Each year our class would go to a local nursing home to sing Christmas carols. Then, we’d get back in the school van and head back to celebrate our last day before Christmas vacation.
In 6th grade, we were climbing back in the van when our teacher realized she’d left something inside. She told us to sit still and be good, and she put Josh – Josh! – in charge.
I was riding shotgun in the front seat next to the teacher, since Josh had told the class to spread out, so I couldn’t sit with them. Then, of course, he volunteered me to our teacher for the front seat. I didn’t really care. I was just ready for a vacation from school and from Josh.
Josh had been “going out” with DS, a frizzy haired (but nice) girl in our class. As soon as Mrs. C. left, he swapped seats with the girl sitting next to her. He put his arm around her and began boasting that he was going to kiss her.
He met my eyes in the rearview mirror. “Now, don’t you tell anyone about this,” he said, almost jokingly. Then he kissed DS! Some of the kids laughed. Others just rolled their eyes. By the time Mrs. C got back in the van, Josh was back in his seat and DS’s cheeks were bright red.
On the way back, I think I even smiled. I thought it was kind of sweet that DS had gotten kissed. She was pretty nice to me, after all, and I was happy that the most popular boy in our class liked her.
Later that afternoon, after our class party, we were all dismissed to go play in the gym. Everyone except DS and Josh. We all exchanged nervous glances as we left the classroom. It was pretty obvious someone had told the teacher what happened in the van. I was relieved. I hadn’t told anyone, so for once Josh couldn’t blame me.
DS emerged from the classroom first. She was in tears and headed straight for the bathroom. Josh came out next. His face was expressionless. He marched straight over to B and D, who were busy flirting with A2. I was playing basketball and watched them across the gym, wondering what they were talking about with such intensity.
Then I saw Josh turn and look at me. I remember the panicked feeling. “He thinks I did it.” How Josh could think I would tell on him was crazy. I mean, I’d have to be some kind of stupid to do that to myself.
B and D strode toward me as I looked for a teacher. There was none in sight. Our teachers were finishing their last chores before Christmas vacation and trusted that 6th graders would be okay in the gym unsupervised.
The boys reached me and smacked the basketball out of my hands. Josh picked it up and threw it directly at my head. I didn’t really feel the pain. I was still kind of in shock-panic mode. I did notice the other kids spreading out to the outer reaches of the gym. Not seeing. Not noticing.
“Why did you tell on us?” Josh demanded as I rubbed the side of my aching head.
“But I didn’t!” I protested.
“Yes, you did. Someone just told me they heard you tell Mrs. C.”
I couldn’t believe it. One of my classmates had lied to Josh to protect themselves. I continued to protest, but Josh just shook his head.
“I told you not to tell,” he reminded me as he pushed up my sweater sleeve. B clamped his hand on my other arm as Josh slowly raked his fingernails down my bare arm from inside elbow to wrist. I stared at the five red lines, seething inside. I tried to pull away from B. I was going to go tell a teacher. I finally had proof! But B yanked me back, and D shook his head.
That extra second made me rethink going to the teacher. They would just say I’d done it to myself. And I’d look like a fool. Again. So, instead, I pushed my sweater sleeve back down and stood against the gym wall while the three of them played basketball (and kept guard) until our parents showed up to pick us up.
As I climbed in Dad’s van, I pushed my sleeve up, debating whether or not to bring Josh up. It was a forbidden topic, and the red lines were already a little faded. I decide to focus on my two FREE weeks, instead of having to drag my Dad to the principal’s office (again) just to be called a liar (again).
Looking back, I wished I had showed him. Maybe that would have been enough. But at that time, all I could think about was getting out.
Several years later, when I was a Senior in high school, my friend A2 approached me.
“There’s something I have to tell you,” she said. “Remember back in 6th grade? Well, I was the one who told Mrs. C. about Josh and DS. I know it was stupid, but I was really jealous of DS and wanted them to get in trouble. Josh was so mad when he came over to us that I told him I’d heard you telling Mrs. C. I’m really sorry. I’ve felt really bad for all these years, and I just had to tell you before we graduate.”
I was shocked and surprisingly (after all that time) a little hurt. Hearing her say that brought back a flood of memories and the phantom pain of those humiliating red lines.
I forgave her, of course. It had been so long ago, and Josh was long gone. And we’d become pretty good friends.
But part of me wanted to tell her to go look up Josh, and let him know I’d been telling the truth.
After all, those five red lines went a lot deeper than just my skin.