When I had a problem before my 16th birthday it seemed so small. Things just always worked out for me. I was a Sophomore with straight As, I had a great home, I didn’t want for anything, and I looked good. My girlfriend, Daisy, was really cute. Everyone wished they were me. My whole life had gone this way. I had never ever known pain, not real pain. I couldn’t even remember having skinned my knee or having a cold.
The day started out like any other day. It was a beautiful ray of light from the rising sun that woke me up. Then the alarm sounded. My room was just the right temperature and I could smell the eggs and bacon coming from the kitchen. My mother was rushing around getting lunches ready. Dad called up to me, “Kyle, breakfast’s done.”
Before I went downstairs, I washed my face. Then I went and ate my food in my pajamas. It was comfortable and I was surrounded by love. The little brother was running around trying to find a paper he needed for school. Right after he located it, Mom left with him, and dad picked up his tools. Everyone said their goodbyes. I threw on my clothes, which fit me perfectly, and walked out to the bus. The driver waved at me, and everyone said hi when I got on. They all loved me.
When I got to school Daisey was waiting for me. We walked into school together. The weird kids stared at us like they always did. Before we parted ways to go our different classes, Daisy gave me a kiss. I slowly let her hand go and walked down the opposite hall from hers. First class went without an issue. It was another great grade on my history test.
The workload was not going to be too bad today. I met my friends in the hall and went on to two more classes before lunch. Daisey sat with me and we shared my mom’s sandwich and Daisey’s school pizza. No one knew how to dress as awesome as Daisey. The blouse she chose looked nice on her skin. It was a light peach color and her skin was deep brown. For some reason Daisey was embarrassed by how dark she was, and her family teased her about it. To me she looked like a fairy princess covered in honey. The only thing I really didn’t like about her was when she was talking to me. She could rattle on and on about nothing and make such mean comments.
I went home after school and the days went on like that until about one week after I turned sixteen. I still woke up the way I usually did. Today though, there was a strange pressure above my lip. Right after dad called up that breakfast was ready, I walked into the bathroom and looked at my face. The pressure was a zit, a huge one. It was the first one I’d ever had. There was a large red circle with a dot of white in the middle. I squeezed it and a flow of white gushed out and hit the mirror. It looked awful, worse than before I touched it. After I cleaned up I went downstairs and my parents were having an argument. The first time I’d ever seen them have one.
“You need to take Tanner to school, I have an open house,” Mom was slamming doors shut.
“I can’t, you just spring this on me and expect me to drop everything?” Dad yelled back.
Tanner was crying. I didn’t feel like eating anything. “I’ll walk Tanner to school,” I said.
I knew I would be cutting it close and would miss Daisey. That wasn’t that big of a deal. I had never been in this kind of place before. The way my parents were acting made me feel kind of like I wanted to avoid home. I watched the birds flying overhead. Soon my mind was off my parents yelling at each other and was on to the day. I was back to the way I had always been, but with a slight ache on my face. I made back to class just in time.
My butt hit the seat just before the bell rang. It bothered me a little not to see and touch Daisey, but at least I didn’t have to hear her talk. It wasn’t so bad to have everyday problems. I could handle this.
The day went on and I sat with my buds and waited for Daisey. It didn’t bother me too much when she didn’t show up. Lunch was good, and I really enjoyed just talking to my friends. The late autumnal sky and chill on the breeze was nice to experience without the constant yap yap yap and questions like, is my hair ok? Do I look fat? Maybe having a hot girlfriend wasn’t worth it. It had been a long, long time since I had enjoyed my lunch this much.
My next class was English. Today we were getting back our papers on Romeo and Juliet. The instructions had been to write an essay about what would happen if the Capulets and Montagues were friends. The papers were returned and for the first time in my life I got a D.
I couldn’t understand it. My prose was fine, my mechanics superb, and my logic was flawless. Instead of my usual banter, I read and reread my paper. At the end of class I went to talk to Mr. Henry.
“Mr. Henry,” I asked, “can I ask you about the paper? My grade?”
“Oh, yes Kyle. Did you want to redo it?”
“Mr. Henry, I don’t understand what was wrong with my paper.”
“Kyle, the point of the paper was to think about what could be, remember? If Romeo and Juliet would still love each other other if they could have each other, if they would marry, if Juliet might marry Paris instead, anything that might have been. You wrote how that couldn’t change the outcome because they hated each other.”
