For a long time I have been toying with the idea of writing a literary novel based on my experiences in high school, and the Toronto rave scene circa 1999-2002. The novel would essentially be a bildungsroman, which means it would be about the moral and philosophical development of the main character. I know this type of thing sounds horrifically boring to most readers today, and I don’t have an MFA degree as it seems every literary author does these days, so I have my doubts about whether this project would be worth my while. I have already written one novel which I know will never be published in its current state, so if I write another one I want it to be one that might actually be published. The market for literary novels today is, regrettably, very small, so getting any kind of literary work out there is extremely difficult.
I wrote about 20k words of this novel, and then came up with the idea of starting the story earlier on in the character’s life. One of the most pivotal events of my life was the death of my father to cancer and this is where I started the story at first. It one day occurred to me that it would be good to, instead of starting with his death, to go back further and develop the father character and their relationship. This way, when the death happens it will be felt with much greater force.
So I wrote what would be chapter 1, act 1, of this work which I aim to be 100k words upon completion. This chapter is about 3500 words, so if you care to take about ten minutes of your day please read it and tell me what you think. The protagonist is 17 year old me, essentially, but please tell me if you think this story is so boring that no one would read it. I need to know if this is worth pursuing. Thanks in advance, and please share if you like it.
The grey rain splattered against the school bus window. Sam looked through it to the suburban homes of Mississauga as the vehicle passed over the highway. He was in senior year at Clarkson Senior Secondary School and hoping to make his exit from the system as the silently as he entered it; with little notice from anyone. The bus was filled with the chaotic excitement of high schoolers rapt in the promise of another year, and for many of them it meant shirking their studies to smoke cigarettes and hang out at the plaza, or by the train tracks behind the trees just outside of school property. Shouting and laughing swirled around him and he kept out of it, felt trapped on the cushioned grey vinyl seating of the bus, and turned on his walkman with its dubbed copy of Metallica’s …And Justice for All album on deck. The batteries died and the voices slowed. This aggravated him and he switched the AA batteries around, but the process didn’t help. He slouched and watched the rain fall as the bus came down Winston Churchill Boulevard and turned onto Bromsgrove Road.
It was the second week of school now and everyone had coalesced into social groups which congregated in the cafeteria or the smoking area whenever they could. Sam arrived and left alone every day, and often spent his lunch hour solitary, or walked the streets of Clarkson, sometimes he would go to the GO station only to return. Every time he passed a group in the hallways anxiety seized him and he held his canvas backpack by the strap avoiding eye contact. This morning he headed down the second floor hallway to R212, the usual route he always took but he nearly made a detour when he saw the group down the hall.
“Where are you going, Gibbons?” Zac taunted. Sam knew him since grade seven, but the two never forged a friendship. He had spiky blonde hair and was completely incapable of being serious about anything. There was not a situation that he couldn’t turn into a joke, and it was this jocose nature that made him forever an inductee of the popular crowd wherever he went. Sam was envious of his coolness and hated his immaturity.
“Class,” was all he said as he continued to walk. But then Zac and his two friends, Jay and Curtis, stepped in front and blocked his escape. Each one of them was taller and Sam grew nervous as they confronted him.
“How come you never talk to us, Gibbons. How come you never talk?” Jay jabbed him in the arm a couple times. Sam pivoted and backed into the concrete wall. He felt hot in the face.
“Will you just leave me alone.” He muttered and the three surrounded him.
“Why do you always have to be such a loser? You’ve always been like this. Always keeping to yourself like that,” said Zac.
“Look at him, he’s scared,” Curtis grinned. Jay psyched him with a mock punch and laughed.
“Get away the hell from me,” Sam blurted and shoved back.
Zac chuckled. “Take it easy Gibbons, we’re not gonna hurt ya, little guy.” He laid a placating hand on Sam’s shoulder and tapped gently. “There, there. There, there.”
“Fuck off,” Sam tore himself away. Just then his English teacher, Mr. Fowler, stepped into the hallway.
“What’s going on here?” he said in his usual brook-no-nonsense tone.
