Copyright© 2021 by Mark Elias
The ride home was quiet for the first few miles. Allison lived on one side of Judson and we lived on the other. It wasn’t a long drive, but all of Judson was a speed trap. So you had to be careful when driving. I could feel my mom’s eyes boring into the side of my head every time she glanced over at me.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Dammit, Alex. What in the hell is going on?”
“I said I don’t want to talk about it!” I knew not to yell at my mom, but she was also part of the problem.
“Don’t you DARE raise your voice at me, Alex! I am your MOTHER and you WILL respect me! Now I have NEVER been one to force you to do anything, but...”
“That’s a f•©king lie...”
I could see the words coming from my mouth as soon as I spoke them. I wanted desperately to grab them and force them back into my mouth before she could hear them, but that wasn’t possible. If you didn’t grow up in the deep south, then you may not know how mothers down here act. Mother’s in the south don’t abide by the law that says you can’t inflict cruel and unusual punishment. Southern mothers don’t believe in timeouts. Southern mothers were raised with bible thumping parents who fully believed in the old adage, spare the rod and spoil the child. As soon as I heard those come from my mouth, I knew I was royally screwed.
Her reaction was quick. It was a slap across my face like I had never felt. I had been beaten by kids my own age, but never had I felt the heated sting of my mother’s hand across my face. She wouldn’t say anything else to me until we pulled into our driveway. The car was barely turned off when she was around to the passenger side, yanking me from the door by the arm. She pulled me into the kitchen ignoring my dad’s questions for what was going on. My dad, usually the one who could call my mom back from her tempers, knew this was a moment he was powerless. I wasn’t sure what she was doing when she pulled me through the living room and into the bathroom. I tried pulling away, but that only seemed to feed her anger. My eyes went wide when she grabbed a bar of soap, wet it beneath the faucet, and shoved it into my mouth. I seemed like she was trying to make me swallow the whole thing.
“I don’t EVER want to hear you talk to me like that again! You wanna talk like an adult and act like a little child then I’m going to treat you like one. You use that sort of filthy language to me and I’m going to clean your mouth out!”
I tried to spit the soap out, but she kept pushing it back in. I was gagging and nearly choking when my dad finally managed to get her attention. “TERESA! That’s ENOUGH!”
She seethed in anger as she simply pointed to my room and moved out of the way so that I could get by. Once I was safe inside my room I went straight to the trash can by my desk and immediately began to throw up everything I had ever eaten. I stopped only for a brief moment to catch my breath before I started again. With the contents of my stomach now completely empty I went to my bed, curled up onto my side and pulled my knees to my chest. It was nearly an hour later when I heard the door to my room open. I could tell just from the way he walked that my dad was coming to try and talk to me. He sat on the bed and rubbed his hand along my arm.
“Alex, tell me what happened today.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Son, something is bothering you. Your mom and I are worried about you.”
He sat in silence waiting in vain for me to start telling him whatever was on my mind, but words never came. After he left the tears finally came. I cried in silence, not wanting to make any sounds. The last thing I wanted was for my parents to come in and try to talk to me. They couldn’t possibly understand what I was going through. They were just like Allison. They were trying to force me to do things. They thought they knew what was best for me, but every time they made me do something, I was the one who ended up hurt, crying, and lost after running away.
That night I heard my mom call me to dinner, but I never got up. When I heard her coming down the hall to get me I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep. My back was still to the door so when she opened the door all she saw was my curled up beneath my blankets. There was a part of me, small though it were, that was trying to talk. That part of me, buried deep in the recesses of my mind, was trying to be logical and call out for help, but logic and emotion are like oil and water. The two things just don’t mix. My emotions were way too poignant for logic to play a part in any of my actions. The sad part was that, the longer my emotions took hold of me, the harder it was for me to hear the logical side of my brain.
