About 25 years ago around this time of year I transferred to Clearwater Middle School. I was a new kid, sure, but it was nothing new. Michigan, California, Oregon, Nebraska… wherever my father found work is where we scurried off to next. I became a ghost after awhile: fade in, fade out. I’d appear sometime in the middle of a semester, stand up and tell everyone my name, some hobbies, my favorite color, the names of my pets, and that sort of junk. Later on, once I hit middle school, all of that stopped. It would just walk in, take the only available seat, and get mentioned in passing as the new kid. There was a whole lot less ceremony and a whole lot more reality: I learned introduction or not nobody really cared about me. Why should they? I didn’t grow up with them like every other person around, and I don’t think I’m the least bit interesting. Not like any of that was a problem though. I maintained a believable front of contentment.
Anyways, to the point. I’m here at Clearwater Middle. I’ve come in on a Wednesday, smack dab in the middle of a week, a unit, and the year. Nobody knows me. I sit through the teacher blabbing on about this and that, things I’ve already learned from the last school I was at. After about a page and a half of filling in squares on graphing paper, the bell rings for the lunch period, and I watch students file on out of the classroom. I’m determined to finish filling in the squares on this second page, especially considering I have a sack lunch so there’s no need for me to leave anyways. Once I finish with that I reach in to my brown paper bag for my peanut butter and jelly, then stop. There’s another kid in the classroom still, and he’s just sitting at his desk playing with legos. Legos. In the seventh grade. I dunno what was so striking about that now that I look back on it, but I suppose anyone would be jarred if they turned toward a place they long figured to be empty, only to discover they hadn’t been alone the entire time. Even when the classroom was full I felt alone, blissfully unaware that there was another nobody that felt the same. So I walk over to this kid sandwich in hand, freshly slid out of the flimsy plastic bag. I sat down in the desk adjacent to him and took a bite, admiring his unfaltering focus.
“Whatcha making, there?”
And that was that. We didn’t exchange names, hobbies, or favorite colors. I just sat there silently, eating my sandwich, and watched him build castles until the bell rang. When I returned to my seat and watched the first kids enter the room, I followed them with my gaze until I saw that kid in the corner again. He had already packed all his legos away and was staring out the window, as if he had something to hide.
It’s sometime late in March. I’ve got my arm around Stephan, and I’m walking him home. We’re taking it slow. I don’t really know what to say, so I don’t talk that much. He seems to be fine being quiet as well, but the silence hangs over the two of us like a cold damp cloth. I want the sun and the sky to be smothered in clouds. I want the road to be clear of cars. I want him to forgive me for not doing anything back there. I’m not even sure if he knows I was off in the sidelines, cowering in the shadows like some sort of frightened pup. If he doesn’t know then I don’t really have anything to worry about, but I still worry. I don’t think I’ll be able to forgive myself.
We continue along the road in staggered footsteps, and I do my best to support him if he accidentally puts too much weight on his bad leg. It’s step by dreaded step like this, and the sunshine and birds chirping and white picket fences make me sick. I continue to wonder if he saw me or not. Regardless, does this make up for it? I mean surely this counts for something, right?
“Hey, this is my house.”
Oh. I stop and direct us through a short white gate and up to a light green house with a clearly visible concrete foundation and cracked paint near the bottom. Clumsily juggling his impaired balance and the screen door, I pull us into the house and close the door behind me as carefully as possible. Stephan’s father is asleep in the living room, blanketed by the soft gray glow of the television. I drop Stephan’s backpack and my own, then turn to face him.
“Let’s get that blood off your face.”
He smirks weakly.
January. It’s— let’s see. It’s January 17th. My third day at school. Today I decide to talk to the lego kid again, mainly because I wandered outside for about a minute at lunch yesterday. Everyone else is sorely unapproachable. I learn that the kid’s name is Stephan, and I introduce myself as Marc. He doesn’t feel like doing anything besides legos I guess, because he doesn’t really look at me during our brief exchange of names. I even could have sworn I saw him tighten when I went to talk to him. Maybe he just doesn’t like people, but my curiosity was welling. The next day when everyone had cleared out I went over and sat next to him again, but this time he stopped building and abruptly repositioned himself to face me with his full body. Looking me dead in the eyes, he spoke like a dagger:
“What’s your problem?”
“What do you want from me? Why do you keep on coming over here?”
“Well I umm— I’m new here, right?” I vomited a nervous, squeaky laugh. “Just trying to make a friend, I suppose.” He loosened at that.
“Oh. Right. Sorry.” He slunk right back into playing with legos, the air thick with embarrassment.
“Not a problem,” I mindlessly muttered, still reeling in shock. After a pause that took a life of its own, I recovered and livened the encounter. “So what do you like to do besides playing with bricks?”
The bell rang right then and there. Both our heads snapped to the door, and I sighed. I shuffled back to my desk and turned around to once again find him absently staring out the window.