Authors: R J Palacio
“They didn't even prepare us beforehand!” Mom went on. “That's what gets me the most. If they're not going to provide additional psychological support, at least warn the parents ahead of time!”
“Absolutely!” said Miles's mom, and the other moms nodded again.
“Obviously, Jack Will could have used some therapy,” Mom said, rolling her eyes.
“I was surprised they didn't expel him,” said Henry's mom.
“Oh, they would have!” answered Mom, “but we asked them not to. We've known the Will family since kindergarten. They're good people. We don't blame Jack, really. I think he just cracked under the pressure of having to be this kid's caretaker. That's what happens when you put little kids into these kinds of situations. I honestly don't know what Tushman was thinking!”
“I'm sorry, I just have to step in here,” said another mom (I think it was Charlotte's mom because she had the same bright blond hair and big blue eyes). “It's not like there's anything wrong with this kid, Melissa. He's a great kid, who just happens to look different, butÂ .Â .Â .”
“Oh, I know!” Mom answered, and she put her hand over her heart. “Oh, Brigit, no one's saying he's not a great kid, believe me. I'm sure he is. And I hear the parents are lovely people. That's not the issue. To me, ultimately, the simple fact of the matter is that Tushman didn't follow protocol. He flagrantly disregarded the applications process by not having the boy come to Beecher Prep for the interviewâor take the test like every one of our kids did. He broke the rules. And rules are rules. That's it.” Mom made a sad face at Brigit. “Oh dear, Brigit. I can see you totally disapprove!”
“No, Melissa, not at all,” Charlotte's mom said, shaking her head. “It's a tough situation all around. Look, the fact is, your son got punched in the face. You have every right to feel angry and demand some answers.”
“Thank you.” Mom nodded and crossed her arms. “I just think the whole thing's been handled terribly, that's all. And I blame Tushman. Completely.”
“Absolutely,” said Henry's mom.
“He's got to go,” agreed Miles's mom.
I looked at Mom, surrounded by nodding moms, and I thought,
Okay, so maybe this is going to turn out to be one of those really super-mom moments
. Maybe everything she was doing would make it so that Auggie ended up going to a different school, and then things could go back to the way it used to be at Beecher Prep. That would be so awesome!
But a part of me was thinking,
Maybe this is going to turn into a not-so-super-mom moment
. I mean, some of the stuff she was saying sounded kind ofÂ .Â .Â . I don't know. Kind of harsh, I guess. It's like when she gets mad at a waiter. You end up feeling sorry for the waiter. The thing is, I know she's on this anti-Tushman mission because of me. If I hadn't started getting nightmares again, and if Jack hadn't punched me, none of this would be happening. She wouldn't be making a big deal about Auggie, or Tushman, and she'd be concentrating all her time and energy on good stuff, like raising money for the school and volunteering at the homeless shelter. Mom does good stuff like that all the time!
So I don't know. On the one hand, I'm happy she's trying to help me. And on the other hand, I would love for her to stop.
The thing that annoyed me the most when we got back from winter break was that Jack had gone back to being friends with Auggie again. They had had some kind of fight after Halloween, which is why Jack and I started being bros again. But after winter break was over, they were best buds again.
It was so lame!
I told everyone we needed to really ice Jack out, for his own good. He had to choose, once and for all, whether he wanted to be on Team Auggie or Team Julian and the Rest of the World. So we started completely ignoring Jack: not talking to him, not answering his questions. It was like he didn't exist.
That'll show him!
And that's when I started leaving my little notes. One day, someone had left some Post-it notes on one of the benches in the yard, which is what gave me the idea. I wrote in this really psycho-killer handwriting:
Nobody likes you anymore!
I slipped it into the slits in Jack's locker when no one was looking. I watched him out of the corner of my eye when he found it. He turned around and saw Henry opening his locker nearby.
“Did Julian write this?” he asked.
But Henry was one of my peeps, you know? He just iced Jack out, pretended like no one was even talking to him. Jack crumpled the Post-it and flicked it into his locker and banged the door shut.
