Can I Sit with You?


Imagine This (A Narrative on Bullying)

by Lastcrazyhorn
Age 12 at the time

Let me set up a scenario for you.

Imagine first that you’re a kid, maybe 11 or 12, possibly 13. You have Asperger’s Syndrome, which means that your social skills are impaired already; plus you’re a preteen/young teen, which means that the rules for your social world are constantly in flux. But as of yet, you’re not diagnosed; nor has anyone in your life ever heard that word, let alone know what it means. As if that weren’t bad enough, you’re a girl who is more of a tomboy, who doesn’t see the point in following the social rules or norms, either because it seems like a waste of time, or you’re just mostly oblivious to their existence in the first place.

Most kids don’t like you very much. You don’t know why. Vaguely, you understand that there is something about your being that offends or bothers these kids. You don’t know exactly what it is. You think that if you smile at them, if you laugh at their jokes (their very unfunny jokes), if you make a point to be really nice to them, then they’ll see your effort and be friends with you. You think that if you can find a topic that you both can talk about, that you both like, then maybe you can have something in common and that’ll help the situation.

They laugh at you a lot, these other kids; sometimes you know why; sometimes you don’t. They seem to be speaking another language from the one you know. They use slang that’s unfamiliar to you, because no one in your world speaks it. Your world consists of what you’ve learned from books (specifically fantasy and fiction and children’s literature), games, adults and perhaps a few highly specialized interests that you really think are cool, that no one else ever seems to get quite as well. You start thinking that maybe you shouldn’t mention these interests, since they aren’t very well received; but sometimes you just can’t help it, because it’s something that’s important to you, and after all, other kids talk about what’s important to them all the time; so why can’t you?

Other kids bump into you in the hall. You try to be more careful as to not bump into them, thinking it was your fault to begin with. You slowly start to realize that they are purposely trying to hit you. Maybe it’s a new kind of joke. Maybe not. Just to be safe, you always try to smile at them and say “excuse me.” They laugh, like you’ve said a joke, even though you’re pretty sure that you haven’t.

Sometimes they trip you and you fall. When they laugh then, you think maybe you had a stupid expression on your face as you fell or maybe someone said something funny that you missed. Sometimes you laugh with them, because after all, someone falling flat on their face is kinda funny, right? Sure.

Sometimes when you fall, you bruise your knee or cut open your lip on someone’s foot that got in the way of your fall. You try to smile, even though it really hurts, because maybe they can still be your friend if you show that it doesn’t really hurt. Maybe you can show that you’re one of them, because you’re laughing and having fun, even though you are bleeding on the floor of the hallway.

Eventually, you might figure out that they are doing these things to you because they like seeing you hurt. Somewhere between them putting a bee down the front of your shirt, setting fire to your backpack, stealing your backpack, flushing your inhaler in the middle of your asthma attack, pushing/throwing you down the stairs, spitting on/at you, giving you Indian rope burns, drawing on your shirt in permanent ink, giving you the silent treatment at lunchtime (or just getting up en mass whenever you sit down), grading your homework wrong, threatening your life by showing you a knife that they brought from home just to cut your throat with, you start to realize that maybe they really might not like you.

Slowly, you start to realize that those videos your class watched a few months ago on bullying and bullies were demonstrating things that could really happen in your life. Who would have thunk it? So, you think to yourself, like anyone would after having seen those videos, that maybe you should tell someone about it. Either that, or the thought just never occurs to you as a viable option.

Say you try to talk to the principal about it. You ride a bus to school filled with these kids that don’t like you. In fact, as you think about it, you’ve started getting diarrhea every morning before you get on the bus, just from worrying about what might happen that day. Most of the time your bus gets to school late, and your bus driver tells you to go straight onto class as fast as you can. Thus, you can’t talk to your principal then, because the bus driver told you get to class as soon as possible.

All of the breaks in the day, when the kids push you and hit you going through the hall, are only about 5 minutes long. The halls are crowded enough, without kids purposely trying to run into you; so what should take 2 min. to get down the hall now takes 4 minutes. Plus, you have to go the bathroom on your breaks, because as it slowly is revealed to you, none of your teachers like you either, and rarely allow you bathroom breaks. Apparently you are considered a difficult student, because you have to ask a lot of questions just to know what’s going on consistently during class. Your teacher gives you instructions, but you aren’t sure who they pertain to. Is she talking to all of the students in the class or just the ones that think that particular way? You don’t know, so you ask.

