Joel Higgins has 901 unsent text messages saved on his phone.
Ever since the thing that happened, there are certain people he hasn't been able to talk to in person. Sure, he shows up at school, does his mandatory volunteer hours at the soup kitchen, and spends pretty much every moment thinking about Eli, the most amazing girl in the world. But that doesn't mean he's keeping it together, or even that he has any friends.
So instead of hanging out with people in real life, he drafts text messages. But he never presses send.
As dismal as sophomore year was for Joel, he doesn't see how junior year will be any better. For starters, Eli doesn't know how he feels about her, his best friend Andy's gone, and he basically bombed the SATs. But as Joel spends more time at the soup kitchen with Eli and Benj, the new kid whose mouth seems to be unconnected to his brain, he forms bonds with the people they serve there-including a veteran they call Rooster-and begins to understand that the world is bigger than his own pain.
Here’s a bit more
you should know about me:
My pop’s named Jackson.
My mom’s named Mary.
I have one brother who’s five years old and we call Jace.
Basically the things that I am good at, they don’t teach in high school.
I don’t actually know what the things that I am good at are yet, ’cause other than playing video games or pulling a car engine apart and putting it back together again, I pretty much haven’t found any. But I know one thing for damned sure, it’s not the trombone or Euclidean geometry or diagramming sentences, or poetry.
Definitely not French.
I can’t parlez-vous for shit.
Math is pretty much a dead zone too.
To give you an example, here’s something Mr. Monty wrote on the board in math class:
The average of four numbers is five less than the average of the three numbers that remain after one has been eliminated. If the eliminated number is 2, what is the average of the four numbers?
Even before anyone else finished reading the problem, some freshman called out, “The answer’s seventeen.”
Here’s what I was thinking about when that freshman was figuring that the average of four numbers that is five less than the average of the three numbers that remain after one has been eliminated when the one that was eliminated was 2, is 17:
The pretzels in the cafeteria.
Pretty much in that order.
Eli because she’s Eli and rocket ships because a SpaceX Falcon rocket just blew up at launch and NBA 2K18 because it has cool dribbling and hook shot features and I was going to play it all summer with Andy but that got ruined because of the thing that happened and the pretzels in the cafeteria because they should have more salt on them and also be free because sometimes you want more than one and you don’t have enough money with you, and then Eli again and again, just because she’s Eli.
Then when Mr. Monty started writing another meaningless-worthless-boring-ridiculous math problem on the blackboard that he said would be on the SAT, I started thinking that they should redesign the entire school transportation system and everyone should walk to school until eleventh grade and then they should give all of us our own cars with the money they saved on buses and bus drivers and bus headquarters and bus insurance and bus cleaning and bus gas and bus tune-ups and bus everything because the school bus is like an insane asylum on wheels and having your own car is cool.
I was thinking, maybe Corvette Stingrays for the seniors and Camaros for the juniors.
Then Mr. Monty said, “Joel, are you paying attention?” And I said, “No fucking way. I have far better things to think about.”
But I left off the “fucking” part and the “no” part and the “I have far better things to think about” part, too.
So, I pretty much said, “Yes, sir. I am paying close attention.”
Then he asked me to factor the equation he had written on the board. This is what it looked like:
x2– 3 = 2x
I was thinking, there’s no way I know how to do that. And then I looked down at what I had written in my notebook so it looked like maybe I was trying to factor the equation and I had figured out that 114 Corvette Stingrays (that was how many seniors we had) at $55,450 a piece would cost the school district just about $6,321,300, and 97 Camaros for the junior class at $25,905 dollars each would cost $2,512,785, so together that was $8,834,085. I had recently looked it up on my phone and I knew that the whole transportation budget for the school district was just about exactly eight million dollars, so that basically meant we would have to be given less expensive cars.
Then I said, “With regard to factoring sir, I’ve got nothing.”
That annoying freshman had his hand up again, and he was frantically waving as if an alien had planted an exploding math pod in his head. Mr. Monty called on him and the kid said, “The answer is negative one and three.” He hadn’t even used a pencil to find it and we all knew he was right. I mean, come on, he was a freshman in eleventh-grade math.
Then Mr. Monty looked back over at me and he made that face that all of my teachers made when it was clear they weren’t getting through to me and they wished that they were. Or, maybe it was just that they were wishing that I was a different person or in a different class, or living in a different country like Estonia or Yemen or Kyrgyzstan,or maybe back in third grade, where they could start over and correct some of these problems before they even started.