After Jack left, I went over to Henry.
“Hollah!” I said, giving him the devil's sign, which made Henry laugh.
Over the next couple of days, I left a few more notes in Jack's locker. And then I started leaving some in Auggie's locker.
They were notâI repeat, notâa big deal. They were mostly stupid stuff. I didn't think anyone would ever take them seriously. I mean, they were actually kind of funny!
Well, kind of. At least, some of them were.
You stink, big cheese!
Get out of our school, orc!
No one but Henry and Miles knew that I was writing these notes. And they were sworn to secrecy.
I don't know how the heck Mr. Tushman found out about them. I don't think Jack or Auggie would have been dumb enough to rat on me, because they had started leaving me notes in my locker, too. I mean, how stupid would you have to be to rat someone out about something that you were doing, too?
So, here's what happened. A few days before the Fifth-Grade Nature Retreat, which I was totally looking forward to, Mom got a phone call from Dr. Jansen, the headmaster of Beecher Prep. He said he wanted to discuss something with her and Dad, and asked for a meeting.
Mom assumed it probably had to do with Mr. Tushman, that maybe he was getting fired. So she was actually kind of excited about the meeting!
They showed up for the appointment at ten a.m., and they were waiting in Dr. Jansen's office when, all of a sudden, they see me walking into the office, too. Ms. Rubin had taken me out of class, asked me to follow her, and brought me there: I had no idea what was up. I'd never even been to the headmaster's office before, so when I saw Mom and Dad there, I looked as confused as they looked.
“What's going on?” Mom said to Ms. Rubin. Before Ms. Rubin could say anything, Mr. Tushman and Dr. Jansen came into the office.
Everyone shook hands and they were all smiles as they greeted one another. Ms. Rubin said she had to go back to class but that she would call Mom and Dad later to check in. This surprised Mom. I could tell she started thinking that maybe this wasn't about Mr. Tushman getting fired, after all.
Then Dr. Jansen asked us to sit on the sofa opposite his desk. Mr. Tushman sat down in a chair next to us, and Dr. Jansen sat behind his desk.
“Well, thank you so much for coming, Melissa and Jules,” Dr. Jansen said to my parents. It was strange hearing him call them by their first names. I knew they all knew each other from being on the board, but it sounded weird. “I know how busy you are. And I'm sure you're wondering what this is all about.”
“Well, yesÂ .Â .Â .” said Mom, but her voice drifted off. Dad coughed into his hand.
“The reason we asked you here today is because, unfortunately,” Dr. Jansen continued, “we have a serious matter on our hands, and we'd like to figure out the best way to resolve it. Julian, do you have any inkling of what I might be talking about?” He looked at me.
I opened my eyes wide.
“Me?” I snapped my head back and made a face. “No.”
Dr. Jansen smiled and sighed at me at the same time. He took off his glasses.
“You understand,” he said, looking at me, “we take bullying very seriously at Beecher Prep. There's zero tolerance for any kind of bullying. We feel that every single one of our students deserves the right to learn in a caring and respectful atmosphereâ”
“Excuse me, but can someone tell me what's going on here?” Mom interrupted, looking at Dr. Jansen impatiently. “We obviously know the mission statement at Beecher Prep, Hal: we practically wrote it! Let's cut to the chaseâwhat's going on?”
Dr. Jansen looked at Mr. Tushman. “Why don't you explain, Larry?” he said.
Mr. Tushman handed an envelope to Mom and Dad. Mom opened it and pulled out the last three Post-it notes I had left in Auggie's locker. I knew immediately that's what they were because these were actually pink Post-its and not yellow ones like all the others had been.
So, I thought:
Ah-ha! So it was Auggie who told Mr. Tushman about the Post-it notes! What a turd!!
Mom read through the notes quickly, raised her eyebrows, and passed them to Dad. He read them and looked at me.
“You wrote these, Julian?” he said, holding the notes out for me.
I swallowed. I looked at him kind of blankly. He handed me the notes, and I just stared at them.