“Nothing.” Sam said as he entered the classroom. Zac and the others came in after him. As Mr. Fowler began the days lecture about what books they would be studying for year, a chunk of an eraser bounced off Sam’s desk. He turned around to see Zac, Jay, and Curtis all in a row, grinning and leering, and Zac appeared to be working something in between his fingers. Sam tried to muster a mean face, but intimidation wasn’t a tactic that came naturally to him. His soft facial features and small stature hardly incited fear in people so even the most fearsome look he could shoot at them only engendered stifled chuckles, and as soon as he turned around to resume paying attention to the lesson knew there would soon be another incoming projectile. There was, only this time it hit his shoulder and he heard Zac whisper, “Oh yes, two points,” and more stifled laughter. Sam tried to keep his cool, but he felt bubbling rage about to explode through him. Rage—but he didn’t want to start a fight and suffer the consequences. He wasn’t worried about getting hurt so much as he was about being suspended from school.
Mr. Fowler turned around to address them, but he was all too familiar with the antics of this crew sitting at the back. Instead of saying anything, he simply rolled the chalk in between his fingers and stared them down with threatening silence. The boys settled themselves, and the teacher resumed the lesson.
But no sooner did he start writing on the board then another chunk of eraser flew through the air and connected with the back of Sam’s head. He felt the rubber missile bounce of his thick brown hair. He turned around and shouted, “Will you knock it off!”
Everyone in the classroom looked at Sam, some with amusement, others with pity, and others with shock. Mr. Fowler dropped the chalk onto the aluminum ledge of the chalkboard and said in his commanding voice. “All right, enough. I don’t care who threw it. Settle whatever problems you have outside the classroom. Do it again and you can explain to Principal Thomas. Get it? You come here to learn, not horse around.”
Someone in the class made a barely audible neighing sound which brought a few laughs into the tense situation. After that everyone was calm and quiet, ready to study. No more erasers were thrown, but it wasn’t the first time Sam had been subject to such humiliation. He would often to try secure a seat at the back of class so he would not be plagued by the constant paranoia of people throwing objects at him, picking on him, for what reason he did not know.
At lunch, he ate his sandwich and apple in the cafeteria and then went to the library to read The Lord of the Rings. He was deep into the first book, enraptured by tales of sword and sorcery wrought with strange mythology and the struggle between good and evil. It took him away from things. In the lonesome and angst ridden days of his youth, fantasy realms provided the one escape from his social anxiety. He found himself thinking of adventures in the wilds hunting dragons as a brave elf ranger, or casting devastating spells as a powerful sorcerer, at times when he felt at his most downtrodden or angry. Indeed, on this lunch period he felt very angry after what happened in English class, and he could not shake the lingering sense of humiliation that seemed to have burrowed inside his body like a worm. In his mind he was a mage summoning great fireballs and casting them down to earth causing apocalyptic ruin. He seethed in his wrath, but knew he lacked the courage to directly challenge Zac, or anyone else, to a fight. When threatened, Sam was meek and preferred to avoid conflicts of any kind. He imagined starting a fight and unleashing a hellish martial arts combo so lethal his opponent would be sent to the hospital, but in reality whenever confronted or insulted in any heinous way he wouldn’t even summon the strength of will to send a punch into the face of his tormentor. When presented with danger he would look for any way to save his own skin, and that often meant the best way was to run.
After reading one full chapter there was still twenty minutes left in lunch, so he decided to take a brisk walk and clear his thoughts. As he was walking out two grade nine boys came down the stairs and one of them recognized him.
“Hey, that’s Tammy Gibbons’ brother,” he said.
“I’ve seen him with her before.”
They were walking through the door at the same time. They were younger than him by three years at least, so didn’t feel threatened as he normally did. “Yeah that’s me.”
The first who spoke smiled intently. “We’re going to blaze a session in the trees. Wanna come?”
