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from Unreasonable Progress

by Jess Wilder, 16, California

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."—George Bernard Shaw

January 2001

J.T.

"Locking a teacher in the supply closet," accused the principal, Cynthia Wood. She looked concerned.

"He got in there voluntarily," I insisted.

"Leaving him there for two periods," she went on as if she just couldn't see how anybody could have done something so terrible.

"He said he wasn't hungry," I justified.

"Jordan, Jordan, Jordan." She always repeated my name like that, as though it would somehow make me totally remorseful all of a sudden for everything I'd done. Like that was happening.

"Cynthia, Cynthia, Cynthia," I said. I always liked to call school faculty members by their first names.

"You know we can't just let you go with a warning this time," she told me austerely.

That was stupid. When had they ever let me go with just a warning?

"J.T., you know very well that this isn't your first offense."

"I've never locked anyone in a supply closet before yesterday," I informed her, putting my feet up on her desk.

"I don't just mean supply closets, J.T. And I am not only referring to the fact that you are failing over half of your classes. For the last year and half, we've been putting up with your pranks, your practical jokes, your lack of application..."

I took out my headphones and prepared to put them on, letting her know that I didn't care to hear the list.

"...your defiance, your complete disregard for the rules...and then of course there's your drug problem..."

"I'm not on drugs," I interrupted.

"I'm not here to judge, J.T."

What the hell?

"I'm not on drugs!" I persisted, although it was, for some reason, a pretty common misconception.

"What bothers me most," said Ms. Wood seriously, "is that the entire student body looks up to you. If J.T. Tyler locks a teacher in a supply closet, seven hundred and nineteen other children are going to lock teachers in supply closets. Don't you see the fix I'm in?"

"Don't you see I don't give a s---?"

She sighed. When I first came to the school and said something like that, she'd freaked out. Now it was expected.

"Look. J.T. They follow you. They want to be like you. For some reason that I can't possibly comprehend, you're a role model—so you should try setting a good example every once in a while.

"You don't get it," I realized, leaning back to balance the chair on two legs, holding onto the desk to stay up. "Maybe this is why they look up to me. I have the guts to do what they want to do but don't. Listen. I locked McDillan in the closet because he was being an a------. The whole class knew he was being an a------. They all wanted him to be locked in a supply closet. Any one-a them woulda been the one to do it if they weren't so f----- scared of you. Dig?"

She had her arms folded now. Something about this meeting was different than all the other times I had been sitting there in Ms. Wood's office while she tried to give a punishment. I should have known what it was because I'd already been expelled from four elementary schools. This was a middle school, though. It had been a full two years since I had been expelled. I guess I'd forgotten what it was like, talking to a principal when he or she was about to tell me not to come back. At least, usually it was the principal or vice-principal. Sometimes it was just a guidance counselor.

I looked around the office in boredom. It was bigger than it had to be. All that was in it really was the oak desk and a few chairs.

"I've called your parents, Jordan," Ms. Woods informed me. "They should arrive at any minute."

She was right, because they showed up pretty soon after she said that. The last time they had been in the office with me it had been pretty embarrassing. I'd been in trouble for a repeated offense of public displays of affection, which basically meant that I'd been making out in hallways too much. They made a huge deal about it. In high school they don't care, but they crack down on it pretty hard in middle school. And in elementary school. And in preschool. I thought the whole thing was pretty stupid. It was just kissing, really, but they acted like I was hosting orgies in the middle of the cafeteria. The overreaction of adults was often hilarious.

"Sit down, Mr. Tyler, Mrs. Tyler."

My parents sat. They were pretty normal people, actually. People thought that because of the way I was turning out, I must have had a broken family or abusive parents or something. Nah. They were a-------, but not criminal a-------, and they even had a perfect marriage and everything. I never understood what the big deal was with broken families, anyway. If my parents had been divorced, I wouldn't have given a damn. If they had never been around, I wouldn't have given a damn about that either. I guessed that it would have sucked to have abusive parents, but you didn't really think of stuff like that living in River Heights. Nobody I knew back then had ever been abused. My dad had hit me once a year or two ago, and I had just hit him back harder, so it never happened again. I still thought, though, that it would have happened again if I hadn't hit him back.

