On Thanksgiving Day, I fantasized about calling the suicide prevention hotline. I didn’t really want to kill myself; I just wanted someone to talk to. I thought about that: someone you can just call. I imagined their voice on the other side of the line, a friendly woman’s. Someone robust, grounded, like the mother of a clan of rowdy kids, overweight and earthy. “Hello?” I would say kind of cautiously.
“What’s your name?” the voice would ask, opening up with indestructible, caring warmth.
Tracy “Gorilla” Gantz was the reason that they did it, her bright shining eyes beneath her bulbous mounds of cheek-flesh holding bravely onto mature dignity when Kevin and Bobby Durtz bumped into her at lunch. “Oops!” yelled Kevin Durtz, the younger brother, his blonde bowl-haircut swinging like curtains as he righted himself. “I must have gotten pulled into your gravitational weight!” Everybody laughed, because that’s what Middle School kids do, and Bobby pantomimed getting away from her with difficulty, shouting, “I’m getting pulled in! I’m getting pulled in!” before he left with their group of friends.
Cal Henderson watched from a corner table, his blank expression never changing, thinking that the sangfroid of her above-it-all dignity was at the same time powerful and weak: an informed maturity born out of necessity, and preempting the simple carefree confidence of those who never have to worry as they go about their lunch that they’ll be singled out at any moment for ridicule and exclusion. Cal admired that sad maturity, Tracy “Gorilla” Gantz’s deep and still eyes perhaps about to feel like crying but of course never getting too close to that edge, at the same time as he felt sorry for it.