Sammy Proctor was one weird motherfucker. He couldn’t even try to kill himself like a normal person. Sammy tried to overdose on weed, which is the first and only time I’ve heard of someone trying to go out that way. I guess he listened to the lectures on how it was a dangerous drug and took them a little too seriously. It didn’t work, obviously, so he tried to hang himself from a pipe in our room using his belt. That didn’t work either. The pipe broke and caused a flood. I wasn’t too happy about the whole thing because a) half my stuff was ruined, and b) it was my weed.
Sammy wound up in the psych hospital. I wound up rooming with two guys down the hall while the room was fixed up. It was crowded, but to be honest it was better than rooming with Sammy. But that’s all getting ahead of the story.
My name is Chris Roberts. I’m a junior at New Paul Academy in New Paul, Connecticut. It’s a pretty swank private school, better than public school but not as good as the really impressive preps. Let’s just say it’s no Andover. Still, it’s pretty tough, and I’d say that the large majority of kids go on to an Ivy or another really good school like Duke or UVA. I got in because this is where my dad and my uncle went to school, and because I play hockey and lacrosse, and I’m pretty good at lacrosse. I’m hoping to play D1, possibly at Ohio State.
I’ve been at NP since ninth grade. When I was in tenth grade some freakier kids started showing up. The school opened up a special program for them. It was called Learning Support. Some of the kids were pretty normal and just needed help with classes or had to be prescribed some meds; it was actually kind of good because all of a sudden it was really easy to get your hands on Ritalin. Some of the kids, though, were clearly messed up, and Sammy was at the top of that list.
At the start of the year we had a couple of mandatory meetings about disability awareness. They lectured us about “learning differences”— how some people learn by seeing and some people learn by hearing and how some people are smart in the classroom but others are smart on the sports field and some are really good artists. My dad said it was all bullshit, that they were letting in kids who weren’t that smart because they needed the tuition dollars. He said that all of the kids in LS would be from rich families who couldn’t get their kids in anywhere else so that they’d be really grateful and give the school a lot of money. My dad liked NP but he always said that his contribution was sending his kids there and he wasn’t giving a dollar more.
I don’t know if my dad was right in general but he was definitely right about the rich part with Sammy. And at first I thought he was right about the smart part too. Sammy showed up junior year and everyone knew that he had failed out of Cornridge Prep, which is pretty damn hard to do since you don’t have to be that smart to go there in the first place. I met him and his folks on move- in day and there was absolutely no doubt that they were set. For one thing, the three of them rolled up in a Mercedes S-Class with nothing left out, and I can tell you that you can’t get into one of those for less than 130K. I can also tell you that his mom was a) hot and b) nervous. She was really nice to me and I’d say that she mainly wanted me to be Sammy’s best friend. His dad looked fucking ridiculous hauling shit into the room in these tight wool slacks and suede Guccis. I could tell he didn’t like Sammy much. His mom was hot, though.
I could tell Sammy was weird the moment I met him. I mean, the kid was absolutely lost in space. I felt bad for him because you could tell he didn’t want to be there and it was like he was waiting for the flight back to his home planet. Sammy was tall and thin and pale. His face was like an upside- down triangle and he had these big eyes that he kind of stared out of. He didn’t talk much but when he did his voice was high and fragile and yellow, if that makes any sense. He was all decked out in Brooks Brothers that I’m sure his mom bought for him except that he wore an LA Clippers hat that he never took off. I could never figure out any connection he had to that team. He didn’t even like basketball.
So on that first day I really made an effort, mostly to make Sammy’s mom happy. I mean, I put out my hand and introduced myself pretty formally and he didn’t even look at me or put his hand out. His mom kind of nudged him and he just looked farther away in the other direction and then his dad basically barked, “Llook at him and shake his hand,”, which Sammy did but it was really awkward. After that I found a good reason to be somewhere else while they finished moving in.
I was not happy about living with Sammy. Most people like me and think I’m pretty easygoing. People like to talk to me. But when I say that Sammy was one weird motherfucker that is exactly what I mean. I’ve never met anyone like him. Sammy hardly ever talked to me; it was kind of odd, but after a day or two it didn’t bother me at all. I really stopped feeling like I needed to talk to him. It was like I was alone in the room even when he was there. I’d get up and go off to breakfast and if it had been anyone else I’d have felt like I had to say something like “Ssee you later,””, but with Sammy there was just no need. He really didn’t care. It was kind of nice, actually, in a warped way. Just no pressure to do anything or say anything.
He was very big on rules, though. That was mainly the only time he talked to me, when he felt like I was breaking the rules. Sammy was like a tough cop, he knew every single one of the rules for the NP dorms and he enforced them. If he felt like I wasn’t observing quiet hours, for example, he’d say something about it. And when I say quiet hours, I mean on the dot. Quiet hours were supposed to begin at 9:30 p.m., but you didn’t really get in any trouble until 11 unless you were crazy loud. I swear to god, though, at 9:31,PM Sammy would be up my ass if I was making any noise above about a whisper or had music on or anything. And he’d always address me really formally, like,: “Christopher, it’s 9:30 PM p.m. and quiet hours are now beginning.” He was literally the only person other than my aunt and my grandmother (who is dead) who called me Christopher.
