Of course, it all fell apart.
It would be years before I found that sort of happiness again. For three months, Jazz and I were the second-best couple in Slinger Middle School. They were, at that point, the only three months of my life worth living. She was my first happiness.
Our story was cut short a month early. Mumble and Rose decided we would move to Missouri. I told Jazz, and she broke up with me that day. I still had to live there for another month. Seeing her every day broke parts of me that took years beyond telling to repair.
I lost my honor in the end. In his pain, Shadow had no idea what to do except fight. He did everything he could to hurt her. He called her names. He cursed the days they had together. He dated every girl who called her friend. And through it all, she protected him from the wrath of the school’s girls.
Grr did her best to handle the breakdown of the sixth grade class. Everything was whirling out of control and she held it all together.
She held Jazz together.
I took all the letters Jazz had written me, and underlined every time she said she loved me in red pen. I wrote “Lies” at the bottom and gave them back to her. I watched her open every one of them and read them, looking at the word “Lies” over and over again. She never flinched. Never wept. No matter what I did to her, no matter what I said, she never lashed out.
I broke down crying one day in third hour. Our teacher was so wrapped up in his paper that he never looked up. Jazz crossed the room and set her hand on my shoulder as I wept. She said nothing, and when she finally walked back to her seat, every girl in the class was crying with me. Some of the boys, too.
Thirteen put Marshmallow in the hospital the day Jazz broke up with us. That was a fun time.
Thirteen was sitting in class third hour and Marshmallow turned around to smile at him.
“She finally broke up with your worthless ass.” He grabbed his crotch and smiled. “I think I’m going to go over to her house tonight and let her suck on my dick.” He laughed and Thirteen glared. “She has nice tits. Did you ever get to touch those titties of hers?” Marshmallow grinned. “I’ll let you know how they taste.”
He turned to face forward again with a chuckle to himself.
What happened after, Shadow claimed responsibility for, but as I sit here writing this, it might have been Guardian, but what I realized was that it was Thirteen.
Thirteen stood. He slowly opened his backpack and pulled out the social studies book. He held it up for a moment, holding it flat and giving a slow practice swing. I can say with all certainty, the girl sitting behind us, the kids sitting in the aisle next to us, and I hope Jazz across the room, saw as Thirteen switched the grip. When he hit the back of Marshmallow’s head, he did it with the spine instead of the flat of the book. The impact was so deafening, so dramatic, and so intense, that to the naked eye it did not look weird that Thirteen jumped up to get away from it.
Marshmallow’s head was hit so hard that his face slammed the desk in front of him. It shattered his nose, chipped off two of his teeth, and gave him a concussion. Marshmallow passed out and fell to the floor.
The teacher tossed his paper, he spilled his coffee, yelled, “Fuck!” as loud as he could and fell out of his own chair. He asked everybody what happened and no one said a word. I sat down and set my social studies book on the desk. The teacher asked again, and I looked behind me at the girl who had seen me wind up for the swing. She said nothing.
No one did.
There was a grapefruit-sized bruise on his forehead and down his face when he came back a week later. It had turned purple, black, and yellow. The boy looked ridiculous. He never said a foul thing to me again.
No one did.
Not one of the boys, not any of the girls. Not the teachers. None of them.
Grr sat beside me on the bus every now and then to hold my hand. She told me it was going to be alright. We both knew it would not.
Island did what she could. But in the end, she was never real anyway.
The last day I was in that school, I was walking to the bus. I had said goodbye to everyone. All the boys shook my hand and told me they would never forget me. A few of them cried. I never understood that.
I was walking in the hall filled with teenagers, a press of bodies all around me. I was almost to the door when Jazz stopped me. She looked at me, and I at her. Shadow stared, Guardian stared, Artist stared. She kissed our lips and stepped back. After all I had said about her. All I had done, and all the friends of hers I had dated, she looked me in the eye and thanked me. She told me she loved me. Said I was a great first love. Then the crowd swallowed her up and I never saw her again.
When I think back at Slinger Middle School and the town of Allenton, I have so many intense, horrible, and amazing moments to consider, but I always come back to my birthday. That is where I linger.
Grr had worked it out with the principal early in the year, way back before I got there, when Jeep had his birthday. She had talked it out, came up with some rules, and started a tradition. It was the gift the girls gave their boyfriends.
There was a dot matrix printer in the office that was made available. Grr printed out a banner that said, “Happy Birthday, Jeep!” on it. She hung it in the lunch room for him the hour before lunch. When he walked in, he went bananas.
Everyone signed it. Every one of his friends, every girl, a few teachers. And at the end of the day, Grr folded it up and presented it to him at his locker. It was the birthday tradition every girl was told to do. Every boy tried to get a girlfriend and keep her around his birthday.
On my birthday, Jazz did not go to the office to use the dot matrix printer. The day before, she had thrown a party at her house for all her friends and they had worked all day to make a banner by hand. It was ten feet long and two feet tall, and it said, “Happy Birthday, G.I. Joe!!” on it. The G.I. Joe was done in camo. I can’t imagine how long that took.
Everyone signed it. There was a fair amount of “Fuck You” on it. A few “You’re such a loser.” And one “I hope you get your ass kicked today.” I think that one was X.
He did sign it real small with his name. The only proof I had that we were ever friends.
Jazz rolled it up and brought it to my locker with all the friends who made it. She gave it to me and winked. It was my favorite birthday for over a decade.
X was stealing Sprite bottles when I saw him last. The truck was packed and my family was getting into the car. He came running through the yard trying to carry four two-liters of Sprite at one time and failing at it.
“I’m leaving, X,” I said to him.
He nodded as he struggled with the bottles and said, “Yeah, see ya.”
Jazz was the best girlfriend I ever had until I met my wife. One of the greatest people I have ever met. She was the first person I ever whispered Artist’s name to. She was task oriented. Sly. Funny. And she made me forget, for three months, that I was nothing more than a broken boy who would not be fixed for a very long time.
For that, I will never forget her.
For that, I thank her.