The Boy in the Back of the Room, chapter two


So the next class was with Johnny Cash, you know, The Man in Black, AP English. We were supposed to make little presentations on this book by Kate Chopin, The Awakening. Good book, actually, part of this teacher’s “radical” curriculum this year: only women authors. So we got Aphra Behn instead of Shakespeare, Edna St. Vincent Millay instead of T. S. Eliot, Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, etc. He got busted for putting Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love on the curriculum and had to withdraw it. But I read it. Best book ever.

But the buzz was on about the big event in the hallway. Mr. T (what we called him, that or just T) tried to suss us out, and of course a couple of girls said that Becky had assaulted school legend super jock Scott. No one spoke up for her, and not missing her cue, in walks Becky, about ten minutes late to class. She never said a word as the hush descended like night in the tropics (that’s kinda from the Chopin book). Taking her seat as sweet as you please., Mr. T said, “Well Miss Severidge, you are quite the topic of discussion here today.”

She said nothing.

“I understand there was an some sort of altercation before class. Is that right?” T wanted to seem cool, non-confrontational, understanding.

“An altercation? No, Mr. Townshend, I wouldn’t describe it as such.” Wow. So steady, so relaxed, it was amazing.

“And, I’m curious Becky, how would you describe what took place? My ears are burning.” Long pause. “”I’d like to hear from you really, before you have to go to the office and get this straightened out. I think we all would.” Somebody murmured to leave him out of it and this ticked off T. “Enough!” Cool lost, but the chill in the air was palpable.

In the silence, Becky slowly rose, took her sweet time adjusting the ever-present scarf, “To try and satisfy your curiosity, yours and I’m sure others, I would describe what took place as, well, as garbage disposal, to put it in simple terms. And I’m very sorry for the disruption Mr. Townsend, perhaps I should just go along to the office now?”

“That’s probably a good idea, you go do that. We’ll try to carry on without you.”

She was already on the move when she said “I’m sure you’ll all do just fine exploring the semiotics in Chopin’s exquisite symbology. I so wanted to discus the heroine’s existential crisis as seen from the point of view of her parrot.”

And the door closed. Nobody said anything. We all looked at T, who said, “Well, I am certainly sorry to miss Miss Severidge’s discourse. All right then, to work.”

The Vice Principal, the V.P. or Veep as he was known, was an ex-football coach who handled school discipline. The hierarchy of favoritism that he employed was widely understood and held by those at the top of the food chain, who benefited greatly from the Veep’s largesse, to be just, fair, a privilege they had somehow earned. They loved him. The rest of us, the plebes, who got no breaks, whose word meant shit, well, many hated him. But me, and people like me (there’s no one like me) couldn’t be bothered to bring the energy needed to despise the guy. He was a joke, a laughable, predictable joke. I couldn’t think of him without busting up.

So Becky left and I ignored all the smart talk about Creole culture and feminism and censorship. I was worried about her, and then, there she was, back in class as though nothing had happened. Later at lunch I overheard the chatter between a couple socialite girls who had reported to The Office as witnesses. Of course, they had it in for Becky, being all rah rah. As I’ve said, I’m invisible to these people, so the eavesdrop is a snap; it’s the actual listening to their “I’m all” and “She’s like” and their “Whatever”s that’s the hard part. I’ve done my best to translate their semi-literate command of the language, with maybe a little embellishment.

Becky had apparently demanded from the Veep. that she be confronted face to face by these two. From what I put together, what went down was something like this:

Veep: “Becky, you know that Scott is on his way to the hospital right now?”

Becky: “Oh, why?’

The two girls did the eye roll and the OMG thing apparently, only to get The Look from the Veep.

Veep: “I believe you know why young lady!”

Becky: “I wish to make very clear the fact that I have suffered continual and unwanted sexual advances since I arrived at this school. I have been victimized, verbally raped if you will, my reputation has been slandered, and my dignity besmirched in plain view of students and staff. Now, what have you and the other administrators done about this appalling and illegal situation? I’ll tell you, the school administration has chosen to turn a blind eye to these criminal assaults which have placed me in no small psychological distress as well as physical danger.”

Apparently there was a long silence here.

Veep: “I’ve heard nothing of this. Did you report these assaults as you call them?”

Becky: “And why has nothing been done? Could it be, just saying, that the perpetrator of these crimes is a major athlete at this school?’

Veep: “Come now, that is quite an accusation little lady, and most unfair, and I repeat, the school cannot act to protect its students if they don’t come forward and report!”

Becky: “Little lady? Really? I’m so sorry that your sense of fair play is injured, but are you sooo out of touch with the climate here that you are completely unaware that this boy, this star athlete on his way to the hospital, is a stalker, someone who brags of his sexual conquests, real or imagined, and who, today, attempted to violate me on campus?”

Witness girl #1: “Like it wasn’t that way at all!”

Becky: “With all due respect, why don’t you ask this witness about her own sexual history with my harasser?”

Veep: “Is that relevant to this incident?”

Becky: “So, in addition to failing to provide a safe environment for your students you don’t question the veracity of so-called witnesses? You know, I have been planning to attend the school board meeting, when is it, next Thursday at the District Office at 6, yes? To ask them why I am being denied the very basic rights due to me by District policy, state and federal law, and just plain human decency. Perhaps my speaking out about how I am being treated for protecting my person, when I have acted purely in self-defense, will spur a larger debate in the community. You know, it is just possible that some members of the Board and the greater community might conclude that you are enabling my attacker and blaming me as the victim.”

I gather there was a longer silence here, really long. The two girls were dismissed, and like I said Becky was back in English even before the end of class. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to hear her presentation on parrots and Edna Pontellier. A couple weeks later there was an all-school assembly dealing with sexual harassment and a “Respect One Another Day” where students were encouraged to “Share.” Like, whatever.

Scottie Boy went into hiding, was placed on a home school contract and missed spring athletics. Later it got around that he’d had a ruptured testicle and needed surgery. Ouch.

One thought on “The Boy in the Back of the Room, chapter two

  1. John. This is riveting good writing. Keep it rolling. I, too, practiced being invisible in my school days, and empathize completely with the protagonist. This is good stuff, and timely as well.



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