Today was the first day. 6th grade. It was a big day to me, I just wish it was a big day to them too. I was out of bed at 6:15 am. I had no idea when school started. I just knew I had to be there. I took a shower, brushed my teeth and got dressed. While sitting on my bed and watching cartoons my eyes shifted toward my alarm clock. It read 7:10am. Should I be leaving now? Has school started? How late am I? I decided to leave for school now, I headed downstairs with bookbag slung over my shoulder. I saw my parents on top of each other on the couch. Usually my dad would walk me, not today I guess. I took the house keys from the nightstand near the front door and left. I noticed my dad’s bike by our steps. Should I take it? I could probably get to school a lot quicker wouldn’t I? What if they found out? I chose to take the bike, they weren’t going to need it anyway. The one problem was that the bike was almost my height and I never learned how to ride one. I climbed to the seat and tried to push the pedals. My feet could barely reach them. Suddenly, a light bulb went off in my head. Maybe, I could put something under my feet or on top of the pedals so I could go somewhere. I went back inside the house, stepped over some of the bottles and the half eaten food to where my parents kept their shoes. I took a few pairs and used the laces to tie the shoes to the pedals. I knew that by now, I was late for school but at least I could learn how to use a bike. I climbed back on and placed my feet on the pedals. I heard that once you started riding a bike, as long as you kept pedaling you wouldn’t stop or something like that. I pushed my left foot downward and moved a bit, then I fell. The bike and I went crashing onto the sidewalk. I was on the ground with the bike over my leg. I stayed there for a few minutes, screaming in pain. I soon heard footsteps, then a voice.
“You need help?”
I turned to see a smiling face above me. She had long red hair and dark skin. The bike was off my leg and I was lifted soon after. This, strange lady picked me up and sat me on our front steps.
“That bike is just about your size, where are you trying to go little guy?”
“School” I mumbled
“Your parents aren’t taking you?”
I turned away from her, embarrassed. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her check her watch.
“I can help you get to school”
This reminded me of something my father always told me,
“Don’t accept no charity”
I turned back toward her and looked at her outstretched hand.
“No” I said
“What? Why not?” she asked
“I don’t need your charity!” I yelled as I ran away from her and back to the bike. I got on and pedaled as fast as I could. I didn’t make it very far before I fell again. I heard footsteps rushing toward me. I got back up and ran, not really caring where I was going. As long as it was away from here.
I eventually made it to my school. I sat outside the front gate taking heavy breaths and trying to calm down. I entered the building and went to the main office. The person at the desk looked at me said,
“All these goddamn kids coming in late. What’s your name?!”
“J-Jeremy! Jeremy Rochester Flint” I stuttered out
She went into another room for a moment and came back with a tan folder. She flicked through the papers and said,
“Room 206. Now get out”
“T-Thank you” I said as I scuttled out of the room and to the stairwell. Once I got to the second floor, I could hear a garbled mess of shouts. As I got closer to my classroom I realized where the shouts were coming from. I opened the door and the class looked as it sounded, chaos. There were kids on desks, paper being thrown, books scattered on the floor and no teacher in sight. I took the seat in the back of the class, put my head down and tried to become invisible. After a few minutes I could hear footsteps. I looked up and saw the same lady from before, bike lady.
“Okay class” she said as her eyes moved around the room. She paused when her eyes came over to me. I felt like a target, like everyone in the room was staring along with her. What was she going to say? Was she going to call home? Please don’t call home, please don’t talk to them, whatever you do, don’t say anything to them.
“We’re going to start off with some quick introductions, you guys can call me Mrs. Saryn. We’re going to go around and say our names, starting with you”
She pointed at the kid directly in front of her.
“Liam Robens!” he shouted
“Thank you Liam, next will beeeee” she said as she looked around the room again. I tried my best to curl into a ball and disappear but she called on me anyway.
“How about you, in the back”
I pretended I couldn’t hear her, like I was asleep. Maybe if I played dead, they’d believe me.
The sound of familiar footsteps filled my ears again and I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“All you have to do is say your name”
I rose my head and said,
Then I resumed nestling my head in my arms.
“You have a last name, don’t you?”
“No” I mumbled
A sigh, then the sound of footsteps growing farther away. The class continued to introduce themselves. I continued to try and perfect my disappearing act. Eventually, they finished and we were on to a few class activities so we could get to know each other. The first one we did was trying to organize us by birthdays without speaking. I just waited for someone to come over and whisper to me asking when my birthday was. After a lot of uninteresting games we were released into the yard to do, kid stuff or whatever. I sat on one of the benches right outside the school building. A few minutes after I took my seat, someone came over to me. It was the Liam kid from my class.
“Hey!” he said “Cool if I sit next to you?”
“Um N-” I began to speak but he was already planted onto the bench. We sat in silence for a few and then he started talking.
“How’s your first day going? Mine is going great. This is actually my first day at this school. Mine closed down. This school seems nice though, is it nice? Is this your first year here too or did you come here for 5th grade? My school was pretty fun, the teachers were fun and stuff. I didn’t have very many friends though, I’ll change that here. “
What was this kids problem? Why was he just talking into my ear?
