Seventh grade, English class. Unit of study: Shakespeare, what a drag.
Our teacher stepped out into the hall for a moment.
A boy, let’s call him Zac because his name was Zac and he used to stand at the top of the landing and spit down the stairwell as the girls walked up.
Zac had friends, popular friends who wore red turtlenecks under their black or gray sweatshirts, our school logo displayed like armor. We were the Fighting Quakers which I understand now is irony.
Zac and his friends picked a new girl to love every week. I was one of those girls, many of those weeks.
He picks on you because he likes you.
He has a crush on you.
Ignore him and he’ll stop.
1. Did you laugh too hard in class?
2. Did the teacher call on you?
3. Did you stumble, tongue-twisting as you answered wrong?
4. Did you wear the wrong clothes?
5. Did you have the wrong friends?
6. Did you kiss the wrong person last Friday?
7. Did you refuse to kiss?
Write your name on the top of your paper and list all the ways that you were wrong. Put them in order of importance.
I told him to leave me alone. I didn’t even have a voice yet and I said it. My voice was nothing but a whistle coming from the old radiator heater along the big dusty windows. But, still, I said it. I bit my thumb at him. Every silent moment, he whispered my name. A Romeo crooning to Juliet, “You fucking pig.”
He kicked my chair, knocked my books off the rack below my desk, pitched me forward. I was there, he could reach me. Yes, he loved me. Yes, I was liked. He could reach me and so I was loved.
Write his name on the front of your notebook. Draw a big heart around it. Bisect the heart with an arrow.
I turned. Brought my hand to my shoulder in salute. Whipped my hand loose and cracked the back of it across his cheek. See, I was capable of love, too. My knuckles felt the report of that love against mouth, split the lip, the air in the room hissing music like a carousel.
Stand up to bullies.
No one ever said, move through danger, little girl, like a snake through oil.
No one ever said, You cannot win this. There is no way free from the slick.
“You going to cry? Jesus Fucking Christ, you guys. Look, she’s crying.”
He was crying too but they weren’t really tears. It’s a kind of ejaculate of emotion, when things become bigger than we know how to feel. When the burn of it hits our cheeks.
This was no triumph; no one cheered. Zac went from punching the back of my chair to punching my back. Our teacher returned, sensing that something had happened. Seventh graders are so full of hormones, never leave them alone for too long.
“Zac, what’s wrong with your lip?”
“Nothing. I bit it.”
She watched us carefully, saw my tears. When she turned away, I felt something hit my hair.
Gleeting, the boys called it. The technique was difficult to master.
The ejection of saliva directly from one’s salivary glands and out of their lips. Press the tip of your tongue against the back of your front teeth. Push down on the lower portion of your tongue where the web connects the meat to the bottom of the mouth. Release the ejaculate like venom.
“Have not saints lips?” Romeo asked and waited. Somewhere, Juliet replied, “aye, pilgrim,” but the radiator whistled and her voice was lost to the sound.