“What the hell are you gonna do, Baby Barry?!” the boy growled as he kneed me in the stomach.
A teen I didn’t even know grabbed a fistful of my curly hair with one hand and raised his other fist, egged on by the strangers whom dragged me behind the dumpster outside of our school and threw me against it.
Pressed against a dumpster, blood drying on my face and shirt, surrounded by peers only different by color. This was a common occurrence now, middle school boys may have been mean, but high school guys were violent.
I could only sit there and take it. The abuse would only be extended by any efforts to end it. I knew they’d tire of testing my rib strength eventually, and when they did they left me lying on the ground with the trash, coughing. Struggling to retain consciousness, I dimly wondered if that was where I belonged, strewn across the ground like the waste around me.
When I was finally able to breath reliably, I forced myself up and limped home. A dog with his tail between his legs going to lick his wounds.
Arriving at my hovel of a house, I prayed Mom was gone on her second shift of the day. I couldn’t deal with her barrage of questions today. I washed the dried blood from my face, examined the blooming hues of purple across my body and how they contrasted the fading blues, then I wiggled into what little clean clothes I could find. After laying on the rotting couch in the least painful position, I flicked on the only television in the house.
A picture of the quaint town I lived in flicked onto the screen, along with the forest separating it from Eagle Mountain lake to the north, and marking the general area I reside in. A red circle appeared on the edge of the forest and the solemn reporter began reporting.
“Another African-American adolescent was found dismembered just outside Azle this morning. Young James O’Connor was reported missing just last week, the mother stated, ‘James was just in the back, there one moment, gone the next,” she paused, a flash of reluctance, then continued.
“Police refuse to release further information, however, they insist they will find the cul-”
I cut her off. The news was so depressing I didn’t know why I even bothered watching it.
With out wasting another thought on the events that had transpired, I hobbled to my bed for refuge and rest. I felt the aching pain melt away with my consciousness.
A scratch… A scrape… A brush… A thump. That’s what woke me in the dead of night. Still groggy with sleep, I glance out of the square of low light beside my bed. What I saw caught my breath and drained the sleep from me, pouring adrenaline into my bloodstream.
Big. That was my first thought; a hulking figure, I could only assume was male, clinked barely a meter from my window.
Danger. That was my second thought. The person, judging by his gait and stature, was rippling with thick cords of muscle under skin so white it almost glowed. The glint of steel caught my attention, and the pristine elongated blade caught my breathe. A sword, by the loosest of definitions, great in both size and destructive power. As long as I am tall, like seeing a missile just before impact. This was the definition of a great sword.
The only thing that stopped me from staring longer was the man’s hesitation. Slowly, he began to turn around. I ducked. My heart was pounding, I had a feeling that blade wasn’t for show, and I wasn’t about to explore that hypothesis.
I slinked off the heightened position on my mattress and crawled under the window sill, laying directly under it incase he looked in. The scraping steel on concrete halted my progress and chilled my blood. I was oozing fear and seeping in anxiety at the implications of the sound.
I held my breath. A gentle tapping sounded above me, I just about pissed myself.
Had he seen me?
Does he know?
I caught my breathe and suddenly my heart was a symphony of timpanis. Just when I thought I’d pass out or scream, the scape of metal and stone sounded again, yet fading.
I was safe, for now.
Eventually the terror faded along with the war drums in my chest and I became exhausted once more. I drifted into peaceful oblivion.
I awoke on the floor with a vague memory of a nightmare and nothing more, so I made the mistake of getting up that morning.
I dressed for another day of educational hell and left my house unknowingly for the last time.
Most of my school day passed without trouble. If peace can be considered trouble. You’d think teachers or staff would intervene when they witnessed discrimination, I mean all students are equal after all, but they don’t seem to see me. As if I blended into the few shadows of my peers.
I suppose even color blind people see shades.
It was always worst after school though, no witnesses.
“Aye Charcoal, wait up!” I heard behind me as I hurried off campus towards home. My pace quickened. I wasn’t sure I could take another round like the day before.
“Where’er you goin’ ‘ol oil slick?!” I picked up the pace, breaking into a full sprint as the steps behind me quickened.
Breathing felt like jabs to the ribs, and the reminder of yesterday’s torment thickened my resolve to escape.
Panting, sweat making my clothes stick and jeans chafe, I turned on the street with my salvation. Only I was still being followed. On a snap decision I decided I could NOT let them know where I sleep.
As much as it pained me, I pumped my melting legs past my house and into the thick treeline behind it. I’d lose them in the brush and then circle back.
