Wayward School – excerpt

 
Wayward Front Final copy copy

Wayward School

by Thomas Gondolfi

October 13, 2050

“Elizabeth, learning your troubles might just spark the moral character inside another girl and save her from your fate,” says my court-appointed priest, a gaunt, long-haired Amerind.

I think it is a crock, but why not. I’ve got nothing much better to do until they put a bullet in my brain, or something equally glamorous. I can’t explain where I went wrong without telling the entire story, so this is it, crayon on butcher paper and all.

I think my fatal error is believing that people have the same intrinsic value. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal—” is a very poetic line at the base of American society, but it is so patently untrue as to be criminal. Teaching it should be an offense punishable by death. Blame the teachers, not the students. But this is supposed to be about where I went wrong, not a diatribe on the failure of society.

When I was in grade and high school, guess who was one of the last picked for teams? Yes, that’s right. I was. Oh, there was always a good reason for not getting picked: too fat, too smart, not the right social class, or even the wrong color. With me standing alone on the court, field or gym, some team was eventually forced to take me. I remember the burning in my cheeks when there were only four or five of us left. I didn’t care about the shame of the person chosen last, just so long as it wasn’t me.

I would chant to myself under my breath, “Please God, don’t let me be the last chosen.” But my guess now would be that God had forsaken me long before that.

There is an aphorism that if you dye a monkey purple and put him down in a cage with normal monkeys, the normals would tear him apart. I felt purple staring out at a mob of brown simian faces. I can’t fault the girls who didn’t pick me. Society taught them how to behave. I grew up wanting to be the same as they were. I wanted to be able to choose whom I wanted to be with. I wanted to be a snob, too. Later I did exactly the same thing when the opportunity presented itself. Maybe I am even worse because I knew the cruelty of it.

I know this sounds like nothing but the whining of a preadolescent or even someone trying to excuse her actions. I put it here simply to tell the story—my story.

Yes, I was the dumpy cauc girl from the wrong side of the monorail. Po’ white trash, went one idiom. My family was too poor to afford new clothes for me so I wore my three older brothers’ hand-me-downs: jeans, undershirts and flannel shirts with holes in the elbows. My face almost burst into flames when I would see the yellow satin dresses, fitted silk pants or even the designer frayed shorts most of the other girls displayed. Every day the same old passively hurtful faces in a sea of new clothes battered my soul even further into submission.

The best I could manage with my meager wardrobe was some retro look back to last century with a T-shirt tied up under my breasts or a torn-up undershirt to give myself a punk look. No matter what I did, though, they were still my brothers’ hand-me-downs. I held my head high against the constant snickers and giggles of the others, both boys and girls alike, but that derision heaped even more abuse on my miniscule ego. As the ugly duckling I had no chance to become the swan.

Oh, some might say I was just being over-sensitive, but it all added up. The priest said I should be thorough.

The only things I ever had of my own were my bras and panties. The peeking of the first spring sun to an Inuit could not have brought as much joy as these did to me. When my mother took me shopping it was all I could do not to swoon with delight as the one time I got clothes not worn by anyone else. I carefully took the ones at the back of the rack. I didn’t want anyone to have even touched them—I was rather fanatic about it. I always chose the most lacy and silky under-things that my mother would allow. The bright colors and fancy cloth reminded me briefly, every morning and night, that beneath the grunge I was a woman. These items delighted me. Had I known the word orgasm, I might have used it.

Oh, I wanted to be loved, adored, and worshiped. What girl at that age didn’t want to be a cover-girl model? I would have even settled for being an object of lust like the Playboy holo girls my brothers hid in computer chips between their mattress and the box springs. I’d have given up my brains just to have someone love me, even one person.

On those occasions I took the trouble, I could be presentable with my lumpiness almost hidden beneath my long, almond-brown hair after a good washing and hours of brushing. This never got me anywhere. Boys of that age are only interested in a skinny waist, big tits, round ass, pretty face and how quickly a girl will fall into bed with them. I didn’t have enough of the first four to matter about the fifth. If I were a boy I’d be called stocky. For a girl, the only single word that came to my mind at the time was “unlovable.”

