TW: Substance abuse. SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
They tell us, “these are the best years of our lives.” I call bullshit. How is sitting in a climate controlled building set at a temperature that would freeze a penguin, locked up like a prison for thirty-seven hours, followed by another twenty-four hours working at some minimum wage job, and on top of that fifteen hours at least of homework all in one week considered the best years? Adults sometimes, are just so stuck in a nostalgic state that they forget that high school isn’t this amazing time. Maybe, elementary school where you spent most of your day learning basic math and writing, playing on the playground and trying not to pee yourself, maybe that was the best years of our lives but not high school. Everything goes to shit around middle school and just gets worse every year from there. The nostalgia of life in high school may make you think it was the best years of your life but high school sucks. English was the only class I liked, I’m not sure if it was because Ms. Wes was one of those teachers that treated us like we had a say in this world, or because the content of the class was enjoyable, it ’s easy to read a book and give your thoughts on what the author meant, if you’re able to give your explanation most teachers were impressed even if you were wrong.
“Mr. Adams.” I heard Ms. Wes calling from the from the opening of the semi circle I slowly focused my attention on to her. “what would you say the main conflict is in Of Mice and Men?”
“Self-preservation.” I said without having to think much on it.
“And Mr. Adams why would you say self-preservation is the main conflict.”
“Well, they’re migrant workers so they drift from place to place looking for work but Lennie makes it challenging as he keeps getting them in trouble leading to them not being able to save themselves from themselves.”
“Does any one disagree, with Canaan’s review?” Ms. Wes looked around at the class for a minute until a hand raised across from me. “Yes, Ms. Montgomery, what are your thoughts.” Madyson Montgomery was both smart and beautiful. Her hair was a vibrant but dark blue that sat pulled to one side overlapping her shoulders. She was new, her family had just moved from Orlando a few weeks after school started.
I focused away from the window where I watched cars drive past on the highway and gazed at her as she slowly turned her head towards Ms. Wes in the center. “In my opinion I think the biggest conflict is man vs. man.”
“Interesting thought, why?” Ms. Wes questioned.
“Well, Lennie fights Curly with George’s cue giving him permission to do so and Curly is overtaken by revenge on them for it.”
Ms. Wes continued her lesson on the novel and I looked at Madyson from across the room and smiled. Madyson in turn raised an eyebrow and focused her attention back to the ends of her hair. As the bell rang the desks shuffled and bags zipped as Ms. Wes yelled our homework to the fleeing students now free to go on to their jobs or extracurriculars. Madyson was slowly packing up her bag.
“Canaan, can I see you.” Ms. Wes sat at her desk not looking towards me.
“Yes, Jen.” I walked over to her desk as she rolled her eyes. Madyson continued to gather the rest of her things.
“It’s Ms. Wes, what is so important out the window?” She said organizing the stack of papers on her desk.
“Freedom.” Madyson let out a soft chuckle from behind me still at her desk.
“you know you’re a good student but why don’t you focus more?”
“Because, like you said, I’m a good student.”
“Canaan, I am serious. We worry about you. After last year, we all-“
“No offense Ms. Wes, it’s not a ‘we all’ situation it’s a me and my dad situation, but I promise I am fine.”
“Okay, just know we are here.”
“Yeah, I know thanks. Am I free to go or is there going to be a trial?” Ms. Wes gave a smirk and quickly hid it.
“Yes, you’re free, get home safe.” I walked out of the room and Madyson took my spot at Ms. Wes’ desk. As I head down the hall it was almost empty, I always wondered why in movies you always see kids hanging out after the bell rings. Maybe my high school was different or maybe people that write for movies forget that the minute the bell rings you’re either running for freedom or running to catch a bus.
As the door to the prison they call Nashua High School South closed behind me the brisk fall air surrounded me. It was the start of autumn, the trees started losing the green and traded it in for the yellows, oranges and reds. The air smelt like wet leaves and diesel fuel. The buses began to leave as I walked down the side walk towards the parking lot. From behind me I heard the doors to the school slam open and a panicked voice yell out behind me.
