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Human Being

Sally Parker was a quiet girl. She was bespectacled, and had a frame that was neither bulky nor slim, but something unsatisfactory in-between. Her legs were bovine and bristly and her face was inflamed and splattered with pimples. Given her appearance, her status in school as a pathetic creature, lacking in the humanities that her tormenters claimed they abounded with, her status came as no surprise.
Due to her quiet nature, she was rarely of any interest to me, or high school society, except when we were bored and would go to any lengths to have fun. But other than those occasions, she was of no note to me.

Despite being known for her unsatisfactory appearance, Sally Parker was also known for her stupidity in such important classes as gym and band. In gym, even the slowest runner took comfort in knowing that Sally Parker was behind them, reddened and panting. In band, her incompetence in playing her chosen instrument, the clarinet, was a source of annoyance to the teachers, a source of comedy and ego-boosting for us. We may have sounded bad, but never as bad as how bad she sounded. Sally was a step we all prided ourselves on being above, despite her being only one step. We were worth something because we were above someone who was worth nothing at all.

Overall, Sally made band a highly enjoyable class, when we were bored. We didn’t get bored that often but when we did, we did. And one day Matthew Pritscher did.

Matthew Pritscher was a chunky boy of clear complexion. He played trumpet, and sat right behind Sally, as the clarinets sat right in front of the trumpets. Matthew Pritscher was not someone anyone particularly liked, but given his clear complexion no one ever took any cruel note of him either.
Matthew Pritscher was mean, in all frankness. No one knows why. He wasn’t picked on, so had nothing in particular to be mean about. Yet he was undeniably mean and needlessly cruel. Before Sally Parker, there had been other victims. Mike Beatty, for example.

Mike Beatty had a theatrical personality. He hung out with girls and wasn’t athletic. There was something slightly feminine about him, which may have been why people thought he was gay. Despite the fact that Mike Beatty wasn’t gay, that’s what he became known for. Maybe people didn’t just think he might have been gay, but considered him that way, because he had met their criteria for a gay person.
Cuthbertson High School is really not one of the best places to be gay. Or considered gay for that matter. The problem was you couldn’t much change being gay, or being considered gay. It’s terrible hard to change yourself, and even harder to change what others think of you.
Being gay wouldn’t have been a problem in other places, in the way that it was at Cuthbertson High School. For whatever reasons, people didn’t like it. People were cruel about it. And they were cruel to Mike Beatty. Which is how people like Matthew Pritscher was allowed to step in. People think something’s funny when it’s not happening to them. This goes double for when that something’s cruel.

So Matthew Pritscher had a hobby. Sally Parker had a reputation. And they both happened to sit only two feet apart in the same class for forty-five minutes.

“Next,” the teacher gestured to Faith Cooper. Faith held up her slim clarinet in her large, strong hands and began to play the tune the teacher was testing them on. She played with a quiet but firm power, hinting at powerful lungs, and her fingers moved with a fluid grace along the keys, pressing them each in turn. At the end of the piece, the teacher nodded with a smile to Faith. Next to Faith, and next in line for the test sat Sally Parker. She fidgeted nervously and gripped her clarinet with knuckles that would become red once they were released from their hold, but were now white and taunt.
The teacher, after writing in his grade book with the special flourish that is either attributed to a good day or egotism and the knowing power that teachers have, looked at Sally briefly for a moment, a cursory, accusatory glance that made Sally’s stomach feel like it was telling her about all the things she shouldn’t have eaten this morning and how they would not look or taste any bit appetizing coming up, while her head told her mournfully how she really should either start practicing clarinet or summon up the bravery to tell her mother that she hated the obscene, despicable instrument.
The teacher looked at Sally for a moment, and then moved on to test the next instrument section.
Sally fell back on her chair with relief, letting out a long stream of air as she did so, letting the tension leave her in much the same way helium leaves a balloon. She let all her stiffness that the nervousness had instilled in her, fall off her like a heavy smothering blanket that you shoved off in the middle of the night because of the heat. She sat in her seat and closed her eyes and for a moment floated in the peace of averting public embarrassment.
“You suck.”
Sally opened her eyes, and lifted her head off the back of her chair. She didn’t say anything, but sat still trying to identify the voice without turning her head.
“Why are you even here?”
If Sally had known or observed Matthew Pritscher better, she could have asked him the same question. Matthew Pritscher hated band. He hated band, he hated the teachers, and he hated sitting in that room bored for forty-five minutes without being able to talk to his friends.
“You don’t even play the right notes.”
Sally cringed, because she knew this was true. She had tried her best to learn the notes. She had tried her absolute best to learn her scales. But, the information wouldn’t stick. For whatever reason, Sally remembered song lyrics and tunes much better than she did the written notes.
“Why are you watching me, instead of playing your own notes and focusing on yourself?” She asked.
A logical question, and also a slight suggestion that Matthew Pritscher was no better than her.
“You don’t even know the notes.”
Matthew Pritscher had no intention of stopping to answer her questions, because he knew it would derail his tormenting and also would make it impossible for any other comments to hit there intended mark. He would become more annoying than hurtful.
“Everybody knows you suck. Even the teacher knows it. That’s why he skipped over you.”
Sally sat. She knew this was true. She had known that, even as she felt the relief that had swept her away because he had skipped her. She had known that the teacher didn’t want to hear her play. The teacher probably didn’t even want Sally in his class, she knew that too. But it had never bothered her before. But know an irked feeling had crept in, a feeling that the teacher had planted in her, that Sally had observed, and that Matthew Pritscher was know watering. Had everyone else noticed that the teacher had skipped over her?
“You’re so stupid.”
After that, it all just went down hill.

