With people like Brian you had to guess that it was complicated, that there were explanations just beyond the field of your vision, things that you would never quite fully understand. The one thing everyone knew about him was that his family was Mormon. We didn’t actually know what it meant, but we knew that it was something mysterious, like the Masons. Brian was in the smart kid classes but for some reason had a reputation for being slightly retarded, or possibly just crazy, but I suspected none of his strangeness had anything to do with the Mormon thing and I still think that that is the case. If anything it freed him. People expected him to be a little weird anyway so he just ran with it. He dressed entirely in white. First he had a big shaggy poof of hair on the top of his head that resembled yellow pubic hair, and everyone made fun of him for that. Then one day he came to school completely shaved from head to toe – even his eyebrows were gone – and that was almost too weird to even make fun of. He had created his own language in study hall – I watched him copy out the final version of the alphabet – and would sometimes mutter words that others thought were nonsense but that I knew were clever comebacks in the secret code. He confused everybody. That was why I started spreading the rumor that he was my boyfriend. I wanted to confuse everybody, too. I wanted to be sitting beside him in study hall when the rumor got back to him, so that he and I could laugh at how ridiculous the rumor was, and then maybe look soulfully into each other’s eyes. There was no boy in the whole school who seemed capable of gazing soulfully into anyone’s eyes except for Brian LaBovick.
I wanted to speak to him in his secret language. I wrote him a note in study hall. It said, Csjbo, J uijol zpu bsf dvtf. This meant, Brian, I think you are cute. I had stolen his code by watching over his shoulder without him realizing, and I had been practicing various words so that I could speak it too, if the need arose. There was no one in the whole school who would have done that except me, and I wanted him to know this, to feel it in his sternum, but then I lost my nerve and kept the note in the inner pocket of my backpack and never did give it to him. You would think a boy like that, eyebrowless as a gigantic flesh-colored salamander, would be thankful that any girl thought he was cute, but to be honest I wasn’t sure he would be amused. He seemed above that kind of thing. He was taking extra classes at the community college – astronomy and poetry-writing – and I’d heard he didn’t even have a TV. He was probably going to be a Mormon priest eventually. And maybe he’d think I was no real prize myself. Maybe he could see the ugliness at the core of people. In fact I was sure he could, and that’s why he didn’t care about being called names and getting pushed around. None of this high school business probably meant anything to him at all. But then thinking about that annoyed me a little, because of course I had ugliness inside but who didn’t, and I had enough un-ugliness to have learned Brian’s secret language and so he should have been able to know this somehow and therefore to love me.
But I guess I didn’t know him at all, because I would not have thought he was capable of doing the things that were then done. No one knew who was skinning the chipmunks in the ravine near the football fields but everyone knew who was beating up Otis, the retarded boy, and it was definitely Brian LaBovick. It was really hot out there on the pavement. We knew there were only a few minutes before teachers and school security showed up to break up the fight so we tried to watch hard. “What happened?” I asked a kid I knew. He shrugged. “Tommy and those guys kept asking Brian about how he and Otis spend their weekends, saying how they were best friends and everything like that. I guess Brian wanted to prove him wrong.” “That’s awful,” I said. It really was awful in about fourteen different ways. Brian had pinned the fat but helpless Otis to the ground and was looking at his fist, as if consulting it about what to do next. “Isn’t he your boyfriend or something?” said the kid. “You have a great ugliness inside you,” I told him, “and also, you shouldn’t listen to rumors.”
Even though no one thought of me as the kind of person who would have done this, I stepped forward and tried to grab at Brian’s sleeves, but he just swatted me away. Poor Otis wasn’t crying but his face was impressively purplish and his eyes screwed shut, and there was this heat coming off Brian, this hard, carbony smell. But I was the one with the key. I was the only one who could stop him. “Brian,” I cried, in his own language, and then I took a deep breath and tried to summon up all of my bravery and strength and then I shouted, “Tupq! Tupq! Tupq!” I wasn’t sure how to pronounce it, so I said it like, “Tup-que,” and maybe I was pronouncing it wrong, maybe that was my fault, but Brian just slammed his palms onto Otis’s chest and stood up suddenly, looking more like he’d run out of ideas than like he’d surrendered to mercy, and then he swatted away my arms again. “Tupq,” I said again, even though there wasn’t anything to stop anymore. Maybe I had thought we would share a jolt of recognition, like two aliens who had rediscovered each other in hostile territory. Or, maybe also I felt a little like what’s-her-face, like Helen Keller’s teacher, like the one special person in the world who was fearless and kind enough to break through. Whatever it was, Brian didn’t look at me and I didn’t look at him and the gathered crowd of our classmates started to roar with laughter, going, “Tup-que, tup-que,” and Brian sort of brushed by me and said only, sneeringly, “Jejput” – Idiots – and I agreed, silently, with all of my being, and that was the last any of us ever saw of him.