Monday, November 28, 2011

Conclusion of The Breakup

[NOTE: parts 1 & 2 were revised just prior to posting this conclusion.  If you haven't read the revised and expanded versions of 1 & 2, you might want to do that before going on to the conclusion]

Kirk should have known what Irene could not detect.  When those lyrics go through one’s head, they signal that the end of a romantic relationship is nigh.  Kirk hadn’t put Irene on a pedestal.  Irene hadn’t put herself on a pedestal.  It was the way she was.  She was all around good, like Wonder Bread “with eight essential vitamins and minerals,” and “wrapped warm from the oven in the stay-fresh wrapper;  one squeeze proves we are the fresh guys.”

Wholesome.  Kirk wondered what kind of a word was “wholesome”?  Where did that word come from?  Whole, complete, sound, pure, healthful.  Kirk certainly didn’t think of himself in those terms.  Kirk wasn’t very athletic, one of the criteria, he thought, for applying the word “wholesome” to a boy.  He wasn’t entirely awkward or uncoordinated.  Compared to other boys, he was a slow runner, and not very strong.  He wasn’t good at the sports wholesome boys were good at: baseball and basketball.  A wholesome boy would have some athleticism.  If report cards for fifteen year olds had “Athleticism” as an item, Kirk would have earned a U.

Wholesome.  Kirk thought of Irene as wholesome.  She lacked athleticism.  She competed in no sports.  She wasn’t a cheerleader.  She wasn’t entirely awkward or uncoordinated.  She played piano.  She could draw pictures in which everything was proportional.  Nice, honorable, exemplary, decent, upright.  That was Irene.  That, Kirk was convinced, was not himself.  What would happen if wholesome Irene continued to associate with unwholesome Kirk?  Would Kirk improve?  Would Irene become corrupted?  What had he learned in biology about viruses and bacteria upon integrating themselves into a favorable host?

He grappled with the matter for a week.  Should he pretend to still like her a lot, while at the same time seeking a different girl friend within the next few weeks so he could say he likes someone else instead?  Or should he just call off the relationship?  What would she think if he just dumped her not because there was someone else?  What would be worse?  For her to think she was dropped in favor of someone else?  Or that she was dropped and there isn’t anyone else?  Did the conflict even go to sorting out the degree to which he wanted to reduce the probable pain for her from the degree to which he wanted to preserve his own sense of being a noble individual?  He would have to try to pass it off as the noble, chivalrous thing, which to Kirk was the truth of the matter: preserve the wholesomeness of Irene by ending his relationship with her.

It was Wednesday.  At the end of the school day, as they were at their lockers putting away books and notebooks, getting their jackets to head for buses for the ride home, Kirk did it.

“Irene,” he said, “I think we shouldn’t be boyfriend and girlfriend anymore.”

How could he have known it would crush her heart?  She was sucker-punched.  There was no premonition, no signs pointing that direction.  The first boy who had liked her, maybe even loved her, who put his arm around her, who found her attractive, who showed a romantic interest in her.  Now he was rejecting her?  She began to sob, then cry.  “You hate me.  Why do you hate me?”

Kirk thought he’d be able to announce it and just walk away.  Irene compelled him to be a man and explain himself.  He had ten minutes to make it to the bus, or have to walk ten miles home.  “I don’t hate you,” he tried.  “I just think it better to break-up.”

Break-up?  Stop seeing each other?  What would you call a relationship between fifteen year olds who saw each other some during the school day, but almost never on weekends?  They didn’t call each other on the telephone.  They didn’t walk around school holding hands like some couples did.  There was no furtive randiness like what was well-rumored about other couples.

“You hate me; I know you do.”

Kirk confessed, but it just confused Irene, “I am not good for you; you deserve better than me.”

Irene sobbed convulsively, “You hate me.”

How could Kirk console that?  Had he ever had his heart crushed like that?  Did he have any notion what it was like?  “I have to catch my bus,” he stammered softly.  He hurt Irene.  He tried to rationalize it by thinking he hurt her a little to save her from a much deeper hurt later.  It was rationalization in the worse Freudian sense.

