Chapter 4: Lip Balm
"All week in class we've been discussing relationships. Relationships in high school are difficult things. As we've said, there are many tensions and pressures that make relationships during your teenage years both exciting and difficult." A few muffled giggles accompanied the health teacher's use of the word "exciting." All 26 students knew that the topic of today's discussion was birth control. All but one of the 26 students was eagerly waiting to see how Mrs. Callahan was going to introduce this difficult subject. The twenty-sixth student had other things on her mind. Angela's body was in class but her mind was miles away, reliving the terrible things John had said in her bedroom. Over and over she heard him call her Kim.
" ... abstinence," concluded Mrs. Callahan. "Girls in particular need to know how to say No."
"But it's not that easy," protested a girl in the front. "Most guys don't just come right out and say, `Will you sleep with me?' and then you can say Yes or No. They say, `I love you.' They say, `I need you.' They make you feel cruel if you say no. Or they cry. Or they lie."
Angela stiffened at the word "lie" and began to pay closer attention.
Mrs. Callahan put on her `Let's try to understand one another's point of view' expression. "I think lying is a little strong. Sometimes boys get carried away. In the heat of the moment, they may say things that they think they mean at the time, but later they realize those feelings were temporary. Under the influence of strong desires, sometimes people lose control. That's why it's important to -"
"It's not just guys," a good looking boy in the back insisted. "It's girls, too. They lean on you. They smell great and they look great and they sit in your lap and they say they love you. They breathe on you and they say, `I want to make love to you.' Then the next day they're off with somebody else."
"Yeah!" another boy blurted out, "they want it just as much as we do!"
"Desires, overwhelming desires, are characteristic of adolescence. Not just sexual desires, either, but desires of all kinds. Unfortunately, adolescence is also a time when many young people have poor impulse control. The combination of strong desires and low self-control can be dangerous. Terrible things can happen. Mistakes can be made that will effect the rest of your life."
"But what if you're in love? Is it so wrong to have sex if you know it's the real thing?"
"Bonnie, you've brought up an interesting point. How do you know when it's the real thing?"
"Well ..." Bonnie thought. "You love each other. You trust each other. You do everything together. You don't have any secrets. You just know. Angela, you're in love. You have the real thing. How did you and John know?"
A small chorus of girls agreed with Bonnie. "Yes, Angela. Tell us. Tell us about John. When he told you he loved you for the first time, what was it like? He's so smooth. He's so cool."
Angela leaped to her feet. In a quivering voice, she announced, "I am sick and tired of all this shit. Love! Bullshit! Relationships! Bullshit! It's all a bunch of crap. You people don't know anything about anything. You sit here and you run your mouths like you're such hot stuff. You guys are the Big Poo Generators. This room is filled up with your shit. I'm not going to sit in it any more. Fuck you all." She slammed her books onto the floor and stormed out.
Rob sneaked out of study hall. Lately he, too, had experienced strong desires and low self-control. He headed for the boys' bathroom with practiced nonchalance. When he got to the door, he looked carefully up and down the hall and then crept furtively around the corner to the girls' bathroom. John or Ben would have had no trouble recognizing Rob's Wouldn't-It-Be-Funny-If smile and little giggle. Rob checked his pockets - yes, his tube of lip balm was still there. He felt himself stiffen. This was so exciting. He looked up the hall. Angela's health class, he knew, was nearby. "Wouldn't it be funny," he said to himself, "if she came into the bathroom and caught me masturbating there? Boy, that would be great! Of course, it wouldn't really be great. It'd be awful. I'd be so embarrassed. How could I live with myself? But it sure is exciting to think about." Rob looked up and down the hall again and touched himself discretely through his jeans. Then he cracked the door to the girls' bathroom and peeked in. No one there. He opened the door wider and slipped in.
Once safely concealed, Rob locked himself in the furthest stall. He took the now-warmed tube of lip balm out of his pants pocket, unzipped his jeans, and shoved them unceremoniously to the floor. He squeezed a generous dollop of lip balm onto his palm and began to stroke himself. "Rubbing ..." he murmured. "I'm rubbing myself .... Mom said if I kept this up, I'd rub myself raw. Red and raw. That's why I use this lip balm. It keeps me soft and smooth. But what if I didn't? I'd be retarded. I'd rub myself raw and red. Rubbing retards is what I do when I do what I do ... when I do ... what I do ... ohhhh ... mmmmm ... when I ... ahhhh ... do what I ... ooohhhhh ... doooooo....."
