Senior Year
By Matthew Landry

(Illustrated by Kate Shaw)

I visualize the tightly aisled chairs. I remember the boys next to me wouldn’t stop talking. I remember how annoyed I felt by them, by them being bored next to me, by them discussing so crassly how bored they were. I remember I wanted to tell them to “shut up!” and how I didn’t because the ceremony was pretty quiet and I didn’t want to get in trouble for talking or making a scene. I remember how I didn’t know who they were at all. I bit my tongue because I wanted to walk across the platform. I remember these things happening, but I don’t feel them. It’s disappointing, but normal.

All the other seniors at my vocational high school signed out early. In order to sign out, you need to either have proof of enrollment into the service, an acceptance letter from a college, or have proof of a full-time job set for over the summertime. I only applied to one college, in Chicago. And got accepted, too! It’s really great! And I am very excited about this! I received this news through the mail in December before winter break. I didn’t sign out early though. I lost my letter of acceptance letter at my house. I mostly just didn’t want to do the paperwork necessary for signing out early, so I thought I would just wait. There was a boy in my class who also didn’t sign out early, but he couldn’t--he didn’t take some standardized test, I think. He wasn’t in the room most of the time. The two teachers at the end of the room kept talking about how excited they are for the school year to end. Why did anyone sign out early? They’re only missing two weeks. Besides, I got so much reading done.

On the Friday of my week alone, I finally decided to run around the school collected signatures from my academic teachers so I can leave just like everyone else did.

I remember the day everyone else left. Everyone was so happy. They left the school through the halls together so proudly and obnoxiously. They had air horns in their hands and silly string cans and they shot it at everyone and at cars in the parking lot. The sky was a light gray and the parking lot had so much life. People were complaining on how bad the weather was. I vaguely remember hearing screams from behind me in the hallway after my U.S. history class. I was the first person out of the room. He probably was right behind me or right next to me when he did it. He got to walk across the stage at graduation, even though he got caught, which is nice. A boy in my history class emptied two water bottles on either side of him: one of vegetable oil and another of water, onto the vinyl tiling of the hallway. It was supposed to be a senior prank. I heard a teacher fell and broke his nose. I also heard a girl slipped and hit her head against the corner of a locker. I heard she split her skull. My English teacher confirmed these stories to be true.

I filed onto the school bus like I do everyday and as everyone else loads on I looked out of the window and saw some juniors and the rest of the seniors get in their cars. A boy was leaning over his girlfriend in her car kissing her. Resting on his forearm on the brim above the driver’s car door, they looked so attracted to each other. I thought they broke up. The car next to them was the same except he has one hand on the windshield and the other on the backside of the driver’s car door. I don’t remember seeing them ever. The two couples looked so normal. They looked so happy. Everyone else was happy, too. They were happy to leave high school and begin their lives.

They’re so happy and stupid. I always watch them from the inside of the bus. I always think of how happy and stupid they were.
The only reason I signed out was because the boy I was in that room with was finally able to sign out and he was doing it. I wouldn’t want to be actually alone in that classroom. I was constantly stopped in the hallway by teachers and administration I hardly knew asking me why I was still in school. Why was it such a big deal? They’re just missing two weeks. I missed one week, and looking back at it I guess it was a waste of time to sign out early at all. They all said “You are finally signing out?” as if it’s been a long wait for them.

I said goodbye to my English teacher last, because she was my favorite. It made me so deeply sad when she wished me good luck in Chicago. I almost started sobbing recalling this moment just now. I remember I wrote a short paper when we were reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. We had to write about what we imagine a quality life to be. I wrote this at 3 AM, in the hour of the wolf. I always feel deeply depressed at this time. I wrote my paper in a very nihilistic vein, and I almost started crying in class because we had to read them out loud and I never shared these thoughts with people before this. At the end of class she gave me a smile with the corners of her mouth facing downward, as if to say something full of pity on me, or to comfort me. She gave me the same smile at graduation.

On my way back to the room I collapsed into the lockers and hurt my right elbow. It was near the dean’s office and I wished the secretary wouldn’t leave to the hall to see what happened, and she didn’t.
I felt so disoriented so I decided to go back to my seat quickly. I hope no one saw me, I felt I maybe shouldn’t give the principal my sheet with all the signatures. I wasn’t well.