“WAIT!” I turned around and saw Madyson running out the door slowing her pace as the last bus passed in front me. “Fuck, shit, fuck fuck.”
“Bad day?” I said, stopped now with Madyson slightly in front of me.
“Just missed my bus, fucking dang it!” She frantically looked through her bag for something, “where is the nearest bus stop?”
“Like city bus stop? About a quarter mile up the street but the next bus is at 3:10.”
“Fuck, shit damnit. I’m supposed to start my new job at 3.” She continued to dig through her bag.
“What are you looking for?” I said pulling out a cigarette from my pocket and putting it between my lips.
“My phone…” she looked back at me. “You know, those will kill you.”
“Well, so will stressing the small things, no one lives forever.” Madyson didn’t seem to care for my sarcasm at this moment and placed her bag on the ground, still digging deep for her phone. “Alright, come on.”
“What do you mean come on?” I could hear her stop shuffling through her bag from behind me as I walked toward the parking lot.
“You need a ride don’t you?”
“I don’t even know you.” She said standing up slowly walking towards me.
“Sure you do, I’m Canaan Adams, we have English together fourth block, you literally just saw me, even laughed at my joke.”
“How do I know you won’t murder me?” She looked at me with a serious glare on her face.
“Well…” I I pointed up towards the security cameras that littered the parking lot. “there are cameras, my car has a license plate, and I’m not wearing a mask. If I murdered you I would be the last person seen with you and the prime suspect and I don’t have time for that.” She slowly turned away and look back at the school and then opened the door.
“your car doesn’t smell like smoke.” She said as she shut the door.
I pulled the cigarette out of my mouth and put it behind my ear “I planned on smoking before we had this conversation, I don’t smoke in my car, I’m not trash.”
She gave a soft smile while she leaned over for her seat belt. “Where do you work?”
“uhm, it’s the Bed Bath and Beyond.” She said finally finding her phone.
“Which Bed Bath and Beyond?” She looked at me confused.
“You mean there is more than one in this shit city?” She looked defeated as if today couldn’t get any worse for her. “I have no idea.”
“Alright no worries, what is it near? Was it attached to an old run down Party City and grocery store or an old run down Sports Authority that is now a Halloween store?”
“The first one the run down Party City.”
“Alright for future reference that’s the one on DW if anyone ever asks and you’re lucky I work at the shit grocery store right next door.”
The car ride was silent for the first few minutes, as we merged onto the highway Madyson broke the silence. “I… I heard Ms. Wes talking to you after class.” She said softly in the passenger seat. “What happened last year.”
I looked over to her for a second to see her eyes wide as if she was genuinely interested in me. I cleared my throat and readjusted myself into my seat. “Well, Ms. Montgomery that is a story for a much different day when we are both under the influence.”
“Oh, I don’t drink or do like drugs or anything.” I began to laugh. “What? Why is that funny”
“Living here.. you will do one or both of those things by the end of next month I can assure you that.”
“I think I am stronger than peer pressure.”
“yeah, well that’s probably true but you’re not stronger than boredom.”
I parked in the fire lane of the strip mall that used to be filled with shops but now only had the Bed Bath and Beyond, the Party City four vacant store fronts and the grocery store I signed my life away for $8.25 an hour. “Thank you.” She said as she began to open the door.
“Here!” I leaned over and handed her my phone number. “Just in case you miss the bus home or get bored hating everyone in this city. We all hate ourselves too much for anyone else to hate us too.”
The next day was just the same. Same last minute wake up. Same quick brush of my teeth in the shower while washing my hair at the same time. Same text from Hendrick asking me if I was coming or not. I jumped in my car and pulled out of my parking space the same way I did everyday. I pulled up to the the light blue cape cod style house with Hendrick sitting on his front steps waiting for me as he always did. Hendrick was playing with his neatly gelled hair as he walked towards the car with his backpack over on shoulder. His tall and lanky body seemed to barely fit in the front of seat of my two door civic. Hendrick has been my best friend since 2nd grade. We lived close but in two different worlds. His neighborhood was homes that looked similar with yards, driveways and front porches, while mine was crowded apartment buildings that have been around since the 1800’s when the city was first established.
