tagNovels and NovellasThe Outsider Ch. 02

The Outsider Ch. 02


Chapter 2 - Ruthie's evening

Ruthie left her classmate with very mixed emotions. At the very beginning her reaction towards him was resentment. Because of him, she was about to lose one of the few small pleasures she had in life, the quiet two hours she spent in the nude under the shade every afternoon.

However, once Ruthie calmed herself down, she understood that Mike had to do his job, just like she had to do hers. He was totally unaware of the consequences of his actions in her life and she had to remind herself that he was not acting out of malice, at least not towards her. In fact, he had offered her the small favor of not ticketing her car, assuming that she had one. He cared about her enough to offer a privilege that apparently he would not grant anyone else.

No, he was not acting out of malice towards her, but most definitely he was acting out of malice towards the rich crowd that was abusing the lot. The truth was that Ruthie hated the spoiled elites every bit as much as Mike did. It would be nice to see them get theirs for once. Because of Mike Sinclair, the free parking the "beautiful people" on campus felt that they were entitled to would turn into an expensive hassle. Yes, it would be nice to watch the parking guy stick it to them.

She especially loved that moment when that frat guy had called Mike an "asshole" and he had a come-back that forced the other guy to shut-up. There were so many times that she would have wanted to do the same thing at her job, to tell those miserable sorority bitches, and the disgusting sluts with fake tits who fucked the football players, and the arrogant TA's who treated her like dirt...all of them...what she really thought of them.

Ruthie's mind replayed her interactions with her classmate several times over as she tried to figure him out. He was willing to talk to her, something that meant a lot to a person whose only other conversations that day had consisted of taking coffee orders and answering questions in class. Speaking to him, however briefly, had made her feel slightly less isolated. She had not been nice to him in class, but from what she could tell, he did not hold that against her. In fact, he had taken her advice and read the story she recommended. That was nice, having someone listen to her for once and care enough about her opinion to actually do something she wanted.

Suddenly Ruthie stopped in her tracks. She remembered the slip she had made about not having any friends. It was true, but why did she have to admit that, without even being prompted? Mentally she castigated herself, because she was always saying idiotic things like that. That slip was only the latest out of many that she made out of habit, the stupid things that came out of her mouth that made people roll their eyes and kept her isolated. What a stupid thing to say...I don't have any friends...

Ruthie's concentration began to drift. She was only partially in the real world as she walked to her afternoon class. Like a flock of agitated birds, thoughts circled around her mind, diving in and out of her consciousness. Her memory drifted to a customer who had snapped at her that morning, before shifting to a news story of a child's murder that had upset her. She noticed a flier for an evangelical group, which prompted her to think about religion. Her mind wandered to an assignment she had due the next week, and then to wondering what was for dinner when she got back to the dorm.

She entered the building and made her way to class. Being forced to focus on a lecture and class discussion forced Ruthie to clear her mind somewhat, but the background noise of her other thoughts did not go away entirely. It never did.


Ruthie was a geology major, but the class she was attending that afternoon was a third-year literature course with the Spanish department. She had entered college speaking fluent Spanish and immediately tested into the third year of the program. She realized that she could take advantage of her language skill to get an easy double-major. She would take all of the literature classes offered by the department, throw in some Latin American history and political science classes, and that would take care of all her language and humanities requirements, plus getting her the extra major.

From the time that she was twelve up until the previous summer when she graduated, Ruthie Burns had been surrounded by Spanish. Her mother and her uncle's family originally were from Culiacan, Mexico and usually spoke Spanish at home and among themselves. Many of her classmates in high school spoke Spanish as their first language. At the insistence of her mother, Ruthie had taken the entire Spanish program in high school, which gave her a more formal knowledge of the language and compensated for the uneducated accents that surrounded her. As much as reading texts and conjugating verbs might have irritated Ruthie at the time she was doing it, she had to admit that all those classes in high school had benefited her upon entering college.

