"This is the last assignment before fourth quarter, which starts Monday," Miss Comerford announced to the class of tired eighth graders.
Richard Grayson sat amongst them, his eyes continually drifting to the door. There was a good forty minutes left in class and it was only 4th hour. He sighed and paid attention.
"As you know, we're working on our self-esteem project for the moment. So, if you haven't guessed, this paper is going to be about self-esteem."
Several hands shot up. Miss Comerford ignored them, turning to face the door as Richard had moments ago.
"I'm not expecting a huge definition paper report though. What I want is a paper about something that hurts your self-esteem or your feeling in general. Whether it's discrimination or hate or being called mean names, just write about it," she explained.
Almost all of the hands went down but one. Miss Comerford pointed to the blonde boy in the back.
"Can you give us an example?" the teacher's pet asked.
Miss Comerford paused, deep in thought.
"Um… well, let's say that you hate hearing people get called short. Write about that. Tell me what it is you hate, why you hate it and what you think can be done to stop it, if it can be stopped," she tried to explain.
On the board, in a dark green marker, she wrote 'What, Why, How'.
"You don't have to skip lines. I expect at least two paragraphs. You have the rest of the hour. When you're finished, read or work on other homework. Any questions?" her dark green eyes scanned the room.
Everyone was already getting out paper and pencils and pens. She nodded and slowly returned to her seat, surveying them all. Richard Grayson had three sheets of paper and a black pen in his right hand, poised over the paper.
Now… what depresses me? I don't like having to hide my identity from the team… but I can't write about that… um… what about like she said, height? No, I don't mind being called short. How about weight? Nah, I'm pretty buff, I don't care about that… Come on Robin! What really pisses you off?
Richard screwed his eyes up tight, and suddenly, it came to him. As long as he didn't have to read this out loud, he was perfectly happy writing it up. It'd be good to get it out of his system once and for all. He hunched over his paper, his bangs masking his eyes. He didn't mind that though. It was kind of comfortable. Richard's pale hands shot over the paper, spidery hand writing flowing from his mind as slowly and carefully, the dam broke and all secrets and restrictions that had previously stopped him couldn't now.
Richard was the only one writing so far, but he didn't notice. The girl who sat beside him, CJ, watched enviously and read a few lines of his and was surprised. She didn't take him for that kind of person. She couldn't be that deep even if she spent years trying. Instead, she just settled on weight. She hated hearing people get called fat. That'd be easy to write about… hopefully.
Miss Comerford sighed, picking up the next paper from the pile she was grading. Her class of eighth graders had the grammar of a spider monkey. Maybe Mrs. Shields was right; they should switch to teaching pigs. Pigs could pay attention at least! She looked at the top of the paper and glanced over the name: Dick Grayson. She smiled softly. That boy always had good enough papers and good enough grammar. Maybe she could just replace the rest of the class with pigs. That'd be nice. Except for the smell. She hated the smell of pigs.
Her red pen in hand to correct any and all spelling and grammar mistakes, Miss Comerford's eyes scanned the spidery lettering, each word surfacing differently in her mind. Richard, er, Dick, had good word usage, but she'd never expected this. As she got from page one to page three, tears bubbled up slowly in her eyes and she had to stop to wipe at her eyes. His paper was rather depressing. The emotion practically flowed from it, drowning her in its wake. She had to finish though. She had a whole other 45 papers to grade.
Richard Grayson stifled a yawn. He was exhausted. He had been up all last night, waiting for Batman to get home. He had needed lunch money and Batman usually wasn't there in the mornings, so he figured to ask him that night. Batman didn't arrive until late after midnight, but Richard did get the lunch money and that's all that really mattered to him. He rubbed at his blue eyes weakly, glancing over the classroom. It was full today. That always surprised him. He was used to people being sick and gone. Maybe today was just a good day. It was Friday, after all. Friday always seemed to be a good day. The teacher slowly strode to the front of the room and began to pass back people's papers.
"When you get your paper, look it over. Feel free to talk until I've passed them all out."
Richard leaned forward on his desk, resting his face in his arms. CJ, the girl who sat beside him, noticed.
"You okay?" she asked him.
He nodded slowly. "Yeah… just tired…"
She nodded, but she wasn't sure. Guys said that a lot. Maybe it was code for something? She shrugged it off. Probably not. The odds were slim. Miss Comerford handed her her paper back. CJ grabbed it and looked it over. She had a little bit of red marks on her page, but she got a pretty good grade. It wasn't horrible. It was at least an A minus, if not higher.
"Dick, head up," Miss Comerford reminded him.
The almost slumbering boy nearly jumped out of his skin at the voice, but he nodded and rubbed at his eyes again, a yawn escaping his lips. His paper was on his desk already. He picked it up with one hand and flipped through it. There wasn't a single red mark on it.
Cool… that's a… that's an A… hmmm… brings my grade up to a… 99%...
He set it back down and looked to the front of the room, waiting eagerly. Mr. Grayson didn't have to wait long though. Soon after, the teacher strode to the front, everyone's papers passed out.