“Bro, one of these days can you show up on time?” Hendrick said as he shut the door.
“You know, there is always the bus, we aren’t even late.”
“School starts in ten minutes.” He said as he reclined the seat and pushed it back to a more comfortable position so his legs weren’t pushed into the glove box.
“I’ll get us there don’t worry.” I drove down the street towards the school. I never understood why school started right at the beginning of rush hour. I’m not sure that planning that went into it but the street backed up about a mile away from the entrance to the school. The two lane road filled with cars barely inching forward.
“What did you do last night, I hit you up you never got back to me.” I pulled into a spot towards the back of the parking lot.
“I had work, funny story guess who I drove to their work after school.” Hendrick looked at me as he began pulling himself out of the passenger seat. “Madyson Montgomery.”
“No, fucking way. Did you make a move?”
“Man, what, no?”
“Damn, you should’ve. You could’ve finally lost that V card you’re holding onto.” The bell rang as we entered the door to the school. “Oh shit.” Hendrick began running down the hall, “I’ll need the dirty details later.” He said as he was now in full sprint towards the Art wing.
At lunch, I sat at my normal table in the back corner of the cafeteria. Even though there was a wall of windows along the other side of large open room, it was always dark and under a shadow of the other side of the school. I sat with my styrofoam tray with one slice of pizza, a weird looking mystery fruit cup and chocolate milk. At my lunch table was Hendrick and a couple of his soccer friends, Max and Tristan. I Never liked Max he was a short, skinny guy that had nothing to say except how awesome he was. I enjoyed Tristan’s company, he had perfectly straight, bleach white teeth. His hair was black and was longer on the top and it was often in an organized mess covering is forehead. He was easy to talk to but made me nervous whenever he spoke to me. I felt like I wanted to impress him for some reason. The rest of the table was Max’s friend Blake who was equally as much of an asshole and occasionally Hendrick’s girlfriend, Kayleigh but only if her best friend Addison wasn’t in school. “I’m having a party Saturday, my parents are out of town until Monday, are you three coming?” Max said directing the conversation to everyone except me. I sat silent, who the fuck would want to ever spend time with Max out side of this shithole anyway.
“There are four of us at this table.” Tristan said.
Max rolled his eyes, “right, are the four of you coming? Happy Tris?” Max shot a glare across the table towards Tristan.
“Much, I’ll be there.”
“you know I’ll be there dude.” Said Blake. I’m almost confident they smell each others jockstraps.
“Canaan and I will be there too.” Hendrick said with his mouth full of what ever mystery enchilada he was eating.
“Cool, Canaan try not to tell any of your loser friends, okay?”
I could feel my heart racing, I just wanted to punch his stupid ass face. “Oh don’t worry your majesty. I wouldn’t dream of tainting your gracious presence with my peasant friend group” Max rolled his eyes and continued his conversation about the party that weekend. The rest of lunch all I could really think of is, I fucking hate Max.
Third block was always the worst. Some days I would skip my third block math class and just sit in the cafeteria until the final bell to get to fourth block. I hated math, I always took dumb kid math and every year my teachers would recommend that I take a harder level math course but to me it was all the same. It was easier to get an A in dumb kid math than it was to get a C in smart kid math and I wasn’t about to let my GPA hold me back into getting some type of scholarship somewhere to get out of this shit city.
After school I drove Hendrick and Kayleigh to Hendrick’s house where I assumed they would most likely test their luck against teen pregnancy. It was just after 2:40 when I parked my car on the side of the street in front of my house. The white siding was mismatched in places and dirty in others. My dad and I lived on the second floor of the three story apartment. When my mom was alive she made it enjoyable to live here. She would always tell me, “it’s not about what you have, but who you have.” I always loved her optimistic outlook, my dad was happier back then so was I. She would tell me, “I’ll love you no matter who you grow up to me.” It never made sense to me why she had to die.
