i had a lot to learn.
my head ached terribly, on the right upper portion, quick pulses of hurt disrupting
Dabo was the coolest person i knew in my first two years of high school. he was Armenian. he was beautiful. he was my friend. friend is the most beautiful word in the English language. he was stocky, hefty, muscular, with a square head and square jaw, buzzcut---oh those buzzcuts were still big in the '90s---and perfectly symmetrical glasses on his big nose. full lips, nice smile, awesome laugh, i especially loved his laugh when he laughed at my jokes. he effortlessly swayed between both social circles, the nerds and the jocks, he was smart, not just smart, he was like me, smart and determined to get straight As. he could also play a mean basketball, he was built for it anyway, never saw him actually play before. i was not attracted to him. i didn't even know what gay truly meant until i got to college. i was attracted to him, because he liked me and i liked him, we protected each other, which at the end of the day meant survival. we were friends, real friends, and friends are the most beautiful things in the world.
it was getting to be Christmas vacation time. Dabo and i strolled the halls early like two pimps on their morning jog. i'm describing this now in 2014 using "pimp" since i didn't know what a pimp was back then. as we discussed the answers to the math final, Cristian the Creep bumped into us and gave us a creepy grin, or rather his usual grin. he didn't bother us, or he didn't bother me, he knew better, he'd crush me but would have no chance against one punch from Dabo. instead, he made a presentation with his hands and announced loudly for all the rest of the students milling out of their classrooms to hear:
"hehe, typical Phoenix, a typical Phoenix morning. one thing in life is for certain. good grades will last? no. that i'll work at a gas station? no, my dad's garage. no, only one thing's for sure in life: wherever you find Phoenix, you'll find Dabo. wherever Dabo is, Phoenix is parallel to him."
the rest of the students glazed over this monumental speech, too busy trying to get their virtual pets out of their bags or get in line for cheese fries. it wasn't anything new he was saying, nothing they hadn't heard before, it was true, simple as that. i took that as a badge of honor that the students all inherently knew this about me, i was proud of that, i was proud that Dabo was my best friend, that i was associated with him, that i was in his posse. Dabo was cool.
"Dabo, doin' anything special for Christmas break?," i offered to break the silence after the Creep's words floated away.
"we don't celebrate Christmas. we celebrate Epiphany on January 6."
huh. interesting. fascinating. Epiphany, huh?
"wait, but January 6 is the Monday we come back to school. it's the first day of the second term. it's gonna be madness, and this is supposed to be your holiday day?"
"yep, it's always the same for me, we've never gotten that respect, we simply have to celebrate on our own time. i'm gonna have to go to school that day as usual and celebrate that night, but not too much, for there's school the next day."
"that sucks." i imagined if i had to celebrate Christmas that way, going to school on December 25 and only having the couple of hours after 3PM or so to open the gifts, drink the nog, and take down the lights before bedtime at 9 for school the next morning.
"so, like, how do you celebrate? is it like Christmas? do you have an Epiphany Party?"
"Epiphany party, i like that. yeah, in a way. well, yes and no. i dunno, there's food, playing the piano, candles, and a crown."
i tried to envision all this, but i didn't have the supreme imaginative powers i have now in 2014, so i could only muster up me in a crown playing the latest piece i had dutifully learned on organ. i played the organ, not the piano. well, my parents made me play the organ. there i was in a crown, but really it was just me in a Burger King crown...
