Mike talked about how hot Alexandra was, and I tried to point out to him that she was out of his league, and already had a boyfriend. Her boyfriend was a sophomore, who lived in Chestnut Hill, which is a rich neighborhood. He wore hipster shoes that were part of this line of green, eco-friendly not the color, shoes that cost a couple hundred dollars. Also, he made the soccer team.
The second week of school a girl from our English class walked by. She was a short girl, a black girl who didn’t talk in class, but she had that look of a kid trying to pretend they’re going somewhere.
“Kyana,” Mike yelled.
“Hi, Mike,” she said.
“Come over here,” he yelled.
She walked over.
“You need somewhere to sit,” Mike asked.
“No,” she said. This was an obvious lie. I scooted over, and patted the faux-wood surface of the table bench. She shrugged and sat. She agreed that Miss Farr was her favorite teacher. She didn’t know anything about Illumen’s Children, or Zelda, but she was a girl and cooler than us.
She didn’t really take my side in the discussions about Alexandra, saying things like Alexandra would be lucky to have Mike, but she was probably too stupid to know it.
I said, “The world is in tiers. I might think Beyonce is super hot, but she’s a nine point five on the hotness scale, and I’m a 5.5- medium looking, intelligent, my family is not rich. It’s not going to happen, I don’t care what Miss Farr says.”
Mike said, “Beyonce is a ten. You are a four.”
Kyana said, “I think couples are based on who is right for who. Some people just want a hot girl, like me, and some people want a nice girl, like Mike.”
Mike said, “Thanks for calling me nice, but I think you’re not so much hot as luke-warm.”
Kyana said, “You’re shaped like the big gym ball, the one they play crab soccer with.”
I said, “I like that gym ball. You guys stop fighting.”
Kyana said, “I don’t belong here with you nerds.”
I said, “Yeah, you’re like an eight, and me and Mike are fives, which proves my point.”
Kyana didn’t respond, she was busy picking the pickles out of her lunchroom hoagie. She would break down the hoagie, searching amidst the shredded lettuce and meat slices for the pickles. When she found one, she ate it in three or four tiny bites. I thought liking Kyana, a girl who actually talked to us, would be a better plan for Mike, but I never talked to him about that. I knew her family wasn’t rich from the way that she dressed in gym clothes half the time, but her butt looked cute even in sweats. I thought that she was like us, not a total loser, but without any clear friends at that period, she made sure she found somewhere to sit, or more importantly, someone to sit with. I wondered what the week was like before she found us. Did she wander the whole school during her fifty two minute period, trying to appear as if she was going somewhere the whole time?
Monday Mike came over to my house.
Mike said, “How are you, Mrs. Foley.”
My mom said, “I’m fine, Mike. How was school?”
“We got a lot of English homework.”
She laughed because I talked about English homework all the time. We went upstairs and got situated. Mike played as Shyheem, this kid who has these fire powers that he recharges by praying, and I was Seketeme, a tree person who shoots arrows straight as lasers. We were playing for a while, I defended Mike while he prayed up his energy bar, and then he purged the screen of enemies with holy fire bursts. We were so into it, we didn’t realize what time it was. “Shit,” Mike said.
“It’s eight o’clock.” The school district gives us transpasses to get to and from school, but they expire at seven thirty. Mike had no way to get home. We sat there for a moment.
“You think I could sleep over?”
“I don’t know, probably not on a school night.”
I found my mom. “Mom, Mike missed the transpass time. Can you give him bus fare?”
She said, “I’ll drive him, it’s late to be taking the bus.”
Mike said, “Mrs. Foley, you don’t need to do that.”
“I’m not letting you ride the bus now, Mike. It’s no big deal.” My mom really liked Mike because a) Mike’s existence saved me from being friendless, b) he was respectful, and c) having him around made her feel less bad about my dad’s racism, so she wasn’t going to miss this chance to help out. We got in the car.
Mayfair, where I live, it’s not great, but it mostly has lawns, and twins, two houses built together. You don’t see a lot of litter, and to me the houses look kind of small and stupid. We drove down the boulevard, past the shopping center that my mom says has too many people in it. The houses got closer and closer together, and exited at Broad St. We drove through the streets to Mike’s house, and I could see my mom was tensed up a little at the groups of young men on the corner, half of their shirts off. Some of them were slap-boxing, and one group was cursing at the other. One saw my mom and started walking toward the car, “Got that hot tip!” he shouted. Mom drove off, even though it was a red light.
The house windows were covered in plywood, or had no glass, and little kids where running around like no-one cared, even though it was eight thirty and dark out. Trash pooled in the gutter and the whole place looked like no-one cared about anything.
Mike said, “Welcome to my neighborhood.”
“Nice,” I said.
“Douglas Regan Foley!”
