Parents lick their lips, while children try to stave off the ominous darkness fast approaching with a few more moments of summer fun. It was back to school season. Brian savored the last day of freedom immersed in the fantasies of his drawing notebook. He fought off the approaching cloud, which for him seemed a slightly darker shade of ominous, with bold strokes capitalizing on the new confidence his parents were attempting to instill in him before the first day at his new school.
A new town, a new state, a new school, and new classmates meant a glimmer of hope for Brian. “People are nicer here,” his parents would say, “You’re going to be able to be yourself AND make new friends. A fresh start is exactly what you need.”
Although Brian’s parents had repeated this mantra for over three months, Brian remained skeptical. His only experience of school was isolation and torment. Kids made fun of everything about Brian. They teased him about his clothes and how they never seemed to fit right. His parents refused to buy anything new and contribute to the consumerism and throw-away culture in America. Brian’s haircut offered a second easy target for ridicule. Brian’s mother insisted she could cut hair just as well as ‘the price gouging crooks at Great Clips.’ Yet, she insisted her use of an actual bowl during these hair cuts said nothing about her skill as an amateur esthetician. One of the more popular targets was Brian’s lunch. To an adult, Brian’s lunch smelled of enticing international cuisine, but to the unrefined palate of children, it was filled with poop sandwiches and fart juice.
Hanging lower than all of these low hanging fruit, hung Brian’s face. Brian was empirically ugly. Brian had a face that registered so far from what the human brain recognizes as a face that a person would slightly recoil upon seeing it because it didn’t seem natural. After this common reaction, most people would put on a face a forced comfort and allow their eyes to scan past Brian making certain not to linger on his face. Kids, as you can imagine, could be ruthless.
Hope took root for Brian the day his parents took him shopping at the mall. Only rarely did he get to shop for clothes, and it had never been at a store with real price tags and not handwritten stickers. Brian’s parents bought him an entirely new wardrobe, and when he admired it, he thought his parents must have completely changed overnight. It was as though they had conspired in some secret late night meeting to change their entire method of parenting to help Brian make friends in his new home.
Brian marched to down the final block to school with his mom that first morning of school in his new NFL T-shirt. For the first time everything in his lunch had a packaged label on it, and each item had the better label. His hair had that perfect ‘just rolled out of bed’ look that the lady at Great Clips showed him. Armed with American consumerism, on his back, in his lunch, and on top of his head, Brian allowed himself to feel confident for the first time that school might go well. Maybe all of this newness would actually bring him a friend and a shred of acceptance.
At the door, his mom knelt down, and looked Brian in the eye. He was so excited about his generic NFL T-shirt, room temperature mini pizza and Capri Sun, and his hair all done up, that he didn’t even notice the quiver in his mother’s voice.
“Just go in there, be confident and be yourself. I promise this school is going to be different,” She encouraged immediately regretting the word ‘promise.’
“I will, Mom. I can’t wait to introduce you to my first best friend,” Brian smiled back.
“You are amazing and this is going to be a wonderful new chapter in your life.”
Her heart already cracking for her son, broke all the way. Tears welled in his mother’s eyes as that face that only a mother could love turned and walked into a new school.