You can’t talk to the principal on any of your breaks. So you think, well, maybe I can talk to him/her at lunchtime. At lunchtime, in-between the food fight that seems to be only directed at you, you go over to your teacher, who is far off at their table, and try to ask them to let you go to the principal. The teacher, thinking that you’re onto some new ploy to be allowed to go the bathroom, or just because they don’t feel like it at the time, says no and tells you to go back to your seat and quit bothering her. When you leave their table, you hear them all start laughing and wonder to yourself who told the joke and what was it to make everyone laugh so hard??? Boy, if you had that joke, people would fall down at your feet to be your friend.

You ride the bus at the end of the day. You have to get to a seat fast, because otherwise, you’ll end up standing/sitting in the aisle for the rest of the bus ride since no one thinks you really deserve to sit down. Plus, you have to carry on a french horn and even though you might be a little slow socially, you can tell for sure that no one likes trying to accommodate that thing in their seat. You have no time to talk to the principal because if you miss your bus, you’re stuck at the school even longer, and school isn’t really that great, so why be stuck longer?

Eventually, either you realize that if you go to the principal, the other kids will see and really will follow through on that threat to come to your house at night and hang you from your front tree; or else you do manage to see the principal and he either:

1.Doesn’t do anything
2.Doesn’t believe you
3.Calls you overly sensitive
4.Does something, but tells everyone who got them in trouble to begin with, resulting in your getting beat up by an entire crowd of kids, instead of just one or two

Or some combination of the above.

Now, the kids that aren’t actively trying to hurt you/embarrass you don’t do anything to you, but sometimes they sit back and laugh while some other kid fills up an entire wall full of spitballs why you crouch on the floor during the lesson.

There isn’t anyone you can talk to, because either they’re like the principal and don’t believe you, or they call you overly sensitive/compare you to their days of woe and explain that what you’re really doing is building character, because, you see, you really don’t know how it feels to be bullied and they do.

Every time you walk down the hall, either someone trips you, laughs at you, hits you, or whispers behind your back about how shitty a human being you are. In fact, sometimes everyone whispers and laughs at you as you walk down the hall. They say things like, “Hey what is THAT? Is that an IT? Naw, it’s a SHIT. Hey SHIT! Wanna blow me? No,” another one answers, “you wouldn’t want THAT to blow you; think about what kind of diseases you’d get if THAT touched you. Bleah.”

In the meantime, you start writing essays that are centered on themes portraying your violent death, which your teacher awards with A’s, saying things like, “wow, creative, but make sure you work on your handwriting next time.”

One day, you decide that someone has just pushed too far; that, throwing your inhaler in the toilet was bad enough, but throwing it in the toilet that was full of shit was just a little too much; so you hit someone back for the months of suffering they’ve inflicted on you. Instantly, the principal is called or the teacher sees it, and you find yourself on lunch detention for a week or better yet, you’re suspended and have to see the school counselor for a month, in order that you might work out your more violent feelings and the ways in which it might be better to handle yourself, should a situation ever arise again.

Or, say you try to hit someone and you don’t get caught, but everyone laughs it off and starts calling you a freak, or rather a nervous and crazy freak . . . and hey, you remember that one time when the nervous freak tried to hit me? Yeah, that was a laugh riot, wasn’t it.

Imagine that everyone you tell laughs you off or gets you in deeper shit when they try to do something about it. Imagine that you have teachers who purposely give you bad grades so that they can call you up in front of the class and show the class how “stupid” you really are. These same teachers also find great pleasure in not letting you go to the bathroom, even when you’re really sick, because it’s obvious to them that you just need a little toughening up.

Imagine that during PE, when you’re not losing the game and people aren’t throwing basketballs directly at your head just for the hell of it, you’re instead sitting on the floor drawing your name in your arm with a sharpened pencil. Imagine that no one sees or if they do, they don’t say anything.

Imagine that this goes on, day after day after day. Imagine that once every 20 to 30 minutes someone either hits you, kicks you, calls you shit, laughs at you or does all four. Imagine that you still think that agreeing with them will make them just suddenly like you. Imagine that there are good Christian kids that you go to church with that either stand back and let it happen, or that they are the ones doing the worst of the actions against you.

Imagine that every time you try to fight back, either someone overpowers you, or you get caught and in trouble. Imagine that every time you tell someone about it, they just tell you to grow up and get over it. Imagine that you tell the cop at your school and he tells you to quit bugging him and get out of his hair. Imagine that when you’re at home, you start cutting or burning your arms just for the sake of feeling something, since it seems that unless people can see physical evidence, then it didn’t really happen. Imagine that you ask trusted people for help and they ignore you and laugh.

