I’m riding on the bus my senior year of high school and we’re coming back from band camp. I’m tired and cranky, I look like sweaty hell, my hair is messed, I stink. The Coke I bought at Muncie is warm and I’m carrying it now only out of habit and the desire to keep it from rolling around at my feet.

I’m trying not to think, I’m trying to get silence into my head because the doubt and internal conflict is driving me crazy. I don’t really know why “the question” bothers me so badly right now but I've let it flood over me in the heat and  the anger wells up again.

This was a terrible week - I was horrible to everyone; my friends, my squad-mates, my mother on the phone. I was crass, nasty, and irritable. I’m not viewed as a nice person now and I feel terrible about it - but I can’t stop. I’m tired of playing games with people but it keeps happening - I’m playing the role of the asshole this year - to be any softer would breed suspicion among my friends and I could be outed so easily in this redneck school. I manufactured this role out of the spectrum of masks. This role will haunt me for many years and I know it - because I can’t get my mouth to stop spitting acid - I will never get over this. I will never forgive myself for being this person.

Behind me my friends shout in anger. They keep saying - don’t do it, stupid. I turn around to see that a freshman, who hadn’t used the bathroom at the last stop, is pissing in a plastic coke bottle. He’d tried to explain he couldn’t hold it but no one wants to listen.  This is silly and unnecessary.

I turn in my seat and look at him with disdain as he opens the window and throws the bottle out - it bounces on the side and spills piss on the windows behind him. This action is followed by more un-amused shouts and curses.  He turns from the window no longer explaining.  Everyone is angry and he sits there facing forward - trying to become invisible as people hurl insults at him and the bus driver yells back for quiet. Bev wants to know what the hell just happened - no one explains.

I glare at him and he looks up at me submissively.

“You’re a freshman, right?” I say. “Your name is Tommy?” I ask this sympathetically.

He gives me a pleading look.  He needs some kind of forgiveness or help and nods. “yes.”

I am silent and look at him for a few seconds. I ask in the most dead-pan voice I can muster - “Are you retarded, Tommy?” His mouth opens in a horrified gape and I see his hope wither into humiliation. I say nothing more, just turn and face forward -my job is done.  I feel horrible and my conflict goes away - it fades into the guilt of hurting other people... ahhh...  so much easier to deal with.

In a minute he is sobbing and I feel satisfied that I’ve made the correct choice of words. When I turn to look at him again I see that he’s facing the gray metal wall, his face and eyes- hidden in his hands.  His body moves in jolts and spasms as he cries. I turn around and face the front, taking a sip of my warm Coke.

Some people break so easily.