“Let’s go,” Jimmy said to us again. “You can’t just sit there.”
“Will you just leave already?” one of the guys in the back of the room—Satch, a good friend of Jesse Marin’s—shouted out. A few kids tittered in response.
“Fine,” Jimmy said, picking up his things and heading for the door. I picked up my things, too.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Mr. Weiss,” Mr. Davis said. He no longer looked horrified. He looked pleased.
Jimmy was out the door. I followed. So did Mira, Keisha, and seven other students.
Thirteen kids remained in the class.
“So what now?” Mira asked when we were all in the hall.
“The principal’s,” Jimmy said. I moved next to him, trying to figure out if he felt as shaken as I did.
When I put my hand on his shoulder, he stiffened.
“Are you okay?” I asked quietly.
“You just sat there,” he murmured, anger and disappointment in his voice. “You just sat there and didn’t say a thing.”
Then he walked forward, leaving my hand—me—behind.
“What are we doing?” a girl named Gretchen asked.
“The right thing,” I answered, a beat too late.
“The personal is political,” Jimmy said to me one of the first nights I sneaked over to his house, “and the political is personal. We vote every time we make a choice. We vote with our lives.”
I pulled closer to him under the blanket, ran my hand down his bare chest. Voting.
“Mr. Davis should not have said those things,” Principal Cotter said to us now. “But you shouldn’t have walked out of class, either.”
“Bastard,” Jimmy said when we left Principal Cotter’s office, with an assurance that Mr. Davis would be called to account for his actions, and that we wouldn’t be failed or expelled.
“I’m sorry,” I said when the next bell rang and everyone else had gone to their next classes.
“Today is a part of what America was meant to be,” President-elect Stein said over our phones’ open news channels. “Justice. Equality. Democracy. We know what we have to do…and we will do it.”
“I know you are,” Jimmy said. “I know.”
“This is just the beginning,” Stein told us. And I realized that, yes, he was right. I had started the day thinking it was the ending. But really it was the beginning.
“I can’t believe it,” Jimmy told me during second period. We’d both dodged out of study hall and were sitting in a corner of the library, our own temporary refuge. “I can’t believe Principal Cotter didn’t understand.”
“Maybe that’s what history is,” I said, thinking about everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours. “You go from one I can’t believe it to the next. And sometimes the I can’t believe its are good, and sometimes they’re bad. But the sum total of positive ones always outweighs the negative ones. That’s progress. So you can’t let this one I can’t believe it get you down—Stein’s still going to be President. Mr. Davis can’t change that, as much as he wants to.”
It felt good to be surrounded by books, by all this solid knowledge, by these objects that could be ripped page by page but couldn’t be torn if the pages all held together. So much of the information we received was ephemeral—pixels on screen, words passing in the air. But here I felt that thoughts had weight.
We watched more on the open news channel—the full spectrum of reactions, from celebration in some parts of the country to outbursts of hate in others. None of it was surprising, nor was it surprising that everyone seemed to be going along with the election. The faith in the process remained.
Kansas seemed to be the only exception. The governor—a member of the opposition party—was demanding a recount, and it looked like he would get his way. Each news channel—the green, the blue, the red, the yellow—had its own take on the situation. But nobody seemed too concerned that Stein’s victory would be taken away.
“How’re you guys doing back there?” a voice asked. We looked up and saw Ms. Kaye, our school librarian. She’d had a Stein/Martinez bumper sticker on her car since January, so we knew where she stood. I’m sure we would’ve figured it out easily enough even without the bumper sticker; Ms. Kaye was that wonderful kind of librarian who loved her kids even more than she loved her books. She knew why she was here, and we knew it, too. We couldn’t help but want to grow up to be just like her.
“We’re okay,” Jimmy told her.
“Okay? You’re not usually one to answer with typical teenage understatement, James. What’s going on?”
He told her what had happened in Mr. Davis’s class.
“That bastard,” Ms. Kaye said. “Not that you just heard that from me. But don’t worry—there are plenty of us here who aren’t going to let that slide. Cotter’s stupid, but he’s not that stupid. Anyway, don’t let it ruin today. We should all be celebrating. You know how old I am? Sixty-five. And the world continues to amaze me, no more so than on a day like today. I’m not talking down to you when I say you can’t begin to understand what this means. When I was born, women were still paid two-thirds what men were paid. White people were the majority in this country, and they seemed hell-bent on keeping it that way. A woman like Alice Martinez being Vice President? Forget it. And Abe Stein as President? When pigs fly! But I’m telling you—pigs now fly. I can press thirteen buttons on a phone every morning and see my sister in Borneo. I can open a channel and find out what they’re talking about in a small town in France. You can buy raspberries in any country in the world, on any day. You can get medicine to cure you if you’ve got a cold, and you can walk down the street without being made to fear that the sky will fall. Pigs flying—that’s nothing compared to this. You don’t realize—the great thing about change is how quickly we get used to it. So I’m not complaining. The more things change, the more they don’t stay the same. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. They might not change everywhere all at once—but there are moments when the impossible becomes the inevitable, and the rest is just a matter of time.”