Days went by, and Matthew Pritscher went on and on like a record, vocalizing all the things that Sally hated about herself or that other people said about her. As time went on he even began bumping the back of her chair with his trumpet case, hard thwacks that made the chair vibrate with the impact, much as Matthew’s words were making Sally feel.
Sally Parker sat staring straight ahead, and attempted retorts to Matthew’s taunts. She had heard taunts all her life, but had never been able to toss something back that was as blunt and hurtful as what they said managed to be. She asked him to stop, and so did her friends sitting next to her. And I knew that, the whole time she stared straight ahead and listened to Matthew Pritscher’s taunts, Sally Parker got angrier and angrier. She felt something, deep in her stomach, a black ball of tar that was growing and growing, made up of all the things people had ever said to her and that she wished she had done something about and always bitterly remembered, and her own feelings of how much she hated herself, and now how much she hated Matthew Pritscher.
And I knew that I was sitting in front of a human volcano.

It’s unclear of Matthew knew this or not. On one hand, bullies love to see someone explode. They love to see the reaction, and watch a person self-destruct. On the other hand, I’m not sure Matthew Pritscher expected Sally Parker to react in quiet that way. Matthew Pritscher probably pegged Sally Parker as one of those girls, who you could pick on and who wouldn’t do or say anything. He probably expected this would just be an easy, fun victim to torment before going off to the freedom of summer break. And in most instances, he would have been right. Sally Parker had endured torment before, and did not tell adults about her problems, and actually harbored a deep mistrust for most adults. But Matthew Pritscher did underestimate three things. One, being how much his comments would enrage and hurt Sally Parker. Two, the fact of human nature being that every human has a breaking point. Three, that Sally Parker was human, even if he didn’t acknowledge it.

I don’t know what he said. I honestly don’t even think Sally herself remembers the final comment. But I know that one minute Matthew Pritscher was whispering one of his taunts that I had ceased to listen to the particulars of and that the next minute Sally Parker had risen out of her seat, with a red, red face that looked almost as if the blood that was filling it was going to start bleeding out of every opening in her body if it could be allowed to, and eyes that had tears that were boiling in the heat of her two pupil suns.
“STOP IT”
She screamed, in a voice loud and hoarse, like the clarinet she played. And then she hurled a metal stand at Matthew Pritscher.

Despite the force with which she hurled the stand at Matthew Pritscher, its impact didn’t seem to hurt him. It was more the action and sudden explosion that shocked him. But, his regular habits kicked back in relatively quick, and retaliated, by forcefully thumping his instrument case on the back of her chair, and kicking Sally’s books out from beneath it. For a moment Sally stopped and looked around the room. Everyone in the band room was staring with shock at her. The Band teacher’s wife, who was teaching the class, had stopped to stare at Sally. With a confused look, she said “That’s not how we use band equipment.” And resumed teaching the class.

Sally bent under her chair, to pick up her books. She had fallen in on herself, had exploded all her anger in one single moment, and now felt nothing but the hurt and knot in her throat, where a small part of the ball of tar from her stomach had stuck. She felt relief that she had not been put in detention, or sent to the office. But at the same time she was irked, that that was all the band teacher had had to say-“That’s not how we use band equipment.” She had gotten off easy, but so had Matthew Pritscher. She froze for a moment, and I saw her swallow the small lump of tar stuck in her throat. And I watched as I saw one human tear, slide down her face.



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