Episode 135

Standing at the bus stop, Michelle and I exchanged no words.  Although I had the tendency to talk her ears off in the mornings, today I let my sister go about her morning routine uninterrupted.  If she noticed, she did not say so.

Not only was I still confused about last night, but I was also dreading the bus ride.  Was Jason going to pound me for embarrassing him?

I watched as Charlie came out his door and began walking our way.  I rehearsed what I was going to say to him.  The bus turned the corner of DIane and headed to where Michelle and I stood on the corner of DIane and Hickory, and Charlie began to jog.  He arrived just as the bus driver opened the door.

Michelle started up the steps first, with me following close behind.  On the second step, she somehow got her feet tangled and fell forward hard.  She threw her arms forward, scattering her books, and barely preventing her nse from making contact with the top step.  Everyone on the bus got really quite.

“I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!  I didn’t mean to push you that hard!”  I said.

Michelle understood what I was doing, and immediately responded.  “Don’t do it again, you little twirp, or I’ll drop kick you!”

“I won’t,” I said, with a hopefully convincing waver in my voice.

Together we gathered her books and paper and got on the bus.

As I passed the driver, he winked at me.  He apparently saw that I was taking care of my sister and approved.

Charlie sat down next to me in the middle of the bus.

“Ouch,” Charlie said, “Your eye looks aweful.”

“What?  Now you’re concerned about me?  You couldn’t run away fast enough yesterday,” I said.

“Qiut your whining,” he responded, “It’s not my fault you decided to be a hero.  Besides, you lived.”

“So far,” I said, punching him lightly on the arm.

“Are you coming over to the farm tonight?”  Charlie asked.  “Mrs. McAllister invited us over for her almost famous meatloaf.  Ella and I are going to visit with Mr. T.”

“I’m not sure,”  I answered, “Mom’s in Parkridge again, so I’m not sure what ur plans are.  I’ll ask though.”

As Charlie replied with something that might have been, “I’m sorry,” or, “I hate that for you”, but the sound in my world had faded to near silence.  We had arrived at Jason and Marty’s bus stop, and Marty was getting on the bus.  Thankfully, Jason was not with him, but this did little to ease my nearly paralized mind.

When Marty’s eyes met mine, a smile grew on his face that reminded me of the cat in Alice in Wonderland.  I swallowed hard.  Charlie was still speaking, but it was nothing more than dull, mumbling nonsense to me.

Marty sat in the seat behind us, slapped me on the back and declared, “Nice shiner, Rocky.”

Episode 134 Shock

How could they do this? How could HE do this?

Back in my room I hid under my covers as if they would protect me from the cold, cruel world beyond.

It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. If it were true, it would kill Mom.

How could Dad do this to her?

He didn’t. He couldn’t have, because that would just be WAY too much to handle.

Mom could never find out. Neither could Michelle. It would be to much for them to handle.

Handle what? Nothing had happened. I had seen nothing at all.

Except my dad and Ella’s mom kissing in our living room, while Mom was away at the hospital alone.

No. It couldn’t be true. Dad would never do that to us. He would never betray Mom. He would never do this to… Me. He couldn’t do it.

Yet he had. He had betrayed his family with a woman that was a friend’s mother. This would crush Ella if she learned it.

Learned what? Nothing had happened. Nothing at all.

I cried myself to sleep; the crashing and flashing of opposing, yet equally true versions of reality a thunderstorm in my mind.

Episode 133 Discovery

Just as I got to the end of the hall, I heard a sound that sent my heart into my throat.  What was it?  Clicking? Soft smacking? I could almost recognize it, but not quite. It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I stood there for a moment, trying to breath, and to calm my runaway heartbeat.
Finally, I pressed my body against the wall in the hall, stretched my neck so that as little as possible of me would be visible as I spied into the living room.  My pounding heart froze and lept from my throat into my mouth.  For a moment, I forgot how to breath.
After what felt like an eternity, I was able to peel myself from the wall and stumble back to my bedroom.
In shock, I climbed into bed, pulled the covers over my head, and wept.
How could I have just seen that?  Surely, this was a bad dream. 
Somehow, I knew it wasn’t.  I spent the next hours trying to get the image of Dad and Ella’s mom standing in our doorway, his arms around her waist, hers around his neck, smiling into each others eyes and occasionally kissing, out of my head.  It refused to budge.

Episode 132 Sleepless

“Your mom is in the hospital,” Dad said.

