I’m so nice. That’s all you need to know.
|I'm so nice.
Really. I am. Truly nice. Inhumanly nice. Nice like ice. Or something. You know. Just nice. I'm like a superhero of niceness. Like a superman: sweeter that a sugar-coated candy cane; softer than a girl's favorite stuffed animal. Gentler than a fresh-smelling blankie that just came outta the dryer; greater than great; the greatest.
Yeah. That’s me.
I’m so nice.
That’s all you really need to know about me. Nothing else matters. Not really. You don’t need to know me, or my name, or my birthday, or my history, or my life, or me to know that I’m nice. Really; you don’t. Not at all. It’s irrelevant. Not like you'd care to know, anyway. Why would you care if you knew I was nice? See? You wouldn't. Doesn’t matter, anyway. I’m just there. And I’m just nice. And that’s all.
That's pretty much the story of my life. In my yearbook, I'd probably even be voted "Nicest Guy." That's if people could even remember anything more about me other than the fact that I'm nice. Like my name. And all that other irrelevant stuff I went through just now. When I die, I'd probably even have "Mr. Nice Guy" engraved on my grave. Not even my name or my dates. Not like anyone else would know them, anyway. Just "Mr. Nice Guy." And I'd have a bunch of people who barely knew me (which would be everyone) give eulogies about how nice of a guy I was, and you'd see obituaries in all these newspapers about how this really nice guy just died.
There was this one time, actually.
That was a nice time. Really. It was. Seriously. It was nice. Really nice. It was a time when I was younger. Livelier. Probably nicer, too. And probably stupider. Yeah.
It was a time when I was seventeen. I was in high school; I was a junior; I was shorter and less shaggy and scrawny; I was thirteenth in my class; I was worried about college and the rest of my life; I was the friend of a few people; And I was nice.
I was with my friends one day. All of them. Just standing in a hallway. A busy hallway. After school. We were talking. Wondering what we were gonna do. Chris then thought of something. Thought of taking the train. Going to the city. Do some shopping. See some things--maybe a movie. Have some fun. Whatever. It was the weekend.
Nobody really felt like going, though. Everyone was tired. “I got a paper due Monday and I haven't started” or “My mom's a bitch and wants me home early on Fridays” or “Dude, it's too fuckin' early.” Blah, blah, blah.
So much for that.
We all just decided to do something that night. Or tomorrow. Either or. At least three people had to be free on a Saturday--just because. And, you know.
So, we hang out for only a little while longer before we all start leaving one by one, and the school day dies like a sunset. Soon, all that's left is me, Leo, and Jewel.
We're something like a trio, you'll see. Kinda.
But, I'm tired and bored and whatever. So, after awhile more of talking and stuff, I tell 'em I'm gonna go to my locker. Pack my stuff up. They're all “All right” and I walk off down the hall. It's kinda empty at this point--it's Friday, after all. So, I'm like a lone ranger walking off into some imaginary sunset on the other side of this deserted, linoleum, almost prison-like hallway, and I walk tall and proud. Not looking back or anything. I try and imagine how I must look to them.
Then, I hear Leo say “Wait up!” I stop. He says he'll come with me--our lockers are near each other's, but they're both on the other side of school--and he tells Jewel we'll meet up with her at her locker. Jewel says scratch that--main entrance.
So, it was decided.
Now it's just me and Leo and we're walking. Soon, he glances behind me; I don't know what he saw, or what he didn't see, but, after that, he turns around to me and all he says is “Go home with her.”
I just look at him like he just suggested I streak in the cafeteria. “What?”
“Go home with her.”
I look forward and try to keep cool. “That makes no sense. It'd take me like a half-hour longer to get--”
“That's not the point, dude.”
I just kept walking.
“You don't think a half-hour's worth it? What're you in such a rush to get home for? It's Friday.”
“There's a fire home with my name written all over it.”
He just sighed and glared downward as if he was damning the Devil for my stubbornness. Then he looked back up at me again. “You gotta get more aggressive with this girl, dude. And girls in general. We can't just sit around an' expect them to suddenly like you one day.”
I say nothing.
“Besides, I think she likes you, too.”