Even more vaguely he left Irene on Wednesday with “I’m not wholesome.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Part 2 of The Break-up

[NOTE: Revised and expanded version of part 2.  Again, this is fiction.  No one should assume they are the basis of any of the characters.]

Thursday when Kirk arrived for lunch, Irene saw him arrive on his bicycle and was at the door to invite him in.  On the oval maple dining table surrounded by six chairs was a simple but neat setting of Melmac plates in pastel yellow, green and blue, with dark flecks of color in them.  Tupperware cups of similar colors, yellow by the yellow plates, green by the green plates, and blue by the blue plates.  A red pitcher of orange Koolaid was on the table.  Beige paper napkins were neatly folded, placed under the spoon to the left of the plate. The table was set for five.  Kirk, Irene, Mrs. Manders, Clark, and Violet, Irene’s twelve year-old sister who, on Kirk’s previous visit, was at her cousin’s house.  The four Manders were obviously awaiting Kirk’s arrival, for as soon as he was ushered into the house, they entered the dining area from two locations: Mrs. Manders and Clark from the living room, and Violet from a hallway.  On the wall in the dining room was a plaque with a representation of an old man sitting at a table with hands folded in prayer, a loaf of bread on the table in front of him, and on the plaque the words “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Kirk liked that phrase.  To him, it was saying “enough is enough.”

They all took their assigned seats, the location they had always sat during the daily family meals.  Mr. Manders’ seat was unoccupied.  Kirk was directed to Roy’s spot.  Roy was Irene’s eighteen year old brother, who was working at a neighbor’s farm for the summer to save up some money for when he would be at State in Lansing in the fall.  While all the children were getting seated, Mrs. Manders pulled a plate stacked with sandwiches out of the Frigidaire and placed them on the table near Kirk.

”I hope you like ham salad, Kirk,” said Mrs. Manders, “that is one of our favorites for summer lunch.”

Kirk did not like ham salad.  In fact, if his mom tried to force him to eat a ham salad sandwich, he’d likely take a bite, then have to run to the bathroom to vomit into the toilet.  He thought there should be a Levitical prohibition against ham salad sandwiches, and not because of the pork.  Rather it was for the same reason he thought there should be Levitical prohibitions against casseroles, based upon the same reasoning, fathomable only to God, for prohibiting clothing made of mixed fibers, like the prohibition against clothes made from wool and flax.  Ham should not be ground together with pickles and mayonnaise.  Things should be discrete.

“I love them, Mrs. Manders, and especially on white bread with extra mayo.  How did you know?”

To Kirk, ham salad already looked the color and consistency of vomit, like that time Billy Wilkins in fourth grade had a baloney and mayo sandwich on white bread at lunch, then about 2 in the afternoon just after recess he had an upset stomach and threw-up in the back of the classroom.  The janitor was called to come mop it up and sprinkle some of that powder on it to try to take away the odor.  Most of us grew up close enough to dairy or other animal farms to know that after a short while, you just stop noticing the smell.  What else could Kirk say?  He was having lunch with Irene, and most of her family.  This would be a growing up experience.  Eat what you are served, eat it as if you like it, and try to make compliments about it is the advice his mom often gave him when he’d go to a cousin’s or friend’s home.  Kirk survived the ham salad sandwich on white bread, washed down, or having the flavor drowned, by orange Koolaid.  Other than the sandwiches, there were carrot and celery sticks on a tray on the table.  Desert was a peanut butter cookie, genuinely Kirk’s favorite cookie.  He never figured out what the spoon to the left of the plate was for, unless it was to keep the beige paper napkin from blowing away.

