A jar full of salamanders.

I was playing in my front yard in second grade. We lived in a city, so our yard wasn't so much a yard as it was a bit of dirt, grass, and rocks in some concrete next to the stoop. Nevertheless, I overturned some stones and was surprised to find some salamanders under them. My mom helped me poke some holes in a jar lid, and I put a bunch of salamanders in the jar, along with some small bugs to eat and some water so they didn't dry out. She told me I could bring them to school and show my class, and I imagined myself being sort of a hero for bringing such awesome creepy crawlies to school. The teacher would love it because animals are educational, and the kids would love it because they're slimy.

When I got on the bus in the morning and showed the kids what I had found, their reactions were not at all what I expected.

"Ooooooh! You're going to get in trouble!" they told me.

When I walked into school, I held my arm carrying the jar inside my coat so nobody would see it. I tried to stealthily slip it into my desk when I sat down, but my teacher saw me.

"What is that?" she asked.

"Salamanders," I sighed, pulling them out of the desk to show her. I was fucked.

"Those are really cool," she said. My heart lifted a little. "But you can't bring animals to school." My heart sank again.

She brought me to the vice principal's office. The vice principal thought the salamanders were cool, too, but she also told me that animals weren't allowed in school, unless the animals in question were her ugly little toy poodles, of course. She told me that she would hold on to the salamanders until the end of the day, and then I could come to her office and get them.

All day, I thought about how I couldn't wait to be reunited with my jar of amphibians. Those suckers were awesome.

At the end of the day, I went to the vice principal's office. She handed me a brown paper bag.

"There was a little problem," she told me in a soft voice. Her eyes looked like she was trying to act sad.

I reached into the bag and pulled out my jar of salamanders. When I had given her the jar, there was a little bit of water in the bottom. Now, the jar was full to the brim. Floating at the top were all the salamanders, dead.

"They were trying to climb out of the water," she told me, "so I thought they needed more water."

I started crying. I put the jar back in the bag, and put the bag in my backpack.

"I'm sorry," she said as I left.

When I got home, I went to my parents.

"How'd school go?" my dad asked.

I burst into tears, threw my backpack at the wall, and yelled something unintelligible. They told me to calm down and tell them what happened, so I did my best to be coherent, and sobbed my story to them. My mom hugged me and picked up my backpack, which was now drenched with dead salamander water.

My dad told me that I could use the opportunity as a learning experience, and dissect one of the salamanders. My parents had bought me a science kit that contained, among lots of other things, a preserved frog in a jar and the tools to cut it up with. I used the tools, and cut up a salamander, but I didn't learn anything. It was stiffer than the frog was, and much smaller. It was too hard to cut, and too small to see its insides.

I've wondered for years if the vice principal was just being malicious. It's hard for me to believe anybody could be that stupid. They were climbing out of the water, so they needed more water? I guess it's likely that she actually was that stupid, but all the adults at that school left me with horrible impressions, like the sort of people who would kill a child's jar of salamanders just to teach them not to bring animals to school.

Hustled at Super Mario Kart.

I was spending the weekend with my friend Wes in 8th grade. On Friday, we went to a fair at the local elementary school and won copious amounts of soda in the ring toss. When we first started playing, we'd win 3 giant bottles of carbonated sugar-water with each game played. Later in the evening, they revised the rules so that even though you got to throw 3 rings each time you played, you were only allowed to walk away with one more bottle. Still, we ended up with obscene amounts of cheap soda, and had to keep going outside to drop it off in his mom's car.

Armed with incredible amounts of sugar and caffeine, we spent basically the entire rest of the weekend playing Super Mario Kart in his basement with his brother, Alex, who was a couple of years younger than we were. That, and getting sticky spilling soda all over ourselves while trying to chug it at a maniacal rate.

We were betting on the races, and I kept acquiring more soda and an assortment of little knick knacks. Somewhere, I still have a small donkey carved from stone that Wes bought on a trip to some caves in Kentucky. I lost some soda and little knick knacks, too, but the game play was pretty even. Even though I didn't have a Super Nintendo at home, we all seemed to have roughly the same skill level.

