Days of Hate and Psychosis
When I was eleven years old my mother had a psychotic break. She grabbed me from the front yard of our home where I was playing with my older brother and shoved me into the car and drove away. I cried for my brother as he disappeared behind us. I saw him hang his head. I never saw that home again.
We stayed in a hotel for several nights. Then we moved into an apartment. She told me not to use the phone. She told me I needed a new name and that I would be going to a new school in the fall. I was not to tell anyone about anything. I knew not to ask her questions as that typically brought a violent outburst from her.
Nearby was a family my mother had babysat for with a girl just a year younger than I, Leah. She was tiny and frail with long dark wavy hair and big brown eyes. We played together in her playroom and she was to walk with me to the bus stop when school started. Leah had a lot of toys and every Doctor Seuss book imaginable. I stared at those books wanting to read them all. I wondered vaguely why I didn’t have shelves full of books like that. Leah was particular about which ones I was allowed to read.
On my first day of sixth grade, Leah walked with me to the bus stop. Middle school was fifth through seventh grades. She didn’t walk all the way to the stop where the other kids waited but stopped about a half-block away.
“Why are we standing here instead of up there where everyone else is?” I puzzled.
“Because we are going to stay here,” was all she said.
The bus came and then we approached and got on. We sat in the second seat from the front. A couple of older boys got on right after us. One of them stopped at our seat. He looked big to be in middle school. He had angry dark-blue eyes and brown hair. He stared down at Leah and for a second I thought laser beams would shoot from his eyes and blow her up. Leah stared straight down at her lap.
“Well if it isn’t the little Jew Dog. What are you doing on my bus, you filthy dog?”
I stared up at him, but he didn’t seem to see me sitting next to Leah.
“Get out of my seat, kike!” He yelled.
I was shocked. I looked at the bus driver who had pulled the bus onto the road and seemed oblivious to the bullying. When I looked back at Leah, I saw tears falling from her face onto her lap. She sat quiet and didn’t move.
He leaned down and yelled in her ear, “I said, get out of my seat! Are you deaf or just stupid?”
I jumped up at this point and said, “Leave her alone!” I was angry. I looked around the bus. Some kids were watching and some seemed not to notice. No one said anything. The boy stood up straight again and looked startled as he stared at me.
He looked back down at Leah and snarled, “I would throw you out of this seat, but I don’t want to get my hands dirty touching a filthy Jew dog. Better make sure you’re not sitting here tomorrow!” He walked to the back of the bus.
I sat down and asked Leah if she was ok. She said nothing. “You need to tell someone!” I exclaimed.
“Don’t you dare!” she hissed. “You will make everything worse! He always does this.”
“But you need to tell your mom or the school or the bus driver!” Again I was surprised.
Leah looked up at the bus driver. “She doesn’t care.” She hung her head again and sat that way the rest of the ride to school. We didn’t speak until the bus ride home.
When I got home that day, my mother was sitting on the floor in the living room crying. She had papers in front of her and demanded that I read them when I walked in. They were divorce papers. I felt my stomach tighten and asked why I needed to read them. She yelled with a sob, “because you need to know what a horrible bastard that man is! He is EVIL!” She shoved the papers at me. I tried to read them but didn’t understand much even though, in sixth grade, I was at an eighth-grade reading level. She told me to get the encyclopedic dictionary out to look up the words I didn’t understand.
I got through the document after about an hour. My mother cried the entire time and yelled obscenities at times as I read. Afterward, she pulled me to her and told me to hold her. She told me I was her “rock” and that she wouldn’t make it without me. The tears from her face were cold on my cheek and her hands were clammy. She told me she thought she should just kill herself and let him have me. She asked me if I wanted that. When I was able to pull away from her and go to my room, she went to bed. I could hear her crying through the wall. She didn’t come out for three days.
I learned the boy’s name was Raymond Hagerty and he was in 8th grade. He wasn’t supposed to be on our bus, but some of the high school boys liked to ride the bus since the high school was right behind the middle school. His sister Ann was in sixth grade.
The next morning on the bus we sat in about the fourth seat. Raymond got on and again stopped at our seat. He stared at Leah so intensely his eyes were like black holes.
