Can’t Take it Away

Scene from Adaptation (2002)

Donald Kaufman: I loved Sarah, Charles. It was mine, that love. I owned it. Even Sarah didn’t have the right to take it away. I can love whoever I want.

Charlie Kaufman: But she thought you were pathetic.

Donald Kaufman: That was her business, not mine. You are what you love, not what loves you. That’s what I decided a long time ago.

Jag Collins stood out among his seventh grade peers, not because he was tall, strong, fast, or intelligent. He was intelligent, but not enough to stand out.

Jag Collins stood out because he didn’t wear polo shirts with designer jeans. Instead, he wore clothes from the Salvation Army, and his classmates knew because George, the seventh grade bully, had donated Jag’s favorite shirt —  the Hump Day 5k Challenge shirt.

“Absolutely not! That is  not appropriate for a child your age!” Ms. Collins said to her son, who was holding up the Hump Day 5k Challenge shirt smiling.

Jag set the shirt on the table and investigated the grass-chewing camel with “Hump Day 5k Challenge” imprinted on its side. Jag liked this camel. He or she (Jag wasn’t sure of the gender) seemed content eating the grass. The camel was smiling. Jag could see it.

“Come on Jag!” yelled Ms. Collins. “Pick out a shirt and lets go.”

Jag smiled at the camel, and then turned the shirt inside out, ripped off the tag, folded it so the ink would be hidden, and sauntered to the counter.

“You just want a plain white shirt?”

Jag nodded.

Ms. Collins shrugged and placed the shirt and two pairs of socks on the counter. The clerk, an overweight lady in her twenties, looked at the shirt, winked at Jag, and put the shirt in a bag.

“Here you go sweetie.” the clerk handed the bag to Jag.

Jag smiled at the clerk and said, “Thank you.”

Ms. Collins studied the interaction between the clerk and Jag, but dismissed it as nothing.

“Alright. Let’s get going.” Ms. Collins handed over a five and they walked out of the Salvation Army.

Ms. Collins didn’t drive a “nice” car. She drove a beat up 1999 Chevy S10 that announced its presence with a cloud of smoke and a roaring engine uninhibited by a muffler. At some schools, Jag wouldn’t be teased for such a car, but at this school that wasn’t the case.

Jag was the son of a single mother who tended bar seven days a week.

He was the poor kid.

Jag was aware that he was the poor kid; however if you were to ask any of his teachers or classmates, they would say that Jag wasn’t aware of anything.

His teachers didn’t like him, even though he earned mostly B’s. He never payed attention. He was always focused on something else. For the first two months of the school year, he did nothing in class but read Kurt Vonnegut novels. When he was reprimanded for his actions, he would put the book away, and open it as soon as class was dismissed. He would continue to read until the next teacher told him not to. Then at home he wouldn’t stop reading until his mother told him dinner was ready.

Once Jag finished all the Kurt Vonnegut novels, he cleared a shelf in his room and placed the novels in alphabetical order.

The next day Jag got his Hump Day shirt.

When Jag got home, he laid the shirt on his bed and studied the camel. Jag wondered what kind of teeth he or she had? What its fur felt like? What was in those humps? What were the camel’s favorite types of grass?

For the next two months, Jag wore that shirt every day. He hand washed it when he got home from school and let it air dry in his bedroom. The kids at school would make fun of him, but Jag didn’t seem to notice, he just continued reading the latest book he found on camels at the library.

Finally one day, George, the rich bully, made it his mission to get to Jag. George had pushed him on the ground, gave him a wedgie, spit on him, and continually made fun of him. It didn’t matter though. Jag would brush himself off and continue doing whatever it was that he was doing. But George wanted to get to him, so he stole all the books on camels from the library and threw them out. Then he ripped Jag’s camel shirt off, and stole the book Jag was reading and ripped out the pages.

Jag stood shirtless outside the library in front of George and a group of awestruck students. George smirked at Jag. He was happy with himself. He was so sure that he had gotten to Jag.

“Don’t worry there are still more books in the library. Right?” said George. He looked back at the crowd smirking. “Oh yeah… that’s right. I almost forgot that I stole all of them, so… yeah. That’s too bad.”

Jag looked down at the shirt ripped in half, the shreds of paper from his book, and then up at George and  the crowd surrounding him. Jag then smiled. A genuine happy smile and said:

“I still like camels.”