I wasn’t surprised.  She had been in and out of the hospital my entire life.  The earliest I could remember visiting her at Parkridge Hospital was when I was five years old.  Michelle told me that the doctors were taking her hyster out.  Mom referred to it has having her plumbing removed.  I didn’t know what that meant until I asked for a little brother when I was seven.  Michelle explained it to me then.

“She is very sick because she hasn’t been very careful about her diabetes,” he told me.

We waited for Michelle to come home, and then Dad took an overnight bag with some of Mom’s things, and then hugged us goodbye.

“Be good for your sister,” he admonished.

“Yes, Sir.”

“And get the kitchen cleaned up and a load of laundry done,” he told my sister as he reached the door.

“Yes, Daddy,” she promised.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on homework for me and housework for Michelle.  I tried not to think about what Mom must be going through.  For dinner, we ate fried bologna and chips.  Dessert was my favorite; a Swiss Roll Little Debbie Cake.

That night I was not able to sleep at all.  My stomach was saying very ugly things to me about the fried food, and there was a dog somewhere outside barking.  It must have been the doberman pincher that the kids all called Killer.  He often broke the chain that his abusive owner put him on, and when he did, he came over to our street to play with the kids.  He usually didn’t bark, so something must’ve upset him.

I heard the front door open and my heart began to pound.

“Michelle?”  There was no answer.  “Michelle?”  This time, I heard a woman’s voice whispering from the living room.  Who could ity be?  Mom was in the hospital.

I was afraid to look, but more afraid to stay in my room, so I worked up enough nerve to tiptoe down the hall.  Inch by inch I crept, afraid at any moment I would be discovered by an angry intruder.  Finally, I reached the end of the hall and peeked into the living room.

What I saw was much worse than I ever expected.

Episode 131: Telling Dad About the Bully

Dad was home when I arrived.  I intended to avoid his gaze and slip off to my room and thought I was in luck when no one was in the living room.  My luck ran out when Dad called from the kitchen, “Hello, BJ.  Come here, would you?”

He met me at the kitchen door.  “We are going to Grandma’s because…” he began.  The sight of my bruised eye froze the rest in his throat. His eyes narrowed.

“Who did that?” His voice sounded strange.  I couldn’t immediately place his emotion.  “Is someone picking on you?”

“What?” I asked, confused. “No.  A kid on the bus was messing with Charlie, but I made him stop.”

He cocked his head to one side.  I suddenly recognized his tone.  It was disappointment. “You made him?” Doubt was now mingled in.

I shrugged.

“You know you can’t let people push you around, don’t you?”

“I know, Dad.” I said, studying the floor between my feet.

I could feel the color rising in my cheeks.  My eyes began to fill with tears that I did not want to fall.  I felt ashamed and guilty. Why hadn’t I hit the bigger boy back? Why had I put myself in a position to need to fight in the first place?  I could have avoided the whole thing by staying quiet when he called Charlie out.  Why hadn’t I just sat closer to the front of the bus so that Shaddock wouldn’t have been close enough to bother us?  I was so stupid sometimes.

“Come here,” he said.  I placed my books on the table and followed him to the refrigerator.  He opened a couple of drawers until he found the one with the small towels.

“I used to get banged up a bit when I played ball,” he smiled, filling the towel with ice from the freezer.  “Have a seat.”

I pulled a chair out from the table and obediently sat in it, still feeling very nervous about how angry he might decide to become.  He placed the ice laden towel on my swollen eye.  I jerked back in pain and he made a clicking sound with his tongue.

“Sorry,” I said, taking the compress from him.

“Are you sure no one is picking on you?  I mean, I don’t want you starting a fight, but if you let someone do this to you without fighting back, I’ll wear out your hide.”

“No, Dad. Honest.” I looked down, embarrassed and confused.  Quietly, I added, “Actually,  I won the fight without even hitting him back.”

I glanced at him.  His eyebrows were raised in a question.  I told him what had happened, leaving out the bits about how I felt.

When I was done, he placed a hand on my shoulder and said, “I guess that’s one way to do it.”

After an awkward two seconds, he removed his hand and wiped his face with it.


“Yes, son,” he said.

“Where is Mom?”

Dad frowned.

Episode 130: Bus Bully

I sat on the bus, wishing that I didn’t have to go home.  Over the past several months, things had gone from bad to worse, then from worse to unbearable.  After Ella’s parents split up, my parents’ relationship seemed to have gotten much worse.  The part that I struggled with the most was the need to convince myself that everything really was normal. In order for the part of me that dealt with the public to function, I really must believe that.  Another part of me faced (and attempted to deal with) what was happening at home, and somehow the two parts did not… COULD NOT… interact.

