“What’s wrong?” Madison asked Bryce, as they sat across from each other at a cafeteria table that felt a little too small for their adult-sized bodies.
“Jefferson switched sections in Spanish, so he’s in third lunch now. Lunch was the only time we got to see each other! I think he’s avoiding me,” Bryce explained.
“You know that isn’t true—”
“Great story, Mads!” Madison turned to see a young woman dressed in loose fitting thrift-shop clothes, Birkenstocks, and a messy braid. “Climate change is real. People need to wake up,” the girl continued.
“Thanks. Yeah, it’s hard to understand—”
“Great job, Madison!” a boy walking by interrupted.
“Oh, thanks,” Madison started to reply when another student complimented her story. The first girl wandered off as Madison was swamped with students stopping by her table to commend her for her article in that day’s paper. She was struck by the broad range of support—dance girls, dirt bike guys, basketball boys, band kids, druggies, field hockey girls, drama kids, nerds, ROTC kids… It went on and on. It felt good to be noticed and appreciated, although she was starting to feel a little uncomfortable being the center of attention. In her experience, that usually turned out badly in this setting. Bryce started clearing his throat dramatically, which pulled Madison’s attention back to the table.
He had his hand over his mouth and she could tell he was trying hard not to break into hysterics. The table was completely covered in plastic straws. Many still in their wrappers, but more that had obviously been used. “What the hell?” Madison asked.
“I guess they’re offering them as tribute, your highness,” Bryce managed to squeak out before breaking into full blown guffaws.
“Ew! Gross! Look at this mess!” she said. “Help me clean this up.”
But Bryce was no use. His laughter had spread to adjacent tables. Madison got up and dragged a large trash can from the corner to her table, and using a pile of napkins as a makeshift glove, she cleared the mess of straws into the receptacle.
When Bryce had calmed down and she was settled back in her seat, she asked, “Why are people such assholes?”
“High school,” he responded. “It’s in the job description.”
“So were people just fucking with me about liking the story?” she asked. “To distract me from that stupid prank?”
“No,” Bryce assured her. “I think they honestly liked the story.”
“It’s weird how it seems like everyone liked it though. I thought the right-wing kids would hate the climate change message,” she said.
“You told them they can keep their straws, though.”
“Oh. Shit.” Madison paused to think. “This is just like what we talked about in psych last week.”
“Angie Nelson’s haircut?” Bryce asked, the huge grin on his face belying the fact that he knew that wasn’t what she meant.
Madison laughed. “No, dumbass. Confirmation bias. Everyone picked up on the part of the story they liked—”
“Straws are no big deal,” Bryce interrupted.
“Right. Or climate change is real,” she replied. “And they ignored the part that doesn’t fit their world view—”
“Climate change is real,” he interrupted again.
“Right. Or straws are no big deal,” she finished.
They sat in silence a moment as Madison thought about this.
“Well that sucks,” she finally concluded. “The parks guy said that spreading the truth and educating people was the only way we were going to fix this. But if people just take the parts of the story they want to hear and ignore the rest, that isn’t going to change anything.”
Bryce nodded but offered no solution.
“Well?” she asked.
“Well what?” he shot back.
“So how do we fix the environment if nobody is listening?”
“I have no idea,” he said. “Australia was literally on fire and I saw the PM there saying climate change is a hoax.”
“People are assholes,” she said.
“And the assholes seem to be calling the shots,” he replied. “But what about the larger issue?”
“What larger issue?”
Bryce pouted dramatically. “Jefferson hates me. He switched sections just to get out of having lunch with me every day.”
Madison rolled her eyes. “It’s always about you, isn’t it?”
“You know it.”
“I’m sure that’s not why he switched. Have you talked to him about it?”
“No,” Bryce pouted.
Madison shook her head. “You two are too much.” She leaned over and picked up a few straws from the floor and put them on her tray. “Come on. Let’s hang out near his Spanish class and catch him when he comes out.”
Bryce slumped his shoulders. “Okay,” he said.
Madison emptied her tray in the trash, returned it to the dishwashing line, and left with her friend.