The events which Amelia was alluding to occurred decades in the past, in her senior year of high school; but the relationships and emotions which led to these events, formed a year earlier than that, at the very end of her junior year. In fact, if one were to trace all of the various threads back to their origins, one would come to a very specific moment in time and a very particular place on the school grounds where all of this began.
It was a Monday morning, before the first class of the day. As Josh and Amelia arrived they noticed a very large group of students gathered in front of the school. It appeared that nearly the entire student body was present, and had formed a large ring around something, or someone, hidden somewhere deep within. It was a strange and foreboding sight, and they looked at each other warily, unsure of the meaning of this impromptu gathering but sensing something wasn’t right about it. Additional students arrived from various directions, some running, some walking, but all drawn as if by a magnet; or like moths to a light.
They approached with trepidation because they were unable to simply walk away. It was too curious and unprecedented to miss out on entirely. They even jogged to get there a little faster, both feeling uneasy about what they might see, but wanting to be sure to see it as quickly as possible nonetheless. They stood on their toes trying to see what was happening further in; many other students also had no idea what this was all about. However, many others understood, and these were either laughing or jeering, or yelling out obscenities, or in some cases talking in loud distorted and exaggerated voices, as one might do when making fun of someone’s intelligence.
Within moments Josh understood that this was not an innocuous gathering at all, but rather had the elements and ugliness of a mob. It was baffling to him how this could have originated as if out of thin air; there had never been such a gathering before in his experience at any school he had ever attended. Amelia also began to understand the cruelty of what she was witnessing and the horror of it began to overtake her. They looked at each other with growing apprehension and fear. The mob moved and swayed like one organism— like an amoeba—growing denser at one end one moment, undulating, and then shifting to another end the next. As the group shifted, the way opened to Josh and Amelia so they could finally see into the middle; and for the first time view the focus of all the rage and vitriol being expressed by so many of their fellow students. It was just a boy, one skinny boy. That was all. They looked at each other incredulously, trying to make sense of it, but neither could find the answer in the other’s face. They looked back to the boy, they both recognized him but didn’t know him personally.
They knew his name was Richard but not much more than that. They had seen him being bullied before, because of his appearance and his speech impediment. He was an easy target. But they had never seen such force brought against him. Typically it was just one, or maybe two guys making fun of him for a moment or two, then Richard would run away, and that would be it. But this was completely disproportionate and overwhelming, and utterly devastating. Amelia began to get tears in her eyes, and looked down at the ground to avoid seeing any more. Josh looked intently at the terror-stricken creature cowering not more than 20 yards away, in the midst of a sea of hostile faces. It struck Josh that Richard no longer seemed human, in a way, but had rather transformed, in some strange and indescribable way, into a wild animal.
As Josh was apprehending this thought, and grappling with the incongruities of this entire experience—the meanness of his friends, the ferocity of the crowd, the littleness and insignificance of Richard in comparison to the size of the masses against him, with no justification that Josh could comprehend to satisfy any tangible reason for such a stark display of cruelty—Richard caught sight of his way out, and he bolted past Josh and out into the parking lot, running aimlessly and without direction, confused and irrational.
And without a clear understanding of his purpose, Josh darted after him, saying to Amelia, “I’ll be back, everything is okay.” She looked at him with surprise and concern and smiled wanly as he turned and ran into the parking lot after Richard. He easily caught up to him since Richard stumbled repeatedly over his lazy foot as he ran. But as he got closer Josh slowed and then stopped pursuing, seeing that Richard covered his face and head with his arms anticipating blows from Josh. His heart sank when he realized that Richard thought he might hit or attack in some way; and he felt it was a mistake having chased after him, causing him more fear.
“No, no, no, I’m not going to hurt you,” pleaded Josh. “Please, don’t worry.” He held both hands and arms up in the air with palms facing out towards Richard, hoping he would understand that he meant no harm. “I want to help you, I am so sorry about what happened back there.” He moved slowly towards Richard, with his arms still outstretched but he lowered them as he got near.
Richard’s face was squeezed tightly, his lips and nose puckered gruesomely, and he wheezed as he stood staring at Josh. He kept his arms up, partially shielding his face and head, in case his pursuer decided to attack after all. He didn’t trust Josh, and wondered what new insult or aggression was coming. Preemptively, he hollered and grunted at Josh and spat towards him.
Instinctively, Josh knelt down and looked up at Richard, and then down at the ground. Again, he wasn’t certain of his purpose, but it intuitively seemed like a good idea, and might work to calm Richard’s fears. He waited with his face to the ground to see what Richard would do. Nobody moved for several moments. “I’m not going to hurt you,” Josh repeated and looked up into Richard’s eyes. He was startled by what he saw.
Richard looked down at Josh and didn’t understand why he suddenly had gotten on the ground but it struck him funny. He snickered and then laughed loudly. He pointed at Josh kneeling before him and laughed and then looked up into the trees smiling. He hugged himself and stood that way for a while as Josh got back to his feet. Richard backed away, then turned and ran across the street and down the sidewalk as Amelia came up to Josh’s side.
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