Copyright© 2021 by Mark Elias
I had a hard time sleeping over the next week. Nothing changed really. Allison kept avoiding me, all while playing games with me. Trying to make me think she actually cared. Yet every day she went to sit with the same few people. The same ones who constantly went out of their way to torment me. She had to know that she was falling into the same crowd that had made my life hell for six years. That was just one of the things that let me know whatever game she had been playing with me all these years, that’s all it was. A game. It only took a few times for me to see Allison flaunting her friends in front of my face before I couldn’t stand to be in the same lunchroom with her.
I had begun to count down the days and weeks until school would be over. Having to see Allison every day was rough. It was even rougher on me because if Mark, David or Jennifer thought I was trying to be near Allison, they made my life a living hell. Mark or David would usually find some way of beating me up in P.E. though not every attempt sent me to the nurse’s office, but I always left with a bruise or lump somewhere. Having to go straight from P.E. to English and sit right by Allison was like being stabbed in the heart every day. Every day I was forced to remember that the one friend I had, and the only one I had ever really wanted, I couldn’t talk to. And on top of that, she clearly wanted nothing to do with me.
I hit another proverbial brick wall the second week of May. That morning Jennifer had David meet me at my locker before the bell rang for first period.
“Alex,” Jennifer began, making sure I knew she was in control. “What did we say? Stay away from Allie! She doesn’t want anything to do with you!”
“I thought we made that clear when we had our friendly little game of dodgeball. Didn’t you get it through your thick skull?”
“You made it clear, and I haven’t had anything to do with her. I wouldn’t want anything to do with her anyway. Everything about her is fake. She’s a f•©king liar and...”
David quickly cut off any thoughts I had of finishing my statement by slamming my head into my locker.
“I wouldn’t finish that statement if I were you,” Jennifer continued. “Besides, you must not have listened to anything we said since we heard all about how your dad got offered a job by her dad. Clearly you didn’t take us seriously. We can make things really difficult for you unless you stay away. Allie doesn’t need a stupid f•©king retard like you hanging onto her.”
“I can’t control what her dad or my dad do. Her mom and my mom are best friends. I’m going to have to be around her sometimes. I can’t help that!”
“We suggest you figure out a way to get your dad to turn down that offer.” David held my face between the door of the locker and the edge so that my head was being squeezed like a vice. “I don’t care what you have to do. Just do it!” He once again slammed my head into the locker, hitting the same spot as the first time.
I avoided most people that day. Lunch found me completely avoiding people by going to my new favorite spot in the woods. There I could sit in silence and not eat. I had taken to not eating lately. My mom would pack me a lunch, but I didn’t eat it. My appetite was just not there. Dinner was usually interesting because I had to force myself to eat something or my mom would hurl a hundred questions at me. Sometimes I could keep it down, but a lot of times I found myself taking a shower that night after having thrown up just about everything I had eaten for dinner. So dismantling my sandwich and throwing it to the birds and other critters didn’t seem like anything all that different to me. P.E., I managed to get an excuse from Coach Thompson to go to the library. He took one look at my quickly forming shiner and didn’t want to take the chance I hurt myself even more.
The tricky part was going to be avoiding Allison in my next period English class. It was clear to everyone that I had another one of my “accidents” as most people thought of them. Some people knew I was bullied and didn’t care, most of the others knew and turned a blind eye because they didn’t want to be next. I wasn’t sure which category Allison fell into. I had a feeling she just didn’t care. All throughout the English class Allison tried to get a glimpse of my eye, but I kept turning my head. As the bell rang, I hurriedly gathered my things and tried to get out of class before Allison could stop me. I heard her right behind me but didn’t turn around. Imagine my surprise when I found Mark Green waiting for me outside of class. Before I could say anything though Allison came up behind me.
“Hey, sweetheart!” Mark spoke in a voice that was trying to be sweet, but just seemed out of place on the overweight boy. It didn’t even register at first that he had called someone sweetheart. What made it register is when he reached for Allison’s hand and laced his fingers through hers and led her away. “I thought I would walk you to your next class.”
