The Revenge Artist
By Philip Hoy
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The Emotional Meat-Grinder of Our Teenage Years
By Philip Hoy, Author of THE REVENGE ARTIST
When my students ask me what high school was like for me as a teenager, I think about my friends, the crazy fun we had, and the self-discoveries we made. I remember our fearlessness and the risks we took, all the stupid things we did, and all our humiliating mistakes. I recall the insecurities, the heartbreaks, the loneliness, the disappointments, and the regrets. And I turn to them with a lump in my throat, and the only thing I can manage to say is, “Well … we didn’t have cellphones.”
I know this is not the response they are looking for; but in avoiding a direct answer, I’ve said something truthful all the same: The emotional meat-grinder of our teen years will inevitably be, to paraphrase Dickens, the best and worst of times. Although many of the trials and tribulations of growing up may not have changed all that much since I was a teen, the speed at which they occur has.
For one thing (although it didn’t feel like it at the time), life moved at a much slower pace when I was a teen. If someone said they would pick you up from school, you waited and hoped they remembered. If they forgot to get you and you needed to call someone, you found a pay phone that was working and wasn’t being used. If you didn’t have change, you had to ask the operator to make a collect call and pray your baby sister didn’t answer the phone and refuse the charges. If you called a girl you liked and she had permission to use the phone, you still had to listen carefully for any telltale clicks to alert you that someone, somewhere, in your house or hers, wasn’t listening in on your conversation.
Before smartphones, if you did something to embarrass yourself—believe me—it eventually got around. Not within seconds like today, but by the end of the week for sure. And although bullying tended to be more of the face-to-face kind, you never wanted to underestimate the devastating power of good old-fashioned gossip or a well-placed lie. Back then, if you said something you regretted, you could always deny it later. Witnesses might contradict you, but at least that left room for some shadow of a doubt among the jury of your peers. If you say something you might regret today, and by “say” I mean text … you can never, ever take it back.
More and more of my students fail to distinguish the difference between these two actions: speaking and texting. “Do you talk to her?” I asked an emotionally distraught student the other day. “Yes, of course,” he assured me, “but lately she takes so long to return my texts.” It turns out they used to text a lot, but talk? Face to face? Not really. “Not even over the phone?” I asked. “C’mon, Mister…” he groaned, “texting’s just easier.”
In my day, breaking up over the telephone was considered gacho, low class…you know, not cool. Today, I imagine that’s been downgraded to breaking up by text. Who knows, maybe in the future someone will be able to show up in the form of a hologram in her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend’s bedroom to deliver the bad news “in person”: “But we can still be virtual-friends, can’t we?” he will ask. “Sorry,” the hologram will say, “but I just don’t have time for you.”
One of the challenges I found in writing a contemporary young adult novel was describing my characters’ use of technology in a way that was accurate, but not overly specific, especially when it came to cellphones. My greatest worry while working on the story, and especially while waiting to be published, was that there would be some drastic leap in the evolution of the cellphone and that by the time my book was released we’d all be using something else entirely to keep in constant contact with each other. This is not as paranoid as it might sound. Just think about how quickly you are able to date even recent films or television shows the moment a cell phone appears in someone’s hand. Luckily, no one has yet perfected a working model of the computer to brain interface (or CBI’s as they are referred to in that apocalyptic/dystopian story I’ve been working on), so I can breathe easy that, at least for now, THE REVENGE ARTIST correctly captures a day in the life of a typical teenager’s cellphone.
Hernandez is a high school junior who reads Shakespeare for fun, sews her own dresses, and keeps a sketch journal of her daily life. When Varsity quarterback Garvey Valenzuela breaks her heart, she sends him to the emergency room with a busted hand.
Add black magic to her resume...
Evelyn embarks on a dark journey of revenge when she discovers she has the power to make bad things happen by drawing them. Her emotional pain, isolation, and self-hatred lead her down a self- destructive path with dire consequences.
Evelyn Hernandez knew what it was to be invisible, but this was different, this was being ignored ... being avoided. She tried to tell herself it was just her imagination. How many mornings had she walked through the halls of this school feeling exposed and on display? Knowing the redness of her lips, the blunt cut of her bangs, the pleats on her floral print skirt, everything down to the dark hair on her arms was being criticized by a hundred judging eyes. She wondered why they bothered, because the truth was, no one really cared. But there it was: a glance, a turn, a change in volume, a lull in some conversation as she walked by.
In first period, it had been hard concentrating on her painting. Even in the sanctuary of Ms. Shipley's, it felt like she had been on display in the center of the room, like one of those nude
models, the ones Ms. Shipley said she had painted in college.
Second and third were even worse, and by the time she made it to Schwartz's, the tardy bell had rung and she entered the room a full minute late. She had been praying all morning that Garvey Valenzuela would at least have the decency to be absent today, but there he was, looking just as surprised to see her as everyone else. Too many sets of eyes stared at her in silence as she moved toward the front of the room and took her seat directly across from him at the table they shared. She immediately opened her binder against the edge of the table and slouched low enough to protect most of her face from his. There was obviously some kind of writing assignment on the board, but Evelyn couldn't focus to read it.
