For a guy who had started freshman year with two friends, sophomore year was looking up. I entered the main hallway at school and was immediately greeted by friendly faces asking how my summer went. Even the cute girl whose locker was next to mine who hadn’t talked to me all last year seemed chatty. I think we were all finding our grooves. I’m not saying we were all holding hands and singing campfire songs, and I’m sure someone somewhere was still getting shoved into a locker. But a lot of the tension that filled the halls during freshman year had faded away.
It seemed like everyone was still content to hang out before school at the display case near my locker. Big Rich and Artie were already there when I showed up.
“Sup, guys, how was your summer?”
Big Rich started giving me a complex handshake that quickly fell apart. “Not much, Case. Looks like you got some sun though? Beach and babes?”
Artie made a move like he was going to give me the same handshake Rich had attempted but aborted last second and turned it into a fist bump that landed on my palm. “Yeah, work,” he added.
“You have a job over the summer, Artie?”
Chris and Steve showed up shortly after. There were a couple of flannel-shirt-wearing kids who must have been freshmen that passed, looking like they wanted to say hi and join the group. All in good time, gents.
I didn’t see Jenny until later that week. We hadn’t seen each other all summer, and it was good to catch up.
“Hey, I think I’m going to be running the Literary Society this year; you should sign up.”
Literary Society was a group of kids who got together after school to read and write poetry. They published a newsletter a few times a year. From what I could tell, the newsletter always contained at least one poem about how unfair the world was and at least one poem about a sunflower. Wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time, but if Jenny was going to be heading it up, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
“I think I’m going to join Literary Society,” I told Chris. He stared at me for half a second.
“Yeah, look, we’ve always thought maybe you were a little fruity, but I didn’t think this was how you were going to come out.”
“Shut up. It’ll be a good way to meet chicks; plus Jenny’s in charge of it this year.”
“Wow, you’re the first person I’ve ever heard of who went gay because of a girl. That’s something special.”
I shot him a friendly finger.
Rather than dissuading me, Chris’ ribbing made me want to join Literary Society even more. He and Steve were doing a better job than me finding a place for themselves. Steve was the only sophomore on the snare line. Chris was part of the Video Production Team. They had interests outside our small circle. And that was fine, but I felt it was time I started making some friends and interests of my own.
Literary Society met in the cafeteria on Wednesdays after school. I was one of the first ones there, so I helped Jenny get her papers and books in order. I noticed Andrew sitting near the tables where we were setting up, scribbling in one of his notebooks like usual. I leaned in close to Jenny’s ear and asked her if she wanted me to ask Andrew to move.
“Oh, no,” she whispered, “Andrew joined toward the end of last year; he’s quite an insightful writer!”
My guts clenched up a bit. I hadn’t interacted with Andrew since our confrontation over Jeremy last year. But I didn’t want things to be weird, so I thought maybe I’d go over and try to talk to him. I glanced at his notebook and saw that he was drawing various figures, and one of them looked like Jeremy.
“Wow,” I offered, “that’s really good; that looks just like him.”
Andrew snapped his book shut. “Like who?”
“I dunno. Anyway, I think we’re going to start.”
That was a wasted effort. Not sure why I felt like reaching out to that kid.
Seeing that picture he drew though made me feel guilty. It looked like Andrew was keeping Jeremy’s memory alive in his own way. And though I thought about Jeremy every so often, I realized now how far removed he was from my daily life. What would it have been like if he was still alive? Would he hang out with us in the morning at the awards case near my locker? Would I have asked him to help clear the house out this summer? Or would we have drifted apart?
We read a few poems that day, one by Walt Whitman that really caught my attention. When it came time for us to write, I sort of latched onto that style and wrote a piece called “You Who Are Our Memories.” I wrote it about Jeremy, about how he only existed now in what his family and friends remembered of him and how someday he wouldn’t exist at all.
I got some good feedback after reading it; though I could have sworn I heard Andrew say something that sounded like “rip-off.” I wasn’t going to call him out on it because if that’s what he said, he was right. I mean, none of the things I wrote for Literary Society were really any good. Nothing anybody wrote was really any good. But no one said that; we all just clapped and said how good everything was or picked out one little part that wasn’t dreadful and focused on that for feedback. Who knows; maybe the other kids really liked all these poems and thought they were really deep. I just couldn’t help but feel we were all just trying too hard, like we knew what words to use but not how to use them. We could put the bullets in the gun and shoot, but we couldn’t hit the target.
That first meeting Andrew read something called “The Darkness.” It was moody and gloomy and somewhat trite. It was okay though, I guess. It stuck in my mind, and the next meeting I ended up putting my spin on it, calling it “The Void.” I thought my version was a little less melodramatic. Andrew seemed to have the same idea because he came up with a Dylan Thomas rip-off called “Of Ye I Called My Friend,” which had very similar themes to my poem from the previous week. I couldn’t exactly say that Andrew was doing it on purpose though; he never even acknowledged me.
We didn’t throw poetic barbs at each other at every meeting, but it seemed it had happened enough for Jenny to finally say something.
“So, what’s up with you and Andrew; you’ve got a little alpha-poet thing happening?”
“Huh? No. I mean, he’s just. . .I think he really hates my stuff or something.”
“Actually it seems like he loves your stuff. You guys are probably the best writers in the group. But are you pushing each other to get better or are you just pushing each other?”
I gave her my most eloquent shoulder shrug. Where she got this idea that Andrew liked anything about me I could not say, and I didn’t want to get into our history with her. But after that talk, I decided I wouldn’t let the thing with Andrew spill over anymore into Jenny’s club. It was almost Christmas break by this time, and when we came back to school, it would be a new year. I figured it was as good a time as any to let this stuff with Andrew be forgotten and never brought to mind.
Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.