A horrible pain shot through the back of Drew’s head as it made contact with the cold metal high school locker. Two boys with nothing better to do, stood in front of him mocking, laughing, and ruining any hopes he had of a peaceful day.
Each shot a word but neither of them realized the amount of irreparable damage that was being done to Drew. He gulped down the lump in his throat and tried to stand tall, but no matter how high he lifted his head, he was being looked down upon by morons who thought they were better. He was being ridiculed for something he had no control over. He closed his eyes and tried to find a happy thought to hide in. He wanted to think of his parents, but their presence in his mind was tainted.
Drew then thought of his room, of his computer and the online games that he lost himself in trying to feel a sense of purpose. He found confidence in winning battles in the digital world but was too scared to fight back in the real one.
Plenty of other students casually passed through the hallway while all of this was happening. Most didn’t even realize what was going on, the few who did averted their eyes and ignored the painful reality. Cowards! Drew screamed in his head. Why won’t anyone help me? Why won’t at least one person stand up and defend me?
You’re such a hypocrite, the voice in Drew’s head whispered to him. Why don’t you stand up and defend yourself? Here you are wanting others to have courage when you don’t even have an ounce of it. Drew knew that voice was right. Who am I to talk about having guts? I’m a coward, the biggest one.
The bell rang, the taunting finally ceased, and Drew was left with their words and laughter on repeat in his mind. He gripped the straps of his backpack and his stomach twisted with nerves as he walked to his geometry class. He dreaded the rest of the day ahead of him.
Today was going to be like every other day. He would sit in class, ignore everyone and everything, and plan his escape. He would do his schoolwork quickly and quietly, trying to concentrate and do it correctly. He would tap his foot on the floor or his fingers on the desk, anticipating for each class period to be over.
He swore to himself that one of these days he would have the nerve to run away and never look back. Who needed school anyway? Plenty of people made a good living without high school. He could just go back for his GED or something. He didn’t need this day-to-day torture.
But every morning he woke up, got dressed, and went to school anyway. He could never run away. He wouldn’t have the first clue what to do once he got out on his own. It wouldn’t be a full twenty-four hours before he was crawling home into his room and settling back into the horrible routine that was his life. He felt trapped, locked in a cycle that was suffocating him, waiting for the day it would end.
Drew stood with his lunch tray in hand, waiting to receive what everyone in the school considered non-food. The cafeteria was filled with four hundred students laughing, arguing, quizzing each other and copying homework. Drew wished more than anything that he could blend into the noise and the normalcy that came with it.
He moved along the line and handed his tray to the lunch man who tossed what looked like a hamburger on his plate. Next to him, two guys were talking in vivid detail about their weekend. He tried to mind his own business but he couldn’t help but overhear them boast about the girls they had been with. Drew felt anger start to bubble up inside of him. Why can’t I be like that? he thought. Why can’t I be normal? Why do I have to be the only one to feel like this?
Drew quickly paid for his meal and sat at the end of the long table in the corner of the lunchroom. A few other people sat near him but no one talked to each other. Everyone had headphones on or books in front of them. He picked at his food, he hadn’t had much of an appetite lately. He pulled out his phone and played games on it for the rest of the lunch period.
Every time he walked down the hallway, Drew’s insecurities put him on high alert. He felt like everyone was judging him or laughing at him. The students, the teachers—there was nowhere he could go to get away from them. He wanted to disappear, he wanted to stay in bed forever. Every day he woke up feeling worse than the day before. Home was hell, school was hell—there was no peace. He walked into his history classroom and quickly went to his seat.
The classroom chatter continued until the bell rang. He felt jealousy rise up inside of him as he watched his classmates laugh with each other. Maybe if he wasn’t so quiet he would have friends. No, he corrected himself. They would reject me if I put myself out there. It’s easier to be alone.
He looked out of the classroom window and peered at the sidewalk two floors down. He imagined himself standing on the ledge of the roof, trying to decide whether or not to jump. He’d thought about it hundreds of times, it’d be so easy. All he had to do was close his eyes, take a deep breath, and fall. All his classmates would notice him then.
They would notice when his broken body was splattered on the sidewalk. Maybe they would feel bad. Maybe they would regret every horrible word they had directed at him. All those times they had harassed him would come back to haunt every single one of them forever. They would have weighing guilt on their conscience.
They all deserve that, Drew thought to himself.
