The kids called him Suicide. There wasn’t a lot of imagination that went into the name. See, the minister’s son really did commit suicide. During the spring break of his high school senior year he lifted a 12-guage shotgun, aimed it at his chest, and pulled the trigger. The blast cut him in two and left a cascade of blood on the back porch of his parents’ Pasadena bungalow especially for them to find.
I remember him as Richard. He shuffled along the sides of filled hallways and ate peanut butter sandwiches alone on the bleachers with Star Trek novels for entertainment. Bad acne and a lanky build made for a tendency to trip over his size 13 feet. He always wore grey slacks and collared shirts. He must have owned ten sets of the same outfit because he never wavered from the uniform. Not good for self esteem in the early 80’s where preppy was significantly more…stylish. His father preached from a local Baptist pulpit before Christianity was cool.
Richard tried drama in the fall of his tenth grade year. Played Charlie Brown in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” We all attended because the school play was a main social focus, ranked third in importance behind the Homecoming football game and the Senior Prom. The depressive Charlie Brown with the beaming smile fit him perfectly in spite of the bad skin. He moped around the stage and sang in key and towered over the rest of the cast. He was weird enough that I developed a fascination with him. I loved Peanuts cartoons, having discovered them in a Bluejay bookstore, near Big Bear, on vacation with my parents when I was in the third grade.
To me, he embodied Charlie Brown.
I was his ninth-grade Lucy.
Beginning the first Monday morning after the play, I followed him around campus as much as I could and recorded notes about him in my black-and-white composition notebook. “CB walked to the bathroom twice today. The jam in his sandwich looked red instead of purple. His shoes were scuffed. He sneezed so hard at lunch he blew snot all over his sweater. Today, he wore the blue sweater with the college emblem. His acne is worse than ever.” Months it went on. I had a hundred pages of notes.
One spring day he caught me staring at him during Mrs. Tolbert’s mixed doubles tennis. I was waiting for my turn to play, sitting on a bench with the notebook at my side. He came up to me and grabbed the notebook out of my hand. I was mortified.
“Who’s CB?” he demanded after flipping through some of the pages, white shorts and yellow t-shirt (representative of our school team, the Bumblebees) too tight on his skinny body. They had to be hand-me-downs.
“Nobody you know,” I said.
“You’re a freak. You know that, don’t you?”
I sidled up to him, craning my neck to get a good look up his nostrils. He snorted like a bull and shoved the notebook against my bulbous chest, pushing me far back. I collapsed back on the bench, immediately pulling out my pen to write of the interaction.
Mrs. Tolbert screamed my name to get onto court three, causing me to jump. My words got jumbled. She yelled Richard’s name and much to our horror, we were made partners.
“You’ve gotta be kidding,” he muttered.
I thought his arrogance was amazing considering how bad he looked and how wrong a fit he was for our average, checker-board high school. He should be moping on stage, I thought. He should be at the performance arts high school where students learn to sing and dance and act instead of the usual stuff. Richard had talent. I wanted to tell him, but his affront prevented me from offering the compliment.
The tennis game went badly. I kept missing the ball, I couldn’t serve worth beans, and I kept crashing into my partner. He panted and cursed under his breath and finally at the end, threw his tennis racket across the court, the racket skipping and sliding along the black tar. At the top of his lungs, he belted, “You’re an idiot!”
He stormed off to the boys’ lockers.
Appalled, I marched across the court and grabbed my notebook, sitting on the bench and writing, “Mrs. Tolbert is an evil servant of Satan. She paired me with CB and I discovered that he has a bad temper. She should have helped keep that trait hidden. The real CB gets frustrated but never throws rackets.”
Three days in a row we had to play together due to the racket-throwing incident. I never improved but we did get into a groove. I would simply step aside while he hit the ball the entire time. We won most of the matches that way. He didn’t speak to me the rest of the week.
