- The John
I was still probably a little stoned from Lortab as Gretchen pushed me from class to class like an obscene parade float, me smiling and waving all the way as I grumbled about the difficulty of pooping since my leg surgeries. Having my hamstrings lengthened had stuffed up my bowels and opened up my nostrils. Since coming home from Primary Children's everything smelled like Purell, even at school. I told Gretchen I was probably still sweating out anesthesia.
In terms of optics, my wheelchair was a major win. Spread-eagle in stirrups, my lower extremities were dressed in Steri-Strips, gauze, and Ace bandages and packed into Velcro splints. My sweatpants were streaked with baby powder, and my chafed butt was rigged onto an inflatable hemorrhoid doughnut. I couldn't have looked more pathetic. We hadn't even peeled the tape off my back from the epidural.
Gretchen was wearing a tutu over her jeans, a look cultivated among the in-crowd at Skyline. I liked Gretchen because she looked totally normal but wasn't. She had blond hair, rosy cheeks, and a round, kind face, but also a pacemaker and a bone spur hanging off one foot like a sixth toe. You'd think that extra little toe would give her traction, but she'd had to retire from cheerleading after flying off the top of a human pyramid and cracking her head.
It was for the best if you asked me: Gretchen and I were going to make a historic run for student body president and VP at the end of junior year—historic because in 40 years no pair of non-Mormons had ever won the presidency in our suburban Salt Lake City high school.
I wasn't a practicing member of what kids at school called The Church, but [End Page 179] I put a lot of stock in passing as one. My beauty campaign consisted of purple shampoos and scalp-reddening squirts of Sun-In to make my hair blond, big fake teeth, blue contacts (even though my eyes were already blue), and the constant administering of ChapStick because my lips were permanently dried out from Accutane. I tried to smile at everyone in the halls.
I was what you might call LDS once removed. My dad's dad, Grandpa Wendell, was raised Mormon, but stopped going to church after his own father succumbed to an aneurysm during the Great Depression. My great uncle was a bishop up in Idaho. My great aunt, before being carted off to a nursing home in Brickyard, had been the Relief Society president of our local stake, but my family and I weren't anything, not even Catholic like Mom's Basque relatives.
The annoying thing about Mormons was how they rubbed your nose in it, clogging traffic first thing every morning as they sauntered across the parking lot from seminary, making the rest of us late for our first blocks. Being a religious reject had its perks, though. The plus side of living in the long shadow of the Salt Lake Temple was that it made us gentiles band together as an oppressed minority. You had to pick a side. It didn't matter what else you were—Greek, Asian, Muslim, Unitarian—all you had to do to be cool among other non-Mormons was drink Coke and swear, which was nice because that was all I was capable of doing post-surgery.
Speaking of Greeks. The highlight of most days was when Gretchen wheeled me into Journalism and put on my parking brake. That's when the Greek guy I was secretly in love with, John, would trot up to me for a fist bump. John had delivered some Algebra II assignments to the house while I was still recovering: our first hangout session. Now we were a couple of fist-bumping pals.
Girls at school called John a smelly rock geek, but I'd lusted after him since seventh grade, when he'd worn the same Grateful Dead tie-dye shirt to Mr. Fagg's Utah Studies class every day. Normally, tie-dye didn't do it for me...