“This has to stop.”
“The crying. You always cry.”
“There’s a lot to cry about.”
“Well, yes, that’s true.”
“There’s famine, war, domestic abuse, corruption, we’re killing the earth. Do you about the Sixth Extinction?”
“I know, but - ”
“Young people can’t find jobs. There’s a civil war in the Congo. I don’t trust the water supply. And all of my peers are obsessed with vampires. It’s too much!”
“You can’t be crying everywhere.”
“What do you mean ’everywhere’?”
“Class, the halls, the lunchroom. Mrs. Kerr said you cried through her entire lecture on Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.”
“Well, seriously, Mr. Blok wouldn’t you?”
“Are you making a joke?”
“I thought you might like a joke from me.”
“No jokes. This is serious. You must stop.”
“Tell me how. I’m listening. I want to stop. I am willing to take any useful advice. Really, I am.”
“And the makeup?”
“You look like death.”
“I am dead Mr. Blok. I am death.”
For no purposeful reason Mr. Blok picked up some papers from his desk, appeared to read or scan them and then laid them down. I made him nervous. I was doing that to people lately.
“Fabian - ”
“Don’t call me that name.” I said abruptly. I should not have been abrupt with Mr. Blok.
“But it’s your name, Fabian Stark. A sophomore at this school.”
“I agree that I am a sophomore, but I am no longer Fabian. Please call me CJ.”
“CJ. Does that stand for anything?”
“No, I mean is it an abbreviation?”
“No, just CJ.”
“Does it have any special meaning?”
“No. I like the sound of it. It sounds better than Fabian. Do you know why my parents named me Fabian?”
“Do your parents know about this change?”
“They are presently working on it.”
The thought of my parents made me stare hard.
Mr. Blok handed me a box of tissues. I tugged out a rumpled handful and held it to my nose as if it were a gas mask. I pulled the tissues from my face and saw black massacre blotch the tissue. Mr. Blok sat back in his chair. I removed the soggy tissues, threw them in a bin and regained normal breathing.
“Fabian, I mean, CJ, you need something to do.”
“To take your mind off of your troubles.”
“I don’t want to not think of my troubles.”
“But it’s having such a negative effect upon you.”
“How do you know it’s negative?”
“Because you’re crying all the time!”
“I’m mourning. That’s not negative. In Judaism, mourning can last a year.”
“Are you Jewish?”
“Well what? I’m crying. I’m not performing suttee.”
“But you’re not a Hindu. Nor are you married.”
“I could go into White mourning. They did that in Europe long ago. They wore everything white. For the Queen. You don’t like my black, do you?”
“CJ, I don’t like that you are sad. We have do something.”
“I’m still waiting. What can be done?”
Mr. Blok noticeably looked up at the wall clock.
“Okay, I’m not instructing you to stop mourning, but how about becoming involved in something, you know, to put your energy into.”
“Like what? I write poetry.”
“But you’re still crying.”
“I write bad poetry.”
“Okay Mr. Blok. What do you want me to do?”
“What about a club?”
“You want me to join a club? Let me guess: the glee club.”
“There are many clubs at our school. Here, look at this list.”
Mr. Blok handed me a piece of paper. I took it and read:
I paused at Anxiety Anonymous, and then read on. I was not anxious.
Art for Heart
Right, the Atheist club. My old childhood friend Melinda Stenzel started it a while back, to much fanfare. Her club challenged the separation of religious matters from publically funded schools. She won, though not many students joined up.
Blissfield’s non-denominational believers were strong believers, mostly the pagan sort. Wiccans thrived here. My babysitter was a Druid. Mom and dad were theosophists for a while. They tucked me into bed and read me Rudolph Steiner. To not believe in higher powers was not my hometown’s claim to fame.
And while I’m no church goer, I turned down Melinda’s invitation to join. She was upset, which I found funny in a non-believer. She asked me why.
“Sorry, I’m not a joiner.” Melinda accepted that without dissent.
I jumped down the list.
Leaders of Tomorrow-No Limits.
I thought the hyphen was not used correctly. Mr. Blok, a former English teacher, would know. Should I ask him?
Ping Pong Club
I liked ping pong. I used to like ping pong. My twin sister Emma and I played it for hours. Emma, so accomplished at so much, destroyed me. I was not pleased. Emma would not admit to this, but she didn’t like to lose. And I was competitive enough then to want to defeat her. As only twins wanted to defeat the other.
I called up my neighbor Jiang Meng. His dad moved his family from Hong Kong to work at the hospital that my dad supervised. I’m not racial profiling or anything, but everyone in the neighborhood knew Meng was a dynamite ping pong player. He taught me a marvelous spin that, when applied to a serve, made the ball bounce on the opponent’s side of the table and then zip back over the net.
Emma thought there was something dishonest going on. She stopped playing me after losing three games 21-0. I called her a sore loser and Emma didn’t say a word to me for two weeks. I participated in her grudge and said nothing to her either.
But I liked Emma. I had someone from the local YMCA take the table and paddles and balls all away. I vowed to never play ping pong again. I took my vow seriously. Emma appreciated the gesture, and made me cookies.
Potter’s Club. Everything Harry Potter. Also known as Pot Heads.
I wonder how that one got by the censors.
STAMPARAT: Students Talking About Monty Python and Religion and Theology. But actually it was a knitting club.
That had Marvin Hanratty’s name all over it. I did not like Marvin Hanratty.
I handed the paper back to Mr. Blok.
“Well, what do you say CJ. Anything you like?”
My shoulders sagged. I reflected on Mr. Blok’s effort. Mr. Blok’s persistence was noteworthy, and if I left his office today and continued to cry – which I would – I would be back to explore recovery programs with him.
I liked Mr. Blok well enough. He meant well, he ran the school with care, and even if the school’s factory-style of education didn’t work for me, that wasn’t necessarily his fault. I, generally, did what I wanted to do, which was not to be noticed.
And I had jeopardized that. I knew people were talking about me.
I had become visible. I wanted a return to my comfortable anonymity. I did not want to be called to the principal’s office, which fueled gossip. And while I had no control over the tears, I could at least have taken myself off Principle Blok’s radar.
“I’m not sure about these clubs Mr. Blok.”
“None? How about the Smile Club?”
“You said no joking Mr. Blok.”
“I am not joking.”
“Can I make a club?”
“Make a club?”
“Yeah, start a club.”
“Well, yes, yes that would be fantastic CJ! I think that is fantastic! What’s the name of your club?”
“I hadn’t thought.”
“What’s it about?”
“Well, I thought it would, no, I don’t know…”
“CJ, have no fear. Everyone’s visions must start somewhere and here at Blissfield High all voices are to be respected and encouraged to develop. It’s part of our mission. Now, come on, try me.”
“Um, I thought its theme could be death.”
“Yes, death, and the club could meet to discuss it.”
“But CJ, isn’t that a little morbid.”
“I suppose. It is after all death we’re talking about.”
“Are you serious, or are you being macabre?”
“That, Mr. Blok, would be joking about death.”
“And this is no joke?”
“I guess it could.”
“What do you mean?”
“We could cover things macabre, as well as other things.”
“I haven’t figured it out.”
“I was hoping for more of a half-glass full sort of a club.”
“But the glass is half empty for me right now.”
I left with no assurance that Mr. Blok would approve my club. But he didn’t said ‘no’ either. He only looked at me with a level of concern that had grown more intense since my arrival.
But all-in-all, I felt slightly buoyed. Look, I hadn’t cried in ten minutes. Wasn’t that something!