Maybe all of this explains why when dreamboat Jimmy Hendsen asked me, Elizabeth Zimmer, to the Spring Dance in my sophomore year, I stood speechless for nearly a minute. He even had to repeat himself. I fell over myself accepting, literally. I tripped on my rolled-up pants. Only Jimmy’s big muscular arms saved me from sprawling on the floor. I remember that young girl’s thought that she could die happy. How ironic that seems now.

Every parent who cared wanted Jimmy for their daughter. He wasn’t captain of the football team, but one of the running backs. Long, blond hair wreathed his head and big, powder-blue eyes stared deep into your soul. That his shoulders were wider than mine didn’t hurt. His family owned the principal recycling center for the entire state of Minnesota. Playing his cards right, Jimmy could have become someone important—a senator or maybe even governor—and Jimmy never missed anything.

Since I turned five, no boy had ever looked at me twice, unless it was as the punchline of a joke. That a member of the football team asked me to the dance should have set off alarm bells. I was too far gone. My intelligence shut off with the soft baritone of his voice. My emotional fantasies covered up everything else. I was going to be Cinderella, no longer held back by her wicked family.

I envisioned a fairy-tale night full of dancing and social chatter as the belle of the ball. Late that evening I would receive a chaste, or maybe not quite so chaste, peck on the cheek from my knight, just before he escorted me to the door of my home. Jimmy and I would then go steady for the rest of our high school days, choose the same college to attend together and get married shortly after we both had been awarded our BS degrees. We’d have four lovely children in a middle-class suburban house with a neatly mowed front yard. Maybe Jimmy would go into politics. But no matter, my fantasy of the white picket fence kept any logical reasoning from flowing around in my brain.

I decided that my mother wouldn’t convince me to wear one of her out-of-date disco dresses. Cinderella needed to be properly attired. I pooled all the money I’d made from babysitting over two years. I should amend that. I pooled the amount I’d managed to keep hidden from my father and brothers’ sticky fingers, and bought a dress and shoes for the dance. I spent nearly twelve hundred on that gorgeous and classy dress—black net stretched over a translucent, periwinkle blue nylon/satin blend in the current style of too short and too tight. For once I would be in vogue. Almost as sexy as what the other girls wore, it showed off my one decent attribute—my legs. Oh, they were, and still are, a bit too thick, but they did make me look and feel like a woman when I wore the matching knee-high, five-inch-heeled boots and the seamed stockings.

It’s funny that I worried about being embarrassed by Mom’s dress. That dance, or should I rightfully state, the circumstances surrounding it, started me on the road that ended here, sitting here waiting for . . . How did the judge so eloquently put it?

“For the cold and callousness in which you perpetrated your crimes, the law mandates the maximum sentence I can impose. That maximum and your sentence is ‘death.’ Though, in truth, Ms. Zimmer, I can’t rightly think of any appropriately heinous punishment for the despicable acts you righteously claim as being for the public good. This just shows how far you have fallen from a lawful and moral path.”

He hadn’t even concluded with “May God have mercy on your soul.”

Yes, the dance that I never quite got to. That night all my dreams and hopes blew away like the seeds of a dandelion puff in a tornado. An interesting question begs. How many times does a girl have to be victimized before she becomes the victimizer? I think society has given me its answer. I’m not so certain.

The big night came. My family, as usual, didn’t pay any attention to me as I hovered by the door waiting for Prince Charming. Jimmy picked me up at 6:30 sharp. When I saw his neatly combed hair framing his huge shoulders in a sapphire-blue tux, I wanted to faint into his arms. I would be just like that mythical Cinderella, taken to a waiting coach on the arm of a masculine man who wanted nothing more than to protect and please his lady. If I had only known how wrong I was, I would have run screaming in terror even into the arms of my not-so-loving family. I allowed Jimmy to escort me to his tomato-red Chevy pickup. Just like that princess, I maintained an aloof and cool demeanor but deep down I bubbled with excitement. Half an hour later, my fantasies shattered with all the romance of the Tuesday smell of a Friday fish dinner.

Jimmy didn’t take me to the dance. He took me out to McGuire Lake. My dream world clouded my judgment so far that I hadn’t even noticed we weren’t going toward Bear Creek High until he wove in amongst the trees. Jimmy’s song and dance about picking up his friends adequately allayed anything resembling a warning flag in my fantasy-soaked brain. Once in the dark, wooded, and seldom-traveled area of the lake’s north shore, we met up with three of his friends, Bill Loder, Jr., Don Nunes, and Tom Bazley.

