The class bored me.
He spewed out conjugations and forms, broke down grammar and vocabulary, and it bored me. I had already taken four years of French, and yet here I was in French II because that was what was offered in middle school. I should’ve switched to Spanish, but I was lazy and angry and I knew enough French to sleepwalk through the class.
Every statement that rolled from Mr. Dupre’s lips I felt I already knew. It was completely familiar. If I had been honest, I would’ve noticed that I couldn’t answer half his questions before the answer was given. As comfortable as I was understanding and recognizing the simplified French, I didn’t have the recall to dredge it up from my memory.
I would find excuses to leave: long bathroom breaks and water breaks were often peppered with fantasies and dreams. I would consider how to pick the locks to the auditorium down the hall. I would imagine the girls back home, the ones an infinite unreality away, and how much fun I could be having with them if only I weren’t locked away at this all-boys school. I would picture secret passageways opening up from behind tiles or slats, and I would stare intently at them as if I could see right through the fake wall to the amazing bat-cave on the other side. I would tell myself stories of adventure and make up song lyrics and write poetry all because the class did nothing for me.
The bathroom was just down the hall, but down one floor was the single room handicap bathroom no one ever used. The only handicaps anyone at the school ever exhibited were emotional, half of them caused or exacerbated by the culture there. I took extra effort to draw out my bathroom breaks by slowly walking down the stairs and enjoying the incredible privacy and cleanliness that bathroom offered.
Halfway down the stairs was a window that looked out on the massive hill the building was perched upon and over the outlying woods. It didn’t open. There was no latch, and the slight sill on the inside belied the wide one on the outside. For whatever reason, the window was a constant buzz of large black flies.
As I walked past this window each day, I would fling my hand out and smash the flies. I would wait for the telltale sound, my arms tense, my breathing controlled. Then I would strike.
“Tu es mort!” I would yell, my hand clapping the plexiglass window.
My goal was to kill the insects with a fast swat without crushing them and smearing their guts on the window and my hands. When successful, the fly would drop like a feather. When unsuccessful, it meant a literal black mark on the window. I always washed my hands when I got to the bathroom. If there were any new flies buzzing on my return trip, they received a pardon for the day.
There was no morbid joy. I didn’t like killing the flies. I didn’t dislike it either. I hated the sound of them buzzing against the window. I hated the tickle of them landing on me in hot summer months. I hated the smell where they congregated and finding them on my food, never at the same time, but somehow connected in the two thoughts. I swatted them for time. I killed them to avoid class, to waste another 3 minutes out of an apparent eternity of repetition.
My grades in French were less than stellar. My dexterity at killing flies was superb.
When I would reenter the classroom many miraculous minutes later, my teacher wouldn’t even stop to chide me. My absence was so regular, he must’ve thought I was on a fiber regimen. Midway through sentences and ideas, I would waltz in quietly and slide back into my seat. Half the time, the next question was aimed directly at me. Half the time I could answer promptly and correctly. When I answered correctly, the class rolled on as if nothing had happened.
However, when I was wrong or my tongue tied as I wracked my brain for an answer, Mr. Dupre would raise an eyebrow. His eyes would linger just long enough to swat me without crushing me.
The next day, when swatting flies once more, I’d wonder which of these flies was like to be me; if any of them and that one in particular should receive my executioner’s pardon.