Monday at school, all the talk was about heading over to Rincon Point State Beach, or the Point, to check out the surf. A raging storm off the coast had created a giant west swell. The waves would be enormous. And dangerous. A lot of the kids at my school were pretty decent surfers, but these waves were bigger than anything they could handle. Some of the school coaches had cut practice short so students on the athletic teams could check out the waves. Everyone wanted to see the area’s best surfers ride the huge waves.
Things were going even better than I expected with Simone. She met me again in my homeroom class for attendance on Monday. She handed me her sweater and asked, “Could you put this in your locker for me, so I don’t have to carry it around all day?”
“Sure,” I said, swallowing hard.
I did not want to go to my locker at all between classes. I thought quickly and after attendance, I asked Mr. Barnes, my homeroom teacher, if I could go to my locker. This wasn’t usually allowed during morning announcements, but every teacher had been informed of my bullying situation.
Mr. Barnes hesitated so then I said, “My locker is right next to some students that I have been trying hard to avoid. If I have to go to my locker between classes, this could make things very difficult for me, Mr. Barnes.”
Then he understood my situation and thankfully allowed me to go to my locker.
After Spanish class, Simone and I started to walk to Mr. Chipchaw’s art studio for lunch. Halfway there she slowed her pace.
“Jonah, you know Monica, right? From gym class?”
“Well, she asked me to sit with her at lunch today. I was thinking I’d eat with her, if you don’t mind.”
“Oh. Sure. No problem,” I said, feeling a little weird.
“Why don’t you join us?” she asked.
“Na, it’s fine. I really want to finish up a drawing. You go ahead.”
“Are you sure you don’t mind?” She obviously felt bad.
“Okay,” she said and then started to head in a different direction. She stopped abruptly and called back to me, “Oh, but I want my sweater for recess. It’s in your locker.”
I practically broke out into a sweat. “Oh…right. Okay. Um…I’m coming.” I caught up to her and as we walked to my locker, she started to talk about the big surf.
“Are you going to the Point after school? I really want to see these giant waves.”
I wanted to check out the waves myself, but I knew Brian Pullman would probably be there with a lot of other kids from school.
When we arrived at my locker, I glanced around. I didn’t see any of the bullies so I started to relax a little and quickly went through my combination. I got my locker open and suddenly my heart stopped. I heard them all behind me. And I distinctly heard Brian Pullman laughing.
“Well if it isn’t Jonah,” he said. “Jonah the lonah.” He added.
“But he isn’t alone today,” said Todd Manning.
“Well, well, well…who's this Jonah? Are you going to introduce us to your friend?” Brian asked.
I handed Simone her sweater and she gave me a look, as if to say, these guys seem like jerks. I turned slightly to the boys.
“Simone, this is Brian, Patrick, and Harry. And ah…Todd and Eddy.”
She smiled and said hi. They moved in a little too close. I watched her stiffen.
Brian started. “Is this your new girlfriend runt? You got a girlfriend now?”
Then he said to Simone. “You can do better than this little shrimp.”
Eddy Manning stepped closer and put a hand on my shoulder. I tried to shrug it off. “Maybe she’s babysitting him,” he said, laughing.
The boys all laughed. Except for Patrick Reilly. He looked uneasy.
“No, she’s his bodyguard!” Todd chimed in enthusiastically.
The boys got hysterical over this comment. Now Eddy put both hands on my shoulders and then looked at Brian. Brian nodded and then the two of them picked me up and began shoving me inside my locker.
Patrick Reilly interjected. “Hey Brian. This is getting old. Let’s just leave him alone.”
Harry Jamison found a little courage in the stance that Patrick took. He chimed in. “Yeah dude. We don’t need the heat. Let’s get some lunch.”
Students walking by slowed down and started to gather. One kid called out, “Hey, no bullying!” he said mockingly. A few of the other kids laughed and stayed to watch. One nerdy looking girl walked by quickly and called out, “Not cool!” Simone stared at her for a moment and then turned to me and the bullies.
