What is it like when those closest to you are not there any longer?
Sunday, March 24, 2019; Afternoon
When Kevin got home, he checked his phone. He hoped that Uncle Hal or Aunt Allison in Boston had called. But instead, his cousin Eve, their daughter, had called, leaving her cellphone number. He checked the time. It was 2:45 PM in Walnut Creek so it would be 5:45 PM in Boston. This was a good time, so he called her.
“Hey, Eve, it’s Kevin calling from Walnut Creek, California.”
“Kevin! How are you?”
“Okay. Finally getting my life together.”
“I couldn’t come to the funeral. We were scheduled to have our midterms, and I couldn’t get them to agree that I should have make-up exams. Fucking bastards! I’d give anything to get out of here. Seriously, this school is at the bottom of a gigantic septic tank covered with shit three stories deep.”
Kevin laughed at her description of her high school. “Can you change schools?”
“We’d have to move. The folks can’t — or won’t — pay for that.”
“How about switching to a Catholic school?”
“And have to wear a fucking uniform? You’ve gotta be kidding. Have you seen what they look like? The nearest Catholic school to where we live is Pius X. By the way, X means ten. They have these white blouses and tartan plaid skirts and jumpers. And knee socks! Yuck!”
“Move here and live with me.” Kevin was kidding, of course.
“Okay. When does this semester end in your high school?”
“June sixth, or something like that.”
“Okay. Where do I send my transcripts so I can transfer to your school in the middle of this semester? Like, right now?”
“What grade are you in?”
“I’m a sophomore. Tenth.”
“That’s getting kind of personal.”
“Sorry, school district requires it. No options. I just went through the meat grinder with the school administration because I was out for seven weeks. They called it being absent without notice. Then I got emancipated, and they’d never heard of that and wouldn’t let me register myself like state law says that’s exactly what I was supposed to be able to do. So I had to have my attorney come to school and kick some ass, pointing out the lapse in their training. I finally got registered to restart school this past Thursday. Now I’m trying to catch up. My biggest problem is Chemistry; Spanish 3 is in second place. All the rest are dragging along behind.”
“Wait a minute. What’s getting emancipated mean?”
“Basically, it means that I can live on my own because I have enough money to live on until I’m at least 21 years old, and I get most of the rights I’d have if I were an adult. Except I can’t drive until I’m old enough to get a license, and I can’t buy liquor or drinks in a bar until I’m 21. There are probably a few other limitations, but that’s about it.”
“Okay, I forgot your question. Please repeat it.”
“Age and birthdate, por favor.”
“Sixteen. May second.”
“When will you arrive?” Kevin was chuckling, knowing her move would never happen.
“I’ll need a week to unregister, get my transcripts, pack everything I need to live in California, get my one-way airline ticket, get some money, etcetera, etcetera. Oh, and of course, permission from my folks to leave the nest and move across the country to live in a house without adult supervision. Easy. They’ll probably buy me a first-class ticket to get rid of me faster. I’ll arrive this coming Saturday. A week from yesterday. I’ll transfer to… What’s the name of your high school?”
“Edison High School. 1,800 students. Great school, good to excellent teachers, admin sometimes has their heads up their collective asses, but it’s to keep interlopers out — they’re the ones who want to go to Edison but don’t live in the Edison attendance area. You’ll have to download all the forms from the Edison High website. If you want, I could email the link for doing the download. Fill them out but don’t sign them. They can’t be signed until they are turned in. You’ll have to have a parent or a guardian here with you to sign them, too.”
Kevin was laughing again. He was glad she returned the call to her folks and left her cell number so he could talk to her. He needed something or someone to make him laugh and get out of his funk. Eve was perfect for that. She had to wait until Kevin stopped laughing before being able to talk again.
“What else? It all sounds too easy.”
“Well, unless one of your parents comes with you and moves in here, too, I’ll have to become your guardian, or we’ll have to get married so you can be registered.”
Now Eve was laughing so much she could barely say anything. When she calmed down, she said, “Let’s get married!”
