The music doesn’t skip to a stop like it does in the movies. Although everyone does turn and gawk. I am, after all, a very gawk-worthy girl.
Terrified eyes, covered mouths, close whispers. I hate them all.
Vice Principal Moyers straightens, her smile vanishing as she sets her shoulders back. Her face wears the pain of her past, like wrinkles pressed to cheek after a deep sleep. Whatever happened to her, she’s bound and determined to pay it forward.
They are all so stupid. With their dresses and tuxes and beaming ignorance. With their hushed accusations. They think Jason was one of them. He wasn’t. He hated them too.
I almost take a bow. For him. For me. For theater. I am proud of my get up. A tutu, striped socks. Jason’s football jersey under a jean jacket vest. Because screw ‘em—that’s my motto.
The school almost nixed this shindig. They had my vote. But the admins figured we needed this. We needed normalcy. We needed to trudge on. We needed to dry hump to trap rap because Jason would be proud.
I set my chin up and approach the dee-jay. Middle age white guy, bobbing his head to the rap music, his Dre beats over one ear. Beer gut. Jeez, would it kill this school to be original?
Dee-Jay guy glances over to me, totally pervy until he sees my outfit. Then he nods, his teenage smirk at odds with his bald spot. “What’s up?”
I swallow my pride. Resist the urge to give them all the finger. “Can you play The Cure?”
He looks confused. I sigh, wanting so badly to turn and leave and go to the cemetery. Again with the finger. But something makes me plant my shoe. “Pictures of you?”
Lame Dee-Jay guy looks over the dance floor, where Jackie Massie and Chaz Diggs are either slap boxing or dancing, it’s hard to tell. He shrugs, “I uh, I don’t think I have it.”
“It’s 2019, do you have the internet?”
Dee-Jay guy shakes his head. “Look, I’m just trying to keep them dancing.”
I look down at my stupid socks. It’s for the best. I don’t need this, any of it. I hate this school and I have exactly three weeks to go and then I can leave for good. Go back to Washington.
I turn and walk, brush through the bodies in the gym. Yes, Jason would be alive if it weren’t for me. Yes, I’ve thought about dying since he fell. Yes, I’ve come close to doing it. Twice.
I get to the door when I hear the chimes. I turn as the warbled guitar chords pierces my ears, my skin, my heart, my tear ducts as my eyes water before I can gasp. I see Jason in the hallway on the day I arrived at Jefferson Morris High School. His smile, the chip in his tooth. His laugh in the crook of my neck. His warm, strong arms around me. The sound of his breath the first time he told me he loved me. The harsh cold as we crossed the railroad trestle. The wind in my hair. How he stretched his arms out for balance. His face when he slipped…
It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault.
“It wasn’t your fault.” Vice Principal Moyers hovering over me…Pictures of You fading to silence…Ms. Moyers waving off the approaching shuffle of shoes inching closer…Taking my hand, leading me through the streamers and posters, lights…The disco ball throwing light like rain until we are outside…
I am not okay. I’m shivering. Vice Principal Moyers actually lights up and smokes a cig as I tell her how it was my idea to cross the trestle, how Jason would still be alive if I’d listened to him. How my parents look at me like they think so, too. How the police basically said as much when they asked me questions.
How I’m completely alone with my guilt.
Ms. Moyers tilts her head when she exhales. She tells me her husband died five years ago in a car crash. I search her face for bullshit but see only the pain. The music is back to thumping inside. She says it gets better. But some days it’s worse. But if it ever gets too bad, like, really bad, bad like it did those couple of times when I thought I might actually… that bad. I can call her. Anytime.
More smoke. I look at my socks, my defiance, my determination to be different when I only want to feel something again.
I tell her I’ll call.
I hope she remembers to call. #endthestigma
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