“Drew!” He was pulled back to reality by the voice of his history teacher. “Pay attention.” He nodded his head and his teacher continued writing notes on the board.
“Busy replaying a gay porno in your head?” a voice whispered from the desk behind him.
Drew clenched his jaw shut in an attempt to contain a few choice words that he was aching to scream out at the top of his lungs. The number one reason he hated this class was because of the person sitting behind him. Ben would always have something to say as if he spent his whole day thinking up the insults.
Ben continued, “What would your mother think? Are you too scared to tell her? I think you should. She deserves to know her son has wandering eyes in the locker room.”
“That’s not true,” Drew said quietly.
Ben laughed. “Oh please, princess. Everyone knows you stare.”
Drew opened his mouth to defend himself but realized it would do no good. They would always have the last word. They would always beat him, always overpower him.
Drew could hear snickering behind him as the sound of his teacher talking continued. He gripped the edge of his desk as it was pushed forward. He didn’t have to look to know Ben had kicked it.
Drew couldn’t wait to lock himself in his room. He loved the short while of isolation he had before he would have to come back and do this all over again. The school bell had never sounded so sweet to a student’s ears than it did that afternoon to his.
He didn’t even bother going to his locker. He walked right out the front door and put his headphones on. He tried to imagine what life would be like after high school. He would have to go to college. He wondered if people were as mean in college as they were in high school. He would have to pick a career path. He would have to talk to people and go on interviews and try to make something of himself.
A thought entered his mind, the idea of working with computers. He had considered it before, he had thought about it a lot actually. He could create websites, he could do coding, he could even design video games—that would be amazing.
Anxiety crept up his throat. He wouldn’t be able to do any of that stuff. He could barely hold a conversation with his mother, let alone a stranger. Not to mention he could already hear his father laughing and insulting the desire to work with computers. What was he going to do with his life? He certainly wasn’t going to stay with his parents. Where would he end up then? He would become a nobody. Another empty face in a crowd, a name that would never be remembered.
“Hi, sweetie.” Drew closed his front door behind him. Anna took a break from seasoning a chicken that would go to waste that night and gave her son a kiss on the cheek. “How was school?” she asked.
“Good.” The lie slipped past his lips as easily as he slipped off his jacket. He didn’t even consider telling his mom about the slight concussion he possibly received and the suicidal thoughts that never stopped running through his mind.
Drew walked into the kitchen and grabbed a water from the fridge. His mother continued to talk to him, but he wasn’t even pretending to listen. He was thinking of all the clever comebacks he could’ve used today if he hadn’t been such a wuss.
“Hey, you two.” Drew’s dad came into the kitchen, unclipped his name tag and set it on the table. Drew observed the tag and took notice of how the “F” in Frank was slightly bigger than the other letters.
“Got plans tonight, kid?” Frank asked. He grabbed a beer from the fridge.
“No,” Drew replied.
“No hot date?” His dad smiled slyly. He seemed to enjoy mocking his one and only child, claiming that it was loving teasing. Drew never felt the love in anything his father said or did. He rolled his eyes at the comment and started up the stairs.
“Where are you going?” Frank asked.
“You’re just gonna play on your computer all night?” Frank asked with annoyance.
Drew responded by closing his bedroom door loud enough to be heard but not loud enough to be classified as a slam, which would then lead to confrontation with Frank and that was the last thing Drew wanted. He was scared of the bullies at school, sure, but he was even more terrified of the bully that lived down the hall.
Drew clicked the mouse harshly and a headache was starting to form as he clenched his teeth and leaned too close to the computer. He sighed and paused his game. He could hear the sound of his father’s voice from downstairs and it made his blood boil. He hated his dad, there was no doubt about it. Drew laid down on his bed and stared at the ceiling. For as long as he could remember he had been at odds with his father.
In Frank’s eyes, Drew never did anything right, neither did his mom, no matter how hard they tried, and they really did try. His mother even started seeing a therapist. Drew refused to go when she suggested he join her. All the therapist did was prescribe anti-anxiety meds, which his mother now swore by. In his opinion, all the pills did was make her even more compliant with whatever his father said.
Drew looked over at the few small trophies on his dresser. Baseball, soccer, and basketball. He only played when he was younger because Frank dragged him to the games and practices. He hated playing sports, mostly because of how his father would act if he didn’t do well, which was the majority of the time. Drew just wasn’t into it. He hated standing in the beaming sun, he hated the pressure, and he hated how he wasn’t as good as the other guys on the team. His father would yell and curse and lecture Drew, and tell him that he wouldn’t get far in life if he couldn’t even kick a soccer ball correctly.
