‘Summer Past: Chapter 1’ excerpt from Forgotten Kids by Laurie Costello.
I leaned against the wall and watched the loners and losers become lost in the smog and realized that marijuana and ecstasy weren’t the only drugs being shared. Faces leaned on a small mirror that rested on the bureau, jolting upward with an energetic shout after a snort. I should have been more stunned, but that was the life. I had classes with these people and saw them walk the courtyard of our school every semester, falsely presenting themselves as model youths in their uniforms and Catholic crest. We prayed every morning, forced to give thanks in unison, but I assumed no one ever listened, and from the actions I encountered—not just that night, but throughout my tenure—I was correct.
As the fake joyfulness overwhelmed the others, I whispered to myself, “What would Jesus do?”
I’m not sure if my upbringing and high school teachings ignited that philosophical quandary as my first thought, but I needed to answer the question nonetheless.
“He wouldn’t do a damn thing,” I said.
Looking at those fools, those liars, those cheats, why would he have wanted to save that chaos? I was surrounded by sinners and was one in the same. He would have walked in and destroyed every one of us, shooting fire out his eyes and lightning bolts out his fingertips, erasing any evidence that we represented his name or followed in his footsteps. I had a strange idea of what Jesus’ powers were. Then it happened: I saw him. I saw Jesus.
A tall and thin fellow walked into the room with long hair and a patchy beard sporting ripped blue jeans and a tattered cardigan he may have stolen from his grandfather. I couldn’t clearly verify the savior’s manifestation due to the darkness and the smoke, but I whispered, “Jesus,” hoping he would hear me over the current track because I believed good hearing was another power of his.
He didn’t respond because it wasn’t him—we were doomed. It was just a boy I knew of but never had any interaction with. He tried hard to emulate Kurt Cobain in appearance and lifestyle but was too obsessed with being popular enough, which proved his variance from the late rock star. That and he wasn’t a rock star. Nor was he Jesus, but neither was Cobain despite the praise toward him—he couldn’t have been Christ because his beard didn’t grow well enough. The newcomer to the room was Zach. He was a drugged-out, misbehaving risk taker, a jokester who forced laughs instead of earned them, a pest. I could tell he was quite impaired as he slapped hands with the boys and hugged the girls in the room, all movements with a baleful grin of confidence and mischief. He nodded in my direction, an acknowledgment that asked, “What’s up,” and “Why are you here,” at the same time—either way, my presence had been compromised. I sipped my beer—or whosever beer it was—puffed my cigarette, and nodded back before looking away as if I was James Dean saying hello. I wasn’t nearly as cool as I believed—certainly not on a Dean level.
I began to feel uncomfortable now that Zach had brought attention to me and was confused as to how I ended up in the room in the first place. I didn’t do drugs, didn’t like these people, and was paranoid of black lights, worried they would reveal dandruff or other embarrassing stains on my clothing. Where were my real friends? Where did they go? Were they ever in this room?
I then asked aloud with an eccentric hand gesture and slur, “And where’s my only cigarette?”