As I revive my blog and resume regular postings, I thought it would be fitting to start publishing some of my older YA short stories, poems, and musings. I am really proud of Eyes of Excruciation, a novella that I wrote during a difficult time in high school. I grappled with thoughts of suicide as I tried to accept my own sexuality. Eyes is an outpouring of my wants and hopes, but more than that, I hope it serves as a supportive piece for those who are or have been in a similar struggle.
To keep a tight schedule, I will publish one part (called “Acts” in this work) every Saturday. From my heart to yours, I hope you enjoy every last word.
Eyes of Excruciation
By R.M. Calzada
He is usually the last one in the door before the 8:10 tardy bell rings, and I watch him every day as he saunters in and plops down into his desk. That desk is next to me on my left hand side. On the other side is a faded and cracked brick wall, painted a pistachio ice cream green, pretty much. Really, it’s ugly. And between that sick green brick wall with a couple of cracks in it and Eddie Garcia, is me. Stuck in that confining space.
Anyway. Every day he walks in, slings off his dark blue Nike pull-string bag, and crashes in the chair like he just got through running in track. Sometimes, when I see him collapse and sigh, slouched and tired, I forget what class I’m in or why I’m there.
Then I remember.
It’s first block. I have Government SO14. This is the class I like the most out of the day, although I can’t say why. Mr. Doas, our professor, is a hard-ass. His lectures are always about him nearly screaming out the history of Madison and Jefferson, on to things like Federalism and the House of Representatives. But everything is clear cut. The homework is always reading, reading, reading, and the tests aren’t so bad. We’ve only had two essays so far, and I got B’s on both of them. Everything is in order in this class, easy.
Except Eddie sitting in the desk next to me.
Eddie Garcia. The name for me has become a synonym for so much – relaxed, approachable, likeable, cool. The name is passionate to my ears, and every time I hear Mr. Doas call out his name for roll call, I find myself floating away fast but soothingly into his presence.
I guess I need that sort of feeling.
My head’s been hurting a lot. It started when girl I once knew stormed off yesterday, tears streaming down her face. I yelled at her, something I’ve never ever done before in our three years of being so…on and off. I did everything wrong: tone, body language, listening.
Sitting here now, I feel like I am a disgrace to the personality of Eddie Garcia. But why?
Lately I’ve been taking in most of him through sight – and even that’s been beautifully overwhelming. When I’m sitting here, my spiral open and my pen jotting down the day’s PowerPoint lecture, I let my eyes drift over to him and him alone for the longest time. His arms are what always catch me first. They always fill the cut sleeves of whatever t-shirt he wears, his biceps full and curvy and strong. Even without those muscles his arms are thick, just a notch above average. His forearms slim down to the wrist, but there soft bluish-green veins pop up, spreading out like roots that I can see when he lays his palms up. He never takes notes, none that I’ve ever seen, and his hands are always just there – idle, kinda. They are beautiful too, like a flesh sculpture, and big. Almost fat, but totally omnipresent and bracing hands.
God…what am I thinking? Observing him like this, like I’m in a zoo? I have no right to even think about anything else, except for what I’ve done. But my heart aches, and when Eddie looks at me, I feel a change. Seeing those strange eyes.
They’re just brown. A dark brown at that, and most days the whites of his eyes are a little bloodshot, probably from drinking. Because Eddie is a basketball jock and he always has that let’s-get-ready-to-party look. I’m sure he does. Lives it up with beer and girls on couches at some rich prep’s two-story house, every Saturday night.
But something else is in those eyes, too. Something flummoxed and a little sad in his usually energetic spirit. And maybe that is what makes me stop in my tracks. The perfect trace and size of them, the way they invite you in and then consume you playfully but roughly whenever he looks at you. At me.
Maybe he’s lonely.
I wish I could tell for sure. That way we could relate, maybe help each other out.
Then there’s his face. His commanding face, with taut cheeks and a firmness that I have nothing on. He has a prominent nose that is on the verge of being too big, but it’s symmetrical. His skin is not radiant, but simple. Maybe one or two little marks left over from acne. But every other inch is flawless, right down to his long and bulging neck.
It’s usually towards the end of class that I take a good look at his neck. The skin there is soft-looking too, just barely tanned like his arms but uniformly colored. And his Adam’s apple stands out too, taut and ridged. I remember when I was little, mom told me that a boy isn’t fully grown until his Adam’s apple sticks out like a small hill with ridges. Eddie’s does. So I think, disappointedly, that he is a man ahead of me.
I can never think of myself as a man ahead of anybody.
One day about a week ago, I stood up when the bell rang when Eddie passed just in front of me, eager to get the hell outta Government, no doubt. But when he passed me, I noticed that he only had about an inch on me; he, the man with the noticeable muscles and wavy, unoriginal brown hair, is just past my height.
And I am skinny.
When I compare myself to Eddie, anyway.
