I’m riding on the bus my senior year of high school and we’re coming back from band camp. I’m tired and cranky, I look like sweaty hell, my hair is messed, I stink. The Coke I bought at Muncie is warm and I’m carrying it now only out of habit and the desire to keep it from rolling around at my feet.

I’m trying not to think, I’m trying to get silence into my head because the doubt and internal conflict is driving me crazy. I don’t really know why “the question” bothers me so badly right now but I've let it flood over me in the heat and  the anger wells up again.

This was a terrible week - I was horrible to everyone; my friends, my squad-mates, my mother on the phone. I was crass, nasty, and irritable. I’m not viewed as a nice person now and I feel terrible about it - but I can’t stop. I’m tired of playing games with people but it keeps happening - I’m playing the role of the asshole this year - to be any softer would breed suspicion among my friends and I could be outed so easily in this redneck school. I manufactured this role out of the spectrum of masks. This role will haunt me for many years and I know it - because I can’t get my mouth to stop spitting acid - I will never get over this. I will never forgive myself for being this person.

Behind me my friends shout in anger. They keep saying - don’t do it, stupid. I turn around to see that a freshman, who hadn’t used the bathroom at the last stop, is pissing in a plastic coke bottle. He’d tried to explain he couldn’t hold it but no one wants to listen.  This is silly and unnecessary.

I turn in my seat and look at him with disdain as he opens the window and throws the bottle out - it bounces on the side and spills piss on the windows behind him. This action is followed by more un-amused shouts and curses.  He turns from the window no longer explaining.  Everyone is angry and he sits there facing forward - trying to become invisible as people hurl insults at him and the bus driver yells back for quiet. Bev wants to know what the hell just happened - no one explains.

I glare at him and he looks up at me submissively.

“You’re a freshman, right?” I say. “Your name is Tommy?” I ask this sympathetically.

He gives me a pleading look.  He needs some kind of forgiveness or help and nods. “yes.”

I am silent and look at him for a few seconds. I ask in the most dead-pan voice I can muster - “Are you retarded, Tommy?” His mouth opens in a horrified gape and I see his hope wither into humiliation. I say nothing more, just turn and face forward -my job is done.  I feel horrible and my conflict goes away - it fades into the guilt of hurting other people... ahhh...  so much easier to deal with.

In a minute he is sobbing and I feel satisfied that I’ve made the correct choice of words. When I turn to look at him again I see that he’s facing the gray metal wall, his face and eyes- hidden in his hands.  His body moves in jolts and spasms as he cries. I turn around and face the front, taking a sip of my warm Coke.

Some people break so easily.

I do not know why she didn't like me. I don't know why she harassed me. Nor why she teased me. I don't know why she pulled my shorts down to my knees during a test in sixth grade while I was at the sharpener grinding my pencil to a point. Bare cheeks raked with nails, words shrieked "Let's see if she's a he," surreal laughter, snapped pencil, burning shame, hot tears, pounding feet escaping to girls bathroom. I don't know why whenever she passed me she would smack my books to the floor and laugh. I only know that when I saw her I tightened my hold, averted my gaze, and tried to ignore her.

"Chicken" she would hiss into my ear as I turned away. A provoker, a bully. Perhaps I was afraid, perhaps I didn't want to make a scene, perhaps I was hoping she would just go away. I do not remember. I remember clutching my fingers tight into my palm, nails digging in, stiff at my side. Months of this. I took it quietly. Did not say anything to anyone. Be a nark? Not me. That would be worse, lose what little respect I had from my peers....

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He came down to my bus stop almost every morning. I don't know why he chose me. Up on the hill, he had his own stop, with his own friends. He preferred to walk down the hill and wait at mine. My own bus stop. By myself. With no one else. He was in eighth grade. Tall, dark curling hair, dark eyes, strong lean body. These things I noticed though I did not want to. I did not like his dark eyes, always brooding, always watching me. Uncomfortable. I would see him stroll across the top of the hill to his friends. "Please stay there, please stay there, please stay there" I would whisper to myself, praying to any and all deities that might or might not exist. I would see him turn and saunter down the hill. My breath would seize in my lungs. Why couldn't he just leave me be?

Wicked smile flashing "Are you going to talk to me today?"

Silence.

"No?"

Silence.

"How about just a little kiss hello then?"

Heart pounding, face averted, squeezing back floodgates threatening to open, eyes squished tight, lips pressed thin, sucked into mouth. Books clasped tightly to chest.

His breath on my cheek. "How about I just take one?" Cold lips pressed to hot skin, hands stroking my back.

"There, now that wasn't so bad was it?"

Tear rolling down cheek. Silence.

"One of these days you will talk to me, that's a fact."

I would feel his eyes burning into my back. I just wanted him to go away and leave me alone. No relief when the bus pulled up. He would sit next to me. Mine was the first stop. It did not matter what seat I took. They were all empty. I could not escape by sitting with another. His arm draped across the back of the seat lazily. Wolfish grin on his face. His friends' laughter surrounding us as they took seats about us. They would sing "I want you to play with my ding a ling." I did not say a word. Stared out the window, trying to dream myself far far away...

