All Animals Are Equal
I spotted him at first coming up the library stairs, and knew exactly then. The impatience with which he climbed the stairs, or later when in the classroom, the agility with which he held the coffee mug between his fingers and thumb, and the fervor with which he gulped down the coffee. The way he’ll set his right leg over his left, and will shake it profusely, excitedly explaining his point of view. I would close my eyes, and would try to feel the rhythm of his vibrating legs, calculating in my head the intensity of his insanity. Every vibe that his legs sent out reassured one thing-he is one of us. More like me, to be exact, only worse off.
For past two classes I’ve been trying to find out his name, but somehow I missed it every time. The thing is I sit in the front row and he sits at the very end with his back against the wall. I didn’t want to turn around and stare at him. I didn’t want to freak him out. I kept my ears open and tried to recognize his voice during the roll call. I didn’t do anything but that, and still missed it. I don’t know why I always miss the things that I’m most focused on. It doesn’t make sense to forget the very thing you are working on. I don’t even know why I wanted to know his name so bad. My head hurt from all the exercise- from not turning around and concentrating on every sound coming from the back of my ears, separating all the other voices from his. But finally Shawn shouted out at him today, “hey, Jeremy! Coming to the game tonight?”
Now he sits outside, this Jeremy guy, amidst the fallen leaves, on the ground, beside the girl with auburn hair. I guess, he’s reading out loud something to her. I can’t tell what it is. I can tell he’s shaking his leg.
Across the street, from where I can see through this cracked window on the 2nd floor of Hamilton Hall, Evangelical Lutheran Church’s “Marriage made in heaven by God” billboard appears to be right next to where Jeremy and his friend lies.
Marriage made in heaven?
For my parents it was made in the container of my dad’s eighteen wheeler. My mom, then a forty three year old, after sleeping with three -fourth of her “Sleep-Well- Ville” town’s population, married my dad- seven years younger than her, already married with two kids somewhere in Oklahoma, and perhaps many more all over America. Within two week of their eight-wheeler debacle, they were married. My mom knew it was a mistake, but she also knew that at her age she could only hitchhike her way out of the town on him.
Outside under the balding trees, they’ve been lying there for I don’t know how many minutes or hours now. You would almost think they are some fallen leaves or freshly dug up earth, blending with the scenery around them, his orange sweater and her brown dress.
Is it orange or mustard? It is probably mustard. I can’t tell the difference sometimes.
I can’t believe it is fall already. It’s my second month at the university and I already miss my clan. We’ve been together before grandma Hailey died of lung cancer. She smoked till her lungs gave up on her. She didn’t quit even then. She could smoke alright beside a silver tank with LINCARE engraved on it in bold. But then life gave up on her. I was there even before dad left mom for sultry Sandy with sandy blonde hair.
“It’s cunt stealin from cunt.” Grandma Hailey would yell, puffing away, whatever she could puff on.
Seven or nine I don’t remember, but it was before my twelfth birthday for sure. And we all have been together ever since: Me, Kassandra, Kasey, Chris, Omar, Eduardo, Makayla, Kaleigh, Rahul, Asad, and Santiago. Wait, Rahul wasn’t exactly in our group, but he could have been. His gifts didn’t do him any good, and he was pulled out of the class just the same, so nobody knew. But he didn’t seem to care either. He had his feelings neatly tucked behind his serene brown eyes. He had nothing of a stereotypical nerd: no big eyeglasses, no bowl cut hair, no goofy teeth except may be social ineptness and the slur, which, I later figured out, was a struggle to overcome his accent. The fact that he was trilingual, could spell “vivisepulture,” and could draw a building to scale since he was knee-high to grasshopper didn’t mean anything, because there are no cheer leaders for intelligence. For us, he was as incomprehensible as Mr. Hampton said James Joyce’s Ulysses was for him- recondite.
I found Rahul’s reticence a little less perplexing than Asad’s chirpiness. Asad was dropped on us in fifth grade. He was from one of the Middle Eastern countries- Pakistan, perhaps -and was unusually pleasant for someone who escaped a bomb blast. Comfortably perching on the “share chair” and popping skittles in his mouth, he told us during Mrs. Mcadams’s class that he was buried under the rubbles of the mosque, where he was praying,for almost a day or two before someone heard their screams and dug them out. At that I heard Rahul murmur “vivisepulture.”
“What was it like?” What did it sound like?” We asked with our eyes popped out with horror.
Asad shook his head, while still popping skittles, making crunching sounds now and then.
“I don’t remember much ….mmm … there was a veeery loud sound like boom boom” he made a fish face to emphasize the boom sound.
“and the earth was shaking like this.” He shook the desk to demonstrate. “And I heard people screaming and running like crazy.”
After that I don’t remember anything, because I couldn’t hear anything I think.”
“That’s why I wear this.” He pulled out his hearing aid to show us. “I can hear with these.”
Then he pushed them back in his ears and continued grinding skittles. “Luckily me and my baba- my daddy, survived; my uncle died.”
Asad stayed with us till ninth grade and then he moved to Washington; I can’t, even today, understand how he could be so calm after all he had gone through, but then I can say this for all of us.
This H&R Block poster on the opposite wall hurts my eyes. It is right in my face with its green and white presence, brings back the taste of a too many sourly visits. The cramped cubicles filled with noises of whining kids, and my mom’s boneheadedness killing my ears-“What is it …huh…they say they are payin for a child this year?”
They are not paying for anything, mom! It’s EITC! Government doesn’t always have to pay for your screw ups!
