Peppermint

Wendy Lessons is the type of person who everyone tells them they’re going to be great, do great things, that they’re just so interesting, such an interesting person just to even have around, just to look at from across the room, look at that guy over there, he’s really going ​be ​something, wow. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you feel like your whole life is going to be some cakewalk, and if it isn’t then you’ve got to be the one fucking it up, not exposing this apparently incredible side of yourself, and you blame yourself for failing to achieve something that when you think about it probably doesn’t even exist in this first place, this cakewalk of a life everyone in Wendy’s social circle and immediate family tells Wendy she’s going to have, because oh how marvelous she is, Wendy, who has a problem with hearing this kind of stuff, and not only because she can’t exist outside of herself in a powerful enough way so as to understand what anyone is even talking about, or what about her is inviting them to say these things about her, to her, but also: most of these people are just saying these things because it’s what they want to hear themselves say, and here Wendy isn’t concerned with whether or not the person even ​believes ​what they are saying re: Wendy being some sort of prodigal accumulator of success almost, like, despite herself, but more with why they’re saying it in the first place. Not, she wants this to be clear, not because she believes they are lying, but more like she believes they couldn’t possibly know one way or the other if they’re lying and therefore don’t have the ability to be lying about anything, or telling the truth for that matter. Because without a doubt, of all the conversation or rambling or what-have-you Wendy has experienced in her life what Wendy remembers most of all is anything anybody has ever said about her, Wendy, to her, Wendy, right to her face. As in someone saying “I like your hair” or “I enjoy your sense of humor”. Though “remember” may not be the best word for it – think of it more as “emotional energy spent on”. What other people say to Wendy. If all of the time Wendy has spent thinking about other people has mostly to do with what these people think about her, what these people have said about her, to her, and if when you sit down and think about it those people couldn’t possibly even know what they’re talking about, since Wendy isn’t being honest with them about the type of girl she is and this general Other person is really at the end of the day just telling Wendy what they think Wendy wants to hear re: Wendy, and if this is what Wendy devotes a majority of her time and energy to in her relationships with people, and is being guided through her social life by half-thought-out opinions someone probably quite anxiously dumped out of their brain onto her in the hopes that it wouldn’t hurt her feelings or whatever, if she’s just going through life like this, living on all types of levels of dishonesty, then what the real problem is is she’s been choosing the wrong friends, or simply surrounded by the wrong people. She believes that anyone who says Yes in all its forms to her is someone who cannot be trusted, by her, Wendy. That she has spent all 17 years of her life surrounding herself with people who may actually think she’s a great person but by no means could ever truly mean it when they say it is a bit of a concern, and it has been challenging and incredibly confusing to actively cut out those who have been

1 of 7

incredibly and misguidedly kind to her her whole life. Wendy thinks if someone doesn’t slash you in the gut with their raw, unbridled feelings every day then what’s the point. This might be the 200th time all of this is running through Wendy’s head, but it’s still a problem because there’s no quick fix, and that’s because the hardest part about being honest with people is that you have to be honest with yourself first, and being honest with yourself takes time. It takes more than 17 years, to be exact. It takes longer than 17 years because you’re not done growing as an emotional being. First of all, you’re not even sure why you’re alive in the first place besides filling some gaping hole in your parents’ lives, which isn’t to blame parents because for the most part you’re glad to be here, because it’s all pretty sublime and mind-numbingly awesome to even be a part of sometimes, and those moments for the time being are worth it, Wendy thinks. But so why are we here?, and the answer she always ends up with is: don’t think about it and get moving, just keep your head down. Stop thinking about it like that. Stay busy. Which is a good enough answer most of the time, or at least makes the most sense, generally speaking, because obviously no one knows. We don’t have enough time to do the amount of thinking required for that full-frontal kind of honesty with the self, especially as we grow older and older and all the days start piling up in your memory / emotional energy queue, and you’ve got all these events and people and places to sort through already but more and more keep getting added, like every 24 hours spent being alive is worth at the very least 72 hours of critical thought. Probably more than that. It’s pretty hopeless to think about any of this, but Wendy does and is comfortable not knowing why. It sort of just comes naturally. It’s what’s happening right now as Mr. Golenor’s Calc class is getting underway here and there’s nothing she can do to stop it at this point except wait to snap out of it. Whatever the major players are that brought her to this precise moment in time, like for instance she tried a new type of tea this morning, or she hit this one red light she usually misses on the way in, or Nate isn’t at school today, all of these things are coming together and providing her with an existential dilemma in the middle of this Calculus classroom. All she can do is just sit and wait for another huge emotional epiphany to come to her in some idle moment, and definitely not in flashes of panic like these, which are too abstract and millions of miles away from reality to even learn anything constructive from and are mostly just like she compares it to taking out the trash whenever your dad tells you to take the trash out, which you never know exactly when it’s going to happen, and it’s not like you’re sitting there waiting for your dad to ask you to take the trash out every night. You’re not going to remember that it’s something you have to do or that trash even exists in the first place until it happens, he tells you to take that trash out and then you’re taking out the trash and you come back inside and it’s like nothing ever happened all over again. No lessons learned, just routine maintenance.

