He was not a brave boy. He was a quiet and thoughtful boy, enjoying a good book more than most kids his age. His smile was always there, without much thought of it. Perhaps this is why he was a target; smiles sometimes annoyed other kids his age.
He attended a school for boys. It was a choir school and very catholic. The priests ran the school with iron wills and strong hands. Boys were to be taught, by force if necessary. The boy who smiled, was not often persecuted for his behavior, but that did not mean he didn’t suffer the wrath from time to time. It was a school shrouded by its name, not by the actions that happened behind the closed main doors.
He was nine; it was his second year at the school. He had learned to play the piano the previous year, but already realized his coordination was working against him. On this day his knuckles were sore from the ruler used to correct his finger positioning. He sat in class daydreaming about the end of the day, as he often did after piano. As he peered back to the others he noticed a boy looking at him. He smiled, as he often did, but the other did not smile back. The other made a funny motion with his thumb, sliding it across his throat.
The boy heard the bell for the end of the day and hurried to his locker to get his backpack and get home. It was an hour by subway and bus and rush hour always meant it would be a busy and crowded trip. As he was leaving he was pushed hard into another locker, falling hard against the metal. He turned to face the throat kid and a few of his friends.
“You are a fag,” he said, “aren’t you? Huh Fag…fag…fag…”
The other kids began the chant. The young boy against the locker could only listen as they began to taunt and kick him. He tried to keep his smile, he tried to not show fear, but he was a gentle and easily wounded at times. The tears did not help him, only encouraged the others.
“Awww look the fag’s crying!” The throat boy yelled, laughing.
It seemed like a lifetime of kicks and taunts before a priest arrived to break it up. He asked the boy if he was hurt and the response was quick and immediate. The boy smiled and said he was OK, thinking that this would give him some measure of credit with the others. He picked up his bag and left through the door, as he reached the bottom step he heard a voice call out behind him.
“We’ll see you tomorrow fag!”
The boy sped up his walk to the subway. The ride home was long and busy. The scent of people always made him a bit ill. A mix of perfume, food and body odor that crept into the nostrils and could not be moved until fresh air washed it away. He stood being jostled around wondering what he had done to warrant such an attack. He knew what a fag was, but he also knew he wasn’t one. Why did the boy call him that?
The next day began the longest four months of the boy’s life. It left him scared, tired, beaten and bruised. His smile was washed away by the idiocy of boys. He could never leave the school yard, it followed him home. In his dreams he was beaten by these kids. During the day he was beaten by these kids. He felt alone, felt ashamed. He wanted to find help, but knew that any kind of intervention would make it worse.
By the second month he was attacked by groups of fifteen boys or more. Boys can be cruel. The boy lost his smile and decided the only thing he could do was get out of that school. His plan became one of simplicity. The amount he travelled was enough to give most an upset stomach. Perhaps if he could play on this.
For two months he would make himself throw up on the subway. He didn’t care about the humiliation. He needed witnesses, needed strangers to call his house. Embarrass his parents with calls of your ill child. He needed to get them to decide that their son’s tummy was far too weak for lengthy travel. He became so good at it that he could throw up without any assistance from fingers within the first couple of weeks.
His life had become one of hiding, pain, and puke, a life that seemed a bit harsh for a boy of nine. Some say these events make you stronger. I say they make you have a smile that is always painted on.
At the end of grade four he was moved to a new school, a new start. He never looked back, he only looked forward. He began to learn how to change to suit others, never really being himself, but being the self others would like. He would be the chameleon and after a time he forgot what color he started out as, but whoever he was, he was well liked.
Whoever he was.