My dad was a tall, balding electronics engineer, with a pretty clueless expression on his face most of the time when it came to stuff about me. He had a pretty high IQ—not as high as mine, but pretty high. He wasn't stupid about everything. He was just stupid when it came to me. He was smiling then, like this was a tea party or something. My mom had the same clueless expression, was a few inches shorter, and was not going bald. My parents had been hippies when they were my age. Basically that meant that they used to have long hair and made love not war. Oh, I didn't really know if I could call what my parents had been hippies. Now they seemed too square to have been mixed up in drugs or anything. Plus they'd lived in Canada at the time, where there was no war to protest. They had sure as hell dressed like hippies, though. They weren't a thing like hippies now. Their clothes and hairstyles changed with the times. My dad had even been in the Canadian Air Force at one point, after his hippie stage.

I had seen a picture of my parents in the sixties and laughed at it, wondering why anyone would go out in public like that, but a second later I'd had an image of a later generation of kids looking at a picture of the middle school me and laughing at it. Still, though, I thought anyone would be able to see that my generation dressed better than hippies. I was against war, and I'd always wanted to go to a protest, but even if I had lived in the sixties I wouldn't have been a hippie. I would have looked really bad with long hair, I didn't like tie-dye, and I didn't like drugs. If I had lived in the sixties I most certainly would have been a hood. Man had they been cool.

"I assume you're aware of the trouble your son has been causing," Ms. Wood said strictly, frowning like this was important. She didn't wait for an answer or anything. She talked to my parents for a pretty long time about boring grown-up stuff. I put on my headphones, and they didn't even notice until I blasted "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

"J.T., it's hurting our ears..."

Yeah right. Then they went telling us kids not to exaggerate. Oh well—it wasn't as hypocritical as some other things people did. Everybody was a hypocrite. Even I was a hypocrite.

"So I can't imagine what it's doing to you," my mom finished.

"I'm all right, really," I said. I could hear her because at that point I was between tracks.

"J.T., you should be listening to this," said Dad.

"I am listening," I informed him. "I have an incredible ability to double-task." I took the headphones off, but only because I wanted to switch CDs. "What's up?"

Ms. Wood cleared her throat. I took out Nirvana and flipped through my CD case.

"J.T.," she said. "J.T., listen to me."

They kept on saying my name. I don't really know why. Ms. Wood had said my name about a thousand times in this meeting.

"Yeah?"

"I am beginning to think..." She took a deep breath. That's when I realized what was coming. I had mixed emotions about it. On the one hand I had a lot of friends there, but on the other hand I figured I would probably end up at River Heights Junior High, where all my friends from elementary school went, including my best friend, Dave.

"That's good," I said. "I begin to think sometimes, too."

"Yes, well...J.T.,"—there it was again—"we're beginning to think that West Street Middle School is not the right place for you."

No s---, Sherlock. I almost laughed. West Street Middle School wasn't the right place for anybody who wasn't a studious square who got straight-A's and actually liked history class, or at least thought it was okay.

"You're kicking me out," I said emotionlessly.

"She's only saying that maybe you should try something else, J.T.," my mother started. My mother was a very deluded person.

"I'm kicking you out," Ms. Woods said honestly. It sounded weird coming from her. You'd think she'd have had some more polite way to say it. The b----.

"It's okay," I told my parents. "RHJH has openings."

"J.T., I don't think you'd do any better at River Heights Junior High than you are doing here," warned Ms. Wood.

"Me neither," I agreed honestly. I didn't think that meant anything.

"I think there is a better alternative," stated Ms. Wood. I guess I was kind of curious about that. I wondered if they could get permission from the government to let me drop out of school completely. I wondered if that was at least possible. I wondered if I'd like that if it was.

"When my son was your age, I sent him to St. Joseph Hall."

"What is that, some private school?" I asked. I had kind of a grudge against private schools.

"Yes," she said, but she sounded as though there was more to it than that.

