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Tell Me Something I Don't Know
“You! You over there; come here!”
I walked over to Coach Trent, the gym teacher, and really hoped he wasn’t going to say what I knew he was going to say.
“What’s your name, boy?”
“Danny. How old are you?”
I knew it was coming right then. Even after the first week of school, Coach Trent really didn’t believe I was in seventh grade. The thing is…I’m short. Shortest in my class, in fact. Most people think I’m 8 or 9, instead of 13. And it gets old. When people ask me my age, and I tell them, they go, “Truly?” or “Really?”, as if I’m lying or something. Why can’t they just accept it? Do I have to show I.D.?
“O, right! Danny. Danny Hamilton. I remember. The, uh, the petite boy.”
The coach tried to be polite and say “petite”, but really it made everything worse. Of course, everyone in class heard him talking to me. That’s the worst part.
“Shrimp-y Danny! Petite Danny!”
That’s all I heard the rest of the day. During English class, the grade bully Frank threw a hard candy at the back of my head, and written on the wrapper was, “You belong in Pre-K.” The teacher asked me to give it to her, and I had to. She looked at it and said, “It’s okay to be a small boy, Danny.”
And than, on the school bus home, obviously everyone called me “Small Danny.” And that has been my name since September. It’s now December, and it’s still my name, even though my doctor says I’ve grown a half a centimeter.
“No, mom! Please! I have enough clothes.”
“Danny, you need some more jeans for school. And some new tee shirts.”
Shopping is worse than gym class. My town’s so small that there’s bound to be someone in the department store from school. Then they taunt me about the size I wear, or how I shop in the kiddie section. Yes, I know already. I shop in the baby section. Tell me something I don’t know.
My mom dragged me to store where we always go, and right in the parking lot I see Frank, with his mother. Sweet. I felt a shiver go up my spine. For some reason, I feel even more embarrassed to be bullied in front of my mom, because then later, she’ll give me a whole talk about how size doesn’t matter, when it so obviously does. And then she’ll go through this huge fuss by calling the school. As if the school did anything about bullies.
“Small Danny! How’s it going?” Frank bent down with his hands on his knees as if he was bending down to a kindgartener’s height. I felt the pained glance my mom was giving behind my back.
“It’s going fine, Frank. Can you please cool it for today? It’s Saturday. I won’t bother you at all.”
“Awww, is wittle Danny a wittle scared?”
“Frank, c’mon. Let’s go.” Frank’s mother pulled him into the store, oblivious to his actions. Unfortunately, my mom wasn’t.
“Danny…are you alright? Did he hurt you?” Mom pulled me into her life, too, as if I was in kindergarten.
“Mom, stop. I can handle it myself.”
“Does this happen often, Dan?”
“What do you think?”
My mom sighed. “I wish there was something the school could do about obnoxious children like that. Maybe we should switch to private school.”
“Mom, now you’re just saying stupid stuff.”
We walked in the store, and thankfully, Frank was already into the mall and not in the department store. We shopped and picked out clothes without trouble, but when we arrived at the dressing room, and I saw him.
My dad. My parents have been divorced since I was born. I only see my dad like twice a year, when he feels guilty for, I don’t know, being a bad father, and takes me to a ball game or something. I don’t really mind not seeing him. I don’t like him much. He’s a “grease ball”. Well, that’s what Mom says. He wears dirty, ripped tee shirts, and muddy jeans with flip flops all the time. His hair is oily-looking and he’s never clean-shaven. I guess he is a grease ball.
“My boy!” And he, too, squats down, waiting for me to run into his arms, like I’ve missed him so much for the past three months.
“Hi, Dad.” I walked over and gave him a half-hearted hug.
“So how’s my boy?”
“Your boy is fine.”
“You look like you’ve grown!”
Dad shut up. Well, I couldn’t say that, especially in front of my mom. But honestly, do adults think that saying stuff that’s not true like that will really make me feel better? What would make me feel better is being treated exactly the same as everyone else. Which is why I never feel better.
“He has grown, Jim. A half a centimeter.” Mom chimes in, so proud of that little announcement, when really, it pisses me off even more.
