The Bully and the Brain. Chapter 2
For the next few days, our class was relatively silent. When I had gone home that night, my mom had chewed me out for leaving class and losing my cool in class. She understood, but she told me "I was better than that. You're better than them." I tried to believe her, but unfortunately, she was the only one who felt that way.
So when it came time for class to start, I was relatively quiet. Marcus had even stopped messing with me for whatever reason, but I just assumed that he was still in shock from the assignment. I knew I was. But, like I said, I wasn't doing it anyway. I could fail this class and it wouldn't hurt my chances at the scholarship I wanted.
My mom and I had spent the last few days looking at scholarships and schools. I already had a few lined up, but I had to find a school with a good enough educational program to enroll in. I had found one all the way across town, but getting there would be a major problem. But, where there's a will, there's a way.
The class stopped their chatting when Mrs. Elcide walked in and as she placed her things on her desk, she looked levelly at everyone. She made eye-contact with each and every student and as she pulled folder after folder out of her bag, along with disposable cameras. I wondered what she was doing, but she didn't say much for the first few minutes of class. The tension in the room was building and I just readied myself for whatever she was going to do.
Mrs. Elcide: "Okay, class. You can separate into your partners and get to work. For the rest of class, you'll go ahead and interview each other. Start getting information about your partner for your report."
As murmurs and chaos started to erupt, Mrs. Elcide talked over all of it.
Mrs. Elcide: "These cameras are to document everything. A moment here. A face there. Something your partner is legitimately interested in. Get to know them. Get to respect them."
As student after student sounded off, Mrs. Elcide took it all with a grain of salt. As people told her. "they wouldn't" or asked "we have to talk to this person outside of school? Be seen with them?," her face remained impassive. And I waited. I knew he would speak, I knew he would open his mouth and find a knife and twist it in my side. I waited and I waited, and nothing.
As I looked back at Marcus, he had a grim look on his face. I knew he had resolved to just do the project and get it over with. Unfortunately for him, he came to that epiphany alone. Hopefully she would link him up with a new group or do something for him, but if he was depending on me, he would be doing the project alone. Hell, maybe if he looked deep enough, he might figure out why he was so hateful towards people.
Mrs. Elcide had finally had enough and as she passed the folders and cameras around, she made her stance on everything clear.
Mrs. Elcide: "You can complain until you turn blue in the face I don't care. Do the project or fail. Your choice, but please do understand... if I think for one second, you came up with something false or just writing to get the project done, you will fail. This is an experience for all of you. Something you all can learn from. Do not squander it."
As she laid the folder down on my desk that was thick with all sorts of material for the project, I politely reminded her, that unfortunately, I would not be participating.
I could see her redden, but Mrs. Elcide was good at maintaining control. She rounded on me and although I could see the stress in her eyes, when she spoke to me, her voice was very calming. Like a mother lion, grasping and calculating the situation, before striking.
Mrs. Elcide: "I don't know if you fully understood me, Ashton. If you don't do this project, you will fail my class. Not just this marking period, you will fail my class."
'' I heard you, and I don't care. I'm sorry, Mrs. Elcide, but I refuse to do this project. If you fail me, so be it. I've already put my transfer request in."
Mrs. Elcide: "I thought you were serious about your education? I thought you wanted to get a scholarship and get out of this town?"
'' I do. But, that doesn't change anything. Why would you give this project? Knowing how these people feel? Knowing that whoever my partner was, the hate would be just as intense? But, you chose him out of everyone. You chose the one person who makes me feel lower than dirt and you made him my partner. Why would he want to get to know anything about me other than what he's already decided in his head? Why throw my life at him just so I cans be ridiculed? Just so the whole class can know every detail of my life? I'm sorry Mrs. Elcide, but I won't. I refuse."
By this time, tears were steadily streaming down my face. I hated the way my voice broke up while I was talking, but I was hurting inside and she was trying to bring the hurt to everyone's attention.
Mrs. Elcide: "Ashton, I... I'm sorry. I know how difficult things are for you here, and I know you're transferring, but this project... it can help. No one knows anything about anyone in this class. They go off what they see or hear, but no one truly knows anyone here. It's time to get to the bottom of your hatred for each other. Time to get to the bottom of your fears."