I had a comic book that I had recently purchased on a trip to visit relatives in California. Comic books were a rare enough commodity in Indiana, where the comic book stores were all far away, but this comic was an even bigger treasure than most. In it were depictions of a smiling dinosaur being butchered to death and mutilated in various ways. On the cover, written in big, bloody letters were the words "KILL BARNEY." Alex had been trying to get me to bet it on races all day, but I had resisted. No, I may have been a decent Mario Kart driver, but I wasn't willing to risk something so precious.

Until I got cocky.

Wes was sitting on the sidelines, guzzling flat root beer (his beverage of choice), and Alex and I kept racing. I was on a winning streak. I won race after race, and was amassing a pile of junk that used to belong to Alex. He kept bringing me up to his room and finding unwanted trinkets to win from him. At some point, towards the end of my winning streak, he offered up some valuable object, but only if I was willing to put my comic book down as my bet. Having been winning repeatedly, I figured I could win without any trouble.

And then Alex promptly left my kart in the dust. It became obvious by the second lap that he had been losing intentionally, and was now about to own my comic book.

"Oh, you got hustled!" Wes yelled. Alex grinned.

I spent the rest of the weekend trying to win back my comic book, but Alex now treated it as I had, and wouldn't risk losing it.


Another racist tough guy.

In 4th grade, I took a 6th grade math class and a 6th grade science class. I spent most of the rest of the day in a room full of social retards who required extra supervision, lest we destroy something or cause a scene. As a class, supervised by our teacher, we also attended a 7th grade gym class, and also ate lunch with the seventh graders. We had to get our food and then sit with the rest of the class at a table with our teacher, who would shoo away the normal kids who tried to sit too close. It was during our lunch periods that I first noticed the racist tough guy.

I encountered lots of racist tough guys when I lived in Indiana. This guy was notable only in the fact that he was the first of his variety of people I ever encountered. I never had any direct interactions with him, but I learned through casual observation that he was, in fact, a racist tough guy.

When I'd sit at our guarded table in the cafeteria, I'd sometimes notice the racist tough guy. He had a mullet, and looked bigger and older than most of the other kids. He acted like a loud, obnoxious jerk, and the ladies seemed to love him. They giggled as he made fun of smaller students. I feared him, but I also got the feeling that he was cool as hell. He seemed awesome, and he commanded respect.

In 5th grade, our class got a different teacher, one who would let us go to lunch by ourselves. We still ate with the seventh graders. My friend Mike and I relished the freedom, though we never really interacted with any of the normal kids. I noticed that the racist tough guy was still in seventh grade, and I tried to stay away from him while I was in the cafeteria, because though I would have loved to be his friend due to his level of coolness, I was also pretty sure that, given the chance, he would fuck with me.

One day there was a loud rumor that a fight was taking place outside. We went outside, where most of the seventh graders had congregated, somehow without attracting the attention of any authority figures. There was an island of grass and two trees, surrounded by an easily-overstepped chain and pillar fence, in the middle of the sidewalk leading out to the parking lot. Kids circled the island and whispered about the two kids inside of the chain fence, who were moments away from extremely brutal 7th grade violence. One of the kids on the island was the racist tough guy.

Supposedly, at least one punch had been thrown before Mike and I arrived. Supposedly, it was a very loud punch. All we could see, though, were two kids standing around and not fighting. They weren't even doing the standard adolescent boy fighting dance, where two participants puff up their chests and try to intimidate each other by looking tough. Instead, one nerdy looking guy with glasses stood spitting on the ground, while the racist tough guy gestured wildly and swore loudly to his friends on the sidelines.

"Fucking motherfucker wants to fucking fuck some shit! Who does this motherfucker fucking think he is? I'm going to fucking kick his motherfucking ass!"

The swearing and the standing went on for a few minutes while we waited for violence, and then whispers of authority figures spread through the crowd and everybody dispersed.

There was a public pool in the same town where they bussed me to school. It was half an hour away, but it was the only public place to swim that we knew about, so my mom took my siblings and I there a few times. The racist tough guy was there one time.

I never saw the racist tough guy swim. He sat on the side of the pool, stretched out on a beach chair and surrounded by girls, and ranted loudly about the Mexicans who were at the pool that day.

"Fucking spicks! They need to put up fucking barricades to keep these fucking spicks out of here! I'm sick of the fucking spicks coming in here and fucking getting everything fucking dirty! Where are my motherfucking barricades?"