Oh, no, I thought. It's a juvenile correctional facility. I had never been to one of those, but there had been some close calls. My cousin Jace had been in a reformatory once and juvy a couple of times, and he was only a couple years older than me. Of course he wasn't from River Heights. I bet a River Heights kid would get killed in juvy.

"It's a Catholic boarding school for boys."

I burst out laughing. That was, of course, a million times worse than a juvenile correctional facility. She went on and on about the great education I would receive in—get this—Oregon. Like my parents were going to send me out of the state because she said so.


My parents sent me out of the state because she said so. It was insane!

Thank god St. Joseph Hall had gone co-ed, or I probably would have gone even more postal. They really thought that sending me to a school in Oregon—where for all I knew nuns might teach the classes or something—was the way to go. Ms. Wood had them absolutely brainwashed! They weren't completely sure about it at first, but she gave them about a million pamphlets to continue the brainwashing process.

They told me to read them but I didn't; I didn't want to encourage them. I made one exception merely to find out when I had to get up and when classes ended.

Pretty soon, they were telling me that St. Joseph Hall was one of the best-ranked schools in the country, wasn't that great? (So was RHJH.) And hey, guess what? They had a golf team. Wasn't that great? I didn't like golf! And yet they went on and on as if I had begged them for years to let me go to a school with a golf team. It was as though when they were hippies the grass made them want to try something stronger, and the effects were still messing them up. (I didn't really think that, in case you were wondering, since like I said they were probably too square even for grass.)

"I don't want to go, Mom," I said plainly.

"You'll love it there!" was her response. That was their response for everything I said, just like my response to everything they said was a blandly sarcastic, "happy happy joy joy." This phrase seemed to have been inspired by Ren and Stimpy or some other Cartoon Network c---. That was strange, as I really hated Ren and Stimpy and all other cartoon TV shows besides Loony Toons.

My parents were insane. They kept telling me we'd see each other every month—as if I wanted to see them every month. Not only that, but I was pretty sure the food was going to suck. This was terrible, as I was big on food.

As if all this—the potentially bad food and going to a school with a f----- golf team but no basketball team—wasn't bad enough (considering how great my life had been so far), my plane was delayed, so I got stuck waiting in the airport for hours. My parents were there. They seriously thought that I wanted them there. Like I would want to be with people who sentenced me to bad food and everything.

"You can go, really. I'll be fine"

They acted like they were gonna miss me so damn much. They were the ones who were sending me there! It was their fault! Some of my friends wanted to come to the airport to say goodbye and everything, but my parents said it was a family time. A family time!

I absolutely, positively, did not want to go. Before we left in the car to go to the airport, I tried to consider all the other options, until I realized that there were none. I hated that. I was going to Oregon. At least I wasn't the type who got homesick.


Because of the delay, my taxi got to St. Joseph at about one in the morning. They had to wake the headmaster up and everything to get me "settled in." I could tell he was tired as hell. He was this thin, curly-mustached guy—kind of young for a principal and looked it, but he also seemed ancient somehow. I don't know if you know what I mean or not.

"So you're Jordan Tyler," he said, like he was meeting some famous outlaw. That made me kinda proud.

"Yes," I muttered.

He gave me a short tour, which could hardly be called a tour, since it was basically just pointing to the cafeteria and what I expected was my first period classroom. Then he handed me this folded sweater-vest, tie, slacks, and a collared shirt.

"What the hell am I s'post to do with this?" I asked.

"Wear it. It's your uniform. And don't talk to me like that."

"I'll talk to you however the f--- I want, and there's no way I'm wearing a sweater-vest," I said. I said it loudly, but he was halfway down the hall by then and he didn't even hear. He'd told me on my arrival he was hard of hearing. I realized that I was supposed to follow him. He stopped, and slowly opened a door.

He told me, "This is your dorm room." Then he left—just like that. I was starting to wonder if this was one of those freaky lockup schools you read about in magazines.

