I felt good about this until I realized it was inner dialog, i.e., me talking…
â€œHey doggie, whatâ€™s the matter? Dad drunk again? Or did your mother finally come home?â€ shouted the small gang of teenagers. They were lead by Bobby Teals, once we had been friends, then kindergarten arrived. He was a couple of months older, an August baby to my October, so he headed off to Grimbsy Elementary before me.
â€œIgnore them Max.â€ murmured Sam, my best friend that Iâ€™ve ever known. She had her head stuck in a book. We were sitting on the curb at the apartment complex, the school bus didnâ€™t stop in our neighborhood.
The insults didnâ€™t hurt, time was healing the one wound and the others were just false. My father wasnâ€™t a drunk, it was just a good cover for what he really did – there were rooms full of the booze he bought all the time, all unopened. And my mother, well she was gone, but she hadnâ€™t run away. Kidnapping was a serious crime – but we never got a ransom. And there was no way I was a dog, but I did wear a collar. That was the bane of my existence – the kryptonite in my personal armor. It didnâ€™t matter that Iâ€™d been wearing it all my life, that I had a polaroid of Bobby and me dressed up as puppies for our 4th Halloween, both wearing collars, it branded me stranger than any of the emos at the middle school.
And it was one of the most normal of my oddities. Besides my apparent white trash upbringing, it was however the only one people saw anymore.
â€œSam, Sam, you should come over and sit with some real men.â€ they started chanting. It was a morning ritual for them. They never knew what might get me started and they had to get me going before the bus arrived, with the adult witness.
â€œOh, men you say? What are you, fourteen? Any of you shaving yet?â€ she gently replied, without lifting her eyes from whatever fantasy novel she had laid out for today. Her goal was to get through a book a school day. And that was part of the problem, she didnâ€™t have eyes for them, so they assumed that she had eyes for me. But really, we were just best buds. She had high schoolers calling her, asking her out. She was still thirteen and didnâ€™t care about dating. She liked her adventures with me.
But all of that was starting to get me in more trouble than I knew how to handle. They couldnâ€™t take out their frustrations on her, so they took them out on me. They would be real cool acting in front of her, but if she were nowhere to be found, the accusations would fly.
She turned her head, â€œI know what you are thinking, you know. Perhaps I should just kiss you and make you the charming prince.â€ And then she giggled at the scowl on my face. She always knew what to say, always, with anyone. She told me it was harder with me, she just saw the surface. I think I didnâ€™t scare her like the other kids.
â€œSam, I donâ€™t care about popularity. If I did, Iâ€™d be practicing football in the afternoon instead of cross country.â€ I whispered back – it drove the others crazy to not know what we were speaking about. And it drove the football coaches crazy when I hit that growth spurt in sixth grade, bulking out a bit and getting a stride that any wide receiver would love. But six years of being bullied by their system didnâ€™t endear me to their overtures. I think the high school was consideringÂ new coach from out of town, one without a history with my family.
â€œGet your bag Max, the bus is a block away.â€ I donâ€™t know how she knew, I couldnâ€™t even hear it yet. I didnâ€™t argue though, years of doing that had beat the resistance out of me.
The ride in was just as long as the ride out. We were the first stop and the two of us would sit up front. If Sam were on the aisle, they would jostle her arm and she couldnâ€™t read. If I were on the aisle, they would slam into me, bruising whichever arm was available. Puberty was raising the stakes though – the boys were both afraid of touching Sam and really, really eager to do so. And the girls just got meaner with her. And with me, well the girls just ignored me and the boys suddenly had to contend with someone who wasnâ€™t as scrawny as before. Now when I fought back, I dished out as much damage as I got.