A session. Sam had smoked weed before and although he didn’t particularly care for it, something drove him to go along. It was perhaps for the chance to make a few friends with people who knew nothing about him. Or maybe it was the chance to do something totally different from his normal habit. In this final year of high school he had come to realize that what many people had told him would be “the best years of your life” really turned out to be the greyest, bleakest, and loneliest days of his life. “Sure, why not?” he said, and they all went outside to a small stand of trees at the end of the soccer field that provided just enough cover to roll a joint. A few other people were already there, standing in a circle passing around a spliff. Sam could smell the skunky aroma downwind. There was Joey T, one of the guys who never seemed to be in class, having a smoke with his friend, an oafish looking 16 year old named Oscar, or Oz for short. His eyes blazed pink and he stood there calm as if to be drifting somewhere within his own mind. They all knew each other and after a perfunctory round of fist bumps Sam’s new friends sat down and started rolling a three paper. The one rolling was the guy who asked Sam to join them. His name was Josh Marsden and he knew Sam’s sister from elementary school, as did the other grade nine who stood in front of him as he rolled to block the wind and keep an eye out for teachers.
“This is Moe’s chronic. It’s gonna get us so ripped,” said one of the two, Justin. He wore round glasses and bore the resemblance of a skeleton with his shaved head and bone rack skinny body. A Pantera T-shirt hung over his shoulder and flapped in the breeze like a flag.
“I’ve only smoked weed like three times before, maybe. I mostly just felt weird and watched TV for like three hours straight. Then I had munchies like crazy and couldn’t stop eating,” Sam said.
Josh looked up from the buds he was breaking up and smirked. “It’ll do that. So what about your sister, man. Where is she going?”
“She goes to Cawthra Park to study drama.”
“Oh, yeah. She was always one of those art fart kids. Acted like she was too cool for us or whatever. But you seem different though. I don’t know.”
“We have our differences, I guess.”
He continued breaking up the buds on a sheet of notebook paper until the entire dime was shredded. Then he called for papers and Justin produced a packed of zigzags from the pocket of his baggy jeans. Sam noticed that he was wearing earbud headphones and nodding his head to the sounds of what was assuredly heavy metal judging from the fuzzy, thrashy and chaotic noise
Sam could hear. He asked him what he was listening to.
“Sepultura.” He went back to listening as if to study each note and rhythm. The joint was rolled and Josh stood up and lit it. It was a cone with a smoking head of at least 1 centimeter in diameter and the glue-grey smoke smelt pleasing and rustic. When Josh passed the joint to the left, as was the custom, Sam was first to receive it. He toked once, twice, three times and coughed hard.
“Easy there, rookie,” Justin said as he took the spliff, spat on his finger and rolled the joint around in the saliva to slow the burning.
Sam’s mouth flooded with saliva and he spat a large wad on the ground. His eyes watered and head swam. “That was heavy.” He cleared his throat.
Joey refused the joint when offered. “I don’t wanna mess up my shroom buzz.” His friend Oz on the other hand took it gladly and inhaled a long haul that made the cherry flare up like a comet. After that one big drag he held it in and passed the joint back down the line. Then it was Sam’s turn again and he could already feel his perception changing. He felt encased in the trees and very far away from reality, but then he remember that he had to be in class in about 10 minutes.
“I have class, shit. I guess I can still go. The teachers don’t care, right? I see people go to class stoned all the time.”
“Look at me,” Josh said. “Yeah, your eyes are turning red already. I got some visine if you want to use it.”
“Gimme a few minutes and I’ll be getting Chinese eyes.” This made Josh laugh and Sam had already forgotten about how much younger they are. It a taboo to hang out with people so much younger than you in high school, but he didn’t care. This was his last year of high school, and he wanted to experience all the bad things he had sheltered himself from for so long. After they finished a joint, Justin immediately lit a cigarette and Josh bummed one.
“Not really. Well, sometimes. Right now I’m fine though.”
“It accelerates your buzz by 30 per cent,” Justin said.
“You live in our area don’t you? You should come hang out with us sometime.”
“Come by my garage. We hang out there all the time.”
“What’s the address?”
“It’s on Hayworth. Number 3856.”
“That’s, like, a ten minute walk from my place. I could stop by sometime.”
“Cool man, just call me first. Always call.” Justin gave Sam his number, and by the time the exchange was done they were all finished their smokes.
