Hell. That’s how I describe high school. It’s hell on Earth. I’ve hated it ever since I first set foot inside the place.
There’s a lot of reasons I don’t like school. My teachers and I don’t get along. I don’t have many friends, and I don’t like or play any sports. I’m not into band or shop. Which ranks me down there with the geeks, which is the only place I belong since I don’t fit in anywhere else.
To make matters worse, I’m a fat kid. Not just a little husky, but fat. Overweight. Obese, and people don’t waste any chance to remind me of it. Which makes P.E. class the worst part of my day. Just what the girls want to see, some fat guy bouncing around the gym. That’ll get me a girlfriend, which is what I wanted more than anything else.
Yeah, right. Not going to happen. Not to me. Life is not that kind.
Today was a good example. It was in Math, my first hour class, and easily not my best subject.
Currently, I pulled a D grade. My teacher, Mr. Wagner, who looked the part with his faded dress shirt, and tie, wire rim glasses and bad comb over, wasn’t inclined to offer any help. Not that I would ask. I studied, did my homework, and rarely turned in an assignment late. Mr. Wagner said I just wasn’t trying hard enough. My response? Neither was he.
“Tommy,” Mr. Wagner would say, his voice like gravel, “You’re not stupid, why don’t you apply yourself?”
I wanted to tell Mr. Wagner what he could apply himself to, what I said was, “I’m trying, sir.”
“Trying to impersonate a whale maybe.”
Brad McMasters’ voice came from the back of the room. He’s the ultimate high school cliché, being a jock and captain of the football team. He also has good grades, and a wild popularity with the girls. His comment, like so many before, fell on Mr. Wagner’s deaf ears. The rest of the class, however, thought it was hilarious.
Except I didn’t find it funny, and today I finally had enough. “Well I’ll be, Brad, how original! Did you come up with that one all by yourself?”
Sudden silence filled the room. The clock ticked loudly, and I could hear a fly buzzing around somewhere in the room. In that moment, I was glad I sat in the front row. No one else saw me close my eyes and grit my teeth. I decided if I was going to get my butt kicked anyway, I should get my best shots now. It’s not like I would have much of a chance when the fight started. Opening my eyes, I turned back to look at Brad. He glared at me with absolute loathing.
“Gee Brad, you’d think with all those brains you’ve got, you might be able to come up with something no one’s thought of already. Did you take one too many hits to the head?”
Turning back around, I looked straight ahead, stewing over the confrontation, and wondering what was going to happen next. I knew there’d be hell to pay.
The abrasive scrape of a chair moving quickly announced Brad rising out of his seat. Some of the girls in class gasped and I cringed. The feeling of my stomach plummeting to my feet made me queasy.
Startled, I jumped and looked over to see Mr. Wagner standing in Brad’s way, his face the color of fresh strawberries.
“Sit down, please.” Mr. Wagner’s order held quiet authority.
Brad’s cobalt eyes screamed murder at me. He tensed his muscles which made them bulge under his letterman jacket. With his jaw clinched in anger, he froze in place, neither sitting nor moving. After several tense moments, Brad slowly resumed his seat, glaring at me as he did. It might be over for now, but that didn’t mean that there wouldn’t be worse to come.
The rest of class passed in a blur. I took notes and copied down my homework for the week. When the bell rang, I put my books in my bag before going to my next class. I didn’t bother looking around, I just walked out the door. However I heard Mr. Wagner telling Brad as I left, “Hold it Mr. McMasters. I want to talk to you.” I hid a smile as I entered the hall.
Since my parents thought it would be good for me, they made me walk the mile and a half home from school each day. After school let out, I began my trip home, preoccupied with my good fortune in avoiding a fight with Brad. The day seemed bright and the wind just a gentle breeze in my hair. Maybe I was wrong, and I wasn’t going to get beat up today. Then a faded green truck rolled up in front of me and six guys jumped out of it.
“Tommy boy!” one of them called.
He was a big lump of a football player by the name of J.T. Marshall. He was one of the team’s linemen, and a massive guy at two-hundred and fifty pounds without his pads. He weighed as much as I did, only very little of his weight was fat. Behind him I saw his brother Mike, and other guys I recognized from the team climbing out of the truck. They were all friends of Brad’s. J.T. didn’t waste any time making it clear why they were there. He pushed me hard in the chest.
“Tommy, you got Brad in trouble today. He’s not happy with you.” Mike said with a wicked grin.
“How do you figure that?” I asked.
“Damn, you don’t get it, do you?” J.T. answered.
“I don’t think I’m the only one,” I quipped, knowing right away I’d said was the wrong thing.
J.T. eyes didn’t even blink, he just punched me, hard, right in the gut. The air rushed out of my lungs, but before I could fall to my knees, they seized me from behind and held me up. The others fell on me like hyenas on a wounded hippo. My world exploded in pain as I was punched, kicked, and beaten even more. While they got their shots in all I could do was try and curl up and pray for it to be over.
At some point, I passed out. The next time my eyes opened, it was from a hospital bed. I’d never been in so much pain. My face felt like it didn’t quite fit anymore, and I could barely see out of one eye. My entire head felt about four sizes too small. The screaming pain shooting through my sides and back told me the team made sure I didn’t have any part of me untouched. Through some miracle, as sore as my jaw was, I still had all my teeth from what I could tell. That was a plus I suppose.
© 2016, Tim Hillebrant. All rights reserved.
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