2006-2007 school year
“Well, Seth, it’s not looking good,” my 12th -grade counselor, Mr. Brian Nichol, says with a sigh. He frowns at me over his glasses, brows furrowed, and clearly passing judgment. I already know he doesn’t like me, but I honestly can’t blame him. I’m slouched down in a chair at a circular wooden desk, fingerless-gloved hands clasped behind my head, and looking down at my feet in Converse shoes. I reek of not giving a crap.
Because I don’t.
I honestly haven’t cared in the last couple of months.
Mr. Nichol turns to his computer screen. I peer over his salt-and-pepper head at his impeccable view of Commencement Bay. I have to admit, his office is in such a great spot; nearly half the walls of his office are glass windows, and each windowpane gives a beautiful view of the water. I can’t help but admire it.
“It’s only October, and your GPA is in the 1.0 range,” Mr. Nichol continues. “But in the past, your GPA was between 3.5 and 3.8. What happened there?”
What happened, indeed?
Well, school has always been easy for me. Getting a high GPA in the past was no problem. I’m fully capable of acing all my classes. The problem is I just don’t care anymore. I don’t want to talk about the reasons why, and I don’t want anyone to try to fix me, either. The only response I muster up is a shrug.
Mr. Nichol twists in his chair to face me. “Okay, well, you still have time to get back on track, though,” he says with a glimmer of hope. “There’s a couple of options. You can sign up for an athletic season to recover the credits –”
“Nope,” I cut him off, shaking my head vehemently. Nothing sounds worse than being in sports. I firmly believe athletes get high from the torture of exercise.
“Okay, well, if you get a 1.0 this semester, then you must get a 2.0 next semester, and your first semester GPA will change to a 2.0. Then you can still graduate, and it will look better on your transcript when you apply for college.”
A 2.0 is the lowest passing GPA a student can receive and still graduate. College isn’t really on my radar anymore; otherwise, I would take this a lot more seriously. Up until recently, I did care about going to college. I had an idea of what classes I wanted to take and where to go. Those plans have flushed themselves down the toilet. It would be a miracle if I made my way back.
“But if you still refuse to do the work, and you get anything lower than 2.0, you’ll have to repeat your senior year. Be a ‘Super Senior,’ as kids are calling it these days. I really don’t want that for you, Seth.”
“Super Senior” is an odd title, considering that it makes you sound better than you really are. As cool as being a “Super Senior” sounds, I don’t want to be stuck here for another year. I don’t want to disappoint my dad, but the work I’ll have to do to get to where I need to be doesn’t appeal to me. Mr. Nichol seems genuinely concerned, which I should appreciate. His concern would be better applied elsewhere, in my opinion.
“I’ll think about it. Thank you,” I nod at him as I grab my beat-up backpack off the ground.
“Wise choice, Seth,” he replies with a grin and dismisses me with a wave. Outside Mr. Nichol’s office, my redheaded best friend Mason O’Connell sits in the waiting area, texting on his flip phone.
“Finally, you’re done!” he exclaims in triumph when he lifts up his head and pushes his glasses up his nose. “Let’s get out of here and grab some food. I’m so hungry my stomach is eating itself.” He stands up with his backpack, giving me a full view of his Spiderman T-shirt that I’m sure he’s had since he was twelve. “What did he have to say that was so important that my stomach had to be put on hold?”
We make our way across the brick courtyard, walking over the golden S imprinted on the brick, surrounded by a large royal blue circle. This castle of a school is a historic landmark, so much so that it barely looks like a school from the outside. With the U-shaped building with spires on all the corners of the roof and planted gardens spotting the area, it makes for a postcard-worthy image.
“I’m failing all of my classes, and I can either be a Super Senior, take an athletic course, or actually put in the work.”
“Are you really surprised?” Mason asks in an accusing tone. “Maybe you should actually try putting in the work.”
“Your loss, bro. But let’s hurry up and get out of here.” He pats me on the shoulder and walks in front of me as we cross the courtyard.
Mason is the definition of a geek, but he’s extremely smart. He’s a 4.0 student, a major video game nerd, and wants to go to college and get into Computer Science so he can get into the gaming world. Yeah, he has goals. You’d think I could learn from his determination. He and I met freshman year. We bonded over video games and Family Guy in Biology class. Normally, I live a reclusive life surrounded by acquaintances, but having Mason in my life is great. Besides my dad, he’s my closest friend.
