“My life is so fucked up right now.” Sebastian said, with a pitiful smirk and shake of the head.
I didn’t know him that well. I’d met him a few times, as these things always go, through that one friend at that party, or perhaps it was a few weeks later at that girl’s house. I knew I had witnessed him running all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge minutes before midnight instead of taking the train. I knew several times I’d encountered him he was shirtless or at least nearly there. Though I’d only come so close to Sebastian, here he was telling me something you don’t just go about saying all the time.
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“It just is.”
I put my arm around him as we walked to the back exit room of the Tribeca Whole Foods and sat in the corner together. I asked him why again.
“I’m kicked out of school.”
I had already heard this through the rumor mill, but I did not yet know why, so I asked.
“I got caught dealing on campus.”
Oh, I thought. I tried to look on the bright side and told myself at least it wasn’t heroin.
“Are you expelled or just suspended?”
“Suspended. For like, two months. But I don’t even know if I’ll go back.”
“’Cause I’m doing so bad.”
He told me he was going to a temporary alternative school until his expected date of return.
“What’s that school like?” I asked.
“It’s really shitty. The kids are all really fucked up,” He said and looked up at the ceiling, “We have some class and then we have group therapy. One time the guy asked us what we wanted at that exact moment, and half the kids said a big fat blunt.” We both laughed.
“Are your parents mad?”
“Well I never really talk to my dad so I don’t know, and I haven’t seen my mom since it happened.”
I asked how this was possible. He told me he hadn’t been home since he got caught; that he’d been sleeping at friends’ houses or, when their parents did not allow it, sleeping on their fire escape staircases or hallways.
I tried to wrap my head around how this all came to be. Sebastian attended Stuyvesant High School, New York City’s most prestigious and challenging public school. In order to be admitted, one must achieve an excellent score on the difficult SHSAT test. I asked how he was admitted if he wasn’t receiving good grades now.
“I used to do really well, but I just stopped caring this year. I don’t know, I don’t mind that much, ‘cause like I don’t even really feel emotion anymore. I sorta just mirror the emotion of whoever I’m with so I can seem normal.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes. I wondered what I could do. I could try to convince him to do better in school, but he would be so behind after not attending for two months that it would be useless trying to catch up. I could try to convince him to talk to his mother about what happened, but he’d just get punished again, as if suspension from his school was not enough. After racking my brains for solutions my little self could complete, I came to the distressing realization there was nothing I could do or say that could improve the daily course of his life. The only thing I could do was cry in empathy and gently put my hand on his knee.
There was a snowstorm outside. It hadn’t been cold for a few days so I was foolishly in a jean jacket, a skirt, and tights, and wanted to stay put in the warm supermarket, but Sebastian asked to go for a walk. I figured the first step of mending his life back together was to say yes.
We stepped through the automatic sliding doors as a gush of wind shook our bones. We began to pick up our feet high in the air to tread through the snow, and I took Sebastian’s arm in mine as we walked towards the water.
He and I were the only ones ambling on the Hudson River Greenway for miles. All that was heard was the thrashing waves and the eerie whistle of the storm. Not too much time later did I lose feeling in my fingers and toes, and my cheeks grew hot.
We had not spoken for a few minutes until Sebsatian exclaimed, “I have bud!”
I did not want to do any smoking here, or now. It is never wise to be stoned and alone in a blizzard. I protested as we walked towards Pier 25’s closed miniature golf course, and before I knew it, Sebastian was climbing over its fence and then so was I, even in my miniskirt.
He gestured for me to follow him into what would be an obstacle to a proper player, but in the white light of the storm, was simply an enclosed plastic imitation of stone. We leaned against its wall and I attempted to block his bowl from the aggressive wind as he lit up. Each time he exhaled, the cloud of smoke was rapidly swept away with the thick snowflakes.
I watched him and wondered what was to become of him. Was he going to continue his antics till the day he died, or turn his life around? What was his mother going to do when he finally comes home? Why did he even tell me all that? Though we were visually similar in our second-hand clothing, we were quite different people. Achieving good grades and having consistent routines were very important to me. I liked to smoke or drink a little here and there, but Sebastian was perpetually stoned, living in a smoke cloud. I had strong moral boundaries, such as I will not kiss boys I do not know or that I must respect my curfew and return home by eleven-thirty. But Sebastian was a free wandering spirit, doing as he wished, despite the world attempting to compress him. These thoughts were interrupted when he offered me a hit, but I could not maintain a light long enough with the wind.
“I should be going home, Seb.” I hoped I had not crossed a line by entering nickname territory.
As the sliver of moon hung in the gray sky, we climbed back over the fence and headed in the direction of the train.
“The snow is astounding!” He said, as he did a little triumphant dance and stuck out his tongue towards the sky. I half-heartedly released a giggle, not quite sharing the excitement. He was, after all, the only one of us two with a correct winter jacket.
“Oh, fuck.” He said, immediately altering the mood only a block or two from the subway.
“What?” I asked.
“I dropped my drugs somewhere back there. I have to go find them.”
I understood the dilemma, and agreed he should look for them, but I had to go home since it was past eleven-thirty. I was upset about being late, but I kept my feelings to myself. We hugged good-bye, and I made my way towards the train home.
Twenty or so minutes later I came through the door and my mother embraced me despite my tardiness. After conversation over hot chocolate, I brushed my teeth, popped in my retainers, and went to bed.
Sebastian may have searched all alone in the snow, for hours on end perhaps, to locate whatever illegal substances he had in that Altoids can. Once he found them, he may have smoked them and walked around or danced in the snow a bit more, but eventually, he would have to return home to a mother that would not make him hot chocolate.
Age 15, Grade 10,
Professional Performing Arts High School