He rolled over with his face in his pillow.
From his room, he could smell dinner and his stomach grumbled, longing for something to fill it. He began to make his way downstairs but stopped when he got to the top of the staircase.
“I just don’t understand, Anna! What’s the matter with him? Where did we go wrong?” Drew’s stomach dropped when he heard those words come out of his father’s mouth. From so many years of eavesdropping, his parents had hundreds of conversations about Drew that they didn’t know he heard, most of which Drew wished he hadn’t heard.
“There’s nothing wrong with him. It’s just a phase,” Anna said.
A phase. That’s what he tried to make himself believe. He tried to assure himself that life wouldn’t be this difficult forever, that he would be normal someday and people would stop treating him so badly. He was in the sixth grade when he told himself that, and as far as Drew could tell, things weren’t ever going to change. If anything, they were just going to get worse.
“It’s not a phase. It’s who he’s letting himself be. He sits on his damn computer all day and night, he has no friends, and he isolates himself. He’s a queer, too, for God’s sake!”
“Frank!” Anna yelled in bewilderment.
Drew clenched his fists and tried to fight the tears that were threatening to fall.
“He needs to be handled. That life might be acceptable for other people but not me, not my son!”
“He’s just going through a rough patch. He has a tough time at school. Kids these days are cruel,” Anna responded. Cruel is an understatement, Drew thought.
“Kids were cruel when I was growing up, too. If he would toughen up he wouldn’t get knocked around so much,” Frank said.
Yeah, that’ll help, Drew defended in his mind. If I try to stand up for myself I’ll only get hit harder.
“You need to be more understanding,” Anna countered.
“He needs to be more of a man!” Frank yelled.
Drew couldn’t handle it anymore, his voice overpowered his father's as he flew down the stairs, “Don’t tell me to be a man, you hypocrite!”
“You watch your mouth, boy!” his father yelled back.
“No!” Drew took a step forward. “If anyone’s a coward it’s you! You’re scared of anything that’s different and anything that doesn’t go your way!”
“Shut up! Go back and play your stupid little game!”
“Frank!” Anna cried.
“Enough, Anna! We’ve babied him for too damn long and look what happened. It’s time for him to grow the hell up!” Frank poked his finger into Drew’s chest roughly.
“I hate you!” Drew screamed and swatted his father’s hand away from him. He sprinted upstairs to his bathroom and locked the door.
He could still hear his father yelling from downstairs and his mother trying to calm him down. Frank was no doubt trying to come upstairs and continue the fight. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Drew slid onto the floor, letting the tears fall freely. He was done. He couldn’t do this anymore. There was no point. This had been going on for too long. He had cried on this bathroom floor one too many times. He looked up at the medicine cabinet. He had considered it hundreds of times, even back in middle school. He looked down at the floor.
“Don’t you dare take his side, Anna. This is your fault!” Frank screamed.
Drew looked back at the medicine cabinet. He hiccuped and shakily stood. He looked at himself in the mirror. He averted his eyes. More tears fell onto his hands as they gripped the sink. He looked back up at the mirror. The whole day flashed before his eyes, and then the past several years. He hiccuped again trying to stop crying. He turned the small gold knob on the cabinet and opened it quickly so as not to keep looking at himself.
He sat back down again. The bathroom was silent apart from Drew’s heavy breathing. He turned the little orange bottle around in his hands. The sound of his mother’s pills rattling made everything more real. Thoughts were racing through his mind at a hundred miles an hour. He thought of every day he ever took a beating for being “different.” He thought about every name he had been called. He thought about every time he felt non-existent, every time he felt like no one would even care if he disappeared, every disapproving look his father gave him—every time he felt irrelevant.
He thought about what it would be like if he continued going to school. He thought about all the abuse he had yet to receive. All the jokes and hurtful words that had yet to be aimed at him. He thought about what the rest of his life would be like if every day was going to be like today. He wouldn’t be able to handle it.
As he went deeper and deeper into his mind, the pills looked more and more desirable. He tried to blink away the blurriness in his eyes. He steadied his breathing and twisted off the bottle cap. I have to, he told himself. I can’t do this anymore.
With those thoughts Drew popped the pills into his mouth and swallowed them down.