Mark and Allison? In what world did those two have enough in common to be friends much less boyfriend and girlfriend. Sure I had dreams of Allison being my first girlfriend ever since I started having interest in girls, but I never thought it would actually happen. Allison would end up dating some nice guy who was just as kind as she was. He would be far better looking than I was, and most likely would be popular. That just seemed like the type of person Allison was destined to be with. That’s the type of person she deserved. She didn’t deserve a loser like me, and definitely deserved far better than the waste of flesh that was Mark Green.
I couldn’t look at them any longer. As Allison turned around to look at me, I couldn’t even look her in the eyes. She knew what she had done to me. Just a month ago I had made a halfhearted attempt at ending my own life. I was too chicken to do it then, but Allison had all but put a gun in my hand, now.
By the time I had made it home, I knew what I was wanting to do. The question was, did I have the courage? That was something I didn’t know the answer to. Usually I had at least two hours between the time I got home and when the first of my parents showed up. My mom was usually the first to make it home since my dad’s schedule was a bit more chaotic depending on his cases at the office. Today I went straight to my room and threw my bag on the floor. I lay on my bed staring at the ceiling trying to decide if I had the guts to go through with it.
I had heard people say before that those who killed themselves were selfish and cowards, but I don’t think that is true. The people who said that obviously didn’t know what it took to go through with something like ending your own life. In order to take your own life you had to first realize that your life meant nothing. Or at the least you had to realize that you were more of a burden on people than anything. To be able to see yourself as you truly are, that took a lot of strength. Then you had to be able to actually do it. That was perhaps the biggest obstacle.
It was one thing to sit around and mope about how horrible your life is, but it’s completely different to actually do something about it. Taking your own life goes against the very nature of humanity. At the base of everything we are as humans, is an innate desire to live and thrive. To end that desire took courage to do something that obviously people wanted you to do, but no one would actually admit to. And to call the act selfish? If that’s what people thought, then they obviously had never been in that position before. It wasn’t selfish to want others to be better. It wasn’t selfish to want the people around you to thrive. In fact, it was the exact opposite. I wanted my parents to do well in life. I wanted my dad to take the job that deep down I knew he wanted to take. Obviously, Peter Moon’s offer for my mom to join my dad was a great offer, but there would be no way they could take it if I were still around.
And then there was Allison. She had been my only friend for years. She sat with me through things that no one else knew about. She had been kind to me when everyone else shunned me. I wasn’t sure what I did that made her so mad at me. I wasn’t sure where I went wrong or why she suddenly hated me, but whatever it was that I had done, I’m sure I deserved all the treatment she was giving me. Then again, maybe I was the coward everyone thought I was. After an hour of trying to decide if I had the strength to actually do something I stood up and made my way into the kitchen. I stared at the knife block for a few minutes, steadying myself for what I knew I had to do. This was the only way. The only way to end my pain and make sure that I wasn’t a burden to the others. My mom ... my dad ... Allison ... all of them had a burden of carrying me through life. I couldn’t do that to them. If I genuinely loved my parents, if I cared about Allison at all, then I had to end their suffering now.
I picked up one of the knives, a short paring knife that I had seen my mom use countless times on various fruits and vegetables. I knew it was sharp and would do the job.
“I’m sorry mama.” The knife felt cold in my hands and reminded me of the cold water I had tried to drown myself in. Why did death seem so cold? “Daddy, please don’t hate me.” I paused again, steeling myself for the finality of what was to come. “Allison...”
Before I could do anything else though I heard the door open. Immediately I threw the knife into the sink and looked out of the kitchen to see my mom coming in with a bag of groceries.
“You’re home early.” I was trying to hide what I had just tried to do.
“Yeah, I had a doctor’s appointment this afternoon. I stopped by the store on the way home though and picked up some pizza dough. I thought we could make pizzas tonight. We haven’t done that in forever. It’ll be fun.”
“Yeah, I’m sure it would.” I was sounding less than enthusiastic. I knew my mom was trying. It must be so hard to have to drag your son through life. How strong she must be to not let on to how much of a disappointment her son was.
“Are you okay, Alex?”
“Yeah, just not really feeling well. I think I’m gonna lay down.”
“You want some medicine?”
“Nah, I just need a nap. It’s been a long day.”
