Jake Skilling is dead. Nobody is supposed to die when they’re seventeen but he did. Dumbass. Know how he died? He’s late for school, so he’s doing sixty-five down Route 26 and he loses it. Drives his truck right into a tree. In about three seconds he’s dead. He had his little brother with him, and now the kid’s got brain damage. How dumbass is that?
And you know what all the assholes in school do? Cry and cry and cry. I mean, there are fucking signs all over the halls. We love you, Jake, we miss you, Jake, RIP, and “Git Er Done!” because that was his favorite saying. All the senior cars show up with “Git Er Done!” in white letters across the back of the windshields. Yep — he was that original. And then they have this assembly so we can all get “closure,” as if his whole life is just like a suitcase you can shut and latch up and put away somewhere. Coach Nelson comes out and says he was just one of the finest young men he’d ever known, like he was a saint. He could kick a soccer ball, but that didn’t make him a saint. Not even close, and now it looks like I’m the only one who knows that.
I said something at the caf this morning. Okay, I said he was a dumbass, and they all looked at me like I was crazy. Amy Fincher started crying, like everybody doesn’t know she cries at everything and she always had the hots for Jake, but he never even looked at her. She screamed at me — You didn’t know him. And I just shook my head and walked, because I did. I walked down that hallway, over all that new linoleum, past all those pretty blue lockers, and I walked right out because I knew him better than any of them. And I wish I never had. In fact, I wish the dumbass had died years ago.
It started with all the faggot jokes, in fifth grade. He’d throw soccer balls at me on the playground. He’d bonk me on the head whenever he had a chance, and he’d laugh his ass off, he and his three little buddies who were all bigger than I was at the time. He called me faggot so many times, I thought it was my name. Franklin Faggot. Nice alliteration, you think? And the funny thing was, I wasn’t sure what it meant. Did he know something I didn’t? [End Page 621]
I don’t know why adults never see this shit, but they all liked him. Everybody did. School isn’t a safe place to be on your own where everyone likes the hell out of the guy whose mission in life is to beat the crap out of you at every opportunity. Even when you tell, nobody wants to believe you. They look at you sympathetically, like you’ve got a cantaloupe-sized tumor coming from your forehead, nod, say things like, Oh, that’s too bad, Franklin, have you tried just talking to him? And then do nothing. Once, I heard Mr. Evans say to Madam Gray, Oh, you know how histrionic Franklin is. He’s just that way. As if somehow this was my fault. If I’d been a different kind of kid, this incredibly likeable guy would be my friend too. But no, I was that way.
In some ways I guess you could say Jake “liked” me, all right. Did you know, there are all kinds of places in a school? The bathrooms, the back of the gym behind the equipment pile, the music room. I know because he’d find me every time. For a while it was every week, at least freshman year. That was the first time he actually hit me. And I thought the soccer balls were bad. Nothing that would show. Mostly he’d just slap me on the arms, in the face. And the bruises wouldn’t show up until later...