Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Smelled It. I Always Smelled It.

In eighth grade, we had a science teacher who was a little crazier than the rest--and that's saying something. Science teachers are a rare breed of crazy, made that way, probably, by their intense love for subjects most people take for granted (genetics, wind patterns, chemical reactions, etc.).

But our eighth grade science teacher was really a hard type of crazy: frazzled, stressed, unhinged. It was rumored he'd been a Navy man in some war--which war was indeterminable since we couldn't suss out his age--and that he'd come under heavy fire, which--again, rumors, rumors--had left him with some pretty drastic shell-shock.

This made the girls sad and made the boys intrigued. It never failed: the day we had a test, some boy walking to class could be counted on to suggest that he was going to whistle out the sound of a falling bomb so our teacher would yell, "TAKE COVER!" and, of course, put the test on hold.

No one ever did this, and we always ended up in class, taking the test that none of us wanted to take.

And when I was in class--ninth period, the last class of the day--I sat behind a popular and beautiful boy. Let's call him Bill. He had dark skin and deep brown eyes. He had thick hair that was always combed neatly into place, even after gym, even after wrestling matches.

Our science teacher had put us in assigned seats, otherwise this boy would have never chosen to sit in front of me. But because that was his lot, he decided to make the best of it, and he talked to me. Incessantly.

He got me in trouble with our science teacher all the time. There I would be, trying diligently to listen to Mr. Thompson talk about atoms, and Bill would turn around and say something to me. He might be talking about how much he hated science or about those gristly cheeseburgers that had been served for lunch or about the girl he had a crush on--guys always liked to confide relationship problems in me--but no matter what he was talking about, I'd always try to listen in a covert way. Mr. Thompson was a bit of a control freak, and he got mad when people broke the rules--like no talking--in class. And it wasn't that he screamed and yelled when he got mad; it was worse than that. He just stared at you, dead-on, and shamed you straight to the core with his sad, tired eyes.

So, to avoid the shaming, I tried to nod along to whatever Bill was saying so that I didn't actually have to open my mouth to speak. But as much as I wished that would work, it didn't, and Bill would needle me with questions that required an honest-to-God answer instead of some sort of head nod. So, because he was cute and because he was actually nice--a surprise to me--I always sighed and opened my mouth to whisper some sort of answer. We got caught a lot. I was embarrassed--after all, I was a good girl; I didn't get shamed by teachers--but there was little I could do about it. I'd explained to him one day that I didn't want to make Mr. Thompson upset anymore, and Bill said he'd be good, he'd be better, he'd stop, but that lasted only for a day, and the next he was back to chattering my ear off until the bell rang.

But talking wasn't the only thing Bill did. He also farted. He farted a lot. And whenever he farted, he'd immediately turn around, paste on a giant grin, and say, "Hey, Jess. Do you smell that?"

Of course I smelled that. It was hard not to. The boy was rank. Always. Every day. Rank. But I was so embarrassed by his willingness to fart and share that fart with other people that I often pretended I couldn't smell it. I held my breath and pretended I was a girl with a severely damaged sense of smell.

"What are you talking about?" I'd say. "I can't smell anything."

So he'd try harder. "Hang on a second," he'd say and then he squinched his face up, trying to squeeze out another round.

It just wasn't right. He was a popular boy. Popular boys were beautiful and pristine. They were little gods. They weren't supposed to walk around farting everywhere they went and then asking people if they smelled something. That was what unpopular boys did. The ones who didn't wash or wore sweatpants to school. They were the farters, and that fit. But the popular boys? It just seemed wrong. Somehow they'd risen to their famed status, and I felt it was only fair that they should be held to a higher standard.

But even though I blushed and tried to ignore Bill's farts, it didn't dissuade him from trying again every single day. If I said I didn't smell them, he would get disappointed for a split second, but then he'd shrug, inhale deeply, and smile.

"Smells good to me," he'd say. "Real good."

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