“The Tyrian purple carpets of Dr. Howard’s waiting room gave the whole room a medieval feel, like I was waiting within the walls of a castle. Even with the navy blue carpeting in the outside that felt as modern as it could be. It’s funny how once you’re severed from the rest of a building, the entire aesthetic can change. Just like how this room looked like a place suited for royalty, but it felt like some sort of dungeon.”
The Tyrian purple carpets of Dr. Howard’s waiting room gave the whole room a medieval feel, like I was waiting within the walls of a castle. Even with the navy blue carpeting in the outside that felt as modern as it could be. It’s funny how once you’re severed from the rest of a building, the entire aesthetic can change. Just like how this room looked like a place suited for royalty, but it felt like some sort of dungeon. My mother had promised me that this would be a “way to practice socialization with other children your age” and “help you get to know people in the real world better.” But let me tell you, it didn’t feel like it would help me whatsoever. Two therapy sessions a week, plus many more at school, was good enough. And I still wish she hadn’t forced me into a group, especially not Dr. Howard’s group. Especially not his.
I took a seat. The chairs were the same color as the carpeting. There were two other kids here: one African-American kid wearing a suit and tie, and another kid with light brown hair who was wearing a T-shirt that stated “If History Repeats Itself, I’m Getting a Dinosaur” in bold, green letters, along with a helpful illustration of a tyrannosaurus rex. They weren’t talking or even looking at each other; one reading his phone and the other a copy of Action Comics which was apparently in the bin of comic books and encyclopedias. The whole place seemed to have an aura of menace to it; I wasn’t sure if that was my own feelings or the serious looks on people’s faces, but it was something.
It took a full five minutes for Dr. Howard to come out of the waiting room and beckon us into the main room. Immediately, I noticed how the slate-grey couches changed the aesthetic a bit more to the modern side of things, but the purple shade of carpet was still there.
“So, today we have a new member of our group,” Dr. Howard began. “Would you like to introduce yourself?”
“Um, sure,” I said, caught off-guard by the question.”My name is Theo Moore, and I am in 8th grade at the Peterson Day School.”
“Excellent,” Dr. Howard said, ”Just what I was looking for. Sebastian, would you like to begin the group by introducing yourself to Theo?”
“Alright,” the African-American kid said, “My name is Sebastian. I’m in 9th grade at Lockhart Academy.”
“And why are you here at this group?” Dr. Howard asked.
“My mother recently left my dad and married some new guy. Still trying to cope.”
“And Gregory, why don’t you introduce yourself and your goals?”
The other kid perked up. “Well, my name’s Gregory, and I go to 11th grade at the Candlelight School. I’m apparently here because I’m too ‘intolerant of others’ and a bunch of other crap like that. But for real, I’m just trying to help some Jews at my school figure out the right way through life.”
“So, you’re a Nazi,” I said flatly.
This was not what I was looking for — I was going to be spending an hour and fifteen minutes a week with some crazy racist.
“Dude, Hitler killed eleven million people. That’s bad any way you slice it. But now apparently it’s awful to hate Jews, or to try to convince them to repent, because six million of those guys just happened to be Jewish. So, no, I’m not a Nazi, thank you very much. I’m just a humble anti-Semite, and I wear that badge proudly.”
I looked over at Sebastian, shocked to hear these words coming out of somebody I was supposed to practice bonding with.
“Yep, he’s a Nazi,” he said.
“I am not — okay, whatever. I’m not gonna explain it for the umpteenth time.”
“So, Theo,” Dr. Howard interjected, “What’s your goal for this group?”
“Well, I guess it’d be to be more social with people, as that’s the reason my mother signed me up.”
Everyone nodded. This group would grow to do the opposite of what my mother wanted; it would not turn my social life into a success, but it would actually destroy the remnants of a social life I would grow to have. If my mother had found a different group, and I had never met Gregory Redford, none of this would have happened. None of it.
