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

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Better Together

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

"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."

"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."

"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!"

"Steve you have plenty of loyal customers. My little brother doesn't need to be one of them!"
"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."

"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!"

"David, we need to talk."
"Meet you at the Coffee Plantation?"
"Sounds good. See you in a few."

I had hoped that I would get there first and that I would have a little time to mentally prepare for this severely awkward coffee date, but, just as I have learned over the years, life just isn't that kind.


And the awkwardness had officially started.

"So, um, how are you?"
"I've been a lot better. How about you?"
"The same."

Another awkward silence.

"Um, I'm gonna get some coffee. I'll, uh, be right back."

As I walked up to the counter, I couldn't help but ask myself why did it have to be this way, why did we have to go on a break, why did we have to see other people, why did we have to break up while I was mourning my father's death?

My name is David and I'm a normal high school student.
And although I had many questions, one question was behind it all: how do I begin to ask?

"Welcome to--oh hi, David."

As if this couldn't get any more awkward.

"Hi Joy. I need my usual, and fast."
"You and the guys having one of your meetings?"
"No, Callie and I are actually having the post-breakup conversation."
"Yeah. Listen, I really need that coffee, like, soon. If she sees that you're working it's just gonna be a trigger for her to talk about our--thing."
"Okay no problem. That'll be $3.99."

As I waited for Joy to fix up my latte, Mark Adams and Aaron Stanwick were fixing up Michael Florence.

"Mark, I told you, I'm not ready to date yet."
"Mikey, it's been 2 months! You gotta get yourself out there!"
"I don't usually agree with Mark, but he's right. You have to stop being single and depressed."
"You're single."
"But I'm happily single. You, on the other hand, are miserable."
"Who says I'm miserable? I enjoy not being tied down. It's--liberating."
"It's not bullshit! I legitimately enjoy being single!"
"Why? I mean, what freedom do you have? Sure, you're free to play the field, but have you been playing the field? No. So really, you're just a guy who comes home and plays with his dog."
"Um, I love Mittens."
"And if you truly love her you will leave her alone for awhile and you will play with other bitches."

Michael thought about it; it was true that he hadn't dated since he and Leslie Lawrence broke up, but he just wasn't sure if he was ready to go back into the dating pool, especially after losing his unborn child to a miscarriage.

"Everyone needs to start somewhere, Michael. If that means just going on one date simply to practice your dating skills, than that's what you need to do."

He thought for only a minute more, and proceeded to say "Okay, but just one date."

Meanwhile, I received my coffee and headed back to the table.

"Sorry it took so long."
"It didn't take any longer than usual."

Contradictory statements: a surefire way to bring more awkwardness into an already awkward situation.


The suspense was killing me! I didn't know if I should be the one to bring it up, or if she was gonna bring it up, or if it was even gonna be brought up at all.

"So, you wanted to talk about something?"
"Uh, yeah. I wanted to talk about us."
"What more is there to talk about? You hurt me, I hurt you, we hurt each other and now we're over. Right?"
"I just don't want there to be any hard feelings between us. I was hoping that for these last couple months of high school that we--"
"--could be friends?"
"Yeah. I mean, if you want t0 be."
"To be honest, I don't know what I want. I think I need some space though. There's a lot going on in my life right now and I think that for a while, it would be best if we just didn't talk."
"David, we can't just go from being in a relationship to being complete strangers!"
"We won't be complete strangers. I'm still editor-in-chief and you're still layout editor. There are going to be times that we'll have to talk. We just won't be texting for hours on end or commenting on each other's Facebook statuses. At least not for awhile."
"And you're sure that this is what you want to do?"
"Like I said, I don't know what I want, but I need some time to figure it out. That's just how break-ups are. Anyway, I really should be heading home, so I guess I'll see you around."
"Okay. Thanks for meeting me, I guess."

Giving each other space proved to be harder than we thought. As the weeks went by, it became more and more hurtful, especially as prom approached and it seemed that neither of us would have anyone to go with.

But I had bigger problems to deal with than prom. My brother Jake was still buying and using drugs from Steve Weiss, and there was nothing I could do. I tried everything--flushing the drugs, telling him about my own drug experiences, even giving him pamphlets on good rehab centers, but much to my chagrin, nothing worked. He was hurting inside, and unfortunately getting high was his way of coping. I wished that I could have helped him, but the truth is that nothing I could have done would have done any good. Aside from being related Jake and I were perfect strangers.

"Why don't you tell him about my experience? I mean, I didn't go to rehab or anything, but I did get into some hardcore stuff."
"It won't work. He doesn't care about what others have been through. He says it's not about them, it's about him."
"I just don't understand. I mean, when did he randomly decide to become a raver?"
"About two months ago, around the same time that Cal died. Oh shit!"
"Nothing, it's just that I just realized that it's been almost two months since Cal died. Wow."
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. It's just--wow."


"Hello? Oh, hey babe!"

Whatever was on all of our minds exited immediately upon hearing those words from Michael's mouth.

"Okay. When? Tonight? Sure, sounds great! Can't wait! Bye."

Michael hung up the phone and put it in his pocket. Afterward, he looked up and the big smile on his face vanished as he saw our confused looks.

"Mikey, do you have a girl?"

He was silent at first, and then answered coolly.

"Yeah, you know, whatever."
"Whatever? Michael, how long have you been seeing this girl?"
"And why didn't we know about this?"
"And most importantly, how's the sex?"
"You guys! It's not that big a deal, really. I gotta go, I'll see you guys later."