“Okay. There is only one small problem. I’m gay.”
“Cool! I like gay guys. I won’t have to worry about getting preggers.”
“I have a boyfriend!”
“That’s fantastic, Kevin! What’s his name?”
“Eve, you’re the first relative I’ve ever told that I’m gay. I’ve been in the closet until yesterday. Please don’t tell anyone.”
“My lips are sealed. Is he cute?”
“Why do girls always ask me if Alex is cute? You’re the third one! Sheesh! Anyway, we took some pictures of each other and a few selfies on Saturday. I’ll send you one, and you can decide for yourself. Are you on WhatsApp? It’s lots easier to send pictures using WhatsApp.”
“Yeah, I am. Just use my cell number. Make sure you make the message private.”
“Will do. Hang on, I’ll send it now.” Kevin pulled up the best selfie he’d taken of him and Alex, linked it to WhatsApp, and sent it to Eve. “Should be there now.”
“Oh, my, GOD!” she shouted. “He’s gorgeous! Where did you meet him?”
“He’s the tutor my counselor and chemistry teacher got to help me catch up on my Chemistry experiments and exams. He’s a junior and a chemistry whiz. But he doesn’t come across that way. He plays lacrosse. He’s a nice guy. He lives on the next street over so it’s easy for us to get together.”
“I’m so jealous. I better not move in with you ’cause I’d be all over him trying to get him interested in me.”
“Wouldn’t work. He’s gay.”
“Well, duh! He’d have to be gay to be your boyfriend! You and I can still get married, though.”
“So you have no interest in going out with a boy you can kiss and cuddle with and fight off?”
“None at all. I don’t need that kind of boyfriend. I’m good to go with Larry.”
“My best guy friend. He’s gay.” Thinking about Laura, Kevin could understand who Larry was.
“So, you’re gay, too?” he joked.
That ‘duh’ confused Keven. What was Eve trying to tell him? Could it be…? Really?
He decided to ask, “Why the ‘duh’?”
“Well… think about the duh, Kevin. Then think about this, ‘Why not?’”
“I had no idea! I was just joking about you being gay. Uh… are you? Gay?”
“Yes I am, and I have a girlfriend, and her name is Flo. That’s the nickname for Florence. And thank you.”
“What are you thanking me for? For guessing that you’re gay?”
“For not calling me a lesbian or lesbo or lez or dyke any of those derogatory terms. I hate ‘em. I’m a gay girl. Just like you’re a gay boy.”
“Do your folks know?”
“Yup. Mom’s happy with it because of the no preggers bit. Dad’s not pleased because he wants grandkids. I said no problem because I want kids too, either my own or I can adopt.”
“Are you having sex with your girlfriend?”
“Well, duh! How about you and Alex?”
“Considering that we met on Friday morning during collaboration period, and…” Eve interrupted him.
“Wait a minute. What the hell is collaboration period?”
“It’s too complicated to explain over the phone. Anyway, Alex and I will use collaboration periods — which are from 7:30 to 8:30 on Wednesday and Friday mornings — to do the experiments and take the exams I missed; we’re doing them in the chem lab because then I have my Chemistry class fourth period which comes next, so it’s convenient. My Spanish 3 teacher will have a student to be my tutor to work with me during academy periods to go over what I missed…” Eve interrupted him again.
“Wait a minute. What the hell is academy period?”
“It’s like collaboration period, too complicated to explain over the phone. You’ll learn all about it when you move here and go to Edison High.”
“I think I better find out about those things before I climb on a plane.”
“I’ll send you a picture of our block scheduling on WhatsApp. Gimme a minute to find it online. After a pause of about thirty seconds, Kevin copied the block schedule from the school district website and sent it via WhatsApp.
“Okay, I’ve just uploaded it. Do you have it?”
“The deal is, each period on the chart has its own color. On Mondays the periods are like what old-fashioned high schools have every day — probably like yours — seven 45-minute periods plus lunch.
“On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have four 90-minute periods plus lunch. The periods are 1, 2, 3, and 7.
