• tab tab Worthless. Creep. Weirdo. Ugly. Him. That was all we ever knew him as, my classmates and I. Though most of us never bothered to talk to him, there was always something going around about him, and if one was to say simply, “that kid”, everyone knew who you were talking about. It was most entertaining; the only entertaining thing in an otherwise dull high school. Every day we were assured of some sort of spectacle of his humiliation; whether it was him being tripped in the cafeteria, amid screams and shouts of cruel laughter, sending his books tumbling out his trembling hands, and slamming him into the cold and unmerciful blue lockers that lined the halls, or even just a simple note, filled with the jeering words of the kids who wrote them, there was always something. Never was there a day where he wasn’t harassed, and never was there a day where he let out even the smallest cry of objection.

    tab Everyone who was not doing the bullying merely stood by and watched as he was thrown around, beaten, and listened to the hateful words that were forever etched into his mind and soul. Even the teachers and administration, unwilling to admit their helplessness against the whole of the student body, did nothing to help him. After all, they thought, if they were really hurting him, wouldn’t he have fought back by now? He seemed to be taking it all in stride. Granted, he never smiled, and rarely spoke, but it wasn’t as if he going around weeping and slicing his wrists, right? These thoughts settled any doubts, not only the staff had, but any we had as well. And so we continued to taunt him.

    tab Once, someone attempted to stand up for him. They, and any others who had that in mind, were quickly beaten down, their voices snuffed, and forced to go back to their lives, aching consciences bearing down greatly upon their shoulders. After that, everyone let well enough alone, and the bullying continued at an even faster rate. Now, not only was he being pushed about, but people were now going so far as to abuse him via the internet, stealing his clothes out of his gym locker and hiding them, and, once, even tying him to a tree. Even still, no word of complaint ever found its way out of his mouth; for even if he wished to share the pain, who would listen? Certainly not anyone at school, and his parents were never around, a well known fact, thanks to the teachers’ inabilities to keep things quiet.

    tab Everyone knew how rich his family was; his father was a doctor, and his mother a lawyer. Both earned enough to buy a spacious house with room enough for a family of twelve, while in all actuality it was a family of three. Parents, when driving past with their children in tow, always joked that the house, once their kids graduated, would be theirs. The kids, at this point, would laugh, and make the appropriate response, while squirming uncomfortably, knowing full well who lived there. Most at school feared that he would tell his parents of the abuse; that fear soon dissipated, however, when it was discovered that they were rarely home, and that he basically lived alone, not even seeing the maids who cleaned their house while he was at school.

    tab No one really knew why he was picked on so harshly. Surely he wasn’t ugly, with the mass of dark brown curls that looked so clean and well kempt, the stormy gray eyes that were impossible to read, the straight nose lightly dotted with a few freckles, and his clear complexion. No, it couldn’t be his looks, despite his being called “ugly”. Then perhaps it was his perfect grades, and his love of reading nearly any book that was shoved under his nose? But there were plenty of kids like that, some even being part of his group of tormentors. Then why? An impossible question to answer, I’m afraid. He was simply the unlucky winner, the one whose name was pulled out of the hat, the one who chose the longest stick. Everyone else sighed with relief to know that they wouldn’t be the target, were happy to shove that burden onto his thin shoulders, to join in punishing him for nothing if only to save themselves from being next.

    tab The ones who did not partake in the show were audience to this fascinatingly sick play. They watched with open mouths to the violence shown towards him, cheered when he fell, booed when he rose and tried to escape, and clapped at the end of each performance, clamoring for more. The shouted insults and the sniggers of the actors were the music that accompanied the show, the blood that spurt from a busted lip, the bruises that blossomed upon his skin, and the burning hot tears of shame that fell from his eyes were the special effects. And the crowd loved it; excitedly, they praised their heroes, and sneered at the beaten foe as he painstakingly limped his way offstage.

    tab Soon, hate letters were universal, and love letters were lost in the desire to discover just how much he could take. Friends got together to laugh over the words they had brandished like whips over his head, and to find more to describe this boy they were supposed to hate because of the overwhelming demands of their society. If anyone’s conscience ever smote them, it was immediately smothered with panic, lest someone should discover their faltering resolve. Some people, who neither wholeheartedly encouraged nor condemned the behavior, dismissed the whole thing, going about as if nothing were happening.

    tab He was disintegrating before our eyes, but we were too blind to see. Too blind to notice that he was now taking even longer to rise after a beating, was too defeated to walk with his head high and erect, with the silent pride that we had strove to destroy, had even stopped reading his beloved books, sitting in class with eyes cast downwards and hands lying pointlessly in his lap. We never saw, and that is why, one day, he didn’t come back.
    We hadn’t meant to kill him. We hadn’t meant for him to hang himself from the expensive ceiling fan in his room, or for the police to come to school to question nearly everyone. No, we had never meant to do that. The thing that hit us the worst, however, wasn’t his death at all; no, it was the note that he had left behind for us, the six word note written in a clear and steady hand:

    My name is Matthew James Foster.

    tab Never once, in all his and our time at school, had any one of us addressed him by his real name. Now, he is dead, and his blood is undeniably on our shaking hands. All he had wanted was to be called by his real name, and we had denied him that one simple wish by branding him with every single hurtful name we could think of. That is what broke him. Not the punches, not the horrible insults, but our avoidance of his true name. And now we cry, begging for forgiveness with regret beating us as brutally as we had beat him, and scream his name to the heavens. Matthew James Foster.