It’s interesting how some people name their kid without really considering how the name they pick might be a problem for the kid.
Like a boy I knew in elementary school whose name was Demeter Cunningham Benson. He asked us to call him D.C. and we did. There was a chubby girl in middle school whose name was Tilly. I mean, a chubby girl named Tilly? How about a boy stuck with the first name of Major? Kids would say, “Hey, Major,” and salute him. Then there are the bad combinations of first and last name. Like Milton Milton. What the hell were his parents thinking?
Then there’s my name. Justin. Hey, no problem, right? Wrong. It’s wrong because my last name is Case. So my name is Justin Case, like “just in case.”
In elementary school a few kids joked about my name, but that never lasted very long.
In middle school the kidding about “just in case” happened more often, but then I came up with a response that always seemed to work. I’d say, “Parents do a lot of things without thinking them through, don’t they? In my case it was when my parents named me Justin.” Then I’d shrug my shoulders and roll my eyes. “Can’t do anything about it now, so it’s just one of those ‘whatever’ things.” Kids would nod their agreement about parents not thinking because it had happened to them, too. So it was never a big deal.
I didn’t realize my name was going to become a big deal and the target of a teacher’s derision and jokes when I started high school.
It was the first day of the first period of ninth grade. My English teacher, Ms. Grimes, was calling out our names from the attendance list. As she’d call a name we had to stand and say our name so she could make sure she pronounced it correctly and connect our face with our name. If anyone asked her she’d use their nickname.
When she got to me she said, “Just-in-case. My, isn’t that a bizarre name! Just in case for what?” She grinned like she’d made a big joke. No one in the class laughed.
I thought what she said was really unfriendly. She stood there looking at me. I didn’t know what to say.
So she growled, “Well? Cat got your tongue?” and then she glared at me.
I mean, this was my first day in my first class in high school and she scared the hell out of me. I didn’t say anything.
The boy sitting next to me stood up and said to Ms. Grimes, “That was a mean thing to say!” then he sat down.
He turned to me and whispered, “You can sit down, Justin.”
So I sat down.
Ms. Grimes read the next name on her list. “Tobias Choi.”
The boy sitting next to me stood up. “Toby Choi. Please use my nickname, Toby.”
“The attendance list has your name as Tobias, and in your case I’m going to follow the attendance list, Tobias. Mister Tobias Choi.” She chuckled. I saw kids in front of me shaking their heads like they couldn’t believe what Ms. Grimes said to him.
He sat down, put his hands under his desk, and gave her the finger using both hands. I almost laughed out loud, but I was able to stifle it.
After she was finished reading off the names on the attendance list, she made an announcement. “Pick up your things and line up against the back wall. I’ll call your names alphabetically by last name and you’ll take seats starting in the first row next to the windows, going across, then in the second row next to the windows, and so on.”
The way the names worked out I was number seven, and that meant I was alongside the windows in the second row. Toby was number eight so he sat to my right. Ms. Grimes called Linda Davidson’s name and she sat to Toby’s right. Then Ms. Grimes noticed that Toby and I were sitting next to each other.
“Cool that we’re sitting together. That oughta totally piss off old lady Grimes,” Toby whispered to me.
Toby Choi and I became friends that day. We also became the favored targets of Ms. Grimes’ barbs. From then on she called me “Mister Just-in-case,” and Toby “Mister Tobias Choi,” emphasizing his first name every time. Everyone else she called by their first name or nickname and their last name. She didn’t call anyone else Mister. Or Miss, either.
We were being singled out and the other kids in the class knew it. They’d talk about it before she came into our classroom, telling us we should complain to the principal or vice-principal. I didn’t think that would work, and it might make things worse.
When I’d turn in a report Ms. Grimes would say, “I suppose this is just another pathetic attempt at writing,” and she’d say the same thing to Toby except she’d say ‘useless’ instead of pathetic. She’d always find something that one or both of us did that would prevent us from getting an A on our writing. For example, one time she circled every contraction I used, and she took off one point from my grade for each one. The next time I didn’t use any contractions and she circled words that could have been contractions and took off one point for each one.
On tests we always got A’s. There wasn’t any way she could say a multiple-choice or true-or-false answer was wrong when it was right. The trouble is, tests were half our grade and our writing was the other half.
One day it came to a head. Just before the bell for the end of first period, she stood up and glared at us.
“Mister Just-in-case and Mister Tobias Choi. You two need to stay after class and see me. You two are in trouble.”
I couldn’t think of anything that we’d done. I looked at Toby and he just shrugged his shoulders. After all of the other kids had filed out she glared at us again.
As we heard the first bell for the start of second period, she said, “You two, Mister Just-in-case and Mister Tobias Choi. Up here. Now!” She pointed across her desk to the side facing the class. “Stand right there. And don’t move.”
We gathered our stuff and put it in our backpacks and Toby and I walked up to Ms. Grimes’ desk and stood across from her — which meant we had to look at her ugly mug — dropping our backpacks with loud ‘thumps’ on the floor. I was amazed that she didn’t say anything about the noise. Whatever. We just stood there waiting for her to say something. She was writing and not paying any attention to us. Toby glanced at me and grinned, then turned to me. Speaking softly, he said, “Do you know why we’re standing here?”
I shook my head. “Nope.”
“Quiet!” Ms. Grimes bellowed. “You two don’t talk until I tell you that you can talk!”
I heard footsteps and turned to look at the door to the classroom. Students for her second period class were coming in and taking their seats.
“Excuse me, Ms. Grimes,” Toby said, “may I be excused? I need to go to the bathroom.” We both knew that teachers had to let us go to the bathroom if we said we had to go.
