I SHOULD HAVE BEEN BORN with an owner’s manual.
You know the WARNING page at the beginning that mentions all the dangers? This morning I’ve got a new one to add to the growing list that would come with mine: Don’t let nerd boy cut his own hair. I could add: at 3 freakin’ a.m. on a school night, but really, any time would have been a bad idea.
They say that everything always looks better in the morning. Well, they lie. As I blink through this 7:something a.m. sunlight blaring through my bathroom window, all I see in the mirror is irreparable damage and, over on my drawing table, the art inspiration for my hair massacre.
When it’s late at night and the world finally leaves me alone, I shut my bedroom door, settle down, and draw. People talk about how when they smoke pot or take some other crap or whatever, they go somewhere else in their head. Well, the feel of a 3B pencil skimming across the paper’s surface, trying to control that tiny resistance to the graphite leaving its mark, lifts me up . . . to a world I create. That’s my zone.
I completely escape.
So there I was last night with my best pencils and inking pens all lined up, an epic video game soundtrack in my headphones, plenty of Dr Pepper at the ready, and my calico cat, Harley Quinn, asleep under my drawing table lamp. She was kinda curled up right smack in the way, but that’s okay. We understand each other.
I started sketching and, after a couple hours, was speeding along on drawing a new comic panel of my secret superhero creation: Graphite.
I set up a website for him a couple years ago, which has a nice little following out there. But it’s anonymous. Just two people on earth know the site’s mine, and my only two friends would never tell a soul.
Crafting the details of my world takes time, so I don’t update the site very often. But when I do finish a comic sequence it’s cause for whoopin’ it up or, it seems, grabbing the nearest scissors.
I was so loving how I’d drawn Graphite’s hair to flip up in such a perfect way that, in my caffeinated, sugared-up, sleep-deprived stupor, I lost it. Possessed by this delusional superhero side of me, I just knew I could re-create that hair on myself . . . with craft scissors. Actually, with slightly-rusted-and-gummed-up-with-bits-of-tape craft scissors (even though my good pair was just a drawer away).
Starting with my bangs, I was soon snipping along, moving around the sides. I may be a good artist, but hair is a tricky material, especially when one is being an idiot. It went scary wrong. So in my continued brilliance I set out to “fix” what I’d already done by tiptoeing around and searching for Dad’s electric hair buzzer. I found it. My repair job didn’t quite work out how I’d hoped.
So basically, in the middle of the night I became a toddler.
And here I am now, applying globs of hair goop from every container I have and that I could sneak out of Mom’s bathroom after she left for work. But all this stuff only darkens my copper-brown hair more, making the missing chunks scream out.
I need hair cement, but I got nothin’! What’s thick and sticky . . . maybe toothpaste? Stupid, I know, but I’m desperate. Hey, yeah, it kinda works. Oh, god, no it doesn’t. It just adds glittery blue sparkles.
From my bed, C-3PO’s muffled voice moans, “We’re doomed!” Digging through the sheets, I find my phone.
Text from Audrey: Hey boy, just seeing ur text from . . . 3AM!?! U = certifiable. WTF!?!?! Howz the new do?
I roll my shoulders, which pop, then type: I’m very talented. Wait till u see in person.
Audrey: Lordy. I’m scared. Those selfies u sent would wake the dead - which you look like.
Me: YOU’RE scared?!
Audrey: What were u thinking, Adrian? You’re 16, not 6. Shoulda consulted with me first. You need a fashion chaperone.
Me: If u say so
Audrey: Chill. Maybe not so bad in person? & after all, you’re the superhero, Graphite Boy.
I type: See you before first period?
Audrey: If i can apply my face in time!
Well, what did I expect from her? She’s never even had one strand of hair out of place, much less sculpted a topographical map on her own head.
How’d it get to be almost time to go? I’ve gotta hurry.
Dammit, I’m better than this! I’m so careful about blending into the background—how’d I slip up like this?
