There was a clique of blokes two years above me, lead by swimming ace, wealthy lawyer’s son, and ditsy girl’s favourite Samuel Richter. Samuel had two lieutenants and a couple of sycophants, plus two or three female groupies, and at school you rarely saw him without his entourage.
He and I hadn’t really crossed paths before. I had only been aware of him because early on Tim had pointed out that Samuel was known to be the meanest bully in school, and I had decided to stay as far away from him as I could. Not because I was afraid of what he might do, but of what I might.
Wednesday I had to live through a lot of whispering, staring, and averted glances when I looked back. But on Thursday happenstance took me on my way from one classroom to another past Samuel’s posse. There was a lot of hushed giggling as I approached. Suddenly one of the girls stepped up to me and asked me loudly:
“Hey, um, I have something of a problem. Could you…?”
I looked at her, guarded, uncertain what this was about. The way the posse nudged and snickered I suspected it wouldn’t be anything I would find amusing.
“Well, you see, my period just started, and I forgot to bring a tampon.” Here the giggling from the group broke out into loud snorting and gwaffing, and the girl herself couldn’t bite her dumb grin away any longer. “Can’t you help me out with one… Patricia?”
I blushed – damn that blushing – and just walked on.
Things quickly got worse. Nobody threw tampons at me, there was no concerted effort to attack or anything. But the requests for make-up tips, the lewd winks and blown kisses didn’t stop. I gritted my teeth even though it was hard. It was so damn hard. But I did keep my temper bottled up. I doubt I could have done it for as long as I did without Uncle Valya, but well, I had Uncle Valya and our work together to look forward to, and that was what I concentrate on while I bit on the insides of my cheeks until I tasted the blood or clenched my fists hard enough to hear my knuckles pop.
Then, sometime next week, I found that during gym class someone had pissed onto my clothes. And a few days later someone used my same inability to have an eye on my stuff during gym to cram my backpack, books and everything, into the toilet, before pissing on it and flushing. One day I found a pile of dog crap on my bicycle seat after school, and another time someone poured what I think was soiled cat litter into my backpack.
(I kept all of this from my mum and from ‘Nessa, mostly because at the time I had more money than I knew what to do with from my work with Uncle Valya, and so I could relatively easy replace the stuff they ruined.)
I never caught anyone directly, but from the way there was always someone from Samuel’s posse around to watch and giggle when these things happened, it wasn’t hard to figure out who was behind it.
And then there were the vids. One morning in the second week of this, a small bevy of beauties stood tittering around a mobile phone, going into whisper mode as I approached. However instead of regarding me with the amusement or scorn I had come to expect, they did something far worse, they regarded me with pity.
I was about to skulk past them when one of them almost shyly tugged me on the arm.
“Patr…” For a second she stopped herself, horrified. I am certain, that she had almost called me Patricia to my face. Then she forced herself to go on: “..rick. I think you should, uh, see this.”
And she showed me her mobile. On the screen the boy’s locker room. My class, changing back into street wear after gym. I could see myself, alone, silent, untouchable, a ghost amongst boys. I could see myself undress and reach for my jeans, start to get in, hesitate. The camera man, whoever he was, zoomed in, not on the wet trousers, but on my face, caught the flashes of shock, rage, and humiliation, before I clamped down my visor of haughty street nonchalance.
“I’m sorry.” She said, and she even looked as if she really was. I mumbled a quick thanks. Later I palmed the mobile of some arsehole I was certain would also have this vid, which sure enough he had, and a few more, including one that showed the cat litter being poured into my backpack, and my reaction when I found it. Also some of me being cat called in the halls. Most were done by the same artist, the one with a penchant for capturing the humiliation in my eyes.
That day, on the way back to Kreuzberg, I threw the phone into the canal.
Only once Samuel stopped me in a hall directly. He looked at me, his face serious, slightly shaking his head, like a disappointed father, and said:
“If I found out I was a dirty faggot pig, well, I hope I’d have the strength of character to ask a vet to put me down. But then, I guess when you are, you are also too sissy for a clean solution like that.”
His mates slapped his shoulder for the good line and they all trundled off, joined in satisfaction about having stuck it to the queer kid.
Now, please do not think that everybody participated in this. The more public displays of homophobia usually earned the name-callers disapproving looks, especially from the more socially minded girls. And as far as teachers took any notice, they too were of course very much against bullying. Of course that only made things worse. This form of a disapproval was after all part of what the comedians where after.
And when I couldn’t hide the results of the cruder (if more anonymous) jokes, most witnesses were shocked and appalled. But I suppose I couldn’t deal with the support any better than with the attacks. For one, I hated those girls who thought they could make a political symbol out of me. It hadn’t worked when I was the ex-con from the bad side of town, and it worked even less when I was the boy with the sexual identity issues. Also with a lot – not all, mind you, but enough – of those displaying shock and disgust at the practical jokes I had my doubts. Faces were turned away too fast to hide anything but amusement. Voices raised in the name of justice were too smug, too certain, to sound anything but happy about this opportunity to polarize. There’s no better news than bad news, right? I was a spectacle, and if people were on one side of the argument, or the other, none of them were on mine. Well, I suppose, I wasn’t on anyone else’s either. So maybe it all worked out.
