This is a short list submission for the ROSA Award.
Pool Parties In Venice
It’s Thursday afternoon and we’re all fifteen, sixteen – with the exception of a few burnouts who failed grade ten roughly three times in a row. We’re sitting in Mr. Smith’s applied science class, prisoners to jails made of periodic tables, locked by chemical equations. Of course, we’re only taught the very basic of scientific principles, because after all, we comprise the “no future” class. We’re a motley assemblage of drug-abusers, class clowns, trailer-park trash. And don’t forget the moody breed – the back-row kids always quipped with a plentiful supply of teen angst and sarcasm. The category I fall into.
Today’s science class has a “special” guest, and by special, I mean a 3rd year college kid whose gel-infused hair is almost as big as his ego. Mr. Smith is beaming like a proud father as Big Hair gives the slouched class a grandiose speech on all his success in life. I listen blandly, watching a smug grin crack his tanned face, ivory teeth too bright. He’s going to be an engineer. Biosystems something or other. He’s a football quarterback. He lives in Italy during the summer at his parent’s European getaway home. Mr. Smith slaps Big Hair enthusiastically on the back after his oration, and the sound actually ricochets off the walls.
“Wow! Just…wow. And to think, I was teaching you in my academic class just a few years ago!” Mr. Smith looks like he might hemorrhage from pride. I make eye contact with a few druggies. We roll our eyes collectively.
Mr. Smith sees the exchange and scowls. “Now you kids,” he begins, his voice molting into another tone entirely, “You kids pay your respects. It’s not every day you get to meet Success.” Big Hair crosses his arms and leans against Mr. Smith’s desk, arrogance written across his face in bold. He smirks, clearly enjoying his new moniker.
“So, Success. Is that like a middle name, or…?” Jordan, usually one of the quiet kids, asks stonily. We all blink at him in surprise.
“Success is, in fact, who you are looking at,” Mr. Smith fires back, gesturing grandly to Big Hair. “This is who most of you will never attain to. In fact, I guarantee 95% of this class won’t make it past high school,” his face turns deep rubicund as he builds on a crescendo of insults.
“And you know why? Because you don’t take opportunities! You don’t try. You flail behind the academic class so obscenely that it’s, quite frankly, an embarrassment. Our school’s literacy test scores fall drastically below the national average. Who do we have to thank for that? You. You’ve all become a statistic of failure.” He makes a sharp swoop with his arm to the room, a physical exclamation mark.
I bite hard on my inner lip until I taste something metallic. Every nerve and vein is humming as I glance wildly about the room, watching eyes and heads sink heavily, remorsefully. The boy beside me picks violently at a cuticle until jewels of blood stain his finger. A pregnant girl near the front bites her pierced lip, brimming eyes fixed at the floor.
The silence is stone-like, an ellipses that weighs heavier than any words that can be said. But I stumble, Bambi-like, into the blank field.
“Mr. Smith,” I begin, sounding distant to myself, as if I’m underwater. “Who do you think you are to tell us we won’t amount to anything?”
“I’m not telling you. Statistics are,” he states resolutely, moving quickly towards Big Hair. “Now, would you all please thank –“
“Mr. Smith.” My voice severs his, a lion taking down a gazelle. “You just crossed the line. More than that. You pretty much just hijacked the border. Ever thought that maybe we’d be more quote-unquote ‘successful’ if the teachers in this school weren’t constantly reminding us of our apparent failure? I thought the point of a teacher was to teach, to guide and build us up or something hallmark-y like that. Not to shove hot-shots in front of us, bragging for half an hour about their Ivy league schools and pool parties in Venice or whatever.”
There was a low rumble of agreement from the now well-postured class, alert and clinging to my words. Mr. Smith looks unsure of himself. I take an uneven breath and plow on.
“Success. You say we won’t ever achieve it. But is that really success?” I motion to Big Hair, who’s getting visibly uncomfortable. “I just don’t see it. I don’t see how there can be a success equation, a ‘cut-along-the-lines’ method. What if success, to someone, is going to Romania and working at a soup kitchen for gypsies? What if success is spending your life painting on the streets, or writing novels even if they don’t sell? What if success is raising a family in the town you grew up in?” I glance at the pregnant girl, a butterfly smile skimming her face. I stand up, pushing back my chair. This has gotten way more blockbuster than I originally intended, but you can’t really turn back once you’ve stood up and pushed out your chair rather dramatically.
“I’m done. I’m done with being told I have no future. I’m done listening to teachers who have nothing beneficial to say. I’m more than a disease, a side-effect of society. I’ll make my own success.” I shrug on my army jacket and brush past a speechless Mr. Smith and Big Hair, my pulse an erratic jungle rhythm.
“Where – What – Come back here. Come back here right now,” Mr. Smith orders importantly. I ignore the command, smiling sheepishly as I hear chairs scraping, and dozens of feet scuffing the linoleum behind me. Mr. Smith begins shouting, his voice eventually crumbling along with his veneer of control. We burst into the hall like a minute army, leaving Mr. Smith and Big Hair in an empty science lab, abandoned in the aftermath of a teenage Armageddon.