A Monkey Could Pass That Test

     I went out with one of my girlfriends recently so that she could discuss a problem she is dealing with.

      She hurt a man pretty badly a few years ago and she’s felt guilty about it ever since.  She wants to contact him and tell him that she’s sorry…but doing that is very awkward.  

      I can relate.  I expect everyone can.  People get hurt in dating.

      I told her about something that I did to a guy a long time ago that I still feel badly about.  I don’t tell this story to many people or even think about it very often, but when I do, I still cringe inside…

     When I was in High School, I was pursued by a boy who was ass-backward in love with me.  He had the world’s most crushable crush.  They call it puppy love, but in my opinion there’s nothing cute about that sort of emotion.  Do you know the way it feels when you adore a person so much that it makes your chest hurt inside?  Like it makes you ache, and you can feel it in your mouth and throat…? 

      Love.  The only obsession/addiction everyone wants to get.  It’s insanity.  It cracks you open the way a frozen stream of water cracks open a stone. 

       His name was Brian.  He wasn’t quite in my (small) social circle, but we went to the same school and he was friend’s with one of my girlfriend’s boyfriends.  We took a geometry class together, and also a cooking class. 

        Brian crushed on me for a year.  His friends would tell me about it…”Brian has such a huge crush on you!  He’s scared to ask you out!”

       It was embarrassing to me and made me feel uncomfortable, because I wasn’t the slightest bit attracted to him.  I mean, not at all.  And you can’t really help who you’re attracted to.  There was nothing bad about him, but I just…no attraction.  

      It went on for far too long, because I had zero relationship experience at that time.  I’d never even kissed a boy.  I didn’t have sex till I was 19 (I hate the barbaric phrase “lose your virginity” and I think it should be retired or burned in a fire), and this was a few years prior to that.  

     So, I was inexperienced and confused and I didn’t know how to handle it and let him down in a very gentle, face-saving manner.  I was also very much under my parents’ (especially my father’s) thumb at the time, like a prisoner, and I was very obediant and had a bad case of Nice Girl Syndrome.  I didn’t know how to assert myself, however diplomatically, in emotionally tense situations, and I certainly didn’t know how to tell a man “no” or do something that would hurt his ego (and BECAUSE I didn’t know how to do that, this stupid sitation went on and on and got worse and worse.  Oh, the irony!).

     I just pretended like I had no idea that he had a crush on me.  This made social situations where he was present extremely awkward for me.  

       Brian was in the same boat as me.  He had zero experience with girls and didn’t know how to ask me out and just get it over with.  Dating rituals are a fuckin baptism by fire for both genders.  God, it’s excruciating to learn how to do it, because it’s trail and error, and there’s no way to not get hurt and humiliate yourself at least a few times when you’re starting out.

    So, instead of asking me out, or even just saying that he was attracted to me, he would just try to hang out with me and my friends.  As much as possible.  And try to sit next to me in class.

      One time he left a rose from the gas station in my locker.  Another time, an X-Men comic book.  He never left a note, but I know it was him.  No boys except for Brian paid attention to me in High School.  I was an introverted nerd and my mother ran the household like a Navy submarine (she would have been a very, very good military person). 

       When I was fifteen and a half years old and became legally able to work, I started applying for jobs.  I would have been working since I was 12 if the state would have allowed it…I supported my father for years.  

        There is not a shitty retail or food service job in town that I did not apply for.  The next time someone tells you that Mexicans do jobs White and Black Americans won’t do, fucking punch them in the face.  There are–or were, before immigration changed everything–plenty of white car-washers and chambermaids in this country.  I know because I was one, and so were all my friends and their parents.  My grandfather laid rail up to the Yukon. 

     I probably just pissed off a Mexican.  Relax, it’s nothing personal.  Your government sucks.

      Anyway, Brian was a year older than me and had a job at Jack in the Box.  He hooked me up and got me an interview with the manager.  That was my first legal job.  It was the hardest job I have ever worked, and I’ve had plenty.  I worked there for a year and a half.  $5.15 an hour.  I was up to $5.50 when I left.  I won “Employee of the Month” twice.  The experience traumatized me, politicized me, and prepared me to join the Karl Marx Fan Club my first semester in college.  

       Working with Brian made everything worse for both of us.  I could feel the longing coming off of him in waves.  I’d be mopping the floor in the dining area and a customer would tap me on the shoulder and tell me, with a big smile, that “that young man looks sweet on you.”  I’d be hauling buckets of ice and Brian would stop whatever he was doing and try to be gallant and pick up the ice for me.  Arrrrgh!  Soap Opera at Jack in the Box! 