“Time for class,” Josh said as they left the tress and headed in. They entered the same door they left, and Josh and Justin went back up the same set of stairs they came down. Sam continued into the first floor hallway and no sooner did he set foot into the school than he knew he could not go to class. He was completely stoned. He felt as though he were in a foggy dream and at any moment something unexpected would happen. The idea of going to class terrified him for some reason. He could not fathom how he would pay attention and conduct himself without being noticed. It was math class, and he considered what he might have to do and how essential his attendance really was. But he was not yet 18 years old, so if he was absent the school would call his parents and alert them. The anxiety and terror was too strong though, and he figured it wouldn’t make a huge difference if he missed one class. In his current state, he would have been better off not going. But he couldn’t stay in the school. It was just a matter of time until someone spotted him. He had to make a move.
He turned around and left the school. His feet lead him to the sidewalk and down the street, and they just kept walking and walking without any specific destination in mind. But it stimulated his brain, and he began to go into a deep bout of introspection reflecting on things he had said and done trying to understand why he had become such an outcast. Would he ever find a place where he could fit in? He thought again about Zac throwing erasers at his head, but the event didn’t bother him anymore. The joint had eased his mind and cooled his rage as he wandered through the streets with no aim.
But while he was no longer angry his mind was lingered around the realities of his young life. He could not accept the fact the he’d missed out on all the reckless fun that so many people have in their teenage years. While others were going to parties and staying out late on the weekend doing things they really shouldn’t, he was staying inside immersed in his own world of novels and video games are scarcely had adventures on his own. He hated the fact that his own social life was so dull, and admonished himself for wasting so many years in his room. There was one more year of school left, and he wanted to make the most of it because these times he was living in would never come again and he dreaded the prospect of feeling as though he wasted all his secondary years. Today he made the first new friends he had made in a long time, and even though they were younger than him he felt that spending time with them could allow him to recapture the years that passed him by. It was perverse to call grade nines his friends, and if people found out they would no doubt laugh at him, but he figured he had nothing to lose, and with no other friends to hang out with it was perhaps a blessing to have met them. He shuddered to think was his sister would say when she found out about his new friendships.
He thought about these things and walked until eventually he ended up walking all the way home, a trek which took him almost an hour and a half. When he arrived at home, his parents were both at work, so went inside and immediately checked the phone and saw, much to his relief, the school had not called. Figuring that he got away with this little episode of hookie, he fixed a bowl of cereal and sat down to watch some daytime TV.
By the time his parents came home, he was laying on the living room couch filled with utter exhaustion as the effects of the weed had long worn off. His eyes were not red anymore, but he instead looked groggy and dopey. A cup of coffee didn’t help at all.
His father walked into the living room still wearing his blue business suit and said, “We’re all going to have a talk at the table. Your mother and I have something important to tell you all.” Sam could tell by the low tone that it wasn’t going to be good, but he was still relived they knew nothing about him getting high and skipping school.
“What’s going on?”
“You’ll find out when your brother and sister get here.”
Soon they were all gathered at the table. His older brother Phil, and younger sister Tammy were both calm, but his mother was filled with worry and his father remained stoic.
“Your father has been seeing the doctor to get some testing done. We didn’t tell you about this before because we didn’t want to worry you guys, but today we just got the test results from the colonoscopy clinic.” She couldn’t say anymore and looked down at her hands on the table.
“The doctors say I have cancer. It’s in the early stages, and I don’t want you to worry about me. I’m already looking into getting the best treatment available. We should be able to beat this thing if all goes well.”
Tammy was holding back tears. “No. Dad. You can’t. You can’t.” She went over and threw her arms around him, her tears falling onto his shoulder.
He patted her. “I’m going to be okay. But I need you to be strong, okay? That goes for all of you. They say I have at least a year.”
Phil held his composure, and Sam didn’t know what to say. The pot deadened his emotions. He should have felt a deep sadness but didn’t, although whatever problems he faced before were now selfish and insignificant. The specter of death loomed over his family. Once he had fully refreshed from the weed the true dread and sorrow would come upon him.
Later on, as he went up to his room to turn in for the night, he saw how things in his life were changing in more ways than one and wondered how he would handle it.