Mason follows me home to my small, two-story house on the corner of the street. The moment we enter the front door, Mason runs across our 70’s style shag carpeting into the kitchen with yellowing linoleum and chipped countertops. Beyond the kitchen is the laundry and an office space that has turned into a storage unit.
“Pizza rolls, come to papa!” Mason hollers while grabbing the bag of pizza rolls from the freezer. Next to the kitchen, I go up the shag-carpeted stairs to my ultra-messy bedroom. Messy is an understatement. It looks like a tornado blew through here. The plastic blinds bent in a few different directions; collecting dust, just proves my point. On the opposite wall lays a spray-painted smiley face with X’s as eyes, with its tongue sticking out. Apparently, spray painting a smiley face that appeared drunk or dead seemed funny to my friends and me.
I’m just glad my dad isn’t home. The longer I can avoid talking to him about my conversation with Mr. Nichol, the better. I don’t have it in me to explain why I chose not to participate in school.
I turn on my dual monitor computer that I’m sure lived with the dinosaurs, then take off my baggy gray zipper hoodie and sniff it to see if it needs washing. Definitely needs to be washed.
As my computer takes an eternity to load, I take my overflowing hamper and throw some clothes in the washer. I may be lazy when it comes to school or having goals, but I do care about my clothes smelling clean.
I load up Family Guy on YouTube when Mason comes in with a plate of piling pizza rolls and a bag of potato chips. “Good god, did you heat up the entire bag?” I ask.
He shrugs unapologetically, plopping into a beanbag chair. “My stomach nor I feel sorry,” he smugly retorts.
We go to town on the mountain of fatty snacks and put on an episode of Family Guy. This has been our routine since we met. Normally, we would watch this on a regular TV, but I wanted to use the other monitor for writing on the Gaia Online forum. Writing used to be just a hobby, something that helped me get ideas on paper. Now, it’s my lifeline. People – or avatars that represent actual people – seem to enjoy my work.
I open up my notebook and look at everything I wrote down. Since middle school, I had a system. I would write ideas down in a notebook, then come home and transfer them to a Gaia Online post or put them in a Microsoft Word document. It may seem like an odd system, but every writer has a way of doing things.
Mason peeks at my computer as I’m transferring my paper ideas into a post. “Why don’t we get out your textbook and go over those assignments?” he says with a wave of his fist, adding a cheesy smile.
Just the idea of putting work into school makes my brain shrivel up into a raisin. “No thanks.”
“Let’s face it. You and I both know you don’t want to be a Super Senior. What’s it going to take for you to be motivated? Victor’s just going to lecture you again.”
My dad lectured me at the beginning of the year to get my act together so I could graduate, get into a decent college, and move forward in life. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dad and value his opinion, but when it comes to him telling me to get my act together, it’s harder for me to take his advice. Therapy has been his lifeline, as writing has been for me.
“I’ll deal with it,” I say, continuing to look between my notebook and computer screen.
Family Guy fills the quiet air and blends with the typing of my keys. Mason puts another pizza roll in his mouth, chewing pensively. “Just an idea,” he starts. I get a sinking feeling in my stomach at what he’s going to say. “Have you thought about…I don’t know, getting a tutor?”
“I don’t need a tutor.”
“Then get a girlfriend.” Mason wags his finger.
I spin around in my office chair, confusion clear in my expression. “A girlfriend? Where did that even come from?”
“I hear girlfriends can be a motivating factor.”
“Or they can be a distraction,” I counter.
“And how would that be any different from how you’re living now?” Mason counters back.
“Fair point. But how do you know if a girl will motivate me?”
Mason’s lips curve sheepishly, avoiding eye contact. “Just what I hear.”
“Is that what Harmony does for you?” I ask. He’s had a crush on an equally geeky girl named Harmony for a while now. Mason is too shy to tell her, though. He’s kind of like me.
Here’s the thing. Generally, I tend to live a reclusive life. Don’t get me wrong, I like girls. I may keep to myself, but I do like girls. I’ve had crushes here and there. The problem was I was always one of those people who observed from a distance but never took action. I never knew how to strike up a conversation with a girl out of nowhere. More specifically, a beautiful girl. It never felt comfortable going that route. I always waited for things to happen out of nowhere. Of course, it never did.
