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My back ached, stiff and throbbing from the jagged wooden boards that formed my desk. I had mentally explored each crevice and crack in its frame; I knew the wobbling legs, chiseled surface, and protruding screws like the back of my hand. This desk was my prison for six hours a day, five days a week, week after week.
The dull drone of my teacher’s voice rang from the front of the room, but the words had no meaning, their structure lost somewhere between my ear and mind. This torment would not end, for it was a day where the clock found pleasure in taunting you. It would simply stop, smirking at your misery without any outward signs, and I’m certain the hands click back a few notches when you turn away. So I stare it down, willing it to move, but it won’t.
Then again, I’m used to it. Day after dreadful day the clock plays the same game, the desk induces the same pain, and the teacher gives the same boring lesson. But I don’t care; I’ve given up caring a long time ago.
5th grade was not supposed to be this; it wasn’t supposed to be this friendless classroom with the peeling paint and menacing clock. But it was; the sad truth was just that simple. The 5th grade was split in half, separated from each other: different classes, different teachers, different lunches. The school drew the dividing line down the center, and by cruel fate, it ran between my friends and me, leaving me alone on my own side. And there is no hopping this barrier, not when the teachers turn their backs, or when they look away to yell at the chattering bunch of boys. This “line” was etched into the hard drive of every school computer, in the ink of every class list, in the chart of every attendance sheet.
My classmates, the ones on my side of the “line”, were nothing to me. They were all friends, the ones who laughed and played, worshipping each day they were together. I was the one who stood in the shadows.
But no, I’m lying, there was one girl who stood out to me, the one who was always there, the one who seemed to define 5th grade. And it sends chills up my spine every time they whisper her tabooed name.
To me, she had another name, she was my leech. Mandy, my leech, was always the outcast, the one who lashed out at the world when given the chance. And it was my deadly mistake to befriend her. It had started a few years back, when I still had my friends with me to tackle the day. All I had seen at the time was the poor, friendless girl alone on the playground; so I talked with her, I played with her, I even laughed with her, all out of sheer pity.
What a terrible, terrible mistake.
I know what the teachers tell you. They say to always make friends, they tell you to get to know your classmates and maybe you’ll find a friend for life. Trust me, I tried. I gave it everything I had; the girls in my class let me into their games, their study groups, and their conversations. But I never lasted long, because soon, Mandy showed up. Mandy had made her bed; she’d been cruel to all the others. She was the one who criticized them; she’d mocked and hurt them. This was her bed, but I was the one lying in it.
Mandy had grown tired of her friendlessness, so throughout the year, she’d become my personal leech. She tried being “a part of the group” by stalking me, following my every movement. And my leech was draining the life from me. Each time it was the same, I’d approach a group of friends and ask with a sweet smile if I could join them for gym. They’d smile, nodding their heads, and they’d toss me the ball without a second thought. But my leech came, not asking permission, not wearing a sweet smile; no, she’d sidle up next to me like she was always a part of the game. I see it coming; the girls have this look, somewhere between discomfort and guilt. I wait through the silence until one speaks up.
“Um, Chrissy, this game doesn’t really work well with a lot of players…”
I know this strategy, no one can stand to face Mandy themselves. I know it wasn’t me they want gone, simply Mandy, and I do not blame them.
I see the apologetic looks on each girl’s face. Hiding tears beneath my lashes, I leave the group, with my leech at the heels of my shoes.