Jonathan Wechsler and I were sort of cheating on our assignment for PC English. PC stood for “Project Challenge,” not personal computers. We weren’t “challenged,” but I guess we needed to be. On Fridays, we sat on pillows and discussed the books we’d chosen to read with our assigned partner.
Jonathan Wechsler and I were reading Of Mice and Men. I was on a big kick of reading mice books that year. I had already read I Am The Cheese and Flowers for Algernon. I definitely learned one thing: mice books aren’t very uplifting.
Mrs. Manns, our teacher who had been with us since third grade, was the closest person I really knew to a hippie at that point in my life. She wore flowing, floor-length skirts. Her hair was salt and peppered, twisting back and forth in stringy waves nearly to her waist. More than anything, I think she was challenging eight anal-retentive over-achieving 12-year-olds to calm the hell down so we might survive in the real world one day, despite our above-average IQs. She served us cookies and lemonade while we engaged in discussions about our weekly read.
Jonathan and I had fallen behind on our assignment. We had probably gotten distracted by our intense debates on the politics of Israel. We decided to rent the movie so we would be ready to present in class. This was a very risky move for straight-laced kids like us.
Jonathan wasn’t your average 12-year-old male. All the boys were awkward at this age, but Jonathan was unique. He was shorter than me, like all the boys. His face was even paler than mine, with tiny freckles dotting his innocent cheeks. His hair was thick, black and curly. He wore round framed glasses, matching his round frame. He ate tuna sandwiches for lunch.
After spending five years together in the same classes, he could really drive me crazy sometimes. His innocence waned between annoying and endearing as hell. Like how when he called my house he would always address my mom as “Mr. Barron-Ott.” Adorable both because she was no mister and also didn’t share the same last name as me.
Jonathan found this extremely difficult to comprehend. When Mrs. Smith, our health teacher, was explaining different family structures, Jonathan Wechsler could not wrap his head around the fact that not everyone had a mom and dad that were married, lived together, and shared children that were exclusively the product of the two of them. I spent nearly an entire class period frustratingly trying to explain the difference between whole, half and step siblings.
“Divorce” was a harder word for Jonathan to understand than the Hebrew he studied on weekends in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah. He wouldn’t turn 13 until September of our 8th grade year, which was later than most. He and I attended the coming-of-age celebrations for most of our Jewish classmates together.
Jonathan Wechsler was just weird enough to be the only boy who would dance with me all night long, often sweating through his young man suits. The only people who could keep up with us were the Rabbi and his wife.
Bar Mitzvahs were a blast– lavish parties on the kids’ parents’ dime, where my classmates walked away with five figures worth of checks at the end of the night. But Jonathan wasn’t in it for the money. I always thought he said he wanted to be a Rabbi when he grew up because he was in it for the love of disco music. When the time for his Bar Mitzvah came around, he gave out CDs with classic disco hits as his party favors. The novelty of this was lost on most of my peers, but I listened to it many a time.
About once a year, I take to the Internet to try to find Jonathan Wechsler. I used to feel the same way about him that Trump feels about China; I loved him, I hated him. Why couldn’t he understand my world? Had his parents wrapped him too tightly in a cocoon? I thought I was so much wiser and worn by the world. He lived in ignorant bliss while I explored callous cynicism as my depression kicked in.
As we sat staring at the screen on the floor in his den eating his mother’s freshly popped popcorn, our worlds simultaneously shattered. George had Lenny turn around. Damnit, Lenny never saw it coming– the bullet straight through his skull. We didn’t see it coming either. I cried in Jonathan’s arms and he sobbed with me, long after the film had ended until “Mr. Barron-Ott” came to pick me up.
Jonathan cried because he learned to love Lenny and didn’t know how George could do such a thing. I wept because I would have done the exact same thing. Wherever Jonathan Wechsler is, I hope he would feel the same today.
Note from the author: All names have been changed. But if you know who Jonathan Wechsler really is and where to find him, please let me know!