Swelling

Geraldine Salinas stood perfectly still in the hallway. The bell was going to ring in a minute or two. Gerry held her notebook in one hand and the book she was reading for class, Peace and Boats, in the other. “What’s it about?” some overfamiliar stranger would ask her. “Peace,” Gerry would invariably reply. “And boats.”

Gerry was a senior in high school, the month was April, and as far as she cared, school should have been over by now. A few minutes ago swarms of students had rushed to their lockers and congested the hallways like cholesterol. Now there were stragglers here and there, a milder flow of people milling about. Somebody must have spilled a drink on the floor since the last time the janitor had come through, because every time someone went by, their shoes stuck to the floor momentarily, but all they had to do was pull a bit harder and they could go along their way, sticking, slapping and snapping down the hallway like their tennis shoes had turned into flip flops made of dead fish. Gerry breathed deep and caught a whiff of what might have been Mountain Dew. It might have been her imagination growing on her, a placebo of sorts caused by the sticky snapping.

Two out of five minutes had passed. The bell would ring in three minutes.

It wasn’t that she disliked school. Gerry liked school. She liked Peace and Boats and she liked learning about the symbolism and junk in the book. It was relatively recent, a bestseller last year, the kind of book that adults read if they subscribed to Time or watched the news or still kept up with Oprah. High schoolers would never read the book unless, like Gerry, they were in Advanced English, ahead of the regular senior class but not quite to AP levels. When a student was in AP Literature, they always read classics and talked about philosophy and history, never touching anything that was published less than sixty years ago unless there happened to be a book signing that evening. It had always been that way. The regular English 12 class had kids who didn’t read anything, always carrying around a copy of Lord of the Flies that they’d never read because they had already never read the book in their first three years of high school. Nobody in the English 12 class was anyone who could do anything to resist being listed as “joining the work force” instead of  just going the college route, as far as Gerry had ever seen. The teachers probably saw it too. At least, it seemed that way. None of the teachers seemed that relatable, although Gerry didn’t mind her Advanced English instructor. The AP kids could swell their egos and occasionally their brains and the English 12 kids could spill Mountain Dew in the hallway even though soft drinks weren’t allowed outside of the cafeteria and nothing would change any of that, as if anything could. Meanwhile, Advanced English students all shared the somewhat-relatable Mr. Peters who kept up with whatever was at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List and just assigned his favorite book from that lot.

The division in classes was pretty clear and would only grow clearer as the students grew, Gerry thought. The AP kids would grow up to subscribe to some obscure literary magazine and listen to NPR and talk about those books that everybody knew about and nobody ever read unless they used to be AP kids. The Advanced English students would grow up to subscribe to Time and watch the news and talk about the books that would only be popular for a few years after they topped the bestseller list and then drop off of the face of the Earth like the latest natural disaster or plague or political travesty in some far-off country. The English 12 kids would subscribe to some magazine about sports or hobbies or pornography and watch Two and a Half Men, or some puffed-up pundit spouting whatever facts he could get his hands on or make up, or whatever other cancer crowded the airwaves of the future until they died. At least, this is how the students in Advanced English saw it, if they were anything like Gerry. They might have been a bit blinded by bias, puffed up enough to make the media for the English 12 kids of future generations.

Snap snap snap, some girl Gerry considered somewhat easy from what she’d heard walked past with either Mountain Dew shoes or fishy flip flops, but it wasn’t worth noticing which.

Three out of five minutes had passed. The bell would ring in two minutes.

Gerry liked school well enough. She liked her friends well enough and even the slutty fish-flop-Mountain-Dew-shoes type of girls well enough and she liked the distant teachers well enough. She didn’t get sick often, at least not sick enough to have to miss class, and she didn’t have any reason not to be there. However, she had no choice but to diagnose herself with a psychological condition that the faculty would call lethargy, or slacking if it was an English 12 kid. The students would call it senioritis. Senioritis had a name that was based off of two rigorous standards of false medical nomenclature: most of the sufferers were seniors and, to many of the students, the English 12 crowd or the more careless among the Advanced English and AP kids who had helped popularize the term, -itis was just what you put on the end of a word to make it sound like a disease. It was never -osis or -emia or anything else that just might be considered more appropriate in the medical field. Most students never thought twice about it, of course, but Gerry knew that -itis meant that something was swelling or swollen. So what was senioritis? Was her seniority swelling? Ridiculous. Just another buzzword for the political pundits and the intellectually egotistical AP kids and the brain-dead English 12 students to buzz around in their self-gratifying, puffed-up psyches.

