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soft pitch

This drabble was written for the Day of Silence 2013. It's based on characters from my YA novella “Superhero” .

Man.  There are times in your life when you really wish you had a video camera, know what I mean?  Yeah, you probably have one on your phone but my cell is a basic model my folks got me for Christmas.  It’s so basic, it has a ring tone that sounds like kazoos playing “You’ve Got A Friend” from Toy Story, and you can’t change it.  So, yeah, no video camera.

Anyway, here was the missed golden moment: Owen Nelson walking into an eighth grade classroom to talk to about the Day of Silence. 

Owen has been my best friend since second grade.  That’s not the impressive part, I’m just filling you in.  The impressive part is that he’s the number one ranked high school wrestler in the state of Wisconsin.  And let me tell you, Wisconsonites love wrestling.  So when all six foot, hundred-eighty pounds of blond, hunky, gorgeous, always-on-the-evening-news-in-a-singlet, high school senior Owen Nelson walks into an eighth grade classroom?  Jaws drop, hormones flow, age-inappropriate curses are heard, and attention gets paid like the CEO of a high-tech firm.

Me?  I’m just along for the ride.

“Hey, so I’m Owen, and this is Jordan, and we’re here to tell you about an event coming up that you may want to participate in.  Has anyone heard of the Day of Silence?”

The kids were practicing already, apparently, because it was so quiet I could hear someone’s stomach gurgling.

“No?  Well, my friend Jordan here is an amazing artist, and he’s going to illustrate as I tell you about it.”

My cue.  Ahem.  I went to the whiteboard and whipped out my markers.

“Has anyone heard of Ghandi?” Owen asked.

I sketched Ghandi sitting like a pretzel in a loin cloth.  Behind me some girl answered.

“He was from India and he did, like, passive resistance?”

“Yeah, cool.  So Ghandi didn’t think you should fight violence with violence—”

I drew two soldiers shooting each other, with big ‘x’s for eyes and their bodies starting to fall over.  From behind me there was some snickering.

“Instead, he thought you should make ass—sorry, I mean bullies—”

More snickering.  I drew a big, ugly guy holding a scared rabbit by the ears.

“—feel like idiots using passive resistance to protest the way they pick on people.”

I drew a hand with a guitar pick.  Owen glanced over at me.

“Not that kind of picking, Jordan.”

“Sorry,” I muttered, squiggling it out with my fingers.

“So the Day of Silence is a day of protest to protest bullying.”

I drew a calendar page with “April 19” on it.

“And on that day, those who want to participate can wear red and also commit to not talking.  You can make your own level of commitment.  Be silent all day, talk in classes but not to your friends, just commit to one hour, whatever.”

 I drew as fast as I could whipping through various markers—a figure in a red shirt, a clock, a person with tape over their mouths in a classroom.

 “Now, raise your hand if you want to say something about what kind of person might be bullied in this school and how you feel about that.  And if you raise your hand and speak, Jordan will do a quick portrait of you on the board.  All right?”

Yeah, easy for him to say.  Damn.  I ended up quick drawing almost every single one of those eighth graders that day—I mean, we visited four classrooms and, yeah, they had a lot to say about bullying.  Some cool conversation came out of it about sexual identity and social issues, but my wrist had to be iced.  I am not kidding. 

Talk about taking one for the team.

Still, we got out of our classes for the day, I got to hang with Owen, and I got to watch him be really admirable, which sucks in a way since I already admired him rather pathetically a lot.  I mean, Owen had some clout, you know?  So it meant was cool that it was him telling those kids about the Day of Silence. 

I’ll shut up now.


When April 19th came around, both Owen and I pledged a full day of silence.  To be honest, I wanted to see if I could do it.  Since it was our senior year, my classes were mostly art anyway, and I wasn’t exactly in danger of losing academic standing, so why not?

But the coolest thing about that day happened after school.  Owen was giving me a ride home, like always, but when we left the school parking lot, he turned the wrong way.  I couldn’t ask, so I raised a quirked brow at him.  He just quirked right back at me.

Ten minutes later we pulled into a cemetery.

I’d never been to the cemetery before, and I had no freaking clue why we were there, but Owen parked, took a couple of baseball mitts and a baseball from the back seat and jerked his head in a let’s go.

I followed him through the gravestones to a grave marked Raymond Toleman.  Oh.  

Ray was the reason why our school had an anti-bullying club and why Owen and me were in it.  He committed suicide last year after being bullied, and that changed a lot of things at Jefferson High, including Owen.  Raymond was learning disabled but he loved sports, and he went to every single game or meet or practice the school had, always cheering like a crazy, hyper geek and getting such a kick out of it.  A lot of the athletes gave Ray heavy doses of crap for being weird.  Owen hadn’t, but he’d seen it happen and he hadn’t stepped in to stop it.  He felt torn up about that when Raymond killed himself.  I mean, he took it hard.  He became VP of the anti-bullying club.  When Owen commits to something, you do not want to freaking get in the way.  That’s all I’m saying.

Owen handed me a mitt, took me by the arm and put me where he wanted me, on one side of Raymond’s grave, and then he went to stand on the other so we were about six feet apart.  He tossed me the ball.  I tossed it back.

We tossed that ball back and forth for about fifteen minutes.  Now, I am not an athlete, but even I can manage to throw a baseball at six feet, especially since Owen was being real serene about it, like it wasn’t even really playing, more like… a sort of prayer I guess.

After a while Owen set the ball carefully at the foot of Raymond’s grave, touched the headstone and turned to go, looking at me.  I touched the headstone too, silently telling Ray I hoped he was in a heaven that had Superbowl Tuesday every day of the year.  Oh, and lots of naked cheerleaders of whatever gender floated Ray’s boat. 

As Owen and I walked towards his truck, he slung a friendly arm around my shoulders.  And I tried very hard not to sigh.