I feel a slight warmth suddenly invade my cold, stoic face. The corners of my lips twitch with my struggle to keep a straight face. That little nice boy inside of me wants to beam with happiness.
He pokes me and says “You know you wanna smile.”
And, as if his finger just pushed over a frail tower of building blocks, I crumble, and I smile. I was never good at keeping a straight face when I wanted to smile. I was never good at a lot of things; especially when it came to girls. At least I didn't think so. I still don't.
That's where Leo came in.
He was good at a lot of things and a lot of people knew it. He was good at acting; he was good at singing; he was good at Calculus and English; he was good at looking good; he was good with girls; good with talking to them, reading them, whatever else; good at a lot of things. Things like that. He was pretty much good at being all the things I wasn't and more. Perfect.
He wasn’t good at being nice, though. Not as good as I was, anyway. Nobody was.
I always wondered whether that was good or bad for him. But, whatever.
He hooked his arm around my neck and pulled me against his shoulder and into his intelligence. “Lay that ol' worm out there, dawg!”
That was Leo.
So, of course, this jackass Leo somehow comes up with some bullcrap excuse about why I can't take the bus home like I usually do--something about how I wanna check out this store for a new game or some other crap--which, of course, conveniently forces me to take the train with Jewel. I can still see him flashing that cheesy, blinding grin when I looked back at him while I was walking away with her.
So, it was, like--four or something. It was spring and the sun was setting earlier and earlier. So, everything seemed to softly shine with this golden-orange glow of a dream as we sat on a bench on the platform, listening to buses bellow beneath us and cars swoosh by.
She sighed with a smile as she shook her head and looked forward. “You boys and your games.”
I sighed and smiled and shook my head in the same fashion. “You girls and your games.”
She laughed and slapped my shoulder. “Shut up!”
I had jokes, I guess. I guess I could be funny, too. I didn't think I was good at it; I thought Leo was better, even though he said I'm a funny guy. But, whatever.
“Well, it's true,” I say.
She turns to me and raises her eyebrows with this impish smile on her face.
“There you go.”
“Wow.” I nod my head and look at her. “You're good at this.”
“I have no idea what you're talking about.”
“I'm sure you don't.”
She just giggled and leaned in toward me. “Speaking of games, what game're you gonna go get?”
I'm a pretty good liar. I guess that's something. “Well, there's not really one particular game I'm looking for. I'm just looking to look.”
“76th and 5th.” An actual game store was there, too. Slick.
She shook her head in a “Tsk, tsk, tsk” manner. “You don't have to pretend to buy a game to take the train with me.”
I keep cool. I laugh, actually. “Is that what you're telling yourself to make yourself feel better about your low self-esteem on these lonely train rides home?”
Oh, no, you just didn't. And this explosion of playfulness consumes us as we verbally and physically poke and prod each other and I lose myself in the intoxicating smoke of this eruption, until her Maroon Five “This Love” ringtone extinguishes it all.
So, she answered her cell phone. And, as I'm calming down from the high I was just on, she giggles and says “Hi, honey.”
My heart started to drop. Then, another explosion occurs--a different kinda one. One inside my head. My heart. It's the explosion of any pathetic semblance of hope I had crashing down on my head like a collapsing ceiling. And I let the plaster and wood hit my head and the dust swirl around me as I just stand there, lifeless like a stoic statue.
I did that for quite some time--stand there, that is--underneath that ceiling. I stood there as we sat waiting for the train, sitting next to a giggling, gushing girl. I even stood there as we sat in the train for a few minutes. Sometime later, though, as the remains of my sullen spirit floated
in the void inside my heart, some sounds of discontent reached me deep down inside the dark hole I crawled into and buried myself in, like an ostritch trying to hide its head in shame.
The conversation took a bad turn and she didn't sound happy.
Some remnant of my shattered self looked over at her to see her face twisted in a fierce frown. A scowl.
“Don't you fucking talk to me like that.”
I crawl back out of my hole and listen. And none of it sounds good. It just went on and on. We reached a tunnel, soon, though, which ended the whole thing, I guess.
She just slams her cell phone shut and throws her head back against the wall.
She sighed and closed her eyes.
The asshole's name was Mike.
