Chapter Three

8th Grade 2000-2001

I knew a kid back in middle school, who was not yet a teenager, but no longer a child. He was living in that awkward in-between stage that came with the dreaded “P”-word. Everybody goes through it. Yet, he didn’t know why his experience seemed to be different than everyone else’s. Physically, everything was normal, but he felt mentally and emotionally disparate than what his peers looked like they were feeling.

We were in the eighth grade when he continued to inform me about this, along with, Do they have the same thoughts as I do?

He told me he pondered these questions daily and nightly. Though, they were at their worst at night when there was nothing else happening to distract him from the Interstate 8 of thoughts driving around his head. He had hated sixth and seventh grade, and couldn’t wait until the eighth grade arrived. It wasn’t until a few years later when he pieced this story together for me…

• • • •

It’s a typical school day, when he wakes up feeling sick in his stomach. Feeling this way wasn’t anything abnormal, but this day it feels worse. He races to the next room over, covering his mouth to avoid an explosion before reaching the toilet. The violent vomiting echoes throughout the house, alarming his parents. Vomiting and dry-heaving for the good part of the morning, he misses school. His mother thought it to be a simple bug; however she soon finds out otherwise; it’s not as ordinary as she thought.

The boy ends up missing two weeks of school, going with his mother to see doctors and specialists who perform distressing and sometimes painful tests on him. After all the tests come back negative, they can’t seem to figure out what is wrong. However, deep down, the boy has an idea of what it is, but he couldn’t bare the humiliation of telling her. He keeps it to himself and hopes the doctors find a different explanation.

As the sickness starts to dissipate in the second week, the boy becomes more and more stressed out. He hates lying, especially to his one and only mother whom he loves dearly. He has to come clean.

Instead of doing clean, it’s a teacher who beats him to it and gently drives it out of him; though at this point, he is ready to bring it out in the air. The teacher gives it a name, but the boy disapproves, thinking it too simple, dumb, and inadequate.

“It’s not enough to do right by all the pain and humiliation and loneliness I have to go through on a daily basis.”

“Nerves?” the teacher asks.

The boy throws his head down while plugging his ears. He hates the word. It is also the same word his mother had used in one of the many questions she used to suffocate him with, trying to get an answer. The word isn’t strong enough to portray the loneliness he feels while in school. Those days he played his game of ‘not-saying-a-word-while-at-school,‘ in which he won most days because nobody ever spoke to him. Not even the kids he knew from previous years at elementary school.

The boy remains a mute, not answering the teacher’s question for fear of letting out what feels like an ocean hiding behind his eyes. A tear-filled ocean now wanting to make its escape, with each breath being a wave pushing against each eye.

One thing he realizes, nobody he knows has become so fearful and nervous about going to school, it made them sick.

As you have likely already figured out, the boy’s experience and fears are indeed genuine and had happened to an actual boy. A boy that is forever your’s truly…

In the eighth grade, they had split our class in two, with the friends I hung out with staying at the old school, while I was obligated to attend the newly-built, first realm of Hell built above ground. The kids I knew but seldom hung out with, were in the athletics program, thus, wanting to be with them, I joined as well. It did a number on my weak, 13-year-old body, but not anything like what it did to me mentally.

Any pride, confidence, or self-esteem I held, quickly deflated, not so much from the crap I got from my peers, though. Most of it came from the donut-stuffed mouthes of the coaches.

I assumed it was on account of me being the weakest one in their precious, only-thing-I-got-going-for-me-since-my-wife-left-me program. I know because they posted how much we could each lift in weights right at our eye-level on the wall for everyone to see, which included the kids I adored and dreamed about—the girls.

I loved girls. And still do.

The ones I had known in elementary school would come over to my house and swim during the day swim then stay the night. We called it a “slumber party.” Though there wasn’t much slumber…

Im not talking about what you might be thinking. That’s sick. We were 8 and 9-year-olds. We’d stay up watching movies, talking, just being kids. The six or seven girls I was close to had even formed a club. And I happened to be a VIP in this club, for, I was the only boy.

Back then, I feared nothing. The words confidence, self-esteem, and manifested maladjustment meant nothing to me. But once everyone started using the “P” word, it all went to shit.

Here’s a hint: It’s not “pimple” and Lil› Wayne could rhyme it with “Liberty,” “jeopardy,” and “Yo baby, I gonna ‹lube your knee.›”

I know, that last one gave it away, right?

Waking up, instead of the usual growing pains I felt in my legs, the pain was in my stomach. Once I crawled out of bed, I had to run through the bathroom. Whatever I ate the night before had came back up forcefully. My Mom could always here when I was sick. She came rushing up the stairs and into the bathroom.

“What do you think it is?” she asked.

“I really don’t know.”

I had stayed home that school day.

The next morning had been the same. And the next. And the next.

I ended up missing an entire week of school. My Mom had brought me to different doctors who would refer me to specialists. I had to endure many tests. One test being when I had to drink a full glass of this horrid, chalky liquid that would glow in my stomach, showing its insides. However, the worst was when they stuck a camera down my throat to see with their own eyes what was going on. That had been bad, but the scary thing after the tests was that they still didn’t know what was wrong with me.

I had missed two weeks of school. I was up to my hopeless head in make-up work. When I came back, Mr. Brownstone, my U.S. History teacher, had sat me down on the soft, tan couch placed in the middle of the room. Everyone else was at lunch when he asked me, “What’s going on?”

I gave him the tired answer I had given everyone else, “I. Don’t. Know.”

In his facial expression, I could see my answer wasn’t satisfying. I got the feeling he knew something I didn’t.

“Is it nerves?” he asked.

Being silent, I had to think about this. In the two weeks of suffering, I hadn’t put it all together until now; he had nailed it in two minutes. I was afraid of coming to school. Afraid of being humiliated day after day.

“There’s this group of people at lunch I thought were friends, but… and even the coaches…” I trailed off in thoughts of shame, trying to barricade the mighty wave of tears behind my eyelid barriers.

Mr. Brownstone nodded his head letting me know he understood. That’s all he could do, and I knew it. I had to get through the rest of the year until summer break arrived. Then, the next year, I’d be back with my friends.

I left his classroom, headed for the bathroom. Thankfully, it was empty. I sat down inside one stall. That’s when the levee let loose. All the pain I had felt came gushing down my blubbering face. Here, alone, my thoughts could form the right words, Why don’t they like me? What did I do? I just want people to like me!

I heard the door open. There were slow, creeping footsteps leading to the stall next to me. The stall door locked. I shut everything off — my eyes, my mouth, my thoughts. I couldn’t let anyone know I had been crying. However, I should have kept something running. The sound of someone going to the bathroom was not the ideal aid to my broken 13-year-old heart.

This alone could be traumatizing enough to cause damage to a growing psyche. But, this isn’t where it had started…

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