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School was out for the summer. Relief from my tormentors, albeit brief. Relief until that day, that is. She came to my side of town, found out where I lived, stood outside with her circle of friends shouting insults at me. I closed the curtains, locked the doors. My brothers asked what was going on.

"Nothing, shut up and stay inside."

"I'm going to make you come out and face me you coward" She harshly laughed.

"Why aren't you doing anything about her?" Michael asked.

"Shut Up!"

It was enough having to deal with the taunts without dealing with them acting up too. Bad enough I had to baby-sit them all summer. Sound of water running. She had turned the hose on, setting it in the middle of the front yard.

"I'm flooding your yard!" she yelled.

"Do something!" they yelled.

"Leave me alone!" I yelled to ALL of them.

Michael decided to do something about it. "Mom's gonna kill us if we flood out the yard!" he said just before he ran outside to turn off the hose.

She jumped upon him, throwing him to the ground, sitting on him, pounding on his back, laughing. Something snapped. Eyes flaring I ripped her off him, nails cutting into her arm, bleeding.

"You BITCH! " she screamed at me before attacking me both hands flashing.

Her friends backed away, smartly staying out of it. My hair yanked hard, shrieking banshee attack, all of her anger focused on me. I never found out WHY she hated me so.

"Leave my family alone" sharp hiss of breath. Was that my voice? Nails clenched into palm, balled fist, smack in her nose-blood flying, in her gut-gasping for air, strong soccer leg kick into her butt-curled into a ball in the water logged front yard.

"Get the HELL away from my house before I call the cops."

Cold blinding uncontrollable rage. Deep wheezing breathing. Hell hath no fury... Her friends dragged her away. I helped my brother up and we went back inside.

"Wow, you fight mean" he said.

"Don't you forget it" giving him the look.

Shortly afterwards a rock was thrown through our front door window, shattering it. I had a black eye well formed before Mom came home from work, no hiding that. I did not tattle. Was not a snitch. I caught hell for fighting...

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He lived too close for comfort. He would walk by during the summer, grinning at the house if he saw me at the window, blowing me kisses. I would back away, draw the blinds, and run to lock the door. Hadn't he grown tired of this yet? I was nothing special. Just a tomboy. No hips. Short hair. Wild eyebrows. No boobs. Why couldn't he pick on someone with breasts for crying out loud? There were plenty of girls in school wanting his attention. PLENTY mooning all over him. Why bother me?

My brothers had gone to a friend's house who lived halfway up the road. I had been sent up the hill to get them for lunch. I dragged my feet, heart pounding. What if HE was around? Paul was up on a swing set, Michael in the driveway, talking to HIM on a mini bike. DAMN DAMN DAMN.

"Time to come home!" I yelled from the street.

HE looked up at me, through me. "NO!" yelled Paul on the swing set. HE smiled knowing I would have to come get him to make him come home. Knowing I would have to pass HIM to get there. DAMN DAMN DAMN. He stroked my hair as I walked by.

"No hello?"

I ignored him, shimmied up the pole to get the brat before I got into trouble for not bringing him home. While I'm struggling with Paul, I heard the bike's engine revving. I looked over to see Michael on the bike, no helmet. And HIM showing him how to make it go, then shoving the bike forward to help him.

"NOOOOOOO!" I screamed as he took off 20 feet accelerating fast before coming to a dead stop into a plow resting at the edge of the driveway. He laid there so still, blood pouring from his face. Not even crying. Out cold. I pushed my frozen brother beside me.

"NOW will you get down! GO GET MOM!!!"

He ran like he's never run before. The mother of the friend ran out frantic to check on the bleeding boy who has come to and started crying. I climbed down and threw myself at HIM, flipping out beyond all reason. It was his fault my brother was hurt. He should have known better. All of my anger was directed at this one male two years older than me, fists plummeting his chests.

"What the hell were you thinking letting a FOURTH grader ride a minibike."

Sobs and fury and rage and fear and thwack thwack thwack. punch after punch raining down on him until he grabbed my wrists, twisting them behind me. My mother coldly looked at me as she passed by with my brother in her arms.

"Control yourself. You should know better. You should have stopped him from riding the bike" she said before loading him into the car for the drive to the hospital. "Go home and watch your brother"

Then she left me there, my wrists still held tight by HIM, breathing hard. I stood there defeated and dissolving as she drove away. He pulled me closer, whispering into my ear. "You're a wildcat when pissed off," he said before releasing me. "I knew you'd talk to me one day."

"Stay the hell away from me and don't ever touch me again. I HATE you." I hissed before heading back down the hill.

He should have realized I was simmering close to boiling, a powder keg waiting for the match to strike. Perhaps he did and that is why he lit it. Perhaps he felt guilty for Michael's accident. Either way, he did not harass me the rest of the summer.

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