Charlie Thomas's Almost Life

The soccer ball hit my crotch, going at - a conservative estimate - a thousand miles an hour. I knew that was going to happen from the moment he kicked it, but I couldn't move fast enough to get out of the way. If I was a better athlete, I'd be a better athlete. What kind of a stupid system is this, anyway?

As I collapsed to my knees, I wondered if any of the guys in the Old Testament had this problem. In between seeing fiery rings made out of eyes, did Ezekiel ever predict that some donkey was going to kick him in the crotch? If he averted the ball kicking, would it make him a false prophet?

Most days, I felt like a prophet. “Charlie Thomas, you will get the crap kicked out of you at school today,” I said to myself in the mirror, waving spirit fingers at my reflection. Neither of us seemed excited to be there. I was late to school a lot; you're telling me you wouldn't be if you were in my raggedy, off-brand shoes?

At that point the wave of nausea finally crashed against the shores of my brain, and all thoughts were canceled out by the warm, sick pain of it.

Gym class. I'm 5'8" and 110 lbs. with my clothes on. Lord of the Flies doesn't begin to cover it.

My doctor has me drinking Ensure to try and put some weight on. It tastes like a vanilla milkshake that's been left in a hot car. My mom always buys two boxes a week - one for me, one for Grandpa Joe. We drink it while watching one of those Judge shows in the afternoons when I get home from school. He uses a straw; I drink it straight from the bottle. That's right ladies, I'm hard core.

And ladies, you don't know what a kick to the crotch feels like. Mom tells me her period is worse, which doesn't make me feel any better because it's my mom telling me about her period. Honestly, I'd rather take a knock to the sack than hear about that again.

I'm on the freshly mown grass of the soccer field, rolling back and forth. If you listened closely, you could hear the sounds of my dry heaving. Mom had to go to work early, so the only thing in my stomach is half a string cheese that I ate on the bus. The wrapper had a smiling cow on it, which got me called a fag and the other half slapped to the floor.

I'd sit at the front of the bus where it's safer, but Mrs. Krinsky doesn't like me playing my DS up there. She says it's a tool of the devil to ensnare the weak willed, and then she coughs because of the pack of cigarettes that stick out of her jacket pocket. I'm willing to risk the teasing just so I have something to do for the half hour ride. Besides, a little Pokémon in the morning makes the rest of the day bearable.

I'm a sophomore, which is the grade where nothing happens. You're not new, there aren't any special dances, and you don't graduate; you're just kinda there. I've thought a lot about it, and I decided I'd trade a testicle for being able to skip to senior year. It's that bad.

I'm good in all my classes, which is probably the only thing I have going for me. I try not to be too good, otherwise that opens up a whole new avenue of abuse. I've decided I'm going to coast until it's time to go to college. Anything else would be suicide, and if this were prison, I'd already be on watch.

And here came the reason why - the soccer ball kicker, the string cheese slapper, the all-around bane of my existence, Teddy Crosby. Yeah, his name is Teddy. Technically it's Theodore, like the President, but he goes by Teddy, like the President. The first kid to make fun of him for that name was spitting blood ten seconds later. Teddy barely hit him, but the kid had braces. You don't punch a kid with braces. You just don't. Even if it wasn't cruel, the braces can mess your hand up. Teddy didn't care.

I had learned about evolution in Biology. Survival of the fittest, that sort of thing. As far as I could tell, what made you the fittest in high school was having forearms like tree trunks and being able grow a mustache before you could drive. Teddy had both those things, and he was thriving. He got to me before the teacher did, and squatted down.

"You take that one in your little nads, ya chocolate thief?" he asked with breath that smelled like Funyuns and sour milk. He leaned forward suddenly and I flinched back. Teddy stood up right as everyone else arrived. My friends pushed to the front of the crowd, and leaned down over me.

Wait, that's right, I didn't have any friends. Nevermind.

"He said he thinks his sack ruptured," Teddy told the teacher, Coach Caraway. Everyone laughed at that. Even the Coach grinned.

"C'mon, up ya go," said the Coach. He grabbed my upper arm and pulled me to my feet. I moaned the whole time, and then stood hunkered over, grabbing my stomach-crotch region with both arms.

A flash of prophecy struck me again. Here it comes - "Walk it off," Coach said. There we go. The scene was now complete. Exeunt omnes, we hope these players did not offend. Yes, I like Shakespeare. When I was stupid enough not to hide that in Freshman English, it got me in exactly as much trouble as you'd imagine.

I stumbled over to the sidelines and walked next to the orange cones that marked the edge of the field. Sophomore gym class - or PE, or Health, I can't remember what we were supposed to call it - was all about sports. Two or three weeks a sport until the year was over, longer if the Coach thought we were having fun. We had just come off of a month of basketball, which was terrible.

I'm not an idiot. I begged my mom way back in July to write me an excuse. 'Pleeeease mom," I said, in the best wheedling tone I had. I didn't have a good argument apart from "I really don't want to do this", but I knew if I annoyed her enough she'd give in just to get some peace. She worked two jobs to be able to take care of me and Grandpa Joe, and her nerves were always on edge. I hated using that against her, but this was life or death.

"Charlie, I can't lie to them! There's nothing wrong with you," she said.

"Are you sure, mom? There's a whole school full of kids that think there is." I had my long, skinny arms stretched out as wide as they would go to indicate the number of people who agreed that yes, there was something wrong with Charlie Thomas.

"My head hurts, Charlie. We're not gonna do this now, okay? How about you just go to your gym class, and after a couple weeks if it's as bad as you think it is, we'll do something. Alright?"

Parents love that one. If I woke up in the morning vomiting blood, she'd tell me to see how I felt by second period. Two weeks into my sophomore year, gym class was even worse than I thought it would be, thanks to Teddy. However, mom had another headache. So here I was.

I kicked the tall pieces of grass that the riding mower had missed. Every now and again I’d nail a dandelion, and a diaspora of tiny, fuzzy seeds would take to the air. I could hear the game going on behind me. There was a lot of shouting, and Coach’s whistle would sound periodically. I had to admit, it sounded like fun. It was too bad I wasn’t an Earth boy that could enjoy it.

From time to time, I had this fantasy. In my fantasy, I wasn’t a human at all – I was an alien from the far away planet of Septon V. On this planet, all the babies are sent away in space pods a week after they were born. Each capsule would fly through the dark of space to a different world with intelligent life. Once there, the capsule would camouflage the baby to look like the dominant species. However, my capsule was damaged by a meteor or something, which is why I ended up so skinny.

Damn meteors.

The really cool part was that, once my birthday hit – and it was always my next birthday – my Septonian powers would emerge. I would be able to move things with my mind, and I’d be impervious to harm. My job was to crush this puny planet for the glory of the Septonian Empire, which spanned world after world. When I sat atop the throne of Earth, my real parents would show up and congratulate me for a job well done. Then we’d have cake.

I kept walking for a while, planning what I’d do first with my psionic powers. I was trying to decide between throwing Teddy Crosby into space or dropping a mountain on him when I heard the Coach shout, “Pack it in! Back to the locker rooms!”

If I dawdled too much on the way back, I knew he’d yell at me. Instead, I settled in at a half trot and tried to prepare myself for the crucible that was the boy’s locker room.

Like I said before, Lord of the Flies doesn't begin to cover it.