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In Loco Parentis
by Lee Klein



I would like to see him gone. It’s in the name. The real thing. The solid jaw. The continuous stream of mail-ordered clothing. The exclusive vacations. The ease with which he maintains mediocre grades. The girlfriends with exotic first-names, with last names same as oil companies, same as the ones across my mom’s coffee maker.

My parents aren’t from around here, they grew up in and around Newark. They followed opportunity fifty miles west after the riots twenty years ago. I go to the School because I was raised here. Just on the otherside of the School’s black gates. I read my first word off the stop sign at the end of a wooded street near the athletic fields. Walked my now dead collie with my father. Fished for turtles and caught tadpoles in the golf pond after elementary school. On weekends, I’d play tackle football on the campus with sons of the teachers. I always figured one day I would go to the School, an OK student and a better athlete. When time came to apply, I was accepted. I have a history with the place that dates back as long as I’ve been alive. But I have never been to the Cape or the Vineyard or the Outer Banks. I’ve been to Belmar and Seaside Heights and Beach Haven.

When I arrive at age 13, I wear a jean jacket. I chew my collars. My hair’s parted down the middle. I think exclusively of Jim Morrison. I hollow my cheeks and wear headphones. I mouth “Celebration of the Lizard” through the School’s halls. Although the School is part of me, I am not yet part of the School. Names like Colin Garrison Noble of Chappaqua, NY, they step on the campus and 175 years of tradition rises to meet them. They are handsome and genuinely kind. They play soccer, hockey, and lacrosse at an elevated level. They could be varsity-quality football, basketball, and baseball players, but these are not the sports they play.

When I first arrived at the School, the headmaster joked that I was all the way from a development that’s a three-minute bike ride away. I have since lost the jean jacket, put away the headphones. I now look more like one of them, in flannels and corduroys, with hair still a little longer than most. My bangs perpetually burned and in my eyes just enough so I can hide when I need to. Colin’s hair is cropped short and his skin is extraordinarily smooth. I am suspected, but I cannot be caught because I spend most of my time off-campus. Colin was caught cheating on a French test in third form. Since then he’s been a model citizen. No one suspects him.

Make your enemies your friends and feed them to the lions.

But since Colin is no one’s enemy, there’s no difficulty making him my friend. We have been together at the School since first form. We’ve had many of the same classes together, mutual friends, attended several off-campus parties together. If we are making our way to the dining hall for lunch, one of us will speed ahead to catch the other. We’ll arrange a plan to meet. After lunch I’ll spend consultation period driving off-campus to buy a few bags from a friend instead of getting the Pre-Calculus help I need. After our last-period Art & Literature class, with the attractive and enthusiastic 25-year-old teacher who soars if you mention Faulkner (even if you’ve never read a word of him), Colin and I go back to his room on the third floor of a turreted dorm. The campus seems caught in ice when seen through the window glass that’s been settling for over a hundred years. I put some music on his stereo. Colin grabs a few towels stolen from the gym. He removes a panel from the wall of his closet. We enter Inner.

All of the School’s buildings were built in the late 1800s. All the ceilings slant and the hallways twist. All these structural irregularities form negative spaces behind the walls. We remove and then replace a panel in Colin’s wall, crawl a few yards through a narrow shaft to an angularly roofed room. A den scrawled with initials and dates, some going back to the 1930s. Although the School’s administration must have known about it, since so many of those teaching attended as few as ten years ago, they’ve tolerated it, forgot about it. The School had changed so much, they thought. What was going on in Inner had nothing to do with their parietal duties. They sealed off the panels to Inner each summer. Never checked mid-term to see if they were reopened. It was part of the tradition, sealing the panels after the spring term. There’s more to tradition than hazing and longstanding rivalries.

Angular walls. A small window giving out on tall pines and the School’s tennis courts. A bare mattress. A vanilla-scented candle. Two small speakers rigged to Colin’s stereo. We lean on initials carved in the wall. I show him what I’ve got. He reimburses me. We drape a towel over the panel to his room. We roll another towel as tightly as possible, fasten it with a rubberband. We hit the bowl, trapping the smoke best we can under a guitar pick. We direct a stream of smoke into the towel, leaving brown-stained lip prints. We return the paraphernalia to a cutaway in the floor someone made long ago. Take turns with the Visine and the breath freshener. Then we race on bikes to the field house for practice.