“Hey! Simone yelled, “Stop it! Stop you creeps!”
Brian and the Manning twins kept laughing.
I put up a fight but there were too many of them. Everything in my locker spilled out with all the shoving and kicking. Simone kept at the boys to stop while picking up all my papers and notebooks and other belongings.
Finally, I was stuffed inside my own locker and the door was slammed shut. I said nothing. Brian and the Manning twins laughed while Patrick and Harry shook their heads.
Simone yelled at them all, “You guys suck! Get out of here!”
They walked off and Simone turned her attention to me. “Okay Jonah, tell me your combination so I can get you out. What a bunch of assholes!”
Before I could tell her the combination, another group of kids walked by. They started to giggle. Simone looked at them and then looked back at me in the locker. She put everything she was carrying down on the floor. Then she looked closer at me through the open slots of the locker. She could see my eyes blinking through the spaces in the locker. And she started to giggle.
“I’m sorry. Okay, tell me your combination.”
I sighed heavily.
“Come on, Jonah.” And she started to giggle again.
“It’s three, twenty-three, twelve.”
“Okay. I’m sorry, it’s just…I’ve never seen anyone…” and she started to laugh again. “I’ve never seen anyone get shoved into a locker…” More laughter. “I’m sorry, you just look so funny in there,” more laughter.
I was so freaking humiliated. Once out, she tried to hug me, and I pushed her away. I realized that it was over. She was going to be making new friends and they wouldn’t want me around. And even if some of the kids were starting to come around, to stand up to the bullying, this wasn't going to happen overnight. And I didn’t want to suffer anymore. It was obvious Brian was not coming around.
“Jonah, I’m sorry. Just lighten up. Those guys are creeps. Who cares? Forget about it. We’ll get them back,” she said.
“You don’t understand!” I shouted.
“Alright, look, I said I was sorry. I’m going to find Monica. I’ll see you after lunch. Okay?”
“Whatever,” I said. I turned and started to walk toward the art studio as she headed to the cafeteria. We both turned and looked back at each other, but I quickly turned away. After a few more steps, I began to run. And I ran right out of the main entrance to the school. I kept running all the way home. When I arrived at my house, I immediately headed towards the back yard. I climbed up onto the hanging surfboard and sat. And I prayed.
“God, I need you right now. I need you more than ever. Please help me. I am trying to be strong and positive but I’m afraid. I’m really afraid. I need your help.”
I went back inside, ate a banana, a couple of cookies, drank some ice tea and then started to pull my surf gear together. I knew my mother wouldn’t get home until almost 4:00. And my dad even later.
I started to text my mom.
Mom, I’m headed to the Point to check out the waves.
I stopped and deleted it. I decided I wasn’t going to miss a chance to surf the big break. I didn’t need my mom coming down to the beach and making a scene. I grabbed my gear and my board from the garage and walked the two blocks to the main road. Then I stuck out my thumb and waited.
It only took five minutes and then a jeep pulled up. It was Frankie. He was a lifeguard at the Point. His board was strapped to the top of his jeep.
“Hey J-man, sup? Headed to the Point?”
“Hey Frankie. Yeah, can you give me a lift? My dad is meeting me there later. He has a store delivery right now.”
“Sure sport. Hop in. Put your board in the back.”
When we arrived at the beach, Frankie set up by the first lifeguard chair.
“Are you on duty today?” I asked him.
“No dude. The town cut our budget, we’re only working weekends. Once school is out, we’ll be here full time.”
“Oh, so there aren’t any guards on duty today?” I asked.
“Unfortunately not. So swim at your own risk. I’d wait for your dad bro. I mean it.” Frankie zipped up his wetsuit, grabbed his board and started walking down the beach.
“Thanks for the lift Frankie.” I called out.
“Any time. Tell your dad I said hi. And wait for him!”
