callie Anderson was being textbook with her responses, I was textbook about mine.

"It's fine. I just--I've gotta get home."

I'm sure she said goodbye to me as I walked toward the prius--the prius that once belonged to him, the prius that he gave to me upon his departure to Israel--but I didn't hear her because all I could think about were the words I had just uttered: "My father's dead"; as if it was really as simple as that.

My name is David, and I'm a normal high school student.
Except that most high school students, although their parents may not be together, have two living parents. I now had one.

The drive home was silent. Faint sounds of Coldplay's "Parachutes" album played in the background, but I couldn't even tell what song was playing. I could hardly make out road signs or the shapes of the cars around me. If it hadn't been for the bright red brake lights that shone as the vehicles around me came to a stop, I would have inevitably crashed. Flashbacks of every second spent with Cal Adler zoomed through my mind as I accelerated onto the 101.


I didn't pick up the phone. I didn't even look to see who was calling. All I did was let it ring.

"Hey Dave, it's Aaron. Michael, Mark, and I wanted to know if you wanted to catch a movie tonight. Call me back."

Aaron Stanwick, Mark Adams, and Michael Florence hung up the phone with absolutely no idea the circumstances that I was in.

"David always answers his phone. I wonder why he let it go to voicemail."
"Maybe he's busy in bed."
"Mark, do you ever think of anything else besides sex?"

Mark thought for a minute.

"No, no I don't."
"I'm gonna try calling him."


I let the ringing continue yet again. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I didn't even want to go home because I knew I would be around people, but home was where I needed to be.

"Hi David, it's Michael. Call me back, we're starting to get worried."
"Maybe he's--seeing a movie."
"He always turns his phone off for movies, and his phone rang."
"Well, maybe we're just reading too deep into this. He may not have his phone on him."
"That's weird for him. He never goes anywhere without his phone."
"I think what we need to do is just calm down. I'm sure he'll call back any minute."

My friends stared at their phones impatiently for about a minute.

"Maybe we should go to his house, you know, just to make sure he's okay."
"Good idea. I'll drive."

As Mark and Michael got into Aaron's red truck, I approached the right turn that led into my neighborhood, then made the first left, and arrived at my house. I took a deep breath as I reached for the garage door opener, and I drove into the garage. I opened the car door and stumbled out of the prius, gently allowing the car door the swing shut. I advanced toward the door that led into the house, took another deep breath, and slowly turned the doorknob, greeted by the horrible, heartbreaking sound of a screaming three year-old.

"Sweetie, it's okay, please don't cry."
"Maya please, everything is going to be fine."

As I proceeded into the living room, where Lucy Greer was trying very hard to console her daughter Maya, everything stopped. After about 10 seconds, Maya ran toward me, old tears streaming down her face and new ones forming in her eyes.


I no longer had enough strength to hold myself up; as soon as my baby sister spoke the words, I was brought to my knees and the tears began to form in my own eyes.

"I'm sorry sweetie. Daddy's gone."

I held my sister for a while, trying to calm her as well as myself. I could hardly breathe, and each tear seemed to choke me as I gasped for air. I couldn't even begin to imagine how Maya must have felt. She was three, and she didn't really know her father very well to begin with. Now she never would.


I got up and carried Maya back to her mother before I answered the door. I took a deep breath and opened it to find my three best friends on my front porch.

"Hi guys," I said fighting back tears. "What--what are you doing here?"
"Well, we tried to call you a couple times to see if you wanted to hang out tonight, and you weren't answering, so we got worried and decided to come here."
"Wow, that's--that's--that's--I can't talk right now, okay?"
"Okay, but do you wanna do something tonight?"
"I don't think I can tonight guys. I'm--I just--I'll see you guys later."

I closed the door and I went upstairs.

"Um...David never cries."
"Something's wrong."
"Guys, let's just leave him alone. He'll be fine, we just need to give him some space."

Upstairs, Mom, Libby, and Jake were discussing the matter at hand.

"So what happens now?"
"Well, there will be a funeral."
"Are they shipping his body here? Can they do that?"
"Cal's will said that he wanted to be buried in Israel, so the funeral will be there. Oh, hi David."
"Hi. So, his funeral's gonna be in Israel?"
"Yes, unfortunately."
"Well, that's just great. We don't have the money to go, so we don't even get to pay our respects to our dead father?"
"Who cares? He was an asshole, let him rot with no one to pay respects."
"How the fuck could you say that?"
"Because it's the truth."
"Jake, our father is dead and you're really going to talk about him that way?"
"What, so now that he's pushing daisies I'm supposed to forget about all of the bad shit that happened when he was in my life? Sorry David, but I don't shove things under the rug. I'm not you."
"I'm not shoving anything under the rug. No one, no matter how horrible they were, deserves to be remembered like that."
"Hitler's remembered like that."
"I can't believe you are comparing our father to Hitler."
"Both of you shut up. This is not a time to bicker. I wish we could go to Israel and attend the funeral, but we just can't."