Welcome to Candlelight School
The first time I had heard the term “Asperger’s” was on some YouTube meme; an ad for a McDonald’s burger that aired in some Asian country overseas. I was six, and YouTube was what I used for downtime. Apparently this type of thing was funny to me. The commercial involved a seductive Ronald McDonald pulling a burger from, well, behind his lower back. An “ass-burger,” if you will. Many commenters were smart to notice this and said that they finally understood “ass-burgers,” which I thought was just a funny use of the word. But it was because of my “ass-burgers” that I thought seeing such a tame curse word being used randomly and indiscriminately was funny.
This is the story of how my life went for the first eight years of school. I went to the Peterson School and tried to justify every pamphlet about how it treats kids with “learning differences” as “everyone’s different, and we use that in our teaching.” Medication was just something I thought everyone took; my dad took vitamins for a period of time when I started taking my pills, which reinforced the idea that I was the same. Even when it started to dawn on me, there were still misconceptions. If you had asked me back in 6th grade what my disorder was, I’d say OCD. I exhibited symptoms of it, and I heard people mentioning it, so I thought it had to be what I had. But I eventually found out, even if I couldn’t pinpoint an exact time when I realized I was on the spectrum instead.
But as I realized the fact that I wasn’t the most normal kid, I also realized the benefits. To put it simply, I was smart. I may not have been the most well-mannered kid (far from it), but I ran academic circles around my classmates who couldn’t remember how to format an essay. Obviously, this meant we learned it every single year of school. Eventually, we decided that enough was enough and started to look for a new school. That school became Candlelight. Now, I’m not gonna go into all of the schools that rejected me, because there are a lot. But I will say that Candlelight was probably my second choice once I visited it. It was a great school for me, and I got accepted to the school around mid-May. I ditched Peterson shortly after and was ready to start my new life.
The orientation was fun; this was where I turned in the homework they gave me over the summer and picked my classes. There were five classes in a day: you started with an English class you choose for the whole year, followed by two classes that rotate every seven weeks: A science and social studies class (the latter can be another English class, history, or anything that isn’t science). After that, you have lunch, followed by math, advisory and an afternoon elective. No classes were separated by grade, minus maybe a few of the harder ones. Candlelight was a very small school, only around sixty kids total.
Orientation was fun. But after a long weekend, it was time for business.
“Welcome, welcome, welcome. My name is Julian, and I’ll be your English teacher. This class will be focused on expressing race and identity through literature.”
I chose this class because it was something I was interested in, well, the identity part more than the race part. I’m a white Christian male, but I did have “ass-burgers” to shake things up. Julian was an older man who had brown hair that was greying slightly and thick-rimmed glasses. Simply put, he looked like a professor.
“It looks like you’re all here today. So I’ll begin with you guys introducing yourself to me with your name, grade level, and your favorite soda.”
We started to go around the circle. I think now’s probably a good time to mention something. If you’ve been observant, you may have noticed that Gregory went to Candlelight. He was asked to leave, but he still went there. And of course, that means he told me lots about the happenings of the school. So I know… um, a bit more about the school than some other new kids.
“My name is Emily, I’m in eleventh grade, and my favorite soda is Sprite.” Attempted suicide by sticking her head into a carbon monoxide oven.
“My name is Devon, I’m in tenth grade, and my favorite soda is Pepsi!” Cheated on his then-girlfriend because she was overweight.
“My name is April, I’m in tenth grade, and I like most types of orange soda.” Heroin addict, suffers from crippling depression.
“My name is Derrick, I’m in twelfth grade, and my favorite soda is Coke.” Got into a fight with his friend that resulted in a three-week suspension.
“My name is Jeanette, I’m in tenth grade, and my favorite soda is Dr. Pepper.” Prone to migraines, tends to often leave class because of them.
“My name is Thomas, I’m in ninth grade, and I love Sprite.” New kid, I think. Not someone I had heard of before.
“My name is Zach, I’m in tenth grade, and my favorite soda is cream soda.” Hoo boy, this one’s a doozy.
