He’s always there: next to me in class, across from me at lunch, following me at recess. There’s no escaping him. I could take a step to the left, and you could count on him to close the gap. His words taunt me every day. His cruel jokes, his unnecessary teases, his painful truths, they wear me down and make me beg for the day summer would start and the second grade would come to an end. “I knew that,” he would remark every time I answer a question wrong. “You need more friends,” he mocks as if I had none, and I would believe him. “Don’t listen to him,” my mom would likely say if I ever mentioned the harassment to her.
Which I would never do. But why shouldn’t I believe him? I know I’ll never be as smart as the smartest kid in school. I’ll never have close to as many friends as the most popular kid. I’m stupid and nobody likes me. As I walk through the front doors of my school, the smile I plaster to my face is as fake as the “bully-free zone” sign I pass on my way in. The teachers see the school as “bully-free” because their soft eyes refuse to see the brutality of some kids and the fragility of others. My teachers would never suspect I cork my emotions into a glass bottle with the word caution smeared across the front.
To them I haven’t a care in the world. They refuse to believe that I am alone, or that I’m not as smart as they may expect, or that I care about being these things. They ignore the years I’ve spent alone. They don’t know that I squeeze myself into the lunch table, between two groups of friends. I don’t have any “friends. ” I only have a few people who tolerate me. The fluorescent light above my desk will occasionally flicker, leaving me in a momentary lapse of darkness in the back of Ms. Frye’s classroom. Her voice makes its way across the pale gray walls as she works out yet another problem.
The class whispers behind her back. Friends smile at one another, and my arched back grows sore as I hunch over my notebook, alone once again with my thoughts. My notebook has a select few of the many problems the teacher worked out in it. Drawings of flames I have etched into the margin litter the rest of the page, letting my imagination run wild as I pay no attention to the lesson. Ms. Frye has worked out the same type of problem twice already. To waste my energy on a third would be foolish. “What do you think, Brandon? ” Ms. Frye asks. She thinks I was working intently on the problem.
My classmates talk amongst themselves, paying as little attention to the teacher as I previously was. My gaze shifts to the bright light of the Smart Board behind her, and the two numbers I have to add quickly make their way onto my paper. They line themselves up at the end and add their way down into the answer. “Twenty-seven-point-five-five,” I say, my voice strong and clear. “I got seventy-six-point-four-two,” the hand next to me says and my smirk wavers. I look to the right and I can’t help but wrinkle my nose. I see him sitting there facing forward, knowing he has beaten me once again.
He must be thinking about how stupid I am. I can just tell. Ms. Frye looks over the problem and I’m glad I have her to back me up. She will just prove to him that he does not have the right answer. She twists the marker in her hand and looks at the board, eyes tight in concentration. I follow her gaze to the board, and I look at the two numbers again. No, I see a different number. The decimal point is not where I last left it. I have turned fifty-four-point-three into five-point-four-three. I am grateful my classmates are stuck in their own conversations. The only thing I can hope for now is that Ms.
Frye doesn’t notice my mistake. “Seventy-six-point-four-two is correct,” she says, as a grin spreads to her face. She has moved to his side now, her back turned, unwilling to come back. She doesn’t care about how hurt I am at this betrayal. She just wants to watch me suffer in front of the whole class. She’s prepared to poke at my flaws just like he does. “See what Brandon forgot to do,” she proclaims to the class, and my stomach wrenches. The eyes of my peers stare into me. My face grows hot and my chest tightens. More attention than I would like is on me. Their gazes placed on me as an act of war.
My clenched throat chokes me as I take in a ragged breathe. I look to my peers for comfort, but instead their whispers mock me. My eyes shoot down to my notebook to avoid my peers’ glares. The board is the only safe place I can look, but even then my stare is as empty as I feel inside. What does he have them saying about me? He continues to rob me of everything: my friends, my intelligence, my teacher, my dignity and yet he has the audacity to tap on my shoulder. The class is in a chorus of mumbles and the teacher’s grating voice sets me on edge. A finger touches the decimal point in front of me.