I was grateful to hear her say this. But I still didn’t think I was off the hook for not speaking up earlier. Even if Jimmy had said it was okay, it didn’t feel okay. I wanted to tell him this. I waited until Ms. Kaye gave us another big congratulations to the day, then eased off to another kid in another corner.
I knew I had to say something more than sorry. Not for Jimmy, really—more for myself.
“Back there,” I began, “in class. I…I didn’t know what to do. I froze. It was like I couldn’t do anything but watch. Even though it was killing me.”
Jimmy looked at me for a second, then said, “You don’t blink, you know that?”
I blinked. “What do you mean?”
He smiled. “When you’re being sincere. It’s like you’re so busy getting the words out that you forget to blink. It’s sweet.”
Now, of course, I was ultra-conscious of every blink.
“So it’s not” (blink) “what I” (blink) “say, it’s” (blink) “how many times” (blink) “—oh, damn” (stare) (blink).
“Now you’re even cuter. Just because I become all confrontational doesn’t mean you have to be that way. Not until it really matters, okay?”
I’d been so insecure when we first started going out. I’d spent so much time counting. How many times he kissed me first versus how many times I kissed him first. How late I’d stay up for a text from him versus how late he’d stay up for word from me. How many friends of his liked me versus how many of my friends liked him. No matter what the tally was, I always lost. I was always thinking in terms of too much or not enough, rarely allowing myself that crucial space in between. Except when he was around. Except when we were really together. Then I could forget—I couldn’t turn it off, but I could forget to turn it on. Gradually, the columns began to tip. I lost track of keeping track. In order to let us be, I let myself be.
But there were still some moments, moments like this one, when I felt the despair of that not enough, of the forgiveness I wouldn’t allow myself to take.
Jimmy knew this, and, just like me, he didn’t know what to do about it. He could only tell me it was all right. I was the one who had to feel it.
I leaned my head onto his shoulder. He leaned his head on top of mine. We listened to the news until the period ended and it was time to go back to class.
“….When asked to define his vision of the Great Community, Stein said it was based on the simple premise of ‘love thy neighbor.’”
“‘We are not taught “love thy neighbor unless their skin is a different color from yours” or “love thy neighbor unless they don’t make as much money as you do” or “love thy neighbor unless they don’t share your beliefs.” We are taught “love thy neighbor.” No exceptions. We are all in this together—every single one of us. And the only way we are going to survive as a society is through compassion. A Great Community does not mean we all think the same things or do the same things. It simply means we are willing to work together and are willing to love despite our differences.’
“Stein says he has no doubt that this can happen.
“‘People do this every day of their lives on a small scale. I’m just asking them to do it on a bigger scale. When a disaster happens—when an earthquake hits, or our country is under attack—we rally ourselves to be a Great Community. Well, there’s no reason we have to wait for bad in order to recognize good. The Great Community will happen, and it will happen in our lifetime….’”
Happily, the Jesus Freaks saved seats for us at lunch.
Jesus Freak was their term, not mine—Janna said it was in honor of the song “I Freak Out for Jesus” by the band Holy Ghostwriter, one of the bigger Jesus Revolution pop acts. I took her word for it—there wasn’t really a Jewish equivalent of Holy Ghostwriter, and if there was, I can’t say that I would’ve listened to it. I was more of a grunk fan myself.
Janna and Mandy said a prayer over their cafeteria food, thanking Jesus for the bounty of synthetic meat and cola-free cola on their trays. I surprised them (and Jimmy) by joining in their “Amen” at the end. I figured I owed Jesus a little thanks, because it was doubtful we’d have a g*y Jewish president if it weren’t for him and his followers.
What Would Jesus Do? It all started with that simple question. The way I understand it, the phrase had been around for a while. People used to wear it on T-shirts, or wore the letters WWJD on bracelets, with the telltale question mark on a bead at the end. It started on a personal level—girls would ask themselves WWJD? if their boyfriends wanted to have sex with them, or husbands would ask WWJD? if they wanted to calm down before yelling at their wives.
But then other things happened. The Greater Depression happened. The events of 3/12 and 7/23 happened. The Andreas Quake and Hurricane Wanda. The President launched his War to End All Wars, which only managed to create more wars and the tragic events of 4/5. The Greater Depression deepened. Millions of people died, and there was no way to erase their faces and their names from the more renegade open news channels, which wanted to remind everyone how bad the government had let things get. The Decents and their program of Denial Education reached their peak. The Opus Dei Trials began. Suddenly people started to ask it again—What Would Jesus Do? And this time it wasn’t just on a personal level—it was on a political level, too.
For the Jesus Revolutionaries, the answer was clear: Jesus would not be out waging “preventative” wars. Jesus would not be withholding medicine from people who could not afford it. Jesus would not cast stones at people of races, sexual orientations, or genders other than his own. Jesus would not condone the failing, viperous, scandal-plagued hierarchy of some churches. Jesus would welcome everyone to his table. He would love them, and he would find peace.
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