The whole thing doesn’t seem real, somehow…like it happened to somebody else. But then there are instances when I’ll get a call from a reporter asking for an interview, or someone will ask me to give a talk at a school. Once, JD and I were even asked to give a recount at a convention, using all of JDs photos and notes and just sort of telling the whole story (leaving out the part about having no friends, of course), but it conflicted with one of JD’s events, so we declined.
My mom suggested that I write it all down just as it happened. She’s kept all the newspaper clippings and the article from Time magazine and all that stuff, but she says that the backstory is important and I need to write it down. I told her that there was no way I could ever forget this adventure, but she says I’d be surprised at what I’ll forget later on. She’s fifty years old and has forgotten a lot about what it was like to be a teenager, so I’ll write it down just to humor her.
My life has been pretty boring up until now. I’ve lived in the same small town and gone to the same small school with the same small-minded kids forever. You’d probably think that after spending so many years with the same kids that we’d all be BFFs or whatever, but you’d be wrong.
I hated those kids and those kids hated me.
Before all this happened, school was just one long day of torture, mainly because of Tyler Webster. As I mentioned before, I’ve gone to school with the same two hundred kids since the first day of kindergarten. And all those years, I’ve heard the same things: “You think you’re so smart,” and “You’re such a suck up,” and, more recently, “Thanks for ruining the curve, asshole.” In other words, they hated me because I was smart.
For some reason, my intelligence pisses everyone off. I’m used to it, but sometimes the fact that they are pissed makes me pissed. And one day, after getting a hundred and five on the final exam on A Tale of Two Cities, I had finally had enough. This is how the conversation went:
“A hundred and FIVE? What the hell is that about, Barker?” (My name is Liz Barker—which is most frequently used as a reason to woof at me when I walk down the hall. I don’t consider this bullying; I consider this idiocy.)
“If you’d actually read the book, Tyler, you could have aced the test,” I replied. “It really was just characterization and summary. It wasn’t all that hard.”
Tyler’s face started to redden, as if he’d spent an afternoon at soccer practice. Soccer is the sport of choice at our high school, and Tyler is our most talented player. He’s also pretty smart, which is why the whole conversation was pointless.
His voice began to get louder. “You know Grandy will curve the tests if no one gets an A. I could’ve had a solid C if it wasn’t for you!” (Tyler was right. Mrs. Grandy believed that her course in English was the most rigorous in the school. She graded on the curve because she felt that was a better choice than making her tests easier. What she didn’t understand was that for anyone with half a brain, her tests were easy.)
“So you have what, now…a D? You can’t blame me for that.” I could feel myself getting angrier. Pretty soon I was going to be as red as Tyler. Then, the words flew out of my mouth before I could stop them. “Don’t be such a baby. Oh, wait. I forgot. That’s not possible.”
Tyler’s eyes narrowed. By that time, at least half a dozen kids were listening to our conversation, even though they were pretending not to. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“Just that you’re the same baby now that you were in kindergarten. You remember, don’t you? You cried so hard for your mama, you peed your pants.” As soon as the words had escaped, I knew I was in trouble. Tyler the Jock’s bladder incident was something that everyone knew, but no one talked about.
I was sure Tyler was going to explode in my direction. Instead, he turned and punched the nearest locker, then stormed away.
It didn’t take long for word to spread, and by the next morning I was the most hated person in the Junior class…even less popular than Alex Young, who spent the bulk of his day in the parking lot, leaning up against his beat-up red truck, flicking lit cigarettes at Freshmen and making obscene noises at girls who had the misfortune to walk by.
I saw JD in the cafeteria, where I had parked my butt in a corner alone, eating a peanut butter and bacon sandwich. He sat down in a nearby seat, silent, waiting for me to speak first. I wasn’t in the mood to talk. About ten minutes went by before I heard his familiar monotone voice.
“Hi, Lizzie,” he said.
No one but JD ever called me Lizzie with the exception of my grandmother Faulkner, and she died shortly after my eleventh birthday. I turned my head and gave him what I hoped was an ugly stare. Of course he can’t read facial expressions, so the look was totally wasted on him. “Wanna see my pictures?” he asked.
Sighing, I rolled the crusts of my sandwich into my napkin and put them into my paper lunch bag. “Sure,” I answered. “Whatever.”
