2 June 2004 | Vol. 4, No. 2
In second grade I learned about abuse and the German language. The reason my parents sent me to Manchester Elementary on the North Side of Pittsburgh was so that their kleine madchen could take advantage of the early language program therein. "Guten Morgen, Frau Kranz," we would say every day before the Pledge of Allegiance. For one section of our daily academic work, we would learn words and a few phrases auf Deutsch.
On the bus ride home, we would exit the North Side, cross the bridge, swing through the West End Circle, and then work our way up the back of Mount Washington, which is distinctly divided into two regions: good and bad. I lived on the side nearest the city, closer to the shops, libraries, and stately homes that overlook the city. Toby, the third-grader who was always clenching his jaw and absently punching his nylon lunch bag lived on the other side.
His house had a wraparound porch that sagged on both ends. There was an upended bassinet that lived on the dirt lawn and his mother was always waiting in the doorway with a scowl when the bus dropped him off. Toby was excitable. He sat in front of me and sometimes made fun of me. There were lots of things to make fun of, really. For one, I picked my nose incessantly. For another, I wore dresses every single day of the year. Even in the winter when my mother had to corral my gangly legs into two sets of woolen tights which, together, created odd lumps around my knees and ankles. While his mother would often find some reason to start beating him the minute he got home, mine would walk me to the bus in the morning so that she could give Frank, the driver, a cup of coffee: two sugars, the way he liked it.
One day, Damien, who sat behind me, yelled to Toby, "Hey, Dirt-Face, how's about you wear a clean shirt tomorrow. I can smell your stink from back here."
"Me too!" I joined. I was terrible.
Damien continued. "Even princess," he sneered, "can smell you, Smelly."
Toby was breathing quickly, abusing his lunch bag with his hands and looking back at Damien with kill in his eyes. Suddenly scared, I slipped my spelling book, the thickest, out of my pack and held it on my lap.
Toby was gnawing on his lower lip. Damien couldn't resist. "You shouldn't do that. It just makes you uglier."
Then Toby began to yell. "I hate you! I hate all you fuckers! I hate you!" He threw his body over my seat, reaching for Damien. I held my book over my face and, as he climbed, his knee caught one corner of the text and pushed it into my forehead. It was not hard and there would never be a mark but I yelled, "He kicked me in the face! Toby kicked me!"
Toby stopped climbing. He hadn't even touched Damien yet who was sitting low in his seat, grinning. He got down and looked at me. He was standing in the middle of the aisle. "No I didn't." He was serious and scared.
Frank had pulled over and was lumbering back toward us. "He kicked me, Frank." I worked up some tears.
Toby was suspended for a week.
I can only imagine what his mother did to him. I know a word for that kind of violence: blitzkrieg.
About the author:
As she writes this bio, Diane is four days away graduating from Sarah Lawrence College where she has spent three years studying fiction writing and literature. Diane spent her junior year at Wadham College of Oxford University. She plans to spend the summer in her hometown, Pittsburgh, before moving to Brooklyn. Her fiction has also been published in The Lily Literary Review.