2 of 7

Except Wendy thinks where the trash metaphor falls a little short is that usually when you take out the trash you can sort of gauge, like, okay. I’ll have this trash wrapped up and out there in that trash can and be back inside in no less than 3 minutes. That is, taking out the trash has a bit more of a smooth beginning, middle and end, whereas this whole mental process of questioning one’s life then remembering not to give a fuck takes an inestimable amount of time, so maybe if you take out the trash but once you get outside you find your trash can has been stolen so you have to put the trash in your car and take it to the dump, which it turns out is like fifty miles away. You get there and realize and can’t believe you didn’t think of this earlier that the dump is obviously already closed, it’s like 9pm and completely dark out and you’re fifty miles away from home, and you’re afraid of throwing it into some restaurant’s dumpster so you drive the trash back home and as you pull into the driveway your headlights scan over the front yard and you see the trash can lying on its side in the middle of your front yard, so you drag the trash can back to the street and throw the trash in and walk into the living room and your whole family is already asleep and all the lights are off so you sit on the couch in the living room in the dark and kind of pathetically fall asleep there and wake up the next morning and probably never think about the whole mysterious trash can disappearance episode ever again. Something like that.

Wendy usually ends up spending the majority of her time in these flashes of panic wondering when the flash is going to be over, because she’s been through it enough times to understand that, despite the feeling of endlessness that accompanies the flash, it always just goes away at some point. In a way this makes each consecutive flash worse than the previous one because every time you escape the flash you feel like you’ve got it all figured out, that you’re somehow done with emotional labour forever, which Wendy knows will never be the case, but somewhere in her gut that’s even deeper than that knowledge is telling her she’s finally got it together, which at some point in the future she will again realize she does not. Another thing she knows is that it’s a good sign, in terms of escaping the flash, if she says literally anything out loud to anybody, which is what she does right now, sitting in the front row watching Mr. Golenor prepare for class, drawing various scalene triangles on the whiteboard with his red marker, and he’s got blue, green and black markers clenched between the fingers in his left hand like adamantium claws, already uncapped and ready for further annotation. Some of the guys are still filing into the classroom and sitting down, and Mr. Golenor’s pretty occupied up there, performing this perfect squat in what Wendy has to admit are fashionably tight-knit khakis in order to draw triangles on the lower portion of the board, and this goofy kid McGregor who plays Imagine Dragons on his computer speakers before class every day and sits next to Wendy throws her a peppermint patty, which she tries to sort of deftly snatch out of the air but instead bounces off her palm and lands on the ground about midway between Wendy’s desk and Mr. Golenor squatting at the whiteboard.

“Oh, no.”

3 of 7

It’s a small, casual moment. The patty sort of hops its way across the carpet floor, there’s guys still filing into the classroom, sliding out of their backpacks and into their desks. Some of them are whispering about the homework, others just sit there, staring forward and digesting their lunch. McGregor’s got Imagine Dragons playing at a sort of ambient level, and he’s holding this family-size bag of peppermint patties and looking back and forth between Wendy and the patty on the ground. Wendy turns her legs out into the aisle to climb out of her seat.

