"It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not." -Andre Gide

Learning to Hate Me - Chapter 1: Cambire By: fonduehamster

I reached up and felt my nose bleeding; raising my hand to the halogen lights of the boys' bathroom I saw the scarlet drop shimmer - a rather poetic look at the situation. A foot, covered by an iron-toed shoe landed a swift blow and hurled me against the room. I hardly noticed as I slammed into the tile-covered wall. By now, I was numb almost everywhere. The punches and sneers and taunts and kicks seemed to come down like a rain, drenching me in my own blood and tears. Finally, after the world had seemed to dim down, after my hand, clasped about my nose, was soaked in blood, and after I was left as a crumpled heap, battered and broken on the tile floor, they left.

Staggering to my feet, I quickly thanked myself for wearing dark clothes and stumbling over to one of the basins and rinsed water over my left hand and splashing some water on my face. I couldn't help but wince as I rubbed over the bruises that were quickly forming on my arms. Ken and his buddies sure had gotten smarted about the beatings - he wasn't hitting the face as much anymore. My legs failed me as I collapsed onto the floor, but lunch would be ending soon and I had to get my books and hurry off to class. Grasping the edge of the basin, I pulled myself to my feet and holding a wad of paper towels to my nose, walked out from the dimly lit bathroom into the halls of Shepard's Hill High School.

By this time, I got gotten used to the faces of people with fleeting glares of disgust at my disheveled look and constant nosebleeds. I claimed that Hepatitis B was the problem; it caused my blood vessels to have some problems. People accepted the answer and happily resumed their lives, albeit making sure that their next encounter with me would be at a further distance. The rest of lunch was spent at my usual resting place after one of Ken's "pep talks". Sitting next to the wall by my classroom, I could usually just wait for my nosebleed to end, fix up my clothes a bit, and carry on. But, on December 2nd, life decided to throw me a curveball, perhaps just to keep me on my toes.

"Are you okay?"

The voice was endearing, but not mushy and certainly not flirtatious. No one approached me anymore, so I was a bit surprised by her presence. I knew her around school, had a few classes with her, but never really knew her too well. Looking up, I saw the face of a girl. Her face was cheerful and her eyes, dark brown, looking right into my face made me feel like I was being hugged. Despite her moderate height, she seemed to be the person that had the personality that allowed her to reach farther than the stars.

"I'm fine. Thanks for asking," I replied curtly; it was never a good idea for someone to socialize with me. I had the reverse Midas touch - everything I touched became diseased and plagued and the world shunned it like it was swarming with smallpox and covered in rats.

"You're really banged up," she continued, not noticing the brevity of my words and how sharp my tone was, "Where are you hurt?"

This girl had no idea how badly I could possibly screw up her life simply by people seeing her talk to me.

"I really should be going," I said, grimacing slightly as I got up from the bruise that I was sure had formed on my side. "Thanks."

"Wendy. Wendy Jao," she said, seeming more concerned in my injuries than in proper introductions.

I sighed slightly as Ken and his companions walked towards me; I had sealed this girl's doom. My shoulder's slumped and I lowered my head. It was rare for Ken to go twice during lunch, but he had done it before.

"Well, well, well," crooned Ken, as he and his friends circled around Wendy and me. "What do we have here? Don't you know, little girl, that you shouldn't be hanging around with this guy?" With that he shoved me, pushing me into the hard brick wall. My bloody nose stained part of my face to match with the wall, but camouflage was of little use at this point.

"He's bad news."

A slap across the face sending tears that I didn't even know that I had shed sailing.

"Look at him."

A punch in the gut, making me double over and watch as little crimson rain drops feel down.

"He can't even take a few hits without crying."

Before he could land another hit, Wendy raised her hand and struck Ken right across the face. For the first time in my high school life I witnessed Ken Quinn, star football player and royalty among the popular, silenced - by a five-foot girl that slapped him. A few of Ken's buddies chuckled and smiled, but the laughs were soon silenced as Ken glared at them; it looked as if he was reaffirming his status of "leader" of the pack.

Flexing his jaw a bit, Ken walked away, shrugging off Wendy's blow and waving me off saying, quite calmly, "I'll see you tomorrow, Marcus."

As the crowd of leering eyes and malicious grins thinned, Wendy turned to face me. I was still doubled-over, coughing violently - as would be expected after being punched in the stomach by a football player that routinely worked out. Gasping for breath, I leaned back and slowly slid down the wall, I closed my eyes as I could feel burning hot tears practically searing my eyes.

"That jerk," Wendy said her voice filled with contempt and disgust. She quickly turned her attention back to me.

She helped me to my feet and brought me over to one of the many concrete planters that filled the halls. Setting me down, I sat, recovering slowly and wiping a few stray tears with my sleeve.

