It was at that moment, crouched on the floor, my face stinging from the backhanded slap, I realized I wanted to die.
All I could see were my high school years stretched out endlessly in front of me. Every day a nightmare, followed by another nightmare, as Josh would continue to torture me.
Everyone would just go on not believing me. My classmates would remain mute. And I would have to endure every single awful day.
In my crouched position, I began to consider my options. I could run out in traffic and try to get hit by a car. I could slit my wrists with a butcher knife. Or maybe, I could ask Josh to help me end it all.
I could see him cheerfully agreeing and then killing me in the slowest and most painful way possible.
Maybe I wouldn’t ask Josh, after all.
What brought me to this point? Believe it or not – an end-of-the-school-year miniature golfing field trip with my 7th grade class.
Josh was still mad about the tennis shoes I had ruined. Not to mention the audacity I had shown in even attempting to challenge him. So, for the last two weeks of 7th grade, he ratcheted up his usual tricks to make my life even more miserable.
He taunted me every second the teachers weren’t watching. Shoved pencils in my back, slammed my head against a locker. Stole my homework. Tripped me. Kicked me.
He’d corner me and threaten me until I’d say what he wanted me to say – “I’m fat. I’m ugly. I’m stupid. No one likes me.”
That phrase became my mantra from 5th to 7th grade. I got so used to repeating it “Louder!” “Louder!” (until he was satisfied with my volume) that I’d start to say it when he’d come toward me, just to avoid the confrontation.
I was SO ready for school to get out.
Our homeroom teacher, Mrs. V., announced our end-of-the-year field trip would include lunch at the fifties-themed Beef-a-Roo and a trip to a miniature golf park. Personally, I didn’t care. The trip would take place on the last day of school – and THAT was what I was looking forward to.
When the day finally arrived, I was actually a little excited. We’d all been allowed to wear casual clothes, as opposed to our rather dowdy school dress code. It was a beautiful early summer day, and everyone was talking and laughing.
We all waited by the entrance, as Mrs. V. brought the school van around. Josh was on the far end with all the other boys, and so far he hadn’t paid me a bit of attention. I was relieved and hoping he would give me this last day of school as a gift.
Mrs. V. pulled the van up, parked by the entrance, and motioned for us to climb aboard. I was so distracted I hadn’t even noticed Josh moving up the line. He gave me a vicious little smile and whispered in my ear, “Don’t think you’re going to sit in any of the seats. You sit between the door and the seats.”
I stared at the narrow space, realizing I’d have to crouch down just to fit. I shook my head, “No way!”
“Yes, way!” Josh motioned to D, who brutally hip checked me into the van. I rubbed my sore hip and realized that if I didn’t do what he said, the day would just get worse.
Maybe, if I did it, he’d leave me alone the rest of the day.
As I crouched in my assigned position, Mrs. V. twisted around and asked why I was sitting there. Josh spoke up, “Well, there just isn’t enough room,” he gestured around the van to my classmates who had (on his orders) spread out to fill the seats. “Ann-Marie volunteered.”
“Oh, okay,” Mrs. V. turned back around, and I cursed the fact that Mrs. V. was the most absent-minded of all our teachers.
When we got to the Beef-a-Roo, Josh waited until Mrs. V. was getting out before he gave me a solid kick. The kick forced me out of the van and left me sprawled face down on the parking lot. Mrs. V. saw me brushing dirt off my arm and asked what had happened. I took one look at Josh’s cocky face and lied. “I tripped.”
Josh had given the class clear instructions. No one was to sit with me. Gulping down fresh tears, I sat by myself as the rest of the class played the jukebox, laughed, and joked. I started to get up once, but I looked over and saw Josh shake his head. I slid back down into my lonely booth.
Mrs. V. came over and asked why I was all by myself. I told her I wasn’t feeling well. She gave me a sympathetic look and went to go play the jukebox.
I just wanted the day to be over.
I rode in silence on the way over to the miniature golf park. I went through the motions of playing the game with my assigned group and didn’t even squawk when Josh calmly drove a golf club into my shin. The end of the day was almost near, and I could look forward to three glorious months without Josh.
We were all back in the van when Mrs. V. realized she hadn’t paid for the games. As she toddled off, blissfully ignorant, Josh seized the opportunity.
He’d secreted a radio away in his jacket – strictly against school policy – and tuned the station to (gasp!) rock and roll. He groped his current girlfriend, as he and his henchmen sang along, and the rest of the class looked somewhere between embarrassed and excited.
My crouched position was causing my legs to cramp, and finally one of them gave out on me. I lost my balance, and I careened toward the side of the seat to try and grab the armrest.
That was my mistake. I missed the armrest completely and grabbed the next nearest thing – Josh’s knee. I clutched his knee – just for a spilt second – before I realized what it was.
But it was too late. Josh smacked my hand away and just stared at me in amazement.
I was scared speechless. Someone turned the radio off, and the rest of the class just gaped along with me. I scrambled back, away from Josh, and grabbed the back of the front seat.
D was sitting in the front seat. He must have done something to tick Josh off, since he had been assigned the humiliating shotgun seat. Trying to ingratiate himself back into Josh’s good graces, he told me to get my **** hands off. I let go of his seat like it was on fire.
D’s expletive broke the weird spell that held us all. Josh swung back into action, wrenching my wrist, and pulling me towards him. He held me with one hand and backhanded my face with his other hand. He let go of my wrist, and I fell backwards in stunned silence against the door.
My classmates, even D, looked a little shocked. Before, Josh had waited until we were mostly alone before abusing me. This was the first time he’d done it, this brutally, in front of the entire class.
And THAT was the moment I knew I couldn’t keep living like this. I felt panic rising up in my throat like vomit and I knew I had to GET OUT OF THERE.
I found the door latch and stumbled out in the parking lot. I ran to the bathroom and threw up. Then, I sat there heaving and thinking. I knew that I couldn’t get back in that van. I just couldn’t.
So, even though I didn’t know what was going to happen, I did the one thing every kid does when they’re in trouble.
I called my mom.