My name is Paul, and I used to know everything.
And I have to tell you, it was pretty cool.
By my sophomore year of high school, I had nothing else to learn. I had long
before made all of the profound discoveries that every boy eventually makes. Actually, I
had made both of them in the same week. I was eleven, my grandpa had just passed
away, and two things happened: I saw my parents cry for the first time and my cousin
Melissa came to stay with us for a week. So I learned that not only were my parents
actually real people, but, regardless of what my friends thought, girls also went number
two. It was a very profound week.
School was a joke. Another day, another A, another testament to my unlimited
potential. It wasn’t that I was cocky; I just knew my place in the world and how not to
jeopardize that place. I was only a sophomore, but I had it all figured out. As long as I
went to college, I would get a good job. As long as I got straight A’s, I would go to
college. As long as I studied a bit, I would get straight A’s. Pretty simple, really.
“You’re doing great,” my parents would say. “Keep up the good work,” said my
teachers and counselor. “You can do whatever you want,” said everyone. The sky was
the limit. The path had already been laid out for me. As long as I followed it, the details
of my future would fill in with all the ease and sensibility of a paint-by-numbers picture.
Life was simple and predictable.
I didn’t disobey my parents and I didn’t cut class and I studied hard. I never
spoke up. If something happened that I didn’t like, I would just grin and bear it. I wasn’t
small, but I wasn’t big and if a bigger guy wanted to intimidate me, it worked. I didn’t
have that many friends and I didn’t go out much. My best friend at the time was this kid
Matt Gross, who I had known since elementary school. We would study together and we
played frisbee when we had time. I also liked to draw stupid pictures and read comic
books. Well, Batman comic books. I loved Batman.
The one catch was that I didn’t study hard and get good grades because I really
wanted to. It was just what I did, what I was used to. I always had and, frankly, it wasn’t
really that hard to do. I didn’t stand up for myself because I would get scared and my
head would pound. I didn’t speak up because it wasn’t my place to. That was the catch,
but I didn’t care. It might not have been the most exciting of lives, but my path was
secure and I was content.
And then I got a car.
My car was over ten years old and covered in rust and had trouble going up small
hills. I absolutely loved it. It was a Buick Century and I named it Delia, after my
friend’s couch. It had this sticker on the windshield from its previous owner:
I hate golf.
I hate golf and I hated that sticker but I loved that car so I left the sticker up on the
windshield as a sign of respect. Actually, though it may sound weird, I kinda enjoyed
hating that sticker.
I got my license second semester sophomore year and I got Delia a week later; a
gift from my parents. On weekend afternoons I would go driving. I never went
anywhere specific, just drove. Delia and I would hit the highway and I’d roll down the
windows and listen to music and hate that stupid sticker and the road would go up a little
and down a little and curve to the left and curve to the right and the clouds would pass
overhead and the landscape would go on forever, all around me, and life was never better.
And then something happened
I got a Feeling.
It was a vague feeling, but a feeling nonetheless, and it consumed me like nothing
had ever before and I freaked out. I drove straight home and sat in Delia in my driveway
for almost an hour. I was sweating and breathing heavily and I had to keep a firm grip on
the steering wheel to keep my hands from shaking. The Feeling had triggered something
inside of me, had opened my eyes wider than I thought they could go. The world
suddenly seemed much bigger than it had before, and I had this growing suspicion that
there was a whole lot more to life than anyone had ever bothered to tell me. That was the
Feeling I got.
You get a Feeling like I did, it sticks with you.
I would go to school and sit in class and then go home and do my homework and
hang out with Matt Gross and the whole time I found everything that I did rather
unsettling because I didn’t know if that was good enough anymore. I could tell that
something was missing and I knew what it was.
I missed the Feeling.
Having felt it once, I craved it again, craved it the way that Kevin Corano and
Tommy Lawson craved whatever the hell they would shoot up in the bathroom at school
during lunch, when I would walk by them on the way to my locker and they would be
wide-eyed and shaking and peering around corners for the hall monitor. I had to feel it
So I would jump into Delia and we would go back to the highway, back to the one
place where nobody bullied or preached or expected anything, the one place where The
Feeling wouldn’t haunt me because I could actually feel it there; the world spread out
before me, trying to share some profound secret that was just beyond my grasp and
everything I did know seemed so small and everything I didn’t so big. It was scary and
wonderful and there was nowhere else in the world that I would rather be than sitting in
my crappy car driving in circles.
I didn’t know about The Dream back then. I didn’t know about The System or
Champions or any of what I would come to hold so dear. I just had my Feeling and a lot
of questions that I wasn’t sure how to ask but it didn’t matter because no one I knew
would have been capable of answering them.
I didn’t know anything anymore.
And then I met Greg.