If any kid was mentioned in the group more than the others, it was Zach. The Jew. The degenerate. The stubborn kid who wouldn’t accept the evils of Judaism and repent. The kid whose hate-filled stories you didn’t need to read between the lines to figure out: he was being bullied. By Gregory. I felt really bad for the guy, no matter how much Nazi propaganda Gregory spewed about him. It was hard not to. And here he was, sitting in the class, seen for the first time with real eyes from the group. It’s always weird meeting someone like this in person. I mean, I kept insisting that “Zach’s a human being,” but now I knew it.
And finally, myself.
“My name is Theo, I’m in ninth grade, and I’m not a fan of carbonated beverages. I do enjoy Snapple drinks a lot, though.”
The rest of the class was a Q&A session with Julian about himself, the class, and what to expect from his classes. After that, we headed to our science classes, mine being a genetics class.
Abe, our genetics teacher, was a little late, so we piled into the room. I sat down and grabbed a Chromebook from the cabinet nearby, going off of the veteran kids who did the same. Everyone was talking… well, except for myself and a couple others who were most likely new. Suddenly, something caught my eye, or rather, ear.
“Looks like Gregory isn’t coming back.”
It was a girl with light brown hair and braids. My heart sank. I hated Gregory, but I was hoping nobody would bring him up.
“Praise the Lord,” muttered another kid I realized was Derrick. “Hallelujah.”
“Are you guys seriously out of the loop? Kid was expelled, like, three weeks before school ended. What, you thought he was going on a trip?” This one was a girl with long, flowing black hair, brilliant blue eyes, and a beautiful smile.
“That’s too late, though,” Derrick continued. “Erwin should’ve shut it down as soon at the bullying became apparent. Not waited two or three months until Zach got mental trauma.”
“Yeah, but he’s gone now. Can’t change the past.” Braids again.
“Damage has been done, Valerie,” the other girl said, “Both to Zach, and to me. You have no idea what he’s done to me.”
Before Valerie could inquire what the other girl was talking about, a voice came in from the other room.
“Okay, chuckleheads. Time to start class.”
And thus marked the end of that discussion.
Kelly and Amelia
“Hey, how was your first day, Theo?”
I hopped into my dad’s car as we began to drive home.
“It was fun,” I said.
I didn’t want to mention anything about Gregory to him, about what they talked about in genetics class.
“So what classes did you get?”
“Well,” I began, “I didn’t get geology, but I got genetics. Other than that, I got the race and identity English class, Roman history for social studies, algebra one for a math class, and ceramics as an elective. Pretty much all my first choices.”
“And who’s your advisor?”
“Well, I didn’t get Abe as my advisor like I wanted, but Julian, my actual advisor, seems nice enough.”
We talked until we got home. When we got home, my mother was cooking a pot roast in the slow cooker, and my senior year brother, Lawrence, was at study hall. His school started a week ago, and he was already lagging behind. Stella, my seven-year-old sister, was watching TV.
“So, Theo, Stella,” my mother began, “I am pleased to tell you that Nana and Grandpa have been fully moved to Crisp Gardens, and we’ll be seeing them over the weekend.”
“Does — does that mean we’ve sold their house already?” Stella seemed to be on the verge of tears.
My mother sighed. “Well, technically, not yet. But we’ve been moving stuff out of their house. Uncle Elvin’s currently in Pittsburgh to sort things out.”
Stella started to cry. “But I — I love their house. I don’t want it to be sold! Could we make it, like, a vacation home for the Moore family?”
“Sorry, honey, but there’s really nothing we can do. Houses are expensive; we can’t just buy another one like that.”
“Please? Uncle Elvin could pay half of it! Please?”
“I’m sorry, but you’re just gonna have to deal with it.”
Stella stormed upstairs, crying. This has been an ongoing struggle with the family. Amelia, or “Nana” as I call her, has lost her short term memory, and “Grandpa” Paul has been struggling with assisting Nana with everything that she has trouble with these days. I was upset about losing the house, but I didn’t show it. I was never one to cry. Lawrence also doesn’t show it, but I think he’s pretty upset himself. Stella, however, has been taking it hard.