When she made her dramatic exit, Angela had no thought but to escape. Now that she was out of the room, she had no idea where she wanted to go or what she wanted to do. Her life was closing in. She stopped dead in the corridor. There was no escape. There was nowhere to hide, no reason to be alive at all. The wonderful choices she had believed were hers yesterday were all gone. In fact they had all been illusions, based on lies, just like Rikki Rockett. All the possibilities came to this. No lover. No husband. No child. No family. No future. Nothing. Suddenly nothing seemed the most desirable of all futures. Before, everything she wanted ended up hurting her. Nothing, at least, couldn't hurt.
Angela walked sightlessly past the school custodian. "Careful, honey. That floor's wet. You don't want to fall and hurt yourself."
"Thank you," she said absently. She turned her head and noticed the custodian's cart. Without ever forming the intention, she watched her hand reach out and take a bottle of liquid drain cleaner from the lower shelf. She walked on to the girls' bathroom.
Angela never noticed that the door to the last stall was shut. She stood in the middle of the bathroom, staring blankly around her till she focused on a familiar phone number newly scrawled in lipstick on a mirror. SEX ARTIST, it said, followed by a phone number. ASK FOR RIKKI ROCKETT. The phone number was John's.
Angela gave a little moan of despair, opened the bottle of drain cleaner and swallowed until she gagged. She dropped the bottle, which fell to the sink, splashing her face and her shirt. The pain was excruciating. Her eyes, her face, her mouth, her throat, the inside of her chest, her stomach, all were blistering from her caustic cocktail. Angela gagged and began to vomit. She staggered towards a sink, retching and crying. "Ogod," she pleaded, "I can't stand it. Let me die." She tore into her wrist with her teeth, seeking the artery. Her blood flowed freely, but the pain continued unabated. She lurched to the cinderblock wall and began to write, over and over, the same hated name. She had nearly covered the wall when the cramps began. She collapsed to the floor and crawled towards the last stall. Her strength failed her at the penultimate door (much to Rob's good fortune), and she dragged herself in. Racked by cramps, she attempted to crawl onto the commode, but was unable. In a last vestige of good manners, she tried to pull off her panties when she was overcome by a tidal wave of pain. As her stomach and esophagus ruptured, flooding her vital organs with corrosion, Angela's tortured womb yielded the tiny, unformed Rockett in a gush of blood and amniotic fluid while Angela writhed, then died, on the bathroom floor.
Rob, meanwhile, had been cowering in his stall. He had seen some of her last agony through a crack in the door, and he had recoiled in horror from the river of blood that gushed onto his shoes. He was paralyzed. He knew he couldn't stay where he was, but he didn't dare leave. Also his hands were so greasy with lip balm that he was afraid to pull his pants back up, for fear he would stain his jeans. He used up all the paper in the stall, and still he felt soiled. "Greasy," he kept muttering, "I'm still so greasy..." Finally the stench and the suspense became unendurable. Rob pulled his pants up with his fingertips and slipped out of the bathroom. Wringing his hands, Rob cautiously rounded the corner to the hall.
"Whoa! Excuse me! Watch me go! Hello! Good bye! I like rock music! Hello?" Rob had narrowly avoided colliding with one of the local Special Needs students. "I like retards," said Rob, "hello!"
But the student paid Rob no attention. Eleven years of Special Needs classes had inured him to the vagaries of human behavior. Besides, he was on his way to ... um ... well. Like Angela, he was on his way.
Rob went home, still shaken, and locked himself in his room. He turned the TV on and slipped into his sitcom trance. The hours flew by like minutes as the television lulled him into a state of tranquilized torpor. When his mother knocked on his door, Rob leaped up guilty. "What? What do you want?" he demanded too quickly, his rusty voice breaking on the second 'what.'
"Robbie, I'm sorry I startled you. It's time for dinner."
"Oh. OK. I'll be right there. I just want to go to the bathroom." Rob put another tube of lip balm in his pocket to warm until the next commercial break and then retreated fifteen minutes of restorative desire in the bathroom. When he finally came downstairs, the evening news was just beginning.
"... in local news, the prestigious community of Eagle Hills was stunned today by the tragic death of another high school student. This pretty and popular young girl apparently was influenced to end her life by the music of a local rock band. Our Mary Laney is on the scene with an Eagle Hills High School student. Mary?"