“Yes,” said knowing he would understand, “there was no point in talking about what ifs, so I did a report on what happened. It’s fiction.”
“Kyle, that is not the assignment. I’ll give you another week to redo it. PLease follow directions this time.”
That sucked. I had never gotten a grade lower than a B, and that only happened twice. How was I supposed to know what would happen in a make believe story if some of the phoney story parts were tweaked. Maybe martians would land and take Juliet and blast Romeo’s head off.
Daisey was waiting for me at the steps in the front of school. I wasn’t in the mood, so I left out the side with the nerds. It was a pleasant walk home. The leaves were red and orange on the trees. Some were brown and gold. The redder, the more sugar the leaves had. The crunch of the ones fallen to the ground was satisfying to my ears. This was the kind of day that inspired poetry. For whatever reason, I noticed how beautiful things were on a deeper level today. I may have a bad grade in English, but the world had grown more lovely and intricate.
When I got home my phone started to ring. Soon Daisey was blowing it up. I answered it. And had to talk to her.
“I didn’t see you at school, were you sick?”
“No, I was running late because I walked my little bro to school. Whats up?”
“Well, first, Hannah was wearing the same shoes as me. I told her not to do that again, I mean ugh, like Hannah, Hannah? How can she think that she can wear shoes like me? Like right?”
“I guess,” I said.
“You guess? Can’t you like see Hannah wearing my shoes? What’s wrong with you? You know, I had lunch with Salvadore.”
“Ok,” I said, “Salvadore’s a good guy.”
“Don’t you care? Don’t you even care that I had lunch with another boy?”
Daisey was really upset.
“Oh no, babe, don’t worry. It’s chill. I’m not one of those control freak boyfriends who gets hot and jealous just because the girl wants to eat lunch with someone else. You know, I thought just being with the guys was a nice change today.”
The line went dead. I hoped she understood I wasn’t upset. Tanner ran in my room and wanted to play video games. When the screen came on I forgot all about Daisey and her stupid shoes. Now I was having a good time with the little bro. It felt so good, better than it had ever been. Something about today was giving everything a deeper meaning. When we had finished Tanner hugged me.
“I love you Kyle.”
“I love you too, Tanner.”
After he left I pulled out some paper and started to rewrite that D paper. I had Juliet fall out of love with Romeo because he got a bad haircut and didn’t understand about her nurse trying to wear similar shoes. Juliet married a big football player named Sal. It was stupid but I hoped it would get em a better grade. This was not the life I was used to living. My other work needed to get done. Then I went to bed.
I woke up with another zit. Now I had pain on my forehead. Breakfast was cereal and milk. No dad, he was on a business trip. Mom, who was normally full of grace, was stressed by a deal she was working on. As she left with Tanner I felt very alone as I waited for the bus. This feeling was new and not pleasant. Being on my own, walking to the bus sucked. At school, Daisey wasn’t waiting for me. For some reason that didn’t bother me. I was glad I could walk to school without having to talk about stupid things.
At lunch, Daisey walked to my table and said, “Salvadore wanted to have lunch with me.”
“Good, I’ll see you,” I said.
She left in a huff, and the guys laughed. I wasn’t sure why she was upset. The thoughts about Daisey left em when I took a bite of my sandwich. It had bacon, and that made everything better.
One of my friends had some chocolate covered peanuts. That was almost as good as bacon. Focusing on the way the chocolate melted in my mouth was heaven like. Soon, it was time to go to English. I turned in my paper and took a quiz. I couldn’t wait to get out of that stupid class. Mr. Henry was the first teacher I had ever disliked. Maybe the first person I had ever disliked.
As I left class I saw the janitor. It was the first time i ever noticed him. The janitor was a bent older man. He looked in pain. Before this moment I thought for the janitor as past of the school, like a door or a wall. Now I saw him as a person. There might be many fantastic stories to hear inside of that man. That man knew what pain was. I knew he didn’t led the same kind of life as I did.
Then I saw the cafeteria lady walk by. She was a heavy set short woman. Not very attractive, sort of looking like a brick in a pink dress. As homely as she was, she was probably a very nice lady. I wondered if she had children and a family. I didn’t like the way she smelled. Grease and old rags filled the air when she was near. Could she smell it too? I walked on and slipped out the side door again. Daisey was just too much for me to think about.