"Would anyone like to read theirs?" she asked them all, scanning over the crowd.
A few hands shot up. The teacher's pet, the class midget and the eighth grade flunky were among them. They weren't who she wanted to present though. She turned to Richard Grayson, who looked half asleep.
"Dick, would you like to read yours?" she offered.
He blinked twice, absorbing her words. He shook his head slowly.
"I'm good," he mumbled.
She frowned. "Yours is really good though."
He swallowed a sigh.
"Am I required to?" he asked instead of snapping out like he wished to.
Miss Comerford nodded. "Yeah, I'm requiring you to."
He resisted the urge to groan as all the hands in the class that were up fell down again, depressed. He walked to the front of the room, his paper in his hand.
"Title too? Whole thing?" he questioned, nervously.
He really didn't like being the center of attention, especially in a full class. Miss Comerford shrugged.
"Just read it."
She took a seat at her desk, watching him. She was excited to see his expression, as well as the class.
"Um… okay… I uh… I'm Richard Grayson and uh… I wrote about something that… that really bothers me," he began nervously, setting a hand on his neck.
Miss Comerford gestured for him to continue. He nodded and took a deep breath in. He felt all the eyes in the room on him, but he imagined that they weren't there. He was alone in his mind. No one could hear him but himself.
"Everyday, I hear it at least one: someone complaining about something their parents did. It's not just the girls or the boys, but the adults too, that's the worst part. The complaints have ranged from how 'mean' their parents are or how rude it was of their parents to ground them or take away their phone or something like that. I hate hearing that. I despise it. So yes, this is what lowers my self-esteem," he began, ignoring his shaking legs.
He wasn't scared. That's what he convinced himself.
"I'll hear people complaining of how their parents won't let them go to their friend's house or won't let them go to the mall with a bunch of friends. They'll call their parents 'gay' or 'stupid' or stuff along the lines of that. Well, parents don't mean to seem like that. When they don't let you go, it's because they're trying to protect you."
"Then comes the complaints of how unfair it is that they get yelled at for something they said or did. What harm can cussing do? What can calling someone a bad name and breaking their heart possibly do? I'll tell you. It can get you expelled, ISS, OSS, detention, jail time or getting fired from your job if you ever get one. Parents only yell because they're trying to help you."
"Another complaint I hear a lot is when people call their parents jerks for bragging about things they did when they were younger. What gives your parents the right to tell your best friends about the time you ran around the house in only your underwear with your sheets tied around your neck and the letter S written in lipstick on your chest because you wanted to be Superman? They gave birth to you and raised you and kept you fed. That's what gives them the right. They only do that because they love you."
This was the part that Dick had feared reading, but he just kept telling himself that he was alone. No one could hear him. No one was there but him.
"What really kills me inside, what makes me want to pull the trigger and kill them all, is when they wish their parents are dead. I can't ever stand hearing someone wishing their parents dead. You don't ever mean that. You don't know how… how horrible it is, how terrifying it is to regret waking up every morning because you know that they're never going to be there again to protect, help or love you. You don't know what it's like to hate living and everything else because you're missing two important elements of your life. Every night, you'd wake up, drenched in sweat and scared. For you, your parents, or at least one of them, would be there to hug you and kiss you and tell you that everything's okay. What if when you woke up, everything wasn't okay? What if they just weren't there?"
Richard swallowed hard, his voice shaking.
"Even if you get adopted, it isn't the same. Foster parents… they aren't real parents. They want to protect you, but they don't want to smother you. They want to help you, but they don't want to get in your way. And they… they try to love you, but they can't because secretly, they know that you're afraid. It's never the same once your mom and dad are gone. What do you do then, when you feel like your whole life is a living Hell and you'd prefer death to it all?"
"Normally, one would turn to a sibling first, right? What if you're like me though, and are an only child? What do you do then? Some would turn to a best friend who they can trust. What if though, that you've lost trust in everyone? What happens when you fear your own shadow because you're afraid you'll lose it too? Then nothing. You're just stuck and trapped in a world where you're forced to suffer until the day you're granted freedom from it all. You can wait years and years though, but freedom takes time. Freedom comes only when you leave, permanently. Nothing can heal the shattered heart. It's like the jugular vein. Once damaged, you're dead. The only difference is that with the jugular vein, you're dead in four minutes. With your heart, you're forced to suffer with the permanent pain."
Richard paused for a moment and blinked hard. He wasn't going to cry, no, not here. He swallowed the tears.
"There's nothing I can do to stop this though. I can't stop you from hating your parents. It's like your religion or your skin color. There's nothing I can do to stop that. Only you can change it by making the decision if you wish. All I can say though, is that next time you think about wishing they were dead, try imagining living without them. Try that. It isn't as wonderful as it sounds… trust me…" his last two words came out in a whisper as he slowly walked back down to his seat.
Now they're all going to think I'm stupid. They're all going to hate me. They aren't there… I'm alone he convinced himself.
The applause in his ears though convinced him otherwise.
I miss you Daddy. Please be careful in Mexico. I don't want to lose you! *sobs*