      I applied to college and was accepted.  Brian wasn’t cut out for college and didn’t like school.  His grades were always mediocre and he didn’t know what to do with himself.  His family was sort of fucked up and his mom didn’t give him much structure or tell him what to do.  My family was fucked up too, but in a different way, so I didn’t have that particular problem.  

      Then one day the Army recruiters came, and everything changed for Brian.  I remember exactly when it happened, because my art teacher, Mr. Gilbert, pulled the same stunt he pulled every year when the army recruiters came: he started the class with a slideshow of the art we were going to study and discuss, and then he flashed a slide of him and his buddy, both Vietnam vets and comrades-in-arms, at the VA hospital after they survived walking on a land mine.  Mr. Gilbert injured his back and walked with a limp the rest of his life.  His buddy lost a leg.  I remember the photo very well.  It was black-and-white.  They both had bandages on their heads and were very thin and looked about eighty years old.  They were holding Purple Hearts.  They were not smiling.  That fuckin photo should be in the photography gallery at the Met. 

     “That’s my friend and me after we went to Vietnam!” he said.  Then he went on with the lesson plan.  Mr. Gilbert got in trouble for doing this because parents complained sometimes, but he never got fired.  He was a great teacher and kids loved him.  I wonder what happened to him…?

       Anyway, Brian talked to the military recruiter…and decided to join the Army. 

      He was riding high.  Suddenly had a new zest for life.  He was really excited about it, and I understand why: for once in his life, someone wanted him.  Brian also had no father, and now, in all these meetings and phone conversations with his recruiter, he suddenly had all this approving male authority in his life.  

       He lost a little weight to prepare for boot camp.  He would get on the computers in the school library and print out Army pamplets to show his friends.  It was all he could talk about at work.  He was so proud of it.  I mean, he’d tell customers that he was going into the Army!

       I understand.  That’s exactly how I felt when I got into my first grad program.  It was probably the happiest time of my life. 

      He also took the ASVAB.  We all took it–everyone in my class at school.  

       The ASVAB is one of the easiest tests I’ve ever taken. If you want a gander at some ASVAB questions, here they are. 

       I aced it.  The only questions that stressed me out where the spatial reasoning questions…the ones that require you to picture a geometric object backwards and inside-out.  I can’t do that to save my life.  Those always fuck me up in IQ tests.  But the rest…?  Easy!  I could have done it in 6th grade!          

      But…I also have the variety of intelligence that inclines me to do well in standardized testing.  I’m good at it and always have been, but plenty of people are not.

      I know this.  I teach.

      Brian took the ASVAB and he did well in the Mechanics and Auto sections. 

      “I scored really well!  My recruiter says I’m going to be a great armor (tank) crewman!” he would say.  He was thrilled about his ASVAB scores and would mention them at the drop of a hat.  He was so excited. 

      I understand why this was such a big deal to him.  It’s a thrill to do well on a big test.  This was a confidence boost for Brian.  

      One day at lunch, Brian was talking about his ASVAB scores in the backseat of my friend’s car.  We were going for lunch.  I was annoyed because my friend and I wanted to be alone to discuss her boyfriend issues, but Brian had invited himself along.  I felt like I couldn’t say no (which is bullshit, I could have said NO, but I didn’t have the skill set at the time), so he was along for the ride and telling us, again, all about his ASVAB scores.

     I was mad and I looked over my shoulder at him in the backseat and said something I’ve hated myself for ever since:

     “Brian, a monkey could pass that test.” 

     The look on his face was memorable. The way he folded up, like one of those plants that curls up when its leaves are touched. I might as well have stabbed a dagger in his heart.  

       I felt like dogshit..as I should have…like I’d just stomped a Golden Retriever to death.

      Why’d I do it..?  

      The Army sent him to South Korea.  He left the service afterward and came back to town. I don’t think that the military is necessarily a poor career option–I have almost joined on several occasions–but I do advise youth that the military might help pay for college, but it won’t get you a decent job.  What is a tank crewman going to do in civilian life…?  Get shot out of a cannon in the circus?   Brian came back to town and got work repairing air conditioners.  I have no idea what he’s doing now.

    I want to write him  and apologize for that “monkey could pass that test” remark, but I don’t think that is appropriate. 

    I have never forgiven myself for it, however.  How could I have mocked him for taking pleasure in his achievement. 

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