Over the next several weeks of driver’s education, Kirk made numerous visits to Irene.  They began to actually get to know each other, to understand each other, and become friends.  When you talk about music you like or don’t like, about the recent episode of Bonanza or The Beverly Hillbillies, about annoying siblings, about the neighboring farmer who just spread manure from his “honey bucket” (as manure spreaders were euphemistically known) on his field upwind from your house, about visiting cousins in Bay City, about the family reunion at Gun Lake, you begin to know a person.  It feels very strange for a fifteen year old.  He had friends that he played with on the playground at school, ride bikes with, went sledding with, attended parties with.  But he didn’t think that he get to know them.  Certainly he didn’t think of it as getting to know another person.  That is adult language.  At age fifteen, Kirk’s and Irene’s minds were beginning to take a decided turn toward adulthood, not knowing all the complications that would bring.  A good thing too.  If fifteen year old kids knew anything about the complications adulthood would bring, the teen suicide rate would be much worse than it already is.  Being fifteen is like late March or early April.  Winter isn’t exactly over, Spring hasn’t exactly begun.  It is the between season.  Slush, ice, mud, sunny 55 degree days, wet snow, breezy warm days, more mud.  Winter won’t quite let go, and Spring won’t just take command.  Yet the earth has tilted back to where it was in mid-September when we still had plenty of 70 degree days.

This Platonic relationship went on into the entire first month of autumn classes.  Kirk and Irene moved up from freshman Biology to sophomore Chemistry.  They had Mr. Johns for third period sophomore Chemistry.  Mr. Johns was a skilled teacher.  He should be skilled since he had been teaching for forty years.  He also had a high but sometimes unwarranted trust of students.  He looked like an advertisement for an anti-smoking campaign: gaunt, yellowish skin, especially his fingers and around his nose, as well as the yellowish-gray cropped hair.  He smelled like one would imagine an ash tray smelling.  He’d start class, get the students working on a chemistry experiment, then go to the teachers’ lounge for a cigarette.  He’d return hoping that the only smoke was what was exhaling out of his lungs, not some iniquitous boys devising their own chemistry experiment in the trash can.  Mr. Johns had lobbied the school board for years to get the teachers’ lounge moved from near the principal’s office to closer to his classroom.  The school board refused always alleging two grounds: the budget was tight, and there was no suitable space nearer his classroom to renovate as a teachers’ lounge.  Mr. Johns thought that the actual reason was so that the principal could keep a closer eye on any rumored shenanigans in the teachers’ lounge, like the gossip that Mr. DeMaagd, the band teacher, daily mixed whiskey in his coffee.  Mr. Johns didn’t believe the gossip.  The tattled smell of alcohol on Mr. DeMaagd’s breath was, from Mr. Johns’ chemistry perspectives, just the remains from heavy drinking the night before.

The school provided fan buses to take students, for fifty cents, to away football games by signing up in advance with a parental permission slip.  For the second Friday of October game at Lakeview, Kirk managed the resolve to ask Irene if she’d like to go to the football game.  Sort of as a date, you know, just to go to the game together.  Irene agreed, eagerly it seemed to Kirk.  That was a huge relief.  One of the worst experiences for fifteen year olds, boys or girls, is to approach someone you like, express your like for them, and have it rejected.  No rejection of Kirk by Irene.  So they went.  Did Remus High Rams win, or was it the Lakeview Lakers?  They didn’t remember, they didn’t care.  The only memorable part of the evening was the bus ride.  Twenty-five miles in the daylight to Lakeview, and twenty-five miles back to Remus in the dark.  In the dark, jammed close together near the back of the yellow Ford bus on green vinyl seats, trying to get closer to each other than would be required if you were not so interested in each other.  It was Irene’s first time of having a boy that interested in her, putting his arm around her shoulder.  She snuggled in close, not vastly different from when she’d snuggle close to dad on Sunday nights watching Bonanza or the Wonderful World of Disney together.  When she snuggled in close to Kirk, there was this feeling in her belly that she never felt when snuggling close to dad.  Too, Kirk smelled so differently from dad with his coffee and sweet roll smell.  Kirk was, compared to dad, nearly odorless.  It was a sweet smell, like candy, maybe a hint of mint.  It must have been the soap.  Irene smelled clean, fresh, like a lightly scented flower.  It wasn’t strong.  It was barely noticeable.  Fresh.  Kirk was thinking the lyrics from “If,” a song by David Gates for a group called Bread:

“If a picture paints a thousand words,
Then why can’t I paint you?
The words will never show the you I’ve come to know.”

