He thought he was funny.
“This is a frigging stupid class,” he’d say to me. “It’s stupider than…your mom.”
And his voice would trail off and be lost in a sea of pages flipping and pencils scratching, because nobody cared about the kid spewing crap in the corner.
It was to his advantage that the seating chart had placed him in the back of the room. He liked to lay back, balance his chair precariously against the wall, then throw his feet up on the table. It was his thinking time, he explained, because of the two classes he was taking that semester, AP English was the one he could afford to slack off in. I never really understood the logic in this, but I gave a neutral nod. It was easier that way.
One day, however, I asked him what exactly ran through his mind during his “thinking time”.
“I wonder about what’s going to happen to me after I die,” he replied. “Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? I doubt it, but somehow, being put in the ground in a box and having that be the end of it doesn’t seem right.”
I gave another uncaring nod, barely noticing the subtle hardening of his features and the change in his tone, and went back to my Chaucer.
It’s ironic, now, how he talked to me about death six days, six hours, and six minutes before a drive-by shooting at the gas station where he worked ended in two bullets lodged just above his eyes.
I’m not usually the superstitious type, but that got to me.
They said he couldn’t possibly have felt anything, that the lead bullets had been like screws driven by drill bits. So perfectly were the spirals made, they said, that they couldn’t even dig the bullets out without destroying the rest of his face. His parents would’ve had it done before the sergeant finished his sentence, but his little brother, whom I sometimes saw riding on his shoulders after school, turned into what the officer described as the solution to world thirst at the idea. So they left him alone, his countenance set in stone as it had been when he told me of the thoughts spinning through his mind.
It wasn’t actually his brother. A few years back, he’d screwed up and gotten his girlfriend pregnant. She’d ran off after the birth, or so the more civil rumors went. Some people claimed he killed her.
I doubt that, though I can’t say it didn’t seem plausible to me at first.
They showed us pictures.
In the auditorium, they plastered slides of his corpse up on the screen. They told us that these things “happen to people for reasons. Maybe if he hadn’t fucked up his life…”
They didn’t use that wording, of course. But I could read it in their eyes.
He looked peaceful in the photographs. It was unnatural, almost. Someone with bullets above their eyebrows, driven in with a gun at who-knows-what un-Godlike speed, should not simply look like they’re in asleep, ready to wake up at any moment to give a lopsided grin and remark about your mom.
There was a day in class when he had seemed preoccupied. He took his pencil and worked it carefully into a hole in the wall. By the time he was finished, only the silver part at the bottom stuck out. He had chewed off the eraser.
That’s what I thought of when I first saw the pictures. Those circles in his face? Only pencils, and the holes had already been there.
Put one and one together, get two. But sometimes, the numbers fail.
one pencil + one hole = one cure for boredom
one bullet + another = one body
I never did like math that much.
There wasn’t a funeral. His parents claimed they didn’t want one. Too much unnecessary fuss, they said. That, if anything, told me the truth: they didn’t care. And I thought about AP English and how he was nothing more than a shadow in the corner.
Finally, the end came how he had desperately hoped it wouldn’t: in a box in the ground.
And then it was in the past, and I was back in class, the beginnings of a term paper in front of me. In the mindless chatter around me, I imagined myself as him, lost in a sea of apathy.
Sticking out of the wall, just below eye level, was the end of a pencil with the eraser chewed off.
Below it, in handwriting I recognized as his, was a single sentence.
Your life never ends if you leave a piece of yourself behind.
I guess his thinking time had finally paid off.
I smiled and put my feet up on the table.