I’m in grade eight. I’m 13 going on 14. And D’Arcy is chasing me around all day firing a gun this way, waving a badge that. We’re playing cops and robbers and I think he’s gay, but that doesn’t matter much. If he is a gay cop, he is still a cop. He is still like me. He tries to kiss me once. All I say is, That’s not how you arrest someone. He agrees. We play again but this time I’m the cop. No kissing from me, though.
Andrew visits my house starting in grade eight and continues until the end of grade twelve. He comes every two weeks, even if I don’t answer. He’s my greatest friend and I’d only realize this when I’m twenty.
Greek gods and fantasy take up most of my summer months. Jason introduces me to Age of Mythology the board game. We pretend that we are gods ourselves. Jason always chooses Zeus. He had leukemia once. He says that if he was Zeus, he’d make it so no one had leukemia anymore. I believe him. In fact, I go so far to say that I’d be Hermes for him, delivering his message far and wide. Yet, our game, his message, and my promise never leave his room.
Michael dares me to try alcohol. I do. I lie to myself that I’ll never try it again.
I play paintball with friends. Compared to some, I am pretty good at it. Everyone says that I am doing so well. The regulars are disgruntled, bickering that I am just a kid who got lucky. I say to my brother that I hope I am really lucky and this is the closest to war that I ever get.
For three days, it rains at Camp Brebuf. Most of us are horribly bored by the games of dodgeball and hide and seek. Poker is a bust too – Oskar keeps winning. The Camp Councilors cheerfully say, Let’s have a mud fight. Michael laughs, whistling and whispering to the boys that he hopes it will be like the ones with two girls he likes watching. I laugh too but I don’t get it. Michael soon finds himself disappointed because instead of the messy-near-nude tussle he described, people are having a full-scale mud war. We toss each other into the three-feet of mud. We ruin our clothes. Connor yells, Hey! Don’t get me muddy. I shout back, Why’d you come then? He says, I thought it’d be different. I say, It is. You’re muddy now. That’s different than you wanted. He mutters some expletive, and all I can think about is that his vocabulary is dirtier than his clothes ever were.
Francesco messages me on MSN one day. He hopes that he’ll get an invite to my next birthday party. I promise him that he will. But he never does. He died and I was never given the chance to keep my promise. Outside, I can only recall that it looks like angel’s wings are falling from heaven. It’s snowing.
I ask people why. I’m told it’s God’s plan and that he works in mysterious ways and it is always bitter when the young are taken away yet sweet that they are in heaven now with God and Jesus and Mary and all the splendor that an infinite paradise can offer and I can’t help but cry and realize how bitter sweet my tears taste, how heaven has gates, and how my prayers go unanswered. Then, I stop believing in God. My reason, though, is not as mysterious.
Jordan comes back from the bathroom with blood on his face. When asked what happened, he says, I fell. I know better, however. He was trying to remove his frozen teardrop – a lump of skin near his eye. In a way, he was trying to make it so he wasn’t stuck crying forever, especially during those days when he was tired of crying real tears. I tell him I like him the way he is. He says, I’m always crying the way I am. In an attempt to take his mind off it, I ask if he wants to play basketball. He goes home instead. It’s probably a good thing: I’m terrible at basketball.
Jordan plays football though. We all do. Unfortunately, my team always seems to lose. People laugh about the whole thing. No one really cares about it. No one cares about anything. At least, not when we are playing football.
High voices and little children call on me during the toughest of times. Hey you, they say. Kacper, they repeat. I need you to get our ball. It went over the portable. I’ll get it, I tell them. And I do. Soon I hear the distant cries of a lunch lady who is screaming for me to get off the portable right this instance. She yells that I am breaking all the rules. I say, Can I get the ball first? She says, Ya. I say, Aren’t I breaking the rules? She says, Ya. I say, Balls first, then. Rules second? She says, Ya.
Vice Principal Mrs. Acres looks at me with utter detest. You know I can suspend you, she threatens. This is your third time on the portable. She plays with a pen in her hand, flicking it back and forth through chubby fingers. I reply, Fourth. Fourth time, she corrects herself, writing something down. Maybe I should suspend you, she snickers. I say, You’re welcome. She says, For? I say, For doing the janitor’s job. She says, That’s not for you to decide. I say, Saves him the trouble. She repeats herself. I do too. She says, If I suspend you, you’d become a janitor. I say, Doesn’t seem too bad, especially when kids do the work for you. She shuffles in her seat.
We start a food fight. Mrs. Acres points at me out in the aftermath of jello and yogurt. I belt out in defence, You just don’t like me because I’m black. She adjusts her clothing this time and for five seconds, she believes me. For five seconds, I am black. For five seconds, I am Casper the black ghost.
I learn to skateboard from Justin. He has a crush on my sister, but he doesn’t tell anyone except me. We count all the rules his parent’s have given him. We get to 102. One of them is to not have a girlfriend. He’s dead now. He killed himself. I sometimes wonder if that was a rule of his parents. To not die.
He had the sweetest smile.
Everyone had the sweetest smile. Francesco. Justin. Michael. Me. Or maybe I just remember them all like that.
I get into a fight with Erik. Then another. Then one more. He’s the bully. I beat him up and say that I am sorry it resorted to this. He says, I’m sorry I have no other choice; I was raised like this. I say, We all have choices, and I punch him in the nose to give him the proof.
Mr. Mancini says I should fast track highschool. Both my brother and I are given that option. We say, Responsibility can wait.
It doesn’t. Nothing ever does.
I kiss my first girl. It’s my birthday. She tastes like my cake mixed with pizza. She has her birthday four days after mine. I don’t kiss her, though. I am mature now. Kissing girls is for suckers. So, I go for second base instead and learn the hard way that that’s also for suckers. The slap on my face says so.
I tell myself that I love a girl, Sarah. My darling Sarah, I say. She giggles. I see her smoke weed. I tell myself we all change eventually. Some of us become weeds. Some of us smoke them.
We graduate. 66 of us. I ask around, Is this all my life has in store for me? Walk down this isle? Walk down that one? Then I’m done? No one answers me. They are all evidently nervous, fixing their dresses and tuxedoes and hair and nails and ties. I flash a look my brother’s way. He’s as cool as ice. We exchange our secret handshake. I wish him good luck. He makes a joke about not needing it where he’s going. Then I walk down the hallway into the gymnasium where the audience awaits, and give them a thumbs up, flex my muscles, and bow. If this is all was all my life will boil down to, I’ll make it worthwhile – if only for a little while.
I’d grow up and realize that I haven’t.