I can tell you that Sammy went ape shit over the weed when he found out that I smoked. That was against the rules, against the law, everything. He went to Pete the RA about it and Pete basically told him to shut the fuck up. I don’t know who else Sammy went to but Pete told me anytime Sammy was around not to smoke or talk about smoking or let on that I smoke anytime Sammy was around. He still found the weed when he wanted to kill himself with it, though.
There was some weird shit with Sammy too. Like there are three shower stalls in the bathroom on our floor but he would only ever use stall number three. I mean, if I was were in stall three and the other two stalls were empty Sammy would just stand there and wait for me to come out. That was weird enough but another thing was that he would stand way too close to the stall, kind of like he thought someone was going to come in and cut him in line. So when I got out there was no personal space. Also, I’m not really sure how to say this but there are a bunch of rules about men’s bathrooms and locker rooms that aren’t written down anywhere and that no one ever teaches you outright but that everyone just knows. Like where you look or don’t look when a guy takes his towel off. If you’re a guy you know what I mean. Maybe women’s rooms have those rules too, I don’t know. Anyway, Sammy didn’t know any of them and he would just look. I’ve never actually thought of it this way until just now, but it was kind of ironic with Sammy and rules. Some of them –— the ones that were officially written down somewhere— – he followed too closely and didn’t know when to lay off. Like with quiet hours. And others, the unofficial ones that everyone just knows, he didn’t follow at all even though he really needed to.
Honestly, I was able to put up with Sammy OK but there were some people who couldn’t. I know there were complaints. Some of the guys on the floor thought he was a psycho and that he might go postal one day and start taking us out. I know that one thing that really got people upset was the night that he went down to use the bathroom on the girl’s’ floor. Sammy didn’t like smells; if I farted in the room it was “Christopher, please do not do that, it really bothers me.” Like he was reading from a script or something. Anyway, I guess that someone really, really stunk up our bathroom and Sammy needed to take a dump so off he went to the bathroom on the second floor—, just walked right in. Not only that, the kid wasn’t even wearing a shirt and he was wearing these tight lime- green sweatpants. I know because I saw him when he came back up. Just no fucking awareness at all. So the girls downstairs were just really freaked out by the whole thing and I can’t say that I blame them. Like I saidy, he didn’t know the rules he needed to know and he knew all the ones that didn’t matter. I guess nowhere did it specifically say, in writing, “Ddo not go into the bathroom on the girl’s floor late at night to take a dump in nothing but a pair of tight green sweats.”
I feel a little bit badly telling all of this negative stuff about Sammy after what happened. I will say that I do think that he was a smart, talented kid. You couldn’t tell it from his grades; he never talked about it, obviously, but I knew that he was failing a lot of tests. At NP our parents can see our grades online and after almost every batch of exams Sammy would be gettingget a phone call from home, which was basically the only time his parents (or anyone else) called him, and I could tell that it was either his mom crying or his dad yelling. Still, I think he was smart. Sammy had one hobby, and that was making electronic music. Japanese electronic music, to be exact. He would be online all the time on this one site making this shit up and I can’t say that I liked it but it was fucking complex. I mean, I’m not a huge music guy but I do play some guitar and I can tell you that the things Sammy put together – —well, I’d just say that you don’t do that without some serious IQ.
So let me tell you what happened. It was a Friday afternoon in April. I was getting ready to go out for the night and out of nowhere, Sammy, who’s sitting at his desk, says, “Christopher, I need to ask you about something.”
I was completely blown away. I mean, it was like my pillow suddenly stood up on my bed and started doing standup or something. This was a kid who never said a word to me unless he had to remind me about some rule I was breaking. So I was like, “Ssure, Sammy, what’s up?” What else was I going to say?
Sammy said,: “Mmy parents would like me to do something this weekend. To go somewhere with them.”
“A doctor. A doctor’s office.”
I didn’t know what he meant. “For the weekend?”
“It’s … it’s like a camp. No. It’s a program. It’s in New York. It’s called Synapse Synchroncity. Here.” Sammy looked at his computer screen and I walked over and looked over his shoulder.
A site was open for a place in New York. Like he said, it was called “Synapse Synchronicity,” and it saidthe site showed that it also had offices in LA, Dubai, and Dublin, so I guess it was legit. According to the description, It said it was “an intensive program of neural resource reallocation and cognitive remodeling.” It had five phases with —the first being this weekend— where a client was given high doses of fish oil and a lot of vitamins while doing some special exercises –— the video on the site made it look like bad juggling— – and “bin-aural listening therapy,” which seemed to involve listening to different things with the right and the left ear. The goal was apparently to get the left and right sides of the brain into agreementto agree with each other. The total cost for the program was $20,00020K, with 50% percent due up front.
The site sounded pretty scientific, and it was run by doctors. Here’s a piece of what it said: “Nneurodevelopmental syndromes are increasingly recognized as rooted in genetically based, cellular, yet ultimately malleable cortical networks. We offer individualized bio-psycho-metabolic action plans to re-map those networks and to optimize and normalize functioning.” Sounds pretty legit, right?