'' I don't hate any of these people, Mrs. Elcide. I'm just trying to survive them."
The class was entirely silent. During our conversation, I had completely forgotten that I was in a room full of my peers, that my class was hearing my deepest fears. That the fear I felt was out in the open. I didn't think I was going to survive high school. Maybe not because of them directly, but indirectly? Definitely.
There had been so many times when I wanted to end it all. To find a way to just stop. To find a way to make the pain go away. My solace was in the thought that one day, this would all be over. That one day, I would be free. One way or another.
As the tears dried on my face, I could just feel my resolve hardening. I grabbed my bag up and after giving Mrs. Elcide a parting stare, I exited the classroom. I had taken a look back and everyone was watching me go. They were in shock. Or just surprised I had said so much for the second time in under a week. But when I looked to Marcus, his eyes were on me and they were as cold as ice. I couldn't take it anymore, and I left.
I had to stop making it a habit of leaving Mrs. Elcide's class, but I just could not deal with this anymore. I was a lame. Skipping school in the library wasn't anyone's idea of being cool, but I had a bunch of work to get done and when the librarian asked me why I wasn't in class, I told her that "my teacher let me go to finish up a project." That seemed to pacify her, but honestly, I think Mrs. Elcide had already called around and told her I might be stopping in.
As I pulled out my books and such, I set about doing my homework. It was a slow task as I wasn't really focused, but I did what I could. I was just about done with my Economics homework and was ready to start on my Advanced Physics when a shadow loomed over my desk. I could feel the tension radiating off of whoever was standing across from me, but I didn't look up.
Marcus: "You're doing the project."
Great! Just what I needed.
I looked up at him and tried to have my face betray my emotions. How can you find someone so hateful to be so attractive? He was honestly the most attractive person at this school. He had looks, brains, and honestly he was very humble. But. For whatever reason, he hated me with a passion. I always wondered what high school would have been like if Marcus didn't hate me. How the rest of the student body would treat me if their self-proclaimed leader didn't loathe the very ground I walked on. As I stared into his face, my resolve faltered.
'' No, I'm not."
Marcus: "Look, I don't have time for this shit. I need to ace Mrs. Elcide's class and if I fail this project, I fail her class, and so do you!"
'' What part of 'I don't care!' do you not understand? I'm transferring. You wanted me gone, now I'm leaving."
Marcus: "Listen, I am not going to risk my shot at a scholarship because of this going on my report card. You're going to do this project, or..."
'' Or what? You're going to beat me up? Been there, done that."
I was tempting the gods. I mean, I knew that Marcus could pummel me into the ground, but honestly, the threats were getting old. I was so tired of having people push me around and then want something from me? How many people had asked me to help them with homework, or tutor them -- only to turn around and go back to treating me like the shit at the bottom of the social ladder.
I could see the near panic in his eyes and the one time I had power over someone, I couldn't enjoy it. I valued the fact that he was so concerned about his education and god knows that if I didn't get a scholarship, that I would never be able to afford college, but I just couldn't bring myself to help him. Shit is as shit does.
As he sat there dumbfounded, I packed up my books and homework. I stood and looked down on him and for once, there in his eyes wasn't the hate that I had grown accustomed to, but pleading. He needed me for this project and seeing something different in those beautiful eyes was almost enough to make me reconsider. Almost.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. I saw Marcus more than a few times, but whenever he tried to make eye contact with me, I would avoid his gaze and continue on my way. I even saw Mrs. Elcide, but I think she was too frustrated to acknowledge me. She really was one of my favorite teachers, but she was making a big mistake. This project was a big mistake and it was going to blow up in everyone's face.
I was walking home as I usually did. I had my iPod in and I was making pretty good time. I passed through my mom's job just to check in with her and let her know that I would be home when she got there. It's not like I had any friends, but sometimes I'd go down to the local arcade, or I'd go to Fromran's and help him out with the loading and stocking of his store. He was a pretty cool guy. He knew about me, but he never mentioned it. He was one of the few people in the town that didn't treat me or my mom badly. He just kept to himself and appreciated the fact that we did the same.
I had almost made it to my block when something told me to turn around. I had spent the majority of my years running in fear, so whenever I had a feeling, I followed through with it. I hadn't even looked behind me all the way before I took off.