I dropped my stuff by the empty bed and surveyed the room. It was small considering that it was supposed to house four guys. There were two sets of bunk beds, and I was stuck on the bottom. I stood on the end of my bed and held onto the rail of the top bunk to see who the other guys were. Above me was this kid who looked as much like an insect as he could have without actually being one. In the other bunks were identical twins, these big, red-haired kids with freckles. At the end opposite the bunks was a bookshelf. I wasn't tired, so I thought maybe I could read something, but there were only textbooks and four different copies of the Bible. I went back to my bunk and lay down, with my arms behind my head. Man, this was gonna suck. I had thought it would at least be cool to live with three other kids, but come on, Insect Boy?

I sat up, bumped my head, and cursed the bed for being too low, myself for being too tall, my parents for giving me the genes to make me so damn tall, and God too, because everything was supposed to be His fault, wasn't it? I thought about waking up the other kids to say hey, but I knew some people didn't like waking up at one in the morning. I personally didn't like getting up at six o'clock, but according to the many pamphlets, that's when everybody had to get up in this damn place. I didn't think I would be able to survive that.

I fell asleep after awhile. A few hours later—I thought it was a few minutes later but my watch never lied—a bell rang real loud, so I put a pillow over my face until it stopped. A couple minutes later, when I'd just managed to fall back asleep, somebody was shaking me. I moved the pillow so I could see. It was that Insect Boy.

I was so tired that I was kind of delirious, so I think I actually called him that. I said, "Hey, Insect Boy."

The three of those annoying guys spent half the morning trying to get me out of bed. The human insect's name was Nathaniel McAllen, but he was already Insect Boy to me permanently. The twins were Evan and Daniel. Back in River Heights, I'd sometimes had to get up that early for hockey practice, but that had made sense—we'd needed the ice time. Here, it was like, why, why, why?

I yawned. The others were dressed already. Nathaniel looked even more like a bug with his glasses on, and the twins had uniforms that must have been bought years ago, because they were much too small. Basically, they looked like total losers. Maroon sweater-vests never added to appearance.

I kicked my legs over the side of the bed. I tried to start a conversation, but they seemed focused on getting ready for class—going over homework and everything. Plus, I was trying to talk about music, and they seemed to have no idea what rock and roll was. It was scaring me. The annoying thing was, they were looking at me like I was the idiot. They were such dorks they didn't even recognize cool when they saw it.

"You'd better be ready soon," one of the twins told me on his way out. My two other roommates nodded. All three of them left in a hurry.

I pulled on some jeans and a sweatshirt, and packed my backpack with some binders and paper and my CD player. The bell rang telling me I was supposed to be in class in five minutes. I had already missed breakfast, and I still had to gel my hair and everything.

I did show up eventually. I pushed open the door. Fifteen faces turned towards me. Standing at the front wa—get this—a real live nun, in a habit and everything. I choked back a "holy s---" and almost swallowed my gum.

"You gotta be kidding me."


Madeline

By second semester of the seventh grade, it had been five and a half years since I'd started at St. Joseph Hall. My aunt had recommended it. Her kids, Evan and Daniel, were in my year.

"Guess what?" asked my best friend, Catherine Banks, before breakfast.

"What?" Catherine, Tiffany Luoh, Lily Yao, and I had been living in the same dorm room since the fifth grade.

"There's a new kid." It was the middle of the year, so a new kid, of any grade or gender, was big news at St. Joseph Hall.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"I heard Headmaster Fallows talking to Sister Elizabeth."<

"Guy or girl?" asked Tiffany.

"Headmaster Fallows said he got expelled from his old school," Catherine informed us. "They said he was coming today," shrugged Catherine, looking around. "Then he'd be here, though."

When class started at seven-thirty, he was still nowhere to be seen, so I thought Catherine had probably misheard.

"Take out your math books," commanded Sister Elizabeth. She had taught at St. Joseph Hall for nearly thirty-five years, according to reliable sources.

We took out our math books, and started correcting the homework we had been given the night before. There was a noise outside, and the door opened, and in came this totally gorgeous guy, with a Jansport backpack hanging over one shoulder. For those of you who have never been to St. Joseph Hall, let me tell you, there are no hot guys. It had been about two years since I'd seen one (in person). I could hardly believe my eyes. He was, like, twice as hot as any of the male models on the posters in my bedroom back home. Tiffany raised her eyebrows at me to let me know she was thinking the same thing. Catherine whispered something to Lily. He was tall with blond hair and blue eyes. He had this look that said clearly, "I don't want to be here." That was such a great look.

