The Smiths.

Beginning in fourth grade, I rode the short bus with retarded kids and crazy kids to another school district, where the high school had special programs to meet our needs. I was classified as "emotionally handicapped" because I was uncontrollable and my parents wouldn't let them drug me into submission, and I spent my days in a classroom with kids who lied compulsively, set fires, or just completely refused to do anything but make fun of darkies. They began integrating me into classes with normal kids, and by 7th grade, I wasn't in the crazy-kid class at all, but they still bussed me out there to go to school for some reason or another. On the bus in 7th grade is where I first met Jolene Smith.

I had heard of Jolene's brother, Aaron Smith, years before I met Jolene or even knew she existed. Aaron was in my sister's 5th grade class. Supposedly, he was older than I was (my sister was one grade below me), but incredibly tiny and spoke in a high-pitched squeak. He also wanted to fight almost everybody. My sister showed me a picture of him in her yearbook, and his head was huge, making his photo stand out among the rest of them. Maybe the photographer overcompensated for his small stature and zoomed in too much, which made him way too big instead of just right.

Jolene was weird. She was a couple years older than I was, and had a chin like a caricature of Jay Leno. She would tell stories of imaginary happenings, like weird Satanic rituals that happened late at night in the woods near her house. She told me I was too young to know about that stuff.

I don't know that her name really was Jolene, because sometimes she went by Renee. Maybe both names were hers, or maybe she just stole the name Jolene from the only other girl I've ever known with that name, who happened to ride our bus. Maybe it was kind of like the time that she stole my birthday.

Jolene found out that my birthday was coming up, and acted surprised and excited, and said that her birthday was on the same day. She told me she was making me a Ninja Turtles shirt, and I dreaded her giving it to me. I imagined wearing it on the bus, and changing it or covering it up immediately after arriving at school, so that nobody would see me wearing it. Fortunately, on my birthday, she just gave me a balloon. I didn't ask about the shirt.

Later, I found out that some other day was her birthday, too.

I started going to the school in my area in eighth grade. I never saw Jolene again, but there were rumors. Supposedly, she was seen in her front yard humping the guy who had been hired to paint their house. Another time, she was rumored to have done the same thing with a dog. Once, their house burnt down and everybody said that they had done it on purpose so that they could afford to send Jolene to a mental hospital.

Also, in eighth grade, on my first day of school, I finally met her brother, Aaron. He had the locker right next to mine. I recognized him from his giant-headed photo, and I knew it had to be him because he was tiny even compared to myself, and I had always been a really little guy.

This other guy who used to ride the crazy bus, Ron, started attending normal kid school that year, too. I ran into him, and he told me that Aaron wanted to fight me. Since my locker was right next to his, I asked him.

"Don't listen to him," Aaron squeaked at me. "Ron is full of shit!"

At some point in eighth grade, I heard somebody making fun of Aaron by saying, "Something smells like ketchup." I didn't get the joke, if there was one, but I started saying it every time I saw Aaron. For a couple weeks, he didn't react in any way to my taunts. One day by our lockers, I said it, and he punched me in the eye and ran away. It didn't hurt, and I was more shocked than anything. I started laughing, both because it was a surprise and because I didn't want anybody to think the kid had hurt me.

"You should have kicked his ass," a kid told me.

"Shit, man," I said, "I was so surprised, I had no time to react. That shit was funny. It didn't hurt."

The rumor about the Smiths was that they were all completely inbred and, as a result, they were all deformed and crazy. Their mom was said to be a huge fat lady, too big to even leave the house. A kid in my health class told me a story that he probably made up about visiting their house. He said there was dog shit all over the place, and while he was there, a dog shat on the floor again. They told him not to worry about it, and put a paper towel on top of it, and then sprinkled baking soda on top of the paper towel. He said they had a bunch of top of the line computers, too.

In 9th grade, Aaron was in my gym class, and had changed his name to Dan. My friend and I always called him Danly Smythe. He and I had a weird, adversarial quasi-friendship. Sometimes we would talk about the internet, because he was one of the few people at that point who was on it, and sometimes I would chase him around and try to stick him in the big net-bag they kept all the basketballs in.

Aaron spent a lot of gym periods on the bleachers instead of dressing for class. One day, after we did our daily calisthenics, I looked up and saw Aaron aggressively humping the bleachers. I pointed and laughed, and he yelled at me to shut up, and kept going as if nobody knew what he was doing.

Another day we had some sort of argument about something, and since gym was our last class of the day, Aaron ended up attacking me outside after school. I was standing with a few friends, casually talking, when Aaron appeared out of nowhere with some sort of crazy jump-kick-punch. I reflexively punched him in the face, and he ran off.

"Holy shit, that was fucking awesome!" said my friend, also named Aaron. He started telling people who missed it about how I had punched Aaron in the face, and how it was one of the best things he had seen. I wished he would shut up, and not tell anybody about it, but I didn't want to say anything and sound like a pussy. Even as a stupid 9th grader, I didn't see anything good about punching a tiny, possibly retarded kid in the face.

That was the last year that Aaron was in school. I never saw any of his family again, but I heard more stories. In driver's ed, my teacher told me that Aaron was in his class the year before. He said the kid drove like he had a death wish, and that he was the only kid who ever scared him with his driving. In 11th grade, my speech teacher said that her husband had once let their family take some fallen trees from their property for firewood, and that they kept coming back. She said they didn't really know how to say no to them, and would pretend they weren't home when they showed up. Jolene would peer into their windows, puffing hard on a cigarette.

My friend says he saw Aaron a couple years after high school. He wasn't sure if it was him, because instead of being really short, he was really tall, but he had the same face.

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