“Get yer ass up. I don’t wanna hear from that damn school again!” My mother yelled as the cigarette smell seeped into my bedroom. “Janice, did ya hear me? GET UP!”
Mumbling through my mouth’s crusted corners, I replied “Yea, I’m up.” She slammed the door. I could hear her fussing with her boyfriend, Roger, down the small hallway. I hated Roger.
The dirty quilt was my cocoon. I hated high school as much as I hated Roger, I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay under my patchwork comfort. My grandmother hand stitched every vibrant colored square. I ran my fingers over the rough turquoise and purple patches. My mind flooded with the smells of my Grammy’s house, a happy place. I remembered waking up to the searing aroma of bacon frying. Every morning, I missed my Grammy. She still lingered in my head with her olive oil and rose scent. She’s been gone for two years now. I wake up every day longing to be with her.
There was no bacon when I walked into our kitchen. There was no bread or eggs. There was a half emptied Pabst Blue Ribbon beer case sitting on the moldy bottom shelf. I shut the door and poured a half full coffee mug. I would have preferred some milk, but there wasn’t any in the fridge. Beer sat alone accompanied only by condiments, and plastic wrapped cheese slices.
“Good mornin’ fat-ass,” Roger greeted me.
I ignored him and walked back down the hallway to the bathroom chugging my coffee breakfast. I brushed my teeth and took my best ‘whore’ bath. Mom always called it a whore bath when I used a washcloth and soap instead of standing under a hot shower. I hated whore baths, but I wouldn’t bathe with Roger here.
Returning back to my bedroom, I found my favorite Nirvana t-shirt. The gray sleeves were faded and yellow stains adorned each armpit. I loved it. Mom had played their music since I could remember. The shirt had Kurt Cobain sitting with butterflies and flowers around him. There was a quote right above his head reading: “I swear that I don’t have a gun.” I layered my maroon Hanes zip up hoodie over top of the t-shirt. I needed it to hide the quote and the stains. I sniffed at the only pair of jeans I owned. They stunk and were loose from so much wear. I had two choices: the jeans, or my Mom’s too small “Juicy” sweatpants. I couldn’t walk around with the word “Juicy” on my butt again.
After choosing the jeans, I scraped my tatted, oiled chestnut hair into a ponytail. A few weeks back I bought some black eyeliner at the Dollar Store, I traced the outline of my eyes.
I wanted to be pretty.
My gray book bag was neatly packed as I readily grabbed it, and darted past Roger and mom who were still smoking and bickering as they sat at the round dining table. Mom was already dressed in her Shoney’s waitress outfit which meant she would probably go in at 10 a.m. and get off at 7 tonight. I decided to not come home till 7:30.
The bus ride to school was quiet as it was every morning. It was the best part of my days as I took peace in the solitude. No one ever sat beside me or talked to me. I always read “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” on the way to school. I liked the main character, Charlie, a lot. I was a wallflower too. He had friends at least. I considered Charlie my friend, even if he was a book character. I’m sure somewhere out there is a Charlie, and maybe one day I would find him. We could be friends.
Walking through the cafeteria, I saw the “others.” The people who had gone to parties and events the night before. Girls were snuggled in their boyfriends’ necks. Their hair was washed, not greasy like mine.
I walked past a few older boys to reach my locker. I looked down at the orange and white tiled floor where scuff marks accented every white tile. The halls buzzed, almost jubilant, as people gravitated to their cliques.
Please don’t see me. I have no place to belong.
“Oh my GOD! What is that smell?!” One of them exclaimed loudly.
“It’s her,” the tall, broad shouldered sandy blonde haired boy pointed at me, and they both made gagging puke noises.
It was me. I hadn’t showered in five days. If I showered while Roger was home, he watched. The last time he tried to show me how to wash myself. I knew then I would always have to wait for him to go out on Fridays or I waited for the nights where the beer and liquor cold cocked him out, then I would shower. I hate Roger.
My fingers fumbled the combination to my locker on the second turn, and then finally opened . Quickly, I swung the orange colored steel door to hide my face from the assholes. They’re all assholes.
Sometimes at lunch my English teacher, Mrs. Wilkes, would let me eat in her classroom. She isn’t an asshole. She does ask a lot of questions about home and stuff. I tell her its fine. The other day, she asked if I was thinking about college. I said, “YES.” I still had two more years before I would escape high school hell.
She asked, “Where do you plan on applying?”
“Sarah Lawrence.” I didn’t hesitate in my answer. Sarah Lawrence was my ticket out of this backwoods Kentucky town.
“That’s a great school! You certainly have the grades. They would be lucky to have you,” Mrs. Wilkes told me and I smiled. I rarely show my teeth when I smile, but this time I did. I grinned full and wide. It felt good to hear those words. Lucky to have you.
I kept pictures of Sarah Lawrence’s campus tucked inside my copy of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” They were taped beside my bed. Roger and Mom said they didn’t have any money to send me, but I was going. I would leave full steam ahead away, and I would become somebody. I would shower every day, and get a job where I could buy some more jeans and makeup. I would study, maybe become an engineer.
On the days Mrs. Wilkes wasn’t here, I would eat in the bathroom. Most days, I didn’t eat lunch at all. There was a small store on the way home, and occasionally I could steal Little Debbie snacks by tossing them into my book bag and buying only their cheap gum. Sometimes, Mom brought me the leftovers from Shoney’s. I’d eat around the already bitten off pieces.
As the bell rang, my stomach grumbled and I raced to Social Studies class. The teacher sat us in alphabetical order which meant I sat behind Kelly. She has perfect blonde Kelly hair with perfect makeup and her perfect Ralph Lauren shirts. She even smelled perfect.
