“Math test?” I questioned, dropping my trey next to my friend Carlson and sliding into the seat beside him. A corndog hung out of his mouth, temporarily forgotten as he scribbled an equation onto the paper before him. Math books and study guides took up more than his fair share of the table, and I shoved one aside to make room for my milk carton.
“Yeah,” he grunted, finally remembering his lunch. He wolfed down most of his corndog and dropped the remainder back on his plate, then returned to his studies.
Assuming I wouldn’t get much of a conversation out of him, I turned to Emma across the table. “How has your day been so far?” I sampled my tater tots and found them to be disappointing.
“All right I guess. I didn’t get anything done in English because everyone kept throwing paper at the queer kid next to me. Between him sulking, them laughing, and all the stray papers that missed and hit me, I couldn’t concentrate at all.”
I nodded and tried my potatoes, feeling a bit bad for Jackson. Everyone knew he was gay and a ton of people picked on him, but he didn’t really seem to care. He just sulked and looked sad all the time. “I have a class with him next. P.E. actually. I am so not looking forward to running in this heat.”
“P.E? Better watch out, he might ogle you when you change.” Carlson snorted as he scribbled a final answer and shut his book with a loud clap. I rolled my eyes and glared at my unappetizing lunch.
“Ah, leave the poor kid alone,” Emma said before biting into her PB&J sandwich. Watching her made me wish that I took the time to pack myself a lunch. Hers looked so much better. “He gets picked on enough.”
“I feel kind of bad for him,” I admitted. “He doesn’t really have any friends.”
Carlson glared at me. “Why don’t you go ask him out then? I’m sure that would cheer him up.”
“I’m not gay,” I snapped back, glancing back and forth between Emma and Carlson. I wondered if they would still be friends with me if I was.
“Good thing,” Carlson snorted. He shoved his math books into his bag, then focused his attention on his lunch. I couldn’t seem to find my appetite, so I collected my tray and stood up.
“I’m gonna head out. I have to stop by Mrs. Lemmer’s class to drop off a paper.” It was a lie, but they didn’t question me. I dropped my tray in the trash and headed for the gym.
Running the track in the Florida heat was murder, and by the time I was done it seemed that my sour mood had sweated away. I pulled off my shirt and used it to wipe my face off, then draped it around my shoulders and headed for the water fountain. I spotted a few of the guys from the track team and walked past them, congratulating the for their latest win.
“Thanks dude,” Alex grinned, giving me a nod. They gave me a quick wave before heading back toward to locker rooms.
“Eyes off, faggot,” I heard one of them bark. I raised my head from the fountain and saw Jackson leaning against the wall, eyes firmly planted on his running shoes. He seemed to be used to the comments, so I figured they didn’t bother him much. I returned to the fountain and drank my fill, then followed the others back to the locker room. One more class and the day was over, but my bad mood seemed to have returned.
Social studies was always a quick class, and before I knew it I was on my way home. The heat was still overbearing and my backpack was weighing me down. The only thought on my mind was getting home and downing a glass of Gatorade. I heard some catcalls up ahead and saw Jackson again, surrounded by a few of the upperclassman. They pulled off his backpack and upended it, spilling his books on the ground and kicking them all over the road. Rather than fight or get upset, he just stood by and watched, waiting for them to finish and go on their way.
As they left, he bent down and calmly gathered his books, stuffed them back into his back, and continued down the sidewalk. I found myself walking faster to catch up with him, but before I could even call his name he had turned into a neighborhood and disappeared down one of the many sidewalks. I told myself that he would be okay, and that the day was over and he wouldn’t have to put up with them any more.
I was all ready to put it behind me and finally head home when I saw the book peeking out from the hedge. It was Jackson’s planner, covered in dirt and kicked into the hedges where he hadn’t seen it. After dusting it off, I pulled off my backpack to slip it inside, planning to give it back tomorrow. A strange feeling stopped me, though, and I found myself checking for an address. It was far to hot to be walking all over creation to give a planner back to some gay kid, but I found myself doing it nonetheless. I recognized the address, having passed the house many times on my way to Emma’s, so it wasn’t hard to find. And boy, am I glad I did.
I rang the doorbell three times before I heard feet on the stairs. Shifting awkwardly, I tried to make the planner obvious so he would see it if he looked through the peek-hole. After another moment, he reached the door.
“What do you want,” he called before he even turned the lock. It occurred to me that it was the first time I had heard his voice. He sounded tired and defeated, but most of all, he sounded afraid.
“You, ah, dropped your planner,” I called back awkwardly, wondering if “dropped” was really the right word.
“Why do you care?”
The question caught me entirely off guard. Why did I care? He was just another one of the three thousand kids at school. The planner itself was almost worthless, and he hadn’t written down enough assignments in it for him to even miss it. “I don’t know,” I admitted finally, figuring the truth was the best answer.
The deadbolt clicked loudly and the door swung open, revealing a sight that made me drop the battered book that had brought me to his door.
His usually tame hair was messy and his eyes were puffy and red. Streaks down his face made it obvious that he had been crying, if the tears that remained in his eyes weren’t enough. What was most startling, though, was his body. Every day he wore a simple, short sleeved shirt. People had joked, during the winter when he wore jackets, that he probably cut himself, but summer had arrived and he had abandoned the jacket, proving that his arms were unmarked and cut free. I never would have imagined that he had been hiding the evidence under the rest of his shirt. From his chest down to the waist of his pants, he was covered in dark scars and fresh cuts, check marks and tallies down his sides to document the abuse. Three new lines, angry red and bloody, ran down his body from his ribs to his hip. The sight of it made me want to throw up.
Taking a deep breath, I ignored all of my reasoning and stepped through the doorway. He seemed so small and defeated, standing there with all of his secrets bared to a complete stranger. Not knowing why I was doing it, I put my arms around him and pulled him close, hugging him gently so I didn’t disturb his wounds. He was shaking with fear, wetting my already sweat-dampened shirt with his tears. Neither of us said a word as we stood in his doorway, but I made a promise to myself at that moment that I would help him somehow.
The rest of the day was strange. He sat on his bathroom counter, silent and frowning as I washed his cuts and covered him in bandages. He sat on his bed and glared at me as I collected every razor and knife in his room and stuffed them into my backpack to dispose of later. He even sat and sulked as I made us sandwiches, awkwardly navigating his foreign kitchen to put them together.
But when I left that evening with the promise to meet him in the morning and walk him to school, he grabbed my arm and looked me in the eyes.
“You saved my life today,” he told me. “I was about to kill myself when you rang my doorbell. Thank you.”
“Don’t give in,” I responded to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll be here in the morning. You’d better be as well.”
~Don’t Give In, by Kit Warner
“Feeling bad for somebody who is being bullied isn’t good enough. If you don’t act, you don’t make a difference. Don’t assume that somebody is fine because they look it. You don’t have to cry to be depressed. You don’t have to run to be afraid. Words cut deep and so do knives, but both can be invisible to those who just glance. Stand up for the bullied, even if it means becoming one of them. Because somebody else will stand up for you, and somebody else will stand up for them. When everybody is standing up for the bullied, the bullying will end.”