Mr. Golenor is basically like if Jesse Eisenberg lost all of his hair before his thirties and was a recovering anabolic steroid addict still reeling from his lost high school football years and kind of just gave you the impression that he could be a successful Hollywood actor instead of actually becoming one. Like if Jesse Eisenburg slurred through his words more and loved teaching Algebra. He’s an internationally ranked disc golf player, he’s got an eight year old kid named Drake, happily married and quarterback coach for the varsity football team. He’s the head of the math department at Bellbottom and teaches six classes a day that span the Bellbottom curriculum, all of which is pretty impressive considering there’s no way he’s in his forties yet. If Wendy had to guess she’d say he’s an Aries, though she’s never asked. He’s got this way of being really open and honest about his life, a life with which he seems content for the most part, but there’s this sort of vaguely apocalyptic hue underlying his tales of family life, not really in the subject matter but more in his placement of these anecdotes within the context of an AP Calculus class. For instance, he will mention his kid Drake, and it seems like he really loves this kid, but something about opening up a lecture on infinite limits by casually telling the class about Drake’s halloween costume (cowboy), then heading off on this tangent about Drake being a lonely kid who would rather trick-or-treat with his mom and dad instead of getting dressed up and going out with friends, and how Mr. Golenor feels conflicted about this because on one hand he’s glad his kid likes spending time with the family but on the other hand Drake’s getting to a pretty social age and it would probably be good for him to start making some friends, then how quickly and effortlessly he can go from that little personal tidbit to effectively engaging a classroom full of lethargic seventeen year old boys in mid-digestion with the concept of vertical asymptotes strikes Wendy as impressive but also vaguely sinister, the way he snaps between the two, but it’s hard to put a finger on what bothers her about it because ultimately he seems happy and really quite innocent. He’s a good teacher, exercising command while also keeping things cheerful and open to broader discussion, confidently riding that line.

4 of 7

All of which is why it’s weird and surprising but at the same time not totally off- character that Mr. Golenor not only somehow sensed something fall to the ground three feet behind him, despite what appeared to be deep concentration on his scalene triangles, exhibiting a sort of mutant level of radial awareness, but also what his instincts then inspired him to do with this new information. He’s still in perfect squat position, and he’s still got the various colored markers lined up in the fingers in his left hand, completely poised, when he gracefully pivots around to face the class, looks down at the peppermint patty, looks up at Wendy, who’s just now fully stood up out of her seat, bending down to pick up the patty, looks back down to the candy on the ground, and the next thing Wendy knows she’s face down on the carpet, peppermint patty in hand, and Golenor’s on top of her and he’s got his arms wrapped around her waist and is sort of playfully laughing. The left side of Wendy’s face is pressed to the floor, and now she’s in Coach K’s advisory office before first period Statistics, she’s 15 years old, a freshman, she and Nate are deliberating high school soccer drama, Nate’s on the varsity team and never gets to play and is afraid of the upperclassmen on the team and Wendy’s half on the varsity team, half on the junior varsity team, which is headed by Coach Pallachino, who’s got them doing about five times more sprints at the end of every practice than the varsity team has ever done and Wendy’s frustrated because she’s the worst player on the varsity team and the best player on the junior varsity but since she spends a solid amount of time practicing with the varsity team Coach Pallachino doesn’t even start her on the junior varsity team, citing her “lack of chemistry with the team”, even though she’s technically on junior varsity, a discrepancy which is captured perfectly by Wendy’s not appearing in either the varsity or junior varsity team photos in the yearbook because she was practicing with the varsity team when JV took their team photo and practicing with JV when the varsity team took their team photo. So Wendy and Nate are laying out their frustrations with all of this but keeping it pretty lighthearted, they can have a sense of humor about it because like what else can you even do, Coach K is eagerly listening to them and heeding their frustrations when senior Jackson Roberts, who’s also in Coach K’s advisory, creeps up behind Wendy and puts her in a half Nelson. Jackson’s got nine or ten inches of height and maybe 80 pounds of weight on Wendy, who is now suspended in the air, and now junior Clay Garrett suddenly appears as well and proceeds to kick her repeatedly in the penis and balls, Nate is over there motionless in the corner of the room, mouth open, probably just thankful none of this is happening to him more than anything else, and it takes some time for Coach K to process what’s happening, and by the time he does Wendy is screaming so loud that Jackson just kind of drops her on the floor and starts laughing, Wendy crawls across the floor before steadily advancing to a kind of pathetic hobble out the door and down the hallway to the bathroom, tears streaming down her face by the time she’s throwing up in the handicap stall toilet. Mr. Golenor immediately realizes he’s really flubbed it up this time and jumps off Wendy and back to his feet faster than he just tackled her to the ground, but everyone in the class saw what happened and now the moment is kind of floating in the air over the collective