Here are a few other things you should know about me:
Last December I got the lowest score you could get on the SAT. Apparently, the only thing I got right was my name.
I’m always surrounded by people, but I have no real friends. Not even one. At least not anymore.
The things most kids care about don’t matter to me.
And I think everyone I know has a horrible illness and is going to die any minute. Especially me.
Plus, I’m not tall enough or big enough for sports, except for the horrible sports like gymnastics and wrestling. I do not want to roll around with sweaty guys on a sweaty mat or hang from rings in tights. I would like to roll around on a sweaty mat with Eli, especially if she was wearing tights—or no tights—either way. In her case, I’m pretty flexible on the tights. But she’s not in my gym class, so that’s pretty much not an option.
I got suspended in the beginning of the year for hitting someone on the school bus, which is frowned upon. But believe me the kid deserved it. It was the second week of school and Benj Kutchner had just gotten on the bus at the corner of Adams and Hillsdale, and Anthony Pittsfield, who is known to everyone as the Pittster because he sweats so much that his shirts always have wet circles under the arm pits, stuck his foot out on purpose and tripped Kutchner for no reason and he landed flat on his face in the bus aisle. I was sitting two rows back and saw the whole thing, so I hopped up and decked the guy. Didn’t even really know Benj then either. I mean, I knew he was the new kid who probably killed his parents and that he was really annoying but that’s no reason to trip someone.
I also have 212 unsent text messages on my phone to Mr. Redman, the principal of Calf City High School—or CC, as we call it for short.
I have 454 unsent text messages to Eli.
And 235 unsent text messages to Andy.
The whole reason that I have all those unsent text messages stored on my phone is because Mrs. Wilson, the school psychologist who has no idea what she is doing, who I had to go see last year after the thing that happened with Andy, suggested that I write whatever I was thinking about in a journal, and I said, “No fucking way.”
Except without the “fucking” part.
Which pretty much means I said, “No way.” Politely.
As in, “I don’t think that would work for me, Mrs. Wilson, but thank you for the suggestion.”
But then I just started writing text messages on my phone like I was going to send them, except I stopped before I hit send and instead I hit save to draft. I got the idea after I saw this girl on a rerun of the TV show Shark Tank, which is where some people go when they invent shit and start businesses and try to get investors to give them money. This girl—who was sixteen years old just like me—invented an app called ReThink for kids’ phones and tablets and computers, so if they typed anything foul-smelling and atrocious or just flat-out nasty, a message would pop up on their screen:
ReThink! Don’t say things that you may regret later!
It’s like a pause button for brains that don’t have pause buttons, which is pretty much everyone I know in high school. Anyway, the girl who invented the app said that she did a test and 93 percent of the time—or maybe it was 87.2 percent or 89.3 percent of the time, I can’t remember—kids deleted the bad message when that ReThink warning popped up.
So basically she invented a way to put duct tape over kids’ nasty mouths and help stop cyberbullying, and when I saw that show, I decided that I was a total loser because I didn’t invent a way for kids to stop hurting each other. And then I decided that I could write text messages and not send them at all but not delete them either. It was sort of like I invented my own app to talk to people I wanted to talk to but couldn’t talk to for a whole variety of reasons that I won’t get into. That meant that I didn’t have to ReThink because I never hit send, which meant that I could pretty much say anything that I wanted to say without worrying about ReThinking, which would be a pretty cool app if you think about it and probably if I did a test 93 percent or maybe 87.2 percent or 89.3 percent of kids who used it would like it. I mean, who wouldn’t like to say anything they fucking wanted to, to anyone they fucking wanted to say it to, but then not say it and not delete it but just save it for later so you could see how screwed up and weird you were at some future date?
So I pretty much kept a journal like Mrs. Wilson said, just on my phone.
I’m thinking about maybe taking the idea to Shark Tank. I think all of the nice sharks would like it. Except the old, bald guy they call Mr. Wonderful just to be ironic, because he’s mean and wouldn’t get it. Plus he says, “You’re dead to me,” if someone won’t take his deal, which is no different than bullying. He probably sat in the back of the school bus in high school and picked on kids who had hair. Which was pretty much everyone.
Which is why we shouldn’t have buses at all.
Because of Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank we should all be driving Corvettes and Camaros.
About The Author:
K. J. Reilly graduated from Boston University with a B.A. in psychology, then headed to New York City to work in the marketing research departments of several of the largest advertising agencies in the world. She loves reading, writing, dogs, sailboats, children of all shapes and sizes, and growing her own food. Sometimes We Gave Them Names is her debut young adult novel.
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