I can still remember, with the type of clarity that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, the very beginning of bullshit. At least, in my own life.
I was ten years old, and my parents—“The James’ at 1100 Joyce Avenue,” were holding a fundraiser in our home. In the middle of the thousand-dollar-a-plate dinner, my father decided to give an unnecessary speech.
There he was—six foot four, genuine American blue eyes, and genuinely greedy, talking about how he wanted to invest in healthier menus for the kids in school. He also wanted to help invest in better disciplinary ideals since he knew of a certain child (it was me) who couldn’t stay out of trouble to save his life.
Still, none of those ideals warranted the bullshit label—the next ones did: As he was toasting to all of his sponsors in the room, he lifted his glass and said, “I consider everyone here tonight to be a friend of mine. If you’re not a friend, it’s only because you’re family, and family is forever. The main reason I’m saying this right now is because my own late father taught me a very important lesson that has stuck with me for all these years: Some people come into your life for a reason, some a season, and some a lifetime.”
There was loud applause, lots of cheering and heartfelt “So true…So true…” responses tossed around the room at that moment. And then an older man stooped down to my level and said, “Your father is right, you know? Remember everything he just said.”
“What did he just say?”
“He said some people come into your life for a reason, some a season, and some a lifetime.” He smiled. “You should keep that in mind as much as you can in your life.” He winked at me and walked away.
I didn’t know it then, but my father and his fickle follower had practically predicted my future…
A few years after he gave that speech, he must’ve figured he’d obliged his “reason” in me and my mom’s life because he left us both. Several years after that, my mother decided her “season” of motherhood was done, and decided that she was tired of being a mom—that her real calling could be found in smoke bars and casinos. As far as for “a lifetime,” I could only think of one person who ever came close…
Dear Miss Carpenter,
I am sorry that I was bad in class yesterday. I did not mean to cause a dissrupshun, and I am sorry that I broke your best pens, but I am not sorry that I HATE Arizona Turner.
She is ugly and she talks way too much. I don’t know why you never send her to the office like you send me. She deserves to be punish too, and I hope she dies tomorrow so I won’t have to see her or her ugly metal mouth anymore.
I smiled and handed the letter to my mom, hoping that this time would be the charm—that she wouldn’t make me rewrite it all over again.
I was beyond tired of Arizona getting me into trouble and laughing about it. She thought she was so smart because she knew the answers to all the questions in class, but I knew them, too. Especially because I knew where our teacher kept the answer key and I always stole it at lunchtime.
My parents knew her parents personally because they always had to go to conferences about me “picking on her” and “making her cry,” but no one believed me when I told them that she was the one who started it.
She always started it…
“Carter…” My mom took a deep breath and shook her head. “This is a terrible letter. It’s worse than the last three you wrote.”
“How? I didn’t call Arizona any names this time. I just said I wanted her to die.”
“You don’t think you’re hurting her feelings whenever you call her ugly?”
“She is ugly.”
“She’s not ugly.” My father stepped into the room. “Now, those braces in her mouth might be, but as a whole? She’s pretty cute.”
“Seriously?” My mom glared at him, and he laughed.
“Sorry.” He walked over and patted me on the back. “It’s not nice to call someone ugly, son. No matter how much you hate her. You’ve got to stop letting this Arizona girl get to you. This is the fifth time this year you’ve gotten in trouble.”
“Eighth time.” My mother corrected him. “He pushed her off the swings when she was in mid-air last week.”
My father looked at me. “And what did you do this time?”
I didn’t answer him. I looked down at the floor instead.
“He stood up in the middle of a math test and said, ‘I hate you, Arizona',” my mom said. “He then proceeded to grab the poor girl’s test paper, ball it up, and throw it across the room…He missed and knocked his teacher’s favorite glass pens to the floor.”
Shaking his head, my dad sighed. “Just stop talking to this girl, okay? Don’t even look her way. You’re going to have to learn to ignore her, no matter what. Something tells me she won’t be a ‘lifetime’ person for you anyway. She’s just seasonal, so she’ll go away soon. Trust me.”
“Glad to see you finally acting like an adult about this.” My mom ripped my letter in half and focused her attention on me. “Now, sit down and write a nice letter to your teacher, an even nicer one to Arizona, and tell her that you’re not going to be mean to her anymore. Try to think of something nice to say, too. Maybe mention something about those pretty dresses she always wears?”
I groaned, but I picked up my pen and wrote.
It took me five more letters to get it right since she made me take out the words “stupid,” “hate,” and “die,” but I finally got it perfect around midnight. Then I promised myself that after I gave Arizona my letter tomorrow, I would never ever speak to her again…
The next day at school, I set the sorry note on my teacher’s desk super early and walked down the farthest row—plopping down in the very last seat. Then I took out my homework and tried to finish a few more math questions before class started.
I counted four times seven on my fingers and saw Arizona taking the seat next to me.
“Good morning, Carter,” she said.
I pretended that I didn’t hear her.
“Carter?” She tapped my shoulder and I wrote twenty-eight on my paper.