Marcus was running towards me and that alone couldn't have been a good thing. I was one of the quickest sprinters that our school had during the time I was a member. I ended up quitting because of the way my teammates treated me, but myself and the coach were still pretty tight and I tried to stay as fit as possible. I darted around the corner and bolted towards my house. I dug for my keys in my pocket the best I could while I was running, but as I passed my house with my keys still not out, I knew going there was a lost cause. I slowed just enough to throw my bookbag in our lawn and I kicked it up again.
I had no idea what Marcus wanted or how badly he was going to kick my ass for putting him in such a bind, but I had no intentions of finding out either. The one good thing about running from bullies since the age of seven? You got to know the shortcuts pretty good. I could hear his grunt of surprise as I made a sharp left-dip and ducked into Mrs. Kyle's lawn. She was an old meanie, but she always interfered for me the few times I had run through her yard with a bully or two chasing me. I jumped over her small back fence and then I was on through Edwin Parker's house.
I could hear Marcus keeping pretty good pace with me and it was making this escape all the more difficult. I knew he was athletic, but even the most athletic person would have slowed down by now. I was motivated by fear and that kept me going, but I didn't know what was motivating him to keep after me.
The blocks continued to blend together as I ran from him. I saw so many of the town's people and even a few students from school, They all looked at me strangely, but none of them cared enough to interfere once they saw it was Marcus behind me. I had since slowed down, but I was still hitting a relatively fast pace. A glance behind me and I noticed that Marcus was a good seven feet behind me. If he worked for it, it was a distance he could close relatively fast, but he seemed content to stay a comfortable distance away from me.
That thoroughly confused me, but I still wasn't comfortable talking to him. I angled towards my house and in the few minutes it took to cover the few blocks back to my house, Marcus didn't close the distance between us any. As I turned onto my street and out of his sight, I sped up a little and made it to my house. I grabbed my bookbag and after taking out my keys and setting it down beside me, I took a seat on the top most stair of our porch. It was just a short jump to the door and I could get inside quickly if I needed to.
Marcus made it to my house and I could tell he walked the short distance instead of running. Maybe he needed time to clear his thoughts and make sense of his actions, because I know damn well I was trying to figure it out for myself.
As I wiped the sweat off of my face with a towel I pulled from my bookbag, I eyed Marcus warily. He hadn't made the step onto my lawn and I didn't know what he was waiting for. He seemed to be asking for an invitation with his eyes and when I didn't bother to acknowledge him, he released an exasperated sigh.
Marcus: "Can we talk?"
'' There's nothing to talk about."
I cringed at the command in his voice. It wasn't so much as a question, but there was so much behind that one word. People who hate you shouldn't have such control over you, shouldn't be able to make you feel things you know aren't good for you. Aren't good for anything.
When I didn't decline his request, he took it as a yes and came towards my porch. I shrunk back a little further and even started to get up, but as he watched me be scared of him, he took the bottom step and plopped down. He was still looking at me. Staring me right in my eyes.
Marcus: "Do I scare you that much?"
I hated that the truth came out. But honestly, Marcus did scare me. People like him scared me. The ones who thought I was beyond insignificant. They were the ones who disregarded your feelings. Your thoughts. Your fears. Your humanity. To him, I was just another faggot. Someone who didn't deserve respect and when someone felt like that toward you, there was no telling the things they could do to you with no remorse.
Marcus: "I wasn't the one who punched you."
'' I know."
He paused and faced away from me. He put his head in his hands I guess he was just thinking. About what, I had no idea.
Marcus: "They're just words."
'' To you."
He looked back at me, but his features held no change. He would always hate me. Would never change how he felt about me.
Marcus: "I can't afford to fail this class. I have a 4.0 GPA and I can't afford to have any mishaps on my record. It's bad enough I have detentions and a suspension on my file. If I fail Mrs. Elcide's class, my chances at a good scholarship are up in smoke."
'' Your dad can get you into any school you want to. He can buy you into any school in the country."
Marcus: "And you think that's what I want? To be bought into a school. I work damn hard for my grades."
'' That doesn't change the fact that you don't need scholarships. Your family has money. Your dad would send you anywhere you wanted."
Marcus: "Yeah. He would. But only if I was doing what he wanted me to do. Me, a lawyer? I don't think so."
