A guest speaker, enlightening a student body on the ills of bullying, goes to extremes the schoolchildren could never have seen coming…
by: Travis Flatt
I take a few breaths in the empty auditorium, position my stool, and sip my glass of water.
The teachers corral the students in. I greet them by standing on stage smiling. These kids are expecting your typical motivational speaker — one part amateur comedian and three parts youth minister. They were told I’m here to talk about bullying, so they come in joking and grinning, especially the boys.
I’m dressed in a black suit. It’s most effective to be just a face hovering on stage.
To start, I don’t say anything but “Hello,” and then I drop two tablets of Alka seltzer into my water glass. It’s purely for effect, and it works. The kids get curious and immediately silent. In the quiet, I pop out the teeth on the left side of my face and plop them into the glass. My cheek and lips wilt.
My speech is slightly slurred. “In ninth grade, there was a boy in my class who didn’t like how I wore my hair — down here, to my shoulders. Or the way I dressed. This boy, he called me names. He called me ‘tree-hugger,’ which was our redneck version of ’emo.’” Some of the kids laugh. Now I take a pack of face wipes out of my pants pocket. It crinkles sharp in the quiet. I remove the make-up from my face so you can see all of the scars that the plastic surgery couldn’t cover.
“This went on all through ninth grade.” The kids are really quiet now. A few of them look upset. The scars down my cheek are thick and branching, like pink tree roots.
I unsnap my left ear and drop it on the stool next to the glass of bubbling water. Some kids gasp. Some teachers gasp. It’s a silicone prosthetic which attaches to bolts secured to a plate in my skull.
“I never told any teachers or counselors. I didn’t want to get in trouble because I thought everyone would think I was a baby, or a ‘narc,’ as we used to say. A rat.” Now I’m getting ready for the big number. I take my maroon pocket square out of my shirt and unfold it on the stool. When I first started doing this, I wore black gloves, too, but my wife said I looked too much like a Bond villain.
“Also, I thought it would get worse if I told. Honestly, I assumed he’d kick my ass…” laughs and a few sharp intakes of breath “…so I let him call me names.” I reach into my jacket pocket and take out something palmed so they can’t see. It’s metal. I let it catch the light, but just a quick glint.
“It got worse and worse. He’d push me in the halls and trip me in the cafeteria. One time, he nearly broke my tailbone. There were days I’d go home crying. My parents asked what was happening of course, but I just made up lies and excuses.” I take my toupee off. Even though it’s expensive, I hate it; I only wear it for these things. I drop it with a whish to the stage. At its deepest, you can stick your finger nail-deep into the scarred groove in my scalp.
“But, one day — and this was soon after the tailbone thing — I guess he got bored. So, he came up and grabbed me on the playground and took hold of me by the collar. That’s when it happened.” I hold up the metallic object that’s been in my hand and show it to the kids. It’s a combination lock.
“We used to have these combination locks on our lockers. You’ve seen these before, right?” Most of the kids and teachers nod. Some of their mouths are hanging open. I drop the lock on the floor. It’s heavy, so the thud on the stage is loud. One little girl jumps in her seat.
“Do you see where this is going?” I pop out my left eye and set it on that pocket square I’ve prepared. “Do you see where this is going?” The kids are fascinated. Some are horrified. I lean over, keeping my eye socket gaping out over the crowd, pick up the lock, and loop it around my right middle finger.
There’s dead silence, which I let hang for about thirty seconds.
I pantomime this part, swinging the lock to punctuate each word: “He whipped this into my face until a teacher heard.”
“My parents sued the school, the boy’s parents. That boy went to juvenile — it was a huge mess. They took the lockers out of our school. Would it have been better if I’d told a teacher he was calling me names? I’m going to look like this forever, you know. I’ve spent thousands of dollars, too, on plastic surgery, brain surgery, prosthetics.” I pause. I’m finished. I keep my face broken for question and answer.
“What happened to the boy who hit you,” a girl asks. A bunch of hands lower. That was everyone’s question.
I shake my head and sigh. “He and another guy robbed a gas station.” The kids start talking, excited. The teachers shush them and I continue: “Yeah. And the guy he was with shot the owner. They were sentenced to thirty years to life in prison.”
I nod to the teachers, signaling it’s done, and although there are still hands up and kids are trying to ask questions I put myself back together. The teachers take my cue, shush again, and applaud. Looking disappointed, the kids applaud, too.
I made that last part up. The guy who assaulted me is an account executive at a firm called LogicMonitor. At least the last time I searched him on Facebook he was. He lives in Utah and has a bunch of kids. Presumably with a wife — his “relationship status” didn’t say. When I showed my wife, she joked that I should friend request him.
Travis Flatt (he/him) is an epileptic teacher and actor living outside of Nashville, Tennessee. His fiction appears or is forthcoming in Drunk Monkeys, Misery Tourism, Bridge Eight, Terror House, and other publications. You can check out his authors website at www.travisflattblog.com.