S. J. Herman
I don’t know exactly how to start this letter, so I will just begin with I Love You. I know that might sound strange after what I’m about to tell you, because no daughter that loves her father would have ever lied to him like I have to you. I only lied because I love you. You have been under so much pressure that I couldn’t bring myself to burden you with my problems. I understand that as a father you should know everything that goes on with his daughter’s life, but as you read this I hope you understand why I concealed the truth. I have to get this off my chest for my own sanity.
Ever since the beginning of high school, actually it slowly started the last year of junior high, I have been bullied, ridiculed, and humiliated. I won’t tell you by whom because it is irrelevant now, but it has been something I have lived with every day. It wasn’t only you I hid this from, but mom to.
Not only that, there was a reason I always wore long sleeved shirts. Ever since mom died, I have cut myself in a vain attempt to escape the anguish I was feeling. The pain I felt on the outside made me forget the pain I was feeling on the inside. It was wrong. It was stupid. Never blame yourself for not knowing what I did, for you tried desperately to pull what I was hiding out of me. It was something that I had to deal with on my own. I hope you understand, for it’s about to get a lot more complicated in a way that will be hard to believe….
Resting between vast open fields and small patches of woods, the town of Westview was located west of what local teenagers call “the Dead Zone triangle.” With the town of Porter to the Southeast and Devinsville to the Northeast, the Dead Zone triangle was in the middle of nowhere… on the edge of nothing.
“I love that smell,” Alexandria said as the aroma of freshly baked bread from the town’s small bakery penetrated her nose with every breath.
For seventeen-year-old Alexandria O’Conner, or Lexi as her friends called her, the walk through the town’s main street toward Westview High felt like a death march. Her heart would beat rapidly and her palms would become clammy the closer she got to what she considered her emotional torture chamber.
Lexi was not your typical teenager in an upper middle class town. While other girls had nice things to wear, Lexi made do with what she had. On this particular day, it was a long sleeved, blue sweater and worn jeans, even though the temperature was in the upper 70’s, a record high for late February. Her black hair, which was a little past shoulder length and angled across the right side of her face, only partially hid some of the pain that she held inside. She never wore make-up since she believed there was no one to impress, or that anybody would notice anyway. There were only three bright spots in her life, and one of them was walking next to her.
“You say that every morning,” Nathan retorted lightly.
The slim Nathan Sweeny stood much taller than Lexi. His short brown hair, backpack slung over one shoulder, and a face with several blemishes made up a person that she’d known ever since they were in grade school. He might be part of the upper middle-class that generally frowned upon her, but he knew what she was going through. They stuck together as friends because they had to. There was no one else.
As they waited for the light to change so they could cross the street to school, Nathan sighed. Lexi shot him a glance knowing the thoughts running through his mind.
“Don’t make eye contact with them,” she said. “Maybe they won’t notice you.”
She was looking at two students, both roughly the same height and both wearing their navy blue football jerseys. One had a baseball cap on backwards and stood out because of it. As the light changed, they made their way across the street. Nathan’s heart felt as if it skipped several beats as he became nervous and uncomfortable. Looking straight ahead, he kept his focus on the school.
“We only have half a year to go,” Lexi was trying to comfort her friend.
Nathan tried to take the comfort she offered, but failed. “Yeah, but getting through the rest of this year…”
They made their way toward the front door, walking past the pair of football players as his heart raced into overdrive. He was waiting for what he knew would come. He didn’t know what precisely, but he knew that something would happen. It was a fear he lived with every day. Every time he saw them, the knot in his stomach turned tighter and his throat dried up. Picking up his pace, he rapidly walked past them. Nothing happened. They didn’t even look at him.
“That was easy,” he said.
“Just keep going,” Lexi said with a smile.
As they got closer to the set of double doors, Nathan felt a tug on his backpack as it was yanked away from his shoulder. The boy with a baseball hat made a dash for the front doors, Nathan’s backpack in hand. As he always did, Nathan stayed quiet, watching in silence as his backpack was thrown on top of the white overhang by the doors.