Dates were rare, since neither was old enough to have a driver’s license yet.  They did go to a Michigan State University football game with Irene’s church youth group.  It was cold in Spartan stadium in late October.  The grass looked blue.  Spartan turf.  It was a bit more blue than green, not very natural looking but then again it wasn’t natural.  The seats were so high up in the stands that watching the game didn’t seem much different than seeing it on the television at home, except live it was in color and the family television was still black and white.  The players were ant-sized.  The football was not visible from that distance.  Kirk tried to determine where the ball was, if they were running or passing, by the way the ants scurried on the blue turf.  At halftime, from those seats you could appreciate the marching band formations and sequences.  But it required a little imagination.  The marching band did its formations for the direction of the stands where the highest paying customers sat.  From Irene’s and Kirk’s side of the stadium, the formations were upside down.  Did the Spartans play Indiana?  Or was it Iowa?  Illinois?  They wouldn’t remember.  All they remember was the ninety minute ride each direction, plus the thirty minutes getting into and out of parking in the thirteen passenger church vans with the adult youth group leaders as chaperones.  Again Kirk was thinking lyrics from “If”:

“If a man could be two places at one time,
I’d be with you.
Tomorrow and today, beside you all the way.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Breakup, Part 1

[NOTE: this is the revised draft of the first part of a short story I am inventing; I expect to complete it in later posts]

He knew it was going to be awkward.  He didn’t know it would be that awkward, unpleasant, and hard.  It was also a mark in his life he wouldn’t forget.

Kirk had known her since first grade.  They were star academic pupils for their teachers.  However, Irene was the overall star for the teachers.  Kirk could be self-willed, obstinate, disrespectful, and disobedient.  No one knows why he continued that way.  On his report cards, there was a list of character traits and attitudes on which all pupils were graded.  Not just math, reading, penmanship, science.  But also citizenship, the qualities that would one day make Kirk a good employee for some boss.  The grades a pupil could receive for attitudes and character were O for outstanding, S for satisfactory, and U for unsatisfactory.  While Kirk got As for all his academic subjects, he was a rather consistent U on attitude and character.  When he did, it was the teacher’s way of notifying the parents to instill a bit more discipline in their charge.  And that they did, leaving discomfort in Kirk’s ability to sit for a while.  It was almost a certainty that Irene was an O.  Yet Irene was never called “teacher’s pet.”  Irene was just all-around good without being irritating or snotty to her classmates.

While they had known each other since they were seven, they hardly ever noticed each other until they were fifteen as high school freshmen.  Strange, or rather natural, how boys and girls start noticing each other around age fifteen.   They saw enough of each other each day.  The hallway lockers for each student were assigned by alphabetical order based on last name.  Irene Manders had locker number 289, Kirk McInnes had locker number 291.  Maybe it was something about Irene seeing the back side of Kirk peering into his locker, or Kirk seeing the back side of Irene reaching to put books into the top shelf of her locker.  But Kirk didn’t pay attention to the back side of Irene until later.

For one thing, while both grew up in a rural areas and went to a rural high school in Remus, Kirk lived southeast of Remus about a mile past Halls Lake, ten miles away from where Irene lived a few miles north of Remus, close to Lake Twentyeight.  Irene scarcely realized that she lived near Lake Twentyeight.  Kirk, on the other hand, was well aware of the proximity of his home to Halls Lake.  Once old enough to ride a bike, he’d take a fishing rod, ride the mile to the lake, and fish near the public access sites.  By the time he was thirteen, his parents would let him put the row boat in the back of the pickup truck and drive himself to the lake for a morning, afternoon, or evening of fishing.  With homes ten miles apart, they did not play together at neighborhood parks.  In fact, since they both lived on rural roads, far enough away from even the small village of Remus, there were no neighborhood parks for them, just farm fields and small woodlots.  Outside of school, they’d never encounter each other.  Parents shopped at different grocers, attended different churches.  From the beginning of June until the beginning of September, Kirk and Irene would never have thoughts of each other.  And before being fifteen, you wouldn’t expect them to.