The next day, the three of us piled into the car. We first dropped off Stella and Lawrence at the Raymond School, a private, academically competitive school that seriously makes me wonder how my parents pay for our combined tuition. Then, it was just me in the car. When we got there, my dad turned off the radio, currently set to 2000’s hits, and issued me a challenge.
“Hey, so I know it can be hard to socialize, but you can take it slow. I challenge you to say hi to another student. It’s that simple.”
I spent the rest of the day contemplating who the simple hi should be directed at, who might be a kindred spirit, and who definitely wasn’t. Eventually, I decided on Zach, as he probably felt lonely due to the bullying anyway. So I was ready to sit down next to him at lunch when a girl walked up to me. The girl with long, flowing hair who was previously talking about Gregory in my genetics class.
“Hi,” she said.
In what universe does a girl like her walk up to me anyway?
“Um, hi,” I said.
“What’s your name?” She was smiling, and just overall gave an aura of positivity around me.
“Theo,” I responded after three solid seconds after staring into space.
“I’m Kelly. Welcome to Candlelight! Mind if I show you around?”
“I guess,” I said.
My heart sank. Remember when I was talking about how Zach was the most used name by Gregory in our group? Well, Kelly’s up there. Like, really up there. His girlfriend. His pride and joy who he would always talk about quite creepily. And then, she cheated on him with someone from her hometown. Walter or something. They broke up shortly after. I walked with her, but it was more of a sleepwalk, because I was barely hearing her talking. I was thinking about Kelly, and how she cheated on Gregory. I didn’t blame her, but it was still quite a jerk move. I knew my way around, so it didn’t matter whether I was listening to her tour.
We got to the upstairs area, and I tuned back in. Her voice was very beautiful and uplifting. Why would she go out with someone like Gregory anyway? Whatever. After the tour, we decided to eat lunch together. My mother had made pasta with sausage sauce last night, and so I ate that.
“So what school did you go to before Candlelight?”
“Peterson,” I responded.
“Ooh, just across the street!”
It was true; Peterson was really close to Candlelight. Most people’s reactions to hearing that someone went to Peterson would say something like “What do you have?” or “Autism or ADHD?” Something that would make you feel a little uneasy. But she was nice about it, just pointing out other things relating to Peterson other than “the bad kids” that go there.
“Yeah, it’s nice because we don’t have to change our morning routine. We can still drop my siblings off at Raymond before dropping me off.”
“Wow! You have siblings that go to Raymond?”
I could see genuine wonder in her eyes; Raymond is a very selective school. `
“Yep. Sister and a brother. Brother’s not taking it well, though. Senior year and his attention’s still elsewhere.”
“Oh. Hope he’s going to do better later, especially in such a crucial year.”
Kelly was actually really good at keeping up a conversation with me, and I felt at home. I didn’t forget the cheating part, but I kept it in the back of my mind as we hit it off. She was clearly more than Gregory said about her.
“So, what grade are you in, Theo?” Amelia had asked me this not half an hour ago.
I felt bad for her, but Lawrence was just annoyed. Sorry, I mean “Elvin,” my uncle’s name, and the name Amelia was calling Lawrence for a while.
“Ninth,” I sighed.
I was getting tired of it, too, but it wasn’t her fault. Therefore, I kept it in.
“Sorry, could you speak a little louder, sweetheart?”
“Ninth,” I said, accentuating my voice.
I made sure that she could hear.
“Oh, ninth! You know, when I was in ninth grade–”
“Come on!” Lawrence growled before my father walked him out of their room in the assisted living complex.
A brief silence.
“Continue?” I asked, to my mother’s delight.
“Oh, yes, yes, yes. Ninth grade, right?”
“Yes, when I was in ninth grade I went to a new school. I told the whole place that at the old school I went to, I was a cheerleader! I wasn’t, though, but people believed it! It was truly delightful to see all the young men there crushing over me. But halfway through the year, a girl I knew from my last school came. And you see, she actually was a cheerleader. The illusion broke, and everyone hated me. I was the loneliest kid in the–”
“That’s enough, Amelia,” Paul said very directly.