I gave her a few moments to get back into the kitchen before the logical part of me won out. I started to head towards the kitchen, with the intent to talk to them about what happened. I was still fighting with myself about what to say and how much. I knew they worried about me and the last thing I wanted to do was make them more scared. It had been a practice of mine to be as quiet as possible. Our house was old and would creak and moan if you walked in certain areas. During the day that wasn’t an issue but at night if you were trying to sneak in and get a snack, it could potentially wake up your very light sleeping parents. So I knew how to walk and where to step to keep the house from making those sounds. I heard my parents talking and right away I knew they were talking about me.
“I know I went too far, but I just don’t know what to do!”
That voice belonged to my mom. I could tell she was tired, physically and emotionally.
“We’ve tried everything we know of. We’ve tried getting him involved in things. We’ve sent him to camp. We’ve forced him to go out with people. Every time we do something it backfires!”
She was trying to keep her voice down, but you could tell she was at the end of her rope.
“It hasn’t all been bad. He met Allie. That’s been the best thing that’s happened to him.”
“A lot of good that did him today. Debbie called me. Allie won’t tell her what happened other than to say Alex yelled at her for no reason.”
“She won’t say what they were arguing about?”
“No, she won’t.”
“I’m sure they’ll work it out.”
“I hope so. What are we going to do with him? We can’t keep going like this.”
There was a long bout of silence and I almost went in, but then my dad started talking.
“Maybe part of the problem is that we’ve pushed him too much. He’s shy. He’s always been that way. Maybe part of the problem is that we’ve pushed him farther and harder than he was ready for.”
“So what do we do? Nothing?”
“That’s exactly what we do. Nothing. Let him make his own path. Maybe he’ll come out of this.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“We watch him. We have to understand that things are going to happen. We just have to let him make his own choices. If he screws up we’ll be there.”
“What if he doesn’t get better? What if we keep dealing with this?”
My dad sighed, “Then we’ll do what we have to do. We’ll get the help we need. We’ll send him wherever we need to send him.”
I had heard enough and as quickly as I could, and with the same practiced silence, I slipped back into my room. Send me where I needed to go? What were they talking about? Did they want to send me to some sort of military school? That was the last thing I needed. Whatever they planned to do, I needed to avoid it. I had to play my cards right. They couldn’t know anything that was going on with me. Whatever was actually going to happen, they’d know as little as possible.
The Monday after that incident with Allison I waited for her at lunch. It was probably the last little part of Logical Me, that was trying to get a hold on the situation before it got much more out of hand, but the emotional part of me was too strong. Yes, I wanted Allison to sit with me. I wanted her to talk to me, but SHE had wronged ME. It wasn’t my job to apologize to her. She had to say something to me. Only then would I accept her apology and things could maybe go back to how they were before. When she came into the lunchroom, I saw her. Everyone did. It was hard to miss someone with such simplistic beauty and strong warmth. Yet when her eyes met mine the smile that was always on her face seemed to melt away.
Instead I found myself looking at a face that was dueling emotions. Her lips were taught in anger, and her brow furrowed as if saying, YEAH! I AM PISSED AT YOU JACKASS! But her eyes, those brightly shining green diamonds, had dulled. They weren’t angry. They were hurt. There was a sadness both for me and because of me. She didn’t walk to me though. Instead she turned towards a table of her other friends. She gave me a pointed stare as if letting me know she was punishing me. When I looked at the table, I could see Jennifer Hansen sitting across from her. The two seemed to strike up a conversation as if they were the best of friends.
I could have maybe dealt with that, but it was the side glances I kept getting from Allison that somehow helped me put a permanent muzzle on the logical part of my brain. I grabbed my lunch bag and stormed out of the room. I didn’t know where I was going, but I couldn’t stay there. We had a courtyard where some of the students would go to eat, but that would put me too close of a proximity to Allison. I had to go further. So instead I headed straight for the woods that bordered the western part of the school. It was far enough away that no one would know where I went and wouldn’t be able to see me without looking really hard. However, it was close enough that I could hear the bell to end the lunch period and still have enough time to get to my P.E. class right after lunch.