Imagine that you start sleeping in a box on top of your bed for, say, 6 weeks, because it’s the only time you really feel safe. And your mother just thinks it’s a phase. Imagine that you start sucking your thumb again, as well as coming down with pneumonia. Imagine that you start pulling out your eyelashes and eyebrows, and all your parents do is get mad at you for making yourself look bad. Imagine that you suddenly realize that all there is to life is to hear the laughter of other kids while you hurt and no one helps you, no matter how much you smile or laugh with them.

Imagine that you have sleepovers with your teddy bears because no one would want to come to your house anyway. Imagine that for an exercise in your computer class, you have to make a spreadsheet with the names and ages of your ten best friends, and you have to use the names of your cousins from both sides of your family just to make up the difference.

Imagine that it’s like this every single day. Imagine that you start dreaming of ways to commit suicide. Imagine that this goes on for more than a year; more than two; more than three. Imagine that every day of your teenage life is like this.

What do you do?

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THE BOY KING

by Charles Ries
High School

Another high school exception for this frank struggle with the popularity pecking order. -Shan & Jen

“Hi, Chuck. Congratulations on being elected Ice Carnival King. It’s about time a regular human being got elected king. I am so sick of the Kens and Barbies around here winning everything. You’d think looks were some kind of ultimate blessing like ethics, honesty, sincerity, or intelligence. Why should we reward people for what they look like? What matters is what people are like on the inside,” Clara Weidemeyer said between classes. Clara was the subject of unrelenting taunts by our classmates. Her appearance became of thing of legend. A local garage band even wrote a song in her honor:

You can kiss me anytime

Clara

You’re so ugly you make me blind

Clara

You’ve convinced me dumb is fine

Clara

You’re all right

Yes, you’re all right

The song continued on through six more stanzas of rhyming humiliations. Things weren’t good for Clara Weidemeyer. She was ugly. The kind of ugly that made people who didn’t know her assume she was retarded. Short and stocky, Clara had horrible acne and frizzed-out hair that bloomed on humid days into a sizable Afro—God hadn’t given her much to work with.  No redeeming physical attribute like great legs, a wonderful voice, or beautiful eyes. She did the best she could with the considerable intelligence she was given. She excelled in every subject. She participated in student government. She had a social conscience, but despite her heroic efforts to fit in and be accepted, she was as fragile as any girl would be with a face and body no one wanted to look at.

Knowing Clara led me to the uncharitable conclusion that a person may be better off dumb and good looking than smart and ugly. The proof of this theory was all around me.

“I told everyone I could think of to vote for you. You’re one of us. You’re a regular person,” she told me one day in the hall between classes.

“Well, thanks, Clara. I’m just as surprised as anyone. I mean, I’m not a jock and I’m not a brain and I’m not one of the beautiful people. So I just figured, why even think about it? But, I think I’m pretty happy about being selected. I mean, who wouldn’t be happy about it? Right?” I said, looking furtively over her shoulder to make sure no one had spotted us.  Fifteen seconds in the hall talking with Clara Weidemeyer could have serious consequences for one’s social standing. I was trained to be more compassionate than most, but I wasn’t blind. I wanted to slip away from Clara before I was branded Quasimodo’s boyfriend. It was one thing to talk with her at student government meetings or exchange views in social studies class, but it was the kiss of death to hang with her in the hall.

“I would be honored to have a dance with you tomorrow night at the Carnival,” Clara said.

“Wow. Well, thanks. I’ll have to see how this whole thing plays out. I’ve never been a king before. It must come with certain responsibilities. So my time might be a little tight. I’m sure I’ll have to do a few turns with Molly Murphy. But maybe you could help me with my math, which I am still flunking.”

I wasn’t sure if Clara would take the bone I’d tossed her and forget about the dance. God, I can’t believe I’m being such a coward, I thought. But I can’t do it. I can’t dance with her in public. Hell, I can barely talk with her in public. It’s one thing for her to help me with my math, but dance? I can’t do it. I had told a white lie. If Clara was the epitome of ugly, Molly Murphy was the pure embodiment of beauty. Perfect skin, large round breasts, full round brown eyes, tall and thin, with hair that glistened and lips like two party invitations. Clara’s ugliness and intelligence amazed me as much as Molly’s beauty and vacuousness. They both left me speechless, but for very different reasons.

“Chuck, anyone in this school would be honored to help you. You’re such a nice person. You’ve never made fun of me. I know what I look like. I know what they say. There isn’t too much I can do about it. I mean, look at me. I’m not going to be picked for the lead in the school play unless the character is an eighty-year old woman. But you never join in. You respect people, and that’s why you deserve to be our King.”