What little social contact I’d had dried up with Tim. Even positive attention solely turned around my role as pariah, and mostly served to make those willing to talk to me feel better about themselves. So I more or less stopped talking at all, and did what I always did when facing an unconquerable enemy. I withdrew into books.
Of course, this was only a big thing for me. Every day school stuff went on as usual, tests, sports, school yard romances. Even for Samuel’s posse, this was just one amongst many amusements. There was other kids to torment (under other pretexts), girls to impress, teachers to toady to. This was just one small part of life. Only for me, for me it meant the end of my attempt to fit in and get along.
I was sitting by myself on a boulder in a corner of the school grounds more or less hidden from the main yard, reading Douglas Hofstaetter’s excellent Escher Gödel Bach, when Florian found me. Florian Maxim was one of Samuel’s chief lieutenants and one of the creative brains behind the campaign. If I’d have to finger anyone as the video artist, I’d have named him. Of course I had no direct proof, but he always struck me as a man who understood real pain. He grabbed the book from my hands and tossed it to one of his mates. They started throwing from one to the other, glancing at me from the corners of their eyes, expecting me to chase after it like a nervous squirrel with a bladder problem. I just leaned back and enjoyed their skilful passes. The blood in my mouth was soothing.
Florian turned the book around to read the title and overjoyed he called out: “Hey, Samuel, guess what, Patricia is reading about Dödles.” (Dödle is a silly kid’s word for penis, and it rhymes with Gödel, the mathematician mentioned in the book’s title. I know. Haw-haw.) They amused themselves a while making Dödle cracks, but I was more concerned with checking out how deep my fingernails would go into my palms to pay them much attention. Eventually Samuel got bored with the whole game.
Two days before I had made a pretty bad mistake. A girl had asked me how could I put up with all of it when she saw that somebody had written “I take it up the rear” on my hoodie with indelible magic marker. I tried to appear nonchalant and quoted a German proverb: What does the oak tree care when the boar rubs against it. It’s a good sentiment, even though like most sayings there is something of a lie hidden inside. Like the one about the sticks and stones. It would be nice, but it just is not so. Anyway, I said it while Florian was in the room, and he must have heard it and reported it to his leader.
So when Samuel was bored with the taunting, he took up position in front of me, hands on his hips, pelvis thrust forward.
“Hey, Patricia, hungry for Dödle?”
I looked up at him. At my old school peeps might have warned him that the flickering in my eyes was a serious warning sign. But even if, I suppose it had been too long since anyone had challenged him in his position as top honcho of the school yard, and if there would have been someone he might have considered a risk that someone wouldn’t have been a short, queer kid two years his junior. Also, I don’t think that he had ever been in a real fight in his life.
“Don’t know, Sam. Haven’t seen yours, have I? Is it any good?” I asked through clenched teeth. There probably were hectic red splotches all over my face.
He laughed, carefree. “Better than all the Turkish dick-kebabs you’ve been getting at home, you can bet on that.”
And then another idea occurred to him.
“Hey, tell me Patricia…” He nestled at his fly. “Does the oak tree mind if the boar waters it? Cuz, I really gotta take a leak, you know.”
“Samuel,” I croaked. “Don’t take out what you don’t want to lose.”
He decided to call my bluff. And that was when I decided to end my period of non-violence, the one that had started when Hendrik had had me in a head lock almost a year before, and then had kissed me long and hard.
The fight was short and ugly. This wasn’t the back gate of an insignificant Kreuzberg primary school. This was a high school for the pride and joy of Berlin’s most influential national and international leaders. We had hardly found our stride when the first teacher was trying to break us up. But I wouldn’t let one lady in high heals and a tight skirt keep me from trying to put hurt onto Sam. After a second’s hesitation he, too, got back into the spirit of things. It took three teachers and two 12th graders to finally separate us.
By points I clearly lost that fight. And I have to be fair: none of Samuel’s sycophants joined in to help their glorious leader. Once he got it that I meant business, he didn’t wimp out. Of course, he was two years older, about 15 kg heavier and a good head taller than me. Anyway, I like to think that I gave him a run for his money.
Afterwards, when we were waiting in front of the principle’s office, me with a split lip, a closed eye, and torn up paper tissues stuffed into my nose, and him doing his best to prevent anything from touching his swollen family jewels, he suddenly grinned at me.
“Hey, Patricia. I take back what I said. You may be a poof, but you’re no sissy. I guess you can stay at my school.”
And he offered me his hand. But Samuel was no Leo, and I wasn’t six anymore. For a moment I was very, very tempted to hit him again, as hard as I could. Just to see that grin turn red as blood gushed from his nose. But I decided to find back to Ghandi and Jesus. Well, almost.
“And you may be an arsehole, Sam, but I promise you, I’ll never put my Dödle in it.”
We shook on it.
I was suspended for two weeks after that, while there was an official inquiry at the school. It ended with me having to state a public apology, being warned that the least antisocial behaviour on my part would lead to an immediate relegation – and that any more display of violence would also be reported to the police. After this I could feel how the administration was just waiting for another slip up so they could get rid of me rikki-tik. They had proved their social responsibility by accepting me in the first place and now by showing me leniency once, but that was it. The rest was a foregone conclusion, a pre-written script they expected me to play out.