I am the unknown, with just a little bit of sharp humor for defense. And a heart for hearing people out, reading into every meaning without ever overextending myself. That’s it.
“In other words,” Mr. Doas practically yells, bringing me back to reality, “Alexander Hamilton’s national bank had a profound impact on Federalism.”
Lecture, lecture. I look up at the projection, scribble down what I haven’t written yet, and yawn. A Deftones song creeps into my head; their remake of Simple Man. The original came from… aw shit. Who was the band? Not Coheed and Cambria. I think…Lynyrd Skynyrd. Yeah. That’s it.
But I’ve got the Deftones version groaning in my head, floating through me:
Momma told me, when I was young:
Sit beside me, my only son.
And listen closely to what I say.
Oh if you do this, it’ll help you
Some sunny day…
Where was I?
Oh, yeah. Eddie.
Well, what else can I say about him? There’s not much left…
Eddie has a surprising voice. At least, I was amazed when I first heard him talk. Because even though Eddie is pretty well built, and handsome, with his Mexican features colored with slightly more Caucasian traits, he has a tone a few years behind everything else his body has developed.
I unzip my backpack, check the time on my phone – only ten minutes left in class – and zip it back up again, stealing just another glance at bored Eddie.
Yeah, he’s got an immature voice, I guess you could say. Not high-pitched, as if he’s still waiting for puberty. Oh, I doubt that. But youthful, with a little bit of a ghetto accent mixed in. It keeps things straight and chill for him. He’s always joking or making comments to lighten things up, and I think that contributes to the style of his voice. I can only hear it in my head now, when he’s sitting there silently.
Eddie looks at me, and I shift my eyes to convey a casual ‘what’s up’ to him without a word.
“Hey, what time is it?” he asks, leaning back in his chair and stretching. His chest flexes out tightly against his red track shirt.
I don’t let it faze me.
“9:29,” I reply, looking cool. Which I’m not, not here, not now.
He gives me a closed-eyed nod and looks away. “Hell yeah.”
I can tell he’s ready to escape, get out of this figurative rat cage.
I want to too. So badly. Just get out of this dilemma. This stupid little hole that I’ve dug myself in to, hurting her like that. What would Eddie think of what I did? Yelling at her, telling her she was a bitch, and how could I date her. I can’t function properly anymore, not when I’m at home on my bed, staring up at the ceiling fan. Or when I call Chris or Michael to hang out, and usually we don’t. And as for the girl…well, she won’t talk to me.
Oh take your time,
Don’t live too fast.
Troubles will come
And they will pass.
You’ll find a woman,
And you’ll find love,
And don’t forget son,
There is someone up above…
No, things aren’t right between us. Not after I went to church for Easter, not after I’ve slept for dozens of nights after that one day. The day I told her that we couldn’t, because she was holding on to me and him, still. After three months.
And I was becoming attached to someone else, too.
No, I only think about Eddie when he’s visible to me, and sometimes just as a passing thought. But when I think about him, I feel like I need to get his approval. Like he’s my mentor or something. Someone who can show me how to be stronger. Someone who can teach me how to mend my heart and really be a man deserving of her.
And be a simple kind of man,
be something you love and understand.
“R.J.” It’s Mr. Doas. I snap my eyes up in surprise, looking at my professor. He is staring me down behind his glasses. He has never called on me before in this class.
“Yessir?” I find the voice to ask.
“Can you tell me who the author of The Federalist Number 10 is?”
I blink. Then I look around. Almost everyone who’s not sleeping is looking at me. Including Eddie. Ever-present Eddie.
I think. I smile a shaky smile, then say, “Um.”
Then the answer pops in my head. I thought I didn’t know it, but:
“Alexander Hamilton.” I answer, almost certain. Surely it’s Hamilton.
“No,” Mr. Doas says, drawing out the “o” as if to emphasize that I am a loser. “James Madison.”
And he goes on lecturing like nothing happened. I was wrong.
People start looking away, as if they’re glad I messed up. And Eddie, shaking his head in a joking disappointment, says “Ow. Not quite, man.”
The bell rings. Everybody shoots up outta their desks, including Eddie. Mr. Doas looks disappointed that he was cut off and tells us, “Alright, study for your exam next week. Have a good day.”
Oh don’t you worry… you’ll find yourself.
But I realize that I lost it. As Eddie gets up, throws his drawstring on, and starts walking out.
Follow you heart and nothing else.
And you can do this, if you try.
I thought I was following my heart. With her. I don’t know if we can go on like this.
I guess I need help distinguishing dreams from real love. But who’s there to help me?
I stand up too, at last, and get my backpack on. I fall in behind him and look at his back, like a mirror of unknowing and uncertainty facing me.
All that I want for you my son,
is to be satisfied.
Looking for satisfaction after what I did, I realize, is wrong. I won’t say a word to anyone, not even Eddie Garcia, because it’s for the best. I know that. Right now, all I can do is follow the shadow of the simple man.
And that is not me.
Momma, that is just not me.