5 of 7

consciousness of the classroom, and for a moment the only sound in the room is McGregor’s computer softly playing “Demons” by Imagine Dragons while everyone silently absorbs the space between Golenor and Wendy, who’s still on the ground but in an upright position staring up at her classmates, at no one in particular. She takes a second just sitting there, turning the peppermint patty over in her hand and scanning over the class of spectators.

This is when the warmth wells up inside her, the byzantine satisfaction of a great fear coming to her in real time to declare its own fruitfulness, as if to say to her, ​this is why I am here​. And what a crowd! The warmth quickly fills to the brink and overflows, and a genuine smile bursts onto Wendy’s face as she turns to Mr. Golenor, whose eyes are simultaneously apologizing to Wendy and reprimanding his own behavior, desperately attempting to convey to her that well, hey, I know we had a rough past couple seconds just now, but you have to understand my intentions are never to harm you or to make you feel unsafe, but every once in a while our intentions decide to stop doing the heavy lifting, and I hope you don’t judge me based off this momentary lapse, this manic flash of raw human instinct, and I hope we can move on, and I hope this doesn’t turn into anything nudge wink administrative wink wink, and Wendy can hear them loud and clear.

She’s still smiling when she stands up, collects herself and pockets the peppermint patty, and she’s still smiling when she playfully shrugs to her classmates, who are smiling and laughing now, if not a bit uncomfortably, and she’s still smiling when she sits back down at her seat and opens the Calculus book to a random page and looks up to Mr. Golenor to give him her full attention.

Wendy spends the next hour with herself in GoGo’s class quietly debating whether or not she should take the peppermint patty out of her pocket and eat it or wait until after class, all while firmly giving everyone the impression she’s totally focused on AP Calculus. She wants to eat the patty but she’s sitting in the front row and has pretty much convinced herself that absolutely no positive vibes whatsoever would be produced by her eating the patty right in Golenor’s face while he’s up there teaching and doing she can’t even imagine what kind of mental gymnastics up there in order to properly teach today’s lesson while probably still being totally rattled by the whole part of his day where he threw one of his students on the ground and mounted or more like enshrouded the 17 year old with his human adult body like a turtle shell. It’s a classic internal conflict of Wendy’s, her own comfort v. someone else’s, that no one ever really wins. The only reason she decides to keep the candy in her pocket is she wants to see if Mr. Golenor is going to talk to her about it after class, which she assumes he will want to, and she would rather have that conversation before she defiantly eats the patty in his face while he’s up there just trying to do his job. This seems like a good, logical plan until GoGo wraps up the lesson for the day and sends the class off and sits down at his

6 of 7

desk in the back of the room and starts grading papers and makes absolutely no motion towards possibly wanting to talk to Wendy or even suggesting that he might still be thinking about the incident, but she knows he has to be, but the longer she sits there in her seat slowly packing up her things while guys start to get up and exit the clearer it becomes he’s not going to say anything about it. What a crowd!

When she exits the room Mr. Golenor’s shiny, bald head drops into her arms like a bowling ball and he looks up at her and smiles cordially, and she begins to gently stroke his forehead. She quickly slides into the nearest bathroom, locks herself in the handicap stall and sits down on the toilet seat with Mr. Golenor’s head in her lap. She looks him in the eyes, brushes his eyebrows with her index finger and reaches for the peppermint patty in her pocket. She unwraps the patty, splits it in half and puts one of the halves in Mr. Golenor’s mouth. He chews on it and licks his lips and keeps chewing on it until it’s pure chocolate sugary liquid in his mouth and he keeps chewing and chewing until it’s dribbling down his chin and onto Wendy’s khaki pants when Wendy puts the other half in her mouth and she can taste it but she can’t taste it taste it, and swallows.

7 of 7