Kelly’s best friend, Micah, sat behind me. I was in their way. I tried to always scoot my chair to the side a little so they could talk.
“Did you see Vine last night?” Kelly asked Micah.
“The one with KiKi drunk?” Micah had apparently seen it. KiKi was a nice girl in my Spanish class. I didn’t even think she drank.
“Yeeeessss! I sent it to everyone on SnapChat. It was too funny. She kept slurring her own name.” Kelly answered and they both obnoxiously giggled.
We had a substitute today, he finally came in saying we had a free period. This meant I could finish my book again. I eagerly reached down into my book bag, snatching up the worn paperback.
Kelly glanced sideways at me behind her thick triple coated mascara, she asked “Why do you always read THAT book? It’s not even good.” She glared straight at my jeans then upwards to my ponytail. She was judging my clothes, my hair, and my taste in books.
“I like it.” I murmured.
“You really should read other things.” I noticed a quick nod towards Micah’s direction, as Kelly flashed her too white vicious smile. Then, I hear a phone’s photo snap sound from behind me. I refused to turn around.
“Did you get it?” Kelly asked.
“Oh yea, I’ll send it to you,” I heard Micah say from behind as I buried my head further into the black and white pages. I wanted to be sucked into the literary world, vacuumed away from the high school abyss.
Kelly pulled out her pink initialed rhinestone covered iPhone and within minutes she laughed hysterically at the picture. I glanced upwards to see her typing on her screen. I knew it was of me. I knew I was today’s KiKi. I kept trying to read but it was hard to see the words between my tears. Tomorrow, I would be a wallflower again.
In Spanish class that afternoon, the teacher said we needed to partner up to practice conversation. I noticed KiKi had her head down and people were staying away from her. I inhaled, exhaled, and stood up as my jeans started sliding down. I pulled them up and tugged my sweatshirt downwards.
“Hey, Kiki,” I tapped her bony shoulder hidden under a bright blue Kentucky Wildcats sweatshirt. Her black hair looked sweaty and the pink stripes around her face weren’t as vibrant as they usually seemed. “She said we needed to practice talking today. Can I sit with you?”
She surveyed the room, realizing I was the only option. “Sure,” she muttered. “I fuckin’ hate this place.”
“Yea, me too.”
“Kelly Longhorn is ratchet. I hate her.” KiKi exploded anger fireworks.
“Si,” I said, we were being conversational.
“I had to deactivate my Twitter this morning. She sent that stupid Vine to every person. Did ya see the pic she took of you?”
“I knew Micah took a pic of me this morning but, I haven’t seen it. Not every one saw the Vine, I didn’t see it.” I wanted her to know there were ‘others’ who existed outside of her social media gangs. Others who didn’t have social media bullets. There were people who didn’t have a Tweeting arsenal.
“Kelly is worse than ratchet. Ya know, I never drank till last night. They all wanted to party,” she trailed off, “fuck’ em. Fuck’ em all.”
“Do you have it? The picture of me?” I knew this was a loaded gun. Seeing it made it real. But, there was a picture of me going around school. I was only reading a book. How bad could it be? What was so funny about me reading? I read the same book every day.
“Janice, you’re nice. You’ve been the only decent person to me today. I don’t want to show you. It popped up on my phone, I didn’t even open the text from those phonies. They’re all fake, ya know. Kelly sleeps with this old guy at the Pizza Hut. He gives her money to buy things. Her cell phone case, he bought it. He bought this expensive ass perfume. And, they’re making fun of me for saying my name, I was hammered. If my Mom or Dad sees that video, I’m in deep shit.”
“No doubt,” I paused, “but, Kiki, I just want to see what’s so funny. I was only reading.” I persisted. What did they see worth spending this much time on? What value was there in messaging my picture to people? I was a nobody.
“Janice, I’ll show ya.” She dug into her pink hand purse and pulled out her phone. The cover was wooden and there was sticker on the back that was written in cursive, it said “Come As You Are.”
“I like your sticker.”
“They’re one of my favorite bands, I know they’re old. I don’t care.” She slid open the screen and hit the touchscreen. “I’m so sorry. Don’t believe that shit.” She handed me her phone and there it was.
The text said “Stupid books and smelly fats need to die.” Then I saw a picture of me. My fat rolls hung over my jeans with my butt crack was showing. My Nirvana shirt was too small and my jeans were too loose. You could see a straight brown line right above my crack, you could see the dirt perched in between the crevices of my stretch marks. You could see me. Somehow, a picture made me hate myself even more. I just wanted to come to school, as I am, as I wanted to be.
“Janice, what are ya doin Friday? You should come over. We could order pizza and hang out, or something?” KiKi was looking at me with wild enthusiasm, almost like she expected me to say ‘no.’
My eyes brightened, I smiled showing all my teeth. I smiled so hard my cheeks hurt. “I would like that. Thank you.”
In this brief fleeting moment, I felt Nirvana.
*Author’s note: This piece was written as part of the #1000Speak movement “Building from Bullying.” We can continue to mock others without knowing their circumstances, their home lives, and their daily struggles. Or, we can choose to accept and love people as they are. We can choose compassion and empathy. To make a friend has many more rewards than tearing down a human. Love is greater than hate. This is a fictional story, but chances are… it’s probably true.
If you or someone you know has been affected by abuse, bullying, or you feel alone; please know YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You are breathing for a purpose. Don’t let anyone dampen your light. You are beautiful. You are here for reasons greater than the words used to tear you down. Come as you are.