She had tried so hard not to think about this moment that she was completely unprepared. What should she do? Say something to him? Tell him how much he had hurt her? Never.
What did she expect him to do, anyway? Whisper an apology? Laugh it off like a joke she should have been able to take? Ignore her?
What she could never have prepared for was the open hostility she heard in his voice when he finally said to her, "I can't believe you even came to school today after what you did."
The contempt. That’s what did it. That's what it finally took to break his spell on her. She lowered her folder just enough to meet his eyes and let him see the hate she had there for him. He looked away. Determined to rip him out of her life, she pulled her sketchbook from her backpack, prepared to remove every page with a memory or picture of him on it. But when she opened it to the sketch of his hands, she stopped.
Never before had she considered destroying any of her drawings. They were memories, mere moments, yes, but more than that, they captured her life as she was living it. For better or for worse, this book represented all that she’d done. If she denied her mistakes,
wouldn't she be doomed to repeat them?
But as she stared at the hands on the page before her ... the hands she had allowed to touch her, their creases and lines, their scars, their prints, almost more real on the page that captured them ... she did something she had never done before. She turned her pencil
around and began to erase. Not too much, just a little, a few lines here and there, part of this shadow, the edge of that one. And then, leaning closer, the drape of her hair shielding her actions from prying eyes, she began to add to the drawing, altering and recreating it. She wanted to hurt him, punish him for what he’d done to her, and this was the only way she knew how.
Just as Evelyn completed her revision, the sound of Vanessa Galvan's voice from across the room brought her back to the moment. "Hey Garvey," she said, loud enough for everyone
in the class to hear, "throw this away for me, please."
A wadded up ball of paper hit Evelyn hard on the back of the head. She flinched, but didn't turn around.
"Do not throw things in this classroom!" snapped Mr. Schwartz from where he sat at his desk. More than likely he had not seen it hit Evelyn.
"Yeah, Vanessa!" Garvey said, also for everyone's benefit. "That's not the trash can."
"Close enough," Vanessa said, getting a few laughs.
Evelyn remained bent over her drawing, teeth clenched, refusing to give either of them the satisfaction of a response.
"I'll pick it up," Garvey sighed, playing the teacher's pet.
He got out of his seat and walked around the table to Evelyn's side. There, he bent over to pick up the ball of paper that had settled near her chair, saying with disgust, "There's too
much trash in here already."
She turned on him at that, tears of anger welling up in her eyes.
Now standing in Schwartz's usual place in front of the class, the center of attention, Garvey continued to entertain his audience. "And the quarterback takes the snap!" he said, backing away from Evelyn and imitating the movement with the paper as his football. "He falls back, finds his receiver, and there's the pass!" Lobbing the ball of paper high above his head, he jumped up, twisting in the air with hands open close to his chest to receive his own paper pass ... when somehow, he lost his balance and came crashing down on Schwartz's wooden podium and the frail table next to it.
Papers, books, pens, and pencils literally went flying as the podium spun and toppled, and the table was crushed beneath the weight of Garvey's body.
The class erupted into astonished laughter and applause, but a gradual hush came over the room as Garvey's cry of pain shifted from an embarrassed and genuine groan to hysterical screams of shock.
"Everyone in your seats!" shouted Schwartz as he maneuvered his way to the front of the room.
Garvey, struggling to sit up, had rolled onto his left side. His right arm was extended and supported at the wrist by his left hand. A brand new, freshly sharpened, yellow number-two
pencil had pierced the center of his right hand, stabbing clean through and out the other side. The eraser end stuck straight up in his palm and the sharpened point protruded from the back of his hand. An impressive trick, Evelyn thought, except as Garvey held out his hand, blood began to roll down the bottom half of the pencil, gather at the pointy end, and drip messily onto the floor. A small puddle of red was already darkening the carpet beside him.
Schwartz sprang into action as Garvey rolled back, fainting. "Frank! Go get security! Valerie! Call the office and tell them what happened and to call 911! Erick! Grab that roll of paper towels in the cabinet behind you!" He knelt down beside Garvey, telling him to hold still, and then he took the injured hand below the wrist and lifted it up over Garvey's head. His other hand he wrapped around Garvey's bicep and squeezed, pressing his fingers against the inside of the injured arm.
The class was mostly quiet after that, waiting for the paramedics to arrive. Phones were out, silently documenting the event, but Evelyn didn't need a photo; she had her own picture
... only she had not remembered drawing so much blood.
* * * * *
About the Author:
Philip Hoy is a high school English teacher by day and a short-story author, novelist, and poet by night. When he is not creating lesson plans or grading essays, he is writing. He lives in
Southern California with his wife Magdalena, also a teacher.