"Thank you, Frank. This is Bonnie, who discovered the scene of the tragedy. What made you think that this sad event had anything to do with rock music, Bonnie?"
"Angela was in love with a member of the band. Before she died, she wrote the name Rikki Rockett all over the bathroom walls ... in her own blood. Oh, it was horrible. There was blood everywhere. Poor Angela. It could have been any of us. Rock music is a tool of Satan. That band is evil, I've always known it. She and John were so in love .... I can't believe this has happened. We were just talking in class about how happy they were, and then she ran out. I can't believe it. She had everything to live for....."
"Robbie? What is this about Rikki Rockett? Isn't that the name of your band? Do you know anything about this?"
"Uh.... Well... John was going out with a girl named Angela. But Rikki Rockett is not the name of our band. That would be a really dumb name for a band."
"...two of the students who form the band Rikki Rockett. Could you explain why you are wearing a skirt?" blared the television.
"Robbie! Isn't that Ben? In a skirt? And John? What's that on his head?"
Ben spoke cheerfully into the microphone. "Hi! I'm Rikki Rockett, one of the powermad riffsters who form the backbone of the rock band Big Poo Generator. Who are you? Am I on TV? Hi, Mom! Mom? What's for breakfast? I want to *bleep* you up the *bleep*."
"And you, young man. What can you tell us about this terrible tragedy? How do you feel about the allegations that your music led this beautiful girl to cut her life short?"
"Yes, this is a terrible tragedy. I'm so upset. I've lost the one true love of my life. Now there's nothing left for me. I'm going to kick you in the balls. It'll hurt really bad and it won't be funny."
"Robbie? What is he saying? Does he think this is some kind of a joke?"
John screamed, "This one's for you, Dad," as the newscast abruptly cut to a commercial break.
"Robbie? What is all this about?"
Rob took the space command from his mother's hand and turned off the television. "I don't know anything about any of this. I was in my room watching television. I didn't do anything. That guy was a retard, he must have made a mistake. He never saw me. That wasn't me. I had to go to the bathroom. But I wasn't in the bathroom. How could I go to the bathroom if I was already in the bathroom? He's lying. That wasn't me."
Mr. Sullivan gave Rob a measuring look. "Slow down, son. What are you saying? Do you know something about this poor girl? What do you mean, retard? Was this girl retarded?"
"Retarded? Is this the same Angela you've been dating? That nice girl with the beautiful hair? Oh, Robbie, I'm so sorry..."
"No, Mom. I'm not dating her. I hardly knew her. Besides, she's dead. Let's listen to some tunes." Rob turned on the radio.
"This is a terrible thing. That Ben. I always knew there was something funny about him. That long hair. Wearing a skirt. He has an attitude. I could tell, when he was here, he thought your mother and I were fools. He has no respect. You could see that on TV. Talking like that to his mother on television. What kind of a boy would do that?"
"Yes, I've always known he wouldn't amount to anything but trouble," Mrs. Sullivan chimed in. "How can he ever expect to get into a decent college or find a job looking like that? I've been meaning to speak to you for a long time about this, Robbie. I think you've fallen in with bad companions."
The radio interrupted Mrs. Sullivan's complaint. "Tonight's top story concerns the tragic death of an Eagle Hills High School student. It is alleged that the attractive high school sophomore was involved with a member of a popular rock group. Witnesses on the scene say that the name Rikki Rockett, apparently the drummer of local band Big Poo Generator, figured prominently in the tragedy. School officials speculate that the nihilistic content of the band's lyrics may have driven this poor girl to despair. This station has only recently received a copy of the band's first commercial release, ironically titled Please Kill Us. Here now is a humorous little tune from Please Kill Us called "Toilet 4 2." If you feel like killing yourself after you hear this, give us a call at our toll-free number, 1-800-543-1495. That's 1-800-543-1495."
The Sullivans sat quietly around the dinner table. Not even the clink of cutlery interrupted the song. The expressions on the senior Sullivans' faces left little doubt of their reaction. Rob kept his eyes on his plate and pushed his food into little piles.
Rob's parents exchanged a meaningful look. Mrs. Sullivan began, "I can't stand this. I can't stand another minute of this. Your daddy and I have been talking for a long time about moving back to California. There's something wrong with the values in this community, and I know there's something wrong with Ben and John. I've been hoping you'd come to your senses by yourself but I see that I've waited too long. We forbid you to spend any more time with either of them. Robbie, we feel very strongly about this. If I thought you were going to keep hanging around with those bums and playing that awful music about bathroom things, I would have to disown you. We can't accept it. It has to stop."