Frankie was at our shop a lot. He and his friends bought their gear from us. I knew Frankie was almost as good a surfer as my dad. He was right though, I swallowed hard and looked out at the ocean. It was dangerous. I took a deep breath and started to pull on my wetsuit.
All of sudden, I heard someone calling my name. “Jonah! Hey, Jonah!”
I looked up and saw Simone. She came running toward me carrying a bag and a soft board under her arm. I turned from her, grabbed my board and headed toward the surf.
“Jonah, wait!” She called out, catching up to me.
I didn’t answer her.
“Jonah, stop!” she yelled.
I kept walking and ignored her.
“Jonah, please. Please wait.”
She grabbed my arm, trying to get me to stop.
“Jonah, please talk to me. Why are you doing this?” she pleaded.
I stopped and looked down at the sand. Then I sighed and avoiding Simone’s eyes, I asked her, “Why are you even here Simone?”
“Because I thought we were coming here after school. And you weren’t in class after lunch. I got worried. I left early and stopped by your house. Then I got my mom to drop me off.”
“Well, you wasted your time.” I said, looking down.
“Jonah, you’re just going in the smaller waves, right? Not those huge ones?”
I didn’t answer her, I looked away.
“Jonah, what’s going on? I’m your friend. Please.”
I turned to meet her eyes but as I started to speak, I needed to look past her. “Look, you’re the only person who doesn’t treat me like I’m a disease. Probably because you’re new and I’m the first person you met. I thought we could be friends, but I know it’s not going to last. And I’ve got no one else. No one! These assholes have been bullying me all year and I’m so freakin’ tired of it! Tired of being laughed at and pushed around. Tired of being humiliated and scared. Tired of always having to look over my shoulder. I know those guys are dickheads but I’m not going in those waves to earn their friendship or respect, I don’t want to be friends with them. I just want them to see that I’m not a pussy! Then maybe they’ll finally leave me alone.”
I sounded really desperate and saw the tears well up in Simone’s eyes. She nodded.
“So those boys today, at your locker. They’ve been bullying you for a long time...and that’s why you don’t talk to anyone at school.”
“They don’t talk to me. All my friends ditched me!” I shouted.
“Okay, I get it. They’re afraid to stick up for you. Or they just don’t care.”
“I just need these guys to stop torturing me. And maybe if I ride a couple of those giants out in that break, they’ll see me differently. They’ll know I’m not afraid. And maybe they’ll get off my back.”
She stepped a little closer to me and saw the tears I felt welling up in my eyes. She said softly, “Jonah, you have nothing to prove to those creeps. You’re a good person. Big deal, so you’re smaller. That shouldn’t matter. They just bully you so they can make themselves feel big. Surfing dangerous waves doesn’t solve anything. And you could die! They’re just stupid bullies, so you don’t need to risk your life to prove anything to them.”
I shook my head and took a step back from her. The tears began to roll down my face. “No. You don’t know what it’s like, Simone. You’re beautiful and you’re going to be popular and have guys falling all over you. Everybody is going to like you. You’ve never had to walk to school alone, or walk the hallways alone, or eat lunch alone and miss recess because you’re hiding in the art room.”
I hesitated and swallowed hard as the emotion continued to build inside me. But I let the truth keep spilling out. “I'm never invited anywhere anymore. No sleep overs, no hanging out with anyone after school or on weekends. No birthday parties. Nothing! My friends all stopped answering my calls and my texts. They won’t even look at me! And you know something, I could even handle not having friends and being alone, I think I could actually survive that. But what I can’t take is the daily humiliation. The endless teasing and being picked on. I can’t go anywhere in school without being laughed at or bullied. I can’t…I can’t even change in the locker room without those guys ganging up on me. They...they actually pantsed me, Simone, and posted a video of it! I’ve had my head put in a toilet, been shoved into my locker a bunch of times...and had the most humiliating pictures of me posted online. I’ve been attacked walking to school..."