The girls surrounding him laughed at his racist tirade. At some point, they looked at my mom, who is Filipino, and the racist tough guy whispered something to the girls. They snickered, not really trying to hide the fact that they were obviously making some ignorant joke at her expense.

When we went home, my mom couldn't stop telling my dad about how horrible it was, and how she had never experienced anything like that in her life. It's not something that happens in California, where my mom had spent her entire life until moving to Indiana about a year before the incident. My dad just told her that people are ignorant assholes, and not to worry so much about those kind of people.

We saw the racist tough guy in public one more time, when I was in 6th or 7th grade. Our car had broken down at a gas station, and we were sitting in it and waiting for my dad. While we waited, the racist tough guy pulled up in his car. He was with a girl I recognized, and who I always thought seemed like a nice girl. The racist tough guy got out of the car and made a phone call on the payphone. He was loud enough that we could hear him in our car.

"I don't fucking give a fuck!" he yelled into the phone. "Motherfucking cocksuckers need to fucking learn what the fuck they're fucking doing!"

"Oh my god," my mom said, "What an absolute creep!"

"Don't you remember him?" I asked. "That's the racist guy from the pool."

My mom didn't remember his face, but it was definitely him. When he was done yelling obscenities at whoever he was talking to, he smashed the receiver on the phone a few times, and walked back to his car, where he continued to yell obscenities at the girl as he pulled away. She looked really passive, just blankly staring forward as he yelled. I felt bad for her.


"I misplaced your dipstick."

I've needed an oil change for the last 500 miles or so, and I finally got one today. I was fairly oblivious as the guy did his work, and then he said, "OK, go ahead and start up your engine now." I did, and a few seconds later, my car shook and the engine died.

"What the hell was that?" asked the guy changing the oil in the car next to mine. He came over and started looking under my hood. Within seconds, four oil-change guys were looking under my hood, sticking their hands deep inside the dirty black machinery that I don't understand.

"Go ahead and take your keys out of the ignition and throw them on the dashboard," the oldest one told me. I did, and they continued to poke around. After a couple minutes, the guy who was originally changing my oil came to my window.

"OK, sir, what happened is I misplaced your dipstick," he told me.

"Alright," I said.

"Yeah, we'll have it out in a second, it should be fine," he said, and went back to work.

After a couple more minutes, the oldest one asked me to step out of the car. I did, and he got in. He started the car for a split second, making an ugly grinding noise. The guys under the hood poked around, and then he started the car for a split second again. He did it one more time, and then got out of the car and told me I could get back in. After some more mucking about, there were exclamations of relief from the guys under my hood. The dipstick had been recovered.

"We got it," the first guy told me, "Everything looks good."

"OK," I said.

"Yeah, everything looks fine," another guy said. "If you have any problem with it at all, or if you just want to have somebody look at it, just bring it back here. Ask for me, I'm a store manager." I looked at his shirt and made a mental note to talk to Dave if anything should go wrong.

"Alright, cool," I said.

"Are you also a student," the first guy asked as he rang me up.

"Yeah," I lied, "but I don't have my student ID." I figured I deserved some kind of discount after they "misplaced" my dipstick, but I would have tried to get the student discount, anyway.

"No problem," he said, "We'll take care of that for you."

It seems kind of stupid that a guy who changes oil for a living could "misplace" my dipstick. I kind of wish they would have told me exactly what happened, but I probably wouldn't have understood it. I'm clueless about cars. At least this time they didn't try to sell me a bunch of shit I didn't need.


New gaping hole at the farmhouse.

Hello, kitten, what is it you are looking at?

Is it all this garbage on the floor?

All of this garbage?

Don't get wet, sad kitty!

You're sitting under a gaping hole in the ceiling.

It will spill insulation upon you.


Caleb: the upbeat Christian.

My grandma has always, as long as I can remember, been a very religious woman, and very active in her church. It has been her primary social network, and through this network she met a family who lived just down the street from her place. They had a kid named Caleb, and one weekend day while visiting my grandma, she wanted my brother and I to go play with him.

I was in 7th grade at the time. Caleb was a year or two younger than I was, and my brother several years younger than he was. My brother had met Caleb previously while visiting my grandma.

Being a grunge-obsessed junior high cretin, I kept asking Caleb if he liked any of my favorite bands. He didn't like any of them, and would always answer by telling me about his musical preference.