I should have known something was going to happen right from the start, but I wasn’t paying attention. I was too lost in my own emotional state of mind to pick up on the clues. Truth is that I’m a smart kid. I’ve always made straight A’s in school. Not having any extracurricular activities, or friends to occupy my time outside of school, I would read. I’d read anything I could get my hands on. It didn’t matter to me whether it was the latest Harry Potter book or a textbook, I loved to read. Information was one of those things that people couldn’t take from me. Once I had the information safely stored away in my brain, it was there forever and nothing that anyone could do could change that. It was a bit of a comfort for me. I wasn’t one of those geniuses who had photographic memory and could remember what I ate on a random day when I was seven, but I was smart. However, no amount of knowledge can make up for the emotions of a twelve-year-old boy lost in his own self-deprecating torment. I failed to pick up on the subtle clues that should have been obvious.
“Alright line up on the line!” Coach Thompson called out to us. We always started out class the same way. We had a five to ten-minute warm up routine that Coach said would make sure we didn’t get hurt, but we all knew what was coming today. The two metal racks of red rubber balls let us know. Today was a game of dodgeball.
“Green! Taylor!” Coach called Mark and David. Why he never called us by our first names I’ll never know. “You guys are captains today. I’m not putting you two on the same team again. Pick your teams, boys.”
Oh, that process was about as cliché as you could have gotten. Mark and David just looked at each other with a shit eating grin. It was another one of those clues I was missing. I knew I would be the last one picked so I wasn’t paying attention to what they were doing. I wasn’t noticing the silent communication they were having between themselves. When the teams were chosen and we went to opposite ends of the gym I had the wonderful privilege of being on Mark’s team, and Mark was quick to make sure he put me one the front line. I was actually okay with this. I could get hit first and be able to sit most of the class, but that wasn’t the case. It was another one of those signs that I missed.
When Coach Thompson blew the whistle to start the game everyone ran to try and get a ball. I just stayed where I was at. I knew I’d be thrown at first so what was the point of even trying? One by one I heard the bright red balls bouncing off of the floor, walls, or even other kids. What was shocking to me was that not one of them was being thrown at me. That was the first sign that something was up. I was EXPECTING a ball to my face from David or someone on his team. What I WASN’T expecting was Mark to have thrown the ball as hard as he could right into the back of my head. I stumbled forward and nearly fell on my face, turning around to look at Mark.
“Sorry, Alex. It must have slipped.” Mark was laughing. Mark was dumb, there was just no other way to say it. He should have been in the grade ahead of us, but his parents had held him back. He was just as tall as I was, but he was also fat. I don’t mean obese like some of those women you see in Walmart at two in the morning, but he was the type of guy who would be a great offensive lineman in high school if he could manage to keep his weight under control.
“Green! Pay attention when you’re throwing the ball! I don’t want any of you to get hurt. One of you gets hurt and everyone is doing laps until you puke! Got that?!” Coach admonished him, but it didn’t stop him or any of my other teammates from hitting me repeatedly when I wasn’t looking. I just knew I would have a bruise on the back of my head or neck by the time the class was over, but that should have been the least of my worries. Being thrown at by my teammates also distracted me from the fact that no one on David’s team had thrown a single ball my way all game.
It was as if David and Mark were watching the clock knowing that we’d have to stop in time to shower and clean up for our next class because just before Coach blew the whistle to stop the game David immediately turned on me. You have to understand something about David, whereas Mark was tall and fat, David was the exact opposite. David was lean and muscular, even for a twelve-year-old. He had been enrolled in boxing since he was a small child and over the last few years he had started transitioning into some sort of martial arts as well. That is all to say that when David finally turned his attention to me it wasn’t just a soft toss, he threw at me with a fair amount of force, and he was aiming directly at my head. I probably could have dodged it, if it hadn’t been for Mark and a few of the others having just thrown at me from behind. Instead of getting out of the way I was nailed in the back of the head, then immediately slammed directly into the face by David. I couldn’t help but fall face first onto the hardwood floor. Thankfully, my nose was there to catch my fall. I felt the blood beginning to fall down across my lips and onto the floor. Sadly, I was all too familiar with the taste of my own blood.