This story was new to me, but apparently not to Paul.
“What she’s trying to say is not to pretend to be someone else. It will backfire.”
“Okay,” I muttered. I waited a while and then said, out of earshot from my mother, “What if you just told half the story? Where nothing I said was a lie, but I still don’t mention the bad stuff?”
Paul looked into my eyes and said to me, “Then you’re playing a dangerous game of Russian roulette.”
It was not yet two weeks into my class when the first conflict happened.
It was early morning, at around 8:00 a.m. I got seated in the classroom early, as I usually did so I wouldn’t be late. Jeanette and Derrick came in together a few minutes after, then April and Emily. Then Devon, then Zach, then Thomas. We all got seated and waited. All the students were there. And none of us really noticed that Julian, the only member of the class who needed to be there, was not.
After a short while, Derrick spoke up. “Hey Thomas, where were you yesterday? You’ve missed school three days in a row.”
Thomas, who was typically the quiet kid, muttered something under his breath.
“Sorry,” Derrick responded, “what did you say?”
“I said, it’s none of your business,” said Thomas, with the nastiest tone he could have used.
“Okay, sheesh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know if it was personal. Sorry if it was a problem. I mean, if you’re depressed or anything, I’m free to talk whenev–”
Smack. Next thing I noticed, Derrick was on the floor, rubbing his cheek.
“You’re gonna pay for that, you little shit!”
He jumped up and charged at Thomas, knocking him to the floor and beginning to choke him. Thomas started kicking frantically until one of his kicks hit a part of Derrick that I shall not mention in this text. Derrick let go and ran back. Thomas punched him again. Zach pulled out his phone.
“Do not talk to me again. Period. Got it?”
Thomas kept punching him over and over again. Zach held his phone in the air, apparently filming the sequence of events. Derrick raised his fist up in the air and hit him hard in the head, knocking Thomas over and onto the ground.
“Ow…” Thomas replied, clenching his head.
“That’s what you get,” Derrick said angrily.
He marched away and back to his seat. I looked down at Thomas, who was now in pain a mere nine inches away from the back right leg of my chair. He looked at me back in agony. I ran up the flight of stairs that took you from my English classroom in the basement up to the main floor, and burst into the front office.
“Um, I think we’re gonna need a teacher in Julian’s classroom quickly. Please.”
The next day, I entered the common room for morning announcements. When I walked in, I noticed an large, old man with white sideburns and little hair other than those sideburns. It was Erwin, the head of the school.
“Greetings,” he began when we went into the room. “Now I’m sure some of you had heard about the fight yesterday between Thomas and Derrick in the English classroom, or at least a tiny snippet of what happened yesterday.”
He continued. “It was quite the nasty fight. Thomas is currently in the hospital from a minor concussion, and the rest of the people involved have been disciplined accordingly. There have been many fights at Candlelight. But very few reach the level that this one did. Remember: once you decide to put hands on another person, the entire situation escalates beyond your control. And none of you got a teacher in the room until the damage was done. I thank Theo for what he did, but honestly, he should have found someone at least a full five minutes before Thomas hit his head on the tiled floor of our classroom. Devon could have done it too, as could have April, or Emily, or anyone there, really. But nobody made the right choice in time, and the price was paid. Zach is currently facing a two-day suspension for his decision to film the incident. Thomas will be returning to the school after his own suspension and head injury are each taken care of. But Derrick, due to having a history of fights much like this one, will not be returning to our community here at Candlelight. I hope you understand the severity of this incident, and that we will not tolerate something like this again. Have a good day, and go to class.”
The whole day had a bit of a somber undertone to it, mostly due to the long speech Erwin gave about the fight I stopped. I did feel bad about not getting to the front office earlier, but Erwin grilled me about this whole incident, and I was on the verge of tears.
So, thinking that telling a group of people meant to comfort me and keep my secrets safe would’ve been a good idea can be forgiven.
“Hold on? Derrick was expelled? Finally, I thought that dude would never go.”
“Please, Gregory,” I said, “this isn’t something I want to make light of, okay? It was a shocking experience for me.”