The next day was Sunday, which meant no school, no work, and no reason to leave the house--except for one that I could think of.

At 8:00 a.m. I got into the prius and headed toward a nearby synagogue. I got there at approximately 8:10, and services started at 8:15. There were not many people there, just enough to make a minyon. When the rabbi began the service, I put my tallis around my shoulders, lay my tefillin on my arm and my head, picked up a book and followed along. It had been a long time since I had been inside a synagogue; I had prayed in the chapel at the hospital when my friend Leslie Lawrence had a miscarriage, but that was different because it was just me. I always found great power in the Jewish community; I always loved the idea that it didn't matter where we all came from, that all that mattered was that we were there and that we were together. At the end of the service, the rabbi announced that we would be doing the Mourner's Kaddish and I stood up.

After he had finished reading the names he had he said, "Is there anyone I have forgotten?"

"Chaim ben Shmuel"

And so the few of us that were in mourning recited the prayer. It was hard to get the words out at first, but when I realized I wasn't mourning alone, it became somewhat easier to mourn.

At the end of the Mourner's Kaddish, I folded my tallis, removed my tefillin, and headed out to the prius. But before I reached the door, the rabbi stopped me. For a rabbi, he wasn't that old. Maybe 40, 45 at the oldest.

"Who did you lose?"
"My father. He died yesterday."
"I am very sorry for your loss."
"You know, people always say that they're sorry, but what are they sorry for? It's not like it's their fault."
"My name is Evan Starr, I'm the rabbi here at Kikar Tzion Congregation. I just wanted to let you know that you are welcome here during your time of grief."
"Thank you, Rabbi Starr. Anyway I have to be going now, but it was nice to meet you."
"It was nice to meet you too, um, what did you say your name was?"
"I didn't. It's David, David Adler."
"Well David, I hope to see you around, and once again, I truly am sorry for your loss. It must have been very difficult to lose your father at such a young age."

I knew that Rabbi Starr would not be the last person to extend condolences, but I wasn't ready for the entire world to know yet.

When I got to my house, Aaron Stanwick was waiting in my driveway.

"Aaron? What are you--"
"I'm here to find out what's going on with you. You didn't answer any of our calls, and you wouldn't talk to us yesterday, and you never cry. So, what the heck is going on?"
"Aaron, I really don't want to get into all of this right now. I have a lot to deal with."
"So let me help you deal with it. I'm your best friend, dang it!"
"You really want to know what's going on?"
"No, I've been waiting out here for you because I don't want to know."
"CAL DIED! Okay? Happy now? My father is dead and I don't get to go to the funeral because his dying wish was that he be buried in Israel. People think they can help me deal with this, but they just can't because they don't know what it's like. So, Aaron, now that you have pushed me into answering your question, I am going to go inside and try to enjoy the rest of my Sunday."
"David, I'm so--"
"SORRY? Everyone's sorry, Aaron! Callie's sorry, the rabbi is sorry, you're sorry, I'm sorry, the starving children in Haiti ARE SORRY! But it's not any of your faults, so stop taking the blame for it."

I left the prius on the driveway, walked up to my porch, and slammed the front door shut.

"Hello? Anyone home?"

No answer.

"It's me, I'm home."

Still no answer.


No answer again, so I took a deep breath and screamed. I screamed in the middle of my living room, and I screamed all the way up the stairs. I screamed as I knocked books and other trinkets off the shelves in my room. I screamed as I threw various items at my wall, and I screamed as I ripped the sheets off of my bed. And when I was finished screaming, I collapsed among the rubble in my room and cried into my carpet. That was when I saw it in the corner of my eye, lying on the floor partially buried beneath a copy of Catcher in the Rye.

I suddenly remembered the last conversation I ever had with Cal.

"Take care of yourself, son."
"I've been doing it for awhile, Dad."
"You called me Dad."
"Well, it's the last time I'm ever going to see you, so why not?"

As I remembered that last hug, I slowly advanced toward the piece of paper

"Someday you will understand all of this, David."
"And someday I hope you will too."

I bent down and removed the item from the piles of disarray.

I stared down tearfully at the pice of paper that was now in my hands.
"I almost forgot. This is a ticket for you. One day, when you do understand all of this, please come find me."

I held the ticket to my heart for a moment, and then without thinking I began packing.

David Adler
Normal High School Student