He went to some public school nearby us. They met at a train station near her home. He was (at first, anyway) sweet and charming; moreover, he was six-feet tall, fat, and he wrote the crappiest poetry and rap lyrics I ever had the misfortune of reading. He could easily kick my ass by pure height and weight alone.
That's all you really need to know about him. Nothing else matters. Not really.
Of course, Jewel told me a lot more than that. A lot more than I cared to know. But, whatever: I listened. Because I'm so nice. Yeah.
So, that evening, I tell Leo all this on the phone. And, this jackass, in his Leo-like way, just says “Fuck that fat fucker!” and gives me this momentous moral-uplifting speech about how I can be her knight in shining armor from this monstrosity known as Mike since, honestly, this stupid relationship had been going on for quite some time.
And it had. About three months, she told me. And she'd grown sick of it.
“So, fuck it,” Leo said. “Just make sure you don't become like her girlfriend.”
“Like her girlfriend?”
And thus--yet another thing I wasn't good at--he told me about the excruciating purgatory known as the friend zone. The eternal, almost illogical limbo between friend and more-than-friend.
“Roger,” I told him.
My operation began on the next day, I guess.
Chris rallied all our lazy asses together for us to hang out at Coney Island for the day. Leo and Jewel--among other friends--were able to come; so, they did. And, there we all were, just hanging out, going on rides, and playing games.
“Don't hang out around her too much,” Leo had advised me for that whole day. The perfect convenience of hanging out with her at Coney Island--a place where I could crash into her with bumper cars and pitch baseballs at bottles and win cute, cuddly teddy bears for her and ride beside her in roller coasters--tempted me to follow her around all day like a puppy. But, that's what Leo was getting at. So, I knew. And, I didn't. It was cool. Whenever she tried to talk to me--which was fairly often-- I talked back, of course, and we talked and joked. Otherwise, I pretty much didn't talk to her.
Soon, the sun started to set yet again. We'd gone on roller coasters--where she actually went outta her way to sit next to me--and we'd gone on bumper cars, and I got a few good bumps on her, which got great laughs outta her--and a whole bunch of other stuff. We hadn't gone on the Ferris Wheel, though.
“That's gay,” Chris spat at the idea. But, the majority overruled his homophobia towards Ferris Wheels, and we all lined up to go on it.
On line, Leo put his hand on my shoulder and leaned in close to my face. “Get on it with her.”
“But you told me--”
“I said not too much. Now's your chance.”
I guess it was. As if I hadn't already been thinking about it.
I frowned. “There's no other person for you to pair up with, though.”
“Yeah, there is,” he said. His eyes focused on something. I followed the thread his eyes laid out for me and, of course, I saw this random cute girl.
I shake my head and sigh.
But, yeah. So, I dunno: through some twist of fate or some unconscious aggression on my part, we end up in a car all by ourselves. I guess it was me: she was already in a car; I just walked up to it. “Fancy seeing you here,” I say in my best 1940's accent.
And she laughs.
Soon, the Ferris Wheel starts and we're off. And, it seemed that, for those minutes--how many there may have been--the magic of the moment compressed all time and space to just a simple, cyclical, circular revolution. A perfect circle. A perfect everything.
“Pretty view, huh?” I ask.
She was just sitting there, overlooking the glow of the landscape of orange-gold all around her. “Yeah.”
“Good day, too.”
I didn't know what else to say--she wasn't really being receptive for some reason.
So, I just sat there and let a flood of a million thoughts rush into my head until she asked me something:
“Do you think I'm a good person?”
I frowned at her. “What?”
Silence for a moment. “Do you think I'm a good person?”
I'm silent for a while--can't really just jump into a question like that without wondering “What the hell” for a moment--but, you know me. I'm nice. So, I say “Why wouldn't I think so? You hiding a deep dark secret from me? Got a dead body in your basement or something?”
She just laughed. A tired, weak laugh. “No.”
The nice-guy smile I had on my face slowly starts to melt away underneath the face of the orange sun and in front of the face of this sudden new side of her that I'd never seen before.
“Sometimes I just wonder why I'm here,” she said as she looked at the golden-orange world below her. “Or why I'm still here.”
