My paralyzed legs make plenty of difficulty in an ordinary day. My wispy black curls that I have always cut short—I find them extremely girlish—provide no protection from the sharp wind. My thick glasses bounce at every bump in the sidewalk, threatening to fall off my face.
Inside me, my fear of them is building as my frail, thirteen-year-old body is tossed about with my wheelchair. I’m beginning to lose my concentration, like I always do when I stay late for art after school. I love art, but I know that they will always be there, waiting behind the school, on the afternoons when I decide to stay to finish a painting or sketch. My hands begin to shake, as always, and my wheelchair groans as it tips into a pothole on the left side of the worn pavement. My light blue-green eyes flicker back and forth and I shakily clutch my collar. I'm stuck. There’s no use trying to get out of the pothole, unfortunately. I gasp nervously as they round the building’s corner and accost me. The Monkey Apes are low on prey, and unaccustomed to being the sixth grade, bottom-of-the-food-chain gang they have become since entering middle school. Bottom-of-the-food-chain that is, aside from their leader’s unfortunately weak, disabled, dejected, big brother Max, a.k.a. myself.
"Look guys," my younger brother Brian drools, "dearest Maxie’s drawn a be-a-utiful picture for his Mommy!" The others jeer. Brian grabs the painting I worked so hard on in art for so many weeks and tears it down the middle, discarding it almost casually on the nearby grass, making it seem so worthless, so pointless. I try to remind myself to ignore their presence, to pretend they don’t exist. I wonder where that strong voice they taught us in first grade has locked itself inside me, claiming, "I don’t like it when you do that. Please stop." It’s all but possible not to whimper at the horrid sound of that watercolor ripping in half and being stomped on by the laughing members of the gang.
My brother snatches up my schoolbag next, dumping its contents onto the sidewalk. Pencils scatter and are instantly trampled on by the other t-shirted, blue-jeaned Monkey Apes. My best eraser is ground like beef under my brother’s muddy sneaker heel. A strong, sandy-haired boy grabs my neat, organized math homework so painfully done and crumples it in a ball. My brother runs a hand through his dark brown hair, his muscles showing through his shirt, as though wondering what to do next. Then he seizes my uneaten banana out of my lunch pail and opens it before smashing it into my neatly ironed shirt. Not pleased yet, Brian grips my thin, white arm in his brawny one and yanks it upward behind my back. "Does that hurt? Huh? It hurt yet? It sure’ll hurt. Scream ‘uncle’!"
Part II of III