“Get your backpack now, loser!” they jeered.
“I found your backpack, loser. It’s up there,” the other boy said running cheerfully by them.
Everyone was staring at him, and a few were laughing, as once again he had become the focus of their pranks. The day is starting great, he thought to himself. Then again, this was just the norm.
“So much for walking by them,” he mumbled to himself.
“Come on, let’s just get in and find the janitor.” Lexi urged him.
“What are we going to tell him? I don’t want to tell him the truth,” he said nervously.
“We’ll figure something out.” Lexi said.
The hallway was alive with voices as students walked to their lockers to start the day. As Lexi walked, she heard stories from the previous weekend on how cute some boy was or how their parents bought them the wrong thing. Not that this mattered to her, but she found it interesting how small these problems were compared to the problems she faced every day.
She walked with her head down, as she always did, to avoid making eye contact with anybody. Only looking up to see where she was going and to brush her hair out of her face. One might consider it a walk of shame, though she had never done anything to deserve the treatment she received. The hallway stroll went on forever, or at least it seemed so to Lexi.
From a distance, she noticed something white stuck to her locker. She looked to her right and made eye contact with a tall, fake tanned girl. Maddie, with her well done hair pulled into a ponytail, was the type of girl that the boys fell over themselves for, and she knew it. Ever since junior high, she was the one that made her dates into temporary royalty, even if it was only for the night.
Standing next to her, blond, straight haired Tiffany was giggling, looking toward Lexi’s locker. They both worked in tandem against her, for they never seemed to attack on their own… as if they needed to feed off each other
“Hi, Alexandria,” Maddie said with a smirk. Lexi kept walking as if she didn’t hear her. “Have a great day!” Maddie added facetiously.
Approaching her locker she looked up, brushed her hair away from her face, and stared at what was taped to it. A lone piece of paper that simply read:
The smothered giggles from Maddie and Tiffany now turned to full-fledged laughter, digging into Lexi’s conscious. She turned to look at them, and was greeted by an innocent wave. Slowly she reached up and pulled the note down, only to stare at it a little longer as that one simple word burned deep into her soul.
“Lexi!” A girl’s voice from nearby called out. With no response from Lexi, the girl added a friendly, “What’s up?”
“You know, Stacy, I wonder if they are right?” Lexi said, still staring at the piece of paper, wishing that it had read something else.
After moving to Westview over a year ago, when her dad was transferred to the big city, Stacy Bishop stood out of the crowd as badly as Lexi did. Standing slightly taller than Lexi, her blond hair cut short, accompanied by wrist bracelets of various colors, she looked like a tomboy. At this school, that really opened you up for a verbal whipping.
Her parents kept her on a tight leash. She always had to introduce any new friends that she met and get her parent`s approval before she was able to go anywhere with them. It didn’t appear that Lexi or Nathan could get her into trouble so her parents gave her their blessing. Anytime they made plans to go out, there would have to be a meeting at Stacy’s home, so that her parents could get an hour by the hour rundown of their plans.
Along with Nathan, Stacy was the only other person her age Lexi could talk to, and understood the emotional lows she felt. Stacy was more outgoing, and even though she got a high amount of verbal abuse, she always came back with a retort.
“What are you talking about?” Stacy asked. “This?” she said with a shake of the paper at Lexi. “Why do you care what they think, anyway?”
“After a while, you can’t help but care what they think. It gets burned into you. You hear it enough, and you start to wonder if it could be true.” Lexi stated as she opened her locker.
Stacy crumbled the note and threw it to the ground. “If I listened to all things that I’ve been called, I would have had a sex change operation a long time ago. This is who I am, and I would never change, no matter what I was called. I think you need to start taking the same approach.”