“Hey, Clara, maybe I’m just a good pretender,” I laughed nervously while admiring her ability to just accept who she was. “I might secretly be a detestable person. In fact, I often think I am. Look, neither one of us are going to win any beauty contests, but it’s like you said—there are a lot of beautiful people who don’t have one original thought in their heads. They wouldn’t know civil rights from civil engineering. Hey, in case you didn’t notice, there’re a lot more ordinary looking people in the world than there are beauty queens. So as Ice Carnival King, I do hereby declare that every day shall be ‘Take an Ordinary Person to Lunch’ day.”

“There. You see what I mean, that’s exactly why we voted for you. You’re just so darn cute and nice to people,” Clara beamed at me as I headed off down the hall to safer ground. She had mistake me for someone else and it made me nervous.

As I walked away, I patted myself on the back for jumping into the same ordinary boat as Clara and thereby raising all ugly people to a cultural ideal. I had developed a forger’s instincts and could quickly detect and become what people wanted me to be. I went wherever social acceptance blew me. But something deeper was happening. I was growing curious about people like Clara Weidemeyer. She was hard on the eyes, but her mind was unique. I was becoming a student of slackers, eccentrics, and intellectuals—kids who didn’t fit in, but seemed to be uniquely themselves. I was tired of oatmeal for breakfast. I wanted more chocolate éclairs.

________________________________

Friday night was the Ice Carnival. It was a simple affair held in the gym, with a band and, of course the highlight of the evening, the crowning of royalty. I was invited forward with my queen. Principal Paul Hersch draped red velvet capes over each of us and placed crowns on our heads. After the coronation, we were invited to do a spotlight dance before our subjects—just Queen Molly and King Charles. I had my arms around the most beautiful girl in the world. I smelled the strawberry scent of her shampoo and brushed up against her young firm breasts. When it happened; a predatory hard-on sprang from out of nowhere. I wasn’t driving the bus any more.

Just what I need! I thought as I pulled my cape more tightly around me and distanced my hips from my buxom queen while still holding her tight. It was a rather gymnastic move, but hard-on or not, I wasn’t going to release my grip on paradise.

I was in love with Molly Murphy. Every guy in school wanted her, but I had her. Me, the people’s choice. We danced badly, rocking back and forth. Given my surprise visitor, we leaned toward each other creating a kind of dancing pyramid. I’d prepared for this moment by getting an ID bracelet—the marker by which all men would know Molly was my woman. As we rotated in the glow of three hundred worshipful eyes, I whispered, “Molly, will you go steady with me?” Her eyes opened wide. I wasn’t sure whether she was overcome with emotion at finally winning my heart or in shock that a dork like me would say these words to her. I wanted to retract my offer. I wanted to return to the practice sessions I’d been having in my head, each one ending with Molly saying, “Yes, Chuck, I will be your girlfriend forever and a day!” But her reply was not the one I’d scripted.

“Joel Stegameyer just asked me yesterday to go steady with him. Thanks for asking. You’re such a nice guy.” She replied as if she were thanking me for loaning her my stapler rather then offering her my heart. It was no big deal to her. She was a pro at going steady. Hell, she had a scorecard just to keep track of all the offers. I was no match for the quarterback of the football team.

I hadn’t realized how fleeting regal privilege could be. When the song ended, Queen Molly quickly deserted me and floated like a touchdown pass into the outstretched arms of Joel Stegameyer. Wearing my cape and crown, I walked to the punch table. My heart had been ripped out of my chest, leaving a cavernous hole. Of course, it didn’t take much in those days—young love came and went so quickly and so painfully. At the punch table I reached up for one of the two royal goblets that were set atop a fake ice pedestal for the King and Queen to drink from after their coronation dance, and ladled myself a cupful.

“Chuck, I want to dance with you a bunch. Come on, let’s boogie down!” I heard a raspy voice from behind me say. I froze. I knew who it was. “Hello there, King Charles,” she sang to get my attention. “Would you like to dance with one of your subjects?” I heard the voice speak to me again.
How bad could it get? First being denied by Molly Murphy and now being sought by Clara Weidemeyer. Heaven and hell were next-door neighbors tonight. My balls tightened up under me. The remnant of the stiffy I’d gotten in anticipation of claiming the fair young maiden Molly was now limp and racing after my balls in a hasty retreat. “Oh, its you, Clara. What was that you said…you want some punch?”

“Close. I said, ‘I’d like to dance with you a bunch.’”

I had no choice. It was the right thing do. I did the pity dance. I danced like the cornered, equal opportunity ratfink I was. I heard the occasional “woof woof woof” or the slightly too loud “I think I’m going to throw up” as we circled the dance floor.

“So, how’s it being king for a day?” Clara asked.

