Brad leaves Dr. Oswald’s office. He feels like a caught fish dying in the bottom of a boat. His hands are cold and clammy. He gasps for air, but he can’t stop the madness. Horrible thoughts swarm through his brain and terrorize him like flocks of evil birds.
The freeway isn’t far from here, he thinks. He could run away and hitch-hike and be out of the state in an hour. He could grow his hair out long and blur into the American landscape, and assume a new identity as just another lost teenager. But then he’d never be free to be himself again. He doesn’t know what to do.
Life sucks, he thinks. He’s trapped. The walls feel like they’re caving in. He walks out of the administrative offices into the busy hallway of school.
The noise out of the crowd of kids hits him like he’s entering a punk rock concert. They’re so many faces in the crowd − he can’t concentrate on just one. All the kids look so normal, making him feel confused as to who he is and where he fits in.
Brad tries to make sense of these moments by imagining he’s a warrior from an alternate universe. His imagination takes over. He feels in control of the fantasy. He stretches out his fingers and neon graffiti streaks splash on the walls. The hallway lights flicker off and on. He no longer feels like a freak. He has the power to be himself in his imagination.
The normal kids watch him pass. Their eyes peer inside him, making judgments about him. Rumors have spread through the school since he was arrested for the big fire. It’s like he’s lost the fight to make friends before he even had a chance.
He glances at the other kids’ faces. Why do they all look at him this way? Why does everyone want to judge him? He never did anything to them. He just wants all these horrible problems to go away.
A guitar riff starts humming in his brain. When he gets this angry, he wishes he could just light the world on fire and listen to a final song on his headphones as it all burns down. Let nature start over, and allow a new species to grow in its place. Anything would be better than this.
A breeze that feels like a swirling tornado hits him as he walks out the front doors. Sunlight hits his eyes. He traveled so deep into the fantasy world that he forgot he was even in school. The blue sky opens above him, and he’s reminded that he’s still on Earth. He looks around. Life is like a Petri dish of bacteria, he thinks, and this overgrowth is getting out of control and suffocating who he really is.
Brad looks across the parking lot and sees a group of kids playing hacky sack in the distance. They’re his friends. The hacky sack with zebra stripes floats in the air as it’s kicked between the circle of kids. Tyler, the coolest kid in the group, wearing a bright green shirt and backwards baseball cap, sees Brad coming, and catches the hacky sack in the air, and he throws it as hard as he can at Brad’s face.
Time stops. It’s too late when Brad sees it coming. He can’t dodge it; he can’t even flinch away. The hacky sack smacks him against his face and everyone laughs at him.
The pain gushes into Brad’s heart, but the shame of everyone watching him be embarrassed hurts the worst. He picks up the hacky sack and awkwardly tosses it back into the circle while trying to disappear into the crowd.
Tyler kicks it high into the air. “Catch it next time loser. Maybe you can play with us instead of getting hit.”
The circle laughs, and Brad stares at Tyler, feeling his blood boiling with rage. If he had more courage, he’d tackle him and punch him so hard that his nose would break and blood would spill all over the parking lot.
But Brad knows he doesn’t have that type of fearlessness, or physical strength, and inside, he’s disgusted with himself for feeling so weak.
He walks over to a bench far away from the other kids and sits down. He waits for his dad to pick him up after school, because his probation rules say that he can’t ride the bus with the other kids.