“Don’t make fun of his neighborhood.”
Mike said, “It’s okay, Mrs. Foley. This place sucks. I’m getting out of here as soon as I can.”
She didn’t know what to say to that because it was true, but she thought it was rude to agree. We dropped Mike off and he was really thankful. My mom didn’t say anything on the ride home, but she was thinking the same thing as me, how come a nice kid like Mike had to live in such a bad place.
I was doing my homework, reading Hamlet, and writing my paraphrase, when my dad yelled upstairs. “Where’s the fucking remote.”
“I don’t know, ask mom,” I said.
“I’d rather ask Satan.”
My mom yelled, “Why don’t you go see him then.”
My dad concluded, “I”m going to the bar.”
She shouted, “You might find him there!”
He slammed the door going out, and my mom started banging stuff in the kitchen. I don’t know why they talk that way. They’re nice people to everyone else.
I got up and walked downstairs, wanting to get outside before my mom brought me in to the conversation. I grabbed my coat, and she yelled, “You going out too?”
“I’m just going for a walk, Mom.”
“Fine, I’ll stay here by myself.”
“Steve is here.” Steve is my little brother.
She dried her hands on her butt and stepped out of the kitchen. “Doogie, I just want him to stay home one time. Why does he go to the bar every night?”
My mom used to be hot, I’ve seen the pictures where my dad and her are going to senior prom. They’re gazing into one another’s eyes like they belong on the cover of a romance novel. I stared at it a long time, because it doesn’t make sense, how they used to be that, and now it’s how it is. She’s mom-butted now, and her cheeks have these red spots but that’s not why, I mean, my dad grew a big belly since then. They used to be seven point fives, now they’re both fours. I don’t understand how you go from love to what they do now. I wished I knew why they went from love to hate, but I don’t and it just depressed me to even think about it so I said, “I don’t know, mom.” I walked out the door before she said anything else.
I walked up toward the R8 tracks. It was icey and there was still snow on the ground but I got up on the tracks. It was quiet up there. A half-moon hung above the trees and I could see my breath. The tracks reflected the moonlight.
This is where my story gets weird. Or maybe I should say, this was when I actually became all I could be. Basically, imagine I just gave you a really good sentence that let you know that what is coming up is really momentous. I was thinking about Hamlet’s parents and mine, about how angry he gets when he thinks about his mom having sex with Claudius, and how I felt the same away about my mom and dad not giving a shit about each other, and how helpless I was to do anything about it. “Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt . . .” I couldn’t help but feel that Miss Farr didn’t really understand Hamlet. It wasn’t as if he could just run away to school, become all, be all he wanted to be, and not listen and not care about what was happening. Gertrude was still his mom, even if she pissed him off. Here I was, only a couple hundred steps away from my mom, and feeling guilty about that. Imagine how guilty he’d feel when he was an ocean away.
I thought I heard a train, it was loud, and whirring, and then light like super-powered headlights came flooding down. The problem was, whatever was shooting the light all around wasn’t on the tracks, it was above them, coming down toward them. Peeling off it, like a comet, were sparks. I stepped back, maybe to get out of the way, but mostly just amazed. The lights turned toward me and swallowed me.
Okay, that sounds weird. All I know is, it came toward me and then surrounded me and I heard voices. I could see light all around me, and beyond, and kind of dimly was the rest of the world, like the people I knew were there. I could hear two voices, I thought, and I thought I saw two golden figures in the midst of the lightning showers of light.
I thought I heard them say, “Who then will wear the mantle?”
“This is the one.”
“But he has not the strength.”
“That is for the mantle.” I’m going to interrupt the story. The next day I asked Miss Farr what mantle meant. She said it was like a cape, but that it was also used metaphorically to mean a role of responsibility. She said, “I’m old, and I find a young teacher to take my spot, and I say, ‘I’m passing the mantle to you, young teacher.’” So that’s what the weird golden dudes were talking about, some sort of garment of a responsible role. Yeah, it didn’t make much sense to me, either.
“The mantle has been salvific before, but never for one such as this.”
“Such is the will.”
I couldn’t say anything, too much shock, and looking back, I wonder if the conversation was just made up in my head.
The light seemed to turn from yellow bright to blue incandescent, and then it took off, a ball of shimmer and spark, leaving me on the tracks. Then the light lifted, and zoomed off up through the air, dwindling like a shooting star.
I looked down at myself to check that I was alright. Light was shooting out of my fingertips, and my arms were glowing. It seemed that brightness was boiling out of my collar, and under my pant cuffs, like I’d been filled up, and now it was leaking out.
“Shit,” I said. The same moment I said that I felt strong, and I just took off running. There I was, zooming down the tracks, jumping over ten or fifteen ties at a time, choosing when to put my foot down. Then I leapt up and started running on the rail, and even though I was running twice as fast as I ever had, I had no problem running on that thin metal ledge.