Lexi finished putting a couple of her books in the locker, and with all the force she could, slammed it shut. “That’s easy for you to say,” she muttered as the school bell rang.
Stacy reached over and put her arms on Lexi’s shoulder like she did every time she got serious. “I know I keep telling you this, but stay strong.”
“I’ll try,” Lexi said knowing that even if she did, it wouldn’t matter. There was another way that she dealt with her pain and it was a tightly guarded secret.
“See you in science class,” Stacey said as she started walking away.
The history classroom was quite large for a school of this size, and yet Tyler and Ethan always seemed to find a way to sit next to or behind Nathan. Tyler made it his goal to make Nathan’s life a living nightmare.
He was bigger than Nathan, having a typical jock body, and always pushed his chest out when he confronted him. Maybe it made him feel tougher, but compared to Nathan, it wasn’t necessary. His friend Ethan, however, was just along for the ride. Built the same way as Tyler, they were the two biggest linemen on the team. The town worshipped the ground these players walked on. They were all the residents could talk about.
When the two of them were around Nathan, students would stop just to see what might happen. It’s not that they needed the attention, it was that they wanted the extra attention.
Nathan had a tendency to bounce his leg up and down when he got nervous, and now his leg was definitely bouncing. His mind was not on the class since he couldn’t concentrate on what the teacher was saying. The most he heard was the words: Germans, cold, and something else.
They’re going to do something, he thought to himself. It’s only a matter of time. The leg bounced even faster, his hand shaking ever so slightly. Sometimes, the anticipation was worse than the actual event. Maybe this was just their way of mentally torturing him.
There it was! At least, he thought he’d felt something. Whatever it was hit the back of his head. He was afraid to look over at Ethan, and he dared not turn around to look at Tyler.
He slowly raised his hand to the back of his head where he’d felt the impact. It was sticky. He gently squeezed his hair where the object was. To his left, he heard Ethan giggle softly. Tyler had thrown a wad of gum into his hair, and now he’d made it worse himself by squeezing it. Both his legs were now bouncing at a rapid pace. There was nothing he could do about it, except continue to try paying attention to the teacher. That’s all he could do.
Lexi sat at her desk in the last row of science class, rolling her pencil up and down through her fingers. She always sat at the back of her classes to avoid being looked at from behind. She was usually focused. Unlike Nathan, she didn’t have to worry about anything happening during class.
During science today, however, her thoughts drifted to something else, or rather someone else. She gazed at the slim boy sitting one seat up from her on the right. His name was Trevor, and every time she looked at him, her mind would wander to other things. She was glad that he sat to her right because her hair covered the right side of her face. She was able to discreetly gaze at him with the other eye. In the background, she could hear the teacher mumbling something about atoms, but it didn’t matter to her. As long as she could remember, she’d had a crush on Trevor. But she knew that she couldn’t look at him directly, let alone talk to him.
Sitting behind Trevor, Stacy looked over at Lexi with a grin on her face. She knew what was going through her friend’s mind, so she tore a small piece of paper from the corner of her notebook and scribbled something on it. When she was done, she folded the piece of paper up as small as she could make it and tossed it at Lexi’s head. Lexi took a quick glance around, reached down, picked it up, and read it.
You want to stick your tongue down his throat, don’t you?
Lexi looked over at Stacy, with her head tilted slightly to the side, and mouthed Stacy’s name. Stacy opened her mouth and made a flipping motion with her tongue.
The one thing Lexi hated most was happening. The entire class was looking back towards her, although not directly at her. Stacy quickly looked forward towards the teacher. “Everything is fine,” she replied. “Sorry!”
Lexi glanced over at Trevor, who at that exact moment looked her in the eye. To her, it felt like time froze. Then, as fast as it happened, he looked away again like he hadn’t even noticed her.
When everyone’s focus was back towards the teacher, Lexi turned to face Stacy again who flipped her tongue a few more times. That made her smile, and for those five minutes, she felt like a normal senior. She had no worries about anything at all, her anxiety had faded. But then, of course, the bell rang.