Michael jogged to his jeep and sped out of the parking lot.

"I wonder why he would keep that from us."
"I don't know. Maybe it really isn't a big deal."


"Hi, baby!"
"Hey sexy! What's up?"
"Well, I bought this new shirt, but it's so small that I think it's going to just pop off any minute!"
"My place in 10?"
"Hopefully my breasts can contain themselves until then!"

He hung up with determination.

"Can I get a ride home?"

After an afternoon of passionate sex, Mark and his girlfriend Mal lay together, soaking in the moment.

"That was fun."
"Oh yeah."
"So I was thinking, we always meet at my place."
"Well, I was wondering, don't you want to know what sex feels like in your own bed?"

Mal tensed up.

"Why--why would I want to do that?"
"Well, it's just that I've never been to your house, or met your parents, or anything. Even at choir concerts I've never met them or even seen them."
"I should probably get going."

Mal got our of bed and quickly began getting dressed.

"Mal wait! Can't we talk about this?"
"Thanks for the sex. See you later."

Mark threw on a robe and chased after her.

"Mal! Wait up?"
"Because I think we need to talk about this!"
"There's nothing to talk about. I'm leaving."

She slammed the door on her way out, leaving Mark with a confused mind and a troubled heart.

Meanwhile, I walked into my house to find that my mom had decided to take charge of Jake's situation.

"Drugs Jake? Don't you remember what happened to David last summer?"
"You don't understand, Mom! Drugs are NOT a bad thing! In fact, I think that I've become a much better person because of them."
"Are you serious right now? Are you FUCKING SERIOUS?!?!"
"You just don't understand!"
"You're right! I don't understand how I could have raised TWO DRUG ADDICTS!!!"

All of a sudden, Jake stormed toward me.

"How could you tell her? I trusted you!"
"Jake, I didn't say anything to her!"
"Jake I didn't say anything!"
"I hate you all!"

He ran upstairs and slammed the door. My mom looked at me with the most disappointed eyes I had ever seen.

"You knew?"

I tried to swallow, but my nerves had closed my throat.

"My son is on drugs, and you KNEW?!?!"
"Mom, I tried to get him to stop before you found out, but--"
"But what? He didn't LISTEN to you? Of course he didn't listen! He's a DRUG ADDICT!!! You of all people should understand that!"
"Why is it that everyone keeps throwing that in my face? Did I not go to rehab? Did I not get help? Have I not been seeing a therapist once a week for the last 10 months about it? I'm clean! I have been for almost a year! What good was it going to do to tell you about Jake? If he won't listen to me he sure as hell won't listen to you!"

My mom slapped me across the face. It was the first time in 18 years that she ever hit me. I grabbed ahold of my cheek and felt the hot, fresh pain from the palm of her hand. As tears began to form in my eyes, I ran out of the house, pried the Prius's door open, and sped away.

Both hands on the wheel, Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head album on full blast, I sped down Tatum toward the only place I could think of going. The one place that I felt I could safely take refuge, without Joy, or Callie, or Jake, or the guys, or anyone else that might disturb my peace.

As I pulled into Kikar Tzion Congregation, I remembered that first morning after Cal's death. As upset as I was, it somehow helped to come to a synagogue. It was weird because I had never particularly cared for religion in the past, but things were different now. Cal was dead, Mom had stopped trusting me, I was single, and my friends and I were about to go to four different schools far away from each other. I was, for all intents and purposes, alone.

While I picked up a prayer book and began davening, Micahel was praising God for a whole different thing.

"Oh God! That was amazing!"
"It really was. I forgot how much fun sex could be."

Michael leaned over and kissed her. It was as if they had never parted.

"Now why is it that we must be sworn to secrecy?"
"Because in four months I will be going off to Dartmouth and you'll be at Cal Lutheran, and I just don't want to get too attached."
"So what does that have anything to do with anyone else?"
"Because this isn't about anyone else. This is about you and me, and when other people get involved there's all of this pressure for us to be a couple."
"And you don't want that?"
"I don't want any complications."
"Then, in that case, I'm thinking we shouldn't go to prom together?"
"I wasn't gonna go to prom, but if you want to go, you should."
"Leslie, I love you. Wherever you are is where I want to be. Even if we're not 'Facebook Official,' I just want to be with you."
"I want to be with you too."

Michael grabbed Leslie's hands.

"Then let's be together."

While Michael and Leslie made love again, Rabbi Evan Starr approached me.

"Hello David. So happy you could join us this evening. We always have trouble creating a minyon."
"It's my pleasure."
"I haven't seen you since right after your father died. How has your grieving period gone so far?"
"Well, I went to Israel to bury him, and then life has kind of just gone on. My family's in shambles, but that's nothing new."
"Well, if there is any way I can offer my assistance--"
"Thank you, Rabbi, but they're not much into religion and up until now I haven't been either."
"What changed?"
"I don't know. I guess I just did."
"Well, however you got here, we're very happy to have you."

The service began and the ten of us that were in the small chapel prayed together as a community. It was the first time I had felt unity with any group of people since Cal died. But maybe I felt that sense of unity because I wanted to feel it. Maybe I was looking for it, so I found it. And maybe I could bring that sense of unity into choir for the Showcase Concert, and into journalism for the final issue of the Sentinal, and even into my family so that we could actaually be a family again.

Maybe all I had to do was look for it, and there it would be.

David Adler
Normal High School Student