Nathan came in the door from school with his head down walking past Cheryl as if she wasn’t standing in the doorway to greet him. Instinctively, she knew something was wrong. In fact, he’d been acting strange for the last couple of months. Cheryl chalked it up to him being a typical overly dramatic pre-teen, after all he was twelve. But something was different. Although, she knew moving to a new state and starting a new school would be difficult for Nathan, she hadn’t anticipated how long it would take him to get acclimated to his new surroundings. It seemed after six months he still hadn’t; not even a little. So much had changed in their lives since the market crashed and Cheryl lost her job. She like so many others was faced with having to make the difficult decision to downgrade. It wasn’t the house on the hill they’d been accustomed to but it also wasn’t a hole in the wall. Nevertheless, it was a change that seemed to change her son. Cheryl noticed pretty early on that Nathan wasn’t the same bubbly, inquisitive, outgoing kid she’d known. He’d become quiet, disinterested and distant. His grades dropped significantly; ending his six year honor roll streak. Even though she went to great lengths to make Nathan’s transition from Antioch Christian Academy to Brayback Middle school a smooth one; she knew the public school crowd would take him some getting used to. It was pretty obvious from the day she enrolled Nathan that this was a different crowd. Yet, Cheryl was hopeful that Nathan would make new friends and find his own way without her having to intervene. After all, being able to find his own way was a skill he would need as a man for the rest of his life.
Cheryl followed closely behind him to his room and watched as he threw his book bag on the floor. She stood in the doorway watching her son as he sat on the bed with his back towards her and began to cry. She walked over to him and sat down beside him on the edge of the bed. “Nathan, how was your day”, she asked. Before he could answer, she saw what looked like dried up blood on the side of his cheek. Cheryl grabbed his chin, lifted his head and turned his face towards hers. She gasped as she looked at his face. “Oh my God. What happened to you?” she screamed. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Nathan’s right eye was completely shut and his lip was swollen, busted and bloody.
Cheryl sat horrified as she listened to Nathan recount for her how he’d gotten beaten up on the way home from school and according to him, it wasn’t the first time. It had become part of his after school routine. On several occasions, his money, jacket and his shoes were taken while countless students gathered around pointing, laughing and filming with their camera phones rather than help. To them he was simply a nobody captured on camera for social media likes and comments. Nathan had become famous for all of the wrong reasons. With tears, Nathan told Cheryl, how many hits the videos starring him being shoved in a locker and being forced to drink fluid from the toilet in the gym locker room received. Cheryl’s mouth fell open, when Nathan said softly, “ninety three thousand and two”. Her once outgoing, happy go lucky child with the larger than life personality had become a shell of the magnificent person he used to be; right under her nose. He’d been reduced to likes, derogatory comments and laughs; yet he wasn’t laughing. Instead, Nathan was crying. His spirit had been broken and the pain he’d been hiding for months was now painfully obvious. Cheryl sat, rocking Nathan in her arms, wondering if he’d ever be the same.
Cheryl began to cry as she looked down at Nathan’s feet and saw both of his shoes missing; something she hadn’t noticed when he walked in the front door. As she stared at his feet, she suddenly remembered asking him about a month ago where his favorite Jordan’s were and Nathan saying he’d let a friend borrow them. Today she knew that was a lie, he hadn’t made any friends. All of the times he’d come home hungry and she screamed at him to wait for dinner; his lunch had been taken. All of the times she yelled at him about being irresponsible for losing jacket after jacket; he hadn’t lost them at all. They’d been ripped off of his back. The bumps, bruises and scratches Nathan claimed to have received while playing basketball at recess weren’t from playing basketball at all but rather a bully. All of the pieces finally began to fit together and suddenly it all made sense. “I’m so sorry”, she whispered as she held Nathan in her arms. She felt horrible and wondered how she could’ve missed all of the signs that her baby was being tormented by a bully.
“I’m calling the school right now”, she said angrily. “What’s his name?” she asked. The anguish Cheryl felt for not recognizing what was going on and the overwhelming feeling of guilt for not protecting her son, suddenly turned into rage at Nathan’s answer. “Wait, What? Lindsay? Is that what you said Nathan? She’s a girl?” Cheryl questioned in disbelief. The look in Nathan’s eyes confirmed what she’d heard. “Yes, she’s a girl”, he answered looking away from Cheryl’s gaze. Slowly, she stood up; looked Nathan in the eye and screamed, “Really! Really! You’re such a little punk! Man up, put on some shoes right now and let’s go. We’re going to find this little Miss Lindsay chick right now”. She stormed out of the room and didn’t stop until she reached the bathroom in her bedroom. She slammed the door shut and sat on the edge of the sink in disbelief and began to cry. The gamut of emotions she felt ranged from sympathy, to anger to embarrassment. Cheryl sat trying to figure out if she was angrier at Lindsay for terrorizing her son or Nathan for allowing this to happen. For goodness sake, if he had just fought back this wouldn’t have gone on this long or to this degree. Why didn’t he just stand up for himself? He’d always been a little too soft for her liking, which is why she’d spent so much money on karate lessons for years in an effort to teach him discipline and self-defense. As she calculated the cost in her head, Cheryl felt jipped as they’d gladly taken her money but hadn’t taught Nathan the one thing he needed most; heart. She knew what it felt like being chased home from school and being beat up for being different and she wasn’t having it.
Cheryl hoped up, wiped her tears and snatched her hair in a ponytail. She was prepared to do just what her mother had done. March Nathan right back down to that school and watch him pummel that little tyrant. Girl or not. Either way, win or lose, this lesson on heart would be free of charge. He would thank her later. He needed to stand up and be a man. Cheryl marched in Nathan’s room and yelled, “Let’s go”. Nathan looked at her and began to cry. He was familiar with the look in her eyes; she meant business. “You better stop crying right this second, before I give you something to cry for”, she shouted. “Real men aren’t crybabies”, she cited. Nathan wiped his tears, got up and slowly walked towards Cheryl. She grabbed him by the arm and pulled him step by step towards the front door. The more Nathan resisted the harder Cheryl pulled. When she reached to open the front door, Nathan began to scream. He fell down on the floor and continued to scream and cry. Cheryl was livid as she watched her son put on a show that was Oscar worthy. His exaggerated display of histrionics angered her even more. She grabbed Nathan by the shoulder, lifted him up and pushed him up against the wall. Before she could say anything, Cheryl noticed a puddle on the floor where Nathan had been lying. She knew immediately what is was from the stain trailing down the front of his pants. As if pleading for his life, Nathan began begging her to stop. As he covered his face, Cheryl could hear him saying, “Lindsay, please stop. Lindsay please.” Cheryl stopped in her tracks at the sound of the sheer terror in his voice. It was a haunting sound that reverberated throughout her entire body. Cheryl wrapped her arms around Nathan and began to cry. “I’m so sorry”, she whispered in between sobs. She no longer wondered if Nathan would ever be the same. She knew the answer. He wouldn’t be and it wouldn’t be because of Lindsay but because of her beliefs about what requirements were necessary for a boy to become a man.