Ruthie's mind wandered again. The window of the classroom faced towards the south and she could see the hills the coastal range. Beyond those hills lay Santa Cruz and the elite suburbs that surrounded it. Further south the land flattened out and a person driving down Highway # 1 entered a totally different world once he hit Watsonville. Highway # 1 passed through miles of vegetable fields: asparagus, cabbage, and of course, artichokes.

Past all those fields lay Salinas. Salinas' claim to fame was calling itself "the artichoke capital of the world" and "the salad bowl of the nation". Wow, what a thing to be proud of, thought Ruthie to herself. Just north of town there was a big statue of an artichoke. She rolled her eyes every time she passed that stupid thing.

The only other brush with fame that Salinas could lay claim to was the author John Steinbeck. Steinbeck had written about the area in the 1930's and there was a museum dedicated to him in town. Unlike most of her classmates, Ruthie Burns actually knew who Steinbeck was and had read several of his books. When her class visited the museum, she was the only person in her group who showed any interest whatsoever in the displays. As for her classmates, Steinbeck was irrelevant. Central California was a very different place back when he had written from what it was in the 21st Century. The area now was populated by people who had come from a totally place and lived a totally different reality.

Ruthie's mind continued to drift. She thought about her mother, vaguely wondering if she already had gotten home from work. She had promised to call on Sunday, but already it was Wednesday and Ruthie still had not talked to her mom that week. She couldn't put it off any longer. As much as she dreaded calling home, she'd have to call that night.

I guess I shouldn't be so hard on her, thought Ruthie to herself. She did help me get out of Salinas. I suppose the least I can do is call.

Ruthie's attention finally returned to where it needed to be: the class she was sitting in. She was among students that were two or three years older than she was, but her knowledge of Spanish put her at ease with material that many of her non-native speaking classmates struggled with. For her, reading in Spanish was every bit as easy as reading in English. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Juan Rulfo, Ruben Dario, Jorge Icaza...it didn't matter...she knew the material, some of which she had read for recreation when she still was in high school. For example, as a junior she had discovered "Pedro Paramo" and spent days reading and re-reading a novel that seemed to speak directly to her.

Ruthie raised her hand and chatted in Spanish when the professor posed a question about Mario Vargas Llosa. Spanish literature was one place within her comfort zone, where she was on familiar territory. She had no hesitation showing off and embarrassing the rich, lazy gringos whenever she could. As she listened to a classmate with a very thick accent struggle to answer the next question, an interesting thought occurred to her. In the English literature class it was Mike Sinclair who dominated the class discussion, but in the Spanish literature class the obnoxious show-off was Ruthie Burns.


When Ruthie stepped out of the Spanish literature class she stepped out of her comfort zone. She looked around at the people surrounding her, all of whom seemed from a different world than the one she had come from. She knew that she really didn't belong in Davenport. She couldn't relate to these people, all these spoiled rich types with their fancy clothes, and their fake tits, and the car that daddy gave them, and their drinking, and all their money. She couldn't relate. She had nothing in common with them.

And yet, if anything her ability to relate to Salinas was even less. As she always put it: "Maybe I lived in Salinas, but I'm not from there." Even though she was half-Mexican, the tough-guy machista culture of her family's homeland elicited nothing from her but disgust. She had been to Sinaloa several times to visit her grandparents and found the ingrained violence and oppressiveness of the culture there repugnant. The salsa erotica and narco-corridas that were popular in Culiacan offended and nauseated her, every bit as much as the rap music that assaulted her ears in Salinas.

What Ruthie really hated, more than anything else, was the gang culture that had permeated both Culiacan and Salinas. She resented having to be afraid of being beat up in her school, of always having to seek the protection of her older cousin when walking in the hallways. She hated the graffiti, the bandanas, the tattoos, the drugs, and the sneering expressions of the gang members. She hated the way those guys treated her female classmates, and she hated the girls for putting up with it.