The day quickly faded into dark. I could feel the cold fall air through the walls of my room as if the window was open. I wrote my essay on Of Mice and Men, when my dad opened the door to my room.
“Hey bud. Hungry?”
“I’m just finishing up this essay, but yeah I’m getting hungry.” I turned away from the computer to see my dad standing in his dirty mechanic uniform, hands still covered in grease.
“Alright, I’m going to shower. I’ll order Chinese?”
“Sure, I’ll grab it as soon as I’m done this.” My dad and I rarely talked, except to talk about what we want for dinner. He was hard to talk to, he seemed too tired or uninterested in me. There was a wall between.
Walking down the street the air was brisk and wet, the cold air made its way up the sleeves of my hoodie and through the microscopic holes in my jeans. The only decent part of where I lived was the fact that almost everything was within walking distance. With the Chinese food in my hands I could feel my phone vibrating in my jean pocket.
“Hello?” I said with no reply just some rustling on the other end. “Hello?” I said a little more abrupt this time.
“Canaan?” A soft voice on the other end.
“Yeah, who is this?”
“It’s Madyson.” She said, “listen, I’m really sorry but can you maybe pick me up from work tonight? My parent’s can’t and I haven’t figured out the bus system.”
“Uhm, yeah sure I mean of course.”
“I have to go back to work but I get out at 10. Thank you.”
“Sure thing.” I hung up the phone. Madyson called me to pick her up I thought to myself? A part of me was excited, the other part was nervous and uncomfortable. Is this the type of thing that I tell Hendrick? He would tell me.
I found myself late after getting lost in the internet after eating dinner alone in my room. When I arrived at Madyson’s work she was already sitting outside on the sidewalk.
“Hey, sorry I am late!” I said
“You’re not, I literally just sat down when you turned in.” I was relieved. Nashua wasn’t the worst city in the world but it certainly wasn’t the best either. “Thank you, I can give you gas money.”
“it’s cool, I don’t need your filthy Florida money.” I said smiling at her from the drivers seat and she smiled back.
“Where you doing anything important?”
“Other than solving world hunger, not really.”
“Were you close to a solution?”
“Oh no, we never will be until we eat the rich.” She let out a quick laugh. “Anyway where do you live?”
“Uhm, the street is Tanglewood?”
“I revoke my eat the rich comment.” Tanglewood was one large circle pushed back on the outskirts of the city where the homes were no less than a million dollars. “I didn’t know Tanglewood kids went to public school?”
“What do you mean? Madyson acted as if she failed to notice how trashy everything was in this city and why no one else in her neighborhood got off at her bus stop after school.
“I am just shocked that you live in Tanglewood and work plus go to South. Do your parents hate you?”
“No” Madyson said, “I think they want me to be well rounded, plus the neighborhood doesn’t look like anything special.”
“Tanglewood is about as nice as homes get in this city.”
“That is depressing.”
“You’re telling me.”
We pulled up a large winding driveway that lead down a hill. The driveway opened to a three car garage attached to probably the biggest house I have ever seen in person.
“You want to come in?” Madyson said as she opened the door.
“Will your parents mind?”
“They’re in New York for some conference so, no.”
“A conference what do they do?”
“My dad is a dentist and my mom is an architect. Now do you want to continue this conversation in the freezing cold or inside?”