"Do you like The Smashing Pumpkins?" I'd ask.

"No, not really," he'd answer. "I'm pretty much just into upbeat Christian music."

"You don't even like Nirvana? Kurt Cobain is the coolest!"

"No, I pretty much only listen to upbeat Christian music."

He took my brother and I into his room and popped a tape into his cassette player, so we'd be able to experience upbeat Christian music. He told us it was the tape was of his favorite singer. Before anybody even started singing, I knew it sucked. It lacked the distortion and roughness that I required in my listening. It was offensively soft to my ears. When the singing started, it just got worse.

"It sure beats Hell. It sure beats Hell. Anyway you look at it, you're doing pretty well. It sure beats Hell. It sure beats Hell. Anyway you look at it, you're doing pretty well."

After the song finished, somebody on the tape started taking.

"See? He's a comedian, too!" Caleb told us. He kept chuckling as the guy spoke, but none of it was funny. It was all fire and brimstone. He'd bring up a bad scenario, and then say "It sure beats Hell!" and Caleb would laugh as if it were a joke.

"You might think you've had a rough day, you stubbed your toe and your dog died. But lemme tell you something: It sure beats Hell!"

Caleb had a Super Nintendo, and we kept asking if we could play with it. We didn't have video games at our house, so it was always an extra treat to play when we could. Caleb didn't want to, though. He was bent on playing soccer. He kept asking us if we wanted to play, and we'd say no, and ask again if we could play video games. Eventually, instead of playing video games, he put on some shin guards, even though we had never agreed to play soccer.

We never played soccer, though. We went back to my grandma's house shortly after he put the shin guards on.


Jeremiah was a fat kid.

I met Jeremiah in homeroom in eighth grade. He was a fat kid, and only friends with half of the circle of miscreants I sat with. I didn't realize this until I suggested hanging out with him after school, and my friend told me, "No, I don't like that fat kid." I sometimes called him "Buttcrack" behind his back, because his buttcrack was often visible when he sat down. On at least one occasion, I came up behind him and dropped a pencil into it. He didn't think it was funny, but I did.

Jeremiah invited me over to his house after school one time, so I rode his bus home with him. As we got closer to where he lived, I noticed that none of the houses were particularly nice, and I knew that a lot of the people who lived in that area had to be really poor. Jeremiah lived in a two-story house on the edge of a river. There was no siding on the house, and the insulation was clearly visible. I wondered if it was a temporary or permanent condition, but I didn't ask. When we got to his house, his sister, who was in the same grade as us and who had also ridden the bus home, disappeared into her room. Jeremiah's little brother was home, and wanted to hang out with us. For a while, we threw things into the river. We threw rocks at first, and then started throwing toys and half-empty aerosol cans and other assorted garbage into the water.

"Do you smoke?" Jeremiah asked.

"Sometimes," I said. I didn't, but I didn't want to sound like a square.

Jeremiah got a pack of cigarettes from inside and we walked into the woods with his brother. We each took a cigarette from the pack. I thought it was weird that Jeremiah's little brother was smoking. He was in 3rd or 4th grade.

"Don't you inhale?" Jeremiah asked.

"Yeah," I said, sucking on the cigarette and blowing the smoke out. I couldn't figure out what they were doing that I wasn't doing.

When we were finished, we went inside and Jeremiah offered me some Kool-Aid. He handed me a cup and went to the fridge to get the Kool-Aid.

"This cup is dirty," I said. The bottom was crusty and brown. Jeremiah got me another cup, but it had the same problem. I looked at more cups from the cabinet, and they were all crusty and brown in the bottom.

"It's not dirty," he said, "We drink a lot of tea."

I drank my Kool-Aid quickly, trying not to think of the bottom of the cup.

Jeremiah and I got in trouble for making fun of a kid on my bus named Jeff. I don't remember how it started, but we found ourselves in the office, being interrogated by the vice-principal. When we left the office, I suggested we drew comics about how Jeff and the vice-principal were gay lovers. We showed each other our comics at the end of the day. Mine had lots of tiny panels and was fairly graphic, despite being cartoony. Jeremiah's comic was a couple of stick-figures interacting in a couple of giant panels. I told him we should draw some more. The next time, his panels were tiny and I could tell he was doing his best to emulate my style. I thought it was cool.

