By Martijn Peutor
Editor’s Note: We recently heard from Martijn’s mother that he has passed away. We offer our condolences and invite you to read his last piece of writing.
Julie and I are standing at the bar. We’re taking small sips of our bottles of Smirnoff and Julie shouts in my ear, “I want to join a student organization. But I don’t know which one. There are so many.”
“Hard,” I shout back.
Julie shouts something about Unitas or Veritas and that the one organization has more law students, but half of what she says is inaudible. I just nod.
After this subject of student organizations, the silence is filled with ear-shattering hip hop beats, eventually broken by Julie who shouts, “I wanted to wear my yellow shirt, you know. But my mom washed it; it’s pink now. My favorite shirt, I was like, ‘argh!’”
“Too bad,” I shout, and I realize Julie probably only shouts this stuff in my ear because she doesn’t like the picture of two girls standing and sipping their drinks for a long time.
I remember why I stopped going to school parties after the third year, and wonder why I thought the graduation party would be different. I take a sip of my Smirnoff, glance around. Like most of my classmates, I graduated. Julie also graduated, which makes you wonder if the diploma has any value at all.
Mr. Vollegien, history, approaches me. He asks what I’m doing next year. He is the fifth teacher who shouts this question in my face.
“Anthropology.”’ Mr. Vollegien nods. He thinks it’s interesting.
I excuse myself and worm my way through the crowd. A few meters from Mr. Vollegien, I continue glancing around and sipping my drink.
From the stair step on which I stand, I overlook the dance floor. I realize this is the last time I will see all these people together and how I’m supposed to feel melancholic because it’s the end of an era, but I don’t. The last year of grade school comes up, and I remember thinking about high school, that it would be a brand new start. I’m unable to believe the same of college right now.
On the dance floor, Ms. Green, French, is shaking body parts. She is thirty-five, has put on too much make up and wears a sexy dress. Teachers who come to school parties to monitor are bad; teachers who come to ‘join the party’ are the worst.
Although it’s unbearable to watch, I witness Ms. Green trying to have fun on equal footing with her students. I stare too long because she stops and approaches me.
‘”Iris, good to see you. Already decided what you’re going to do next year?”
“I’ve decided to put college off for a year,” I say. “I’m going pick grapes and be an au pair in France.”
Ms. Green gives out a little shout, thinks it’s fun, says she has been an au pair too. She wants to say other things, but I excuse myself and walk towards the dance floor, because dancing seems to be the only way to keep teachers from talking to me.
I make my way through the crowd and find Julie, who is dancing with Fleur. Dancing means Julie and Fleur are squirming their bodies in a way that is supposed to be sexy, while glancing around to see if it attracts boys.
Julie is going to law school. Fleur is going to study sociology. The last six years I spent break hours with these girls because, in high school, it’s safer to move in groups. The fact that I won’t need to see them anymore after this evening feels less liberating than I thought it would.
I’m dancing. Meaning: I move my body to give the impression I’m dancing. I have no idea if it looks like dancing.
Dancing is something I’d rather not do. My body is not made for it. Things my body is made for: winning a wrestling tournament for almost-midgets, feeding with my breasts. A summer romance once told me I’d be a good human cannonball.
A little further on the dance floor is Aziz, who failed his exams for the second time. This doesn’t keep him from doing some kind of ridiculous break dance. Aziz draws a lot of spectators. As the circle around him grows, my dancing space shrinks. Fleur and Julie keep dancing, but I decide to find a teacher-less spot where I can stand. I find a raised platform in a corner and sit down.
The party is only an hour old. I realize I want to leave. I also realize that leaving means a lonely half hour on my bicycle and finding my mom still awake in the living room. She will ask me how the party was and offer me tea. So I decide I have to stay longer.
I glance around and see Ivan. He is leaning against a wall and stares back. It surprises me that he came tonight. In class, he usually sat alone. When somebody took a seat next to him, he seemed to be annoyed. I can’t remember him being picked on — probably because he already looked so hostile. When he didn’t look hostile, he looked sleepy. Sometimes, he used his backpack as a cushion and closed his eyes. Yet he graduated somehow.
In the three years he has been in our class, I didn’t exchange more than a hundred words with him. Yet, and this surprises me even more, he approaches me now, puts his mouth to my ear, and shouts, “You can look happier, Iris. We don’t have to come back after tonight.”
