I am 11 years old, and in the middle of sixth grade. My family recently moved to California. It’s Monday, my first day at my new school. As you would imagine, I dread being the new kid, especially when I'm not making new friends yet.
But, in particular, I'm feeling anxiety because I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and I’m afraid it’s going to show up in front of a large roomful of classmates.
After my mother and I go to the school office to fill out the paperwork, I am led to English, my first class. The teacher, Mr. Mackenzie, looks up from his desk and smiles at me. “OK, everyone, be quiet for a second. This is our new student, Blake Taylor.” He manages to draw all the attention to me, creating an embarrassing situation. All eyes scrutinize me, and then a general “hello” echoes throughout the classroom.
The desks are clustered together in groups of four to allow students to interact. I sit with two girls and a boy named Brian. “Hi,” I greet my table partners, as I accidentally knock my notebook and loose-leaf binder off the desk. The anxiety and nervousness of being new is at its height.
Although my classmates watch me with confounded eyes, they don’t yet know me well enough to either ask or ridicule me about the reason for my awkwardness. I have that advantage for now. Eventually, I will tell some classmates that I'm an ADHD kid, as a means of explaining my behaviors.
Over the next month, Brian becomes my first friend. I learn about how he builds remote-controlled cars from scratch, flies gas-powered model airplanes, and repairs lawn sprinklers. His zeal for constructing things, however, has won him the reputation of being a nerd.
The Bully Rears His Ugly Head
In February, Mr. Mackenzie rearranges the table assignments, as he does every two months, and Brian and I are moved to a table next to a boy named Phillip.
“Today, we will begin our poetry unit,” says Mr. Mackenzie.
“What should I write about?” I ask Brian happily. I’ve started to feel comfortable in my class.
“I don’t know. A car?” he suggests.
“Oh, how about a snake? Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.” I start scribbling down words in my large handwriting, which resembles scratches on a page. I push out my elbows to balance myself on the desktop, and books and colored pencils spill onto the floor.
“I’d be surprised if you can write a poem about anything while dropping everything and making a scene,” Phillip interjects slyly. Brian and I exchange looks, trying to understand the reason for this verbal attack. “Is something wrong?” I ask Phillip. He doesn’t bother answering, but, instead, looks over at Brian and then back at me.
“You know, your friend here,” he says, pointing at Brian, “is the weirdest nerd I’ve ever seen.” Apparently, Brian and Phillip have known each other since elementary school. “Just shut up, Phillip,” Brian replies.
Before Phillip can think of another mean comment, Mr. Mackenzie announces that poetry time has ended. We won’t have to suffer any more of Phillip’s insults for now. However, we have eight more weeks of this seating arrangement and, therefore, eight more weeks of having to endure Phillip.
With time, Phillip’s comments become increasingly frequent and spiteful. Phillip turns toward Brian. “So, have you made any new friends lately?” he taunts. Brian doesn’t respond and, instead, looks down at the desk in dismay. “Oh, that’s right,” says Phillip, sarcastically answering his own question. “You can’t make any friends. You’d rather fix cars and sprinklers.” Brian seems helpless.
“And I’m sure you would make friends, with the way you talk,” I reply.
“Like you would know, shake-boy.” Phillip begins to taunt me by jerking his head around in imitation of my tic. “Hey, look, I’m Blake. I can’t stop shaking my head.” He is the only one in class laughing at his joke.