“We’re not talking about me right now,” he changes the subject. “I’m just exploring all options. I’m the loyal friend trying to avoid another discussion with your dad that I know for a fact you will complain about tomorrow.”
“I’m not even interested in anyone,” I take a pizza roll and turn back to my computer.
“There’s the first problem,” he points out mid-chew.
With a groan, I turn back to my computer and keep typing. By the time the Family Guy episode ends, I’ve managed to come up with a couple of paragraphs to post.
Mysterious Snowfield: Part 2
The man spotted a figure out in the distance. It wasn’t a tree or an animal. No animal stood upright like this figure. He concluded that it was a human. He stepped closer with the grace of a stag, trudging through heavy amounts of snow to get a closer look.
A girl. A little girl. Probably around eleven years old. She doesn’t move, though. Just standing there.
"Hello?" the man called out to her.
She didn’t move, still as the snow on the ground.
In all honesty, I have no clue where this story is going. Ever since I started it, I wasn’t sure how I wanted it to end. I just knew I wanted to keep people hanging with each post. Keep them interested.
I’m a good writer. I know I am. But it helps to have someone confirm that my story is going in a good direction. If only I had someone to collaborate with to help my stories flow better. Gaia Online is a great community, but I have yet to find someone to share ideas with.
Before I can post it, I hear a gentle knock on the door. “You boys lookin’ at naked chicks in there?” a deep, gruff voice asks behind my door.
“Oh boy, here we go,” Mason says, leaning back in his chair and rolling his eyes. I can’t remember a time my dad didn’t ask that question before opening any door I find myself on the other side of, even the bathroom. Apparently, being a guy in your teens and living a reclusive life means I must be obsessed with naked chicks. Regardless, he still thinks it’s funny.
“No, Dad, we’re not,” I reply, exasperated. That’s my response every single time, and yet he still wants to ask.
The sound of Dad entering my room blends with his deep chuckle. Victor Harris is the epitome of a blue-collar worker: scuffed-up boots, paint-stained jeans, an old shirt, and a big, strong body. He’s grown out his beard a bit, and his gray hair is buried under an old baseball hat. I don’t know where I got my extra curly brown hair, but it wasn’t from him. I got my brown eyes from him for sure, though.
His demeanor changes the moment he sits at the edge of my unmade bed. He leans forward, taking his ball cap off. “I got a call from your Algebra teacher. You haven’t been doin’ your assignments, and you’re already failin’. And I know that’s not the only class you’re failin’.”
Crap. The one thing I wanted to keep from him ended up coming to light anyway.
“Okay, so this just got intense,” Mason says uncomfortably. “I’ll see myself out.” Just as he leaves my bedroom, he turns and says to my dad, “To be fair, I did try getting him to do his homework. He’s still being an idiot.”
“Dude, get out of here.” I wave at him with urgency.
“Or what?” Mason says with a taunting gleam in his eye.
“Or I’ll tell Harmony about the birthmark on your butt.”
“Okay, point taken, bye,” he says hurriedly and runs down the hallway. Normally, I would find enjoyment in his scurrying off, but knowing I’m in trouble has dampened the mood.
Once Mason leaves, I find my dad eyeing me with disappointment and frustration. A look I really hate seeing glaring back at me. I slap my hands on my thighs and jump up from my chair. I need to escape, and quick. “I’m going to grab something to eat.”
“Stop,” he says with a stern roar as I’m close to the doorway. That tone always scared me as a kid, and it still scares me now. It’s the don’t-you-dare-pull-that-crap-on-me kind of tone, and it’s one to take seriously. “Sit down.”
Hanging my head, I turn around from the doorway and sit back down on the chair. “Before you started school,” he begins. “I told you to work hard so you can graduate. The way it is right now, you’re goin’ to repeat your senior year. Is that what you really want? This is your senior year, Seth. You need to get your act together.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. I would rather write,” I say. It’s true. I express myself better in writing. Living in my character’s story instead of living in my own reality, even for a short while, is my comfort, my biggest escape.
“Well, I’d rather go on a date with Cameron Diaz, but life don’t work that way.”
My face scrunches, questioning his taste in women. “Really, Dad? She smiles like the Joker.”
“She’s hot. Don’t change the subject,” he says firmly, then sighs heavily. “My point is that somethin’ needs to change. You need somethin’ that motivates you. You need a goal. I’ve been learnin’ that in therapy. You’d learn the same thing if you went with me.”
