If the third grade taught any ideology, it is that fighting back is futile. A boy curiously named Majestic had just finished shrieking in my ear, removing the grasp on my face from his sticky fingers. The noise bellowed like a saw to my eardrums. If I had given a swift knee to the kid’s testicles, I surely would have faced more severe repercussions than he, who was truly responsible.
I ran to the gym instructor, a tall man. He had a bumpkin’s voice and wore a jersey like he played football. He leaned against the school wall with his buddies. I tugged at his arm and pointed at the boy who wouldn’t leave me alone, but he waved me off. This was not the first time I had been bullied for my autism.
I walked past the playground into a wooded area, trekking along the fence line until I reached the opposite end of the schoolyard. This spot is where the yard spilled into the main road. I took one step off the grass and felt a rainbow of delight explode from my chest. I was no longer on school property.
It was hot and sunny in the rural Indiana springtime. The further I walked, the more the brick, one-story elementary school came out of focus. The air was sultry, mixing the freshly-cut grass with dead leaves. I lived a mile down the road. Pine trees and decaying mosses filled South Carroll Avenue. They hunched over like guardians of the cracked pavement.
If I came through the front entrance, the neighbors might question why I was not in school. I sneaked in by the perpendicular Gardena Street. I walked up to the waist through a thicket of bushes, arms stamped with white lines that tore the rough, irritated skin. They created a thorny barrier around the apartments, making them hard to reach from the other side.
I held my hand to the sun’s light gleaming directly in my eyes. All the houses were in perfect view, each a matching beige. There were no cars or people. My father would usually be out at this time, so I didn’t check to see if he was home. On the edge of the lawn was a row of blue lockers about ten feet tall standing side by side. I walked over to one and stared at it up close. It cased a small latch where a combination lock would sit, but no locks were present on this door. The coating of blue metallic paint around the exterior had an intoxicating scent like the smell of Hot Wheels. It rusted out from rainwater and peeled in scrolls down the frame.
I pressed my cheek against the door and brushed my lower lip on the vents. The door creaked open, and I peeked inside. Cobwebs hung in the corner, and heaps of dust sulked on the floor. I dragged my sneaker across the surface to uncover a belt of shine and stepped one foot after the other inside. I spun around to face the complex, slumping my back down and sitting criss-cross applesauce. A strong wind blew into the walls of the locker and swirled around me, sweeping my hair back and forth.
I grabbed the door handle and closed it in front of me to about an inch. Only the light from the gap in the vents could seep through. A dainty stroke of it sparkled on the inner wall behind me. I waved my fingers over it, the light surfing across my hand.
“You’re my friend,” I whispered.
I started trudging back to the school after a peaceful hour. The gym instructor and a few other teachers were running up and down the block yelling, ‘You think he went this way? You think he went that way?’
Finally, I locked eyes with one of them. The woman and I stared at each other. She screamed and ran to me with a hug, grabbing me like a trophy. “We were so worried about you,” she cried. They dragged me back to the school and sat me in the classroom. No one had heard of my disappearance, nor was it of interest to them when I mentioned it later.
I sat through the rest of the day in silence. The principal offered I take the rest of the day off after running away, seeing as I had been through a lot, but I saw no benefit in going home early. As much as my father could afford me his many sympathies, there was nothing he could do about it either. People who couldn’t bother to know me try to tear me down. And standing by brings gold stickers to adults as it does to children.
Ervin Brown is a 19-year-old writer born and raised by the Coney Island boardwalk. His other works can be found in Art Block Zine, Willows Wept Review, The Dillydoun Review (Issue 6), Beyond Words Literary Magazine, Aurtistic Zine, Grime Prophet Mag, and Drunk Monkeys, among other places.