“'Cause I don't think I deserve to be.”
I just stared at her. I didn't really know what to say.
“I'm not a good person.”
I almost felt like laughing. Or forcing myself to. But I couldn't bring myself to. I almost thought it was another one of those games. You know: those foolish games that girls play. And she looked so pretty in the sunset. But, her eyes had this distant, glassy look in them, like those of a sad, old, cat-owning lady looking through her window down at children playing in a park.
She gave another weak, tired laugh, and lowered her head, closing her eyes. “I'm sorry.” She shook her head. “I guess I sound crazy.”
I hadn't realized it until then but our car had been still at the top for quite some time. We were practically sitting on top of the world. So, I looked out at it: the world, with its golden sun sinking into the horizon like a sunken ship. All the stars just watched silently.
“Sorry,” she said.
With a loud jolt, the Ferris Wheel lowered us slowly and softly back down to the world.
Well, I couldn't relay this interesting event to Leo; I couldn't find him anywhere. Knowing him, he was probably chasing tail. So, I didn't really see him until our whole group met back at the entrance that night, and that was only briefly. From then on, we said our farewells to each other, since almost nobody was going home the same way as someone else. Except for me and Jewel, of course.
So, we all said bye to each other. Leo gave me another one of his cheesy grins. We'd talk later.
Fast forward: me and Jewel are at a train station, sitting at a bench. We're not saying anything. I'm too lost in what she said earlier and she's lost in--whatever. Station's pretty much deserted. Only a few people here and there.
Her cell phone rang. I hear Maroon Five perform for the umpteenth time that day. She looks at it but shuts Maroon Five up again with the press of a button and her cell phone disappears back into her purse.
I frowned and, when I thought about it, I realized she'd done that many times throughout the day. I just never thought much of it.
But, suddenly, the way a bright light turns on you when you're just waking up and blinds you, she suddenly flashed her Jewel-like smile at me. “Hey: if you could nuke any country in the world, which one would it be?”
I look at her and shake my head. “Whatever weird country you came from.”
“That means you'd bomb here, you dumbass.”
“Whatever. World would still be a better place.”
“Oh, screw you.”
And, we both just laugh, and our laughter fills the empty void of this station, echoing off the walls.
“And yourself?” I ask.
“Because they're annoying.”
“That's it, eh?”
And we go on. It wasn't quite an explosion this time. It was more like the soft, radiant pulse of a star in the sky. That's how I'd describe it when we suddenly just became normal and fun again. And it felt good.
After yet another fit of playfulness between us, she just rested her head on my shoulder. Which made my eyes suddenly go wide and my heart suddenly race. But, I didn't question: I just went with it.
“I don't see how you could ever think you're a bad person,” I said.
Silence. I only heard the monotonous buzz of the train station's dim, phosphorous lights.
She gave a smile--a kinda sleepy, sheepish smile. “You don't know me.”
“Sure, I do.”
She nestled closer against my shoulder.
“You're Jewel Anderson. Age seventeen. Brown hair, brown eyes, five foot six. Likes oatmeal, peanut butter and jelly, poetry, and hates drinking water.”
She giggled. And sighed. “How do you know when you know someone?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like--when you really know them? And know that they can't possibly be anyone else, you know? I could just make up every single thing about myself and you'd never know.” She shifted her head a little. “You can only know what I choose to let you know. Or what I want to let you think you know.”
I laughed a little. “Do you choose to let me know that you bite your lips whenever you're nervous? Or that you walk with a slight swing in your shoulders?”
Silence. And she giggled again. “Well--looks like you got me there, partner.”
“Bang, bang,” I shook her body by shaking her shoulder. Which made me end up with my arm around her. Which just made this more awkward and thrilling at the same time.
“You're not perfect, sure, but you're still a good person.”
She didn't say anything. Her smile had just faded slightly into an odd blankness. And, we just sat there for a long time until she suddenly said: “You shouldn't fuck around with me.”
I looked at her and just laughed a little. “And just why shouldn't I fuck around with you, Miss Anderson?”
“Because I'll probably fuck you up.”
“Fuck me up?”
“Yeah. You deserve someone nicer.”
