I walked into that class expecting to hear random snickers and scandalous whispers being passed around by the other students. I half expected to spend the rest of the hour long period with my head down, evading the glances of homophobes and potential bullies. But...surprisingly enough, I don't think anyone noticed. They hadn't eavesdropped in on our flirty exchange. They hadn't taken any tabloid photos of me and Brody holding hands. As far as my peers were concerned, it was business as usual. Nothing else had to be said. And that made my reluctant smile widen with confidence.
My life was changing. I could feel it! Hehehe, oh wow...I never thought this was possible!
I sat in my English class and pulled out my notebook, holding a pen in hand...just wishing that I had the words to describe this feeling inside. I wanted to write it down. I wanted to find the right words, the right metaphors, the right 'flow' and 'rhythm' needed to do this emotional flood of joy and playful torment some justice. But the words wouldn't come to me. In fact, words almost got in the way. There wasn't a turn of phrase or a poetic verse that didn't seem blasphemous in comparison to the surge of untold bliss that I was experiencing at that very moment. It all seemed so pointless to try and convey such a divine experience with a tool as limiting and mechanical as written language.
I couldn't force it. I couldn't bypass the importance of the feeling itself for the sake of just 'writing something down'. I needed more than that. Not only to remember...but to understand. Perhaps to make others understand. How can I make something so 'intangible' tangible? I struggle with it sometimes. But it's the one struggle that I'm happy to have in my life. That constant search. That burning question. And the hope that one day...I'll find just the right combination of words to make these restless thoughts of mine known. Finally giving me some peace of mind.
I actually sat my desk, staring at a blank page with the goofiest grin on my lips. Hehehe! The happiness...I almost couldn't contain it! I was slightly swaying from side to side, pen tip pressed to my notebook paper...almost GLAD that I didn't have the words to start writing it. Words would cheapen it somehow. Hehehe, I almost didn't want to translate it into something that could be shared with other people. People who couldn't feel it the way that I could. Brody was MINE! I wasn't ashamed to admit that I wanted to keep it that way.
Leave it to my teacher, Mr. Raffe, to completely deflate my good mood and snatch my moment of confidence and accomplishment away from me.
Honestly, I had come to expect negative comments from Mr. Raffe. I had almost taught to distance myself from every nasty word that he could throw my way, because...truth be told, he's never satisfied. He never will be. I try to ignore him and keep my chin up, even when he's roughly dragging my every effort over a field of sharp rocks and broken glass. Adam was right. I shouldn't care so much. And if it was just another homework assignment, I probably wouldn't. But writing what I do is a piece of my heart, you know? So his rejection of my writing is a rejection of 'me'. There's nothing more sensitive than your personal art. Nothing.
But...there was something significantly more 'violent' in the way that he attacked my last assignment. Something that made me wonder if he treated other kids in my class this way. It was colder than usual. Downright heartless. Why does he sound so aggravated by every single word that I put on paper? What the fuck did I ever do to make him HATE me so much???
I looked at his heavy handed additions of red ink on my last story, and he just had an issue with almost every sentence. 'Inconsistent'. 'Run on sentence'. 'Redundant'. 'Too contrived'. 'Comma splice'. 'What are you trying to say here? Too vague.' One nasty comment after another. He even used the word 'annoying' at one point.
I could feel my self esteem freezing as I read the paper. He gave me a 'B-', but that hardly merited the work I put in. My confidence was pouring out from every intellectual 'bullet hole' he fired into my stomach...and I fought to keep some of it to survive for just a little bit longer. It wasn't easy though.
Mr. Raffe never cared about the kind of story that *I* wanted to write. He only cared about the kind of story that he wanted to see. And if you didn't pander to his specific needs...you got punished for it. In the worst way.
However...this time, I felt something other than despair. Something more constructive than the acceptance of defeat in his eyes. I don't know what happened to me at that moment, but I thought back to the feel of Brody's warm palm being pressed against mine. I thought about the way he smiled at me, or chased after me when I walked off from everybody else, about the way he vowed to stick by me even when I was a total dick to him...and things suddenly 'clicked' in my mind. No explanation, no warning. It just sort of happened.
I never had to impress Brody. I never had to change who I am or do anything to appeal to what HE wanted me to be. I never once felt out of place around him, or like I had to 'perform' for him on a level that he set for me just to have him appreciate me for who I am and not for who he wanted me to be. Something about his unconditional tolerance of my every flaw and mistake...it gave me strength. Not a fake mask of strength like I was used to...but a real power within that I thought had been lost forever the first time my father beat me to tears and locked me in my room for a day and a half without food or water. It was a part of myself that had been long forgotten, now being revived and awakened by the lone kiss of a true angel.