In the days before the zit I didn’t really think about things that much. Instead I just accepted the ways things were and did what I should. It never bothered me that people had problems. I didn’t understand what they were. How much time people lost thinking about problems was amazing. But it also made the good things stand out. The way I viewed things was changing. I found my brother and walked home in the fresh air. It was great to have a little brother. It was still great to be me.
When the phone rang I ignored it. INstead I helped Tanner with his homework before starting mine. I was in the middle of it when a knock came on the door. Tanner ran to answer it, and then came running back.
“Kyle,” Tanner yelled, “Daisey’s here.”
A gloomy feeling came over me. I really didn’t want to see her. As pretty as she was, I was starting to realize that I didn’t like her. I got up and wandered into the living room where she was sitting twirling her hair. It was very attractive, but that attraction would be ruined when she opened her mouth. Daisey being at my home was bringing me down.
“Hey,” I said, “I’ve got a load of homework, you want to do yours with me?”
“Kyle,” Daisey said, “No, I don’t want to do homework. I just came by on my way to Salvadore’s. He is taking me to dinner, and I came to hang out.”
“Ok,” I said wishing she would go.
I sat next to her and turned on the TV.
“Can you believe that Hannah bought the jeans I wanted? That cow, she looks so lame in them, right?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “I didn’t notice.”
“Well,” Daisey was getting loud, “Salvadore thought she looked ugly in them. He thought she should never wear them again.”
“He’s Mexican too,” I said.
“He’s Mexican? What does that mean?”
“Well, maybe it’s not cool to wear jeans like that in Mexico. Maybe it’s something cultural that I didn’t understand because I’m not from Mexico. That’s all,” I said.
“So you think that I should spend time with other Mexicans? Is that what you’re saying?” Daisey asked.
“If you want to,” I said.
I was getting confused. I wasn’t sure what Daisey wanted me to say. I just wanted her to leave and get back to my work.
“So tomorrow I’ll see you on the steps. I’m leaving now,” Daisey said waiting for me to say something.
“Ok,” I said, “see you tomorrow.”
Daisey left without another word and slammed the door on the way out. A few days ago I was happy I had a cool girlfriend, but now I wish she would just leave me alone. I had trouble concentrating on my work.
The next day, I will call it the day of the third Zit, the sun did not beam into my room. It was raining. Everyone had forgotten me, and left without making my breakfast. There was a note to buy lunch at school and a five dollar bill. I missed the bus and had to walk to school. There was no umbrella, and i was soaking wet by the time I got there. My homework didn’t do well. It was a hard day.
In the lunch line Daisey came over with Salvadore. Then Daisey kissed him. That was one thing that went right. Salvadore walked over to me and sid, “Daisey is my girl now.”
“That’s cool,” I said, “I really wish you well.”
“So,” Daisey said, “you think that we should be together because we are Mexicans?”
“Is that right?” Salvadore asked.
“No,” I said, “i think if you want to be together that’s cool.”
“He’s lying,” Daisey said, “He still likes me.”
“No,” I said, “I’m cool.”
“What!” Daisey screamed, “You don’t like me! Salvadore, hit him.”
Salvadore pulled back his arm and dodged his fist.
“Whoa, hold on man,” I said, “I don’t want any trouble.”
Again he tried to hit me. I jumped and dodged his blows. Finally he landed one as the vice principal showed up.
“Ok, that’s it,” the vice principal ordered, “what’s going on?”
Daisey was the first one to answer, “Kyle was upset that I broke up with him and wanted to fight my new boyfriend.”
“What?” I was astounded, “I didn’t want to fight anyone.”
“Salvadore,” The Vice Principal said, “can you apologize to Kyle? Losing a girlfriend can be troubling.”
“Kyle,” the vice principal said, “can you apologize to Salvadore for starting the fight?”
“I didn’t start any fight, Daisey got Salvadore to hit me,” as I spoke people were nodding along.
“You know, I’m very disappointed in you. I’m going to suspend you for a week. I’ll call your parents,” people were booing him as he grabbed me by the arm.
In his office he did a bunch of paperwork and called people. I asked to go to the bathroom. For a while I just cried. This was so unfair, and unfair things never happened to me. THere were three big ugly zits on my face as I looked in the mirror. They were gross and painful. Maybe this was it. Maybe I had sixteen good years, and now I was going to have sixteen bad. It was unbearable. I left the school.
