Seventh hour was always the worst. Freshman Lit. And Mrs. Ott had the kind of voice that naturally induced sleep. Alex often wondered if she was more suited to working in an insomnia clinic. But then again, she'd put them out of business by curing all the patients.
This week's book was some moldy old science fiction thing, which normally interested Alex, but the language of "The Kings English" could make the most interesting story boring. Then, add Mrs. Ott's voice and you have a combination that makes one want to bash his head against the desk.
"In the final chapter we finally see the Invisible Man for what he was. Can anyone explain the symbolism of the white beard and hair? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?...", the teacher seemed to echo herself for a good 3 minutes before giving up and continuing the lecture.
"The author seems to be saying that...", but she was interrupted by the sudden closing of books, shuffling of feet, and gathering of bags. Students had figured out long ago the very second that the bell would ring. The sudden activity roused Alex from his daze.
Last bell. The best, and worst time of day. Unlike the rest of the class, Alex was not in a hurry to rush into the halls. In fact he dreaded the thought more than sitting through more of Mrs. Ott's lecture. Oh, he was very anxious to leave the school, it was what was between here and the front door.
As everyone who has attended public school can tell you, it's a jungle. Survival of the fittest. For those at the top of the ladder, high school is their kingdom. For those on the bottom, it's a nightmare. Alex, being too small for sports, not rich enough to be popular, and not quite smart enough to be a teacher's pet, was, by every definition, at the bottom of the food chain.
And, in the eyes of those at the top, fresh meat.
TV and movies often depicted bullying as bigger kids stealing lunch money, the occasional shove against a locker, name calling, wet hair from being dunked in the toilet, and sometimes a fist fight that was broken up before the first punch is really thrown. In the end, the victim always overcame their situation and won the respect of his tormentor.
The reality was worse. Much worse. The word nightmare didn't accurately describe it. Monsters were real, in the halls of high school, and they thrived on humiliation and pain.
This week's monster was Tank. Not his real name of course, it was Tom or Terry or something, but nobody, not even the teacher's called him that. Tank had targeted Alex on Monday morning before home room. Alex was trying to slink in the front door of the school and to class without being noticed. But on this particular day, he didn't make it. While trying to stash his coat in his locker, Alex suddenly found himself inside it. The laugh on the the other side of the door was unmistakable.
Tank. He was the current king of the Jocks. Supposedly he had won some state thing, wrestling or something. And in a small town, state championships were the end-all be-all of a person's existence. Those who held such a position ruled not only the school, but the town.
Alex was his new punching bag.
Today, Wednesday, as students were shuffling to the door of Mrs. Ott's room, exactly 5 seconds before the bell, Alex knew Tank was probably just outside the door, as he had been the last two days. Alex hung back, hoping today Tank would give up and wander away after everyone else had exited the room.
As he got to the door, he peeked into the hallway. Left, right, left again. Coast seemed clear. Looking at the floor, holding his books to his chest, Alex tried to run to his locker.
He didn't make it. Waiting, right at his locker door, was Tank.
"Where do you think you're going, freak?", laughed Tank. Alex tried to turn and go the other way, but Tank grabbed him with his huge hand by the neck and drug him into the Boy's Room across the hall.
Alex had learned in Jr. High to observe the attacks on his person from an "out of body" perspective". It seemed the only way he could endure them without losing his mind.
Alex had been smaller and weaker than his classmates since Kindergarten, and as such had always been the victim of those who were larger and stronger. "It's how things are", his mother always said, "it was like that when I was in school. It'll make you a better person if you just accept it."
His father wasn't any help either. "Stand up to them, boy! Bullies will back down if you show them you're not afraid." The one time Alex tried to stand up to a bully, he was awarded with a trip to the emergency room with a broken arm, an eye swollen shut, and a concussion.
When Tank had finished his work, Alex spat the blood from his mouth, recovered his shoe, his torn sweatshirt, and his ruined book and papers. Just another day in paradise. As he went into the hall to his locker, several teachers were leaving their rooms, headed to the teacher's lounge or the parking lot. They saw Alex, or at least they should have seen him. But they either looked through him like he wasn't there, or turned to look another way. They knew. They KNEW, and they did nothing.
Alex left the school by the back door. He had to walk around the building to get to the right street to get home, but it was better than facing the sneers, gestures, and whispers waiting for him at the main entrance. It was 5 short blocks to home, then, if he was lucky, he could slip past his mother watching soap operas and get to his room without being seen. If he was, it would be the usual questions about who did this, what did you do about it, why didn't you tell someone, and on and on and on.
Today, he was lucky. His father worked nights, so he rarely saw him. His mother had left for the evening, bowling or something. His younger brother, a bully in training, would be at Jr. High football practice until after 6. The sense of solitude was at once peaceful and lonely. But only when he was alone could Alex be sure he was safe.
In his room, HE was the king. Slamming the door, throwing his books down, Alex turned on the stereo. And since he was alone, he turned it up. Loud. The screeching guitar and growled lyrics of the heavy-metal song helped to drown out the noise in his head.
Normally, he'd flop on his bed and just let the noise wash over him. But today, instead of stuffing the emotions and pain deep inside, he let them out. Anger, shame, and frustration all boiled up from within, his screams blending with the music. He kicked, he punched, the threw things. It wasn't until he punched the mirror above his dresser and cut his knuckles that he stopped, breathing heavily, tears streaming from his swollen eyes.
Across the hall, in the bathroom, he found Band-aids for his hand. He tired to clean his face, staring at himself in the mirror. "I wish I was invisible", he said to himself. Splashing water into his eyes, he repeated "I wish I was invisible!" Patting the new bruise on his left eye, finally he screamed "I WISH I WAS INVISIBLE!"
"If I had your face, I'd wish that too!" It was his brother. A year and a half younger, but taller, stronger, and every inch a jock. He would be king of the school in a couple years. "Now get out of here so I can take a shower.