"Your mother's right, son. It can't go on. Look at all the money you've wasted, on the guitar, on tapes, on making photocopies... That's our money, son. We earn it, so we choose how it gets spent. I can no longer allow you to use our money, or the money from your grandmother's trust, on something that can only hurt your chances of having a productive life. If Grandma could talk to you now, she'd say the same thing. Enough is enough. This stops now."
"It's time to go back to Orange County, where family values still matter."
"Yes, Lynn, I agree with you. The company has been asking me to go back all year. I resisted because I wanted Robbie to finish his senior year with his friends. But now I see I was wrong. It's time to go. We had planned to fly out for a meeting this weekend anyway. We can look for a house while we're there. Fred Morrison is being transferred to Toledo. He has a beautiful house that's still on the market. We might be able to move by the end of the month."
"But...Dad...Mom...there's only three weeks of school left. How can I graduate?"
"If you have to repeat part of your senior year, that's a small price to pay for your whole future," his mother replied.
Rob slammed his napkin onto the table and fled back to his room. He paced back and forth in front of his twin beds, trying to reason out his alternatives.
"These are my friends. I'm part of this band. They just don't understand. I'm an absurdist. That's what I am. That's what I do. I'm absurd. I'm not like other people. They've never accepted that. Dad always said, `You're not like other people. You're sensitive. You have a gift.' I have to use my gift.
"But I have to live. I have to eat. I need a roof over my head. I'm completely dependent on my parents. I can't support myself. I'd starve. I don't want to starve. I like my life. It's comfortable. What do I want?
"Do I want to stay here and live on the street? I don't ever want to depend on this band to make my living. If I did that, I might be tempted to compromise my artistic integrity. I don't ever want to feel like I have to write songs that will sell.
"But I don't want to starve. I don't want to live on the street. There'll be other bands. I have to be practical. Right now I have a job to do. I have a divine mission. First I have to finish high school and get into a good college so I can be a success in business like my dad. I have to remember who I am. I have to lead the world. I have to save the world from desire. Everything must be destroyed and I need help. I can't do it if I'm living on the street. That's why the angel came to me as a street person. It's so obvious. There'll be other bands. The band isn't the only way I can bring this about. My mission is far more important than this band.
"I have to make a decision."
The doorbell rang. When no one answered, it rang again. Then, after a short pause, a handful of rocks hit Rob's window. Annoyed, Rob went downstairs and answered the door.
"Hello, Bill. Hello, John. Come on in."
"Hello, Rob. We're already in. Can someone make me a sandwich?"
"Bill, you're the Raisin Man."
"Hey, Rikki Rockett. Are you ready to rock & roll?"
Rob sighed. "I don't know. I don't think so. My parents heard about Angela on the radio. Then they heard 'Toilet 4 2.' My mom is upset."
"We were on the radio? I was on TV! It was great! I tried to kick some guy in the balls but they dragged me away! What station? Did they play anything else? What did they say about us?"
"They said Rikki Rockett killed Angela. My parents told me I couldn't be in the band any more or they'd disown me."
"That's easy," said Bill. "You can come and live at my house and eat sardines. They're not so bad with lots of mustard."
"No, that's not a good solution. I have to eat. I have to live. I need a place to stay and some money. I don't have any money. As long as my parents have money and I don't, they get to call the shots."
"So are you ready to go record a new hit album?"
"No, John. I can't go. I have a job to do. My job is to finish high school and get into a good college and be a success like my dad. There'll be other bands. I'll always be absurd."
"Yeah, whatever. Bill, you go get his bass. Let's go." John grasped Rob firmly by the wrist and moved toward the door. Rob pulled back as if to resist and John's amiable expression vanished. In its place was something infinitely older, and more sinister. Rob came along quietly, and got into Bill's car without protest.
Bill came out the front door and put Rob's bass in the trunk. He started the car and turned to Rob. "Rob," he said sincerely, "you have free will. You have to make your own decisions. You can't let other people push you around. That's why you have to come and stay at my house and make this hit album. If you don't, we'll have to kill you." Bill laughed maniacally and pulled out of the driveway with a screech and a roar.