Irene was terribly beautiful.  A little plain, but beautiful.  She had long blond hair and small features.  She was small.  Folks might have thought she could get blown over in a strong wind.  Except that she was thin enough that wind would barely affect her.  With her beautiful face, large eyes, and symmetrical features, one would be attracted to her face-side, not her back side.  And that is part of what caught Kirk’s attention as a fifteen year old.  Too, he was smart, and she was thought to be the smartest of all the freshman class.  That, unlike the stereotype of fifteen year old boys, is what attracted him to her.

While general aesthetic features of Irene and her evident intelligence initially attracted Kirk to her, sitting in Mr. Alders’ freshman Biology class changed some of Kirk’s perceptual attention.  Irene was assigned a seat by Mr. Alders one row in front of Kirk’s back row seat, three seats to the left of Kirk.  Irene was close enough to Kirk’s peripheral vision.  He could look to the front of the class while Mr. Alders was lecturing or demonstrating or writing on the board, and catch glimpses of Irene in the long blonde hair at the edge of his vision.  This is where Kirk began to notice the back side of Irene.  It was the spring semester for freshman Biology.

Hip-hugger jeans had recently become the fashion.  These were jeans where the waist line was below the navel.  Some of these were so far below the navel that they were referred to as submarine.  Irene had a pair that weren’t exactly submarine, but I am sure her parents had a life jacket in their hands ready to toss to her.  Sitting at her desk, leaning slightly forward to take notes, with a blouse that wasn’t long enough to be tucked in, there was a bit of skin showing.  If she leaned enough, Kirk’s attention was no longer on the homely Mr. Alders.  Kirk was trying to see, without noticeably staring, the very top centimeter of the point of the natal cleft where the gluts split into the left and right sides.  There is that slight dimple, sometimes one on either side of the spine, just above the natal cleft.  For a fifteen year old boy, his brain was about to explode.  And he was in freshman Biology with Mr. Alders of all people.  He had to turn away, but it was a Siren call.  This Odysseus had no crew to call upon to lash him to the mast.  And it would have been too great an embarrassment to admit he needed one.

But Kirk never got the nerve to establish any more than casual contact with her.  A “hello” or “good morning Irene” or “have a good evening, see you tomorrow” at the locker was about the extent of it.  And soon, school was out for the summer.

While Kirk’s eye became attracted to Irene through Spring in freshman Biology, once classes were over at the beginning of June he expected to not see her again until classes began in September.  That was the summer when Kirk would be taking driver’s education.  Living ten miles from high school, his mom, if she could, would drive him in the morning to school where some teachers, for summer employment, would conduct driver’s education.  One would think that a teacher would be smart enough to not put himself, and all were men, in an automobile with three other pubescent teens, most of whom have had little driving experience unless it was the tractor on the farm.  But they were educators, and who better to conduct driver’s education?  It probably wasn’t too stressful doing the classroom instruction.  It was more interesting having students, in the school parking lots, practice starting, stopping, using turn signals, parallel parking, and so on.  This is critical to learn well, since most accidents occur at low speeds in parking lots.  Most of them result in no injury.  But insurance companies still put out a lot of money to repair parking lot bumps.  The most stressful for the instructor was the three hours daily with three different students at a time on the road getting practice and experience.  Instructors were known to pop Tums like eating peanuts.  The drive always involved a fifteen minute break at a cafĂ©, where the instructor would suck down two cigarettes, two cups of coffee, and a donut.  The students might have a coke and donut, the minor’s version of the adult coffee, cigarette and donut.