He muttered something under his breath.

"Name," Sister Elizabeth barked.

"J.T."

"Name," Sister Elizabeth barked again.

"Jordan Tyler."

"Reason for being late."

The kid raised one eyebrow. "Well, I try to be late at least once a week," he told her. "Some people say it sucks when you come in and everyone's staring at you, but, you know, I like being the center of attention."

He smiled at me. I smiled back.

Sister Elizabeth was not as impressed by his good looks as the rest of us were. "Where's your uniform?" she demanded. <

He shrugged.

"Did you receive one?"

"Yeah." <

"Why aren't you wearing it?"

Jordan raised an eyebrow again. "Come on. Sweater-vests?"<

He hated sweater-vests. I hated sweater-vests. It was a match made in heaven!

"Leave this classroom, and don't come back until you intend to have your uniform on like a proper student of St. Joseph Hall." Sister Elizabeth was one of the strictest teachers I had ever had. He was new! He was cute! She should have cut him some slack!

J.T. shrugged. "No problem."

He left, and didn't come back for the rest of the day.


J.T.

Goddamn. F---. I will not wear a sweater-vest, I told myself. I was lying on my lower bunk, listening to Def Leppard and reading Taming the Star Runner, which I had found at the bottom of my backpack. The rest of the kids were still in class. I, of course, didn't have to go back until I intended to wear my uniform like a "proper student of St. Joseph Hall." And God knew that would be never. I wanted to play the guitar, but my parents had made me leave all three of mine at home, saying I wouldn't have any place to play them. I pressed the stop button on my CD player and took off my headphones, remembering that I was supposed to call Samantha. I took out my cell phone and dialed the number, which I had memorized. It was almost three, so West Street School would be out already.

"Hello?"<

"Hey, can I talk to Samantha, please? Thanks...Hey. You told me to call when I got here...Yeah, sorry...I couldn't, it was one in the morning. My plane got delayed."

"That sucks! So, how is it over there?"

"It's hell, kid."

"That bad?"

"Worse. I haven't eaten all day."

"How are your roommates? How are the teachers? Do you miss us? Do you miss me?" Samantha always spoke really quickly, like her head was bursting with a million different things to say and the way she'd get to say the most was talking as fast as possible.

"My roommates...I don't know. I haven't really talked to them. There's these twins, Evan and Daniel, and then Insect Boy..."

"Insect Boy?"

"I can't remember his real name. He looks like a bug. And the teachers? I don't know, I've only met one of them and she was a b----."

"Yeah, well, you hate all teachers."

"Her espec'ly. Yeah, I miss you...I miss you guys like hell."

It wasn't true. I'd actually never missed anyone in my life. I didn't know why. I didn't know why I lied about it, either. I lied a lot, but usually I had a great reason. If you were put into a situation where it was beneficial to lie, you would lie. That was just the way it was. There didn't seem to be a point that time, though. I think I just said it automatically. River Heights kids do that a lot. I thought it was because River Heights was a boring rich town. Bored rich kids often started talking and didn't realize they were completely bulls------- until halfway through it. It was just something to say. You know.

We all miss you, too," Samantha told me. "a lot. Have you talked to anyone else?"

"No time," I sighed. "I got here at one, and I couldn't call then. I couldn't call you guys early in the morning, either. Then you were all in school. Just got out, right?"

"Yeah. Oh my gosh, J.T., I can't believe they sent you there!"

"Neither can I," I groaned. "I can't think of a worse place to be." Of course I could think of a worse place to be. I could think of a million worse things to be. I was just exaggerating. When you lived in a boring town like River Heights, you ended up exaggerating a lot. I assumed that was how a lot of really weird rumors got spread all the time. A lot of them were about me. They made me sound like a hood or something. I thought it was because everybody there was so square that they needed somebody not to be. When nothing ever happened in a place people made stuff up to happen in it. "Anyways, how was your day?" I asked.

"McDillan gave too much homework, again...we tried to get him back in the supply closet, but he called Wood and she gave us all a lecture. We've got detention tomorrow, J.T."