The boy drove me home and he parked in my neighbor’s driveway by accident and I pretended to walk to the front door until he left and then I crossed their yard into mine.

I tried to take a nap but I just lied in bed. I looked outside the window and color came to the sky. I knew I would have to get out soon.
A few hours later I checked my phone and I had many missed calls from Chelsea and Kaitlin. I called Chelsea and she said she was picking me up soon. I changed into my tux and Chelsea texted me saying she made me a bowtie out of the same material as her dress.

When I picked up my tuxedo the day prior there were a couple of boys there. They went to the town’s high school, as opposed to my regional high school. I went to the regional high school to meet a whole new set of people, I was completely finished with the people I’ve had until then. I met one of these boys at that school’s “spring fling!” dance. It was really terrible. The music was bad, the dancing was boring, and people mostly socialized. I didn’t want to socialize with most of the people. I glanced at them and I remember them being hateful to me in elementary school and in middle school. One of the boys was so cute. I remember his suit fit him well. He has wavy, short hair. The length was longer than other boys who went to the school though. He was so clean looking, very approachable and friendly looking. He’s totally not the kind of guy I masturbate to in porn. He was skinny and really cute--adorable even. I wanted to kiss him and date him and sit alone with him talking to him on the side of the dance floor like other teenaged couples. But he didn’t know me at all. I imagined us after the prom in his bedroom kissing and undressing each other. I imaged us having sex and him being so eager that it nauseated me. Even if he did know me I wouldn’t have the nerve to do anything. I didn’t even know if he liked boys or not.

I got unchanged slowly in the mirror. Stripping off my pants first, then my shirt. I put my clothing back on to do it again in a different order. Again and again in different angles, in different distances from the mirror. I wanted to know so badly what others would see when I unchanged in front of them, as if that was going to happen any time soon. I feel I’ve always been very conscious of myself.

I’ve always had weird feelings about my body. I am always either very narcissistic or negatively hypercritical. I am usually very negative about my body. It’s been so long since I’ve taken my shirt off at the beach. I think I was 11. I eventually stopped going, I can’t remember when. It didn’t matter when.

I changed slowly also. I felt very attractive in my tuxedo when I didn’t have the jacket on. The jacket’s shoulders were too wide. I wish I had suspenders. A boy wore suspenders at the other high school’s Sr. Prom and he looked really good and it made him look more muscular. I wet down and towel dried my hair and applied mousse and put it back. I didn’t want to look like I was trying hard to look good, I wanted it to seem natural. Everyone asked if I got a haircut, and that I looked so different.
My arms were trembling by my sides, I was so nervous. At the other high school’s prom I silently weeped at our table while everyone was dancing.
I was the only person sitting at a table on that side of the hall. The other high school’s prom was just a subtle reminder of how I will never feel normal. It was a maternal whisper in my ear every so often, like it was informing me for my own good.

I didn’t want that to happen again. I remember at the other prom these two girls who I hardly spoke to growing up grabbed my hands when I was sitting alone and tried to pull me up to dance with them. “Okay! We will be near the Deejay, far away from everyone humping each other on the dancefloor!” They were nice and I refused because I didn’t want them to pity-dance with me. They said I looked sad and should be having fun.
Chelsea arrived and put the bowtie on me and we took a few pictures in front of this old tree in my front yard. Seeing Chelsea next to the tree was weird. It was like she was meeting my grandmother. It was her house, after all. I don’t think my mom ever met Chelsea before this. They showed up at my high school for promenade and no one knew who they were. Mother looked manic in a short teal floral dress with white shorts under it. She was taking photos like a madwoman and she looked so anxious. People said my mom was nice and funny. I think my stepfather was behind her, watching. I don’t think my brother was there. I tried to make my presence with them brief because they were embarrassing me. I don’t know why they were embarrassing me, Mother probably wasn’t acting as insane as I remember her to be. I’m always so embarrassed about things I shouldn’t be. Kaitlin greeted me in the school parking lot with a lot of shouted questions about me not picking up my cell phone.