“Get up,” was all he said.
Leah sat still, again staring at her lap and squeezing her own hands.
Raymond grabbed her by the arm with one hand and the hair with the other and pulled her from her seat and shoved her down the bus aisle. Leah fell to the floor crying quietly.
Raymond turned to me and pointed his finger and said, “You shut up and mind your business!” And he walked away.
Leah got up from the floor and sat in the nearest empty seat. I just watched in disbelief. I looked at the bus driver through her large rearview mirror. I saw her glance up at me. She wore large dark sunglasses, but I saw her look right at me, then look away. No one said a word.
Day after day, Leah and I would wait for the school bus a short distance from the bus stop, unless she didn’t see Raymond there. The days he was not on the bus Leah was cheerful. When he was on the bus, I was angry and she was terrified. He sat behind us and spit in our hair.
I yelled at him and asked, “What is your problem? Leave us alone!”
He responded, “What is YOUR problem, you little Jew lover! You’re probably a nigger lover too, aren’t you? Jew lover! You’re just as disgusting as she is! Even worse!”
One day he got on the bus going home, though he wasn’t usually. He saw us and snatched Leah’s book bag and shoved it out the window. “Dogs don’t read.”
Leah stood up and looked out the window and started sobbing. “My books! Those aren’t mine, they belong to the school!” The bus was already moving.
Raymond shoved Leah and she fell backward to the floor. He smiled and walked towards her and kicked her side. I stood up and yelled, “Stop it, you jerk-off! Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” He reached for my books quickly and got the top one and threw it out the window. Leah was sitting in the seat again. I looked out the window to try to see what happened to the book. It was a library book about foxes I was using for a book report. Raymond was gone to the back of the bus.
In November, Leah told me she was moving. We were playing with her Barbies in her playroom.
“Where are you going?” I asked, suddenly feeling afraid. She was my only friend.
“Jonah, my mom’s boyfriend, got a job there and he wants us to go with him. They are going to get married.”
I said nothing. At the end of the month, she was gone.
After a few days on the bus alone, Raymond approached me. “Where’s your kike friend?” he asked. I ignored him. “Hey, I asked you a question, Jew lover! Where is the little dog? She finally decide to stay off my bus?”
“She moved away.”
“Awe, you’re all alone now. No more Jews to love. Maybe you can find a nigger to love.” He turned around and pointed at an Indian boy named Cookie sitting across the aisle. “Here’s one! Come sit with him!” He laughed.
Cookie smiled and said, “I’m not a nigger, you idiot.”
“Your so stupid, Raymond,” said Eva, his sister Ann’s best friend.
“Shut up!” Raymond lunged at Eva.
Ann stood up, “Knock it off, Raymond! or I’m telling Mom!”
Raymond walked to the back laughing and mimicking, “I’m telling Mom!” “What’s she gonna do?”
“He’s such an asshole,” Ann said to Eva.
“But he’s so cute!” Eva returned. Ann rolled her eyes.
“Cute?” I thought, surprised and horrified. Dirk Benedict was cute. Raymond was a sleestak.
Leah was gone and Raymond decided I was his new favorite target. Each day that he was on the bus he ordered me out of my seat, called me names, spit in my hair, threw things at me, but he never put his hands on me. I don’t know why. I waited for it. Occasionally I stood up to him, but it was exhausting and frightening. Sometimes I would get to school and find things attached to the back of my clothes: gum, ink marks, paper clips…
One day after getting off the bus a tall girl in my grade, Laura, walked behind me up the sidewalk calling me the names that Raymond called me. “Hey, Jew-lover!” She added a few taunts of her own about how short and weak I was and what a baby I was. She said she wanted to fight me. I ignored her. She continued her taunts.
“Whatsamatter, you scared, Baby? You afraid I’ll punch your lights out? Raymond is right, you’re just a pathetic little Jew-lover.” I heard her voice right behind me, and then the shove came.
I stumbled forward. Without a thought or a word, I dropped my books on the ground and turned around to face her. She smiled and stepped forward to shove me again and I swung as hard as I could making contact with her left cheek. I don’t remember what happened next, but I found myself sitting on top of her on the sidewalk punching her in the face over and over again. She was bloody and crying and calling out to someone to stop me.