For Ruthie's mother, her escape and her defense against the hostile world of Salinas was evangelical Christianity. Ruthie accompanied her mother every time she went, but over time religion became every bit as disgusting in Ruthie's mind as the gang culture at school. She was an outsider at her mother's church, just as she was an outsider in school.


Ruthie's only escape was reading. From the time she moved to Salinas until she graduated from high school, she locked herself in her room whenever she could and read voraciously. Before she was twelve, she had lived in Nebraska, so she was well-aware that a world existed beyond the one inhabited by her mother and her cousins. She also knew that there were places and times when drugs and gangs had not been a feature of everyday life. She was fascinated with literature that covered different eras from the one in which she was trapped and reading about people who led lives that contrasted with the grim one that she knew. She started with C.S. Lewis (recommended by her Bible study leader) and from there branched out into science fiction and mid-20th Century British fiction. When details of the stories did not make sense to her, she returned to the library to look up answers to her questions, which led her to read histories and biographies. The past interested her, so she explored further and further back, teaching herself about ancient civilizations.

Her curiosity led her to pick apart the Bible. She read several scholarly studies on how it was created and what the passages actually meant in the context during which they were written. The Biblical studies had a profound effect on her, because placing the Bible in its historical context took away most of the mystique that her mother's church had ascribed to it. Ruthie memorized the entire New Testament and a large portion of the Old Testament, but the more she learned, the less divine the book seemed to her. Of course, she had to keep her growing doubts to herself. She was rebelling, but she rebelled in secret.

Finally, she started reading about most forbidden topic of them all: evolution. Precisely because her maniacal preacher so vociferously condemned evolution, Ruthie was determined to find out everything she could about it. Anything that preacher hated had to be good. By the time she graduated from high school, she was reading professional-level studies concerning paleontology and the various theories surrounding evolution. That interest was what led her to declare geology as her first major.

She was totally isolated from her classmates in high school. The more she read and the more knowledgeable she became, the greater were the differences between her and the others. Her social skills quit developing because she felt that in the hostile world of Salinas she had no use for them anyway. She was disgusted by the teenagers that surrounded her at school and scared by their belligerent behavior. They rejected her and she rejected them. The few times she did go out she went with either her cousins or her mother.

Ruthie's continuous reading was destined to determine the course of her life. She mastered a broad range of topics, so class assignments were very easy for her. If given the chance to do extra-credit work, she'd do it, in part because she really had nothing else going on in her life. She got straight "A's" throughout the entire time she was in high school. Her grades, coupled with the fact she could claim a Hispanic background because of her mother, resulted in the grant she had received to attend Davenport State University.

Ruthie's uncle brought her to Davenport at the end of August and dropped her off at her dorm. At the beginning she was elated to have escaped Salinas. She fully expected to make friends with people whose intellect matched hers, but very quickly she found out that was not to be. No one except her professors cared anything whatsoever about the book knowledge stored in her brain. Instead what mattered was that her social and conversational skills were non-existent. She could not talk about light topics at all and had no interest or knowledge of popular culture. She tended to be quiet, but suddenly would become emotional and have an opinionated outburst. Then she would realize she had just made a fool out of herself and sink back into sullen silence. She felt that she was incapable of articulating what she was thinking in speech, that she really could only express herself in writing. Because she had spent so much of her life as a teenager alone, her gestures and mannerisms were not "normal" and she had no concept of what it was to have fun. On top of everything else, subconsciously many of her university classmates rejected her because she was an impoverished person from Salinas.

In Davenport, she no longer had to be afraid for her physical safety, but she found herself even more isolated than she had been before she graduated high school. It seemed that everyone with whom she interacted disliked her and wanted her out of their presence. Her big dream to get out of Salinas had been realized, but the disappointment that followed had come close to totally breaking her spirit.


