The freezing January afternoon only added to my misery. Driving sleet stung my swollen eye as my high-top Keds pounded the grassy path carrying me to the safety of the small, wood-framed house where Mom and I lived.
I raced to the back porch not bothering to keep the screen door to the kitchen from banging closed behind me.
“Marcus, don’t slam the ...” —Mom almost got the familiar words out before she spied the ripped shirt, with buttons gone, hanging from my left shoulder. “No, not again,” she moaned.
“Why can’t I have new, store-bought clothes like everybody else?” I hurled the words at her like a fly ball over centerfield. The stinging words hung in the air and slowly etched their place into the face of the person I loved most in the world.
I must be the worst person God ever made. A wimp, a coward—all the things Greg and his buddies called me.
“Mom, I’m sorry,” I mumbled as I closed the door to my room and flung myself across the faded bedspread. My back ached from welts caused by rocks shot from Greg’s rubber band.
If only the accident hadn’t happened, or Dad had lived through it .... If only I’d been in the car with him when it hydroplaned and crashed into the bridge .... If only Mom had gotten a job in another town .... If only I were bigger, smarter, better looking .... If only ...
My first day at the new high school—that’s where it began. I’d just paid for lunch and was carrying my tray to a corner table. As Greg walked past me, he twisted my elbow sending the tray of spaghetti, peas and applesauce splattering across the cafeteria floor. He and his buddies doubled over with belly laughs. The cafeteria monitor didn’t see what happened and demanded I clean the floor and the guck from my jeans.
I dreaded gym class most. My gym clothes would be missing, so I’d lose points for not dressing-out, or my shoelaces would be tied together making me late for lineup. The coach usually picked Greg to be one of the team captains, and the other captain knew he’d better not choose me. I was always last man on a team.
“This bullying has to end.” Mom insisted in a meeting with the principal.
The following day, Greg was called to the principal’s office from American Lit. When he strutted back into class, he gave me a smirk and Lou Ellen a wink. She buried her head in her book and giggled. My face turned red, and I felt sweat trickle from my armpits. I’d wanted to be friends with Lou Ellen since the first time I saw her, but now ...
Mom’s meeting with the principal did make a difference. The bullying got worse. Greg or one of his goons now followed me between classes, and I became the target for their rubber bands. Then, this afternoon, the gang jumped me when I got off the bus.
I took my dad’s bone-handle pocketknife from the top drawer of the night stand. In my hand, the three-inch blade was power ... strength ... courage ... control. Turning the blade to its dull edge, I drew an imaginary line across my wrist. Then, with the business edge of the blade, I shaved a small patch of hair on my forearm. Brushing the hair aside, the sharp point of the blade nicked my skin. I watched as blood dripped to the bedspread seeping into ripples that reminded me of bobbing corks when Dad and I fished the river behind our old house.
Mom called from outside my door, “Marcus, we need to talk.”
I slipped the open knife under my pillow as she came and sat on the edge of the bed. She put her arm around my shoulders and patted my knee. “I’ve called Pastor Glenn,” she said. “He’ll be here any minute with a deputy sheriff to take your statement. This bullying is going to end tonight!”
She hugged me and went to answer the doorbell.
Taking Dad’s knife from under the pillow, I closed the blade and placed it back in the drawer.
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