Jesus liked absolutely everybody in our school in a way that I’d never seen before or since. I learned this one day at lunchtime. It was sunny and beautiful out, so we went to sit at the picnic tables at the end of the schoolyard.
“Uh, we’d better turn right back,” I said. “Look who’s at the table.” It was Sam, a boy no one talked to. He lived across the street from the school, so his mother assumed she didn’t have to get dressed when she came over. She’d show up with his lunch in her housecoat and slippers. His dad had a beard that came down to his chest, and he walked down the street looking straight ahead of him, never using his neck. And once at the grocery store, I’d seen them using a sock as a wallet.
“I think he’s all right,” Jesus said. “He reminds me of Willy Wonka.”
“I saw him trying to burn the bottoms of his shoes with a lighter,” I said. But there was no stopping Jesus. So we walked over towards Sam. He looked at us both, expecting us to tell him to get lost.
“Can we sit with you?” Jesus asked, sitting down.
“OK,” Sam said warily.
“Do you like the White Stripes?” I asked, to make conversation.
“When they’re in the middle of the street I guess I do,” he said nervously, not knowing what the hell I was getting at, as though this was a setup to a joke that would end with me brushing liquid paper across his face. I spent the rest of our lunch looking at my feet, not really knowing what to say. Jesus just smiled, peacefully chewing his peanut butter sandwich.
“Did you ever go to a fair last year?” Sam said suddenly. “They have these fancy horses with hair that goes down to their feet.” He took a photograph out of his pocket of the prettiest white horse I’d ever seen. It was more beautiful than a unicorn. What could I say? The world was filled with mysteries.
Then our teacher, Mrs. Dumont, went on maternity leave. And we got stuck with Mrs. Allison. On the first day, she told the class that this boy, Quincy, hadn’t paid his lunch fees yet. She said the only way you could be excused from lunch fees was if your father didn’t work. She asked if this was the case, and Quincy just shifted in his seat. She told him to bring in a note the next day from his dad explaining that he didn’t have a job. Every day for the rest of the week she would ask Quincy where the note was.
Another thing Mrs. Allison had a problem with was the way Jesus fluttered from desk to desk, helping the weaker kids with their long division. Mrs. Dumont used to look the other way with this. But Mrs. Allison said that, as well as being disruptive, it wasn’t giving her an accurate sense of who the class knuckleheads were.
“Where’s your lunch?” asked Jesus. I was sitting in the cafeteria with my head down on the table.
“Mrs. Allison,” I said. “She tossed it.” I explained how she saw me eating a mock-chicken sandwich and how she held it up for everyone to see. I explained how she picked it up with the tips of her fingers, like it was a dirty sweat sock, and said she was going to send me home with one of those nutrition wheels to give my mother so she could know better.
Jesus stormed off. I followed him down the hallway. He kicked open the door to the teachers’ lounge and walked right in. It was the first time that anyone had ever stood up for me. It was terrifying and wonderful at the same time. It made me feel like I’d found a $100 bill and was being chased by a rabid dog all at once.
All the kids in the hall got hysterical when they saw that Jesus had just walked into the teachers’ lounge. It was magically off limits. They all started banging on their lockers and calling out for joy, like the power had just gone off. But this was even better than that. It was as if the whole building was coming down.
There are all kinds of stories about what Jesus had said to Mrs. Allison in the teachers’ lounge that day. In my mind, I imagined her crumpling to her knees as he made her realize everything bad she’d ever done to me.
Jesus was suspended from school for a week. In class, Mrs. Allison said Jesus wasn’t the big shot we all thought. The principal agreed with her that he was a troublemaker and that he was messing with everyone’s heads. His father wouldn’t let him stay at home alone during the day. He said he didn’t want Jesus messing up the house. So Jesus rode the bus back and forth and hung around downtown. I heard how he hung out in the pool hall and the older teenagers would hoist him onto the table and he would just talk. They said he was funnier than Will Ferrell. But if I knew Jesus, he was just telling it like it was.
Then on the third day of his suspension, Jesus never came home. The story went that he was abducted. But nobody could really say for sure. The thing is, he would have been really easy to kidnap. Jesus trusted everyone. There are pictures of Jesus plastered to every telephone pole in the city, and practically the whole school had to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. Sam said he saw Jesus in the park a little while after he vanished, picking up litter. But you couldn’t believe what Sam said. He’d become totally obsessed with Jesus after the disappearance. Every composition he wrote in class was about him. The teacher said it was just his way of coping with the stress.
I guess I was dealing with some serious stress of my own, because one day in art class, when the teacher told me that little girls who wore black tank tops didn’t get into college, I looked right back at him and said, “What makes you so perfect? You’ve done too many lousy things yourself to be judging children.” And the teacher got all red in the face because he knew it was the truth.
“Stick to your teaching from now on,” said someone from the back of the class. And we all nodded and muttered our consent. I knew that Jesus would have loved that. These were the kinds of things that he would say. And it felt good to say them. ♦