I dump my whole shirt drawer on the bed and apply what I know about color psychology. Blue is true, white is pure, red is angry or sexy. Purple is regal and commanding. Maybe I still have that purple T-shirt? Here it is. . . . Oh, yeah. With Super Grover crashing into a streetlamp printed on it. Not so commanding. I toss it to the floor.
The mound-o-shirts moves and a pair of jade eyes peers at me from between the folds.
“Comfy?” I say. Harley Quinn blinks at me.
That’s it: camouflage. I don’t mean the army kind, too aggressive. I need the animal kind that blends into its surroundings to avoid predators. The school lockers are taxi yellow, the hallway tile is navy blue, the cafeteria is eggshell white, so, what . . . plaid? This is insane.
I go for my usual smoky gray, psychologically meaning death, depression, and nothingness.
To a gray T-shirt, I add faded jeans, cheap old sneakers, and a gray hoodie . . . my almost-perfect cloak of high school invisibility. Like any good freak superhero wannabe, I’m an expert at fading into the background. However, I’m neither super nor hero. Just freak.
My drawing table is piled up like a crime scene, so I shove everything into my mess-of-a-desk. Oh, god, not this? In the bottom drawer I uncover the piece I entered in that Freshman Art Show two years ago. It was my best work way back then. I called it Renaissance Hero. I worked so freakin’ hard on it, but it didn’t win anything. Instead, some a-hole vandalized it, scrawling across it what other kids always thought of my art. I never showed anything at school again.
In fact, that was the last time I signed my name on my art.
And now I’m about to waltz into school with my latest masterpiece . . . attached to the top of my head.
I put my old, defaced drawing back, cover it up with stuff, and shut the desk drawer. Then I tuck away last night’s Graphite drawing between pages sixty-six and sixty-seven of Michelangelo at the Louvre. My parents wouldn’t think to look at my art books. Not that they’d even bother to come in here, but you never know.
Why did I hang this Power to the Geek poster so high on the back of my bedroom door? Whenever I leave, Geek stares me right in the face. Like I need reminding.
I replace Mom’s hair goop, and then up goes my hood and I hustle down the hall, past the gallery of old framed photos of little-kid me. My stomach still gets queasy seeing the one of me squealing with Mom and Dad, taken as we plummeted down the big drop of that massive Six Flags roller coaster. Back then—when Dad used to be Dad and, well, we did things—we actually took family pictures.
I stop and try to straighten the photo frame, but it just wants to hang crooked.
So I dash to the front door, grab the knob, and yell, “Bye, Dad.”
“Yup.” Dad twists in his recliner to glance at me from the living room, giving me his half-assed wave. I step outside and shut the door.
Here we go.
It may be October, but in Rock Hollow, this hometown slice-o-heaven, it’s still hot, and this hoodie over my head doesn’t help. Even though it’s a quick walk to school, I slip my backpack off my shoulders and carry it to avoid a lovely bag-shaped sweat stain.
In picturesque places I’ve never been to, a few leaves on the ground at the beginning of fall probably mean a gorgeous, colorful autumn is on the way. But here, the horrific Texas summer drought has pretty much killed everything, so the dead leaves are just dead leaves, all starting to texture the front yards of sickly pea-green grass.
One last corner to turn and . . . this is it. Glorious Rock Hollow High.
Draw the Line
Adrian Piper is used to blending into the background. He may be a talented artist, a sci-fi geek, and gay, but at his Texas high school those traits would only bring him the worst kind of attention.
In fact, the only place he feels free to express himself is at his drawing table, crafting a secret world through his own Renaissance-art-inspired superhero, Graphite.
But in real life, when a shocking hate crime flips his world upside down, Adrian must decide what kind of person he wants to be. Maybe it’s time to not be so invisible after all—no matter how dangerous the risk.
- Margaret K. McElderry Books |
- 528 pages |
- ISBN 9781481452809 |
- May 2016 |
- Grades 7 and up