Friday, February 12, 2010

Of Feral Mind and Carnal Heart

This is the fifth part of what will hopefully be a nine-part entry in the River of Mnemosyne challenge that’s going on over at The Tenth Daughter of Memory.

I hear the voices yelling at each other above the surrounding din as I bob and weave through the passing time throng that’s slowed up to check out the burgeoning knot of bodies pressing in around something in the middle of the hallway.

I can't hear the words yet, but I can isolate the two voices at the center of the scene.

One male. One female.

Both of them loud above the almost controlled chaos of passing time in the hallway.

Even over the cacophony, I can identify the sound of imminent confrontation, feel it, alive and humming, shimmering in the air as I walk and wonder what’s going on and how bad it’s going to be.

It’s the lunch block.

Twenty-two hundred students fed and watered during a two hour chunk of time. Five hundred plus hungry students at a time shoved and herded through lines in the commons like cattle on a tight twenty-five minute lunch schedule in an overcrowded open area that was hard to police.

It’s never good. The hallways leading there are never better.

I try never to be in this part of the building during this time of the day, but in spite of my best efforts my timing, like almost everything else in my life lately, is just a little bit off today.

The hallways are always crowded with students trying to beat the clock, but there’s something else going on here. I've gotten close enough to identify the center of attention, Owen Johnson and his girlfriend Chloe Maxwell, our very own poster children for dysfunctional teenage relationships everywhere.

All about the drama, they were always either fighting in public, having sex in public places and on couches at parties, doing it for posterity on videotape, cheating on one another, abusing a variety of substances together, or simply being co-dependent.

Beyond unhealthy, they are now putting on quite a show for the lunchtime crowd, complete with him red-faced and raging and her with tears running down her cheeks.

I can see they’ve already reached the pushing and shoving part of the program.

“Fucking bitch!”

Owen’s push off Chloe’s shoulders forces her back up to the bank of windows running long lower D wing, framing her against the bright blue sky and well manicured green grass of the outside common area.

After the sterile, brown brick walls and dark, dirty-blue carpet that makes up my interior life in the institution, the bright almost burns.

The study in contrast seems lost on Owen. “You're such a whore!”

“Fuck you! I hate you!” Chloe shoves him back, hard in the chest. “You are such a fucking asshole!”

There’s never been any doubt in my mind that Chloe can wax poetic when the mood hits her.

I watch with some kind of morbid fascination as I pick up my pace.

The audience is appreciative enough to take up sides and whisper amongst themselves. They stand a respectful distance off, giving the two combatants a clearing in the middle to work with.

Just as I reach the back of the group, Owen's right hand balls up into a fist and cocks back.

Shit, shit, shit.

I have a new mantra running unbidden through my mind.

He's gonna hit her.

I run my eyes along the hallway searching for either a uniform or another staff member, but it’s lunchtime and everybody’s in the commons.

That's just fucking fine.

I start pushing bodies out of my way, using my elbows and shoulders and hands to clear a path and kept moving through the crowd.

“Don't leave me.” Owen's scream of pain, frustration, and anger bounces off the walls, loud and clear over the din coming from the commons. “I love you!”

He pivots on his heel.

What the fuck?

Time slows to a crawl. I watch his hand trace an arc in the air in what seems like slow motion, and then it’s through the floor to ceiling windowpane.

The sound of impact explodes as shards of glass fall everywhere. Cracks run through the glass and sun glints on the spider web pattern.

A river of blood gushes down the broken window and down Owen's right arm and hand as reflexes kick in and he pulls it back through the broken pane.

The sight and smell of the blood dripping down onto the carpet causes everyone closest to the pair to step back. The sight and smell and sound seem to start the normal flow of time for me once again.

In a confluence of the surreal and the ludicrous, I hear the sound of the bell ringing.

B lunch.

I shake myself and try to focus on what’s rapidly becoming a horrendous mess right in front of me.

In the crowd I find a familiar face, reach out and grab the attached body by the shirt.

Looking straight into the face I force the words out calm and clear. “Josh, tell Mr. Anderson to call security and the paramedics.”

The face looks scared shitless, but the body moves in the right direction once I shove it down the hallway toward Jay Anderson's classroom.

I turn my head back to the window.

Chloe’s backed off, a shade of shock and horror beyond Goth on her red, wet face as Owen slumps to the ground. The rest of the students are frozen where they stand, some wrapped around each other, and the sudden silence screams in my head as I elbow my way through the crowd.

It’s gotten an eerie kind of quiet very quickly in our little corner of the universe. Out of the corner of my eye I see Jay come out of his room down the hall.

He looks at the window and yells at me as he begins making his way down the hall. “They're on their way.”

Shit, shit, shit.

“Back off, back off. Let me through.” My voice grates loud and harsh in my ears as I push forward, shoving students out of my way. “Move, move, move.”

Shit, shit, shit.

Owen doesn't look good. Pasty pale and white faced, he's just sitting there, blood flowing off his hand and arm, dripping into the carpet, creating a spreading pool of dark red all around him. He seems to be staring in awe at the carnage he’s created.