It was second semester sophomore year at Pioneer High School, a couple of
weeks after I got Delia, in biology class. Greg was a scrawny kid with a surprisingly
commanding voice and these blue eyes that he didn’t just look at people with; he would
pierce through them. His first word to me was “fuck.” He said that after I was assigned
as his biology partner. He, like me, was hoping for Skye Perch, the girl that I had been
secretly in love with for a long time. We can talk about her later. When he said “fuck” to
me, I didn’t want him to think that he could move in on my woman, so I responded with a
“fuck” of my own. Thus, our first conversation.
After a week of being biology partners, I started to sense that there was something
different about my scrawny, piercing-eyed fuck of a biology partner who wanted nothing
to do with me. We were dissecting this frog, who I had named Frankie The Wonder
Frog, and we were supposed to carefully slice along this vein that led up Frankie’s leg to
his heart, and then remove the heart. Greg wanted nothing to do with that. Instead of
using the tools that Mr. Siebarth provided, Greg brought a grapefruit spoon to class,
scooped out the heart, and then made a slice up the leg to cover his tracks. It took about
fifteen seconds. “Same result,” he told me, “minimal effort.”
That comment proved to be an accurate summary of Greg’s attitude towards
Biology class. And I, his loyal biology partner, went along for the ride. “I wasn’t aware
that biology could be so easy,” I once told him.
“Ha,” was all he said. We ended up with a lot more free time in that class than
the other students, and we used it to get to know each other.
I learned that Greg hated school. Hated it. I never really knew why until later on.
You can wait too. He asked me a lot about my family, my goals, what I liked to do.
“What do you like to do?” he would ask. At first I was embarrassed, but then I
told him that my favorite pastime was driving around aimlessly. His eyes lit up. “Why?”
he asked. I told him about The Feeling. He grinned evilly and those blue eyes sparkled.
“Let’s go driving,” he said. “You and me, today.” I picked him up after school, and
Delia and Greg and I made it halfway to Chicago before either of us said a word. “I
know this Feeling,” he told me. “Let’s go home,” and that was it for our conversation.
That was the first time we hung out together outside of school. There is definitely
something different about this kid, I thought.
I didn’t know the half of it.
The next week we had a half-day and Greg asked me if I wanted to grab some
lunch after school. “Sure,” I said.
“This is a good idea,” he told me.
After school, we went over to the Big Boy and settled into a booth in the smoking
section. I had never been to the Big Boy before. I had never sat in a smoking section
before, either. I had asthma. “Don’t worry,” Greg reassured me. We ordered some eggs
and coffee and then we ate the eggs and drank the coffee and when the food was gone I
reached for my wallet. Greg held out his hand. “Whoa, buddy,” he said, “this is the best
“What is?” I asked.
“Just wait,” he said.
The food was gone but we got fresh cups of coffee and Greg leaned sideways
against the wall and put his feet up on the booth. He motioned for me to do the same. I
did, and I found it surprisingly natural.
We just sat.
While we sat, Greg lit a new cigarette and we drank our coffee and the whole time
he acted strangely. His eyes were opened wide and he shuffled around in the booth and I
couldn’t tell if he was excited about something or if he just had to poop.
Suddenly, he stopped shuffling. “Man, that Skye Perch is pretty hot,” he said. I
felt myself begin to blush—the mere mention of her name was enough—and my big
secret threatened to reveal itself. I never really had a close friend before, the kind that
you tell everything to. Something about Greg’s eyes and smile reassured me though;
somehow I trusted him. I took a deep breath and smiled.
“Actually,” I said, “I’ve been in love with her since the fourth grade.” That was
the first time that I had told anybody that.
“Honestly, I can’t tell you, ‘cause I don’t know. It’s not like I ever talk to her or
anything. I just… love her.”
“Hmm,” said Greg. We talked and drank coffee for a while, and then I realized
I had The Feeling.
The only time I ever got The Feeling before was when Delia had taken me at least
a half hour away from home, and now I was getting it in the goddamn Big Boy two
minutes from school. I didn’t understand.
I told Greg what was going on and he just smiled. “Paul,” he said (he hadn’t
started calling me “Kov” yet), “you have a lot to learn.”
“Like what?” I asked. I was excited but I didn’t know why.
“I think I should smoke again,” said Greg. He lit up a new cigarette.
“Okay, you’re smoking. Now what?”
Greg’s eyes sparkled. “Now,” he said, “I want you to know.”
The kid was weird. “You want me to know about what?”
He leaned forward. “Everything,” he said.
“Huh?” I would love to say that I was intrigued and excited and ready for
whatever Greg was about to tell me, but at the time I thought he was acting pretty
spooky, if you want to know the truth.
“Let me tell you about The Dream,” he said.
And then he did.
By the time we graduated from Pioneer, Greg and I were best friends.
“I am Undefeatable.”
The guy in the mirror was telling me this.
“I am Undefeatable.”
He was confident, focused.
“I am Undefeatable.”
His brown eyes narrowed and sparkled and I hardly recognized him.
“I am Undefeatable.”
Then I blinked and so did he and the spark vanished and the charade was over.
Just my reflection forgetting its roots.
I am not Undefeatable, but I will be.
First you believe, then you become.
And I believed.