I'm Rafe Khatchadorian, tragic hero
It feels as honest as the day is crummy that I begin this tale of total desperation and woe with me, my pukey sister, Georgia, and Leonardo the Silent sitting like rotting sardines in the back of a Hills Village Police Department cruiser.
Now, there’s a pathetic family portrait you don’t want to be a part of, believe me. More on the unfortunate Village Police incident later. I need to work myself up to tell you that disaster story.
So anyway, ta-da, here it is, book fans, and all of you in need of merit points at school, the true autobio of my life so far. The dreaded middle school years. If you’ve ever been a middle schooler, you understand already. If you’re not in middle school yet, you’ll understand soon enough.
But let’s face it: Understanding me – I mean, really understanding me and my nutty life – isn’t so easy. That’s why it’s so hard for me to find people I can trust. The truth is, I don’t know who I can trust. So mostly I don’t trust anybody. Except my mom, Jules. (Most of the time, anyway.)
So... let’s see if I can trust you. First, some background.
That’s me, by the way, arriving at “prison” – also known as Hills Village Middle School – in Jules’s four-by-four. The picture credit goes to Leonardo the Silent.
Getting back to the story, though, I do trust one other person.
That would actually be Leonardo.
Leo is capital C Crazy, and capital O Off-the-Wall, but he keeps things real.
Here are some other people I don’t trust as far as I can throw a truckload of pianos.
There’s Ms. Ruthless Donatello, but you can just call her the Dragon Lady. She teaches English and also handles my favorite subject in sixth grade – after-school detention.
Also, Mrs. Ida Stricker, the vice principal. Ida’s pretty much in charge of every breath anybody takes at HVMS.
That’s Georgia, my super-nosy, super-obnoxious, super-brat sister, whose only good quality is that she looks like Jules might have looked when she was in fourth grade.
There are more on my list, and we’ll get to them eventually. Or maybe not. I’m not exactly sure how this is going to work out.
As you can probably tell, this is my first full-length book. But let’s stay on the subject of us for a little bit.
I kind of want to, but how do I know I can trust you with all my embarrassing personal stuff – like the police car disaster story? What are you like? Inside, what are you like? Are you basically a pretty good, pretty decent person? Says who? Says you? Says your ’rents? Says your sibs?
Okay, in the spirit of a possible friendship between us – and this is a huge big deal for me – here’s another true confession.
This is what I actually looked like when I got to school that first morning of sixth grade. We still friends, or are you out of here?
Hey – don’t go – all right?
I kind of like you. Seriously. You know how to listen, at least. And believe me, I’ve got quite the story to tell you.
The Middle School / Max Security Prison
Okay, so imagine the day your great-great grandmother was born. Got it? Now go back another hundred years or so. And then another hundred. That’s about when they built Hills Village Middle School. Of course, I think it was a prison for Pilgrims back then, but not too much has changed. Now it’s a prison for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.
I’ve seen enough movies that I know when you first get to prison, you basically have two choices: (1) pound the living daylights out of someone so that everyone else will think you’re insane and stay out of your way, or (2) keep your head down, try to blend in, and don’t get on anyone’s bad side.
You’ve already seen what I look like, so you can probably guess which one I chose. As soon as I got to homeroom, I went straight for the back row and sat as far from the teacher’s desk as possible.
There was just one problem with that plan, and his name was Miller. Miller the Killer, to be exact. It’s impossible to stay off this kid’s bad side, because it’s the only one he’s got. But I didn’t know any of that yet.
“Sitting in the back, huh?” he said.
“Yeah,” I told him.
“Are you one of those troublemakers or something?” he said.
I just shrugged. “I don’t know. Not really.”
“’Cause this is where all the juvies sit,” he said, and took a step closer. “In fact, you’re in my seat.”
“I don’t see your name on it,” I told him, and I was just starting to think maybe that was the wrong thing to say when Miller put one of his XXXL paws around my neck and started lifting me like a hundred-pound dumbbell.
I usually like to keep my head attached to my body, so I went ahead and stood up like he wanted me to.
“Let’s try that again,” he said. “This is my seat. Understand?”
I understood, all right. I’d been in sixth grade for about four and a half minutes, and I already had a fluorescent orange target on my back. So much for blending in.
And don’t get me wrong. I’m not a total wimp.
Give me a few more chapters, and I’ll show you what I’m capable of. In the meantime, though, I decided to move to some other part of the room.
Like maybe somewhere a little less hazardous to my health.
But then, when I went to sit down again, Miller called over. “Uh-uh,” he said. “That one’s mine too.”
Can you see where this is going?
By the time our homeroom teacher, Mr. Rourke, rolled in, I was just standing there wondering what it might be like to spend the next nine months without sitting down.
Rourke looked over the top of his glasses at me. “Excuse me, Mr.Khatch... Khatch-a... Khatch-a-dor–”
“Khatchadorian,” I told him.
“Gesundheit!” someone shouted, and the entire class started laughing.
“Quiet!” Mr. Rourke snapped as he checked his attendance book for my name.
“And how are you today, Rafe?” he said, smiling like there were cookies on the way.
“Fine, thanks,” I answered.
“Do you find our seating uncomfortable?” he asked me.
“Not exactly,” I said, because I couldn’t really go into details.
“Then SIT. DOWN. NOW!”
Unlike Miller the Killer, Mr. Rourke definitely has two sides, and I’d already met both of them.
Since nobody else was stupid enough to sit right in front of Miller, that was the only seat left in the room.
And because I’m the world’s biggest idiot sometimes, I didn’t look back when I went to sit in my chair. Which is why I hit the dirt as I went down – all the way down – to the floor.
The good news? Given the way things had started off, I figured middle school could only get better from here.
The bad news? I was wrong about the good news.