The calendar on the top of the poster tells me its October- the month when I was sentenced to the round table routines and thoughts numbing pills- beginning of the pill popping and dozing in the class life. It takes time to get used to the pills. You don’t always break free from the rapid cycles of the thoughts, but they do go potential from kinetic, hovering in the vacant parts of your brain like the car at the top of the hill, all set to go full speed. Strangely, the car at the top of the hill image sits in my head beside Mr. Smith’s, our physical science teacher: him, his grizzly bear like beard, his pendulum and his ever creaking table.
Swish, swish goes the pendulum,
creak, creak goes the table,
creak, creak goes the bed
Zack’s in and out me,
he loves me, he loves me not
We’ll be together forever and ever and more.
And just like that everything slows down and comes to halt. Not exactly everything, some things strictly follow the law of physics, for example emotions that can go up and down without slowing down. That is why you need pills; they can be friction in your head. At least that’s what your shrink will tell you.
They told me that Zack and I never existed. Not in the way I thought we did. He just needed someone to hone his skills, so he had me for practice. They make it sound like it was his assignment, they- Chelsea and her cheerleaders. As if Coach Moore actually asked Zack, “Hey, listen up kid! You gotta work hard now. You gotta know how to give and you gotta know how to take. You gotta get your timings right! It takes practice. Practice, practice, and practice! Have you tried Angel?”
Angel. I like my name- simple, two syllabic, easy on other’s tongue and on your ears. Aaaaangel! Angel. That’s the only nicest thing that I think I got from my parents. I always wondered how they came up with the name. May be because it’s such a common word they knew they can’t mess it up. Whatever the reason, I’m thankful for it, you would too if you’ve been to a school like mine. You would learn to be thankful for a lot of things.
I just want to thank you, Lord
Thank you, Lord! For my name is Angel, not Jameisha, Janeiqua or Kassandra
Thank you, Lord! For a mom that’s a hoe but not a drug dealer.
Thank you! For she smokes pot like chimney but smart enough to never get caught.
Thank you! Though she fucked many bad smelling men she never let them abuse me.
Thank you! For a father who abandoned his daughter. For a no father is way better than a father that rapes and abuses his daughter everyday- lessons learned from Kassandra’s life.
Thank you, Lord! For you know yours is not a tragedy. Not even close to a tragedy. You are just not in the fast lane. You’re slow.
They can’t beautify the word slow any way; there are no alternatives for it. You can’t change it, can’t modify it, and can’t ban it. Slow is slow, was slow and will always be slow. It’s not as bad as some other words but it stings alright.
He’s leaning on her, whispering in her ears, I wonder what he is saying.
Ssssssss…..God, I hated that school! That group! Every day Omar’s restlessness and Kasey’s stink jabbing at my brain cells. And they would tell me that there’s something wrong with me.
It took some time, and I hated it, but I learned. I learned how to sit at an angle where Kasey’s body odor wouldn’t bother me. I sat like that weeks after weeks till she stopped smelling bad. In fact, it was weird how her odor could be so soothing sometimes, felt like I was home already. We kinda got close too. She wasn’t exactly my “homie,” but we talked. She was a good listener. And what did you know she could even surprise you with a good advice too. Occasionally Omar could crack me up too, laughing right through his step- dad’s imprints on his face.
Every time entering through Ms. Elvin’s door, the gleaming word “Exceptional Ed” would remind us of our super powers. I felt right outta some comic book with our imaginary capes on. Ideas of grandiosity? May be, but they are crucial for survival. Now that’s something your shrink won’t tell you.
It’s pretty funny if you think of that, I mean us with capes and super powers. I would give Kasey stink bomb power. No one can touch her. She’s invincible. Omar will be the speedy guy, kinda like flash. Your eyes would be tired keeping up with his swift movements and he could get your brains ooze out fluids with his incessant gibberish. Kassandra could be the lady blood. The marks on her hands are intimidating enough.She’s fearsome because you know she bathes in her own blood every other day. If you ever find her gnawing at her nails till the reds of her skin show up, you won’t sleep for nights. Then it’s me, Lady wild storm - for she can think up a storm. Think up a storm- funny, right!
I don’t know what good are these powers. Except that they kept us together. There’s a comfort in knowing someone shares your abnormality. You don’t understand it till you have one.
I couldn’t wait to graduate; I just wanted to get out and start anew. Leave all that behind.
“Farewell happy Fields/where joy forever dwells.”
As much as I hated them; they understood me- my drowsiness, my irritability, my highs, and my lows. They weren’t affectionate, not exactly, butttt …they knew. I never had to apologize, or explain myself. They just knew.
Here, I’m scared of myself. I’ll lose my composure one of these days. I’ll mess up for sure. I know I’ll. Especially when I find some things very annoying, for example: this auburn haired girl. And the way she dresses up. And the way she walks as if she’s on a ramp. And the way she talks sometimes in low creaking vibrating voice as if someone’s choking her. I hate it, so reminds me of my mom. Every time my mom finds a new boyfriend she sounds just like her, for the first week, and then with every passing week the pitch keeps going higher till they are screaming their lungs out , and that’s when you know it would be over soon. Not with a whimper but with a bang.
I need to start taking my meds or my head will blast. I will be o.k, only if I could focus better. Focus, Angel, focus! No, not the H&R block poster. No, not the calendar. Not the girl or Jeremy.
The readings yeah that’s due this week, focus on that.
Guess I got to be going. I need to finish the reading and turn in my paper. I need to go. Finally, the auburn haired girl is leaving too. One last goodbye hug and she is gone. I got to be going, don’t like the sky when it starts to lose its warmth.
Will go back on my meds, tomorrow, may be. I will try changing the timings. Jeremy is back on his book. Flipping pages, I think. Doesn’t look that excited anymore, but he is still shaking his legs. I’ll probably go talk to him, tomorrow. No. Not tomorrow. Friday, maybe. He’ll understand me for sure. I can tell. he’ll.