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

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Don't Panic

"What's going on?"
"My father's dead."

"How--how did he die?"
"We assume it was suicide. We heard a gunshot and when we broke into his apartment he was just lying here, the gun next to his body, surrounded by blood."

"Mark? Is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me."
"And me."
"And me."
"Holy shit!"

"I thought you were going to save the jewelery box."
"Well, these watches and necklaces and rings don't belong to me, and they don't belong to that damn landlord. They belong to Cal, so I figured that if I bury them, then they'll be with their rightful owner."

"Wow, I can't believe you're breaking up with me."
"I just don't know if I can handle a relationship right now."

It was the warmest welcome I had ever received.

"Hey kiddo! Miss me?"
"I missed you too! Hey, why don't you go up and get the toy box out and I'll be up in a minute."

As my half-sister, Maya, ran upstairs to get the Hot Wheels going, my mom approached me in a slightly less warm way.

"Hi Mom."
"Hello, David."

There was no hug, not even a handshake. Just a look of disappointment.

"Now, I understand why you felt the need to go pay respect at your father's grave, but what I don't understand is why you went the entire trip without calling us."

Well, that's one way to be welcomed home.

"Mom, I--"
"Do you know how worried we were? We didn't know if you were hurt or sick or dead. We didn't have any idea when you would be home, and then you just show up and expect us all to forgive you?"
"Forgive me?"
"For walking out on this family just like your father did."

Okay, ouch.

"You know what, I just flew 8,000 miles to bury my father. I am tired, and my back is killing me because I sat in Coach for 17 hours. I'm going upstairs and playing with my sister who is actually happy to see me, and I will just see you later."

My mom said nothing as I walked up the stairs toward my room.

My name is David, and I'm a normal high school student.
And just like any normal person, I didn't like being bombarded after a long journey.

While Maya and I began building tracks for the Hot Wheels cars to speed through, Aaron Stanwick, Mark Adams, and Michael Florence all returned to their own homes. It had been nice to share some of my time in Israel with my three best friends, who used Mark's mom's boyfriend's credit card to surprise me. But, especially only being there for a couple of days, the time difference was taxing on them.

"Mom, I can't go to the youth activity tonight! I'm too tired!"

"How do you expect me to do the dishes when I can't even keep my eyes open?"

"Mal, I can't handle phone sex right now! I'll call you tomorrow!"

It had been a difficult trip for all of us, but for me, it was much more than the time difference. While I was away, not only did I bury my father, but I also got dumped, evicted, and sexually harrassed by my father's really hot neighbor (in retrospect, the sexual harrassment wasn't that bad, but it made me very uncomfortable). I was looking forward to coming home and just relxing, but I knew that there would be no relaxing, especially once I went back to school.

It was late March, and Spring Break was nearing its end. Senioritis was at its peak, and my recent loss would not make it any easier.

The drive to school on that Monday was silent; Coldplay's Viva la Vida album was faintly audible, but neither Jake nor I attempted conversation. My brother and I had drifted so far apart that sometimes I didn't even know who he was. He had begun wearing eyeliner as well as an array of really gaudy scarves from Hot Topic. I never saw him at school, so I had no idea who he hung out with, but they couldn't be good people if they were influencing him to act the way that he was.

I pulled into my usual parking space and as soon as he was out of the Prius, he slammed the door and stormed off. Aaron arrived shortly after I did and parked next to me.
"What's with him?"
"I don't know. He never talks to me. But it's okay, because next year when I'm at ASU I won't have to deal with him or anyone else in my house."
"Something happen?"
"Well, my mom decided it would be real fun to accuse me of walking out on the family by going to Israel."
"Yeah. Apparently, because I took advantage of a plane ticket that Cal bought for me and because I didn't ask permission, I'm the antichrist! Like I need permission to go to my own father's funeral."
"Hey, calm down, it's fine. Let's just focus on school."

The day was a blur. I remember Mr. Hurt talking about logarithms, and I remember Mrs. Pepperdine mentioning anapestic tetrameter, and I remember Mr. Jackson changing his mind about whether aggregate demand shifted to the right or the left, but I could not even begin to tell you how to convert a logarithm to an exponent, or how many stressed syllables are in that particular meter, or why aggregate demand was shifting in the first place. Everything I learned that day went in one ear and out the other because all I could focus on was the image of dry blood on the floor where Cal had killed himself. I had taken notes, but when I looked at them at lunch to review them, I had no recollection of any of it. The only class I could somewhat focus on was choir, but even there I had some issues getting the dance steps down for our Showcase Concert.