In a twisted sort of way, he looks almost pleased.

I, however, am feeling anything but pleased. I feel like screaming, raging, and ranting. I feel like smacking him and her for creating this mess.

But that’s not going to happen because that’s not productive, appropriate, or professional.

I finally get through the crowd to kneel at Owen's side. “Owen, Owen, look at me.”

I grab for the bookbag that he’s dropped on the floor. “Can you look at me?”

The adrenaline rush kicks in and my heart starts to pound.

Shit, shit, shit.

There’s so much blood.

I rip open the bookbag, hoping to hell that he's either had gym today or had some extra practice clothes inside his bag.

God knows he wouldn't have books.

I wonder when cynical had become my default.

Owen's head swings around to meet mine as my hands close on an extra shirt in his bookbag.

Pulling it out, I look right into his face. His eyes widen as he recognizes me next to him.

“Hey, Logan.” He says it affectionately, just like he does every time he sees me.

As if he’s just entering my classroom to spend some time.

“Hey, Owen.”

He just looks at me and smiles.

He’s in shock and I have no gloves, because why would I need gloves for a simple trip to the office?

I take the shirt and start to wrap it around his right arm, direct pressure, trying to remember the training, trying to stop the bleeding.

Trying to keep the blood off me.

Because I have no gloves.

“Owen, I'm just gonna wrap this around your arm until the paramedics get here to take care of you.”

He just looks at me with his soft, goofy smile, trusting me to make this all better.

My kids all think that I can always make everything all better.

Little do they know.


  1. You're crazy Sarah, you had no gloves. Even my own mother would have let the kid bleed to death. And she was a teacher for 40 years.

    I love the way you bounce her thoughts around in her head, shit shit shit. I was thinking the same thing. And for what it's worth, I would have hit him, after I wrapped his arm without the gloves, I would have hauled off and belted him and told him he was stupid. But then most 17-year-old are.

    I most expecially loved this...

    “Fuck you! I hate you!” Chloe shoves him back, hard in the chest. “You are such a fucking asshole!”

    There’s never been any doubt in my mind that Chloe can wax poetic when the mood hits her.

    I'm still laughing. Oh God Sarah, you have such a way of capturing the human emotion. From heart-wrenching grief, to utter delight, then down to witty sarcasm. I just love what you do with words.

    And what's up with OWEN -- are we all in a synchronistic cosmoses or what?

  2. Good Lord I've done it again, my fingers are so cold down here I can't type... the word is e-s-p-e-c-i-a-l-l-y, not EX-pecially. Sorry.

  3. An ordinary day in Hell...

    You capture so vividly the crowd of students, the movements, the shifts in mood and behavior. Somehow they seem like the crowd at gladiatorial games, waiting for blood and death: and when their expectations materialize before them, they are unable to react, to think, to *do* something.

    It makes you wonder if they've been so hypnotised by tv that they can't distinguish anymore between reality and fiction. So they do nothing, waiting for the adults to take over.

    And wonder about how much this burden and this awareness weighs on a teacher's mind, when she (or he) is responsible not just for their education, but for their lives.

    I wonder when cynical had become my default.

    A great piece, thanks for sharing!

  4. Owen has a temper problem.

    You, madame, have a gift for prose.

  5. Lovely. Sheer poetry. It has a bit of a stream of consciousness feel as we spend so much time inside the narrator's head. But my favorite line, which seems to symbolize a great chunk of this narrator's personality:

    "There’s never been any doubt in my mind that Chloe can wax poetic when the mood hits her."

    It's the cynic (albeit, a witty one) that she sees herself as. Nicely done all around.

  6. i'm not sure i'd stop to think about gloves. Probably be sorry later. Great stuff, gritty.

  7. Hi, PW.

    I'm still laughing. Oh God Sarah, you have such a way of capturing the human emotion. From heart-wrenching grief, to utter delight, then down to witty sarcasm. I just love what you do with words.

    Thank you so much. That’s one of the nicest things you can say to me. I love the way words play.

    And what's up with OWEN -- are we all in a synchronistic cosmoses or what?

    Hee! I think I posted before about how much I hate coming up with names. But I had Owen in my notes somewhere, so I went with that. And I used Chloe in another piece so I just recycled that. I suck at names. :)

    Hey, Nym.

    I love your description of them waiting like the crowds at gladiator games because that’s exactly what it’s like. I’m thrilled you got that from this. As always, thank you.

    Hi, Jeff.

    Owen has a temper problem.

    You, madame, have a gift for prose.

    That first line made me laugh. The second one made happy. Thank you very much.

    Hi, Carol.

    Thank you so much. And yes, we are spending a lot of time in our narrator’s head. I’m worried we’ll be getting claustrophobic soon.

    But I really love that line, too, so thank you for noticing it. It does speak volumes about our narrator.

    Hi, Tom.

    Thank you. It’s surprising what runs through your mind at times like this. Maybe the training is working after all. :)

  8. This was a very tight piece. I lived it.

    Mad Hatter