“I dunno. Like some sixteen-year-old virgin in New Jersey who listens to Coldplay and paints portraits and is the Vice-President of Photo Club.”
I looked down at her and stared for awhile. But, then I said, “I don't want someone nicer.”
Then she just looked up at me, my arm still around her. And, she just stared into my eyes for a long time, with those old-lady eyes, like she was searching for something she lost long ago inside of them.
Then, she closed them.
Then, she kissed me.
I'd known Jewel since freshmen year.
It was kinda funny how we first met. She failed computer class in her elementary school so she didn't know much basic stuff--such as how to print a damn document.
So, she asked me, 'cause she said I looked smart. And I looked nice. And I was the only one around, anyway, other than librarians, so I better've looked smart. But, anyway, I showed her; she was much more computer literate by the time this whole story happened--thank God. She made me promise never to tell anyone, though.
And, you know me: I'm nice. So, I didn't.
As long as I'd known her, though, she'd been dating nothing but jerks: either initially nice guys who later on became jerks or guys that were just jerks from the get go. Mike was no different. He was just number something something. Me and Leo lost our count.
It always annoyed me. Somehow, it always annoyed Leo even more: “Right before me,” he'd say to me about her, “is all the good and bad bullshit about girl-kind.” I guess it annoyed him more because he knew this wasn't just some exclusively unique condition but a plague. Me: I didn't care.
I just liked her.
Screw the rest of boy-kind.
Jewel--and several other people who knew us well--often didn't understand why Leo and I were such good, close friends. A lot of it had to do with him being good in so many things I wasn't good at--which sounds weird but, yeah. It just seemed like an ironic, unlikely friendship to her: “Leo the lecher”--as she called him-¬-who is good at a lot of things and a lot of people know it and--well--me--sweet seventeen year-old innocence. Mr. Nice Guy.
Well, somehow, Leo and I became close our freshmen year. Frequent shared classes and hallway passes had acquainted Jewel with Leo; she didn't really become his friend, though, until she met me. Besides, Jewel once told me that Leo tried to come on to her many times before she and I met. She always rejected him in her callous, her cool manner; she saw through all his boyish games, she said. Leo hadn't liked her all that much, anyway. Most of the time, he just flirted because he could.
So, I tell Leo all that happened that night. He only tells me two words:
Of course, he told me a lot more. But, he made sure to emphasize those two words above all others, like he wanted me to parachute off of a one-winged plane, or like he wanted me to abandon a sinking ship, or like he wanted me to dive out of a car being driven by a drunk person.
Which surprised me, actually. He only briefly praised me for my daring, thrilling kiss with another guy's girlfriend--a big, six-foot something blimp of a person who could easily kick my ass on pure height and weight alone. He spent the rest of the time warning me.
“Why do you think I stopped where I did freshmen year?” he asked me. “It wasn't just that I was toyin' with her like everyone else. She's broken. She's got way too many issues.”
I didn't see what that had to do with anything.
“I've talked with her about you before, you know. Putting good words in. Not like I have to: she knows you well enough, anyway. But, you know: just tryin' to get her to see some things.”
A pang of apprehension shook my heart.
I never liked when Jewel and Leo had “talks”; they were always either about me or about some me-related issue which involved topics and language foreign and unknown to my sweet, innocent, Mr-Nice-Guy mind. Like sex. Or assholes. Or relationships in general. It always felt like my mother and father was talking about me--their child--in their bedroom--a room where the walls and sheets were saturated with secrets.
“She said she can't see herself with you.”
I just asked why.
“Some dumb shit about how she doesn't think she's worthy and that she'd just turn you into an asshole or whatever. And that you're like--too pure and inexperienced or whatever.”
I just sighed.
“She said you're just so nice.”
I didn't see Jewel much after that Saturday.
Not that I was still on that whole “don't hang out around her too much” crap. She just honestly wasn't around as much. And I kinda missed her. Leo just said “Fuck it,” and, whenever we had gym, he'd just take me lifting, and he told me to imagine that “fat fucker.” So, I did. And I pushed. And I hurt.
And it felt good.
