The More Things Change...
I was waiting just outside the school by the front doors at the end of the day. Dillon and I had agreed to meet there since we didn't share many of the same classes, and since those gadgets that passed for cell phones these days weren't allowed to be used by students during school hours.
I saw Dillon approach, and he saw me at the same moment. His grin ramped up to about 90% but just as suddenly vanished as he got close.
“Are you okay,” he asked. “You look like a ghost just walked through you.”
I thought about it, “Yeah, that's pretty much exactly what did happen.” I told Dillon what I had found, the carving, and yearbook, and the quote from Phil. It only took a few sentences, but by that time I was all wound up again and was trembling.
Dillon grabbed my arm, “Come on. We're going home. I told Mom that you were just being all tough guy on us, and pretending that you were a lot more ready than you really were. I think you might need some more time.”
I shook off his hand, but at his hurt look I took his hand in my own and began walking towards home with him. He looked grateful for that. “No, I am ready. I think. It's just...it's been...a really hard day. This place has a lot of memories. I think it would have been easier if it was a different school.”
“Still, I think you need to tell Mom and Dad about what happened. Everything from what happened this morning on. And you should tell Ricky too. It's night there but he'll be up in a few hours and we can set up a VR chat.”
I looked over at Dillon and squeezed his hand. “Okay. I can do that.”
At supper that evening I did as Dillon had asked. I told Mom and Dad M about what happened before school that morning with Michael. I also told them about what I had discovered in the library, and how it had affected me, as well as my thoughts about it afterwards, my desire to try and help make sure that kind of thing didn't start again.
Dad M seemed to be thinking hard about something. “I agree with Dillon, Jeffrey. Let's see if your brother is available. I want you to tell him this too. I have an idea, but I want his input, and yours, before we go any further.”
Curious, I just nodded and after supper cleanup I called my brother on his private number.
He was at work of course, but seemed happy to hear from me. “Jeffy! How was your first day of school?”
“Hey Squirt. It was...different. Not really what I expected. I know you said that a lot has changed since I was frozen, but I didn't expect so much to be different.” I told him about the bullying this morning, and how easy it seemed to get it to stop, how everyone seemed so inexperienced with the whole scenario, and about the reaction to my little intervention.
“Well Jeffy, that's what I was saying. The cultural shift that happened in the years after 2022 was really significant. Remember, we lost close to eight out of every ten people. Wars stopped, fighting stopped, it was all about working together to try and keep what was left functioning, and surviving. Then, there really were some pretty big changes after we did get back on our feet a bit. Many of the things that seemed like a big deal before, just weren't afterwards.”
I squirmed a bit, wanting to get to the point, rather than hear a history lesson from my former little brother. “Uh, yeah, anyway Ricky, I was wondering if you had a few minutes. I was hoping you could do a VR chat with me and Mom and Dad M and Dillon. I have a bit more to tell you about my day, and I don't want to have to say it over and over again, and Dad M said he has some idea about that, but wanted to run it by you and the rest of us.”
Ricky looked intrigued. “Okay, uh, I have a committee meeting in ten minutes with the land reclamation people. But it should only be half an hour. We finally seem to have come to an agreement. Actually, it's really interesting what we've been able to accomplish here. The Aborigines Advisory Council has teamed up with the Climate Revitalization Committee to try and bring the northern coast area back to....”
I interrupted before he got on any more of a roll. I had learned during his visit that he really loved his job and could talk about it for hours. “Uh, that's great Ricky. Listen, we'll meet you in VR in, say, an hour? Will that give you enough time?”
Ricky laughed, “Okay, I get it. You don't want to hear an old man talk about his boring job. Sure. An hour would be great. We'll see you there.”
I blushed when he made the boring job comment. “No, it's not that...” I grinned slightly, “Okay, well maybe a little. I just don't understand half of what you're saying when you get on a roll like that. Anyway, we'll see you in an hour.”
We signed off and I told the rest of my foster family the plan.
Just for kicks, I set up the internet chat VR room to look exactly like the dining room of an early twenty-first century popular pizza chain. Ricky's favorite pizza restaurant when he was seven. I figured he'd get a kick out of it, and I knew the familiar surroundings would help me relax.
Besides, I was curious to see how Dillon and Mom and Dad M would react to it. Let's put them in a weird environment for once and see how they liked it!
About an hour later the waitress seated us at our table in the virtual pizza parlor. As I expected, Ricky was delighted, and kept looking around at all the little details. Mom M and Dad M were a little less enthusiastic, but took it in good humor. Dillon was having a hard time restraining himself from going over to the take-out waiting area and trying out the ancient video games parked in the corner. I thought that was hilarious. The virtual reality games Dillon had shown me in the past few weeks were just so much better than the old games me and Ricky used to play, and here Dillon seemed to be all excited to try those crappy old things.
Dad M started talking after we all get settled in and ordered our drinks. “I know you're busy Rick, but thanks for meeting us. This shouldn't take long. I wanted Jeff to finish telling you about his day, and then to toss an idea I had onto the floor here, and see what you all thought of it.” He nodded towards me to start my story.
For the third time since I got out of school today, I told everyone about the bullying incident this morning, about my thoughts about how weird it all seemed to me, about what happened in the library, and my reactions to it, and my desire to try and help make sure things didn't get worse again, like they used to be when I made my suicide attempt.
By the time I was done, I was emotionally drained again. Re-telling it didn't seem to lessen the impact the day had on me.
Ricky was looking at me thoughtfully. “You know Jeffy, I remember those yearbook pages. Some of the suicide prevention programs that the student council started that year were still going strong when I graduated. I looked at that yearbook too, in grade twelve. I even brought it home to show Mom and Dad. Dad was big into doing his LGBT rights work by then. But I don't think they had seen the yearbook before then. It was a bit of an emotional evening, that day.”