“On Wednesdays and Fridays, we have five periods. Three of them are 90-minute periods 4, 5, and 6. There’s lunch, too, of course. At 7:30 AM there’s an optional 60-minute period called Staff and Collaboration. It’s the time to meet with your teachers or your guidance counselor, do makeup work, do homework, study, hang with friends, whatever. But being optional, you don’t have to be at school until fourth period that follows it at 8:35 AM.
“At 10:15 AM there’s a required 55-minute period called Academy. It’s used for special classes like Robotics and Personal Finance and some art and music classes, some clubs meet during Academy, and some kids use the computer lab or library, do make-up work, study, whatever.
“So, regular class periods, the numbered ones, meet three days a week; for 45 minutes on Monday and for 90 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday or on Wednesday and Friday.”
“Looks like there’s too much that’s too fucking complicated. Why are they doing these things? To make everybody at your school suffer?”
“No, to make high school more successful for us. I like the changes, especially the fewer periods that are ninety minutes long on Tuesdays through Fridays. It’s like what you’ll find when you go to college.
“And now to continue from where I was interrupted. I think I was answering your question about Alex?”
“Yup, that’s correct. Tell me how you met Alex.”
“Okay. So, I met him Friday morning during collaboration period, and we started going over what I’d missed in my Chemistry class while I was out. It went well, so we decided to get together yesterday to continue reviewing the chapters in the Chemistry textbook and start taking the exams I missed during the past six weeks. He came over, and we started from where we’d left off on Friday and went over the next chapter, and he had me review the material. That went well, so we kept going with the next chapter and so on.
“I kept looking at him, and he’d catch me, and I’d catch him looking at me, too. We were grinning a lot, too. Then we ate lunch, and I told him I like him, and I hoped we could be good friends. He told me he likes me and would like us to be good friends, very good friends, too. We sort of stared at each other. Then he told me that he was gay and I guess I looked surprised so he asked me if that was a problem and if so did I still want him to be my tutor. I….” Eve interrupted him once again.
“Why’d he just come out and tell you he was gay? That doesn’t make any sense!”
“He said he thought I was gay, too. Because of the way we were staring at each other and catching each other staring at each other. There was a lot of grinning, too. He said he figured that one of us would have come out to the other and he decided he’d have to be the one to do it.”
“Okay, yeah, I guess that makes sense. It’s kinda romantic, too.”
“Now, as I was trying to tell you before you interrupted me yet again, he told me that he was gay and he asked me if I still wanted him to be my tutor. I told him I didn’t want another tutor and that I was gay, too. Then I kissed him to prove it. He spent the night. We… you know… did some experimenting, but just a little, like touching and fondling and… kissing. Lots of kissing and touching and fondling.”
“Oh my god, that’s so wonderful, Kevin. I just made the picture of you two the background on my phone. You two look so perfect together. Alex is really hot, but you know what? So are you. Really, really hot. Together you two could start a fire without any matches.”
Kevin laughed for a while. “I can’t wait to tell Alex that line about us starting a fire. I think that describes us perfectly.”
“Don’t get a swelled head just because I said you’re hot!”
Now they were both laughing. “Hey!” Kevin said. You owe me something.”
“A picture of you and Flo. How about you send it to me so I can see you two, okay?”
After a few seconds WhatsApp popped up a notification, and Kevin opened the attached file.
“Wow! You two are beautiful, both of you. And mega-hot. Especially together. You must have all the boys at your high school drooling like puppies eager to get their dinner as they follow you two around.”
Eve started to laugh. “Hey, how about us starting a fire without matches?”
“Yup, that too, definitely.”
Kevin decided to be serious.
“Eve, I’m glad you called. The past seven weeks have been a living hell. My attorney recommended that I go to a counselor and gave me two names, one was a man and the other a woman. I didn’t want to do it because I figured they’d find out I was gay. I wasn’t out to anyone and didn’t want to be out to anyone. But I was a mess, and I had to go back to school, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. Finally, I realized that he was right, and I called the woman counselor because I figured a woman would have more empathy than a man.