“Excuse you? No, I won’t excuse you. And if you say one more word to me before I tell you that you can talk you’ll get a week’s detention! Do you understand?”
“No, you don’t understand,” he shouted. “The school rules are you have to let me go to the bathroom if I say I need to go to the bathroom. I need to go to the bathroom.” Every kid in her second period class, even those who were just walking in, heard what he said. I saw a couple guys who’d just walked in do the right-arm-fist-pumping gesture showing they agreed with what Toby was saying and to whom he was saying it.
“Don’t tell me about school rules!” she screeched at Toby. “You just stand there and hold it, mister!”
“I’ll wet my pants if you don’t let me go,” he said.
She ignored him and continued writing whatever she was writing.
Now Toby yelled at her, even louder than before. “I’m not going to wet my pants. I need to go to the boy’s bathroom. Now!”
“You’re not leaving this classroom!” she shouted. “Go ahead and wet your pants for all I care.”
I heard a gasp from the kids who’d come in for her second period English class.
“I said I have to go to the bathroom,” Toby growled. “I also said I’m not going to wet my pants.” Toby picked up his backpack and walked toward the classroom door. She looked up and saw he was leaving.
“What are you doing?” she screeched. “Don’t you dare leave this classroom!”
He turned back and glared at her. “I’m going to the bathroom,” he said. “Then I’m going to see the principal and file a complaint. About you!” He turned and waited for a few kids to clear the classroom door, then walked out.
“I’m going to see Principal Carmelo right now! You’re going to be expelled!” she screamed at his back as he disappeared into the hall.
She looked at the kids waiting for her second period class to start. “Read the questions for the chapter you were assigned to read for today and write your answers.”
She pointed at me. “You! You stay right here! I want you here when I get back!” She stormed out of the classroom.
As soon as she left I slung my backpack over my shoulder and hurried to my second period Algebra 2 class. Toby was also in that class, but he didn’t show up and was marked as absent by Mr. Barnes. When Algebra 2 was over I headed across campus to our next class, California History and Government, but didn’t see Toby along the way. When I got there Toby was sitting in his usual seat, waiting for our third period class to start. I plopped down in the seat next to him and grinned.
“Well, what happened?” I whispered.
Toby whispered his reply. “After I took a leak — I really did have to take a leak — I went to the principal’s office and told Mrs. Wong, she’s the principal’s secretary, that I wanted to file a complaint about a teacher. Old lady Grimes was already there talking to the principal; I could hear her screechy voice but not clear enough to know what she was saying. Mrs. Wong glanced toward the principal’s office and then looked at me and raised her eyebrows. I nodded, and she actually chuckled. I think she figured out that I was there about Ms. Grimes, and I think her chuckle meant she agreed with what I was going to do. So I sat down and waited for my turn.
“When Ms. Grimes came out of the principal’s office she saw me sitting there. I looked at her and grinned, then raised and wiggled my right hand like I was greeting her. She stopped like she was going to say something to me, but then I guess she changed her mind because she stormed out of the administration office.
“Mrs. Carmelo came out and saw me. She seemed surprised. Mrs. Wong told her I was there to file a complaint about a teacher, and the principal asked me to come into her office. I pulled out — I guess I never told you, I started a list of things that Ms. Grimes did to you and me — so, I pulled out my list and began reading off the things starting with how she belittled us by the way she used our names, always starting it with ‘Mister’ in a smarmy way, how she especially said our names like she was making fun of them, and how she wouldn’t use my nickname even though she did for all the other kids who asked her to use it.
“Then I went through the list starting from the most recent, which was not letting me go to the bathroom this morning, and read them off. Mrs. Carmelo stopped me after number seven on my list. She asked for my list so I gave it to her and she read the whole thing. Then she told me that she was going to arrange for you and me to transfer to Mr. Thompson’s first period English class, effective tomorrow. She also said we were to give him our writing assignments that Ms. Grimes downgraded and he would re-grade them. I said we both used computers, so I asked if it would it be okay to turn in a clean copy along with the one Ms. Grimes marked up, and she said that was a good idea.”
“Oh my god! I love you, Toby!” I said, a little more loudly than in a whisper. “That’s so fan-fucking-tastic! Thank you, thank you!”
Toby wiggled his eyebrows, and in a soft, breathy whisper, asked, “You love me, Justin? I mean, really? Like in, we’re both gay and that’s why you love me?”
I was in shock. Why the hell had I said that? With that I’d just outed myself to Toby. How was I going to reply… wait a minute! I moved a bit closer to him and continued to whisper, but more softly, “Did you just say ‘like we’re both gay?’ Are you… um… gay?”
He grinned and nodded. “And are you? I sure hope you are!” he whispered.
I grinned and nodded. “What are you doing right after school today?” I asked, without whispering.
“Nothing. Well, nothing other than homework.”
“Me too,” I said. “So after school let’s get together and do our homework and then talk about more important things.”
“Sounds like a plan. Let’s decide at lunch whose house we’ll go to, okay?” Toby asked.
We sat there waiting for Mr. Cranston to arrive, glancing at each other every few seconds. I really liked looking at Toby. He was majorly cute, with puffy lips, Asian almond-shaped eyes, and midnight black hair. He seemed to smile all the time. More often than not, when I’d look at Toby he’d be looking at me, and vice-versa. Instead of quickly turning away, we’d both smile and look at each other for a few seconds more then turn away.
Mr. Cranston walked into the room and announced, “All right, boys and girls, today we’re going to continue our discussion of the relationship between Mexico and the United States in the early 1800’s, and how it relates to the history of California.”
Toby and I had to stop flirting. Until we got to my house, and then not until we finished our homework. Then… well, then the rest is personal.
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