Oh, why go on with all the details. I could give them all, right down to the cologne Jimmy wore: English Leather, his Calvin Klein underwear, and cinnamon Scope mouthwash. I even remember looking over at the Pirelli “Jackson Lowrider” hoverboots of his truck.
Cutting to the chase, they raped me, not once but twice each. They’d planned it from the beginning. Jimmy had set me up, and I had been such an emotional fool to allow it. All I could focus on through the ordeal was the torn knit netting of my expensive dress—ruined. I clung to that thought through the conscious-shattering acts that followed. It seemed such an inappropriate thought for such a violent crime. Through it all I did nothing. I didn’t fight. I knew it was useless against four big football players.

I also knew my chance of getting justice afterward in the one-computer town of Bear Creek never rose high enough to even see zero. It would come down to the story of an “ugly girl” allegedly raped by four of the most handsome boys from the best families—boys who could have probably snapped their fingers and had any girl fawn at their feet. “Preposterous,” would be the only comment from what passed for law enforcement in our town. George Bunn, our corpulent sheriff, a beer buddy of Loder, Sr., would dismiss my story faster than he could down a six-pack of Coors on a Friday night.

Oh, those boys knew it as well. I could see it in their animalistic eyes and their grunts of lust. They used me with impunity. It wasn’t just a fuck that they sought. They got off on the power they wielded over me. Three nearly interminable hours later, they finished with me. Their thirst for rape abated. The boys pulled up their pants and laughed as they floated off in Jimmy’s big pickup and Don’s bright-green Toyota Celica. They discarded me like a puzzle too easily solved. From their attire, it seemed they would attend the dance anyway, the proof of their crimes covering their privates as they danced with other girls. I heard their mocking voices many miles off in the distance.

I had done nothing during the assault and I did nothing afterward. They had murdered Cinderella and any hope of normality by their one final abuse. The princess would never come out again.

For hours I lay in the dark, totally numb. Eventually, as the dampness of dew deposited itself on my body, I picked myself up and walked the four miles home, hiding with shame from any passing car. I even avoided a remote police drone. Why did I feel guilty? I kept asking that question to myself. Was it because I was foolish? Was it because I hadn’t seen through Jimmy and his criminal intent? I’m not sure to this day.

Looking back, I did all the wrong, stereotypical things. When I got home, I sneaked in through my bedroom window, tore off the remains of my clothes, and immediately scrubbed my skin in a biting hot shower. I soaked there in self-pity until my father bellowed something about the cost of hot water coming out of my hide. The next day I threw away my dress and everything else I had worn. In place of my usually frumpy clothing, I buried myself even more in the degradation by wearing one of my father’s loose work shirts, long enough to hide my bruised wrists deep in its stained sleeves.
For weeks, nighttime taunted me. I couldn’t close my eyes without seeing their leering eyes stained with the craving for violence and dominance. I couldn’t be in the dark without seeing Jimmy blowing me a kiss as a vile reminder of what they had done to me. Each night I relived my personal hell of the Spring Dance. Each morning I had to wash Jimmy’s sins from my body in the hottest shower I could tolerate. Self-pity soaked in with the heat.

My humiliation continued daily at school. Every time I passed Jimmy, he smiled and licked his lips. I cringed and my cheeks flamed. I feared him and detested the shame I felt. Even his friends got in on the act. I wanted them dead but I told no one. In fact I can’t ever remember telling anyone the whole story until now. The legacy lives on with me to this day in this very jail cell. I still bear the marks on my back from gravel rubbing repeatedly into already torn skin. My psyche carries even more significant scars.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. At the time I was trying not to be whiny, blubbering woman. I thought I was being strong keeping myself going in a situation where I couldn’t win. Throughout my life, whenever I felt put upon, my mom would twist up her face and say, “Life isn’t fair. Get used to it.” I didn’t understand her words until that excruciating night. I wonder if her life had been unfair this way also. Maybe Father did this to her. It didn’t matter.

On second thought, I was a sniveling twit—but despite all I endured, as an object of violence, neglect, and apathy, I think I could have licked my wounds and gone on had not the unthinkable happened twelve days later. I missed my period and then again twenty-eight days after that. My situation had quickly gone from worse to impossible.

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