The times that I saw Jewel, she didn't really respond. She treated me like an acquaintance at best--which was weird after being close to someone for two years. She even blatantly flipped out on me several times for no reason at all. And it hurt. It always did. More than any weight ever could. But, I'd never say anything. Nothing at all.
Because I was so nice.
I didn't talk or eat much at lunch anymore; the whole thing just got too much. When the guys I ate with dragged it outta me, Chris just gave a sad smile and shook his head.
“You're too nice, man,” was all that he said.
Leo just looked at my face as I stared off into the distance, like I was trying to make out someone at the horizon that I knew. Or thought I did, anyway.
“Maybe you're right,” was all that I said.
That Friday, she came up to me when I was at my locker. Just packing up. And, she's all “I want you to meet me somewhere.” She's smiling.
I just keep packing. I don't even look at her. “Can't.”
Algebra, English 11, and I make sure I don't forget Chemistry. “Busy after school.”
“Oh, c'mon: what you in such a rush for? It's Friday.”
I check my planner. “There's a fire home with my name written all over it.”
She just giggled. “Oh, c'mon, Mr. Fireman.”
I flip pages. I try to find April fifth. January, February, March....
“Meet me at the park near St. Luke's, okay? I wanna tell you something there.”
April. Fifth. I'm missing nothing. “Okay.”
“Thanks.” And she runs off into the hectic hallway.
So, after school, I go to that same train station that we sat at just a week ago today and I get on the 4 train. I stop at the stop that's by St. Luke's and I walk. And I'm like a dog being lead by my aimless mind, which is inundated with a thousand thoughts flying around like a horde of bees, until I get there. The park. By now, a pretty empty park--pretty empty like the hallway last week that I walked down. I was kinda early, anyway.
So, I just sat at a bench and waited for awhile, watching clouds float by in the sky and an occasional kid skid by in a gleeful run across the cement. But, I got so caught up in waiting that I hadn't noticed how much time actually passed by.
So, I looked at my cell phone: fifteen minutes past four. Late.
And, I was really tempted to wait more. To be patient. Polite. And nice.
But, for that one moment in my existence, I decided to do away with anything and everything nice. So, I called her.
One, two, three, and the phone rings on until, at what must've been like the fifth and almost final ring, someone picks up.
I hear a girl giggling and an almost inaudible, deep bass voice in the background: “Stop it, honey!”
My heart drops once again. I can feel the plaster shatter on my head once again.
“Hello?” I hear a girl say. It's Jewel's voice.
“Where are you?”
The girl giggles more and says some more coquettish comments toward that deep, bass voice until she says to me, “Hey: can I tell you something?”
"You're so fucking nice.”
I nearly drop the phone but my mind is too dead to loosen my grip. "I am?"
"Yeah. You are."
A car whizzes by on the road. A child laughs far off somewhere--a boy chasing a girl. "Okay."
"Really. You are."
The boy and the girl laugh together. "I know."
Silence. Some more of her giggles reach me in the hole I've buried myself in and echo in the chasms of that void. Then, she says “I'll call you later, okay?”
I bite my tongue but then I let it go--and everything else. “Okay.”
She says bye and hangs up.
And I just stood there. In the middle of a park, in the middle of a city, in the middle of a country, in the middle of the world. I felt like I didn't know anything anymore--that I never really did. But, I knew one thing:
I didn't want to be nice.
I didn't want the sum of my entire existence to be crammed into a four-letter word. I wanted to be more than just that really nice guy. I wanted to be Leo. Maybe even Mike if I was desperate enough.
I wanted someone to ask me what's wrong, and I wanted to say nothing. And I wanted them to worry. Worry their weary world away.
I wanted someone to glare at me. To be mad at me. To hate me. But I didn't want to hate them back. I wanted to do something worse:
I wanted to not care.
Not even not care.
I wanted to like it. Love it. To smile at their scowls and laugh at their tears.
I wanted to flip someone off. Scream a big "Fuck you" right in someone's face so my spit splatters on their face like acid and they smell my bad breath.
I wanted to hit myself. No. Hit something. Someone. Hit someone else. Hit that fat fucker. Hard. Really hard. So hard that I see his blood on my face and hear his bones crunch.
But, I couldn't.
Because I'm so nice.
I'm so nice.