JD took his cell phone out of his pocket and turned it on, completely disregarding the fact that cellphones are not to be displayed at school. I quickly glanced around the room to see if any teachers were watching. Meanwhile, with the push of a button, JD handed the cell phone to me. I saw a picture of a moss-covered tree surrounded by ferns. It was green and lush and beautiful.
He reached over and pushed the arrow key and there was a picture of a white trillium, peeking its head out of a sea of green leaves, then another of a creek lined with ferns and flowers. It looked like a place I could escape to…away from all the crap the other kids were dumping on me. And in a strange way, it looked familiar. Déjà vu, I thought, and then made the mistake of saying it out loud.
JD’s brow furrowed as he looked at me. “What is dee-jay view, Lizzie?”
I tried to mimic his seriousness, even though I wanted to burst out laughing. “Not dee-jay view, JD. Déjà vu. It’s French. It means I think I’ve seen your pictures somewhere before, but I can’t remember where.” We sat in silence for a minute, and JD spoke again.
“I think you did see it. I think you saw it near your house. I took the pictures in the gulley behind the graveyard.”
JD’s statement took me by surprise. I hadn’t thought of the gulley in years. JD and I used to wander through the gulley for hours at a stretch when we were kids, but that had stopped in middle school, when I was spending those hours trying to be part of one clique or another, and I shed JD like a snake sheds its skin…because he didn’t fit my life any more.
I smiled at him as I handed the cell phone back. “These are really pretty pictures, JD. I’d forgotten about the gulley.”
“You should not forget the gulley, Lizzie. It’s a good place. I go every day.”
For a moment, I was surprised. JD wasn’t allowed to go to the gulley when we were kids unless I was with him. That was one of his mom’s strictest rules—she was afraid that he would become disoriented and not find his way out. I taught him to navigate through the gulley by following the creek upstream until he came to the waterfall, at which point he could climb up the bank and slip through the alley next to the drugstore. Then he would be right on Main Street, which was just a block and a half from home.
“I thought your mom wouldn’t let you go to the gulley by yourself, JD.”
JD was quiet a moment. “But that’s just when I was a little kid, Lizzie. Now I go and take my notes and my pictures and as long as I leave a note telling mom where I am and I have my cellphone with me, it’s okay,” he explained.
“Notes?” Now I was intrigued.
His face brightened. I never know with JD how he feels; his expressions are pretty much the same, whether he’s angry, excited, happy, or depressed. But once in a while a look comes over him and you know that he’s interested. He was interested now. “Yep. I take notes and pictures of all the things in the gulley. I look them up on the internet and I know all the names of all the plants. Like this one.” He played with his cell phone for a minute, then thrust it in my face. “This is Trillium grandiflorum. It’s the provincial emblem of Ontario, Canada, and the state flower for Ohio.”
(Just for the record? I totally knew what a white trillium was. I used to see them all the time in the gulley. But part of JD’s condition is that he gets really excited about learning new
stuff and wants to learn all he can about it before he gets moves onto something else. It’s almost like he’s obsessed with one thing after another. I guess I’ve known him for so long, I don’t even notice it any more.) I pretended to be interested. “Wow, JD. That’s really cool.”
JD smiled. “I found twenty-seven of them in April. I wrote it down. I have a yellow notebook this year.” He flipped through the photos in his phone to find a picture of the yellow notebook and passed it to me.
“Nice,” I said, thinking that my life could not possibly get any lamer. Here I was, sitting in the cafeteria of my podunk high school, having a semi-conversation with an autistic kid. Surely there was no way my life could get worse.
That’s when Tyler and his girlfriend du jour, Alexis Cantelli, walked up to the table. “Nice to see you finally found a boyfriend, Barker,” Tyler said. “We were worried you wouldn’t have a date to the prom.” Alexis smiled and made a little ‘woof’ sound as they walked away.
This was one of those moments when I wanted to scream “You idiotic shitheads! Who the hell do you think you are?!” But my dad is the principal of the elementary school down the street, and with the first step out of line, he would be up here to kick my ass. I am expected to “set a good example” for the rejects he calls my “peers.” As if.
JD scowled and looked at me. “What was he saying?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I replied as I stood to go. “Don’t worry about it.” But as I left, I knew JD was worrying about it. He worried about anything he didn’t understand, and teenage conversations were very hard for him to follow. I sort of knew how he felt.