I rip my stare from the board and follow up the arm. “See what you did wrong? ” he asks, his condescending tone sharpened to a point. See what I did wrong? Of course I see. The teacher publicly humiliated me over it. The whole class can see. For him to point is unnecessary. “Do you need help? ” he continues despite my lack of a response. He knows I’m good at math. I made one mistake. It was, however, a mistake that I should have noticed. Do my peers really think I need help? Their collective voices build a wall of muttering. Is this a unanimous opinion? Am I just not good enough for them?
Do people hate me because I’m not smart? Do they not like me for some other reason? The most important question running through my brain is: why is he still pointing? His finger lays in a half-hearted point on my paper. A look of disgust flashes across my face, and one as what I can only describe as utter confusion crosses his. I have to do it. If I don’t do it then my life will be the butt of an endless joke. My mind clears itself of my peers’ voices, of the teacher’s lesson, and even of my mother’s useless instructions. I reach out for the finger placed in my territory and bend it back to an unnatural angle.
His finger is a joystick in my hand. His eyes widen as the rest of his face flashes with horror. The quiet look of fear lasts for but a second. His screams of pain fill the air and the muttering around the room stops and my peers center their concentration on me. My heart beats faster and my face grows hot. The teacher stands next to us, although a second ago she was across the room. “What happened? ” she says in her panic, as she grabs the nurse pass. “Brandon bent my finger,” he says, between strained gasps of air, as he tries not to cry from his injury.
How could he leave out the months of mental torture he has placed me in? “Is that true Brandon? ” she asked, standing over my desk. The flickering interrogation lamp above her makes me clench the arms to my seat. I know I should speak up, defending my name, but I find myself completely silent. My guilt bleeds through the silence and onto her emotionless face. The endless possibilities of her punishment cripples me. I have never gotten in trouble before. She could give me any type of consequence. She could send me to the principal’s office and let the warden bring me to tears.
She could give me in school suspension and my permanent record crumble in the hands of my future employers and college interviewers. Worst of all, she could call my parents. She could make my life at home mirror my life at school. My parents would take any number of things away from me: my Gameboy, the TV, or, worst of all, my books. My mouth remains shut as she leaves to the front of the room. She grabs a marker and writes my name on the white surface of the board, a name that the board has never seen before. Next to my name she places the letters “RD” and I let out a sigh.
I have never had recess detention before, but some of the uneasiness settles at the fact that it’s not a phone call home. My stomach twists and the last shred of optimism I just had has gone sour. She continues on to an empty lesson as my fate settles on the board, and the class proceeds into their pointless chattering. The door slams shut and my attention snaps to it. His pained face stares through the window of the door. His lips form the word “why,” asking a question not even I can answer. I don’t know why. I don’t know why he’s always made me mad, but I do know I couldn’t take it anymore.
All of his torments throughout the year come flooding back to me. Everything he would say he meant it with harmless intentions. The names he would call me were playful jokes, and his bragging was really him offering help. His attitude doesn’t exist. I placed my anger on him as a result of my prior insecurities. Recess detention is not so terrible. I have to sit on the cool asphalt facing all the other students on the playground. The teachers make us watch our classmates have fun so we feel regretful and motivated not to behave badly. All these kids are playing with their friends.
They get to swing and slide while I’m chained to my spot on the asphalt. My happiness was taken from me by my foolish anger at a boy who was nothing but kind to me. At the edge of the field I see him walking outside, holding his bent finger. He walks near the edge of the asphalt, about to pass me. I clear my throat and try to form the words “I’m sorry. ” I open my mouth to release them, but I’m cut off by a shrill voice. “No talking,” the teacher says, and the words cut through me. I sit here chained to the ground like an inmate and he’s out free. I hate him.