And then I began to cry. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I can just be normal. Where I don’t have to avoid it and hide from it. Just because they’ve grown and I still look like I’m twelve. And they don’t ever let me forget it. They go out of their way to remind me that I’m a freak!” I took a breath. “I can’t change my size, but I can show them that I’m not a pussy.” And then I started toward the water.
“No, Jonah, you can’t. It’s too dangerous. Please don’t!” She tried to grab me by my shoulder.
“It doesn’t matter, Simone. I have nothing to lose and I can’t live like this anymore...it hurts too much.” I pulled away from her and turned and walked toward the water.
She chased after me. “Jonah, don’t talk like that! Please stop!” She started to cry.
I turned to her. “I’m sorry,” I said, wiping my eyes with my free hand, and kept going.
I paddled out to the shore break. Simone joined me, using the board and wetsuit that Dad had lent her from our shop. It was hard for her to manage but she tried to keep as close to me as possible. I spent ten minutes sitting on my board just past the smaller break and silently watched the rolling giants in the distance. She waited with me as the waves rolled under us.
Soon a group of boys paddled close to us. Some on boogie boards and others on surfboards. They ignored me. Then Brian Pullman and Patrick Reilly turned up. They were standing on surf paddle boards and tried to catch the smaller waves. I watched them get a few rides and then turned to Simone. “Okay, I’m paddling out.”
She put her hand on my board. “Please, Jonah. Please, don’t do this.”
And then Brian and Patrick approached us. “Hey Runt!” yelled Brian. “Runt, what are you doing out here? Are you with your babysitter Runt?”
Patrick said nothing but shook his head.
“Hey Runt, you forgot your swimmies.” Brian added.
I ignored him. Then I started paddling toward the big waves.
“Jonah, no!” Simone called out after me.
“Hey Runt, where ya going? You’re gonna get yourself killed, Runt!” Brian yelled out after me, laughing.
Patrick called to Simone. “Simone, we should stop him.”
“See if you can find someone to go after him! I’m going to call his dad!” She called back to Patrick and then headed for the beach.
The paddle out was way harder than I imagined. The waves were even bigger than they looked from the shore, some easily 20 feet high. I had never surfed in anything so big and began to regret my decision. I already felt exhausted from paddling and duck diving under the huge waves.
On my way out, I saw Frankie and another lifeguard headed back to the beach. They waved and called out to me, motioning for me to bail and head in with them. I ignored them. Frankie paddled closer to me.
He yelled out, “Jonah, head in! It’s too dangerous! Jonah!”
I ignored him. I saw at least four guys still out. I looked back once and could see more people lining the edge of the beach, but I didn’t see Simone. I decided I didn’t need to be distracted by what was happening on the beach. I kept paddling. Frankie was still calling to me, but I didn't care.
I finally made it past the enormous break. I sat resting on my board to catch my breath. As tired as I was from the long paddle out, adrenaline coursed through my veins and I hoped it would give me the energy needed to surf one of these giants. To my left, I spied a couple of guys sitting on their boards. One of them was trying to get my attention, I could hear him yelling my name. I ignored it but could see him paddling my way.
“Jonah! Hey Jonah!” Called the voice. It sounded familiar. As the figure got closer, I recognized him. It was Luke Shepard. He was in his mid-twenties and worked at my dad’s shop and helped run the surf camp. He was an amazing surfer.
“Dude! Hey, J-man, what the hell are you doing out here? Does your dad know you’re out here?”
I sighed and called back to Luke. “No!”
“J-man, I admire your insane courage, but this is way too rough for you. I know you’re a super solid ride, but dude, you’re not ready for this.”
“You mean I’m too small!” I shouted at him.
“No, I mean it’s too dangerous. Your size has nothing to do with it. Hey, you have the skills, but you don’t have the experience riding anything this big.”
“I can do this, Luke!” I shouted back at him.
“Come on J-man, I’ll help you get in.”
“Jonah! Listen to me!”
And then I turned and paddled away from Luke.