The idea came to me when we were at a party one weekend, off campus at a day student’s house. Colin and I and a few others were hitting a bong in the garage. We were passing around the two-foot Graffix with the weighted bottom. Alma, my girlfriend, was there. She was hitting it too. Getting awkward and laughing at the funny things Colin managed to say as everyone got rowdier and more drunken and out-of-control. I was quiet, recognizing something I could use to my advantage if I needed it.

At the time, in the fall of our fifth-form year, I discovered a recipe for euphoria. I drank four shots of bourbon. Then smoked a well-packed bowl. Then chased another four shots with Coca-Cola. I would find a couch. All the hairs on my body standing on edge. I’d get juicy mouthed and switch to water. If I diluted the first wave of intoxication with water, I could handle what I’d just done to myself. The night would go on. I would stay standing until eleven or so when whoever’s parents returned and we’d all be long gone. After we cleaned and disappeared, I always had a safe harbor, quietly returning home and slipping off my shoes, making it up the stairs in the dark, getting in bed, listening to my walkman, falling asleep. Or I would stay up and write poems about how people mistook Mercedes Benz symbols for peace signs. Sometimes my mom would be awake, my father always asleep. Out of the darkness I’d hear her ask for a kiss goodnight. I’d have to pass her scratch-and-sniff test. I’d admit to a few cigarettes. No more than two beers.

When I’d wake up after noon my mother would say she could still smell the alcohol on my breath. I’d be fine though. My parents had no experience with this sort of thing. They weren’t from here. I got everything done and almost excelled. Monday morning I would hear that the boarders I drank with on Saturday night were busted by their housemasters who weren’t as lenient as my mother. Two beers and a cigarette meant a five-day suspension. If it was your second suspension, you’d face a disciplinary committee that was quick to expel unless they thought you needed counseling.

Sometimes I would pick up people from school who were waiting for the bus to the next town. I’d pull over. Tell them I’d be parked behind the hardware store if they didn’t feel like waiting for the bus. Alma was waiting alone and accepted my offer. We wound up smoking a bowl in a parking garage. Wandering around the University’s Art Museum. She was from New Orleans. Beautiful. In third form. Hadn’t had an opportunity to meet many fifth formers. She was into paintings and my mother painted. She’d dragged me to the museum a hundred times so I could be like that’s Van Gogh, that’s Frank Stella, that’s Warhol. Alma liked that I knew these things. Afterwards she’d sneak off campus and I’d drive us as far away as I could, up the Delaware River to the Water Gap, or to Philadelphia, or New York, or the shore. Wherever we wanted to go. I learned about where I was with her. Stopping the car. Making out in weird rural parking lots. Getting high whenever we felt like it.

I was busy when baseball season started. Almost never around campus after school on weekdays. Alma told me that she’d been seeing a lot of Colin after dinner, in the library or walking around the campus. I’d be at home, studying, reading, getting high and playing guitar with a friend. We’d try to talk around nine. She’d call. We’d talk. Things would get quiet and awkward. She’d tell me how Colin was taking friends (but not me) down to Cancun for the three-week Spring break. How she was thinking about going. Cancun was so close to New Orleans, just across the Gulf. I told her—not what I wanted to tell her—that everything’s cool, Colin’s my friend, if you want to be with him that’s cool. Everything’s cool. No one owns anyone. You should do what you feel is right. She would tell me she feels right with me but really special with Colin. He’s part of everything. She said she loved being with me too, removing herself from the School with me, heading to the Village or wherever we’d go. Returning, making fun of all the shit. She didn’t know, she just didn’t know.

I told her that I was really more a part of the school than Colin or anyone. I’d been catching motherfucking turtles and tadpoles at the pond since I was little. I’d been in town 17 years as opposed to Colin’s four. I could take her to places in the woods he would never know about. I could take her to an underground fort I dug with friends years before. A hundred things happened there before she even thought of coming here.

That summer I would not be on the Vineyard or any of that. My dad spent the summer reading on the back porch, enjoying some leisure and the yard and the open space he earned. My mother at her studio, painting abstractions. If my parents went anywhere it was to Spain or Turkey or Greece or Rome or Egypt, not the Cape, not the Vineyard, not Vail, never again to anywhere like Cancun. I told her I’d been to Cancun the summer before my first year at the School. You don’t want to go there. It’s bullshit. All hotels. They put sliced hot dogs on pizza, nothing worthwhile. The whole time there I had Montezuma’s Revenge, watched the Chicago Cubs on cable until the afternoon storms knocked the power out. She stopped calling me. Colin was avoiding me. People were telling me they were seen together. I said I already knew things I didn’t. I said everything’s cool.

