She watched him get shoved down. She watched him get tortured every day. She saw him shoved into lockers. She heard what they called him. She saw how much it hurt. She did nothing. It had always been this way. She was one of the popular kids, and he simply wasn’t.
His clothes were obviously hand me downs or recent purchases from Goodwill. Her clothes were all designer, her walk in closet full to capacity. He was small and weak. Her boyfriend was an all star athlete who looked like he had hit puberty at age ten. He barely talked, sat in the back of the classroom, ate lunch alone. She was constantly deep in mindless conversation, sat surrounded by friends whether in class or not. He was rarely seen outside of school. She was at every social event of the school year. He worked at the local bookstore. She would never need to work thanks to her parents money. They were polar opposites and somehow, they had gotten stuck together working on this English project.
She always invited him to her house, even though the expansive home obviously made him uncomfortable. He always looked as if he didn’t want to touch anything for fear of ruining it. Her mother, shocked at first that she would associate with such a boy, still managed to be welcoming and inviting.
She did her best to converse with him. But it was difficult. He never spoke about his family. He never mentioned any friends. She couldn’t bring up school because she knew it was hell for him, in fact she was one of the people who made it that way. Mostly they talked about the project. That was the one thing that connected them. They both loved English.
Her friends told her how sorry they felt for her. They told her how awful it must be to get stuck with him. They told her to ask him to do all of the work. She had parties to attend and shopping to do. He’d obviously comply because he was obviously in love with her, who wouldn’t be? Just blow off the project. I can’t believe you invite him over. He’s been in your house? I hope you disinfected everything that came in contact with him. What does your mom think? Well, at least she’s being nice.
That night she was supposed to go to a party. Instead she called him and invited him over to work on their project. He declined. She was shocked. He claimed he was too busy to leave his house, so she offered to come over. He immediately became furious and hung up. He had told her to keep her conceited head out of other people’s business. She took serious offense to this. Conceited? If she was conceited, she would have gone to that party and left him to do the work himself. Determined to show him she really did want to work on their project, she gathered the pieces from her room and drove to his house.
Everyone knew where he lived. It was the only house with no car in the driveway. The only house that never gave out candy on Halloween or put up lights for Christmas. It was, by far, the smallest house in town. Peeling paint, weeds, a screen door hanging on for dear life. The curtains were never open. You rarely saw a light on. This is what he biked home to after being tortured all day at school and working his after school job.
She pulled into the empty driveway and knocked on the door. No answer. She rang the bell. No answer. Then she heard the crash. She opened the door and ran inside. There she saw him trying to help his mother off the kitchen floor. There were liquor bottles lining the countertops and littering the floor. We all knew his mom had gotten sick after his dad was killed in action, but we didn’t realize this was her disease. He looked up and ignored her, intent on getting his drunken mother to her room for the night. He was struggling under his mother’s weight. She reached out to help him, but all he had to do was look at her for her to know he didn’t need or want her help. He did this every night.
After he disappeared into the hallway with his mother, she began to pick up the chair that had been knocked off its feet and the empty bottles on the floor. She looked around for a trash bin as she carried the empty bottles through the kitchen. This is why he wears hand me down clothing. His mom can’t take him shopping. She obviously doesn’t work, so he had to pick up that job at the bookstore. This is why he looks so tired. This is why he’s so quiet. This is why I was never invited here. He goes to school, and we make it hell for him, then he comes home to this.
She found the trash bin outside and emptied her arms of the bottles. As she turned to come back inside, he was standing at the back door, silent.
“I’m so sorry,” she managed, before breaking into tears, “I’m so sorry for everything.”