people who look pleased with themselves

B

ecause of the size of my high school (we were the largest in the state, with nearly 2,400 students) we had six or seven different assistant principals, each in charge of a different specific subsect. Like most high school administrators, this group ran the gamut from merely lazy to completely incompetent. But the one man who really took the cake was Kyle Thrasher.

Mr. Thrasher had actually been a decent enough teacher when he was merely a faculty member. But the newfound authority given to him in the early '80s profoundly changed him. He became one of the biggest assholes ever to be found in a high school environment, one of those classic administrative officials who are so weak and afraid in the real world that they must accept a tyrannical job over powerless teenagers in order to feel better about themselves. Thrasher ran the school with an iron fist, fully believing in his mind that he was better and smarter than others simply because he was older than them. He used to pick on students for no other reason than that he could. He would confiscate perfectly normal items from students on a daily basis because, like all despots, he was terrified that the least amount of his subjects' empowerment would eventually lead to his overthrow.

Each year the psychology department would run one of those classic egg projects, where students would carry around an egg for a month to teach them what an overwhelming responsibility having a child really is. I had found a little gavel that year and had put a piece of masking tape on it saying "The Eggsterminator," which I was also carrying around. It was a joke, one of those stupid things that high schoolers do without much thought. Thrasher saw me with it one day and immediately confiscated it, verbally belittling me in front of my classmates and making me pathetically beg in public not to be suspended from school. Another time our valedictorian, a woman named Durba Dutta who had not once ever gotten into trouble her entire seventeen years on this earth, received three days of detention from Thrasher for trying to orally defend herself in a lunchroom misunderstanding. Again, he did this in front of everyone, verbally abusing her so badly that she burst into tears in the middle of public.

The thing I hated the most about Thrasher was the smug, self-satisfied look he always had on his face as he walked down the hallway, that look that screamed, "I have absolute arbitrary control over you and there's not a single thing you can do about it." Even as a teenager I understood that he was like this because he was a weak, petty, emasculated man, that he exerted this kind of sadistic control not because he could command respect but because the power structure randomly allowed him to do so. We were studying World War II at the time, and I suddenly understood what would turn a nation of ordinary citizens into the hideous monster that the Nazis were. If Kyle Thrasher had been a German Protestant in the 1930s, I thought watching him, he undoubtedly would've been a concentration camp guard, wearing that same smug look on his face as he arbitrarily killed and raped other humans for his own personal whimsical pleasure.

In 1996, ten years after high school, my mom called one night to inform me that Kyle Thrasher had killed himself. Apparently he had suffered from mental illness for decades, a fact he had successfully hidden from both his employers and family. But eventually the signs started becoming too obvious, he went through a series of institutionalizations, and finally succumbed to his own inner demons. It had come as a shock to most, my mom told me, and the entire community back home was now talking about it.

It didn't shock me one bit. I've always assumed that high school administrators are mentally ill, and this simply proved it. To be honest, I was sincerely sorry that his family had lost a loved one, especially in such a gruesome and complicated way. But was I sorry that Thrasher was dead? Of course not. I was glad, frankly. This was a man who abjectly terrorized tens of thousands of helpless children over the course of his life. God only knows what kinds of horrors might have taken place behind closed doors. And all because he was sick and too petty and afraid to admit it. To be perfectly honest, I think Kyle Thrasher got everything he deserved.

The pillow book of jason pettus.