Mark was the first to make it to me, but he wasn’t trying to help me up. “Just a quick message from Jennifer. Leave Allie alone. Next time we won’t hold back.” If he could have gotten away with more, I’m sure he would have sucker punched me while I was lying there.
Coach blew the whistle and ordered everyone to the showers except me, “Come on Jackson. Let’s get you to the nurse.” He shook his head, “Damn, that doesn’t look good.”
“Can’t say for certain but it doesn’t look broken. Just a bad bleed.” The nurse, an older lady who had clearly held on to her pack a day smoking habit, as shown by the coarseness of her voice and yellowed teeth. But she was nice and did have a soft touch, so it wasn’t all bad. “Soon as the bleeding stops, we can get you back to class. I don’t think it’s broken, and I doubt you have a concussion, but if you start to get a headache or get dizzy come to me right away.”
Ugh, that was just what I didn’t really want. My next class was English, and I had it with Allison. At the start of the year she had made sure we were sitting next to each other. So now not only would I have to take a walk of shame since all the other boys would know what happened, I’d have to sit next to Allison. I had always thought she was too kindhearted to do anything mean, but now I couldn’t help but wonder if she hadn’t played a part in what happened. Mark delivered the message and said it was from Jennifer, but I saw how friendly Jennifer and Allison had been with each other at lunch. Seemed I didn’t really know Allison as well as I thought I did.
When I walked into Mr. Putnam’s English class and handed him the note from the nurse, he just told me to take my seat and proceeded with whatever he was talking about. I tried to keep from looking at Allison but when you’re sitting next to someone you can only avoid them for so long. When I finally looked at her, I only got angrier. She looked relieved and concerned but obviously it was fake. She had to have a hand in this, but she had a reputation to protect. She had to appear to be the sweet and caring person everyone thought she was. The person I had thought she was at one point.
When the bell rang, I tried to get away as quick as I could, but Allison stopped me, “Where were you?! I got worried when you didn’t show up for class!”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“What happened to you?” She asked, staring at my red nose.
“Don’t! Don’t pretend to care. Tell Jennifer I got the message.” I yanked my arm from her light grasp, far harder than I needed to and ran from the room. My whole life I had only ever had one real friend. That had always been Allison, but now she was gone. I guess I didn’t need anyone but myself. My parents would take care of me physically. Everything else was up to me. Because obviously no one else would help. It was me against the world.
The following Saturday things took another interesting turn. It was just before lunch and I was going to do something I rarely did. I was going outside. I had reached the end of the latest book I was reading and didn’t feel like starting a new one. Instead, I wanted to go outside. Everything that had happened that week was weighing heavily on my mind. If I were honest with myself, I had come to rely heavily on Allison for the only source of human contact outside of my family. Now with her suddenly gone from my life, there was a huge void that I wasn’t ready to deal with.
I was in the kitchen making a couple of sandwiches to place in my backpack before heading out. Judson was rural ... very rural. Rural as in no stoplight, which meant there were a lot of places you could ride and escape. And that’s exactly what I needed to do ... escape. Slaughter Creek was just a few miles from my house. There was a popular hiking trail that ran along the creek, but the creek itself wasn’t used much. There were several isolated locations you could go swim, and that’s precisely what I wanted to do. It was less about swimming and more about isolating myself from my problems. Just as I was closing up my backpack my mom came into the kitchen.
“Where are you going? I’m just about to make lunch.”
“I wanna to go riding.” I wasn’t rude, but I hadn’t spoken much to either of my parents since my mom had washed my mouth out with soap and made my puke. If she asked me a question, I answered it with as few words as possible. In fact I don’t think I had spoken an entire paragraph to them the entire week.
“You want me to make you some lunch before you go?”
“I made some sandwiches.”
“Where are you riding?” She had been hoping I would volunteer information. She wanted a conversation, but she knew already that I wasn’t going to give her anything unless she specifically asked for it.
“I’m going to Slaughter Creek.”
She sighed in defeat. She could feel the wall that I had placed up between us. “Fine. Just be back before 5 o’clock. The Moons have asked us all to come over for dinner tonight.”