So I’m standing there studying this site and thinking it looks pretty good and maybe like what Sammy needs and out of nowhere he says, “Christopher, do you think there’s something wrong with me?”
Now I know I’ve just finished telling you all about what was wrong with Sammy, but this question was harder to answer than you would think. Hard for me, at least. Because here’s the thing: on one hand, of course there was something fucking wrong with Sammy Proctor. Thatis kid had no friends;, he was probably flunking a bunch of his classes after flunking out of fucking Cornridge for Christ’s sake, and besides that, he was just seriously weird. I would say that there were some serious wires crossed in that brain of his and if his parents were willing to pony up 20K to make him better -— and they were -— then he should fucking do it.
But there’s something else. I don’t really know how to say it, and to tell you the truth I get a little mad when I tell this part of the story, but in a way there wasn’t really anything wrong with Sammy Proctor. Not really wrong inside of him, I mean. Now, no one really liked him. I can’t say that I liked him, and no one else at NP liked him either. I know for a fact that his asshole dad didn’t like him. I guess that his mom liked him, given how worried she seemed to be, but I don’t think that helped him much. But— – just, —no one liking you doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you, right? I don’t think that Sammy gave a fuck. Sammy liked to sit around and make music on his computer. He liked to shower in the third stall. I don’t think he wanted friends and I don’t think he cared that he didn’t have any. And by the way, I think it was the same thing with his grades. Like I said, in my opinion this was a kid with some serious IQ. He was part of Learning Support and I know some other guys in LS and I know that those tutors could get a fucking rock to pass most of the classes at NP. That was their job. I just don’t think Sammy cared about grades, just like he didn’t care about friends. So is not caring a crime? Does that mean he was fucked in the head? If Sammy wanted to sit around in lime- green sweats and make Japanese electronica on his laptop who gives a fuck?
I said, “Sammy, I don’t know what to tell you …”
“My parents think there’s something wrong with me. They won’t say it but they do. They think my brain needs to be changed.”
“Jesus, Sammy. I don’t know. I mean … man.”
“Do you think there’s something wrong with me? Do you think I should go and do the program?”
“Sammy, I … I don’t really know you. I mean, we’ve been living together and all, but … I don’t know.”
“I have no one else to ask, Christopher.”
So what was I supposed to say? I don’t even know how to start answering a question like that. I’m standing there because my dad, the lawyer, went to NP and my uncle, the lawyer, went to NP, and because I can sling a little rubber ball fucking hard. That’s why I’m standing there.
And you know what? I’m not going to tell you what I said. I’m sitting there with this kid as he’s realizing that his parents want to change him into somebody else and my choices were a) “Yyeah, Sammy, you really should think about getting some help,” or b) “Nnah, Sammy, you’re just fine the way you are.” And the answer was c) all of the above.
So I said what I said and Sammy lookeds at the computer screen and he kepteps on looking at it and he didoesn’t say anything else. And after what seemeds like a really long time but was probably only a minute or two I grabbed my sweatshirt and I go out, and I stayed out, and I crashed with this girl who I’ve known since freshman year. And Saturday I got up and I went to lunch and I went back to the dorm and there was an ambulance and a bunch of police cars outside. No one could go in and I asked what was going on and someone told me about what happened to Sammy. And what happened was he got up on Saturday morning, or maybe he never went to sleep, and he was alone in the room. And he sat down and smoked every last bit of my weed and when he noticed he was still breathing he climbed up on my desk (which was the one under the water pipe) and took his ridiculous striped canvas Brooks Brothers belt and wrapped it around a few times and stepped off. And if that pipe hadn’t broken I would have come back after lunch and found him hanging there.
Let me tell you something. You know what I would do if I could go back? I would sit down next to Sammy and listen to one of his compositions and I would tell him that it was fucking excellent. I would tell him he was one talented motherfucker. And I would tell him not to sweat it about failing a test or two because I’ve failed more than my share in my time and honestly, if you have a NP diploma it doesn’t really matter what grades you got because you’ll probably get into a decent college anyway. I don’t know if that would have helped him at all or changed anything, but that’s what I’d have told him.
I don’t know what else to say about him. I just think that it’s not really right not to mention him, not to remember what happened. I guess I just want to say that Sammy Proctor was a) one weird motherfucker, and b) one sad, misunderstood kid. And that he was damn good at making that Japanese music. And that’s all.
Joseph Sloan is a psychologist and a writer. He has worked with children and adolescents with autism for over more than ten years and his fiction has appeared in Hyperlexia, a journal dedicated to writing on the spectrum of autistic experience. He lives in New England with his wife and their children. He can be reached at email@example.com. Selected by Aaron Counts.
I would like to read stories which take compelling plot structure seriously, without concern for the boundary between literary and genre fiction. I would like to read more stories with plot structures which might traditionally be classified as mystery, horror, or science fiction told with beautiful language and complex characters.
Image adapted from Montgomery County Planning via Creative Commons.