Their persistence disturbed me, all this work for what? Displaying dominance? Over a kid hiding in the woods? Why not someone else?
Their insults and cat-calls derailed my train of thought and brought my attention back to escape.
I forged deeper into the safety under the canopy of leaves even after the voices faded behind me. I slowed and decided to rest when I was sure I was alone. I sat on the carpet of dead leaves and assessed my wounds.
Ribs still throbbing, a few cuts reopened, but I was no worse than yesterday. I’d be fine, assuming I could get back.
After some time my breathing evened out along with my heartbeat, however, as the darkness began settling on the alien terrain around me, they both regained tempo. In my exhaustion and paranoia I imagined the leaves rustle and whispers resonate around me. In my blind panic, I bolted forward, landing hard on a particularly thick patch of leaves. With a snap under my foot, and several grunts of surprise and I fell.
I hit the ground with a thud and shot to my feet to assess the situation. All four bodies of determination and discrimination had surrounded me while I rested, falling with me as they closed in.
A pit, that’s what happened. It was obvious with the shower of leaves dissipating the illusion of solid ground. The teens around me stirred. I needed a way out, I flicked my eyes, examining the space I was confined in.
There! A door across from me. I barreled towards it, shoving dazed would-be aggressors back to the ground in order to buy as much time as possible.
I charged through the doorway, not stopping to wonder why a door would be there in the first place, and lurched into the darkness beyond it, worsening an increasingly dire situation.
I ran through what felt like a cramped tunnel blindly, ramming a wall face first. Ignoring the blood flooding from my face, I swung my arms to either side looking for the space indicating salvation.
Walls, both sides. My false hope for freedom withered. It was a dead-end. My dead-end.
I collapsed to the floor, curling up and crying at the unfairness of it all. Four sets of foot falls growing louder. Four sets of fists with my name on them. My own four horsemen bringing me my own apocalypse.
I lay there in my blanket of shadows. I could only wait. Wait and cry and ache at those who would never hear me, who never truly heard me. As heavy hands and crushing kicks fell upon me I thought of my mother, working two jobs, shelving her dreams to care for her boy all alone, not knowing her son was going to die.
Hot tears mingled with the blood dripping down my face and off my chin. I thought of the father who “toughened me up” when I came home crying, whom we escaped and left in Cleveland with false hopes of a better life.
My body throbbed and ached all over, I couldn’t tell where I hadn’t been hit anymore. “This is it,” I thought, “I’ll die here, lost and forgotten.”
A kick to the abdomen, a stomp on the chest, an unseen flurry of limbs connected to hearts filled with unwarranted contempt.
I thought again of Mom, alone in this cruel world, reporting her black son missing to the uncaring white police. My heart finally broke, that hurt more than any of the physical abuse. Hot tears poured from me, competing in volume with the blood.
“I’m sorry Mom!” I wailed, “I tried… I’m sorry…”
My anguish was only met with snickering and barking laughter. One had pulled out something reflecting the dim light. A knife. That’s when I saw it, my nightmare. In my delirium I could remember it all.
My nightmare stood before me, huge, the size of four people. Brandishing my death sentence. A smile split into four, four faces mashed together, a mismatched monster. Seething with unwarranted resentment, it leaned down.
“You are nothing,” their union of voices hissed, “this will be your grave, and no one will remember you.”
They sank the blade into me. I felt it tear through the back of my shirt, yet only felt a dull throb and warm pool around me. My delicate mind fractured.
Why? What makes me different? Why? How could this happen to me? Why? When was it decided that I wasn’t worth the water I drank? Why? Why? Why? Why?
The answer came to me as my last breath left.
Equality is a fairy tale told to adults and children alike. Justice is a mask for discrimination. Death is the only fair thing, even and absolute.
The realization shook me to the core, but Death is kinder than any earthly peace of mind. She eased my sorrows and took me to her haven of true equality.
She’s pleading, “Look for my son! He’s lost and afraid!”
She’s shrugged off and leaves. Collapses on the floor in front of the door weeping in despair. Days pass. She lays there, crying. She drags herself up and goes to her bedroom.
She grabs a picture on the way. Under her mattress is a gun. She’s sitting on her bed, tears and snot streaming down her face, clothes, tissues littered around her. She’s clutching a picture of her lost son, her reason for fighting. She lifts the barrel to her head, staring at her lost love. She’s soundlessly mouthing, “I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry…”
“I’m so sorry.”