October 14th, 2000
Los Angeles, California
“Okay, Sebastian. You can do this. You can do this.”
I’m looking at myself in the mirror in the bathroom of my new school. Great. Just what I need—people thinking I’m a freak during my first day for talking to myself. Of course I would be used to people thinking this since that’s what the entire freshman class at my private school thought. An entire year of being thrown onto the ground, punched around exactly every Wednesday of each month (I started to count after the second month) and lonesome lunches and group projects until my Mom…or actually Gloria convinced my mom to convince my dad to pull me out and place me into an actual public school for a “change in environment,” with free dress code and rusted lockers. And out of all days to make this decision, it was well into the beginning of the school year…on my birthday.
So now I’m here.
I’ve been in a private school my whole life, with the doctrines of Christian behavior and rich stature drilled into me. But I guess since that’s never appealed to me, I was a target. Hopefully that “was” doesn’t become an “am.”
I look at myself one last time right when the bell rings for first period, my school schedule tight in my hand. Jeans, a t-shirt, and converse is what I’m wearing. Much different from my collar and tie attire I would have to wear, but still odd on my body, given my clothes hang loose on my skinny frame. Gloria says that I’m just a “late bloomer” to make me feel better, but how late do I have to wait before my limbs of noodles start to bulk up like the guys I see on MTV?
But most importantly, how long do I have to wait until I’m…you know…hot? At least decent enough to not hate what I see when I look in the mirror.
I do a teeth check, seeing if anything is hidden between my braces, and start out of the bathroom. The halls are dark, themed a gold and cardinal color, similar to the rest of the school. “Alexander Hamilton High,” a sign says outside. “Home of the Bruins.”
My first class is Art 7-8, which calms my nerves a bit. But it doesn’t help that the halls are crowded with people. No one moves when I walk by, almost like I’m invisible. People hang around classrooms, laughing and eating bits of their breakfast or reading magazines with Britney Spears or *NSync plastered on the front cover. This is definitely much different from my private school, who would have us wait outside in a single file line until instructed to enter the class.
I finally make it to my first class. The smell of paint reminds me of my attic hideaway, filled with oils and acrylics. For a moment, I’m not too scared once I know I’m where I belong.
“Oh, dear God. Another new student?”
I snap my head up. There’s a man in front of me, who is definitely the teacher—Mr. Kong, it reads on my schedule. Mr. Kong is a short Asian man who dresses as if he’s in his mid-twenties.
Oh, he’s an artist, alright.
“Mr. Kong, you’re so mean,” a girl passing by with a dirty pallet filled with blue and yellow acrylic paint says. Seeing the colors makes my hands shake with anticipation.
Mr. Kong laughs, and immediately the rude nature is discovered to be all fun. I smile awkwardly.
“Oh, he knows I’m joking,” Mr. Kong says. “Welcome, good sir.”
“H-Hey,” I manage to stammer out. I look around the class of wide white tables, paintings hung up on all the walls, and materials vaster that the ones I have at home.
This must be a dream.
Mr. Kong asks for my schedule, and I gently hand it to him. Everyone is staring at me now, but still they walk around the class retrieving their unfinished pieces or getting the materials they need.
After about ten seconds, I look at—or look down at Mr. Kong only to find him frowning at my schedule.
“Your name is...”
“S-Sebastian,” I stutter before he can finish. “Sebastian Harrison.”
Mr. Kong raises one of his eyebrows, “You wouldn’t happen to be related to Garrett Harrison, would you?”
One thing I didn’t think of would be the new weight I am to carry here. If people start finding out what family I’m apart of, it could cause some problems. Because think of it this way: what 14 year-old boy, part of a family of billionaires, would be going to a public school?
That’s right. Not many.
I hang my head low, knowing I’ll have to be honest with him. It isn’t something I’m proud of, being a Harrison, but it’s something I have to carry for the rest of my life.
“Yes,” I answer in a low voice. “He’s my dad.”
Mr. Kong’s smile fades before he bursts into laughter.
“Finally, someone gets my sense of humor.”
Did that really just happen?
I laugh along with him while letting out an uneasy breath. I’m sure it will be a matter of time before anyone knows who I have ties to, but at least on the first day here I can rest easy-ish.
“Now, you can sit wherever you want,” Mr. Kong starts. “There are canvases up by the cabinet by the white board, all of the tracing paper is in those drawers, all of the regular drawing paper is in those cabinets on that wall, and the rest of the drawing and painting supplies is back there, where my lair—I mean, office is.”