Kaitlin’s boyfriend, Kevin, arranged for a limo to pick us up after the promenade unexpectedly. I was sort of apathetic about the limo experience happening because I didn’t ride in a limo to the other high school’s Sr. Prom. Sabrina didn’t come because her prom date didn’t want to do the promenade. How self-indulgent I thought he was. Tori’s date, too. He practically kept walking and didn’t pause for pictures in the middle of the promenade and was pulling on Tori’s arm. My mom knows him through karate. She said that “it’s just like him to do that.”

On the last day of school, when most of the seniors signed out, a boy brought up a statistic about the percentage of babies given to the wrong parents in hospitals. Everyone thought it was “fucked up” except for me, who claimed it wasn’t so terrible because of how humans treat the relationship between child and mother in other species. People seemed annoyed by my contrary opinion. A girl shouted at me to shut up. Tori was really hostile and said she hated me. She said she kind of liked me Freshman and Sophomore year, before she knew me, and now she hates me.

I was completely surprised, our relationship seemed completely fine up ‘til now, or at least I thought so. Later when everyone calmed down and spread out, I asked Shayna why Tori got so mad at me. Shayna said that it was because I do “that annoying thing that no one likes”. That phrase has been repeating in my mind since Shayna uttered it. This is the first time someone has mentioned it. I just don’t understand. I remember someone threw something at my face and it missed and hit part of my hair and landed in this large industrial sink behind me. It was over a table, eating sweets we all brought in as celebration of signing out early.

Promenade was okay and Kaitlin forgot her and Kevin’s prom tickets at the Boys and Girl’s club. So we swung by there with the limo and we took pictures in front of the Boys and Girl’s club. Kaitlin’s boyfriend works there and he hugged this little boy who ran up to him and I thought it was touching. When we walked away he said something about the kid and I don’t remember what it was but it depersonalized the embrace, like he had different personas. That disappointed me and we filed into the limo. By this time Sabrina was with us. We took pictures in front of her prom date’s house. They insisted on take pictures of the boys reaching around the girls’ waist and grabbing the girl’s stomach or something. I hate those pictures the most. It’s an embrace for couples and me and Chelsea were just friends. I am not straight and don’t want to pose with myself in that position with a girl. Even if it was with a boy, I would never show this sort of affection in front of my parents. I hardly talk to people at all when I’m with my parents. I don’t say “hello” to anyone, no matter how great a friend, no matter if they acknowledge or recognize me. At the other high school’s senior prom my friend and I went to this girl’s house for pictures. The house was awfully decorated. This girl was shooting so many pictures of herself with her friends, them all smiling so widely and full of glee. The smiles were so exaggerated and weirdly believable and so embarrassing. I would never smile like that in front of my parents. I left for the restroom and stared at myself in the mirror until I felt we were almost going. Then we took photos outside of the girl’s house. I feel like I’m choking recalling it, because it makes me feel so uncomfortable. Their parents were watching them, hypnotized. They were talking about their children and staring at their smiling children and they were smiling, too. I looked at my mom and she was on her phone, text messaging someone, in the kitchen. That’s the way I liked it, we were both distant from the affairs. I sat on the couch and waited to go.

At prom I moved from table to table. I felt very social. I danced! I actually danced! I danced to music I hated and didn’t care at all! I felt so normal and hedonistic and I danced with Tori and other people! And we were actually dancing! We weren’t dancing like the other, actual couples (back to front). I felt like I was on ecstasy or something. I was sweating and was probably disgusting and I was dancing in front of actual, material human beings. I wasn’t just dancing in my room alone! People kept telling me I was good dancer and when they said this I danced more ridiculously. I felt they were patronizing me and I wanted to make it seem like a joke that I was dancing in a huge pit of people. The deejay played music that was better than the deejay at the other high school’s Sr. Prom. The other prom had a far, far better venue. It was a large, bourgeois yacht club. I raided the bathroom there and at my own prom of toiletries. I brought them back to the table and gave them to people and saved a few things for myself.

I told people a lot of people we will stay in touch and that I will see them over the summer fully intending not to. I danced with Rachel and her friend. A dance song came on and I forget what it was. I stopped and looked at Rachel dancing. I remembered when we were in middle school. A lot of memories shot me. I felt overwhelmed with sadness, impaled. I staggered to the table Chelsea was sitting at and sat down.