Ruthie walked to her dorm just as it was getting dark outside. She was shivering, because the evening had turned cool. The breeze blowing from the hills whipped across her bare legs and flowed right through her light dress. The backpack protected her bare back from the cold, but the contents pressed uncomfortably and the canvas scratched at her skin. She dumped the backpack in her room. She extracted a book to take with her to the cafeteria.

She got her tray and silently sat down. No one was interested in talking to her, which was why she brought the book. She was not really going to read, but she calculated that it would not be so obvious that no one wanted to sit with her if she was pretending to be studying while she ate. Eating in the cafeteria at night was always the hardest part of the day for her. During lunchtime she didn't have any time to talk, but in the evenings she was forced to confront the hard reality that she had made no friends whatsoever during the two months she had been in Davenport. She knew it and everyone else knew it. Whatever chance she had to make friends at the beginning of the semester had long since passed. She failed to connect with anyone, the dorm cliques formed, and by the end of September she was completely shut out of the dorm's social life.


After eating her joyless dinner, Ruthie returned to her dorm room. Her roommate still had not returned. That meant that she could call her mother and talk to her in private. She took a deep breath and nerved herself to dial home. Ruthie always found talking to her mom very stressful. The conversation, after a brief exchange of personal news and gossip about family members, fell into the usual dialogue:

"Ruthie, have you found a good church yet?"

"No mom, not yet...really..."

"But, why not? Love, you can't tell me there's no decent churches in Davenport."

"Really, Mom...there's nothing here. Everything's down in Santa Cruz."

"Ruthie, honey, you are lying to me and you know it is a sin to lie...Lourdes Rosales' daughter is up in Davenport too, and she found a church the first week she got up there. Why can't you?"

"Mom...I don't know...I haven't found anything...and I haven't talked to Cristina."

"Well, why don't you just give her a call?"

"Yes, mom...I'll call her..."

"Honey, please don't forget this time. Call the Rosales girl. I'm very worried about you. You know that Satan is watching and he'll get you if you're not careful. You can't fight Satan alone, dear...you have to find a church."

"Yes, mom...I'll try...I promise..."

Ruthie tensed up during the conversation, resisting the urge to scream into the phone:

"Look Mom, I'm not going to find a church because I don't want to find a church! I don't believe in that shit! I'm a fucking atheist, OK? Deal with it! I'm a fucking atheist!"

She knew that the moment was coming when she would lose control of herself and actually say that, but she figured that the longer she could put it off, the better. Her mother would be devastated when she found out that Ruthie had rejected her faith.


Ruthie hung up the phone and calmed herself down. Just in time, because her roommate Shannon came breezing into the room with her boyfriend. With not so much as a "hello" the pair settled in and started spreading their books on Shannon's bed. They had brought a box of pizza with them. They did not offer Ruthie a slice.

Ruthie was extremely uncomfortable with the invasion into her space, which was Shannon's intention. It was only 7:15, so she could not complain that her roommate was preventing her from sleeping. Nor did the no-sex-in-the-dorm room-rule apply, because Shannon had brought her boyfriend over to hang-out and watch TV. The point was that Shannon wanted the room and Ruthie needed to leave.

At the beginning she had hoped to be friends with the other student, but Shannon quickly put an end to that hope. Shannon sized up her roommate within a couple of days and decided that she was a nerd who could easily be pushed around. She cut at Ruthie with several hurtful remarks and then proceeded to take over the room. She bullied Ruthie with her TV and her CD player, using the noise to spoil her concentration and chase her out of the room. She continuously invited guests over; people who were every bit as inconsiderate as she was. In Shannon's mind, Ruthie was the sort of person who deserved to be walked on, because she was such a nerd and such a creep.

Burning with resentment, Ruthie put on a jacket and stuck some notebooks in her backpack. She'd have to go to the library and stay there throughout the evening. Probably it was just as well, because she'd be forced to study and would have time to take some notes for class the next day. She left without saying goodbye.

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