"You've gotta catch him by surprise. McDillan, I mean."

"School's not the same without you. It's never any fun.

"Like it was before?" I asked sarcastically.

"It was, sometimes. You know it was. You loved to hate it, didn't you?"

"I don't know. It certainly was better than this place."

"When did classes end for you?" she asked.

"They'll end in a minute."

"You cut the first day again?"

"I had permission."

"Seriously? I thought you said your teacher's a b----."

"She is. She told me not to come back until I intended it wear my uniform."

"Ugh, you have uniforms there?"

"Maroon sweater-vests."

Samantha made a gagging noise. I glanced at my watch. 3:01, which meant classes had ended. There was a knock at the door.

"Who is it?" I asked.

"Jordan, open this door immediately." It was Fallows.

"Hang on, Sam...I've gotta go. I'll call you tomorrow, okay? Tell Rick and Luke and Lisa hey for me. And everybody else. Dave and Carl, if you see them. Bye."

The door burst open as I was hanging up. No locks.

"No cell phones allowed," Fallows told me sternly. "Get up, Jordan. You're coming with me."

I stuffed my cell into my backpack and followed him out the door, to his office. He told me to sit down in the wooden chair in front of the desk. Mahogany.

"What's up?" I said.

He glared at me. "Jordan, what were you doing out of class?"

"Don't see how it's any of your f----- business," I shrugged. <

"Don't talk to me like that." He seemed too calm. He had been warned, I could tell. Someone had told him about me. He had gone through my file or something. In that case, it amazed me that he was still willing to take me on. "Jordan, tell me why you weren't in class."

"Teacher told me to go," I grunted.

"I talked to Sister Elizabeth," he told me. I didn't know who Sister Elizabeth was, but I was guessing she was the nun. "She sent you to put on your uniform. I refuse to believe that it takes you seven hours to put on a uniform."

I folded my arms. "I'm not wearing a tie, and I'm sure as hell not wearing a sweater-vest."

"It's not up to you, Jordan."

"What are you gonna do, force it on me?"

"If that's what it takes," he said, his expression totally serious.


Madeline

J.T. showed up to school the next day in full uniform, late again. He hadn't been at breakfast, and everyone said that he ate dinner the night before with the headmaster, as some kind of punishment.

"Reason for being late," demanded Sister Elizabeth.

"I ran out of hair gel," said J.T. seriously.

"I'll see you after class," said Sister Elizabeth, sternly.

"Sure," said J.T. He looked around. "Where do I sit?"

Sister Elizabeth gestured toward the desk beside me. Nathaniel's hand shot up.

"Catherine sits there. She's in the infirmary."

Sister Elizabeth looked around for another desk.

"Wait," I stopped her. "Catherine can sit over there when she gets back. J.T. can sit next to me." I knew it was pretty lame to move my best friend around the room so that I could sit next to a hot guy, but two years, okay?

Sister Elizabeth agreed. J.T. dropped his backpack beside the desk.

"No backpacks are allowed here," Sister Elizabeth told him, "unless they have wheels."

"Are you joking?" He raised his eyebrows again.

"We don't want you to hurt your back, do we?"

"Sure we don't," J.T. grimaced, gritting his teeth. "I wish I could say the same for you." Sister Elizabeth ignored him and went on with the lesson. J.T. turned to me. "Hey."

Before I could say hi back, Sister Elizabeth started yelling at him for talking. She had radar ears. I just smiled, because I didn't want to risk saying anything.

"What's your name?" he mouthed.

"Madeline," I mouthed back.

He tore a piece of binder paper out of a notebook. It made a pretty loud noise, and everyone turned around. He waved. Sister Elizabeth clapped once. That was what she always did to get our attention. J.T. started writing something in blue pen. He passed the paper to me.

Hey—I don't know my next class, what should I do?

We don't switch classes here, I wrote, passing the paper back. Hadn't he read the pamphlets? I turned back to my math homework.

He tapped on my desk to get my attention and mouthed, "You serious?"

I nodded. He raised his eyebrows. He seemed to do that a lot.


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