a thousand natural shocks

It’s happening again. One of those moments. You know the kind I’m talking about. When you know that a whole bunch of things have happened that, somehow, you’ve missed. Like you’re just plopped somewhere and you’re expected to act right. But you don’t know what to do. Everyone is looking at me. Expecting something.

“Mr. Adler?” Mrs. Jessup asks over her glasses. Her voice has a this-is-the-third-and-final-time-I’ll-ask kind of tone.

“Uh, force equals mass times acceleration,” I say, before I’ve put together that, shit, I’m in English.

“Thank you for sharing Newton’s third law, Mr. Adler, but we were discussing Shakespeare.”

The class hoots and howls like chimpanzees witnessing an animal getting devoured, because let’s face it, I’m about to be devoured.

“Second, actually,” I say under my breath.

“Excuse me?” Mrs. Jessup says, pushing her glasses up her nose. She does that when she’s pissed. Or nervous. What are the chances she’s nervous?

“Oh, just it’s his second law, not third. But the order is arbitrary, anyway so--”

“Excellent, thank you for this education, Mr. Adler. Now if you’re done sleeping, perchance to dream,” she begins, raising her eyebrows at the class to see if anyone picked up on her Hamlet joke. A couple chuckles and she is satisfied. She continues.

“Maybe you can tell us the motivation behind the famous soliloquy we have all been discussing whilst you’ve been slumbering.”

Slumbering. Yeah. Sleep always comes but never when I want. Not when I go to bed at 9, not when I’m still staring at the ceiling at 11. Sometimes it’ll find me by 1 or 2. Then I’m up at 7 for school. I do ok until after lunch, when sleeping seems like the most easy thing, even convincing me ‘hey maybe tonight it won’t be so hard.’ But when night comes it always is. Hard. Like bricks. And here I am, trying to decode iambic pentameter in front of a bunch of other juniors on 3 hours of broken sleep. Man, I miss when we were reading real books.

Fuck, I don’t understand poetry.

I take a breath.

“The to be or not to be one?” I ask.

“Yes, that would be the one.”

I look down at the open book on my desk. There it is, the famous speech, in black and white. And it gets me to thinking, which of course leads to trouble, but I can’t shut off this brain and that’s probably why I can’t sleep but the letters in the textbook, they get me to thinking. A tangent, always a tangent. Always a connection to something else. I get in trouble that way because they want me thinking about the thing I am supposed to be thinking about. Not the other things. But the letters, the page. Black ink, white background. And here’s this guy Hamlet, waffling back and forth between death and life. Black and white. It’s always one or the other. Didn’t he understand in between? Doesn’t anybody anymore? I do. I’m in between in every goddamn way possible. Shit, I have a black mom and a white dad. That makes me, what, gray? I mean, we all want labels, don’t we? We’re obsessed with them. And I’m supposedly a boy, a man in the making. But I don’t feel that way. I don’t feel like a girl, either. Another non fill-in-the-blank. That’s me. A non. Half-asleep, half-everything.

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