Zeke had made a plan to get new Van’s from Goodwill. His grandmother had twenty dollars she owed him from her next paycheck and if no one had bought them, he would go in and buy them for himself. His own black slip-ons were falling apart.
“Dope!” Job yelled, clearing the ramp and landing on the asphalt, still upright. “Dope!”
“Yeah,” Zeke was tired, but the move was dope for sure. It had been awhile since he and his friends slept. Job and Jeremiah were both younger than him and he was getting too old for this. He was strung out and exhausted and he was hoping his Grandma would let him sleep at her place tonight. She didn’t get off work until three – that was three hours away.
Zeke didn’t even remember the last time he had had food. Grandma would have real stuff at her house and when he went there maybe she could even give him the money she owed him.
“Dude, do you know her?” Jeremiah was looking off into the distance, over Zeke’s shoulder. When Zeke turned around he saw a woman dressed in a blouse and skirt waving like crazy to him.
“Ezekiel!” she was shouting. She was so far away that her voice was muffled but Zeke knew right away that it was Miss Vierra, his high school English teacher.
He smiled to himself. Other than using his full name, she was cool and Zeke wondered how she recognized him from so far away. She was now walking straight toward him and Zeke felt self-conscious in front of his friends. He didn’t meet her half-way, but instead called back to her.
“Miss Vierra, is that you?” He shouted. She was moving toward him, coming into focus. She was older and maybe chubbier than the teacher he remembered. Still, she was beautiful.
“Ezekiel Morris!” She was all smiles as she approached, grabbing him for a hug and not grimacing when she smelled him. He hadn’t bathed this week, his only home had been Jeremiah’s car.
“Hi, Miss Vierra!” He was embarrassed that he looked the way he did. He had at least two facial piercings and a neck tattoo she hadn’t seen and she was a teacher. He was sure she would say something.
“Oh, Ezekiel!” she smiled and sighed. “I thought you’d be somewhere in New York or Los Angeles by now!”
“How are you?”
Zeke gave his standard answer to people who usually didn’t want to hear how he really was.
“I’m good. How are you?”
Miss Vierra answered his question one of her own: “Are you still writing?”
“Not really.” Zeke sucked at his lip ring.
“Why not?” Miss Vierra’s eyes were searching his and he was uncomfortable. She was one of the teachers who mattered to him; one that recognized that he was more than just the rebellious, troubled youth. No matter how much he tried to push her away, she would come after him. She was old enough to be his mother, but Miss Vierra always reminded him of a big sister, or what a big sister should be.
“I don’t know.”
“Where are you living now?”
“Nowhere right now.”
“His car,” Zeke pointed to his friend, Jeremiah, who was trying to get the air under his board that Job did earlier. He was failing miserably and it made Zeke laugh.
“Why, Zeke? What happened with your folks?” Miss Vierra put her hand on his elbow and Zeke raised his hands to his head. Hopefully she’d get the message: Don’t touch me.
“Ahhh… They’re doing that tough love thing. They can’t trust me because I stole from them and wrecked their car so now they’re not talking to me.” Zeke said it with disdain. He hated the idea that his parents weren’t talking to him and then calling it tough-love. There was no love in it. They were just sick of the bullshit, but they’d never say “I’m sick of your bullshit,” because they were good Christians.
The whole idea was sour and bitter and Zeke spit at the ground. Miss Vierra was watching him.
“Are you done with it all? If I called them and got you guys talking would you go back?”
“Faggot!” Job yelled from behind him. Jeremiah had run into him and Job was now bent over in pain. Zeke ran to his friends’ side, Job starting yelling expletives at Jeremiah and Zeke told him to calm down. Miss Vierra walked away, into the grocery store to buy whatever it was she came to buy.
Zeke watched her go and felt even more discouraged.
He had been raised Christian and had a fairly good childhood. His friends were mainly his brothers and sisters (he had eight), and life was slow and good. At twelve years old his homeschooling parents enrolled him in Christian school and the place was a nightmare. The kids who went there were either straight-laced snobs or the kids who had been been expelled from public school. The latter group was easier to be friends with.
He started smoking pot recreationally with a few of his friends (Job was one of them) and quickly graduated to meth – the drug that empowered him to have the control he never had in his whole life. Everything became easy and his mind cleared and triumphed.
It was the administration of the school that peeved him and as he tried to keep their stupid rules, he started growing weary of their church ideology, their snobbery.
There was Mr. Wen, his science teacher who seemed to love the subject enough to make his love contagious and then there was Miss Vierra, who read aloud like she was pouring gold all over the students’ heads. She loved his poetry and hung it up, even the stuff with bad words.
She was cool.
But Mr. Wen and Miss Vierra weren’t enough to make him stay. He had to leave school and he never graduated. Now he was unemployable and his parents weren’t even ready to let him move back in just until he had a GED.
What about family? What about love? The only love and family that were steady were Job and Jeremiah, as messed up as they were. Then there was the pipe, which was always there…always paid off.
After Job recovered from Jeremiah plowing into him, he lit his last smoke and shared it with Zeke.
“Who was that lady?” Job asked him, passing the cigarette.
“One of my teachers.”
“From that Christian school?”
“Yeah, she dresses like a Christian school teacher.”
“She was one of the cool ones.”
“Oh. English teacher, right?”
Zeke smiled, impressed that Job remembered. “Yeah.”
They smoked it down to the filter, finally throwing it down and picking up their boards. It was almost time to walk to Grandma’s.
Miss Vierra came out of the store and started walking deliberately back to Zeke.
“Uh-oh,” Jeremiah recognized the purposeful gait of someone with something to say.
This time Zeke met her half-way. “I forgot to say goodbye,” he said. Miss Vierra’s face looked worried and she held two plastic bags that she tried to hoist up as she spoke.
“These are for you.” Zeke glanced down and saw the outline of chocolate milk. How could she have remembered?
“I’m calling your parents, Ezekiel.”
Zeke’s shoulders dropped and he shook his head, smirking. This gift had a price tag attached – he’d have to apologize to his parents again and then hear their lecture. Again.
“Miss Vierra, don’t even get involved…”
“How can I not? I’m your teacher!”
“You were my teacher.”
“Once a teacher always a teacher.”
“They don’t want to have anything to do with me, Miss Vierra. Now it was good to see you, but I don’t need this.”
He picked up his board and trotted behind the building, leaving Miss Vierra holding the groceries in her hands. He felt like a jerk, but he was tired of being told what to do. Besides, she wasn’t offering him a place to stay or even a place to sleep and get clean for a night. All she was offering were groceries that would fill his stomach for one day. She used to be so cool, but maybe she was just like all of them.
NONE of them, Zeke thought, would EVER offer him a place. They’d never offer him a second chance or time to turn his life around. To all of them he was just the screw up. The one who they should leave alone and let die in the sun.
“Why didn’t you take all that stuff from her ?” Job asked him, catching up to him behind the brick building. “I’m hungry, dude. I know you are, too.”
“Yeah. I guess if I take it… I’ll owe her something, I guess. She wanted me to go talk to my parents again after they were the ones who kicked me out. They’ll ask me to go to church with them, all over again. I just can’t reenter that whole life.”
Zeke shrugged. “I don’t believe in God anymore.”
For some reason, the answer satisfied Job and he put his board down and skated off. As they rolled to Grandma’s house, Zeke thought of his mother. In truth he couldn’t forgive her after all of the betrayal and the sacrifice of him to all of the church hypocrisy. She chose them over him. God had nothing to do with it all - the real answer was far more painful.