Some days when Kirk’s mom would take him to school in the summer mornings for driver’s education, Kirk would put his bicycle in the back of the family Suburban, and he’d have to ride the ten miles home.  Some days, when weather was particularly nice, Kirk would ride his bicycle to school in the morning and home in the afternoon.   On the days when he had classroom or parking lot instruction in the morning, and on the road with two other students and the teacher in the afternoon, there was a ninety minute break for lunch.  One day, early on, Kirk decided to ride his bike the four miles from school to Irene’s home to see if she was there, to just drop in and say hello.  It was an awkward moment.  Kirk rolled his bike into the gravel driveway about noon.  Leaning his bike against a tree, hoping he wasn’t too sweaty, he stepped up to the aluminum screen door and rattled it with a knock.  An eight year old came to the door, Irene’s younger brother Clark.

“Hi,” Kirk said, “I’m Kirk, a classmate and friend of Irene’s.  Is she here?”

“Ireeeene,” he yelled as if it were a three syllable word, “a boy is here who wants to see you” with his sing-song voice going louder on “boy” and much higher on “see.”

“Don’t yell,” an adult woman’s voice said.  “Clark, go tell Irene a boy is here to see her.”  Then coming to the door and pushing the storm door open, Beverly, Irene’s mother, said “would you come in please?  I am Mrs. Manders, Irene’s mom.  And you are?”

Having been taught proper etiquette by his parents, he responded without hesitation, “I am Kirk, Kirk McInnes, a classmate of Irene’s.  Her locker is two over from mine because of our last names.  We had Biology together with Mr. Alders, and were lab partners for some of our work.  I was at school today for driver’s ed; we’re on lunch break and I thought I’d stop by to see how summer is going for Irene.”

Kirk felt like a parent was owed a rather full explanation.  Not, mind you, complete disclosure.  He would never tell her that he admired the dimples on her daughter’s lower back, just above the natal cleft.   Still, one had to offer a good enough explanation to get accepted by the parent to have access to the daughter.

Irene appeared, “Hi Kirk.  What are you doing here?”

He went through the explanation again as Mrs. Manders stood behind Irene, with Clark an arm’s reach behind Mrs. Manders.  “Come on in,” Irene said, and she walked him into the living room.

There they sat for an hour and chatted about how boring some of their summer has been so far.  Early in the summer for three weeks Kirk had ridden his bicycle a couple miles from his house to pick strawberries with other teens for a local farmer, making ten cents per quart picked.  They’d pick from sun rise until about 11 am.  He’d been fishing at Halls Lake at least once a week.  Driver’s training is interesting.  It is funny to see Mr. Calhoun not in a classroom trying to teach us how to be safe drivers.  It was especially funny to see him about to have a cow as Melissa pulled out onto Remus Road about as slowly as a tractor might.  A truck was approaching quickly; she shouldn’t have pulled out then.  You know all the instructor has on his side of the car is a brake, and that time he about put his foot through the floor where a gas pedal might have been if they had one on his side.  We dared not laugh.  Melissa was crying.  I have to admit we were a bit scared too and felt like yelling at Melissa to floor it while under our breath we muttered the name of the Savior of the world.  We held our tongue as we held our breath.  When we stopped for our usual donut and coke break, even Melissa laughed about how Mr. Calhoun about blew a vein in his neck.

“I have to go to get back for the afternoon session,” Kirk announced, figuring he stayed to the last moment where, if he rode his bicycle pretty hard, since he didn’t have a headwind to go into, he could make it back just in time.

“Will you visit again?” intoned Irene.

“Yes,” Mrs. Manders added, “come again and have lunch with us.”

“Thank you,” Kirk responded, “I have an afternoon session again on Thursday.  Will it be okay if I stop by again on Thursday?”

Irene looked to Mrs. Manders, who smiled approvingly.  “Certainly Kirk, we’ll see you then, and plan on having lunch with us.”

As Kirk got on his bicycle to leave, he hoped he’d do nothing uncoordinated or stupid, like having his foot slip off a pedal resulting in his crushing his manly parts on the top tube.  He rode with a speed he could rarely muster back to school.  It at least felt like the wind was at his back.