I followed Madyson up the front stairs, when she opened the door there was a grand staircase directly in front of me with a chandelier hanging over head. The house not only felt warm but looked warm and inviting. It felt more like a home than my house did. Madyson made her way up the stairs and told me to make myself at home while she changed. How can you make yourself at home when the home you’re in isn’t even on the same planet as your own. I walked slowly through the different rooms at lined her first floor. The dining room looked used but clean and welcoming, the living room had no TV just a fireplace and couches facing each other, there was an office and the kitchen had another dining room table in it along with a large island that opened up into another living room, this one had a TV and blankets thrown alone the different seating options. She had more rooms on just this floor than every apartment in my building combined. There was a large picture of Madyson and her parents and a guy with dark hair and a piercing smile mounted above one of the couches in the living room off the kitchen. Her family looked so together, so happy.
“you can sit down and turn on the TV.” Madyson was wearing her hair in a side pony tail and had on gray sweat pants and a blue “University of South Florida” hoodie.
“Even if I knew how to turn on that TV I would be too scared to touch anything in this house.”
“Oh come on.” She pulled me down onto the couch and put her bare feet under one of the blankets on the couch.
“Who is that?” I pointed to the picture mounted on the wall.
Madyson looked up at the picture as if she had never seen it before just now, “That’s Killian, my brother. He’s a freshman at USF in Tampa.”
“Well that explains the hoodie.” I looked at Madyson as she scrolled through the TV. “Do you like it here?”
She put on MTV and turned the volume down to where you could just hear it enough that there was no silence. “I mean not really. I mean, I don’t hate it here but it’s kinda boring.”
“Yeah, I feel that.” She played with the strings on the end of the blanket next to her on the couch. “Well, I know there is a party this weekend. It’s at a total douchebag’s house but he explicitly told me not to invite anyone so I feel like I have to.”
“Oh you know him.”
“We have Chemistry together, I hate him but he think’s I’m playing hard to get.”
“Yeah, I’m not sure why he thinks he’s such a catch.”
“I mean he’s pretty fucking hot. But, a total prick. Anyway I’m working so I can’t go.”
“Well it’s probably going to be going on pretty late just find me if you come.”
Madyson nodded her head and we sat there talking pretty late. She was a pretty cool girl. Much cooler than the people I met from around here. I found out her friends loved to take weekend trips to the coast and all had annual passes to Disney and Universal. She added me on Facebook and got stuck in a rabbit hole of showing each other old pictures of us with friends. Her’s were all cooler than mine, pictures of her and her friends standing in front of clear blue water on white sand beaches, or them kayaking through rivers and hanging out in Disney. I hadn’t ever even been out of New England. Honestly, I haven’t even been to all of New England but in my defense I don’t really understand what is even in Vermont other than Ben and Jerry’s.
I parked my car in front of my house around 1 am and I could see that I left my light on. I remember that my mom used to get so mad when I would do that. I could still hear her telling me how much more they spend on electric or gas when I leave lights on or my window cracked. I missed it a lot. My dad never said anything about that type of stuff to me. He never really said much in general since my mom died. I still remember that night she died, it felt like this night. It was crisp and chilly the leaves had began falling from the trees, the neighbors started putting up Halloween decorations. I left work early and went to Hendrick’s to help him study for his Biology test the next day. Hendrick is pretty awful with just school in general. My dad worked late to get caught up for the week. In the kitchen my mom was strung out on the kitchen table, the needle still in her arm. Her body was cold. My dad and I said we didn’t know that she was an addict and this must’ve been one of her first times because we didn’t want CPS involved. There weren’t a lot of questions asked more than that. The opioid crisis in New Hampshire just got worse every year and the first responders just didn’t care. My mom was just another statistic and we were just another pathetic family they had to waste their time with. But it was different for us. It was different for me. My mom was amazing. She always smelt like cucumber melon body spray and was the most caring person I have ever met. I almost think that’s how we ended up here. She cared too much to watch us continue to see her suffer. Maybe it was deliberate, maybe it was an accident. It didn’t make it any easier. I just wanted her back. I walked into the almost silent apartment. My dad’s bedroom TV was on and let off a blue glow down the hallway. I could hear him snoring as I shut my bedroom door. I held onto the last picture my mom and I took at my seventeenth birthday party last summer she was so happy and so was I.