The cafeteria was a buzz of chatter and laughter, the stench of precooked food lingered in the air. Sitting in a corner table, Stacy and Lexi were in their own world.
“Thank God we don’t have to eat this crap much longer,” Stacy grumbled as she looked at her plate. It consisted of a cold hot dog, a pile of corn, and something that resembled pudding but she couldn’t be sure. It never failed to amuse Lexi when Stacy complained about something, and at lunch her complaints were always about the same thing – that damned food. She did have a legitimate point for the food tasted like rubber and was almost as chewy.
Even though Stacy got bullied like Lexi did, hers was more about her sexuality. She’d been called just about every vulgar name in the book regarding her appearance. But if it fazed Stacy, she will never show it. That was one of the qualities Lexi loved about her. Either the hurtful words hurt her deep down, and she buried it or she truly just didn’t care.
Stacy looked over at a table where Maddie and Tiffany were sitting. “Look at them, Lex,” she said thickly, chewing a piece of hot dog. “With their noses so far in the air, I’m surprised they don’t drown when it rains.”
Lexi didn’t want to look over, so she just looked down and played with her corn, cracking only a slight smile.
“Looks will fade, but stupid lasts forever,” Stacy stated, leaning forward and tilting her head towards Lexi as if she was looking for some type of response. That brought a smile out of Lexi and even a little chuckle. “There it is! I knew you could laugh.”
Lexi continued to play with her corn, flipping it back and forth with her plastic fork. Not once did she look up as Stacy talked to her. Years of verbal abuse had taught Lexi to keep her head down. She feared that there was something wrong with the way she looked or the way she carried herself. In her mind, she always believed that people were silently laughing at her.
She had not always been like this. At one time in her life, Lexi had been an outgoing girl. She was as talkative as anybody, and at times it was hard to shut her up. Then it happened. Maddie was the culprit that started the downward spiral, and it all started with one simple note in their second year in junior High.
“How do you keep calm, Stacy?” she said, finally looking up. “I mean, you get it as bad as I do, and yet it doesn’t seem to bother you.”
“Look, it may seem like it doesn’t bother me, but I’ll let you in on a secret.” She leaned over to Lexi and whispered in her ear. “It bothers the hell out of me.”
“Yeah, but you don’t show it,” Lexi said, brushing her hair back from her eye, and behind her ear.
“Why give the bitches the satisfaction?” Stacy asked simply as she sat back down and took another bite from her hot dog. “By the way, how’s your dad doing?”
“He’s under so much stress. He still can’t find a job, and it’s been over a year since mom died. So he’s still trying to cope with that.”
“I feel sorry for him, Lex,” she mumbled through the mouthful of hot dog.
“That’s why I don’t bring up what’s going on at school. I don’t want to lay too much on him, you know?”
Stacy glanced down at the corn Lexi was playing with. “Are you going to eat that, or just play with it?” she said finally swallowing.
Lexi gave Stacy a mystified look, once again pushing back the hair that had fallen over her face. “You want it?”
“If you don’t. It’s the only thing that tastes like what it’s supposed to.”
Lexi pushed her plate over to her. Stacy dug in, scooping the corn onto her plate. “You should put your hair up. Then you don’t have to worry about it falling back down all the time.”
Stacy pulled her plate back in front of her, and in one motion filled her fork up with corn, holding onto it delicately with her fingers. “I can’t imagine what your dad is going through,” she said softly, and then proceeded to shove the corn in her mouth.
Lexi was fascinated at Stacy’s eating habits as she stared at her friend. When Stacy looked up from her food, she stopped chewing, and grinned. “What? I’m hungry.” she said showing the partially chewed food in her mouth as she spoke. “By the way, where’s Nathan?”
“I don’t know,” Lexi replied, now elegantly picking her hot dog bun apart. “I didn’t see him in the lunch line.”