As I walked out I felt like I was leaving a world behind and going far away. I walked away and I didn’t look back. The way I went was toward town. All I had on me was five bucks and a wet backpack full of school supplies. I didn’t care. I just walked in the rain and let the water soak my clothes. People yelled at me as I went. By the river was a trail I liked to walk on. That is where I went. How far it went, I didn’t know. Today I would find out.
As I walked I had a feeling I had never felt before. It was hate. I hated Daisey. Salvadore wasn’t so bad, he was just dumb. But Daisey, she had set me up and lied about me. No one had ever done anything bad to me before. The world was just not as safe as I had always believed it to be. In fact, nothing was like I thought it was. The clouds blew darker and closer.
My stomach hurt. It had been a long time since I had eaten breakfast. The bad feeling was growing in my stomach. I wasn’t familiar with this part of town. I went up from the trail and found a McDonald’s. Five bucks didn’t go very far. At least I had fries. They tasted so good. Everyone was looking at me. I went back down to the trail and thought about things. I could go home, or I could not. That was the way I saw it. The idea of going home and telling my parents what had happened. The thought of them taking the vice principal’s side crushed me inside. I just wanted to be free of pain. Bad feelings were so intolerable. I cried by myself and walked along until I was so tired I couldn’t go on anymore.
If I was not going home, I had to find a place to sleep. There was a tree that had leaves touching the ground. I decided to spend the night under it. It wasn’t so bad. The rain pelted the leaves and the breeze blew on my clothes causing my to feel freezing. I couldn’t sleep. On and on the night went and I just stared at the leaves over my head. Part of me wanted to run home, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t the same person who had left that morning. That beautiful boy that everyone loved had been spirited away. Nothing would ever be the same. In the place of that charmed school was now the boy with three zits. That boy was a sad, terrible monster who could do no right. This was not going to be the way I wanted to live my life. I needed to find a new way. My future was down the trail and far away.
Once Upon A Time
In the morning I was hungry again. Only now I didn’t have five bucks. McDonald’s wasn’t that far, and I found some people’s trash that still had edibles on the wrappers. It wasn’t enough to fill full, but it helped ease the pain of hunger. On I walked down the trail. I needed to find a way to get money ot I wasn’t going to make it.
I walked out and started asking people for money. Most people didn’t even look at me. They walked by me like I was a ghost. Every now and then someone would give me a little bit of money. After an hour I had enough to go back to McDonald’s. It was just before lunch and I got in line and ordered.
The girl sort of looked at me weird. After she gave me my change, she walked over and talked to a man in a tie. Several times she pointed at me. When my food came, I noticed that there was a cop car pulling in. I grabbed my food, and walked out, disappearing into the parking lot. I looked bad, and I might have smelled bad. The trail wasn’t that far away and I walked back there.
As I ate the food, I knew it wasn’t going to last. Soon I would need more. I needed fresh clothes, and a place to stay. Walking on, I came to a bunch of guys sitting on some logs. One of them beaconed me over. They were all about my age, but I just nodded and moved on.
As I came to the end of the trail I found myself in the worst part of town. A guy came over to me and introduced himself, “Hey, kid, my name is Dog. How are you?”
“I’m Kyle,” I said.
“You look pretty rough, you need a place to clean up?”
I nodded. I really needed to get clean. Dog took me to a place that was not really nice, but it was reasonable. I took a shower, and Dog gave me some clothes. The Dog gave me some food. It was nice to have a friend.
“You can stay here kid, if you like,” Dog said, “how long you have been out in the weather.”
“A while,” I said.
“Well, it’s going to rain. Look, I can get you a job, you interested?”
“Good. I’ll get you connected tonight.”
Dog left me and I had the house to myself. I went to sleep and woke up around seven. Dog was shaking me, “Hey kid, it’s time to go to work.”
I left with Dog and he took me to a building. It was a nice place, very upscale. We went in and there was a party going on. A man came over and talked to dog. There were many guys my age. Everyone was drinking and the music was loud. I thought I heard a faint scream. Maybe it was on TV.
Dog came back and handed me some pills, “Hey, I don’t know how experienced you are, but take these if you have trouble loosening up. It will make it a lot easier, but don’t drink too much with them. I’ll be back after midnight. Don’t touch any money.”
“What do you mean?” I was not sure what was going on.
“Do what you’re told. All you have to do is party with them.”
