Episode 2 – Reconciliation?

“Spring: That frenzied time when nature hides her humiliating skeleton…raw branch, rock and earth.” Anonymous

That night, I couldn’t get the meeting with Karl off my mind…felt guilty as shit. Tried to figure out how things had gotten so badly off track. Couldn’t imagine anybody intentionally being such an asshole…must have been busting my balls…why’d I take it so seriously? Around 9:00, I was convinced I was the biggest shit of all time, and decided to call and apologize. Direct one-on-ones always seemed to work, and I figured this would be no exception. Got the number from information and punched it in. A gruff voice answered.

“Hi,” I said. “This is Taylor Campbell. Is Karl there?”

“Who are you again?”

“Taylor Campbell, a classmate from school.”

“Taylor? A guy or girl?”

“A guy.” The voice sounded like an older version of Karl, and freaked me a little, but I figured all adults were basically rational. Whatever the deal was with Karl, his father would be understanding, but suddenly I wasn’t so sure…it pissed me off to have to answer such a stupid question. My voice was definitely post pubic.

The phone clunked down on a table. “Karl! There’s some kid from school on the phone.” I thought Karl would pick up in his room, but there were echoey footsteps, like on cardboard or something, then a hoarse, sleepy voice: “Hello.”

“Karl, it’s Taylor from school. Sorry we got off to a rocky start.”

“What? Oh, yeah, I remember you. By the lockers, right?”

“Yup.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry too,” he said. I breathed a sigh of relief. Things would be okay, but unfortunately Karl didn’t stop there. “Yeah, I was pretty tactless. You’ve got serious problems not many guys have…if you really are a guy.”

He caught me totally off guard and I was speechless, but there were more choice words: “Hey, some people are freaks, not drug freaks or car freaks, just physical freaks like you. In fact, you belong in a fucking circus, Roachboy, so stay totally out of my way. You’re just too god damned creepy!” The tirade was followed by a click.

I collapsed on my bed unable to fathom what happened. For no reason at all, a guy had totally dissed me…didn’t care if I was dead or alive. It was totally new to me. Sure, I’d had enemies and arguments, for ACTUAL REASONS…but Karl just hated me, for NO reason, and though I was brave, I knew he could crush me like a bug…not the type guy you wanted as an enemy. I lay in shock. the day before I’d been happy, had friends, looked forward to sports, but suddenly, none of it mattered. I was facing physical and psychological abuse and the following day confirmed my worst fears.

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The next morning, I opened my eyes, but didn’t get up. My body was lethargic, numb, like I was paralyzed. I wiggled a finger for reassurance.

“Taylor,” my mother called, “it’s late. Are you up?” I covered my face with a pillow.

A few minutes later she stuck her head in. “Honey, are you okay?”

“No,” I mumbled. “I feel crummy.”

She lifted the pillow and felt my forehead. “You don’t have a fever. Why don’t you get up and I’ll make you a nice breakfast.”

“Okay,” I groaned, dragging myself out of bed.

“You look miserable. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” I wasn’t a complainer or a tattletale, but I sure wanted to be.

I arrived at school late and went to my first class, Math. The minute I entered the classroom, I knew I was in trouble. Karl was sitting two desks away with a nasty grin on his face. As I sat down, he whispered “Morning, Roachboy,” and got a few chuckles. I was freaked. Nobody’d ever seriously harassed me.

As Mrs. Fisher started going over homework on the board, I tried to ignore Karl and concentrate on the problems, but was immediately hit in the head by a massive, gooey spitball. There was a ripple of laughter…two more hit in quick succession. Mrs. Fisher turned from the board as I wiped away the mess.

“Taylor, what’s wrong?” She asked.

I felt like pleading for help, but said nothing.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said, glaring at all the innocent-looking faces, “but I want it stopped right now!”

“Yes, Mrs. Fisher,” Karl answered smugly. She glanced at him suspiciously, then turned back to the lesson. Instantly, another spitball hit from the opposite direction. “Fuck,” I whispered, turning to look. Max Harvey buried his face in a textbook. Max was a friend, but it wasn’t surprising. If anybody instigated anything, he was the first to follow.

Half a dozen spitballs later, the bell rang and I jumped up from my seat, only to be straight-armed back again. “Jeez, Roach,” Karl sneered. “I didn’t notice you. Everything okay?”

I ignored him angrily, tried to get up, but he pushed me down again. “Easy, little buddy,” he said with a laugh. “Why you in such a fuckin’ hurry?” Then sauntered past to join his groupies at the door. “That kid is SO fuckin’ weird,” he said, nodding in my direction.

In the hall, my best friend, Kathy Miller, came up to me. “That new guy is such an asshole,” she said. “I can’t believe nobody defended you.”

“Maybe because he’s I giant?” I suggested.

“Whatever. I’ll tell him off. He deserves it.”

“Please don’t,” I said. “I’ll stand up for myself.”

“But you’re facing mob psychology,” she explained. “They’re like Nazis. Nobody will stand up to Karl. They’re afraid of being socially ostracized. In situations like this, the same thing happens every time.”

“Which is?” I asked. Kathy’s mother’s a shrink, so we go through a Q&A whenever a psychological issue rears its ugly head.

“Taylor, it’s a no-brainer. They identify with the aggressor…Karl. Rationalize it as being part of an important cause.”

“And, the cause is what exactly?”

“It can only be one thing, discrediting someone who’s contrary to the leader’s ideals, like Hitler and all that mumbo-jumbo about skull shape, skin and hair color. I ought to know. My mom’s grandfather was in the holocaust.”

“But what makes me so offensive?”

“You’re short, smart and non-conformist. That’s enough for them.”

“So what the hell do I do?”

“Let’s see…you’ve got four choices. Get a tougher or older kid to defend you, transfer to another school, find a secret weapon he’s afraid of, or if those don’t work, consider murder or mayhem. Both are equally effective.” She grinned.

“Very funny,” I said. “You’re no help at all.”

“I’m sorry, Taylor. Actually the key is to find out what makes him tick. Do some spying. Maybe you’ll stumble onto the perfect solution.”

“Shit, I’ll try it. It beats waiting around for the axe to fall.” Read next episode.