Not surprisingly all of the dozen or so guys ringed around me as I sat by myself with my back to the wall of the science building, minding my own business, and eating my lunch, raised their hand and said, “Me.”
I mightn’t have been surprised, but it still hurt, and I hated that. I hated that it still managed to make me bleed inside and knock the breath out of me. I hated that it still made my stomach lurch and threaten to reverse the journey of my cheese and ham sandwich. After a couple years of it I should have been tougher. Immune. But I wasn’t. It still made my heart pound so hard I thought my ribs would crack. It still had the power to make my armpits flood with sweat. I fucking hated they could, with a few words and nasty looks, still do those things to me. Why did I still care?
I tried not to cower. I tried to look unconcerned. The heat in my cheeks and the sting in my eyes pretty much told me I failed in the unconcerned department, but at least I held Stephen Ryan, the ringleader’s, eye.
He probably thought he was smart with the play on words he’d come up with for my surname, and I guess he was. My surname, Vandermeer, certainly lent itself to a multitude of puns. Vandalism, Vandersmear, and Vanderhump were just a few they’d come up with, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before one of them came up with Vanderqueer. In truth, I was surprised they hadn’t stumbled upon it earlier, but then again, they’d struggle to come up with a triple digit IQ between them, so maybe not so surprising.
That’s what I told myself as I sat there staring hatred in the face. And then I gave myself the usual pep talk. Jamie, it’s no worse than finding a dead frog or rat stolen from the biology lab in your locker, or having banana skins, apple cores, or orange peels thrown at your back as you walk across the quadrant getting from English to the art rooms. It’s no worse than their threats to flush your head down the toilet or bash your brains in. It’s definitely no worse than the other names they call you. Faggot. Pansy. Cocksucker. Sissy. Fudge-packer. Two years. Only two more years to go and high school will be finished. Hang in there.
I made myself hold Ryan’s gaze, but part of me wanted to search the area behind him, and to the left and right of him. I wanted to search for my older brother. Not because I wanted his help or support. The opposite, actually. I didn’t want him to witness this latest attack. If he went and told Dad about it, there’d be no peace at home either.
No, Dad would rant and rave and wave his arms around, his face red and angry as he yelled about how he couldn’t understand how any son of his could be such a coward. It wouldn’t matter how much I protested or explained, because I wouldn’t handle their bullying the way he wanted me to, I was a coward in his eyes. And Mom, well Mom would look sympathetic, but not say a word.
What wouldn’t I give for just a little respite? Just one person to talk to who would actually listen and not judge.
I wasn’t a coward. I really wasn’t. I just didn’t want to be like them. I didn’t want to be a thug who solved everything with a fist. I didn’t want to win just because I could hurl more creative insults than they could.
And so I sat and let them sneer at me, feeling so fucking alone that I struggled to keep up my silent mantra. Struggled to remind myself that in a few short years, the battle to just get through the day would be over, and I’d hopefully be judged on the person I was rather than my sexuality.
Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Daniel Radcliffe, Christian Bale, Chris Rock, I silently chanted to myself, repeating my memorized list of celebrities who’d been teased and bullied in high school over and over again. They’d survived. More than survived. And so could I.
I just had to remember high school was an obstacle course—a fucking hard one, but an obstacle course, none the less. That’s what one of them had said. An obstacle course. I could survive it.
I would survive it.
I wouldn’t let Stephen Ryan win.
I wouldn’t let him and his buddies crush me.
I had to be like a weed. That’s something else one of them said. They said I had to have the tenacity of a weed, because a weed can survive anywhere.
So fuck, yeah, let me be a weed.
Jamie Vandermeer went on to be an exhibiting artist who supported Day of Silence in the hope that other kids wouldn’t have to have the tenacity of a weed.
Stephen Ryan went on to become the guest of the penal system.
***Jamie’s Story is a true story, though names have been changed.