That brought me up short. Marcus was rich because his dad was one of the best defense attorney's in the state and his services did not come cheap. He was a lot nicer than his son was, but I could tell that every time he went to my mom's job with his family, there was a silent judgement.
Marcus: "I need to make my own way. I can get an education without my father's money."
We both sat in silent contemplation for some time. I knew that even if I did transfer, it would be damn hard to get my GPA back up if I failed even one marking period. I didn't want to have to think about not getting a scholarship. It was the only option I had. I didn't have any other options.
'' I'll do it."
I felt like my world shifted with just those three words. I was willingly going to let this person into my life. Was going to let them see me in all my pain. Let them know the life I had led. The hurt I had endured.
We started right then and there. He pulled out the folder and camera that Mrs. Elcide had provided us and after handing them to me, he pulled out a tape recorder. He checked to make sure there was a fresh tape inside and he asked me one basic question. One question that opened up a world of pain.
Marcus: "Who are you?"
'' I have no idea."
'' I don't know who I am. I don't know if I ever will."
Marcus: "You lost me. I just wanted you to introduce yourself."
Marcus: "Let's continue... What you were saying was interesting though, continue..."
'' I was just saying that I don't know who I am. As a person I mean. I know my name and I know where I'm from. But, I don't know who I am really."
Marcus: "What are some of the things you think define you?"
That was a hard question to answer and I gulped hearing it played back. These words were permanent. Always to be had on this recorder unless something happened to the small little tape inside.
'' Everything. My mom. The way people treat her. The way people treat me. All of those things effect and define me. She is such a strong person, but I don't have her strength. She doesn't let anyone get to her. But, people walk all over me. Id rather be invisible than to...."
I stopped the tape. I shuddered at the fear in my voice. It's like it poured from my very skin. I was always on edge, but that's just how my life had always been.
Marcus: "Why'd you stop it?"
'' I just don't want to hear it anymore. It's bad enough having even said it."
We had since moved into the house. I was content to sit outside, but Marcus wanted to get into the house. He said he didn't want the ambient noise to effect the recording, but honestly, I just think he wanted to get from outside in case anyone saw him at my house. I knew he was still uncomfortable even talking to me, but there wasn't much we could do until the project was over. He'd go back to his world and I'd regress back into mine.
We were going over some more of the general questions Mrs. Elcide had given us, when I heard my mom's keys in the door and in the next second, she was in the house. Marcus had jumped up and I know I looked like a deer caught in the headlights. It's not like we were doing anything, but by the look my mom gave him, I just knew she wouldn't be at all adversed to him choking on his saliva and dropping dead.
Although they saved most of their animosity for me, there were more than a few times my mom had told me stories about some of the local kids giving her a hard time at work. Even though she had been working at the diner for the last six years, she was barely tolerated there. She was a hard worker and she was always pleasant, but the other waitresses shit on her every chance they got. The owner wasn't much better. He had only given my mom a job because he had just lost his best waitress. She knew that he intended to fire her as soon as he found someone, but luckily, she was good at her job and by the time he did find someone else, she had already proved herself as a good waitress and he stayed away from her.
That being said, he nor any of the waitresses ever stood up for her if anything was amiss. There were more than a few times my mom had been stiffed of tips, bill payments and even had people insult her by giving the other waitresses the tips she worked for. It was a very stressful job, but she kept going back day in and day out.
She finally took her eyes off of Marcus and when they fell on me, my throat immediately closed up. I had given my mom the scoop on the project, but I knew she expected me to either do it at school or to do it somewhere other than her house. This was the one place where the disrespect couldn't enter and I had brought someone into her house that had not only made my life miserable, but has also made some of her days less than pleasant.
Mom: "What's going on?"
'' We're just working on our project."
Mom: "The one you said you weren't doing?"
'' I can't afford to fail a class. I thought about it and it's just a project."
I knew that my mom wasn't going to show how upset she was in front of Marcus, but the tension in the house was steadily growing.
I had to fill the silence and on a whim, I formally introduced both of them. He started to extend his hand, but her arms were crossed and when she saw his motions, she didn't release them, so he slowly lowered his hand.
Marcus: "I think I should get going?"
Mom: "No. Don't let me stop your project. Just take it upstairs, will you?"