Lexi continued to watch Stacy eating. All that food Stacy ate, and yet she didn’t gain a pound. “Are you going with us to the movie this weekend? Nathan has a couple of free passes.”
“I wish I could. I promised my parents that we would have a family night Saturday. I guess I’ll have to miss the second installment of Dragon Wars.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“You two will just have to fill me in,” she said catching a glimpse of Nathan enter the cafeteria. “Speak of the devil.”
Nathan walked briskly in and sat down at their table next to Lexi.
“Where have you been?” she asked.
“Occupied,” he shot back quietly in a frustrated tone.
Lexi looked at the back of his head and noticed the pink wad embedded in his hair. “What is that in your hair?”
Nathan reached back to feel the gum. “What do you think? It’s the freshman stunt again.”
Lexi pulled his hand away. “Don’t mess with it… you’ll just make it worse.”
Stacy glanced over her shoulder to the table where Tyler and Ethan were sitting. They had been joined by another one of their cohorts, Ryan. Tyler was looking directly towards them, while the other two had their heads down laughing. She also noticed that Maddie and Tiffany were no longer at their table. She unzipped the front of her backpack and reached in. “Hold on, I have fingernail clippers. That should work.” she said. “It may not be easy, but at least we can get it out.”
Stacy walked around to the other side of Nathan and sat down. Nathan felt uncomfortable having Stacy next to him, yet alone touching him. He felt at ease around Stacy only when Lexi was by him. He begun to experience butterflies as Stacy touched his head. With fingernail clippers in hand, she started to trim away some of his hair.
“Ouch!” Nathan exclaimed as he lurched forward.
“Well, if you hold still, it wouldn’t hurt so much.”
Just as she said that, small pieces of various colored paper started falling over Lexi. She looked down at her lap and noticed that it was play money. She didn’t have to guess who had done it, for she could hear Tiffany chuckling behind her.
“I am doing my community service for you today, Alexandria. Since your deadbeat dad can’t get a job, I thought he could use this worthless money on his worthless daughter,” Maddie said smugly.
Stacy had stopped trimming but her hand was still on the back of Nathan’s head. They were both looking at Maddie who had a cocky grin on her face. “Getting your hair done, Nathan? Good idea! Though, I can’t see why you would get it done by a dyke.”
Stacy moved her hand away from his head and pointed the clippers at Maddie. “Why don’t you….”
“I wouldn’t talk if I were you. Are you still in puberty or something? What are you… boy, girl, or some type of crossover? Besides, I always suspected you liked girls,” Maddie said, as she leaned over Lexi’s shoulder.
Stacy got to within a foot of Maddie’s face. “Maybe I do. Would you like to find out?” She made a quick peace sign with her fingers, placed it up to her lips, stuck her tongue through the fingers, and flipped it quickly up and down.
“Ew! Gross…” Tiffany said with a disgusted look.
“Maybe your girlfriend Alexandria does since it doesn’t look like she’ll be getting anything from any boy.” Maddie said spitefully as she bent over to Lexi’s ear, with her hands resting on her knees. “Nathan,” she continued, “you are down in the looks department, but I think you could do a lot better than this piece of worthless crap. I mean, who wears a long sleeved sweater when it’s over 70 degrees?”
Lexi kept her head down through the entire conversation, as Tiffany continued to whisper into her other ear.
“What’s the matter? Nothing to say?” said Maddie.
Tiffany continued, “Are you going to cry?”
“Just like we thought,” Maddie added.
“It must suck being you,” Tiffany said.
Maddie’s whispering grew louder. “A worthless piece of shit…”
Tiffany did the same. “…that shouldn’t even be alive.”
They started walking away, but before they did, Maddie had to get in one last stab at the already deflated Lexi. “Nice clothes, bitch.” The two of them were laughing now. Not just a small giggle or two, but full blown laughter.