I started laughing, and then I jumped in the air and did a full flip. I never did that before, but I landed lightly on two feet. I felt fantastic like just about anything was possible for me.
Now, you probably want to ask a bunch of questions about the weird light. You’re figuring, either this guy is cray cray, or I want to find that light for myself. I wish I could tell you more. I don’t know what it was all about, why the aliens, or spirits, or whatever, decided to give me super-powers. That’s a question I found myself returning to later on, but at the time all I could feel was what it was to be a boy squared. I thought a lot about that moment, and what it meant to me and what it might mean to others.
Miss Farr, she’d probably have scientifically investigated. Any adult would have been careful, even terrified of the unexainable event. Me? I was still half boy, and I still loved to run and jump. The wind going by my ears was excuse enough for sprinting, and the thing that stopped me before, running out of breath, barely happened that night. When I leapt into the air, it was with so much power- I was thrown, catapulted up. There in the air, I calculated flips and turns, before landing as easy as a cat. Every so often I punched things.
If you have never been, or don’t remember being one, I’ll explain: boys punch things. Even things that are harder than human flesh, like concrete and trees. I guess boys think that maybe, one time, their fist will prove harder than these things, or maybe, they just want to show they can stand the pain. Well that night.
I punched a plastic wall in Fox Chase station. It shattered. I punched a steel girder going over a bridge. It didn’t hurt that much. I shook my hand and forgot I hit it. I punched a tree, the bark came off. Sorry tree.
Those train tracks run out past Fox Chase, I zoomed along them, leaping tie to tie, racing along the rails. I raced through the trees of the parks, behind the backs of houses, imagining people looking out and seeing only a blur. Next thing I knew I was on a steel girder bridge looking down at the green glinting waves of the Delware, almost in Trenton, New Jersey. That river looked like I felt, a mighty mass, a multiplicity of movements, a murmuring of energy. (That’s alliteration for you, Miss Farr.)
I turned home, not because I needed to, but because somewhere in the back of my mind was the thought that tomorrow was a school day. I started to walk when I was a mile from home. I was a little tired, but mostly I had something to think about, beside how hopelessly uncool I was.
I asked myself what I could do with it.
Then it hit me. I wasn’t a five point five guy anymore. I was a nine point five, maybe a ten. I could run faster, hit harder, jump higher than any other guy at our school. All the girls would like me when I became an athletic hero. I was going to be on the soccer team. I was going to be a star. Here I come, Beyonce.
It always bothered me that superheroes never used their abilities to get money or become superstar athletes. Didn’t any of them want what every kid wants, which is to be liked, admired, and seen as insanely sexy? I was going to live the dream, go back to Wittenberg, and use my talents to get what I wanted. Miss Farr would be proud.
When you’ve already been cut from a team, and a surprise alien visitation gives you superpowers, you can’t walk into the coach’s office and tell him, “I’ve got superpowers, let me on the team.” I wandered down the staircase to the coach’s office. I was confident about it, although there was no reason to be. I walked into the coach’s office and I said, “Coach, I’ve been training really hard. I think, when you see what I can do, you’ll want me on the team.”
He shook his head. “Doogie, there’s only one try-out. You want to try-out again, wait until next year.” He looked down at some paper, pretending he knew how to read so I’d leave.
My next step was to go out to practice. I stood on the sidelines with my own ball. Some of the guys said hi, others made comments, “Wasn’t he cut?” I ignored most of them. When coach set the team to juggling the ball, I dropped the ball onto my right foot, kicking it up with small taps. It was as if time had slowed down, the ball moved slower, and I moved faster. I flicked it to my left foot, and kept it up there for a while. Then I passed it to my head, and with small headers kept it up. I walked over to the coach doing the seal (bouncing it on the head) dribble. If you don’t know, this takes a lot of skill.
“See,” I said.
He said, “How’s that going to help in the game.” Once I had him in a conversation I knew I was going to get on the team.
I said, “This is just some of what I’ve learned.” The ball was still bouncing on my head. You need to see me in a game.”
He put me in the practice scrimmage later. The first time down the field, I took a bad touch, a little too much power, and the sweeper cleared the ball. I imagined Coach thinking, that kid still sucks. The second time down the field, the winger put in a cross that was behind me. I took two steps back to where the ball was falling, a couple yards behind the eighteen. I twisted into an acrobatic side volley, basically kicking the ball while doing a back flip, my feet behind me and above my head, my right foot connecting perfectly with the ball, cannoning it into the upper ninety of the goal.
It was so amazing a play that no-one said anything for about three seconds afterward. Then they all started clapping. After the scrimmage, Coach came up to me. “I’m willing to put you back on the team. We’ve got a game tomorrow.”