I asks him if he realizes how absurd it is, telling people to look happy.
Ivan asks where my gang is. I gesture vaguely towards the dance floor. Ivan says, “Let’s go outside.”
Our school is in the western part of Amsterdam, but the party is in a club downtown. Ivan and I walk along a canal. The evening is chilly. We walk in silence for a long time, until Ivan says, “Okay, that was high school. That’s behind us.” He spits next to him, which I find a little unnecessary.
“Yes,” I say, “what’s next for you?”
“I told my mom journalism. She likes hearing that. But I didn’t enroll yet. I don’t think I will.”
I wait to see if more follows, or maybe a question about my plans. But this is not the case. We walk in silence.
Ivan is not unattractive, and I ask myself why I didn’t notice this before. He wears a black dinner jacket. Under it a tee-shirt which says ’Lost in the nineties.’ He’s also wearing baggy jeans, which are torn near his shoes. He has black hair, which is messy and looks like he put something greasy in it. That or he seldom showers. He is long, skinny and pale.
“’How do you feel about it?” I ask, “Six years of Caland Lycée?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know. Sucked? I didn’t make any friends anyway.”
“Well, me neither.”
“Yes you did. Fleur and Julie. Those are your friends.”
I shake my head. “I don’t like Fleur and Julie. They’ve been my friends for six years and I haven’t liked them for six years.”
It’s the first time I say this out loud, and Ivan looks interested. We pass a bench. He suggests sitting down. We do.
After a silence, he says, “Are you really going to study media studies? I heard you were.”
“Of course not. I’d rather die. Well, I’d rather work at a supermarket.”
He looks at me, a little longer this time. I look back.
“What did you expect of it?” Ivan asks. “High school?”
“Well, something else. Or maybe that I’d change more myself. What did you expect?”
“Something else, too.” He is silent, then says softly, looking away. “Also that something would have happened with girls, after six years.”
Another silence, a long one this time. Ivan doesn’t look at me anymore and keeps silent. I realize I should probably say something now, or do something. I ask myself why I don’t.
I look at Ivan. He looks back now, but still isn’t saying or doing anything. We look at each other and say nothing. We say nothing for so long it becomes unbearable, and I say the first thing I can think of. “Do you have any plans for the summer?” Right after I say this, I realize I should have said something else or nothing at all.
“I’m going to Prague with a friend who is in my band. We play punk, a bit of metal. The band is called Suicidal Space Cannibal. My friend knows people in Prague. The underground scene is said to be pretty cool there.”
I nod. I regret he started about Suicidal Space Cannibal and the underground punk metal scene in Prague, but it feels like my own fault. “Cool,” I say.
“Do you have any plans for the summer?”
‘”I’m going to Spain with a friend from volleyball. We’re going to work in a cafe.”
I have no idea why I say this. I quit volleyball four years ago and working in a bar in Spain was Fleur’s idea, and I’m not interested at all. I should have just said I’ve got no plans.
“Cool, too,” Ivan says.
Ivan doesn’t look at me anymore. He spits on the side of the bench, which again I find a bit of a shame, and it seems to mark the end of a moment. I remember again why he didn’t seem so special the past three years.
I start to think of ways to suggest going back, but Ivan rises and says, “Let’s go?”
We walk back in silence. When we pass a bus stop, Ivan says it’s easiest for him to wait for the night line there.
‘”My bike is near the club,” I say.” See you at the reunion?”
“I think I’ll pass on that.” He grins a bit cynically, but when I leave says, “Goodbye, Iris.”
While I’m busy unlocking my bike, Ms. Fisher, geography, leaves the club. She asks why I’m leaving this early. Don’t feel so good, I say.
“Oh dear. What were your plans again, for next year?”
“I’m joining the circus.”
Ms. Fisher smiles. “No, really. I applied as a human cannonball, a bit for giggles, but they didn’t have a cannon. They did need someone to clean the animals’ cages and sell tickets, so I’m doing that for a year. I’m kind of looking forward to it. It’s a big circus, and we’ll travel all around Europe.”
“Oh, that’s nice, then.” Ms. Fisher believes it, to my astonishment. I see teachers and classmates leaving the club, so I quickly say goodbye to Ms Fisher and get on my bike. On my way home I think about a year with the circus. I feel bad it isn’t true.
Copyright 2015 Peutor