Part of living in the town and being a day student as opposed to living on campus is that all of the friends you grew up with haven’t gone anywhere. You keep in touch with some. You live a double life. They treat you differently as a guy from the School. You change a little. Become more friendly than you ever were. Speak with more authority than you ever had. You become a little more socially graced, a little more like Colin.

A few weeks after Spring Break a friend’s parents were taking the weekend to go to a bed and breakfast, a fuck-and-sleep, my friend said his parents called it. I’d known this guy all my life. He was a virtuoso on piano, violin, cello, guitar, and drums. But he couldn’t read well enough to get into the School. He never even applied. The School wasn’t for musicians. It was for scholar-athletes, or so they liked to say. I walked the fifty yards between my house and his. I saw that he’d lit a neon beer lamp in his bedroom window. A few cars were parked out front. The sun setting. One of the first warm nights of the year. We’d spend time outside on the back porch. Bring guitars. Pass around bombers. It’d all go as planned.

I invited Alma and Colin to come. Several weeks had passed since she made the change. She went to Cancun and came back tan, as they all did. They all stood out from everyone who stayed up North. I’d actually gone to Florida with the baseball team for a week. I even had some sun on my arms and cheeks but nothing deep enough to last more than a few days at the end of March. They spent the whole three weeks at a hotel owned by Colin’s uncle, partying and getting into madness, renting VW bugs, tooling around the Yucatan. Colin told me about some of it, never mentioning Alma, who had already told me about some of it, never once dropping Colin’s name. She seemed older, like she’d pushed a few years into maturity. Once she got high I could tell there was something she wanted to tell me. But she couldn’t tell it at all. She had to keep up appearances, maintain casual conversation. It seemed like she had just figured out how one goes about not saying what needs to be said. She learned how to act like an alumnus long before she graduated, even if Colin never fucked her.

It was easy. Alma and Colin and I passed around a bottle of bourbon. Some guitars were played. I played a little. Colin played a little. Alma watched it all. She seemed to think all was fine. People really didn’t own one another. I’d watch her watching Colin as he sang “Feelin’ Alright” or whatever song. Something had happened between the two of them. It was not my role to force myself between them and try to interrupt the natural pairing off. They will fail each other. Colin will graduate and go to Hobart. She will have two more years left. There will be new post-graduate lacrosse stars to show around the School. She and Colin can’t have much more than a few months left. Maybe they’ll meet up in the summer for a few romps at the Vineyard or wherever the fuck. If I were with her maybe I’d have gone to her parents’ place at the Vineyard. I’d get to see it’s really nothing but trash. Not much different than anything else.

I offer them slugs off the bourbon, and it’s warm outside, smoking a joint, just the three of us, and it’s really warm and beautiful, stars, the leaves are breaking out of the trees, it hasn’t rained for a few days, everyone’s rolling around the backyard. Then I think we should wander off on our own. I’ll take them to the woods on campus, there’s a fort we built a few summers ago that’s so cool this time of year, when the ground’s fresh and you can really smell the earth again. There’s enough of a moon, we won’t need flashlights, so let’s go.

They agree, hesitantly at first. Then they were probably thinking I’ll show them a place where they can do whatever, whenever: be alone. I brought them together. I’ll show them where they can scrape the dregs of their relationship.

We all sneak onto the campus using a service-entrance side road. Quickly ducking into the woods where the trails start, heading towards the abandoned ropes course. There had once been zip wires though the trees you could ride to the ground after overcoming vertigo and testing your balance. But a summer thunderstorm brought the whole thing down last year.

I was with an old friend who had helped me build the fort, who that night would be my lover. The fort we could find without a moon. We built it one summer for lack of anything better to do. We smuggled shovels out to the woods. Dug a foundation with a roof of earth above. There was a trap door that you’d open and lower yourself down. We’d bricked the walls and the floor. Laid down tiling. Had some lawn furniture and a lantern. The stoner students who found it named it Mystic.

We lit the lantern. Left the hatch open. Fresh air was cutting into the fort. We could breathe. Exhale smoke. Colin and Alma started kissing. I started with my lover. We pulled ourselves out of the fort for privacy. We were beneath the moon. Colin and Alma underground. I could bury them. Shut it all tight on them. Lock it. They’d be trapped there.

Instead my lover and I just left, took what we had and headed off-campus. No one spotted us. We both went back to our places, where our parents were asleep. My mom didn’t wake up for a scratch and sniff. I fell asleep just as it started to rain.

The administration knows that I am probably to blame for what happened, but they can’t catch me. My parents watch over me fine.




About the Author


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