As I was loading up the car to go to a birthday party on Sunday, a cluster of papers caught my eye. One was a piece of lined paper folded in eights and tucked into my fence by the garage. Below it was a crumpled paper bag, a plastic cup and an empty pint of Jose Cuervo Gold. (After reading the note, I wonder if the items are connected.)
I unfolded the paper. Written in blue ink in the penmanship of what looks like a preteen boy with a shaky command of the language is a heartbreaking string of words. Here’s what it said:
“Do you think that it is bad for kids to move? I do because they have to meet other kids and make new friends at the new school. They have to get along with teachers and get use to how the teacher teaches.
If you start the new school in 1/2 of the year that is bad because they might have a test as the end of that trimester. You miss all of the information at the begging of that. So you’d had to learn the stuff that they are learning now.
What about fiting in with the kids at the school and what if they don’t like how you are dressed. They can beat you up just for not look cool. What about lunch you don’t know anyone from the school so who are you going to sit by and no one likes you because you don’t dress like them. Maybe that is why no one want to sit by you @ lunch.”
I live two blocks from a combined high school/middle school. The note could be real. I’m imaging a plainly dressed boy in a plaid flannel shirt, a coat with a hood and jeans, sitting cross-legged on my driveway chewing a ham sandwich and writing this note. For one moment I entertain the idea that the boy is washing down his sandwich with tequila shots, but discard that image in the too-damned-depressing bin.
I imagine the boy hearing the bell ring, folding the note and tucking it in the fence, tossing his lunch bag on my driveway and following the sidewalk back to his personal hell. I wonder if he wanted someone to read it, to know his pain, to hear his soul cry out with the agony of forced segregation. If that is true, then here is your validation, sad young man.
Of course, it might be a joke or a class assignment that fell out of backpack. Perhaps a neighbor out walking her dog picked it up and tucked it in the fence in the off-chance that the student might look for and find his note. But being who I am, I’m clinging to my first impression of lonely new kid eating his lunch off-campus to avoid the pain of social rejection.
I know that one.
My family moved the summer between my sixth- and seventh-grade year. For most of seventh grade I was alone. This was a shock to me. We moved from a very warm, tight-knit community of people who were all about the same economically to one in which there were defined lines of status. Needless to say, we were on the wrong side of the line. That was made apparent on the first day of school when the two girls walking in front of me kept turning around, eyeing my JC Penney clothes up and down, and whispering to each other. In my old neighborhood, my friends thought my shoes and socks and shirts were cool.
All of seventh grade I managed to find two friends, both of whom were transplants like me. But before I made those friends, lunchtime, gym class and free times were long stretches of agony. The new school kids didn’t think my jokes were funny like my old friends did. They didn’t think my style was worthy of praise or emulation, only ridicule and scorn. I’m sure I penned many notes to no one that read much like the one in my fence. I wonder if any blew out of my backpack and landed in a nearby yard?
God, it sucks to be the new kid.
Flannel-plaid-wearing boy with the blue ink pen, I hear your cry for help. I understand. I wish you strength and courage. It will get better someday. I promise.