"Of all the things to do," she said, raising my head and inspecting the area where Ken's hand struck my face.

I don't know why, but a stranger, a person who I would have normally seen as a fleeting shadow that just blurred in with the rest of the crowd was tending to my wounds and, to be honest, I couldn't help but smile, in spite of the pain.

"It's the not the first time," I said weakly, averting my gaze. My tone lowered and I grew more hushed as I continued, "And it won't be the last."

Taking out a tissue, she dabbed at a cut on my lip, probably from my earlier encounter with Ken that I had failed to notice. I flinch as I felt the tissue touch the wound, but Wendy leaned forward further and continued to lightly pat my lip, eventually stopping and tossing the blood-soaked tissue away. She smiled at me and sat next to me, neither of us really seemed to be able to find anything to say.

"Why do you let him do it?"

That was a good question, one that I had asked myself on many occasions, but one that I could never seem to find a way to answer. I turned towards her and I looked into her eyes. In the dark brown pool, I actually found a soul looking back into me; a stirring being, one with compassion and empathy, unlike the cold, bitter flame that Ken exuded like an angry hound. I turned forward and looked up at the sky and, for the first time in a long time, I felt some relief. Maybe not from the pain and certainly not from the fear, but to know that someone in my world didn't judge me at a glance and didn't avoid me like some pestilent leper gave me some solace.

But I couldn't lose my troubles in just some comforting words, the world was still cold and harsh and brutal. Cutting myself off had just become a natural instinct - a method for survival, if you would. But why *did* I let Ken Quinn continue to push me around? As far as my muddled senses were concerned, there wasn't much question to it. The days just blurred together, the lines between yesterday, today, and tomorrow faded away. I didn't really care anymore; things had become regular, like a schedule.

"It's routine," I answered, not even realizing how stupid of an answer it was.

"What?" Wendy's voice was incredulous, as if my very words were a plight upon her ears. "How the hell can a beating become part of your 'routine'? Do you have *any* idea how completely idiotic that is?"

By now, I had reverted back into my quiet self, using my introverted nature as a shield - a reflex that I had developed as time had passed. I drew my knees up and pulled myself inward, closing off my mind by closing off my body.

Wendy couldn't have possibly understood what "routine" was like in my life.

I drew my knees in tighter.

She was trespassing into foreign territory, a world in which she had no comprehension or understanding.

My breathing grew ragged.

Ken Quinn was "routine". Beatings were "routine". Hiding was "routine". Pain was "routine". Everything that was wrong in the world was "routine", and "routine" was better than having to face everything up front.

My vision became hazy as I felt tears well up.

Wendy; she was not "routine". She was intruder into my carefully made bubble. Although it was a bubble lined with thorns, covered in barbs, and stained red from my blood, it was still my perfect bubble; my world that I could not escape - my world that I did not wish to escape from.

As Wendy's hand reached out and placed itself on my shoulder, I snapped.

"Don't touch me!" I shouted, not noticing the eyes probing me from afar, "My world is fine! I don't need someone coming in and psychoanalyzing me! You, you're the imbalance - you'll ruin everything. This is my world! My world is safe; it doesn't change. I don't have to fear things because there is nothing outside of my world. Whatever you think about me, you're wrong!"

At this point, I got up and tried to walk away, but found myself just lurching forward precariously. I didn't get far, Wendy, not having enduring a fifteen straight minutes of kicks and punches easily caught up with me.

"Listen," she said, softly but sternly, "You may like your world, but sometimes what a person likes, normalcy, balance, consistency, sometimes that stuff isn't the best thing for that person."

Was she right? Was I simply deluding myself. Quickly drawing my sleeve across my face, I wiped away a few tears and looked once more into those dark brown eyes. She seemed to be so sure of her words. She was like a rock that fell off a cliff and sprouted wings; she was strong and firm, but she could adapt. Wendy Jao wasn't afraid of change, of the unexpected, like me.

"Why does Ken do this to you?"

A long pause filled the gap between us, but it wasn't silence. It was understanding, slowly creeping into each of our souls; a bond was forming, links forged from my tears and her strength were coming together, tethering us to each other.

"Because I'm gay," I finally answered.

But that was not an answer. I understood that it was not excuse, neither for Ken's beatings nor for my acceptance of them, but Wendy now shared part of my burden. One of the many shackles that had bound me down, that had chained me and locked me away, had been broken. No, not broken. It had been unlocked, of my own accord. The sun seemed to agree my revelation, shining brighter than before. Either that, or the clouds over my eyes and my mind had started to lift, letting me see clearly for the first time in a long while.

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All characters copyright me, 2003. Share the love people, 'cause hate isn't going to get us anywhere.