In 9th grade, Jeremiah made friends with my sister, and would frequently write her notes. She told me that they were stupid, because he would make up ridiculous acronyms and expect her to know what they meant. She'd always have to ask.

"What is S.Y.A.L.A.M.T.?" she'd ask.

"You don't know? See you at lunch at my table!"

In 9th grade, I began my drift away from my obnoxious friends and began hanging out with nerdier kids. Jeremiah and I remained casual acquaintances, and he was still in my homeroom until I was reassigned in 11th grade due to my complete inability to tolerate our teacher. Jeremiah always wanted me to smell his fingers in the morning. Some guys do that to brag about getting laid. Jeremiah did it to brag about smoking cigarettes, and sometimes weed, before school.

In 10th grade, I was riding home with a group of friends, and they wanted to stop at Jeremiah's house. His mom had made up an excuse to get Jeremiah out of school early that day, because his older brother had shot a deer and they needed Jeremiah to put his name on it. His brother had already killed as many as he was legally allowed to. When we stopped at his house, we all got out of the car to look at a deer his brother had killed. It was laying in the back of his pickup truck. My friend Jason poked it in the eye with his finger until some goo came out, and then wiped his finger on me.

"He's a vegetarian," Jason told Jeremiah's brother.

"Really?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said.

"I'm sorry to hear that," he said.

"That's what I said!" Jason said, and everybody laughed except me.

In 11th grade, Jeremiah and this other kid, Nick, were talking in homeroom about their plans to go hunting over the weekend while tripping on Jimson weed. Having done very minimal internet research on the subject, I knew this was a terrible idea.

"You can't have a good trip," I told them, "Only a bad one. You'll hallucinate and think everything you're seeing is real."

"Yeah," Jeremiah said, "It's going to be fucking awesome!"

I couldn't do anything to dissuade them, so I just worried all weekend that I would come back to school to find out that one of them had shot the other. I never heard anything more about the event, so I assumed they never went through with it. I didn't mention it, fearing that if they hadn't already done it, they might decide to give it a whirl.

Another time, Jeremiah and Nick asked if I wanted to go snipe hunting. They said all you had to do was shine a light into a bag at night, and a bird called a snipe would run into the bag. I had heard about this before, in a book of urban legends. I told them it wasn't true, but they insisted that it was.

"The best part," Jeremiah told me, "is once you get the snipe into a bag, you can bash the bag against something until it's dead."

In 12th grade, having been moved to a different homeroom, I barely talked to Jeremiah at all. He hung out with Nazi stoners who hated me. There was a rumor that a friend and I were gay lovers, which turned me into social poison. Jeremiah's little brother told my girlfriend that "your boyfriend is the gayest kid in the school." Still, Jeremiah, perhaps because he was never particularly popular, even in the shittiest of shitty social circles, was always cool with me.

One morning before class, as I sat on a bench in the hallway talking to a friend, Jeremiah stopped to say a few friendly words. He was walking with a Nazi stoner who I had never talked to, and whose last name sounded like "Sodomizer." Sodomizer's brother had called me a sand nigger, and had also professed his desire to fuck my sister. While I spoke to Jeremiah, Sodomizer glared at me.

"Fucking faggot!" he yelled, as soon as they had turned around and started walking away.

"No, he's cool," Jeremiah said.

"That's not what I heard."

Jeremiah came up to me one morning and told me he was growing weed in his basement. I was glad to hear this, because for some reason or another he owed me some. Having done minimal research on the internet, I knew a little bit on the subject. Mainly, I knew that you needed a specialized lamp if you wanted to grow indoors.

"What kind of light are you using?" I asked him.

"I'm not using one," he said.

"Um, plants need light, dude."

"Not weed !" he told me, and walked away. I asked him later how it was going and he said it never grew. I acted surprised.

I saw Jeremiah once, a few years after we had graduated. I was at our old high school, watching a football game, because my brother was involved in some school-related thing. He was a candidate for homecoming king or something. I saw Jeremiah arrive, followed closely behind by the girl who was his girlfriend as long as I can remember. He was fatter, had a shaved head, and a ridiculously long Z.Z. Top-style beard. I don't think he saw me, which was good, because I didn't want to talk to him.


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.