“Nice one, Kong,” a girl with short black-purplish hair and gapped front teeth comments. She’s sitting next to a guy with dark brown dreads tied up into a ponytail. The drawing in front of him is reminiscent of the works of Romare Bearden, with abstract influences and African styled patterns. It’s amazing.
"Sonya,” she corrects.
“Whatever,” he rolls his eyes playfully. “Hey, Sebastian, before you go today, I would like to talk to you after class. I already told the rest of the students that I require everyone in 7-8 and AP to bring in five of their best works in terms of composition, concept and technique. We can sort that out when the bell rings, okay?”
“Oh...alright,” I answer, surprised. No one’s ever wanted to see my artwork before.
“Cool. I’ll go get you a syllabus so you can get caught up. Sit wherever you’d like. And remember, whatever materials you don’t use, you save!”
And then he leaves. Is it really that easy?
“Sorry Mr. Kong is such a dork,” the girl, Sonya, says.
“I heard that!” Mr. Kong yells.
She rolls her eyes.
I smile, but don’t open my mouth; dad says whenever I open my mouth to new potential friends I scare them off.
“No one’s sitting there,” the boy says nicely. “No one sits here anyway. We’re kind of the forgotten table.”
I chuckle, and reluctantly set my backpack on an empty neighboring seat and sit down. When it’s silent, I hear rock music playing on the radio. Everyone around the room slowly removes their eyes from me back onto their work.
“I’m Sonya,” she says, “This is Andre.”
Andre nods in gesture as I wave nervously.
“I think this is the part where you introduce yourself?” Andre says jokingly.
I blush, “Oh, sorry. M-my name is Sebastian.”
Sonya takes the pack of markers at her side and pulls out a dark crimson, “Well, Sebastian. It’s nice to meet you. What brings you to Hamilton shit central?”
My eyes widen. Did she really just curse?!
“I used to go to a private school,” I tell them when the “s-bomb” leaves my brain.
They both hiss, painfully, like the words are venomous. I can’t help but laugh.
“True talk, though,” Andre says, leaning in like he’s telling me a secret. “I’d rather go to a public school than a private one.”
“Seriously?” Sonya says.
Andre frowns, pursing his lips, “I doubt a private institution with high rank and stature would love the idea of a black man on their premises.”
“True that,” a boy with a darker complexion than Andre says from behind a painting easel.
My schedule is now in front of me, thanks to a student sent from Mr. Kong’s lair. His signature is over my first period.
“Thank you,” I tell the student with a smile.
“You’re welcome,” she says before walking away.
“Can I see your schedule?” Sonya asks.
I nod and hand her the light blue piece of paper. Her and Andre look over it and grimace at my teachers. As they do that, I figure that starting some sketching would hopefully make me comfortable enough to start on an actual project in here. Thankfully I’m not in AP yet, but the pressure of being in 7-8 art must be a close second.
As I open my backpack for my sketchbook, my lunch, settled in a paper back, breathes out the smells of bistro sandwich bread and select deli meat. And as if the smell of Loretta’s trademark delicious sandwiches isn’t enough to make me smile, a note from Gloria sticks out of my bag:
Happy Birthday, sweetie! (thought I forgot, didn’t you?)
Can’t believe you’re already 15! Wow! Anyway, hope you have a wonderful first day. You’re going to do great!
Now I’m smiling a mile wide. I’ve never gotten used to Gloria’s personalized lunch letters. Every day since I was in Kindergarten I’ve gotten a letter in my lunch. I’ve just recently started saving them.
Not to mention she’s the first person to wish me a happy birthday today.
“Today’s your birthday?”
I look up from my letter, seeing Sonya tilt her head to look at the writing from underneath.
I stuff the letter in my lunch bag, “Uh, n-no it’s—d”
“Yes it is!” she beams. “How old are you turning?”
I give up.
“Fifteen,” I confess.
“Damn, you’re a baby!” Andre yells. Great. Now the whole class has stopped their artistic endeavors to see where the ruckus is coming from.
“Why is there yelling?” Mr. Kong says from his lair, looking down at his roster.
“It’s Sebastian’s birthday!” Sonya announces.
“Who’s Sebastian?” I hear someone whisper. I hide my blushing face in my back pack.
And before I know it, everyone is singing happy birthday after Sonya’s consistent begging to Mr. Kong. And it’s weird—I’ve never received this type of love from any group of strangers. But this short singing session gives me hope that maybe I do have the ability to turn strangers into friends.
No matter how many times I’ve been told I can’t.