“Why are you talking to me?”
“Cause we both need a friend”
I didn’t mean to be so, in his face but he was in mine. I didn’t expect him to respond with that though. He was right, I wanted somebody to talk to. Might as well be him. I turned to him and said,
“Yeah, I went here for 5th grade, the school isn’t too bad”
We just talked on that bench for a while, I kind of lost track of time since I was so busy talking. I felt, relieved that I had someone to say something to to. Eventually, recess ended and we were forced back into our classroom. The teacher began a speech about us going on a new adventure this year or something like that, then she handed out papers for our parents to look at. We waited a while for school to be over, basically doing whatever we wanted while the teacher looked at her phone. Before we were let out, my teacher said,
“Jeremy, I’d like to talk to you after school”
I was scared, I was scared she was going to call my parents and have them talk to me about this morning, I was scared she was going to try and talk to me about this morning, I was scared she was going to talk to me about my behaviour, I was scared.
“What was that this morning?” She said after everyone left
“What?” I responded
“That whole bike thing, you could’ve at least let me walk you or talk to your parents”
“No, you can’t talk to them”
“They won’t listen”
“We can try”
“But this is clearly affecting you”
“NO” I continued to insist
“Jeremy, let me help you”
“Please, don’t, don’t call them”
“*sigh* Okay but I need to get in communication with them eventually, if something raises too bright a red flag I will go check things out, got it?”
“You may go now”
“Do you need any-”
I couldn’t hear the end of her sentence over the sound of my feet hitting the ground as I ran home.
I opened my front door and was welcomed home with my mother's hand against my face.
“Did you use your fathers f***ing bike?!”
I forgot about the bike.
“Babe, is fine”
My father came stumbling out of their room with his shirt half on and dirty looking, stains formed cities that resided on his, everywhere.
“No it’s not! This little s*** almost broke the bike and lost near all of our shoes!”
I looked at my mother. Same slouched and sagging clothes as my father, same stains, but with a furious look in her eyes. Her mouth formed an angry grimace and her sharp features only added to the knives that she stared into me. I couldn’t feel the first slap before the second one came and knocked me to the floor. I was staring into my mother’s eyes, confused. Why had she hit me? What had I done? I just wanted to go school. My father came shambling over to me and said,
“Babe, look, they didn’t take the bike and we could always get new shoes”
“They didn’t take the bike because it was in pieces! The point is that we’re losing money because of your sons mistakes!”
I was slowly grasping what had happened, someone took the shoes off of the bike I left this morning and now I was being punished for it. I could feel tears, warm and fast, falling from my eyes. I should’ve just woke up my parents, I should’ve stayed home, why do I have to do so many wrong things?
“He’s crying, can’t you leave him alone?”
“Good, that means he’s learning. Here you are babying him, you need to hit the kid so he’ll learn his goddamn lesson”
The tears, they wouldn’t stop. I was like a fountain, pouring water to no end. I was just sitting there, the feeling of pain settling in at last.
“Come on, you don’t have to be like that babe”
“How are you a man but you gonna let this kid walk all over you?”
Silence. My father turned toward me and then back at my mother. He slowly walked away from me and said,
“Son, your mom is right. You can’t do that kind of stuff”
My mother sighed and shook her head,
“At least you’re trying” she said
“Do you understand, son?”
I looked at my father. Tears blurring my vision. All I saw were two misshapen figures, two shadows with claws and teeth and scaly forked tongues. I shook my head yes, I couldn’t find where my words were hiding. If I could I’d be with them. My mother scoffed,
“Go to your room kid”
My legs, like my mouth, seemed to have lost it’s will to push on. I lay there, a puppet with no puppeteer. My father came over to me and looked in my eyes, he then picked me up and brought me to my room. He placed me on my bed and left.. I stayed still for what felt like forever, staring at my ceiling trying to digest what happened. They were often yelling at me and taking away things in my room but never had I been hit by them. I got up and found my bookbag near my bed, I pulled out the one journal I’ve kept around for years. It was tattered, had crayon all over it and the spine was nearly gone. It was also almost entirely filled with my journal entries on things that happen every day. I opened it to a blank page, pulled a pencil out of my bookbag and began writing.
“Today was the first day my mom hit me. I didn’t really understand it at first, why would she do that? Why was she so angry at me?”
That’s where I stopped. I didn’t want to relive this, I didn’t want to do anything. I curled into my blankets and closed my eyes, I couldn’t sleep but I could try. A few minutes went by and I heard someone coming into my room. My father was soon in a chair looking into my face.
“How was school, kid?”
What? Did he just ask me how my day was? Why? Why does he continue to bounce between caring about me and not caring? I still couldn’t form words so I pointed at my bookbag.
“What is it? Is there something in there you want me to see?” my father asked
I nodded my head yes and he went to my bag and started searching. He pulled a few colorful pieces of paper and showed them to me.
“Are these the ones?”
I nodded again
“I’ll go show these to your mom, be right back, okay?”
With those words I turned around and closed my eyes. He never did come back, or if he did I didn’t notice, I don’t care either way.