Senioritis didn’t mean anything by itself, as a buzzword. But to Gerry it meant that even if she had nothing better to do, she was going to skip class. Maybe she would go into the media center and finish Peace and Boats in a quiet environment or try and get past the locks the school Internet put on Facebook. Maybe she would just go home and take a nap or take a walk and read outside. Today was a nice day. She shouldn’t have to spend it in school, where she’d had to spend so many days before trapped in the system of monotony and repetition. Besides, she was already doing well enough in the class and she was already accepted into a nice enough college and she already knew that she wasn’t going to lose anything by not listening to Mr. Peters’ bigheaded lecture on why Peace and Boats happened to have so much unrest and even quite a few land vehicles in it. For Gerry, school was over even if she wasn’t going to graduate for about a month. What difference did it make?

Four out of five minutes had passed. The bell would ring in one minute.

By the time the bell rang, the hall would clear and Gerry would either have to go to class or walk out to the parking lot and head for home. Even though it wouldn’t matter much outside of her understanding of this recent-ish novel, Gerry couldn’t help feeling guilt itching through her brain like a tumor telling her that it would be the end of the world if she wasn’t in class in another minute. She had always been in class on every other day, after all, and she wasn’t going to be like any of those brain-dead English 12 kids who skipped on a regular basis. Maybe she would go to class after all.

There was something fighting against this drive, however, a swelling of senioritis pressing against her body. Gerry’s seniority was swelling and pushing her out of the high school and out of Peace and Boats and out of the monotony and repetition and out of the stereotypes and the buzzwords and the big brains and empty brains. But Gerry didn’t necessarily want to leave these things. She liked these things. She had so many friends in her class, friends that wouldn’t go to her college and continue to talk to her. She couldn’t control that any more than she could stop her compulsion to head out of her future alma mater and never look back. She liked this book and she wanted to finish it and she wanted to know what it was all about and how it could influence her life, just like the AP kids all wanted to be Yossarians and Holden Caulfields and just tell the world just what they thought in some ironically uncaring fashion and just like some of the English 12 kids maybe wanted to actually read Lord of the Flies instead of just looking up the Sparknotes like they did in their freshman year and really think about the novel instead of reusing the same vague essay on morality and symbolism every year. Gerry loved the vagueness and the monotony and the repetition just like she loved her boring hometown, and was no fitter to leave it than a freshman. What made her different than the freshmen, after all, what else than the gross growth in her false feeling of seniority?

If Gerry was an AP kid, she might have equated this undeniable restlessness and internal swelling struggle with the question of free will in a predetermined Calvinist philosophy or some other pretentious buzzword shit. If she was a teacher, maybe she’d just tell herself to stop thinking like a kid and do her duty, even if she preferred not to. If she was an English 12 kind of person, Gerry might not even think about it or she might not even be there in the first place. But Gerry wasn’t any of those people. Gerry took the path of least resistance, the practical path that didn’t push back against stupid metaphysical concepts that wouldn’t do her any good to think about. Gerry had the world figured out. She knew how her kind of people thought and she knew enough about everyone else to get by, so why did she have to spend the day locked up with the students and the slaves?

Maybe Gerry was wrong. Maybe it was just her seniority swelling up. Maybe life wasn’t so simple and people weren’t so classifiable and flip flops just happened to be popular today and the problem wasn’t with society, or at least not with people. Maybe Gerry’s perception was skewed. Maybe Gerry was the one who was swelling, the one who was becoming a pseudo-psychological pariah with her own new philosophy that was really the same as every hipster and young adult who thought they had it figured out. Either way, the outcome was the same. That minute, the diagnosis of Gerry’s senioritis would come to pass.

The bell rang. The bell tolled for all of the freshmen and sophomores and juniors and for the faculty and for most of the seniors, but it meant something else for Gerry. For the others it meant that it was time to come together and start their classes and for the cycle to begin again and for everyone to be trapped in their simple world of pundits and swollen minds. But for Gerry it meant that it was time to leave for the day and go home despite whatever she willed.

Gerry’s seniority was swelling up, and as it expanded it pushed her out of class and out of her high school, to the parking lot and finally, home.

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