Charlie stepped onto the school bus, smiled at me, then headed up the aisle. I scooted over to the window, giving him room and he slid in next to me.

“Why didn’t you tell me Mrs. Campbell gives homework every night?  I’m afraid my hand is going to fall off,” he complained.

“Are you kidding?  If I had to suffer, so do you,” I said.

Charlie suddenly stiffened, and I glanced up to see why.  Jason and Marty had just come through the door of the bus.  The pair had at some point decided to make it their life’s work to torture Charlie as much as possible.  I would have to say, their plan was so far a smashing success.

Charlie tried to ignore their laughing as they took the seat in front of us, but I could see sweat forming on his brow.

“She gives us at least two hours of work ever night,” Charlie said.

Jason turned to Charlie and snarled, “Shut up dork!”

Charlie clamped his jaw shut.  Marty chuckled.  A cold fist twisted around my intestines.

“What’s your problem, Shaddock?  He wasn’t talking to you,” I said.

Charlie’s eyes became saucers.  I could feel the fear come off him in waves.

Jason looked at me coldly.  I met his gaze.  “Why don’t you mind your own business, and leave my friend alone.  We were having a private conversation.”

From a far distant universe I somehow registered that the bus was moving, but I did not look away from Jason’s eyes.  I had locked stares with a cobra, and was not about to look away.  The cold inside me began to spread toward my heart.  It had a strange calming effect.

He broke first.  He looked at Charlie and barely above a whisper commanded, “Move.”

With lightening speed my best friend, the one I had known since preschool, the one with whom I had shared every summer and every trip to and from school since, the one I had just committed to protect with my bold public defiance of the school bus bully, abandoned me.  He shot to the seat across the aisle, surprising Margaret into barking a quick protest.

When Jason took Charlie’s place beside me, Margaret, and the entire bus, it seemed, fell silent.

“What did you say, Fag?” Jason bellowed.

I held his eyes with my own.  While my torso was now a block of ice, my arms began to shake in anger.  That was how I felt physically, but at the same time, I felt oddly calm and detached.  Like this was happening to someone else.  In fact, I began to feel like I was about two feet behind and above myself.  Not like I thought I was, but it felt that way.

“Why do you have to mess with people?”  I asked.

“Shut up,” he said, somewhat quieter.

“No, Shaddock.  Charlie was just talking to his friends, and you had to start trouble.”

I became acutely aware of the attention we were drawing.  Other than the kids who were getting off at our first stop, no one else seemed to be making a sound.  I felt the breeze from the open window on the crown of my head, and could smell Jason’s bad breath. Charlie seemed to be holding his breath, while Marty nearly panted with anticipation.

“Bust his head,” Marty said.

Jason’s mouth curled up in a smile that did not even attempt to reach his eyes.  With his left hand, he brushed his raven hair back from over his cobra eyes. “Yeah,” he said, “I’m going to bust your head.”

I felt myself tilt my head, as if trying to puzzle out an evasive mystery. “What’s wrong, Jason?  Can you not think for yourself?”

The question surprised me, but seemed to answer a larger question I had long had about Jason Shaddock.  I had long thought that he had seemed to be offended by kids that didn’t conform to his idea of normal and responded with intimidation and violence, but now I was starting to suspect that it was deeper than that.  Could he be so offended because HE wasn’t capable of NOT conforming?

“I. Said. Sut. UP.”  He bit off each word. His eyes blazed with hate.  “I will hurt you.”

I sat up straighter. “No,” I said calmly.

The bully struck me so quickly that I didn’t know I had been hit until my head snapped back against the double panes of the window.  The resulting sound was loud that everyone, including Jason and Marty, gasped. I think they were convinced my brains were about to leak out of the back of my head.

I was aware of three things.  Firstly, the back of my head was not injured because there was no pain there.  Secondly, my left eye was burning from the unexpected contact with my seat mate’s fist and was almost certainly going to make a nice shiner.  The third thing was that Jason Shaddock was a coward.

His face was pale, and he looked sick.  He hastily whispered, “I’m sorry.”

All my tension broke as from a dam.  I laughed.

“What…” Jason began, confusion attacking his face. I laughed harder.  A girl behind me began to laugh.

Jason looked around him as other voices joined ours.

“Shut up!” Jason demanded.

The entire bus, including Charlie and Marty, was laughing as Jason stormed off.

Charlie slid into the seat next to me and lowered his head slightly. “Thanks.”

“Dork,” I answered, punching him lightly on the arm.

We were both grinning.