As Dog left I felt very strange. A man came over and asked me to dance. I did, and then excused myself to the bathroom. I was staring at the pills. Then I saw a window. I could get out through it, so I did. It was high, about the third story, but I was a good rock climber. After I skimmed the wall I threw the pills on the ground. There was a store on the corner. I walked in and asked to use the phone. I called the cops and told them what was going on. The clerk didn’t seem to notice or care what I was saying. After I left the store I saw the red and blue lights. Some went in the building, and some went in the store. I didn’t stick around. Downtown was a blur of people. No one noticed me at all. A group of kids walked up to me.
“Hey kid, you lost?”
“No, I’m just passing through,” I said.
“Well, if you need a place to stay, there is a Y on the corner over there.”
“A Y?” I asked.
“Y - YMCA. You ok?”
“I’m ok,” I said, “thanks for the information.”
“You need a fake ID?” The guy asked.
“I can’t pay for it.”
“That’s cool,” the guy said, “come on,” he took my picture, then handed me a card.
“Thanks,” I said.
“That’s ok man,” the guy said, “good luck. And stay away from Dog. He’s bad news.”
I wish had known that before. The guys walked on and I went to the Y.
The Y charged money of which I had none. They let me stay there anyway. But they were also looking at me a lot. I woke up early and left as soon as I could. People were not my friends. What they wanted from me, I wasn’t sure. But I walked until I found a good corner to ask for money. I ended up with thirty bucks and a guy offered me a ride.
The guy talked a lot and took me to the next town. I had never been here on my own. There was a bustle to this place that made me feel like I was in another reality. No one saw me, no one cared. As I walked around I asked for more money. I was getting a good nest egg together. There was a shelter that I came to. I walked in and met a man named Roberto.
This was a good guy, maybe unnaturally so. He made sure I was fed and then asked me questions about why I was here.
“Can you go home?” Roberto asked.
“No,” I said, “they don’t want me back.”
“Well,” Roberto said, “I have an idea. I’m running a mission to Mexico. We are going to build a couple of churches. Would you like to go? It could mean a fresh start. THere will be others like you, would that interest you?”
“Yes,” I said, “I’d like to go.”
“You are over 18?” Roberto asked looking at my license, “Victor?”
“Yeah, but you can call me Kyle.”
“Ok, Kyle,” Roberto went on, “Do you have a drug or alcohol problem?”
“Naw, never touched the stuff.”
Roberto looked at me puzzled, “What kind of problems did you have?”
“It all started with a zit,” I said.
“Ok, will you be ready tomorrow?” Roberto asked, “Do you have a passport?”
“No passport,” I lied.
“We can take care of that, so is tomorrow a go?”
“Yes,” I said.
I slept in the shelter and they gave me some clothes. At breakfast I ate with people who didn’t stare or ignore me. It felt nice. THe table was full of people going to Mexico. I was sitting next to a guy named Evan. He was really happy to go.
“I can’t wait to leave this city,” Evan said, “I’ll get as far away from my uncle as possible.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” a girl named Ruby said, “I’ll never have to sleep with my step father again.”
“Is that why you ran away?” I asked.
“No,” Ruby said, “I got pregnant, so I got kicked out. My mother didn’t want someone with my kind of morals in her home. We went to church, and church people don’t have pregnant unwed daughters.”
“That sucks,” I said.
“Why did you leave?” Ruby asked.
“I just, I’m not ready to talk about it.”
Evan put his hand on my shoulder, “I understand.”
Another couple of kids came and sat with us.
“Hi, I’m Jorge, and this Morag.”
We all introduced ourselves. Morag had a British accent and bad teeth. Her pale skin almost glowed, and her hair was flat like straw. Daisey would have hated her. Not that she reminded me of Hannah or Kendal, but because she looked like she was thinking hard. Daisey hated people that were smart. I don’t know why I was comparing her to Daisey. Morag was too thin, and very drab. Jorge was a clown and I really liked him. The five of us were getting along well. I hadn’t felt this good ever. All of the bad made me understand how good it was to be in pleasant company. Roberto came in and spoke to us as a group.
“Ok, everyone. We are going to get on the bus in a few minutes. Please make sure you have everything you need in your packs. Kyle, We have a pack for you, check it. The rest of you please see Marge if you need to fill in any gaps. Go to the bathroom, it’s going to be a while, and it’s an old bus.