I’m in the hot seat. The Assistant Principal’s office at West Rowan High School. Called out of class and summoned like a common criminal for crimes against humanity. Violations of code and general principle. I can’t think of what I’ve done. The Assistant Principal is glaring at me. “What did I do?” I ask. “You know what you did,” he replies.
This strategy probably works well with hardened criminals and the usual lowlife malcontents who drift into his purview after being snatched up from the barren patch of grass outside shop class that is the Smoking Area. They stew in their own juices for a while before coming clean and apologizing to God and man and swearing never to do it again. The problem I’m having is I really can’t think of what I might have done to end up here.
I’ve only seen the inside of the Assistant Principal’s office one time before. That was in junior high school the day I tried to obliterate Chris Williams from the face of the earth with a school desk. I had bad intentions, but it wasn’t even much of a skirmish. Like most skirmishes I started, they got stopped before they really had a chance to get going. And in that case, I remember I got only a few seconds of a steely stare. Then I was dismissed. Chris had been bullying me for two years. This was the last day of junior high, and I had picked that day to make my Last Stand. The counselor knew Chris. He was vaguely aware of me. “Try not to attack people with chairs again,” I think he said before shaking my hand and letting me go. It was a congratulatory shake, not dismissive in the slightest. He might have wanted to give me some small award, but decorum didn’t allow for this.
What is the protocol when you actually haven’t committed the crime you’re accused of? The assistant principal wasn’t helping. “You know what you did,” he asserted again. “I’m a patient man. I can wait til you come up with it.” I doubted he was really a patient man. He didn’t look awfully patient. He left the room so I could think it over and account for my sins. If thought crimes were being punished today, I was doomed.
Wicked thoughts about all manner of school girls and even a few comely teachers were committed on a regular basis. Wicked thoughts about my pretty school bus driver, a good friend’s girlfriend and long-running wicked thoughts about a girl in my homeroom who always wore a Reeses Candy T-shirt that was stretched in all the right places to maximum capacity. Sometimes when she was jogging laps in gym class, I tried hard not to stare. Mostly I stared. I wasn’t alone in the staring.
I once discovered this same girl drunk and disoriented, wandering around my neighborhood in Pine Valley late on a weekend. Sometimes God is just kind that way, I suppose. He has a purpose, and who are we to question His mysterious ways? She left a party in the neighborhood a short time earlier and was now so lost she needed help finding her way back. She had needed fresh air, she explained.
“Did you throw up?” I asked. “Just a little,” she said giggling. “I’m a little wobbly.” I took her arm and walked her back to the party, which was happening just across the street from my house. Mark Wilhelm met us a little up the street from his home. “There you are. We were worried about you,” he said to her. “Thanks Kevin.” I shook his hand. “You want to come to the party?” he asked.
I definitely should have come to the party. But I was shy. I also thought in my own small, slightly aggrieved way that there might have been an earlier opportunity to invite me to the party. Waiting til I had restored beautiful lost drunk girls to the party to issue an invitation was a bit of a backhand snub. I couldn’t picture myself just sliding in there as a late addition on those terms. “Sorry I’m late, but I was never invited. Here I am, in any case.” I wasn’t socially nimble enough to pull that off.
Also, any moment now the police might roll up into the yard. Everyone in the party would be convicted of some horrible crime. Their permanent records tainted forever. I hovered for a moment and declined politely. It was probably only the best party ever if it was so intense that it sent gorgeous women wandering down the street away from it. I went back inside my house and stared out of a window for a bit at the fun taking place. Then I grabbed up my copy of Catcher in the Rye and resumed my alienation from society with renewed vigor.
Back in the assistant principal’s office, I was getting more certain of my relative innocence by the moment. Thought Crimes couldn’t be detected yet, even by the most ardent assistant principal. So, I was safe there. It was going to be a long afternoon if I was to sit until I came up with a confession. My English teacher Ms. Sloop was always going on about Transcendence. I had tried to transcend the high school experience for years, but my current predicament called for a perfect zen master of transcendence. Powers not in my repertoire.
The assistant principal’s secretary came into the room. “What are you doing here?” she asked. I shrugged. “That’s the wrong Kevin,” she told the assistant principal. He didn’t seem too disturbed by the information. Apparently, clerical errors involving grievous crimes and misdemeanor infractions were common in his world. “You can go,” he said. Issuing me a blanket amnesty and no-apology-whatsoever-for-treating-me-like-a-common thug all in three words.
The right Kevin was called to the office. I passed him on my way out of the office. I wanted to tell him something that would help him in his plight, but adults were standing near in easy earshot. I gave him the most sympathetic look I could manage. He smirked back.
That Kevin was my slightly sinister doppelganger. Not quite evil, but always just on the brink. I wondered for a moment what he had done and how he would handle his interrogation. I thought about how much more conviction he would have brought to my various moral quandaries. There’s no doubt he would have attended the party, even as a latecomer with no RSVP.
I shudder to think what he might have done had he found the pretty drunk girl wandering around lost in his neighborhood late at night.