I turned to go towards my room, and for the first time remembered the huge mark on the side of my head. I had been turned so that my mom wouldn’t see it, but now it was in full view.
“ALEX! WHAT HAPPENED?”
“It happened at school today. It was an accident.”
“What sort of ACCIDENT causes this? Why didn’t the nurse call me?”
“I didn’t go to the nurse’s office. It happened between classes. Some jerk was running in the hallway and tripped up. He fell into me and knocked me into the lockers pretty hard.”
“And that’s the truth?”
“Yes! Why would I lie?”
She paused for a second to consider what I was saying. I had never lied to her before, that was one of the great things about my relationship with my parents. I never had to lie to them. I could always be honest about what I was feeling. But this just seemed different. My parents knew all about the bullies. We had had numerous discussions about them and what could be done. They had encouraged me to be more open to friendship with other people, but they knew they couldn’t force me into anything. That’s one of the reasons my mom became such good friends with Debbie. They wanted to see Allison and I become friends, but neither one of them knew what Allison was actually like. As my mother looked at me I think she knew I was lying to her, but for some reason she wasn’t going to press me on it.
“At least take some Tylenol or let me put something on it.”
“I took some when I got home. It’s okay. It looks worse than it actually is. I’m just going to lay down,” with my one chance having been ruined I turned and went back to my room.
The strange thing about the final few weeks before school let out was that Mark, David and Jennifer left me alone. They didn’t press me about being near Allison, or even mention my dad’s job offer. Of course, I didn’t press them on it either. I avoided them at all costs. I hadn’t yet figured out a way to convince my dad not to take the job offer. In truth it was too good of an opportunity to pass up, but somehow, I needed to convince him to pass on it. Or I needed to do the inevitable.
As school ended, I once again found myself having gotten all A’s. I thought that, in and of itself, was a minor miracle considering all the things that had happened to me this year. My mom had finally agreed to let me stay by myself during the day while she was at work. That meant I wouldn’t have to worry about going to any sort of day camp at the YMCA. School let out on a Friday. The following Monday I would only have to be alone for half a day as my mom always got off early on Mondays in exchange for staying later on Friday’s and working the occasional Saturday. Monday rolled around and I had barely moved from in front of the television all day when my mom came through the front door. She had a bit of a concerned look on her face, but also seemed a bit confused.
“Alex, do you have any idea why I got a call from your principal today? He wants to have a meeting with me, you and your dad.”
“He didn’t say really. He just asked if we could come in as soon as possible.”
“I don’t know of anything. Can’t be my grades. I mean I got all A’s.”
‘This wouldn’t have anything to do with that black eye you had a few weeks back would it?”
“Mom! I told you, that was an accident.”
“Yeah, you said you slipped and ran into a pole or something?”
“No, I said a guy was running in the halls and HE tripped. He fell into me and knocked me into the lockers pretty hard. It was an accident and he apologized.”
I gave my mom an appraising look. She knew exactly what I had told her happened but was purposely trying to catch me in a lie. She suspected I wasn’t being truthful but had no way of knowing for sure. She was hoping I would stumble in my recollection of what I had told her. It was a nice try, but wasn’t going to work.
“That’s right. Anyway, I called your dad. I won’t be able to take off any this week and his schedule is light right now, so get dressed. We are going to go meet with Dr. Clark this afternoon before he leaves. Might as well get this meeting over with so you can enjoy your summer.
Thirty minutes later I found myself sitting in the office of Dr. Samuel Clark, our principal. Along with myself, and my parents, our guidance counselor was in attendance.
“Welcome Mr. and Mrs. Jackson and thank you for coming so quickly. This is Florence Akers. She’s the guidance counselor here at Brooks Middle School.”
“I’m a bit confused as to why we are here, Dr. Clark. When my wife called me and asked if I could meet her at the school I was concerned.”
“I understand that, Mr. Jackson, and I must apologize for not being clearer on the phone. This meeting is not meant to be anything bad at all. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Why don’t I let Ms. Akers explain a bit.”
Florence Akers was an aged woman and it showed with her solid white hair and the lines that creased her face, but she was sprightly for her age and clearly, she enjoyed her work to still be doing it for this long.