Before we could get into more reminiscing, Dad M interrupted. “Okay, here's what I've been thinking about.” He looked around at all of us. “You know the election is coming up, in November. And that I'm involved in trying to get Bryce Markham elected for Oakville.” We all nodded and he continued, “I think we might have a real opportunity here to turn the tide a bit, to stop the hate-mongering of these horrible Hope For Humanity people.
“We have with us someone who has a real good perspective on bigotry and stereotypes, and what they can do to society and individuals.” Dad M said this while looking at me.
“I know there's still a lot of people who lived through those events before 2022,” he was now looking at Ricky, acknowledging his presence there too during that time, “but I really think Jeffrey's view of this is unique. He didn't live all those years between now and then. He has an absolute direct comparison between then and now. Of course, there are other suspended animation people that have somewhat the same perspective, but Jeffrey has something else too. His direct experiences of bigotry, leading to a suicide attempt, thanks partly to his being gay.”
I still wasn't used to my suicide attempt, or my sexuality, being talked about like that, like they were commenting on the color of my eyes, so I found myself tensing up a bit. I found Dillon's hand with my own under the table. He knew I was still working on this, so he squeezed back in understanding.
“Jeffrey was just talking about wanting to help make sure that doesn't happen again. There's going to be a conference in two months, in November. Two days before the election. Not really a conference I suppose, but a chance for candidates, or their spokespeople, to give a last minute speech on their thoughts, platforms, and intentions. This is a good chance to reach a lot of people. There will be an audience of about eight thousand at the event and it will be broadcast via VR all over the North American Union.
“I think...I know...that I could get Bryce on board with this. I'd like to get him to agree on having Jeff be his spokesperson. To talk about what he sees happening, and how it can affect all of us. Now, obviously Bryce would have to meet Jeff first, and agree to this. And of course, Dolores, I'd need to know if you thought this was a good idea at this stage of Jeffrey's treatment.
“Ricky, I want your input, because you're the guy who knows how these things work, even if it is a bit different there. You're the politician.
“And mostly, Jeffrey, you would need to agree to this.
“The conference is on Sunday, November 2nd. In Washington D.C.
“So, what do you all think?”
Well, to say I was shocked would be an understatement. When I said I resolved to make sure bullying wasn't happening again, I was thinking of starting a bullying awareness campaign at high school. Maybe some posters. A little canned speech during morning announcements on the P.A. System. Not national – international I guess these days – politics.
I found myself getting a bit excited. A trip to Washington would mean flying on one of those sub-orbital jets they use these days, which I thought was awesomely cool. And seeing Washington would be nice too. And it would mean time off school, too.
I was still thinking all this when Mom M was the first to respond to what Dad M was saying. She wasn't real enthusiastic. “Don, I agree that this could be a real good opportunity for a lot of people, and I understand what you're thinking, but, I also think Jeffrey's needs have to come first here. He's still recovering, and still adjusting. And he's still fifteen years old. We're trying to help him stabilize, to have a normal life here. This sounds like anything but. I'm not saying no quite yet, though it's close, but we're going to need to think about this hard before any snap decisions, that's for sure.”
Ricky was wearing the face he always wore when he started talking about work, and politics, and all that. I had come to think of it as his politician-face. He was nodding thoughtfully. “I hear you, Dolores, and I don't disagree. Jeffrey's needs come first. And he and you are the best people to determine that, so I won't talk about that directly. Instead, I'll respond to what Don asked. My perspective as a politician.”
Uh-oh, I thought, as the head nodding and finger jabbing began. Now we'd done it. He had gotten excited. “I think this could be a hell of an idea. If done right, it could get exposure not only there, in the NAU, but probably everywhere that Hope for Humanity is involved. Maybe all over the world. People eat this kind of thing up, especially when it comes from a well-spoken teenager. Add in that he's kind of a time traveler and we could really reach a lot of ears. And minds.”
He was looking at me now, and the head bobbing stopped and the politician-face disappeared, replaced by a softer, more personal expression. “Now, despite all that, Jeffrey, you've been through more in the past four months of your life than anybody would want to deal with. In theory, thinking about the public angle, this is a great idea. In practice, well, this is my little big brother you're talking about. The one who is still adjusting to massive changes. Internally and externally. That part of me says to give this a pass.”
The table was quiet for several seconds after this. I hadn't said anything yet, and I could feel the eyes on me. I opened my mouth to say something, though I wasn't sure what.
Dillon's voice interrupted me before I could start. His tone was a bit sarcastic, a bit petulant at first, “I know that nobody here wants to hear what I have to say about all this, being just a dumb kid and all...” he paused. When everyone's eyes were on him, and he thought they all looked suitably guilty for not including him, he continued, “I'll support whatever Jeffrey wants,” he looked at me, “but...I think this is all a stupid idea. Like, really, completely, stupid.”
Dad M smiled slightly at his son, “Don't be so vague, Dillon. Come on. Out of your shell now. Tell us what you really think.”
Dillon ignored the sarcasm. “Look, Jeffrey just got here. He's had exactly one day of school, and look what it did to him.” He squeezed my hand when he said this, telling me he meant this in a supportive way. “He's still trying to figure out, well, everything. I didn't tell everyone at school where he was really from for a reason. I think we'd just be throwing him into a mess. Somebody else can talk to the public about bigotry and human rights. He can stay home. With me.” Dillon nodded, satisfied with himself.
Now all eyes were on me. Well, I guess I had my answer. Mom M, Ricky, and Dillon all thought that maybe this wasn't a great idea for me. That was that. They probably knew what they were talking about, they knew a lot better than me how things worked here and now.
“I'll do it,” I heard myself say.