It was a comfort to know, though, that I wasn't the only one that couldn't handle the choreography.

"I mean, seriously! It's just a step-touch leading into a three-point turn! NO QUESTIONS!"

Miss Connolly was really cool outside the classroom, but inside she could be a real pain.

"I know it's our last concert and everything, but I'm having a hard time focusing."
"Tell me about it."
"Mark and David, are you done talking?"
"Yes ma'am."
"Good. Let's take it from the top."

After choir, my mind was even more of a blur. I could tell that Aaron and Michael were having some sort of conversation about something while Mark made out with his girlfriend Mal Wales, but I was just trying to mull over everything that was going through my head--Cal's suicide, the entire trip to Israel, and behind everything, the idea that high school was nearing its end. There would be no breaks between now and the end of the year with the rigorous rehearsals for the Showcase Concert, prep for AP tests, and the final issue of The Summit Sentinel. The end of high school was a strange thought; it felt like I had been going to classes at Summit Peak High School for a million years and it never occurred to me that one day it would actually be over.


I got up from our lunch spot without even saying anything. My mind was in a daze; I couldn't focus on anything. I faintly heard Michael shout "See you in Jazz Choir," but I said nothing in response.

I walked slowly toward the newsroom, taking one step at a time, feeling as though I was on the verge of a meltdown. Images of the closed casket and the hundreds of people that mourned him as his body was lowered into the grave clouded my mind. I suddenly yearned for the warm sands of Tel Aviv to be right beneath my toes, and I longed for the warm sun to embrace my face as I hopped into the Mediterranean Sea. I kept hoping I would turn around and see the clear waters before me, my best friends waiting for me to join them. But what I saw instead was nowhere near the paradise I wished for.

Standing outside the journalism room, as if she was waiting for me, was Callie Anderson, my ex-girlfriend who decided to break up with me while I was thousands of miles away.


My former girlfriend Joy Harris had gone to a different school, so I never had to worry about bumping into her in the halls after we broke up.


"We should--uh--probably get in there before Mrs. Beasely has our heads."

I powerwalked past Callie to get into the room and forgot to hold the door for her. I don't know if it was because I was in a daze or because subconsciously I really didn't want to hold the door for her. Either way, the door almost slammed in her face as I headed toward the podium to start class.

"BUBBLE CHEEKS NOW! Welcome back, I hope you all had a great spring break, please turn your attention to David."
"Thanks Mrs. Beasely. So, we have a deadline coming up next week, and it's a pretty big one because it's our last issue before the big senior issue."

For some reason, sitting in front of the newspaper staff helped me focus more. Maybe it was that I didn't want to look bad in front of Callie, or just that I didn't want to look bad in front of the staff. But I suddenly felt confident and professional.

"I know we all got our assignments before spring break so hopefully you are all making good progress. Editors, we need to have a meeting right now, so everyone get to work."

The editors, which included Callie, came forward to the podium ready to hear my instruction. Callie looked nervous.

"Okay, so we need to start talking layout for the issue. We're doing a 32-pager this issue because there's a lot of articles. Alix, what's the status on copy?"
"I've gotten a few articles and they're looking pretty good, but the writers are still having a hard time grasping proper style."
"Are you coaching them on it when you give them back their pages?"
"You need to make sure to do that. Um, Callie, have you started working on some layouts, fonts, etc?"
"Well, I've been focusing on my article."
"Well, you need to be focusing on layout too. We go to press in two weeks!"
"I've been on Spring Break."
"So have the rest of us, but the rest of us are on top of things. How do you expect to succeed in NYU's journalism program if you can't stay on top of things here?"
"Um, okay, I'll have some layouts drawn up by tomorrow."
"Great! That would be really helpful! Okay, so since our layout editor has been falling behind on her job, we all need to pitch in. Tonight, everyone needs to draw up the layouts for their sections, and then Callie will use those to help her create the final layout template. I think that's everything we need to discuss, so go work."

I headed over to a computer and started doing some research about my latest article about the Drama Department's production of Footloose and set up some interviews with cast members. After class, as I headed toward the choir room, Callie caught up with me.

"Hey Jackass!"
"Excuse me?"
"What the fuck was that in there?"
"I'm sorry, but that little outburst in there was about a little more than my editor position."
"I'm just trying to make sure everyone's on top of things. That's what editor-in-chief does."
"My ass."
"What about it?"
"David, I know you're all about professionalism when it comes to that staff, but that in there was not professional, and I think we just need to talk."
"Okay, Callie. Talk."
"I didn't mean--"
"Oh, you meant when it's convenient for you. I see, some things just never change."
"You know what, I am under a lot of pressure right now and I do NOT need this!"
"YOU'RE under a lot of pressure? YOU? Don't make me laugh, you wouldn't know pressure if it went up behind you and bit you in the ass!"
"No, I'm sick of hearing your excuses. You're just trying to make it all about--"
"Look over there."

