Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

The Nineteen This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

I walked into my first day of kindergarten with a fresh-pressed maroon uniform and a small pink backpack with only a composition notebook inside. The teacher greeted me and showed me where my cubby was, tucked behind everyone else's, as if I was already set aside to be 'that weird kid', that one kid in the private Catholic school that would eventually grow up thinking differently from everyone else there, thinking that she would never have kids or marry someone quickly, not going to Church every Sunday and not saying grace before breakfast. Of course, back then I didn't know that I was growing up to be that way. Back then, I was a kid; I was just about the same person as all of my classmates. I didn't have a totally different personality. For the longest time, I couldn't understand why they attacked me then, why they didn't accept me into their clique, why, in a class of twenty, somehow all the kids got paired up except for me, even though there was an even number in the classroom. I wanted to be in a group, no matter how small, so freaking bad, but I was still alone.

I remember the presidential race in 2007, for the spot that would be open in 2008. My school threw its support to McCain while my house silently advocated for Obama. I was nine, and to be honest I didn't understand anything about politics- well, at least less than I do now. I had been taught in my house that McCain should not be the president; but every day I went to school and was taught that McCain would be perfect. While the nineteen others threw their support to him, I was silent in my corner. To this day, I don't know if it was because I truly didn't want to voice the opinion I had learned at my house, or instead the fact that the other kids wouldn't let me talk while they were talking. They would always ignore me, no matter what I said or no matter how loud I said it.

By the end of that year, a new girl had joined the class. I was feeling hopeful as she sat down in one of the empty seats surrounding me. The first thing I noticed about her was that she had a slight lisp when talking. She said her name was Paula, and with that, a timid friendship was formed.

Paula would sit on the sidewalk with me as the nineteen others would play on the blacktop. The other kids would murmur "negro" as they passed by her, and for the longest time I had no idea what they were saying. She would always turn her head away from me as they said it, so I never saw if she had a positive or negative reaction. Being the kid that I was, or that the other kids made me out to be, I instinctively had a negative feeling about it. I know now that I was right.

I asked my mom late one night about what that "negro" word meant. She explained to me that not everyone was from Europe like all the people I had previously been exposed to; Paula's black skin set her apart from everyone else in the classroom, and that was what give her the nickname. I hadn't really noticed that she looked different from the rest of us until my mom pointed it out.

Obama won the election the next year, and while my family was overjoyed with this news, it wasn't something I could smile about at school. When he won, my class went over to my teacher's house to watch the inauguration. Everyone's face was bent up in snarls, besides mine and surprisingly, to me, Paula's. But Paula was newer, and she didn't know how to suppress her happiness yet. When we went back to school on Tuesday, someone had drawn Paula's face on an obese donkey and written the word "ass" below.

I guess it was then when I started thinking that the only reason Paula had sat next to me on that first day was because she knew she would be a freak too. That she knew that I was the best she could do. I got angry with myself for not being popular, and I started to get angry with Paula for something that she probably didn't do. I knew her enough to know that she was genuinely a nice person, but this piece of information evaded me so that I thought that she believed I was the only person willing to be her friend. While this could be taken as a compliment, I used to believe that she must have said to herself, "that girl over there looks so pathetic she must need ANY company". I bottled up all this rage inside of me, and it eventually exploded, in fifth grade.

The last day of fifth grade before winter break was when I broke. A boy named Jack had just started a game of throwing a basketball at my face at recess. I didn't get why he thought it was so funny. Paula was nowhere to be seen, and I had forgotten my jacket, so I was out in twenty degree weather in my short-sleeved jumper and thin maroon tights. My school didn't have indoor recesses, and students weren't allowed to stay inside at lunch. I was stuck outside, freezing on the sidewalk, away from teacher supervision, and I felt like I was blacking out because of all the shots at my head. I was crying, but my hands were too busy trying to warm up my arms, so I didn't wipe away my tears. I could not move because I thought if I moved, Jack would trip me, and then I would be bleeding. Every time that one of the nineteen made me bleed, I had to go to the nurse. And the nurse would ask questions, and I would lie. "I tripped." "It fell on me accidentally." "The cut just reopened, I got it this weekend."

Jack eventually left me alone, when the whistle blew for us to go back inside. I stayed outside, looking at the gravel under my feet, trying not to think of anything. After about an hour, Paula came out.

"Maddie?" she called tentatively.

I didn't turn around. She sat down next to me, and took off her jacket, throwing it onto me.

I finally got enough energy to move. I grabbed her jacket and threw it off of me, stood up, and, towering over her, said "I am not a pathetic piece of trash." She was frozen as I trudged off back into the classroom. The teacher was alarmed to see me, and the nineteen laughed as I threw myself inside.

We never really talked after that. I left the school after that grade, switching into public school, which made life a lot happier and easier for me. I had true friends there, and there was even a guy who would walk me places and smile whenever I messed up saying something or let out a laugh that the nineteen would have said was too loud. For the longest time, I never thought of Paula again.

But about a week ago there was a new girl at our school. She was thin and weak, and talked with a slight lisp when she introduced herself. Her name was Paula.

It was the same Paula that sat by me when I was getting bullied- the same Paula that I sat by when she was getting bullied.

She recognized me immediately, but she didn't move toward me at all. Instead, she bowed her head down and sat in the back of the classroom, amidst the rude upper class boys that made life harder for anyone. I fiddled with my thumbs for the rest of that class, which lasted for one and a half hours.

When the class was over, my teacher rushed to another classroom, and a lot of the students left too. My friend, Morgan, was waiting patiently by me, but when I looked back and saw Paula immobile, I told Morgan, "Go ahead without me, I'll catch up with you later."

She left, and I stuffed everything back into my backpack. I picked it up and headed to the seat next to Paula.

"You know, the seats near the front are usually safer here," I told her.

Her eyes flashed up to mine, and her shoulders rose. "It's okay, I'm not pathetic, I can figure everything out by myself."

I dropped my head in shame. Closing my eyes, I said, "I'm sorry about what I said that day. You were the only one at school there for me, and I treated you so badly. I'm sorry, Paula."

I began to move away, but she cleared her throat. I looked at her, and she gave me the faintest of smiles. "Only once," she said.

"What?"

"You really only treated me bad once," she elaborated. "And to be honest, I'm surprised I never lashed out at you. Those other kids made it hard for me to think straight."

I chuckled, and nodded in agreement. "Paula, where are you headed next?"

She pulled out a piece of paper from her jacket and looked down at it. "Chemistry."

I smiled at her. "You have that with me. Let's walk together, okay?"

She nodded.

With that, we walked through the halls together again, protecting ourselves and each other from unknown dangers around us. Except for this time, there really were no dangers, and we could smile and laugh freely.

I used to not understand why kids would bully people like me and Paula. But as I look at them now, I see a fake smile placed upon their faces, dark shadows underneath their eyes, and a broken spirit within their body. They reminded me of the way I felt, when I was younger. And then, part of me finally understood.

Just as I was jealous of them back then, they must have been jealous of me and Paula.

They were jealous because, unlike them, we had hope.



Join the Discussion


This article has 1 comment. Post your own!

Red546This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
today at 2:19 pm:
Beautifully written and touching. Well done.
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Site Feedback