CHAPTER ONE

Only Kirsten Kogan could make a cute bumblebee costume look sinister.  This I knew before she punched me in the face the night before I lost my job.

Kirsten and I co-taught a class at an alternative school in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood.  Well, Kirsten did most of the teaching.  I was like her left arm, her muscle. My official title was intervention counselor and teacher’s aide.  Really what it meant was I would take kids who acted up in class to a time-out room.  At this school were a variety of “special needs” kids.  Some would shit their pants, others would punch you in yours.  Some did both.

On our first day working together I had to clean up the bathroom where one of the students crapped everywhere but the toilet.  “What did it smell like?” she said.  “Like shit,” I told her.

Kirsten hated me.  I hated her.  We hated our building (an old tire factory), most of our co-workers, and our boss, Ms. Vendy.  That shared disgust found us not only attracted to each other, but half-naked on more than one occasion in the staff lounge and kitchen after hours.  Once our sex-foolery was discovered by the kitchen aide, Randy John, an adult special needs Korean man who was constantly smiling.  “Today is my birthday,” he said after catching us.  “Today is my birthday.”  And that was it.  We shuffled out of there and the next day Kirsten brought Randy John a cake.  “Today is my birthday,” he said.

Kirsten and I started to take our business outside of school.  Sometimes it was just the two of us, sometimes with fellow staff – the few we liked.  Kirsten enjoyed  Jack and Coke.  Several of them.  And I liked when Kirsten had her Jack and Cokes. She was dangerously exciting.  Rather than be frightened, I was intrigued when she told me about the time she smashed her ex-boyfriend’s car windshield in with her tiny fist after a “disagreement.”  She drank a lot, and because one bad decision deserved another, so did I – when I was with her.  Things got more complicated a week ago when I told her I loved her.  We had gone out after work, got drunk, and I remember giving her a hug as she left to walk home.  For some reason it set her off and she stormed off. I followed her, first to ensure her safely getting home, and second to find out what the hell was wrong with her.  As she walked up the stairs to her apartment I stood in the parking lot like some loser in a movie and yelled out for her entire complex to hear, “Kirsten, I think I’m falling in love with you.”  The next morning at school I told her I didn’t mean what I said, that I was being drunk and dramatic. Her reply was to “not worry about it” but then she asked why I would say something like that if I didn’t mean it.

We actually went out again, Halloween night, and she was dressed in the same bumblebee costume she wore to school that day as we hit bar after neighborhood bar.  She was about three drinks in when I used the men’s room.  There was loud pounding on the door while I was at the urinal.  Some drunk asshole, I supposed, who’s upset about the bar’s lack of adequate bathroom facilities.  I can’t say I was surprised when I opened the door and discovered the pounder was Kirsten. The same fist she put through the windshield.  The fist that belonged to a size two insect with evil blonde bangs.  “What the fuck Finn did you leave for when I was in the middle of telling you something?”

I left because she was in the middle of telling me I was an asshole because the kids liked me better. And because I really had to pee. I zipped up my pants and called her a skinny, but really cute, bitch.  Kirsten’s punch sent me hard back to the urinal. Another punch sent me through the door back into the bar. I got up laughing.  Kirsten was laughing.  A few others in the bar were laughing.  But not laughing was our boss, Ms. Vendy, who was not only at the bar had had front row seats for the bathroom display.

# # #

Kirsten’s idea of a sense of humor didn’t carry over into the next day.  She ignored me as we sat in Ms. Vendy’s office.  Ms. Vendy did most of the talking, pausing only when Randy John came in smiling with her morning bagel.  “Happy birthday,”  I said to him.

“I think it’s not good for the two of you and not good for the children,” was what I think I heard Ms. Vendy say.  It’s hard paying attention when your’re hungover.  But no one really paid attention to Ms. Vendy. One time she tried to inspire a group of students by standing on a chair and reciting something from that Robin Williams Dead Poets Society movie I half saw.  In the middle of some “seize the day” regurgitation the chair began to wobble under her weight and she nearly fell.  Today there was no seizing of the day,  just Ms. Vendy telling Kirsten and me how we’re not a good mix, that we had drinking problems,  and that one or both of us were obsessive compulsive.  And I was to be let go not just because of this transgression, but because it was my second (I bummed a kid a cigarette after school once – in all fairness it wasn’t my cigarette – I found it) and they had to make staff cutbacks and I didn’t have the right credentials for them to keep me on.  All that.  All at once.

“Well that happened,” I said.  Kirsten didn’t flinch.

“Very well then,” Ms. Vendy said.  She didn’t seem to care.  Nor did Kirsten.  I guess I didn’t either.  And I’m sure Randy John didn’t. It was his birthday.

I walked out with Kirsten.  She was going back to class.  I was just, going.  She paused in the hallway. “So that’s it?  You’re done?”

“She says I’m OC, Kirsten.  So I’m gonna find JC.  Do you want to get saved, Kirsten?  Hallelujah!”  I lifted my arms above my head and looked to the sky.

“What the hell is wrong with you?”  She stormed off.

“I’m saved Kirsten.  I’m saved!”

I was just being an asshole.

 

 

 

 

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