Friday, January 20, 2006
Yeah, I had it that rough. You heard me. Used to run with a gang. The Geeks. That's what we called ourselves. Well technically we weren't exactly the ones who called ourselves that, but the name just seemed to kind of stick anyway, so we went with it. We lived life the way we played chess, only not sitting down. Maybe we were a little crazy.
I wake to the drone of Kevin's voice going on and on about the bishop and the feeling of something warm dripping down my chin. I open my eyes to check the board, my forehead burning hot. What am I doing here? My middle four pawns are gone, I have a hole in the right side of my defense, my rook is captured and I'm about to lose that damned bishop. I should have gone home. I wipe a little drool from my chin. I look around and I'm in the back of the physics lab and there's no one near me, everybody's backing away over toward Kevin's side now. I look at my clothes and my clothes are covered with a colorful mixture of cafeteria spaghetti sauce, green jello, and "I love calculus" patches. I reach for the king and I find it and I push it over but the cackling just won't stop.
I think it was the chess. It does that to you. Or the D&D. Sometimes life was just this never ending blur, one thing after another. Risk. Computer games. More D&D. A little math practice. Then chess again. It was dehumanizing.
We couldn't stop.
But Holy Crapola were we a holy terror -- out of control. Bad boys. Oh, the trouble we caused.
We used to make fun of the other kids who couldn't do trig without calculators -- until they'd get so upset they'd break our pencils. We OWNED them. Wicked. Fun.
We would play mental chess in the cafeteria, real loud, just to see who we could piss off. And then if anybody tried to do anything about it -- if they even thought about it -- you wouldn't believe the things we would mutter about them as we hustled our butts out of there, bad words and everything. We were ruthless. Cold hearted geek killas.
We used to get in turf wars with rival gangs. Let me tell you, until you've witnessed a chess slapdown between the math team and the strategy games club, well, you've just been livin' the life of a Mama's boy -- not that there's anything wrong with that.
We were so bad, they had to bus us to another school -- called it a magnet program, but they weren't fooling us. We were bad news, through and through. Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with D and that stands for Dungeons and Dragons.
And I'm not wasting my time reciting this litany of teen terror just to impress you. No. I'm establishing my cred. My authenticity. This is my story in all its authenticity-ish-ness, and it is a story
My tale of redemption from the brink. Or is it?
But it's not all just bad boys suffering for their compulsions, sick and miserable all the time. It's also bad boys and the girl's who love them. You know what I mean.
We pull into the Parking Lot and park the car and I finish a bottle of liquid Dimetap and we get out and we start walking toward the Entrance of the Emergency Room. Me and my Brother and my Mother. My entire Family. Going to the ER.
I want to tell my Brother to grab my wordlist from the backseat but all that comes out is a rasping, wheezy rattle.
I stop and they stop with me. I wheeze. They don't. I stare at them. Lovingly and long and connected.
Functional. Simple. Menacing.
Useless. I need that damned list.
I want to run or die or get some studying done. I want to calculate and circle answers and have no heart. I want to crawl in a desk chair and never come out until it's perfect. I want to wipe my asthma attack straight off the map. Straight off the freakin' map. I wheeze deeply.
We enter a small Waiting Room, no chess sets. A woman sits behind a desk reading a fashion magazine. She looks up.
May I help you?
My Mother steps forward and speaks with her as my Brother and I find chairs and sit in them.
I'm shaking. My hands and my feet and my lips and my chest. Shaking. The inhaler can do that if you take too many puffs in a row.
My Brother moves next to me and takes my hand and he can feel my anxiety. There won't be enough time. I've still got three more lists plus the one in the car. We look at the floor and we don't speak. We wait and we hold hands and we breathe. Well, he breathes. And we think.
My Mother finishes with the woman and she turns around and she stands in front of us. She looks happy and the woman is on the phone. She kneels down.
They're gonna check you in now. Don't worry, there's still time.
I need the list, I wanna say, but it just sounds like hzzzhaazzzz.
You're gonna be fine. This is a good place. The best place. That's what I hear.
I guess so. I wheeze. I nod.
We stand and we move toward a small Room where a man sits behind a desk with a computer. He meets us at the door.
I'm sorry, but you'll have to wait in the lobby.
My Mother nods.
We'll pump him full of adrenaline and God knows what else and we'll call you in later to make sure he's all right.
He notices I've scribbled on his notepad and glares at me but reads it.
And go get his damned word list and bring it back so he can study.
He doesn't understand. My inhaler juiced hands can't hold a pencil, even before the adrenaline. And my SATs start in 7 hours and 38 minutes. I need the list.
Sad but true story about a young chick that used to dig me -- she never let on, but I could tell. She was just tooo tragically nice, didn't have what it took to run with the Geeks. Never even got up the courage to talk to me, even when I tried to reach out to her out in little ways, to help her feel more comfortable around bad boys like me -- I still remember waving to her from across the quad, real discreet, just with the fingertips. But there really wasn't anything I could do for her. She was just too far gone, too trapped in the system, caught up in the game -- cheerleader practice, homecoming, all that crap. I shudder to think of what must have become of her.
But she wasn't the only chick. Oh no. This thing is going to blow the cover off those illusions about the sexcapades of geek life. For instance that girl I almost asked out to the prom.
Yeah, I hear the doubters, the naysayers. I say bring it on. They don't believe I could get that close to going out with so many chicks. But they're just haters. They don't want you to walk where I've walked. To learn what I've learned.
I push my tray down the rail, picking only carbs, sugar. She's right ahead of me, so close she would hear me even if I whispered. I look at her tray, her salad mocks me. I look down.
Pawn to King Four.
I see her turn to me out of the corner of my eye.
What? Did you say something?
I hadn't whispered. The pain of choosing the wrong opening gambit rips through me. Pawn to King Four, why had I chosen such a cliched opening line?
I mumble something about Capablanca or Steinitz and shake my head. The delicate laughter as she turns her back and walks away from me is almost musical.
I had come that close. I head over to the Geek table for a game of mental chess.
And I don't minimize the pain I caused to others, even if it wasn't really my fault and they should have dealt with it better. What did they expect from a life filled with chess and math and twenty-sided dice?
There's so much more. But I've already figured out the cover art and the gimmick font I want. It's a sure hit. So, Oprah, babe, give me a holler and I'll see if I can't whip these tantalizing details up into a scintillating souffle of epic misery and woe. This is just a sample of what it's like to be a geek with no way out. I've got tons of other hardships that'll really make the readers cringe.
I open the door, peek in. Mother is in her chair, eyes red.
How are you feeling?
In what way?
In every way.
Her eyes are wet.
I'm never gonna...gonna...gonna have grandchildren!
I look at her.
Of course you are, after I finish college and grad school and a post-doc.
She looks at me, afraid to smile.
I told you, remember? The Sage Sperm Bank?
She looks puzzled.
For women that want brainy babies?
More waterworks. Here it comes. That whole why can't you spend more time with girls thing. Mother doesn't understand chess club.
And it's all true. As true as it needs to be. True enough.
Let the haters hate. Believe what you want. Believe what you need to.
So give me a call, I know I can pimp this thing.
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