“Yeah, but not as much of a shocking experience for this Thomas kid, am I right?” he winked at me.
Gregory has a tendency to make jokes that only he out of the entire room didn’t hate.
“Okay, okay. And what did you say Zach did? Filmed the thing?”
“Yeah,” I muttered.
I did not like where this was going.
“That degenerate has always liked watching people suffer. Just like the Jewish elite care so little about anyone minus themselves. It’s in their blood.”
For the past few months, Gregory had been looking at a website dedicated to “exposing” the Jewish conspiracy behind all our money and has gone from a “humble anti-Semite” to a full-on lunatic about this stuff.
“He’s not a degenerate. Seriously, stop calling him that.”
“Can’t stop calling him that if it’s the truth.”
“Please, please stop.”
“Okay, okay,” interjected Dr. Howard. “We get the point, Gregory, you don’t like Jews, and you don’t like Zach. Theo has asked you to stop, so please stop.”
Gregory sighed. “Fine.”
Sebastian, known to give great advice to both myself and Gregory, spoke up. “I know that principals can be tough on us, but he’s punished who he’s wanted to punish. You did the right thing, even if it was a bit late to the party. Don’t keep feeling bad for yourself.”
“Thanks,” I said, even if I didn’t feel much better.
I didn’t hear anything more about this until Thursday, two days after my group meeting with Gregory and Sebastian and the day Zach got out of his two-day suspension. It just so happened that when I was about to go to lunch with Kelly, Zach had walked up to her and started talking.
“Listen, Kelly. We’re kindred spirits here. Both of us have been wronged by Gregory. So I feel it’s important for you to see this first.”
Kelly let out a small “Mhm”, and I walked up to them.
“Hey Theo, this is Zach,” Kelly said, clueless about how much I truly know about Zach.
“Hi,” I said, “I believe we’re both in Julian’s English class,” I said matter-of factly, ignoring what happened in that class.
“So you need to know about this too, I guess, considering you saw the fight. Have you heard of Gregory Redford?”
“Know the name,” I said, startled.
“Well, long story short, he’s a bully. Bullied me because I’m Jewish. Got expelled late last year, but it appears the tirade has not yet ended. Listen to this.”
What followed were the most intimidating sixteen sentences of my life.
Listen, I heard what happened yesterday. Two guys duked it out in your class. Beating each other up, choking each other. It was a mess, that’s for sure. And did you alert a teacher? Did you try to intervene? No, you just stood around and recorded it on your phone. How could you do that? Just keep a record of one of the worst fights in Candlelight history? Doesn’t surprise me, honestly. I mean, you people do it all the time. Don’t think you’re off the hook yet, Jew. I’m still around. I got a spy at Candlelight reporting everything you do and more. And maybe one day you’ll consider repenting. I sure hope so.
“Wow,” Kelly said. “I thought the guy’s expulsion would be it. Sorry this happened to you.”
“That’s not the problem. I’ve learned to ignore the guy. But listen.” He rewinded the voicemail and played the last five of those sentences.
Don’t think you’re off the hook yet, Jew. I’m still around. I got a spy at Candlelight reporting everything you do and more. And maybe one day you’ll consider repenting. I sure hope so.
I got a spy at Candlelight reporting everything you do and more. And maybe one day you’ll consider repenting. I sure hope so.
And one more time.
I got a spy at Candlelight—
“This is a big deal. Means he still talks to people outside of Candlelight, and they tell him things about the happenings around the school.”
“Is that really a big development?” I asked timidly. “I — I mean, he has to have some friends here.”
“Nope,” Zach said. “Pretty much everyone here hated his guts. Besides, his parents block social media on his devices, so he couldn’t have gotten it that way. This is really big.”
“I need to go to the bathroom,” I said.
I called home sick before math class that day. I had never hated Gregory so much in my life. He broke confidentiality just so he could get a kick out of someone. I mean, what we say in group is supposed to stay in group. And I knew that the “spy” wasn’t anyone who went to Candlelight last year.
I knew it was me.