At the latter end of my sophomore year of high school, I was given the idea that I should run for the position of social chairman along with a dear friend of mine. The social chair position is a dual spot, always held by two people. My friend, David Lopes, who we nicknamed Lowps, was to run with me. I told him about the idea and agreed that it was a good one. There is not much that goes into campaigning for student government at a small high school such as mine. We needed only really to write up a speech.
Being that this was a campaign for social chairman, the speech would naturally have to be a more light-hearted, more fun-oriented bit. It was a Friday night when Lowps came over to my house and we sat down in front of my computer to discuss what needed to be done. We are both naturally funny guys and knew that a decent speech could pretty much write itself, however, since we were running two other pairs of people, we knew it had to be top-notch.
The other two people running were both considerably more “popular” than me and Lowps. The two of us are, to this day, capital-class dorks. To clarify, we were not hated or whatnot, but we were weirdos; the kind of guys people like to pick on. One of the two competitors was the preppy, cheerleader types; attractive girls one might see in this sort of position. The other group was a popular jock and a funnyman. Lowps and I would have this position as high school juniors, both other groups would be seniors. Basically, the odds were stacked completely against us.
Lowps and I knew we had one solid advantage. Most people would scarcely see this as an advantage, but this card, if played right, could tip the balance. Since Lowps and I already had a reputation for being weird dorks, we could push certain creative envelopes safely. The other two had a hindrance called a normal reputation. Lowps and I were completely unshackled from this. The only issue we had would be to package this and make it appealing to the masses. We only had to convince the world that our outside-the-boxness was something they wanted.
Our speech could be two minutes tops. Lowps and I sat down at the computer and let everything out. Eventually, we came up with a short song and inclusion of my book The Galactic Phrase Book and Travel Guide, a Star Wars book which contains various sayings from the movie's fictional language. I told you: we are dorks. The night was going great. I was actually starting to believe that Lowps and I had a chance at this. We were laughing it up at the ideas we were coming up with.
And then my mother burst into the room and stammered, “Lowps needs to go home.”
Was I in trouble? “What? Mom, why? I don't-”
“He just does. Have him call his parents and-”
“Mom!” I interrupted. “Just explain to me what's going on here so I can-”
“Granny J just died,” she put it so bluntly. It didn't register. There was a long pause. “David needs to go home now.”
“Mom, I-” She left the room; left the news just to sit there. I never saw it coming.
David picked up the phone and hit the talk button. I stopped him, “Lowps, wait. I'll talk to her. We'll get this finished.”
He had no idea what to say. There was nothing that really could be said. I took the phone from his hands and put it back on the hook. “I'll be right back, man... we'll get this done.”
I got up and left the office. Lowps took my chair at the computer and I don't even remember what he was doing. I shut the door behind me and walked into the living room where parents seemed just as confused as I was. Where do you go after something like this?
“What happened?” I asked.
“Your Uncle Philip just called,” my mother said. “She was in her bed....”
“She was gone.”
I stopped and looked down at my feet. I could not look my mother or father in the eyes. Especially not my father, who sat on the couch not saying a word. It was his mother who had passed. “What happens now?” I asked.
“Well, we're going to book a flight for dad and he'll- he'll sort this out,” my mother told me. We lived in Brazil at the time, while my grandmother still lived in Tennessee. It was such a distant tragedy. I still did not fully understand. It just did not hit me.
“It'll be okay.”
I took a deep breath, “Lowps and I- we, uh, we need to get this thing done. The speech is on Tuesday.”
“Wes, he needs to-”
“It's okay, Melody,” my dad interrupted. “Let him do his thing.”
“Alright,” she said. “We'll let you know what happens.”
I pushed open the office door and closed to behind me. Lowps asked, “Are you okay?”
“Let's just get this done,” I took my chair back and pulled the Word file back open. My mood was dead and my sense of humor damaged because of it. I worried that we would not be able to get this thing done. I felt like my chances had just died with my Granny J, as we called her. Nevertheless, we got it down. We put together a decent speech and we were proud of it.
The weekend was difficult. There was this air hanging in my family. We could not talk to one another without thinking about the loss. Strangely, it never felt real. We were used to not seeing Granny J for quite a long time. But the thought that we would never see her again... the thought that our goodbyes were really nonexistent... it hurt.
I went to school as normal on Monday. The speech was to take place on Tuesday and I needed to force myself to be as preppy and fun as possible. These last hours before the vote were absolutely crucial. I kept the death to myself. I told as few people as possible. I hid it away. They didn't need to know. But it slipped through. I have always been fairly transparent. And it slipped out. My teachers had already been told and they were supportive, but my friends had no idea why. I wish I had said something. Bottling up pain is never a good idea.
Tuesday came around and I was ready for it. There was nothing left to be done. We had schmoozed the right people, made the right friends, and shined ourselves up appropriately. We were all set to be the underdogs in high school's biggest popularity contest. Lowps and I wanted it. We were hungry. So were the others. But there was something else to it for me. I needed this. I needed something good to happen. It would be my consolation. It would be great, but I honestly believed that the odds were still against us.
And they were.
Our speech was second, which was exactly where we wanted to be. It was a turn of good fortune. We outdid the ones that came before us and set too high a bar for those who came after us. People laughed at our jokes and applauded our plans. Our speech was the best one; there is no doubt. The speech, however, is at moot point. In the end, the whole thing would boil down to a popularity contest. We could only pray that our speech was enough to convince certain people to ignore screwed up social norms and vote for the weirdos.
The results would come back the next week.
My dad came home that weekend and he brought back a DVD of the funeral. He was saddened, but also encouraged by how many people loved his mother. She was a master violinist and it was amazing seeing other musicians around her. He told some of the stories about her people told. One of her best friends came up to my father and told him that his mother was smart ass. It was true. So, so true.
And now I know where I got that gene.
Watching the funeral was kind of dull. It was a wide shot from the balcony at the church and not much could be made out. But there was one part which stands out to me. As I said before, my grandmother was a virtuoso violinist. She played in several orchestras, but her real home was in her quartet with her friends. The quartet played at the funeral, but left an empty chair where Granny J would sit. Her violin rest on that chair. The music sounded hollow; empty. It was missing a key component. I cried that day.
The week passed. I was at the school and the day was just ending. I was nervous about the election results, but I was ready to cope with loss. I was ready to lose. I was ready for more disappointment. What else could they throw at me?
But I was not disappointed. It was at the end of the day when I saw the paper posted. At the very bottom: Social Chairmen: David Lopes and Wesley Julian. My mouth shot open to a smile. I ran down the halls until I found Lowps. I hugged him. He was shocked, “What the heck?” He asked.
I grinned, “Lowps, we won! We freakin' won!”
“We did?” His eyes bolted open. “We did! Yes! Alright!”
As I rode the bus home that day, I couldn't help but feel this sense of joy. My student council victory was bittersweet. I cannot think of it and not think of my grandmother's passing. I do like to think, however, that she was there with me the whole time. She was there and she helped me to win this. Something had gone right. And I knew that Granny J was looking down and smiling for me. She would be so proud. I loved her so much. This isn't the first time I've written about her. I hope that somehow she can read this. I hope that one day, I'll see her again.