Dabo and i had our secret spot at the school during lunchtime, way way away from the bustle of all the other kids trampling each other to get in line for fries, a vantage point which made everyone else down there TINY ANTS, CLICK HERE, RIGHT HERE AT THIS LINK. we were at the way other end of the school, in a section of abandoned bleachers. every lunch break, after that bell rung, we'd both walk up each and every step of those bleachers 'til we reached the absolute top, the highest summit, the last possible rectangular seat which stretched the length of a big half-circle overlooking the track and field area. i swore we were so high the air was thin up there, we were right next to clouds, it was so quiet we could each hear the other crunching down on our sandwiches, we heard every single bite clearly, there was no noise except for our scintillating conversations about nothing.
our topics of conversation ranged from six-overtime hockey games---Dabo introduced me to the fury and pace of ice hockey---to cool skateboard stickers to the latest 16-bit video games and that secret move that would defeat the final boss. we were right on the cusp, we were still innocent, the internet wasn't the force that it is today in 2014, and sex hadn't entered the picture and ruined life forever yet. it was a beautifully simple time full of crunchy peanut butter and crispy chicken salad.
today i decided to change things up a bit and talk about an article i was allowed to read on the school's computers about a famous man who had worked on a famous television show we both watched and loved who died suddenly at age 40 while jogging. no murder, no bad reaction to medication, no long-term brain illness or anything, the cops determined that the relatively-still-young man simply died of natural causes. it was so weird, and it was so telling about life, it struck me even at that early age that we are never in control of our lives, some other force decides it all, some other force is pulling the strings of destiny, we are merely puppets along the way, along for the ride, unaware that the end is always nigh. tomorrow is never guaranteed, no matter if you're taking care of yourself jogging, one day a celestial button is pushed and it's all over, "natural causes" do you in at age 40! wow.
well, it didn't go over too well with Dabo. he understood it, he may have even heard about it before me, but it seemed like we wanted to get to the next topic. that was a difference between us, he was always full of life and competitive zest and ready for the next challenge, he breathed life, i was more interested in death, of the end, i dwelled in death, i was fascinated and thought a lot about the afterlife and other planes of existence...and aliens and stuff, i'd spend hours in my head ruminating on distant ideas. i was goth years before i had heard the term "goth" for the first time.
i'll never forget Dabo's face right then. he was normally always smiling, but he had a stern face for the first time, first time i had ever noticed. his lips were straight. his normally pink skin was sallow. i wouldn't call him sullen, but it's like he had something on his mind weighing him down. i quickly transitioned to hockey and shortly after, the bell rang for classes.
oh, shit, it was Gym.
at the basketball court, the stupid coach picked the teams for us quickly, and i was on a team against Dabo's team. i was actually okay at basketball, i could dribble, i could shoot, i made baskets, it helped that i was tall even then. i got a little full of myself as i dribbled the ball down the court like a pimp point guard. pimp as the 2014 term again. i juked one defender, half-circled my way past another one, and i had a clear lane to the hoop. fuck, i was thinking i had enough juice in me to dunk the damn ball. i was getting ready for my shot, but a huge center blocked my chance at a poster dunk, i lamented that, backed up, and went for the midrange jumper instead. out of nowhere, Dabo comes barreling right towards me like a bull on coke, i mean he was at the other side of the court just a second ago,
Dabo steamrolls me, lifts his giant hand up like a bear paw, and blocks the fuck out of my shooting attempt, knocking me back hard, and i hit my head against the floor messily, bang on the right upper portion. i think i blacked out or i dreamed for a moment or ten minutes
"get that junk out of here!"
i'm not sure that's what Dabo said as he did this, i'm sure this is what he wanted to say. maybe he still respected me enough not to say it out loud in front of everyone, just keep it in his head. i looked up at his face from the floor, he wore that stern look again. i was stern, too, but it was more from being disoriented. did he help me up? did he extend his bear-paw hand to actually physically lift me up from the floor, put my arm around his shoulder and walk with me to the nurse's like we always had walked together down the halls? i think so, i hope so, but i wasn't sure, would never be sure.
one thing i do remember was the cool kids all lined up behind the basket where the epic block had taken place.
Dabo was cool. i liked him. a lot. i loved him. he was my best friend.
i still had a lot to learn. about other customs. about heartbreaking social norms and ladders. about high-school friends.
i lost my train of thought there for a moment, excuse me, my train of time, the '90s were the best, innocent still, in 2014 my head is throbbing right now, upper right portion, right quadrant.