Mrs. Newman stood in front of the class today and said, "Good morning class! How are you today?"
How am I? Am I sad because as soon as I left my house today and began my walk to the bus stop, people were already whispering about me behind my back?
I didn't hear everything they said, because I've been training myself to ignore their taunts, but some words had broken through my walls that I had built around me. "Gross-ass," "fat-ass" "smelly." They were just words to my peers on the bus, but to me they were terrifying proof that everyone can see the ways my family and I fall short of what has become the "social norm." They call me dirty, and I have learned that this is true. To our family, shampoo is gold, and gold can't be wasted. So I do the noble thing, and let my little brothers and sisters stay clean, not wanting their sweet, shining smiles to dull in the face of wicked words that cut like whips across someone's soul. I go days without showers just to ensure they each get a turn, before the bottle runs out and we have to wait until the next paycheck to buy more. I do the same with the clothes, making sure they get what they need before complaining about my jeans and t-shirts, which had lost their coloring long before I picked them up from the Salvation Army the day they were only 5 dollars each.
Maybe I should be angry because as I was walking to class, the same three kids dragged me into the bathroom again so they could "make me take a bath."
The first day this happened, I thought that they were actually going to give me some shampoo and soap, while saying, "We understand. We want to help you, so please let us." So I followed them into the bathroom, fighting the smile from spreading across my face. I only realized how wrong I was after I said, "Thank you guys so much. We're almost out of shampoo," and they began to laugh. I remember on that first day, I felt so afraid when they shoved my hand-me-down backpack off of my shaking shoulders and forced me into a bathroom stall. They pushed me to the ground, and I hit my head. I got bruises on my knees that stayed there for weeks. The first day, I remember struggling against their hands as they forced my head under the water, fighting until my lungs burned and they finally decided I was "clean" enough.
That day, when they left me, I caught my breath, and anger in every step, I ran to the office. I talked with the principal, and they were suspended for two weeks. I thought that was the end, but then, it started again. Today, I was expecting them, almost waiting for them. When they surrounded me and we walked to the bathroom, I didn't even try to get away. I walked into their favorite stall, the one in the end, and practically put my head into the toilet myself. What is the point of trying to rebel when, even if the oppressors are punished, they'll do the same thing the next chance they get? I'm not angry anymore, I'm retreated. Is that wrong?
I could be ashamed because of the grade I got on the latest test in math class, everyone else is.
When I brought home the test for it to be signed, my parents had been shocked that I got a bad grade. I had been too, and I thought they would be able to tell how disappointed I was in myself by my red, puffy eyes. I thought they might go easy on me, but they didn't. They made me sit down with them and they told me how I should've done better, and how I would have to try harder for the next test. How do I tell them that I've been avoiding that class for the past two weeks, to avoid the feeling of hopelessness I get lost in when the teacher stands in front of the class, talking about things that I can't even hope to understand? How do I put into words how completely alone I feel when I sit in a sea of students that nod their heads alone with the monotone rhythm of the teacher? Do they hear more than just a beat of a drum that repeats the words, "you don't understand, you don't understand, you don't understand, what a failure you are?" I never struggled in math before this school year, but now I seem to struggle in everything. I struggle to speak up for myself, I struggle to concentrate on anything other than the dangers I face in the hallways; I have even begun to struggle at believing everything will be fine.
Who am I trying to fool anyways? Grades are just objects that show the deeper message in someone's soul that is impossible to communicate in any way other than through symbols, objects through which people judge others, finding the flaws in the already flawed. To fix my grades I'd need to fix the broken pieces of myself that have been torn apart and stomped on by the people who are supposed to be my friends, according to all the stories and fantasies that have been shoved down my throat since before I knew what "friendship" really was. Now I know that friendship isn't something that's earned by being good to others or even to yourself; friendship is bought by the selling of other's souls, little pieces which you take every time you call someone "fat-ass" or push them to the ground when their hands are full of precious things or give them bruises as you push them to their knees in the bathroom and drown them in a toilet- the very place where people put everything else they don't want or need anymore- until they realize that this just might be what is destined for them, to die by the hands of little gods that have decided you are not righteous enough to live amongst them.
Perhaps I am nothing, so cracked and distorted by now that even I can't see what I am or how I feel.
Maybe I'm afraid of one of the millions of pieces of my broken, worn-down soul will leave me, then another, and another, until I truly am nothing but the hollowed out shell that my peers must want me to be.
We all chant, like we must every day, "I'm great, thanks for asking."