Shayna and her boyfriend Derek danced with me later in the night. Shayna and Derek want to have a threesome with me and I want to have the threesome with them. Derek shaved his facial hair. I usually like it more when guys don’t shave their facial hair but he did and he looked so attractive. Shayna looked really good, too. They were a hot couple and I told them so and they grabbed me and danced with me and Shayna tried to kiss me and I averted my face coyly and smiled. He touched my butt and Shayna kissed my jaw. He grabbed my waist harder and I got harder. I went into the bathroom and wiped off Shayna’s saliva from my jaw and thought about how attractive Derek looked. Someone I knew was peeing in the urinal and I forget who it was but he said hi to me and I said hi back. I pretended like I didn’t recognize him but didn’t say I didn’t recognize him. I gave him an unsure look that I give people when I want conversations to be short. He said we haven’t spoken since elementary school. I forgot we went to elementary school together. He left and I washed my hands because the hand soap smelled good. I left and I participated in prom’s events like a photo booth and group photos. I didn’t feel like I was on the outside looking at everyone having fun, I was having fun also. Feeling like I was taking part in the same time other people were is a completely alien feeling to me.

I ran into my newspaper advisor. Seeing her instantly grounded me. My heart rate slowed. I felt so over-sobered. I felt so distant again. My newspaper advisor looked distant, too. Looking at her from the other side of the room, avoiding her slightly, she looked like me. I felt embarrassed and gross for enjoying myself in front of her. She said she hated the song that was playing. I said “I don’t like it either! As long as ‘they’ like it, though! That’s all that matters!” I didn’t realize I was shouting over the music. I felt embarrassed that I was shouting at her. I avoided her for the rest of the night. I met Giselle’s boyfriend. He was exceptionally cute, the same way the other boy from the tux shop was cute. Rhea and her boyfriend Kyle were there too. She looked really beautiful, and her dress commanded more attention than she her behavior did. All four of them sat on sofas in a room separate from all the extraverted happenings. I left those four people. I left the prom with the people I came with.

The limo parked in front of the venue and we filed in and I looked outside and this couple was sitting on a park bench outside of the hotel. She had a balloon that was obviously stolen from a table inside. They were whispering to each other tenderly. They were made fun of in my school, I feel. I’ve only seen them a few times. They never commanded attention. They looked so happy and alone on the bench. They were alone and disregarded and forgotten and didn’t care. They looked like young love. Not a romantic-comedy love or a petty teenaged-drama love, but an unconditional, compassionate, carefree love. The kind of love Shayna and Derek would have if they didn’t have so many problems. The kind of love I fear I will never have, that I know I will never have. We drove away and I watched them. They turned into a speck and I finally removed my gaze.

Everyone complained about how tired they were and they played music I hated and it bothered me a lot and gave me a headache. The songs were misogynistic and I almost wanted to go home. “That annoying thing that no one likes.” Chelsea and I were dropped off at her car in the parking lot of the school. We drove to her house where she took a shower and I changed out of my tux. I forgot another pair of shoes. I took off my clothing as seductively and repetitively as before in the mirror of her downstairs bathroom. I took pictures of myself in just my shirt and underwear and my bowtie. I looked like I was trying really hard to be sexy so I didn’t send the photos to anyone. I washed my body with a rag and the water from her sink.

I went into Chelsea’s empty living room. The clock said it was just past midnight. Everyone in her family must have gone to sleep. I sat in the darkness of her house. I had normal-fun with other normal teenagers for a lot of tonight. I was a normal teenager. Is this how everyone feels at this moment? I felt so unfulfilled. I danced and had normal-fun with everyone which was my goal, and I still have this very, very empty feeling. I felt like someone scraped my insides out with a spoon and continued to scrape my tender, swelling insides like I was winter squash. I had a large brown paper bag with handles I brought the pajama set in.

I found Rachel Zeva’s letter in the bag. I forgot I put it there. I opened it and read it in Chelsea’s living room. It was quite dark so I used my cell phone to light up the pages. The letter was so unrelated to tonight, but it comforted me. I felt like maybe someone understands why I feel this way, because I don’t.