Now I’m home. Back into the dark, cold clutches of my family, who can’t even acknowledge my presence on my birthday. William is admiring himself and his new retainer in one of our stainless steel forks, Elizabeth is braiding a piece of her hair while staring up at the chandelier in our dining room, Patrick is engaged in a conversation with a few of my dad’s friends with my father, and my mom is laughing with their wives. But me? I have the fruit bowl in the middle of the table to keep me company.
What a wonderful birthday dinner.
After the driver picked me up from school, I came home and was forced to get dressed in cleaner attire. I thought my days of wearing a tie were done after I had left private school. Boy, was I wrong.
So now I’m here—have been here for the last couple of hours eating a five course meal that’s supposed to be for my birthday, but realistically, is for my mom and dad to show off to their friends how great our cooks are.
“Who’s ready for cake?” my mom suddenly announces. Wanting to be the prized trophy housewife, she takes the cake from one of the cooks’ hands and walks it towards the table to set it down in front of me, the candles lighting up the air around it. The cake is huge, decorative, and...pink?
I’m allergic to strawberries.
“I know you shouldn’t be having this much sugar because of your braces, but I thought that today should be an exception.”
She laughs loudly, and her friends have sort of a “who-can-laugh-posher-and-louder” competition. Mother sets her hand on my shoulder—the first time in a while—and her rings hurt my skin.
“Let’s dig in!” William exclaims after placing his retainer in the proper case.
“William,” my dad laughs. “We sing happy birthday first.”
I clear my throat, “But I—”
“1...2...3!” my mom yells, and immediately everyone starts singing happy birthday, most likely for no reason in their mind. Patrick is singing with disinterest, William is impatient for cake, and Elizabeth is only singing to show a good example to mom’s friends, sort of like she is showing them that she is a worthy candidate for their cult in a couple of years.
And now I’m angry—the first time I’ve been angry in ages.
“I’m allergic to strawberries!” I yell.
“—happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear Sebastian!”
“Happy birthday to—”
I bang my fists on the table with such force, the plates and utensils jump up and fall back down again. Everyone stops singing.
“I’M ALLERGIC TO STRAWBERRIES!” I shout as loudly as I can, even though everyone is now quiet.
My father’s look of fury is enough to make me regret even opening my mouth.
“Have you gone mad!” he hisses at me. “What is wrong with you?!”
“Since when?” my mom asks, as if my dad never began talking first.
“Since I was born.”
She scoffs, “I was never aware of this.”
I look down at my hands, “Maybe if you cared enough about me you would be,” I mumble.
"Excuse me?” she says, and now we are both staring deeply into each other, with everyone else in the room waiting for the show down to commence. “You ungrateful brat!”
“How am I ungrateful for being allergic to strawberries?” I argue sincerely, “I told you my favorite flavor was chocolate—”
Without another word, my mother takes a butter knife and smears away the “Happy Birthday Sebastian” cream frosting penmanship on the cake, creating smears out of anger and hate. Now it’s just white streaks on a pink background. Any trace of my birthday is completely gone.
She throws the frosting covered knife on the table, splattering it on the fruit platter.
“Dig in, everyone!” she says loudly with a smile, pushing the cake away from me and towards everyone else. No one moves; their eyes are the only things that are mobile.
Before I know it, I’m walking away from the table quietly and climbing the staircase to my room. When the door is closed, I take a shower to rid myself of the day and turn off all the lights when I’m dressed. I thought turning fifteen would actually mean that things would be different for me. But in truth, nothing has changed. It seems the only hope for salvation I have is my new school. But again, I’m just pathetic enough to drive everyone away.
Twenty minutes goes by, and I haven’t fallen asleep yet. I just sit in darkness and wonder: why? That’s all I can wonder; it’s a generalization. Because every aspect that occurs in my life leaves me wondering why.
Suddenly, a light cracks through the dark envelopment of my room. I pull the covers over my head and pretend I’m asleep; is it my mom, coming up to apologize? There’s an impossible chance it is, but even if, for some reason it is, I don’t want to hear more about how I’m wrong.
So I close my eyes and give whomever is coming into my room the impression that I’m sleep. But when I feel Gloria’s familiar hand lovingly drag her hand through my hair, I’m tempted to open my eyes.
She sighs, but it sounds like a sad, hopeless sigh, then sets a plate down on my bed before leaving my room and closing the door. I turn on the lamp and see a triangular shaped object on the plate, wrapped in tin foil. When I lean in, though, I can pin point the smell to whatever is hidden underneath the foil:
Chocolate. My favorite.