“I’m not going to therapy with you, Dad.” Voicing my feelings to a shrink who is legally obligated to judge me while being paid a butt ton of money is a hard no for me. He should already know that will be my answer. On the other hand, he doesn’t try that hard to get me to go. He’s okay with having a therapist to himself, and he’s just attempting to play the part of an attentive dad. Either way, I’m not interested in opening up to anyone.
“Your loss. Even so, you need to do somethin’.” Dad states with finality. “Let’s try this. Pick a goal. Any goal. Maybe one that involves writin'. See if you can get one of your stories published in those books that have all those short stories.” He snaps his fingers as he tries to think of the title. “Chicken somethin'.”
“Chicken Soup for the Soul?”
“Yeah, that one.”
“Those are chick flicks in book form!” I argue. “I don’t write those kinds of stories.” Nor do I want to. I’d rather punch myself in the nuts. I’m a guy, for god’s sake.
“Okay, then look up some schools with creative writin’ courses. I want you to pick one that interests you and look at the requirements to get into that school. Start with that,” he demands.
I respond with another shrug. Yes, I shrug a lot. I hear a “pop” from my Instant Messenger (a.k.a. IM for Instant Message) come through. I don’t talk to a lot of people except Mason, so I only have one conclusion as to who is messaging me.
Debra: Hi, honey. I really wish you would respond to me. I really miss you. Call me sometime.
“Your mom still tryin’ to talk to you?” Dad asks.
She messages me at least once a day. Sometimes, she’ll even call me. After everything she put us through, she still has the gall to try to mend things with me. I want nothing to do with the woman that broke my dad’s heart. My heart. Maybe I’m being petty, but seeing my dad so miserable has been hard to watch, and I fully blame her.
I close the message and twist in my chair to face Dad. “Don’t keep holdin’ onto that anger, son,” he advises. “And don’t let what happened be the excuse that you don’t do better in life.”
Easier said than done. The anger is still fresh. It’s not something I can get over in a day. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this, it’s that I want to be nothing like her.
“Okay. Get to it,” Dad commands with a wave of his hand. He leaves my room and heads down the hall. I turn back to my computer to keep writing, relieved to be in my home space again.
Truth be told, I don’t like letting my dad down. My life consists of just going through the motions. I go to school because I have to. I eat because I have to. I sleep because I have to. I wake up because I have to. The only thing that seems to keep me from sinking deeper into the endless cycle of routine is writing. Writing is the one thing that’s outside the scope of routine. Each story is different. Each event in the story is different. I can choose how it ends. It keeps me distracted in a way that school hasn’t.
“Oh, and pick somethin’ close to home!” Dad shouts from the stairs. “And not some hotshot university like Yale! We’re broke, and your old man ain’t ready to be alone yet!”
I let out a chuckle. My poor dad. He may be going to therapy, but that doesn’t make him any less afraid to be by himself. I wasn’t planning to move out anytime soon, anyway. I have a feeling I’ll be here keeping him company for a while.
As Family Guy plays on mute on one screen and my story is laid out in front of me on the other, I ponder my options. This would be a good time to do what my dad says and pick a goal—research schools with writing courses. I already know those schools will say I need a good GPA that I need to pass my classes, which requires me to put in the effort, which doesn’t interest me. Thanks for nothing, Mom.
Instead, I turned back to my Gaia post and reread the excerpt of my story. Once I post it, I make one last ditch effort for collaboration with a separate post.
Wannabe_peter_griffin: Looking for someone to help me with my story ideas. I need a good hook for the next segment of my story. If you read any of my posts, maybe you can help with the next step.
Another “pop” from my Instant Messenger sounds on my computer. Praying that it’s not my mom again, I open it.
Mason: I swear if you tell Harmony about my birthmark, I will make you impotent.
I burst into uproarious laughter, forgetting that I threatened to tell his crush about that. I only know about it because he would always change clothes in the locker room after everyone else left P.E. One day, I stayed behind because I kept wondering why my only friend was so private. After he screamed like a little girl when I caught him, he revealed his secret. I laughed because it’s shaped like a heart. People laughing at him was what he was trying to avoid in the first place. He made me swear I would never tell. After three years, his secret has been safe with me.
Ignoring his message, I turn Family Guy back on in search of more uproarious laughs and a further escape from reality.