“That’s all? Nah, it’s gotta be more. My little basketball player.”
I truly never have a conversation that has nothing to do with height. I especially hate when my dad says things like what he just said. Basketball? Does he honestly think a boy who is four foot four is going to be playing any sort of sport? He thought I would be the boy all dads want. The boy to play football with. Well, sorry? What am I supposed to do about it? If I knew, I would do it.
My dad left the store, telling me how we’re going to shoot some hoops together soon. Ha. Funny.
Seeing my dad always makes me feel even more inadequate, because I’m actually the son he wishes could have been better. Taller, stronger, athletic, popular. A boy to show off to his other grease ball friends.
“Now, who wants some ice cream to cheer him up?”
“Mom, please. Enough. Just one day. That’s all I ask.”
“One day what?”
“One day where you and no one else says anything about height. Not even anything alluding to it.”
“I’m sorry, honey. I don’t mean to. I don’t talk about it that often, do I?”
I nodded. “Everyone does. Not just you. Whether they try to cheer me up and making stupid comments about basketball, or teasing me, there’s never a day where I can’t count on it.”
“Okay. Well, then, Christmas vacation is coming up. And for that whole week, not a word.”
“Except for at the doctor. And there he’s just going to measure you. I will NOT comment. I won’t even smile or frown at the news.”
“You have to make sure the topic never comes up with anyone else we see.”
I hugged my mom. And hopefully, that would be the last time we talked about height for a week.
“It’s Saturday! It’s Christmas break!” I jumped down the stairs in my pajamas. I found my mom in the kitchen making pancakes.
“And a short stack…I mean, some pancakes for my boy.”
I gave her a look.
“Sorry. From now on, not a word.”
I sighed again. She doesn’t get it.
The first few days went by smoothly, and I have never been happier. Because it was just mom and I, we didn’t need to worry about height at all. We strolled in the park, went ice-skating, and bought and decorated our tree. Nothing involving height.
But then, Grandma and Grandpa came over from Christmas. I had a feeling Mom warned them about the new “rule”, because when they came, things were a little awkward. It was like they had nothing to talk about, like the only thing possible to discuss with me is stature.
“O Danny Boy!” Grandpa always walks in our house saying that, because of the song.
“Danny!” Grandma came and scooped me up. But then, I think Mom gave her a glance, because her face lost its light of happiness, and she put me down.
We walked in to the living room and sat around the tree.
“Tell me everything that’s going on in school, Danny. How are classes?”
“I guess its all fine.”
And then…after I mentioned what I was reading in English, we were out of discussion topics. And Grandma resorted to picking the weirdest possible things to talk about.
“So, Danny, how is the school lunch? Has it improved since…since you began?”
I sighed. I looked at my mom, who shrugged her shoulders, and then told me to answer the question.
“I bring my lunch to school, Grandma.”
“Ahh. I see. And, how is the locker space? Is there enough room to put your lunch box?”
My grandma picked at her nails, and then glared at her husband for some â€˜help’ in talking to me. Apparently, unless it involves height, talking to me is a difficult task.
“Has Mom been making pancakes recently?” That was all my grandpa could offer.
“Alright, enough!” Mom snapped. “Mom, Dad, what kind of stupid things are you talking about?”
“Well,…I didn’t think it’d be this hard.” Grandma looked down at the floor, ashamed.
“Too hard to talk to your grandson. You see him once every, what, two months!”
“We’re sorry, Rachel.”
“Sorry to me? What about to Danny? And now I broke my promise, Danny. This isn’t good enough. This night ruined the three day streak without any talk about height,
I looked at my hands. They were small. Too small. Too small to be a seventh grader’s hands. I put my face in them.
“We’re so sorry, Danny. I guess, I don’t know. We ran out of topics. We exhausted everything.” Grandma came to â€˜comfort’ me. Ha.
Grandma and Grandpa left early that Christmas night. Just Mom and me sat by the fire, with hot chocolate. And then, we talked. It was weird. It was natural. I don’t even remember what we were talking about. Old memories, perhaps? I’m not sure. But I know it had nothing to do with me looking like a pre-schooler. And that made that Christmas the best one yet.