My parents were well known in our community. My dad Sam owns a surf shop and runs a surf camp and my mom is a yoga instructor. She’s a real guru with a big local following. Probably why my whole life has felt like a spiritual revolution.
Even though my parents sometimes socialize with other parents from school, they already have a big network of friends from before I was born. Mostly their surfing and fitness friends and a few other folks from our church. I tried to hold out some hope that when Mom spoke to the other moms, she wouldn’t push too hard for information.
A couple nights after our awkward dinner, Mom came into my room and sat on my bed and looked around. She smiled at my shark and surfing posters, all my books on whales and other marine life, my pirate ship made out of Legos, my signed and framed picture of me in skateboard gear standing next to Tony Hawk.
I smiled back at her and then returned to my homework. She walked over to my desk, leaned over me, put her hands on my shoulders and peeked at the homework questions on my computer.
“History?” she asked.
“Yeah, world history,” I answered. “The Fall of Rome.”
“Ah. Need any help?”
“No, I’m good. Almost done.”
She read over my shoulder for a minute and then sat down on a giant orange beanbag chair made to look like a basketball. It said Los Angeles Lakers in purple stitched across it. She tried to get comfortable. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Mom, you’re a pretty funny sight in that chair.”
She laughed too. “Well, just don’t post any pictures of me sitting on this thing on social media.”
I frowned a little, remembering that I had shut down my Instagram and Snapchat accounts. My parents had just started following me on Instagram and they hadn’t figured out Snapchat yet. But it probably wouldn’t take very long for them to realize that I wasn’t on social media.
“So, listen honey,” she began. “I just spoke with Tommy’s mom. She told me he had a paintball party recently. For his birthday.”
I kept looking at my computer screen, trying to act normal.
“Were you invited to Tommy’s party?” she asked.
I hesitated. I could actually tell the truth here, sort of. Even though it would be strange to her that I wasn’t invited, it would be much weirder to say that I was invited and didn’t want to go. I took my chances and was honest.
“No. I wasn’t invited.”
“Really? Huh.” She paused for a second and then asked, “Well, did you know about the party?”
“I think I heard something about it at school. In the hallway.”
“So you didn’t tell Tommy that you couldn’t go? Because you were sick?”
“No Mom, he didn’t invite me.”
“Okay. Well, I’m just so surprised by this. Why wouldn’t Tommy invite you? And why would he tell his mom you were sick and couldn’t go? You two have been best friends since kindergarten.”
I took a deep breath. “I dunno Mom. I guess…maybe he just wanted to invite the guys on the soccer team. Maybe there wasn’t room for me. I don’t mind. I really don’t care.”
“I don’t believe that you don’t care,” she said with a sniff. She wiped the corners of her eyes.
I didn’t answer.
Then she surprised me. She exhaled loudly and said, “So do you really think this sports thing defines the social groups at school? Kids hanging out with just the other kids on their teams?”
“Maybe. I know all the kids in the school play hang out together. The kids in robotics hang together. Yeah, I guess it makes sense.”
Mom nodded. She was obviously re-thinking her suspicions. I felt relieved, like this had bought me some time. If my parents thought that I was being excluded because I wasn’t on the soccer team, it created a diversion from the bullying and what was really happening with my friends.
She got up awkwardly from the beanbag chair. I gave her a hand and helped pull her up. We both laughed. She stood over me again.
“Come here honey, give me a hug.”
I got up from my desk and hugged her. She squeezed me tight and kissed the top of my head. And then I couldn’t help it, I hugged her back in a near death grip, like I would never see her again. I wanted to cry and tell her the truth. But another part of me was certain that doing that would be the end of me at school. I would be inviting much more trouble. And that paralyzing fear took over.
She kissed my forehead and looked down at me. “You know you can tell us anything? Anything. We’re here for you, Jonah. And your dad and I, we aren’t totally clueless. We were teenagers once.”
“I know Mom.”
“Okay, but you often act as if your father and I can’t possibly relate to your life. I get that technology advances, and fashion and music, even how young people talk, it all goes through changes. But being a teenager hasn’t changed that much. I think there is more pressure on your generation but it still stems from the same things. Like trying to fit in and be cool, dating, coming out, and…”
I pushed away from her and sat back down. “Yeah, I get it Mom.”
“Well, I’m just trying to tell you that we understand. Do you know what was hard for me as a teenager? I was the very last girl in my class to wear a bra. Your dad still jokes that he’s waiting for my boobs to come in…”
“Oh, right, too much information…well, it was really embarrassing changing for gym with all the other girls snickering, I literally wanted to die. At least now there are push up bras and the built-in pads, there was nothing like that when I was a teenager…”
“Oh calm down, Jonah. It’s not like this is an X-rated subject.”
She paused but not for long.
“And you know, your dad had a tough time with acne. Poor guy. He had days where he just refused to go to school. That’s a very tough thing to go through.”
I exhaled too loudly.
She started to put her hand on my shoulder but pulled back. I knew I had hurt her feelings. She was just trying make connections to my life. But I wasn’t in the mood.
The next morning at breakfast, it started again. “Have you thought of joining a club at school?” Dad asked too casually. “Meet some new kids,” Mom chimed in.
They were trying to be positive. I lied and said, “I’ll check it out.”
Another lie. Which would lead to more lies. My stomach started to hurt halfway through my oatmeal. The deception was making me physically ill. But my fear of the bullies was much stronger.