I didn’t want to tell her that I thought it sucked and that this kind of honor was better bestowed on beautiful people who don’t need a single original idea in their head to be happy. I couldn’t tell her the truth. She thought my achievement was what it must feel like to be popular. How could I step on her dream?  The truth was, I wanted acceptance just as much as she did.



French Lessons

by Dan Moreau
Age eight at the time

At age eight, my parents enrolled me in the French School. Unlike the American School, which cost more and was farther from our house, the French School embodied my mother’s ideals of sophistication, culture and civility. She herself had been raised by French Catholic nuns and instead of rebelling against them, as so many other girls did, she embraced them.

We had just moved from Miami, Florida to Bangkok, Thailand. In Miami, I had just finished the first grade, but because I was starting at the French School with no preexisting knowledge of French, the principal thought I should repeat the first grade. My parents didn’t object, nor did I.

In early September my parents dropped me off by the front gate to my new school and wished me luck. I don’t know how, but somehow I managed to find my classroom. Our teacher’s name was Madame Unarat. She was petite and plump with short dark hair and owlish glasses. That first morning I sat quietly at my desk, pretending to understand everything that my new classmates and teacher said.

At noon, the bell rang for lunch and Madame Unarat let us out into the courtyard. All the other kids had brought packed lunches. Everyone except me. I think my parents had sent me off to school without lunch, assuming—and perhaps rightly so—that the expensive tuition they were paying would at least include meals. It didn’t.

As I sat by myself on a bench, biting my fingernails, my stomach growling, a woman who worked at the school approached me. She was wearing lipstick and perfume and the collar of her blouse was stylishly raised up. She asked me if I had eaten. I didn’t say anything. She repeated herself, this time in English. I shook my head in reply.

She took me to the school cafeteria. They called it a “cafeteria,” but it was more like a French bistro with a chalkboard out front that displayed the day’s specials. It was where the teachers and school staff gathered for lunch, coffee and cigarettes. She bought me a chicken drumstick and took me back to the courtyard where I devoured the drumstick down to the bone.

A boy from my class sat next to me on the bench. He was the biggest kid in our class and looked older than the rest of us with the lip shadow of a prepubescent mustache. He spoke some English and, unlike the other kids who as a rule ignored me, he was friendly to me. Too friendly. But where he was talkative and warm, I was aloof and tightlipped.

Though it was only my first day, and though I didn’t understand a word of French, I instinctively knew where this boy stood in the playground hierarchy and even though I had no friends I wanted nothing to do with him. Without knowing it, I had made a swift and vital decision. I would rather have no friends at all than be associated with this social pariah. In approaching me so early on, he might have befriended me before I caught on to what the other kids were saying about him. And in hindsight, it was the right decision. Slowly but surely, as my French improved, so did my rapport with my classmates. I made new friends; he didn’t. We never talked much after that.

Because of my age and because of the mistaken belief that children pick up languages like head lice, by proximity and by immersion, my parents thought I would come home one day, fully fluent in French. That wasn’t the case. I had to learn French like any adult would, through repetition, rote memorization and trial and error.

Every day after school I met with Madame Unarat for an hour or two. That was when my true instruction began. Her methods were simple yet effective. She would read from a primer, pausing after each word, which I repeated until she was satisfied with my pronunciation. It was painstaking, frustrating and laborious and sometimes she would raise her voice in anger when I couldn’t sound out a word correctly. But it worked. By the end of the year, I spoke enough French to get by on and was admitted to the second grade.

My second grade teacher didn’t have Madame Unarat’s patience and treated me as any other student. Monsieur Stricte was a dark, wiry, morose man. By then, I had quit having afternoon lessons with Madame Unarat. It was assumed that I was fluent. I wasn’t. I spoke a hybrid of playground argot and slang. Yet I went to great lengths to conceal my failings. I copied off of classmates, I cheated on reading comprehensions by looking up the answers in the back of the book and, most of all, I kept a low profile. To my parents and everyone else, I seemed to be doing just fine.

One day, in the middle of the semester, Monsieur Stricte asked me point blank if I spoke French. I had just handed in an assignment on which I had done better than everyone in the class. Like with every other assignment, I had cheated on this one too, but my mistake was to give myself too many correct answers.
Monsieur Stricte stared at me coldly. His eyes said it all. I knew what answer he was looking for. To say yes would be to perpetuate a charade he plainly saw through. It was also a lie. Yet the truth was more complicated. Yes, I spoke conversational French. No, my written French and reading skills were awful. After a few awkward seconds, I shook my head. The following day, I was demoted to the first grade where Madame Unarat welcomed me, literally, with open arms, wrapping me up in a tight bear hug in front of the entire class. I was never so happy to see her.