The Zero’s

Happy new year/decade/century/millennium/whatever you prefer. I felt something big was going to happen, but I had to go to bed instead. I liked new years for the fireworks and being able to stay up til 9 to watch the ball drop. My parents stayed up a little longer, yelling about something, hopefully in celebration.

Everyone knew me in elementary school. I was good at everything and smarter than anyone. I loved to play  and run and yell and laugh and get dirty. The quietest kid in class was getting beat up by two kids. I dragged him away from the tussle, but got in trouble for dragging him across the playground because that’s all they saw. That’ll teach me. Three years later on the soccer field a sizeable rock hit my head. I started to cry and turned around and saw the quiet kid running. I smashed his head through the classroom window as the bell rang. He was the only kid I knew whose parents were divorced. I lied my way out of punishment. I was clever and didn’t have to work hard to succeed.

I’d look up my best friend’s number in the school directory and call his house every weekend to see if I could go over to play. It wasn’t always the same friend every year, but I always had at least one I could rely on and pair up with; that’s all I needed.

We were told that drugs were bad, but we didn’t know what they were. We were told sex was bad, but we didn’t know what it was, just that babies happen.

My dad came home with the newest cell phone, and one for my mom too. It was robust and flipped open, and he thought it was where the future was heading, but she didn’t agree. He came home with a DVD player when my mom wasn’t home. I questioned the expense in her absence to cover my ass, then watched a movie. Later he got a big screen TV to go with the DVD player, and a couch to go with the TV.

I asked to spend new year’s with my best friend, but we stayed with our respective families.

In middle school three elementary schools merged, not everyone knew me, and I discovered what fashion sense was when one of my friends from advanced math class demanded I untuck my shirt. I had seven teachers instead of one. It took a while to be respected, but I made it happen. I wasn’t listening when the teacher explained what “Bildungsroman” meant. I wanted to ask, but then I’d look stupid, and I couldn’t afford that. I settled for the saying “what you don’t know can’t hurt you.” Regardless, I worked hard for my grades and got them.

I went camping with my dad for a weekend, and when we came back my mom was gone. She moved two miles away and took the dog and all the pictures. She still wanted me, just not him, so they played tug of war until I avoided both of them. I didn’t talk much to anyone after that.

I got my first cell phone. It was the smallest one in mass production – smaller was better. It saved numbers on it, but I only called a few and had them memorized. I didn’t feel comfortable calling the numbers I didn’t have committed to memory.

We always hung out at Tommy’s house because he had an Xbox. If we went elsewhere we’d have to play board games and be wholesome. No one wanted to go to my house. I joked it was like the Middle East. That didn’t go over well with Abdul. He was always ‘busy’ after that. It was boring playing four-player games with three people, so we grabbed the new kid and showed him how fun virtually killing each other could be. When one of my friends would call, I’d ask if everyone else was available before I committed to make sure there was always three before I became the fourth. Sometimes we’d all be available, but no one would commit, and we’d stay home in a stalemate.

I almost kissed a girl. She gave me looks, left me notes, spread friendly rumors, sent me emails, and made me get an instant messaging account. I liked that I didn’t have to put on a show, I just had to write nice things. I think she liked my words more than me, but I couldn’t let her know the idea of me was better than the real me.
We learned that sex is bad, and what it can do to you, and what it can do for you. We learned that drugs are bad, and which kinds of drugs are bad, and how they affect us. I saw the quiet kid smoking behind the school. I didn’t say anything.

New Year’s was at Tommy’s. Video games and sparkling cider kept us up all night and we missed the fireworks. We’ve seen them before and we’ll see them again.

In high school two middle schools merged and hardly anyone knew me. Sometimes I wouldn’t see any of my friends all day. It was harder to meet people because they didn’t know you unless you were the best at something. I was almost the best at a lot of things. I stopped studying but my grades stayed up. I whined to my friends about having wasted so much of my life studying, and that I could have done so much more. I could’ve been a celebrity. The star of the school play wasn’t the most talented, but he’d put more people in the seats. His understudy ended up getting a full ride for acting.

My dad remarried after two years off. I didn’t agree to this, but everyone was okay with it like nothing ever happened.

Our little foursome ended up befriending another group. I didn’t have everyone’s number memorized, but I could just facebook them from my phone if need be. If I wanted to, I could learn everything about someone’s life if all I knew was their face and half their name. Various girls would come and go like the window displays of city department stores, advertising themselves but not wanting to be touched in public. The dress code was whatever was on MTV, and the music just needed a heavy beat to grind on your crush with at the Homecoming dance. The less clothes the better. Our homecoming was informal – dress up in themed costumes and such. Against traditional tradition, our girls-ask-guys dance was the formal one because we don’t want to be sexist.

We learned what sex was, how it happens, different ways it can happen, and all the bad things that can happen, and then they told us to be abstinent and gave us condoms. We learned that drugs are bad, how they’re used, where they come from, and how much won’t kill you. We took mental notes.

Our group became bigger, but hardly anyone knew each other anymore. I felt awkward calling some of the people in the group and texted, emailed, or facebooked them instead. Whenever we wanted to do something, we didn’t just do it; we had to consult the group first. If the group didn’t want to eat at Red Robin on half day Wednesdays, we didn’t eat there so everyone could be happy.

One weekend the group wanted to go see the newest sequel of the latest remake of an adapted book series. I didn’t want to go. The second most attractive girl in the group rested her hand on my leg during the major plot twist and worked up to her goal by the climax. After the movie I had homework and she had to get up early, so we could escape. She asked if I’d been tested. I asked for what, and then she tutored me on the difference between second and third base. I wouldn’t have learned that in school. She moved across town and we tried to stay connected, but getting connected is easier than staying connected. My parents had no idea. As long as my grades were up they didn’t care.

I spent New Year’s with the group. We were all paired off, and enjoying the fireworks. We drank and watched the last ten years blow up in HD around the world.

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