I turned around and saw Jake shaking hands with Steve Weiss.

"What the hell?"

As Jake walked away toward his next class, I walked toward Steve with a few words to say.

"What the fuck just happened?"
"Oh hey Davey! Just servicing a new customer."
"Did you know that that new customer is my BROTHER?"
"Oh now it's a family affair! Excellent!"
"What do you expect me to say, Dave? He wants some junk, I'm a junkyard. A guy's gotta eat."
"Steve you have plenty of loyal customers. My little brother doesn't need to be one of them!"
"Jake's a troubled boy, and I have something that can help him out from time to time. I like to think of it as me doing a civil service."
"Drug trafficking is not a civil service! It's ILLEGAL!"


"You know what, you have a class to get to, and so do I. Why don't you talk to Jake about it? He's the one who's buying."

As Steve walked away, his last words rang in my ear. I could blame Steve all I wanted, but even he always said that he doesn't usually seek out customers; they find him.

My focus was gone by the time I got to Jazz Choir. I was sloppily reading rhythms, my pitch was off, and it was bringing down the quality of the entire song.

"David, what's the issue."
"Uh, nothing Miss Connolly. Just--tired."
"Well, you can take a nap when you get home. Right now we need your voice."
"Yes ma'am."

I attempted to focus a little more and found enough focus to get through the rest of the class period. After choir, Aaron, Michael, and I walked out to our cars and waited for the parking lot to clear a little bit.

"What do you mean he bought drugs?"
"Is there really anything else that that could mean?"
"Are you sure Steve's not pulling your leg?"
"About this? No. Steve Weiss is a lot of things, but he is not a liar."
"You should talk to Jake first at least, you know, before you jump to any conclusions."
"Too late."

Jake got to the Prius, opened the door, and slammed it shut.

"Well, good luck with that."

We were silent at first, and then I eased into it.

"So, how was your day?"
"Anything exciting?"
"Nothing you want to talk about?"
"Jake--I know."
"I know about you and Steve!"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Jake, I know that you bought drugs from him this afternoon before 7th period. I saw it, and Steve confirmed it."
"Did you learn NOTHING from my REHAB EXPERIENCE?"

Jake was silent.

"Do you want to spend the first six months of your summer detoxicating yourself and the next year of your life in therapy?"
"You just don't understand!"
"What don't I understand? Turning pain into addiction? I LIVED IT!"
"I'm not LIKE you, David! I'm different! I don't have any sort of escape from my problems! I NEED the stuff!"
"Jake, if there's one thing I learned above all else when I was in rehab, it was that no one needs drugs. It's desire. It's something that's available to you and easy for you to get a hold of. Steve won't deny a customer a drug ever. What do your friends think?"
"They all do it too!"
"You're hanging out with DRUG ADDICTS?"
"They're not addicts! They can quit anytime and so can I!"
"Jake, you have a problem, and hanging out with those people is not going to help you. I think it would be a good idea for you to go to rehab and get cleaned up."
"What do YOU know? YOU RELAPSED!"
"Yeah, once. But I got past that too, and I think that if you take my advice you can get past it too."

We were silent as we pulled into the garage. Jake slammed the door shut as soon as he got out of the car and stormed into the house. I rested my head on the steering wheel, feeling like a total and complete failure. I knew that Jake and I had drifted, but I thought that I could do something to help.


"David, we need to talk."
"Callie, I have had a difficult afternoon, and it's only 2:30. Can we please talk tomorrow?"
"No, because then you're going to push it back to the next day and the next day and the next day until we go off to college and never get a chance to talk about this."

She was right. It was bound to be an unpleasant conversation, but it was neccessary.

"Is now a good time?"

I looked at the door leading from the garage to my house, knowing that Jake was alone in the house doing whatever drugs he bought from Steve.

"Now's as good a time as any. Meet you at the Coffee Plantation?"
"Sounds good. See you in a few."

So I drove off, leaving Jake to his own devices and trying despearately not to think about it. I had done what I could to try to help him, and he resisted it. I had done the right thing, and now it was his problem. Besides, I had enough problems of my own to deal with.

Sometimes, when helping others doesn't work too well, you really just have to think about yourself.

David Adler
Normal High School Student