“Dr. Ranse is excellent, and I liked her immediately when we had our first session. Now we’re getting into what happened to my family and what I need to do to cope. It’s been difficult for me to go through all that, but it’s necessary. I’m seeing her twice a week right after school on Wednesdays and Fridays. Now that I’m back in school my two best friends, Laura and Jeff, are there for me. And Alex, too. And my other friends are still my friends. No one has said ‘Kevin, I am so sorry.’ I mean, what can I reply to that? I wouldn’t know how to deal with that.
“So, I’ve reached out to the relatives. Your mom or dad must have mentioned that I’d called and left a message, and you called me on your cell phone, and I’m so glad I returned your call tonight. I haven’t laughed so much in… I don’t know how long. You’re my favorite girl cousin, and you’re on the top of my list of relatives I like to talk to.”
“So, do you have a favorite boy cousin, too?”
“Yeah, Don Young. He’s Uncle Graham and Aunt Bethany’s son. They’re the ones who live in Vancouver. In British Columbia. In Canada. You know him, right?”
“We met when we went to Vancouver for a vacation a couple years ago. So I know where Vancouver and British Columbia and Canada are. He seems like a nice guy. Have you talked to him?”
“Yes, and we’re emailing and texting, too.”
“You oughta have him get on Skype so we can have a three-way video call.”
“Hey, that’s a good idea. Or we can do a three-way chat using Skype or WhatsApp. I’m supposed to call him tonight at eight o’clock, and I’ll ask him if he has Skype and WhatsApp. It’ll be too late to do a three-way tonight since that would be after eleven PM your time, and like all good girls you’ll be in bed asleep.”
Kevin heard gagging sounds and then laughter until Eve started talking again. “How dare you! I am not a good girl, Kevin Young! And don’t you forget it! But you’re right about the sleeping part. How about tomorrow night? Seven o’clock my time?”
“That’s four o’clock for Don and for me. It works for me, and I’ll ask him if that’ll be a good time. I’ll work that out with him tonight, and if Monday doesn’t work, then for me it’ll either be Tuesday or Thursday at the same time. When I find out, I’ll text or WhatsApp both of you so you’ll have each other’s cell number, and whether we’re going to use WhatsApp or Skype.”
“Any of those days are good for me. Hey, I’m gonna have to go soon. Mom just yelled at me to get my butt in gear.”
Kevin heard Eve yell to someone, “I’m talking to Kevin!”
Then she returned to the call. “Mom just told me we’re going out for dinner at Pearl Street Station. If you ever come to visit, we’ll go there. It’s a fun place with great food and reasonable prices. Mom said to tell you they’ll call you when we get home. So, I gotta say g’bye now.”
“Okay, bye Eve. Thanks for calling.”
They ended the call, and Kevin leaned back and smiled. Then he laughed, and that lasted on and off for quite a while, maybe fifteen or twenty seconds, as he remembered some of the things she’d said. Eve was definitely a potty mouth, much more so than Laura. Talking to her always made Kevin laugh and feel better, even before…. He shook his head to turn off that image.
He checked the time. It was three-fifteen. Time to work on his World History assignment. He wanted to get it finished by the end of the day, so he wouldn’t have to worry about it. He got his textbook and the list of topics, then sat back to read.
Sunday, March 24, 2019; Early Evening
Kevin’s Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Bill called from Malden, Massachusetts at five-thirty Pacific time. He talked to them for about twenty minutes, bringing them up-to-date. Then his cousins Greg and Beth took over the call, and they talked for about five minutes more, then Greg begged off because he still had homework that had to be turned in on Monday and he had to finish it before going to bed. Beth continued to chat, explaining that she had already finished all of her homework. The way she said it made Kevin laugh, and he congratulated her for staying ahead of her assignments.