“One part of my job here is to look out for every student. One of the ways I do that is to have teachers give me a report of their students. Obviously, every teacher can’t give a report about every student, so I ask them to give me a report of 10 students they felt needed improvement and 10 students who exceeded expectations. I’d like to read you some excerpts from a couple of the reports I’ve been reading the last few days.”
She opened a manila folder and shuffled through several papers before beginning to read from a highlighted portion. “Alex Jackson is a remarkable student. Though he is quite obviously shy, he hides a brilliant mind. He shows a depth of understanding the material even before I go over it. In fact, there are some days that I think he could teach it for me.”
She looked over to me, “Alex that was from your math teacher. This next one is from your English teacher. Alex Jackson is a pleasure to have in class. Whether its spelling, grammar, or literature Alex understands it all. In fact, several times I have had to stop a line of questioning from him simply because the subject matter was too far advanced for the rest of the students. Sometimes I think he gets bored with the material and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because he is too far advanced for what we are teaching at this level.
Alex, I have reports from all of your teachers and all of them, with the exception of Coach Thompson, in your physical education class, advise me that you seem to be bored. They say you are quiet in class and never cause a problem. They tell me that you always have your homework done. Seeing your name come across so many reports made me look at your grades and I asked some of your teachers to show me their grade books. I wasn’t surprised to see you get all A’s on your report card, but I was surprised to see that in most classes you never got below a 95 on any assignment or test.”
My mom looked at me and smiled before looking at Dr. Clark and Ms. Akers. “Alex has always been very smart. He’s constantly reading something. We’re very proud of him. But I’m confused as to why we’re here. If he’s doing so well, what’s the problem.”
It was Dr. Clark’s turn to talk now. “It’s not so much that there is a problem. You have to understand that as educators we have to see that every child is doing their best. Students who fall behind, we have to encourage to catch up. Problem students have to be dealt with in such a manner that they are punished for bad behavior while simultaneously being encouraged to better themselves. It’s a thankless job sometimes. Then there are those times when we come across students like Alex. Students who are not only meeting expectations set for them, but are far exceeding those expectations to the degree that we feel they are not being challenged.
When we see opportunities like this arise, we like to call the student and parents in and discuss ways in which we can help them. For Alex here, Ms. Akers and I have spoken. We agree that Alex is not living up to the potential he has. He’s beyond smart but isn’t being challenged in his education. We have a feeling that Alex could probably test out of at least the 7th grade if not test out of middle school entirely. We would like to set up a few days this summer for Alex to come in and take a few tests. We don’t want to overload him all at once, so we’d space the tests out to no more than one every few weeks. This would also give Alex a chance to prepare for the tests. At the end of the summer we will know exactly where Alex should be placed.”
“No! I’ll fail the tests.”
“Alex,” Ms. Akers was trying to calm me down. “These tests aren’t designed to be passed or failed so you don’t have to worry about that. These are just placement tests designed to show us how much you know. There is no sense in forcing you to sit through a grade level if you already know what the teacher is going to tell you.”
“I’ll fail if I skip a grade.”
“Alex, you won’t fail. We just want to push you to be the best you can be.”
My dad, who had been mostly quiet during the entire conversation, hushed the others in the room with the calming bass voice. “Alex, what are you trying to tell us, Son?”
“It’s hard enough to be a sixth grader who doesn’t have any friends. It’s hard enough to be in class with people my own age and live in fear of being called upon because you don’t want people to notice you. Imagine if you were to suddenly place me in a grade with people who are 2 or 3 years older than me! I’m telling you I’ll fail not because I won’t know the answer. I’ll fail because I will purposely flunk. I don’t want to do it.”
My mom placed a hand on my knee to reassure me.
“Dr. Clark, Ms. Akers, I want to thank you for letting us know how well Alex is doing with his grades. I mean we know he’s smart and we see the grades he gets, but it’s good to hear it directly. That being said, I have to agree with Alex. I don’t think it’s the right move. I understand wanting to challenge him, but Alex struggles with making friends and forming any sort of relationship. I worry that if we were to push him ahead that the opportunity to make new friends would be taken from him.”