I'll be honest, Mr. Raffe has trashed me so often that I don't even hold on to my graded papers anymore. I can't help but to give them a look, with the hope that he'll finally have something cool to compliment me on. But 99% of the time, I just crumple the paper up and toss it in the trash without saying another word. He's never going to be satisfied, no matter HOW hard I work on every paper I turn into him. He'll always put more energy into finding something wrong than he will encouraging me to build on what I'm doing right. So, why bother, you know?
Today I didn't just toss his comments in the trash without saying anything.
When the bell rang, I got up from my desk, hurt feelings and all....and I took the English project in hand over to his desk. And I stood there. I stood there right in front of him, and I held out my English paper, the story that I worked soooooo hard on...in total silence.
I was shaking inside, but I looked right at him, and I sniffled, "Can you do me a favor? Can you throw this in the trash for me?"
Mr. Raffe gave me a strange look, but I just held out the papers, waiting for him to take it. I wanted to show a brave an unemotional front at first...but my real strength came in the release of a few stray tears, allowing them to roll down my cheeks right there in front of him.
I wanted him to see that he wasn't just writing a bunch of negative comments on a piece of paper. I wanted him to know that he had affected me. I wanted him to look me right in the eye and feel it. The same way that I feel it. I wanted him to see my heart breaking, instead of chewing my hard work to bits and moving on as though my feelings didn't matter. I wanted him to FEEL something! Look at me, you son of a bitch! And be ashamed. Because this is what your thoughtlessly harsh comments do to kids like me...who just want to work hard and bare their soul in places where other people can rip them apart without consequence.
For once...for ONCE...see my humanity, and realize that you're no less of an abuser than my father is. Kids like me...we can always tell the abusers when we see them. They're always around you. The people with so little empathy that the excuse of 'I love you, so that gives me the right to hurt you' motive is forever present. They treat you like they hate you....but they stay close. Very close. Taking a stab at your soft spots whenever they find a ripe opportunity, because hurting people is what they're good at. That, and nothing else.
But not today. I'm not going to let that happen.
"Zack...if you'd like to contest your grade..." He said, but I sniffled again and never took my eyes off of him. Even when he turned away to pretend to look for something in his teacher's desk.
"I don't want to contest anything. I just want you to throw it away." I said.
He sighed quietly to himself, and couldn't really look me in the eye. Yeah...it's different when the people you hurt are staring you in the face, isn't it? "If you could just take some of my notes to heart instead of ignoring them all the time, I think you have what it takes to be a really good writer some day, Zack. I really do believe that."
"Thank you." I said. "But for right now...I don't feel like writing anything for you at all. Nothing. So...if you'll be so kind...I'd like you to take this project from my hands, and personally throw it in the trash." I said. "I highly doubt that you've got a kind word to give me no matter how much effort I put into it. So...please...throw it away. I think I'm just going to write for myself from now on. Just me." He didn't take the paper from my hand, so I just laid it down on his desk in front of him. "People 'get' me. You know that? There are folks out there who love what I do. And if you're not one of them, that's fine. But one day, you're going to realize that I can reach just as many people my as you can with yours." I backed away from his desk, hoping that he felt a pinch of shame for treating me this way. "I'm not going to let you crush my spirit, Mr. Raffe. I've got something to say...and I'm going to say it. If it takes me the rest of my life, I'm going to create something amazing. Something that's never been done before. And, by then, if you're still too stubborn to enjoy it for what it is...then you'll just have to do without my contribution t the art that I'm so passionate about. But, whatever...this is me." I said. "And it's ok to be me."
With that, I turned to walk out of his classroom. I was terrified. I was CERTAIN that he was going to call me back and give me an eternity of detention for mouthing off to him the way I did. My brain began to shut down with the amount of excuses it was trying to create in order to keep me out of trouble if I was asked to explain myself. A part of me CURSED the idea of Brody's belief in me making me believe more in myself. Maybe it was too early for that. Maybe I was moving too fast. Maybe it was hormones and teen angst that made me do something so...so dangerous! Mr. Raffe could flunk me in a minute, if he wanted to. He could make my life a living hell with a few scribblings on a piece of paper and flunking me right out of his class.
But as I took one step, then another, then another...without having Mr. Raffe get upset and calling me back to face him at his desk for a punishment that was currently out of my realm of understanding...I noticed that he wasn't calling me back. I mean...like...I just kept walking. Right out of his classroom and out into the hallway. He didn't chase me, or yell at me, or call for anyone to come and collect me so they could drag me back to his teacher's desk.
No. The further I got away from his class, the better I felt. In fact, I actually felt a smile spreading out on my face as the freedom of finally telling that academic bully what I thought of him for the first time flowed through me like one HELL of an intense sugar rush!
I did it! I did it! Hehehe, omigod, Brody, what are you doing to me??? Hahaha!
Love isn't just about the way you feel about the other person. It's about the way they make you feel about yourself! And I'm feeling like a brand new person right now!
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