That was a bad idea and my eyes relayed the message to my mother. The problem? Marcus saw my poorly telegraphed message and for whatever reason, he thought it was a great idea. I could hear the subtle malice in his voice and I saw him reaching for his camera that he had left on the coffee table. He had snapped a few pictures of me earlier while I was being recorded, but I had yet to even take my camera out of the box.
It was too late for my mother to retract her statement, and I resolved myself to let things proceed up to my room. I did request a minute to go and tidy up and after getting a nod from Marcus, I bolted up the stairs to go and straighten things up.
As I waited for the okay from Ashton, I just explored their living room. There were some pictures, but not many. There was a picture of his mom Vanessa with corporate mogul Marvin Rodriguez and who I assumed was his wife and that was confusing until I realized that she was their daughter. I couldn't explain why she chose to live here, when she had access to a gajillion dollars her parents were probably sitting on.
Ms. Rodriguez: "Can I talk to you?"
I jumped at her unexpected question and the fact that she had snuck up on me. I had heard her banging around in the kitchen, but I guess I was so absorbed in the pictures that I didn't hear her approach. I couldn't meet her gaze and my eyes travelled along the wall of their memories. There were pictures of her, a man and a baby which I assumed was Ashton. They looked so happy in that picture. Even though I could tell she was very young, they both looked happy, they looked like they were ready to face the world. I saw pictures of her father playing with a young Ashton and looking like he truly enjoyed being a grandfather, like he finally had something other than his business to love. As I looked on, the frequency of the pictures started to decline. I saw the same man, Ashton's father in a military uniform, pins and medals covering so much of his uniform. The pictures started to become just the duo here in the house today. Just mother and son. There was no grandfather, no grandmother, no father.
She waited. While I assessed her life. While I took stock of everything in their house, she waited. I think she wanted to give me a chance to absorb what I could before we talked.
Ms. Rodriguez: "I hate your teacher for giving you this project."
That got my attention and when I asked her if I could record her, she agreed. We had to get to know the people other than our partner. The people who truly affected their lives and it seemed like his mother was the only person in his.
Ms. Rodriguez: "You have no idea the things my son has been through. No idea how hard it is for him to get up, go to that school and face all of you."
I gulped. It seemed like she was talking right through the recorder. Like she was broadcasting her emotions and her words to every student in my class even though the only person that could hear her was me and the tape recorder.
Ms. Rodriguez: "I've always tried to protect my son. I've always wanted him to know that he could count on me. That I would always have the best intentions for him. I've failed. Time and time again. I've failed to protect him. From people I thought loved him. From people who I thought loved me. You can not imagine how hard it is for me to see my son suffering. To see his pain and know there isn't a damn thing that I can do about it. The hardest part of being a parent is knowing that you won't succeed. That however much you want to protect them from every hurt in the world, however much you want to hold them close to your chest and shield them from the dangers of the world, that you alone won't be enough. And sometimes, without even knowing it, you bring hurt to them. You bring pain and sorrow and in the end, you're just as confused. Just as hurt and scarred. Your teacher has no idea what she's doing by making him relive all of that."
I couldn't speak. I didn't know how. I had never seen such raw emotion. Had never seen someone break down completely but still be one of the strongest people I had ever looked on. As the tears streamed down her face, I didn't see weakness or submission, I saw someone who had to grow up long before she was ready. I wanted to ask her if it was okay if I captured her picture, but I just raised the camera to my face and after making sure it was focused, I snapped the shot. She wasn't angry or surprised, she just sat there and let me catch her tears on film. Let me capture the pain she lived with as a mother.
The silence in the room was thick and as we heard Ashton coming down the stairs, she excused herself to the kitchen and as I sat looking at the seat she vacated, I couldn't help but wonder... what really had happened to Ashton?
Ashton: "I'm ready."
As his voice shook me of my reverie, my eyes lingered on his life surrounding me. The pictures, the memories, the disappearing acts. It was all one big mystery to me, but the project was supposed to unravel all of that? Was supposed to get us to know these people, get to understand them. As I rose out of my seat and followed him upstairs, I wondered if I could see this project through to the end and what exactly would I learn.
Okay... Here goes chapter to of 'The Bully and the Brain.' Chapter 3! coming soon!! Join the group http://groups.yahoo.com/group/highschoolx/