“Somebody get her off of me!”
I stopped and stared at her for a moment. I didn’t know how we had gotten to the ground. I remembered nothing after that first swing. She looked like a little blonde, cartoon girl laying under me crying and bleeding. I stood up and picked up my books and went home quickly.
When I walked in the door at home everything was quiet. I knocked softly on my mother’s bedroom door but no one answered. I cracked the door open and saw my mother sleeping in the bed with balled up tissues all around her. The room was very dark. I went quietly to my room to do homework.
The next day the bus was quiet too. I looked around anxiously but didn’t see Laura. Raymond was also absent. I sighed and stared out the window.
The next day, Raymond was back. “So you think you’re a tough guy, huh? Looks like we need to teach you a lesson.” He paused for only a moment at my seat to stare angrily down at me. Two more days passed without a word or spit from Raymond.
Wednesday afternoon came and the bus came to a stop. I got off and began walking home. Two kids ran up the sidewalk across the street and disappeared around the corner. I didn’t see where anyone else had gone. I was the only one walking home, it seemed. When I turned the corner a rock seemed to fall from the sky and landed in front of me. I looked up. Another rock flew by and bounced in the street. There was a wooden privacy fence along one side of the sidewalk. I walked in the middle of the street leading to my cul-de-sac. Something hit me in the back. I turned around but saw no one. Rocks began flying all around me, some of them hitting me. I began to jog to get away from them when about five kids came out from behind the fence with arms full of rocks. A large rock hit me in the head and I felt dizzy for a moment. The kids surrounded me, all of them bigger than me. They were yelling, “Jew lover!” and “Dog!” and encouraging each other with, “hit her! Punch her! knock her down!” They formed a circle and shoved me back and forth. I tried to stop myself from reeling from one person to the next. I swung my purple bookbag at them and a punch landed on my arm. I saw Raymond standing a few feet outside the circle. He scowled and his lips were pinched. His face was red. They tightened the circle slapping and punching me in the head and face. I could hear Raymond occasionally yelling, “kick her, Jimmy! Eva, get in there and punch her! Punch her in the face!” She hit my right eye, I saw a flash, and it felt like it had been pushed back into my head. I could no longer see from it. I tried to run and they grabbed me by the hair. I heard and felt it rip out of my head. I continued to swing my book bag and try to run as kicks and punches landed on my legs, head, and stomach. I looked up and saw a boy I didn’t know looking at me. He paused and stepped back making a small opening. I bolted from the circle and they chased me. I could feel hands hitting and grabbing at my back as I ran. I wasn’t sure I could make it home. I knew they were going to kill me. I neared my apartment and risked a look behind me. They had all stopped chasing me and were walking away. I ran inside my apartment, locked the door and stepped into the corner of the entranceway. Sliding to the floor, my whole body shook. My legs felt weak and I panted, my chest aching. After a moment I turned cold and felt nauseous and started heaving. I needed to get to my room before my mother heard me.
Standing in the middle of my room I didn’t know what to do. I was still shaking. I looked over in the mirror. I had scratches on my face and a bald, bloody spot on the side of my head. The front of my brown shirt was torn where there had been a pocket. The pocket hung down barely attached. I started to remove my shirt and saw my arm was red and swollen above the elbow. There were bloody scratches on my neck and shoulders. I began to feel stiff and sore and like I just couldn’t move anymore. I started to cry, covering my mouth so my mother wouldn’t hear me. I balled up my ruined shirt and put it behind a box on my closet shelf, then went to take a shower. I sat on the shower floor and sobbed. The scratches stung and the bald spot on my head burned. I would have to change the part in my thin, straight hair to cover it up. I didn’t stay long in the shower for fear my mother would come in to yell about wasting water and see how banged up I was. She would flip out. She would probably give me another beating for being un-ladylike and I didn’t think I could take it. I put on my pajamas and climbed into bed. After about an hour my mother stuck her head in my room and said that she wasn’t feeling well and I could make myself a sandwich for dinner. I fell asleep.
