Last night, someone from my hometown posted on Facebook to say that our eighth grade biology teacher, Mr. Reynolds, had died. There was a link to the local funeral home's memorial page, where I stared at a picture of Mr. Reynolds as I remembered him twenty-five years previous, his thick, black-rimmed glasses and buzz cut, his hair so blond it looked white. He had gray eyes. His face was always red, not like a rash but like a tint to his skin.
My boyfriend asked me why I was crying, though he didn't look up from his book. I was someone who cried a lot, over the slightest things, but what was strange was that I didn't realize that I had been crying. And once I noticed it, I thought more about Mr. Reynolds. His first name was Franklin, and there was a time when I would call him by that name. And I cried and I cried, and finally Bobby said, "Oh, God, what's wrong? What is going on, Patrick?" and he held me, and I put down the tablet, and I didn't say a word because I didn't know what to say. Because nothing I said would have made sense to him. It wouldn't have made sense to anyone else in the world. The only person who would have understood was dead.
In eighth grade, like every single grade leading up to that year, I was unpopular. I was too fat for sports and I had all these weird habits, little tics, that, even though everyone in our town had grown used to them, kept me from getting close to anyone. I cried sometimes if people smiled at me too long. I grunted a lot when I was reading to myself. I was an island, but not far enough away from this huge body of land that was the rest of my town, so I could easily feel the separation.
Since I was about eight or nine, I'd been updating and revising this card game I'd invented called Death Cards. It was this big stack of index cards, and most of the cards had interesting life events like graduating high school or winning an astronaut scholarship or having sex for the first time. But there were also death cards that featured people dying in horrific, graphic ways. Nobody would play the game with me, so I just played against myself. By eighth grade, there were more [End Page 6] than four hundred cards in the game. I couldn't stop playing, finding my way to whatever kind of life I could have before I died violently.
And, whatever, but it was clear to most kids that I was effeminate, too sensitive, which suggested something was deficient in my makeup.
And Mr. Reynolds was famously weird. He lived with his mother. He'd been in Vietnam, which wasn't weird, really, but there was a long-standing story that one time a car in the school parking lot had backfired and Mr. Reynolds had immediately sprawled on the floor, his face radiating panic, and the principal had to come convince him to get back up and keep teaching. My cousin, who was eight years older than me, said he'd been in the class when it happened, but he was such a fucking liar, so who knew. Mr. Reynolds was very shy and quiet, and students often talked over him when he was teaching. He drove this tiny little foreign car, and the driver's side door was a completely different color than the rest of the car, and he'd duct-taped the rear bumper, but sometimes it would loosen and drag across the asphalt parking lot. Every day he wore short-sleeved shirts, weird plaid, and olive green chinos, and ugly brown loafers. He was freakishly tall, which seemed to embarrass him, and he didn't take advantage of it in order to make himself seem imposing. He just looked stretched out, like a cartoon character.
But I liked listening to him, the way he talked about this kind...