Though their voices had ended, their words continued to slice through Lexi’s remaining self-esteem.
“Did you see the look on her face?” Tiffany chortled.
Maddie responded, “It is days like this that makes it so fun to come to school.”
“Good thing I remembered to bring that play money.” Tiffany grinned.
Stacy and Nathan looked over at Lexi who was still staring down into her lap, dazed with the word “useless” echoing through her head. Perhaps they were right, she thought, Maybe I am worthless. If I didn’t have my friends sitting next to me, I would have nobody. She let out a small sigh as a lone tear trickled its way down her left cheek, visible to her friends.
Nathan reached over and put his hand gently on her shoulder. “Lexi?”
She stood up abruptly, grabbed her books, and sprinted out of the cafeteria. Nathan spun his chair around and called out again, “Lexi!”
“Leave her alone. Give her time.” Stacy said quietly. “Come on, turn around and let me get this gum out of your hair.”
Lexi ran down the empty hallway and made a right turn into the girl’s washroom. Pushing open a stall door, she ducked inside and slammed it shut.
As she sat down on the toilet, her books fell from her hands, but she didn’t notice. Feeling flushed, she could not hold back anymore as she put her head in her sweaty hands and started crying uncontrollably. She realized that there was no way she was going to make it through the last five months of school. She slammed her fist against the stall as the tears flowed even faster, and hit the ground.
“I hate them,” she mumbled to herself. “I hate them. I hate them. I hate them.”
Slamming her fist against the stall one more time, a sharp pain erupted in her hand. Rolling up her sleeve revealed several scars that covered her upper arm.
She quickly started to run her fingernails over the scabs. Every swipe felt like a sharp knife slicing into her arm, causing the warm blood to trickle from the wounds. Her breathing slowed down from a rapid pant as the pain calmed her. She sat there for a few minutes with her eyes shut and took several deep breaths. Rolling her sleeves down to hide her secret, she pulled her hair back, and wiped the tears from her eyes.
With her books back in her hands, she opened the door and walked out just as the buzzer sounded. Only half a day left, she thought, as she made her way to the next class with her head down.
Nathan stood at the entrance of the school as students ran past him to go home. He kept looking down the hallway for Lexi, but did not see her among the sea of heads racing past.
He was feeling the back of his head where Stacy had taken the gum out only a few hours ago, when he looked up and saw the black baseball cap. It was coming ever closer to him. He immediately turned his head to look out the front doors.
Tyler and Ryan walked by without even noticing him, and so did Lexi. He waited until Tyler and Ryan were talking and facing the opposite direction before he made a dash to try catching up to her.
“Lexi!” he called loudly, but she didn’t hear him as her pace picked up. “Lexi!”
He got stuck behind a group of girls who were too busy texting to pay attention to where they were walking.
He watched as Lexi crossed the street and walked down the main road towards her home. Before he could cross the street, the light changed, and he was forced to wait. He lifted up on his toes in an attempt see Lexi over the girls in front of him, but she made a left turn on Carpenter Street and disappeared behind the corner bakery.
“Damn it,” he mumbled.
One of the girls turned around, sniffed the air, and gave him a dirty look. She turned back around and said something to her friends, who also turned around and sniffed. They turned in unison and crossed the street as soon as the light had changed. He stood there perplexed, but he did notice what they had smelled. He sniffed under his armpits and then felt a hard slap on the back of his head. His head went forward, but he saw Ryan running by out of the corner of his eye. He felt the next slap, but this time Tyler didn’t keep running. He stopped briefly to speak.
“Wow, Nathan,” he said, waving his hand in front of his face. “Did you crap your pants? Because it sure smells like it!” Then he proceeded to give Nathan a few gentle slaps on his face and parted with a quick, “See you tomorrow, loser!” before running across the street.
Nathan made his way across the street, but instead of following the direction that Lexi had gone in, he made his way in the opposite direction. Another day was finished, or so he thought.