The next morning my whole body hurt. I knew I couldn’t stay home without being examined so I slowly got dressed. Instead of going to the bus stop I went across the street where an old factory had once been. A chain-linked fence remained around the large property and weeds and trees had grown up all around inside and out. I walked through the weeds to where I knew there was a hole in the fence and crawled through. I went to the far corner of the lot and sat down on a concrete slab. I was pretty sure no one could see me so I lay down using my book bag as a pillow and soon fell asleep.
I wasn’t sure what time it was when I woke so I wandered around the lot picking up stones and pieces of colorful glass. When I thought enough time had passed I went home. My mother was not there and I was relieved since it was only 1:20 — too early to be out of school. I made a cheese sandwich and went to my room to read.
The next day I wanted to do the same thing, but I was afraid the school might call home. I went to the bus stop and stood off to the side. No one spoke to me or looked at me. Raymond was not there. Once at school, my teacher Mrs. Aegy asked what had caused the scratches and bruises on my face. “I fell off my bike,” I lied, feeling ashamed.
“Is that why you were absent yesterday, then?” she asked kindly.
“Yes. My mom forgot to give me a note,” I lied again.
The following day, Eva sat behind me on the bus. Raymond merely smirked at me as he walked by.
Eva leaned up to my seat, “Raymond told us all to pretend you don’t exist, but I’m not listening to him. You’re pretty tough! You took a beating the other day!”
I stared at her feeling both disbelief and relief. Anger too. I looked away out the window.
About a week later I sat at the front of the bus. Raymond got on and stopped at my seat. “Get up, you’re in my seat,” he commanded. I stared tiredly at him a moment then got up and walked to the back of the bus. I sat just one row from the last. The very last seat was reserved for high school boys who weren’t supposed to be on the bus. After a moment Raymond walked back and stopped at my seat again.
“Get up. You’re in my seat.”
I looked up at him. “You told me the seat up front was your seat.”
“Well, now I’m telling you this one is! MOVE!” he barked.
“I already moved once. I’m not moving again. Find somewhere else to sit.” I felt oddly calm as I spoke to him.
“Hagerty, leave her alone!” came from the last seat on the bus.
“Shut up!” Raymond said back to him. Then to me, “Are you going to move or do I have to do it for you?”
A boy stood up from the back seat and stepped towards Raymond. “I said, leave her alone.” he faced Raymond squarely, standing close.
Raymond’s face turned red and his eyes grew wide. “Why are you sticking up for this little skank? Whaddya like her or something?” It was an accusation.
“I’m just sick of hearing your whiney mouth. Leave her alone or I’ll kick your ass.” he gave Raymond a shove.
To my surprise, Raymond walked away. I stared up at the boy whom everyone called Bruno. He wore a bicycle chain on his wrist and appeared muscular. He reminded me of my brother. He was in 9th grade. Bruno looked back at me for a moment and I whispered, “thank you.” No sound came out. He gave a slight smile and nodded, then sat down again.
Two days later was a Friday. Bruno and his friend Frank were on the back of the bus on the ride home. I’d taken to sitting back there in the next seat. Without speaking, I felt safe around them. “Hey, Dawn!” Frank called over to me. I was startled. I didn’t know he knew my name. “A few of us are playing football at the field — the one on the corner of Haines Mill and Swedes Run Drive. You wanna come?”
I felt immediately suspicious and fearful. Why would they want me? For FOOTBALL?
As if he read my mind, Frank said, “We just goof around really. It’s not a serious game. Just touch football. Come with us, it’ll be fun.”
“Ok,” I said shyly. “I’ve never played football. I don’t know how.”
“Frank will teach you,” Bruno assured me.
I went. Eva was the only other kid from the bus that was there. Frank introduced me to the other three kids. Everyone was older and bigger than me, except Frank’s little brother who was only in 4th grade. Frank and Bruno both showed me how to hold the ball, how to catch and throw it. They showed me how to have fun. We began to play. I zig-zagged across the field since that was the only thing I remembered them telling me to do. Bruno had the ball as I ran by him and he tossed it to me. I grabbed it and ran as fast as I could. I wasn’t sure if I was going the right way. I heard Frank laughing, “Look at those little legs go!!” I smiled and kept running.