After the dust settled and the regular level of chaos resumed, Sid got up and sat next to me. He looked me in the eyes and asked “are you okay Daniel?”
“Yeah…thanks. You really saved my ass there. Umm thanks a lot.”
“Nah. No big deal. Don’t worry about it. Derek’s a punk. Look, you’re in the big house now. You need people to look after you, you know, until, like, you got a rep and a crew. Fools are gonna test ya. You don’t want to be a mark. You got me? If anybody fucks with you, you tell me ok? I got your back man. When dickheads learn that. That you got me. They’ll step off or I’ll stomp the shit out of em’ for real. Aight?”
“Ummm…yeah..yeah. For sure” I managed to say, still feeling like none of this could be real. Why would I be a target? I’m nobody. I’m small. Harmless. Jr. High sounds like bullshit. At least I have some backup.
Sid spoke again, knocking me out of my daydream.
“Huh? What?” I asked.
“I said what’s up with that hat anyway? You’ve like had it forever. I never see you without it.”
“Ah yes…it’s just, like my trademark or something.”
“Word dude. You own that shit bro. It’s yer own style.”
We left it at that, because, of course I couldn’t tell him the truth about the hat. I don’t want Sid to become my next Derek. I can’t tell him that the hat was a gift from my uncle, my best friend. That it was a gift from the only person on this planet that really gets me. Understands me. My uncle Aaron.
I think it’s pretty cool how one person can be so many different things to me. He’s my uncle, but he’s also my best friend. And in times of need, he’s my father. My rock. Where my father has let me down time after time, Aaron has always been there. He’s only twelve years older than me, so he can understand where I come from most of the time. He says he gets me because he was me at my age. He says it’s spooky how much alike we are. He knows what I feel and what I’m about to say. He describes it like looking into a mirror of his past, and watching himself grow up all over again.
At times when I’m living in a private hell and really stewing on the bottom, he somehow knows, and he will just show up. Or send me an email or a link to a song or video. Pick me back up.
On one occasion two years ago, when I was home alone. My father came home with his head full of booze. It’s a situation I always try to avoid, being home with only my drunk father. He got to picking on me, which always leads to his anger building and building, until it gets physical. I knew my time was running short, so I made a dash for the screen door that leads out back, into the woods. As I was about to make a clean escape, he hurled his glass at me, hitting me on the back of my head. It stung like a bitch, and knocked me over, forward into the door frame. I could immediately feel the trail of warm blood cascading under my shirt collar, from the open gash on the back of my head. I also felt blood dripping into my eyes from the cut on my forehead. I had never felt more alone or scared in my life up to that point. I convinced myself that day, that the hate in his eyes was real. That he really wanted to hurt me, or even kill me.
I don’t know if it was the sight of the blood or the realization of what he’d just done, but my father did an immediate 180. He ran to me, he held me, he cried. He kissed me 100 times and apologized 100 times more. He cleaned me up and when it became obvious I needed stitches, he drove me to the clinic, after he’d had time to sober up a bit.
He made up some story about an accident and I didn’t speak at all. He told the same story back home, and again, I kept my mouth shut. Once his abuse reached that level, fear kept me from telling anybody what he did.
The next day my uncle showed up with a card and a gift. We walked back into the 4 acre wooded area on our property and sat in the lean-to I made a few summers before. I opened the present. It was a hat. I will never forget the words he spoke to me next.
“I know you will never tell anybody what really happened Daniel. I know you didn’t have an accident. I know that bastard hurt you and I know why you won’t admit it. Daniel, you and me are connected by some force bigger than us both. I feel your laughter and I feel your pain. I will forever be there with you in your head and in your heart. If you ever doubt me, put this hat on as a reminder. I’m there for you little man and I love you.”
Needless to say, I was a blubbering mess of snot and tears. We held each other for a long time, until he masterfully said.
“Oh, and your mother told me they had to shave half of your head, so I got you this hat to cover that ugly brain of yours.”
I’ve worn that hat every day since.
Around the time I came out of my daydream, I could see we were approaching the entrance to my new school. I quickly put to memory, to make sure I brought my ipod for future bus rides to school. I also decided that sitting a couple of rows closer to the driver would be a good idea. Just in case Derek and his band of idiots decided Sid’s “do not disturb” policy was to be null and void. Ok, with all that important stuff behind me, it was time to let the worry and despair take hold. It was time to run around in circles with all the other lost souls that made up the 7th grade class.
I remembered where my locker and home room were from my orientation, so that wasn’t going to be too bad. Of course, the halls weren’t overfilled with kids that day, so the traffic was difficult to navigate. I kept having visions of myself being swept away in the tide of students, never to be seen again.
As I was about to round the corner, the home stretch, down the long hall of 7th grade lockers (the school is divided that way, to keep us youngsters from hanging out in trash cans, with our feet in the air) I felt a tap on my shoulder from behind me. Oh god! I thought, as my eyes bugged out and my body went stiff. Fucking Derek!