When the call ended it gave him time to put some roast chicken in the oven to warm up along with mashed potatoes, zucchini, and a salad. When it was ready, he took a tray table into the family room and sat down to eat his dinner while he watched 60 Minutes on TV. Connie had baked cranberry bread pudding. Unlike most of his friends, he loved bread pudding. There was one large serving left, so he took it all and heated it in the microwave and had it for dessert. He’d have to tell her how good it was and talk her into fixing it again.
Kevin finished reading the section of his World History textbook so he’d be ready to start on his report. Then he looked at the English 2 assignment. It was to read the beginning of a book, The Dream Weaver, One Boy’s Journey Through the Landscape of Reality, by Jack Bowen. There were copies in the school library for his class, one per student. He’d checked out the copy assigned to him on Friday. He also found out that it didn’t have to be returned until the end of the semester.
What was interesting, and different than most of the usual English 2 assignments, there was no written report required covering what they were assigned to read. Instead, there would be a discussion session in class on Thursday.
The parts that the class were assigned to read were the Prologue and A Note from the Old Man (6 pages), and Chapter 1 (27 pages). He discovered that, other than the Prologue, the chapters were subtitled. Chapter 1 was subtitled ‘Knowledge.’ Chapter 2 was subtitled ‘Self, Mind, Soul.’ That made him eager to read ahead to Chapter 2. He decided not to do that; he’d wait until the class discussion was finished. He decided that he wouldn’t look at any other chapters because that would be distracting.
An interesting item about the assignment was in a note that Mr. Sommers wrote:
‘Do not study this assignment with other students nor discuss your opinions and conclusions about The Dream Weaver with them until after we’ve completed our class discussion. Your opinions and conclusions must be yours alone.’
That made Kevin wonder if there would be a follow-on assignment relating to the class discussion.
The foreword to the book, which they hadn’t been told to read but Kevin did anyway, explained to the reader that the book was an introduction to philosophy. He wondered why his English class would would have an assignment to read a book on this topic. He’d have to wait until Thursday to find out.
The book wasn’t a novel, but it was written like a novel. There were characters like in a story. Ian was the 14-year-old protagonist. Other characters were Ian’s parents; Jeff, also 14-years-old and Ian’s best friend; Alexis, who was mentioned but wasn’t present in Chapter 1; and The Old Man, who was a philosopher and the narrator of the story.
There were quotations from philosophers and others accompanying the subtitle at the beginning of each chapter and interjected as asides in each chapter. There was even a quotation taken from Skeptic Magazine; he wasn’t sure how that fit into a book about philosophy.
In the parts of the book Kevin’s class was assigned to read there were discussions about color, light, and vision, and what they are and how they are meaningful — Kevin assumed — in a philosophic sense. Or maybe how they are meaningful, period. He also realized that he’d have to re-read chapter 1 to find out how it related to its subtitle, ‘Knowledge.’
At the back of the book, there were Reading Group Discussion Questions. The class wasn’t told to read them, but Kevin did, at least the questions for the parts of the book they’d been assigned.
Suddenly Kevin understood what the book was about. Or, at least the parts they’d been assigned to read.
It was about perception and understanding. In other words, knowledge.
He thought about it and realized it could relate to him and what happened to his family. Why and how he didn’t know. Yet.
He read the parts that had been assigned a few more times, then wrote some notes of his own. Then he turned to the Discussion Questions and tried to answer them. Even though they hadn’t been assigned, this was something he decided to do before the book would be discussed in class on Tuesday.
He found that the Discussion Questions were challenging. The one that got stuck in his head was question 2 for Chapter 1:
‘Is there anything that you are completely certain about? How important is complete certainty (i.e., the inability to doubt) in your claiming to know something?’
He had at least one answer to this question. He was certain that his family was gone and he would never see them again. He thought about it, and decided that people who were religious would disagree with his answer. Even though it made him sad, he thought that this might be significant. He needed to discuss it with Dr. Ranse. He decided to take the book with him to their session on Wednesday.
This book was making him think. What a great assignment! Maybe he could take a philosophy class at Diablo Valley College this summer. He’d have to figure out how to get to the campus; maybe he could ride with Alex’s sister if she and Alex decided to take classes.
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