I thought I’d never interact with Richard again. I’d accepted that. I was satisfied to resume my observations of him. Unfortunately, Mrs. Tolbert thought we made such a good pair at mixed doubles that she continued to pair us throughout the following week. After a particularly exhausting match in which I had to sidestep more than fifty lobs in typical Pasadena ninety-degree, smoggy heat, I offered to get him a cold soda from the school canteen.
“You paying for it?”
“If you don’t have any money.”
Shrugging a shoulder after a moment or two, he agreed. “I don’t have any money,” he said.
When I returned, he took the generic coca cola with a huffy attitude. I attributed it to the soaring temperature.
“What’s it like being a minister’s son?”
He looked sideways at me, asking, “What’s it like being a freak?”
I got brave, thinking he needed my sympathy, thinking I was being a good person to befriend the friendless. “You were really good in Charlie Brown. You should think about doing community theater.”
He snarled, “I’d rather slit my throat.”
In complete shock, I plopped down on the bench next to him. “What do you mean? You were in your element up there on stage. Your singing was the singing of angels, you were sublime. You’ve got more talent in your little toe than any of those other hacks on stage with you.”
He looked at me sideways, letting out a slow tongue-against-teeth whistle. “I’m your CB. You’re following me around.”
Grinning, I purred, “You are Charlie Brown incarnate. I am Lucy.”
He sucked down the soda and threw the can in the trash. He stood up, all six foot two of him. “Being a minister’s son,” he said, “is much like being a freak. We have our missions that have been handed down to us from a place that only exists based on faith. We have purpose that’s greater than we are. We venture into the great beyond, passing the word to our fellow man from on high. We are…relevant.”
“Oh yessss,” I murmured, my blood on fire, my limbs spaghetti. I was in love. I was in heat.
He stepped back at the raging furnace of my being and turned around to head to the lockers. I called after him and he put up his hand to shut me up. I dug through the trash and collected the soda can he’d drunk from. I breathed in the air from the empty hull that only moments before had been filled with cola nectar touched by his saliva. I ran my tongue up and down the sides of the can, willing to risk a slicing just to taste the sweat from his hands. Hoofing it to the bathroom, I locked myself in a bathroom stall so I could strip down and touch my body until I was exploding in orgasmic energy, slamming down onto the toilet to regain my footing.
I wanted to be with him, I wanted to be inside of him so I could course through his veins and slide through his heart and swish around in his belly like Jonah and the whale.
The next day he scuffled away from me when I reached for his hand during the passing period.
I wrote in a fever, “CB is running away from his love of me. He wears a purple sweater with a monogram that reads RS. He has new shoes. The Star Trek novel is stuck in his back pocket, pressing up against his ass. He threw away his sandwich in the trash and I ate it. Bologna. Very different from peanut butter. Strife perhaps has hit his home.”
The semester ended without getting so much as one word from Richard. I snuck into his church one Sunday to see him sing in the choir. He opened his mouth and pure heaven came from the depths of his soul. Being Jewish, I wasn’t familiar with any of the hymns. As he sang, I felt every cell of my body come alive. I got on my knees and put my hands in the air, grateful for every note that hit me. When the singing was over, he saw me and grinned. Mouthed the words, “We are relevant.”
The entire next year I spent in a psychiatric hospital for delusions, I was told. They did not understand love. They misinterpreted the slashing of my wrists for suicide. What they did not realize was that I was sending a love-gram to Richard – I was spilling my blood a la Christ, admittedly an over-the-top, dramatic display of my devotion. They took my notebooks. My parents were told that I had developed an unhealthy fascination for the fictional character, Charlie Brown.
When I returned to campus for my junior year, I learned that Richard had gone to a private school. When I learned that he’d committed suicide following spring break, I wore a hooded sweatshirt in mourning. I wrote in my notebooks. I spoke to nobody and refused to do homework for one week. I ate nothing but peanut butter sandwiches sloshed with grape jelly and layered with bologna.
When my English teacher asked me to write an expository essay on the definition of symbolism, I wrote over and over and over, “We are relevant.”