In these moments I realized that my happiness will always be ephemeral.
We drove to Sabrina’s house. This is the first time I’ve been to her house. It was dark and cold outside and I was wearing a thin wine-red pajama set and was barefoot. We went into her back yard and there was a bonfire. Her prom date kept putting more pallats in the fire, making it painfully hot. I bonded with Sabrina. I like Sabrina a lot. Her brother shouted from the patio “Who here brought Rear Window!?” I remembered I brought that DVD to maybe watch and I raised my hand and he praised me for my choice. Her brother was exceptionally attractive. He was still sort of clean looking, but he has thick eye brows and a nice smile which was charming. He also had good taste in thrillers, so that’s nice.

A discussion happened around 3AM about Shayna and Derek. Kaitlin and Chelsea and Tori started telling these boys, who are Derek’s room mates in college, all these sex stories between Shayna and Derek. Shayna told us those stories in school. While she probably isn’t so embarrassed about them I don’t think she would want those boys to know. I don’t think Derek would want them to know. They described nude photos Shayna has posted on her blog and also ones she sent to me and Derek. They described their public-sex stories and their sex-toy stories. The boys, everyone—everyone except me and Sabrina—were really disrespectful. I defended them and Sabrina, sitting next to me, grabbed my arm excitedly. Sabrina was mostly quiet. I texted Shayna and told her what happened, she said something that was very praising but I forget what. I know she was pleased that I told her. Sabrina said we needed to quiet down because her neighbors might hear us and it was late. I said I condoned the activities panned by the others. Kaitlin claimed I said it was fine because I was “fucked up, too”. Kaitlin followed with how they want to have a three-way with me.

They turned their back towards me and discussed further without involving me. Sabrina said she was happy I said that. While she still doesn’t personally condone their sex habits, she feels like “if they want to do it, it’s their business”. I interpreted this as Sabrina being sex-positive. I wished I was a closer friend to hers before. I went to sleep in her basement on a chair. I woke up naturally the next morning at 9AM (4 hours after I went to sleep) and felt fully rested. It was so nice that morning. Me and Sabrina bought doughnuts while everyone else was sleeping and we came back and drank coffee with her mother.

Her mother was wearing a bathrobe and had her hair up in a small, wet bun and was so relaxed and so calming to me. She seemed like such a great person to be around. She gave me such good vibrations. It was raining. She made me more coffee and tea and we ate more doughnuts together and then other people woke up and left and then it was just Stephanie, Chelsea, me, and Sabrina. We ate Swedish fish and drank water and talked around this hand-me-down mid-century-modern dining room set in their tiled entry way. Sabrina’s house was so perfectly sized and so nicely furnished. There was old furniture and cabinetry and it was so unpretentious. It wasn’t overly clean or overly decorated in the least bit. The decorations were always mildly campy, like a huge painting of a palm tree next to the dining room set we were sitting at. It was so ideal. That morning felt like a calm experience. Steph drove me home and I went to the used book store near my house and bought a few books.

The next week was graduation. I woke up the Thursday morning. “Imagine” by John Lennon was playing in my living room below my bedroom. All my life I had been worrying about my college education, my career. I worried about my life and career in retrospect—at age 7, 8, 9. That’s why I went to a vocational high school, to get a head start on my adult life. I woke up and sobbed ferociously for almost two hours. I text messaged Taylor and asked her to pick me up on her way to graduation. She told me it was cancelled and asked me to come over anyways. She picked me up, she went to the bank, we went to her house and we watched Anastasia and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It was lovely. I love Snow White and the Seven Dwarves for so many reasons. I felt so relieved that it was cancelled. But it was really, merely postponed ‘til the next day.

I called Shayna the next day and she agreed to pick me up on our way to graduation. We were 40 minutes late for the ceremony. We arrived 2 minutes before the ceremony with 6 other lost people; we didn’t miss anything. The ceremony was enjoyable for the most part. I didn’t throw my cap up in the air at the end and went straight for my parents at the bottom of the bleachers. I didn’t talk to my peers at all. I was stripped of personality and was distant. I got my actual diploma in the other room (they gave us empty leather frames for reasons unknown to me, and we had to get the real ones from the gym). I wanted to leave as soon as possible.

I met my stepdad and my brother in the hallway and we left. They seemed concerned about where my mom was. They said she disappeared after the ceremony to say hi to someone. I suggested they to text her and tell her we’re meeting her at the car. I hustled them. My stepdad asked me if I was feeling okay and that I was being curt. I told him I was fine. Why wouldn’t I be fine? I just graduated high school.


matthew landry lives in chicago