“UmÂ .Â .Â . well,” I answered. “Yeah, I guess. But, Dad, they were writing notes, too!”
“Who was writing notes?” asked Dad.
“Jack and Auggie,” I answered. “They were writing notes to me, too! It wasn't just me!”
“But you started the note writing, didn't you?” asked Mr. Tushman.
“Excuse me,” Mom interjected angrily. “Let's not forget that it was Jack Will who punched Julian in the mouth, not the other way around. Obviously, there's going to be residual angerâ”
“How many of these notes did you write, Julian?” Dad interrupted, tapping on the Post-its I was holding.
“I don't know,” I said. It was hard for me to get the words out. “Like, six or something. But the other ones weren't thisÂ .Â .Â . you know, bad. These notes are worse than the other ones I wrote. The other ones weren't soÂ .Â .Â .” My voice kind of drifted off as I reread what I'd written on the three notes:
Yo, Darth Hideous. You're so ugly you should wear a mask every day!
I h8 u, Freak!
And the last one:
I bet your mother wishes you'd never been born. You should do everybody a favorâand die.
Of course, looking at them now, they seemed a lot worse than when I wrote them. But I was mad thenâsuper mad. I had just gotten one of their notes andÂ .Â .Â .
“Wait!” I said, and I reached into my pocket. I found the last Post-it that Auggie and Jack had left for me in my locker, just yesterday. It was kind of crumpled up now, but I held it out to Mr. Tushman to read. “Look! They wrote mean stuff to me, too!”
Mr. Tushman took the Post-it, read it quickly, and handed it to my parents. My mom read it and then looked at the floor. My dad read it and shook his head, puzzled.
He handed me the Post-it and I reread it.
Julian, you're so hot! Summer doesn't like you, but I want to have your babies! Smell my armpits! Love, Beulah.
“Who the heck is Beulah?” asked Dad.
“Never mind,” I answered. “I can't explain.” I handed the Post-it back to Mr. Tushman, who gave it to Dr. Jansen to read. I noticed he actually tried to hide a smile.
“Julian,” said Mr. Tushman, “the three notes you wrote don't compare at all to this note in content.”
“I don't think it's for anyone else to judge the semantics of a note,” said Mom. “It doesn't matter whether you think one note is worse than the otherâit's how the person reading the note reads it. The fact is, Julian's had a little crush on this Summer girl all year long, and it probably hurt his feelingsâ”
“Mom!” I yelled, and I covered my face with my hands. “That's so embarrassing!”
“All I'm saying is that a note can be hurtful to a childâwhether
see it or not,” Mom said to Mr. Tushman.
“Are you kidding me?” answered Mr. Tushman, shaking his head. He sounded angrier than I had ever heard him before. “Are you telling me you don't find the Post-its your son wrote completely horrifying? Because I do!”
“I'm not defending the notes!” answered Mom. “I'm just reminding you that it was a two-way street. You have to realize that Julian was obviously writing those notes as a reaction to something.”
“Look,” said Dr. Jansen, holding his hand out in front of him like a crossing guard. “There's no doubt there's some history here.”
“Those notes hurt my feelings!” I said, and I didn't mind that I sounded like I was going to cry.
“I don't doubt that their notes hurt your feelings, Julian,” Dr. Jansen answered. “And you were trying to hurt their feelings. That's the problem with stuff like thisâeveryone keeps trying to top one another, and then things escalate out of control.”
“Exactly!” said Mom, and it almost sounded like she screamed it.
“But the fact is,” Dr. Jansen continued, holding up his finger, “there is a line, Julian. There is a line. And your notes crossed that line. They're completely unacceptable. If Auggie had read these notes, how do you think he'd feel?”
He was looking at me so intensely that I felt like disappearing under the sofa.
“You mean he hasn't read them?” I asked.
“No,” answered Dr. Jansen. “Thank goodness someone reported the notes to Mr. Tushman yesterday, and he opened Auggie's locker and intercepted them before Auggie ever saw them.” I nodded and lowered my head. I have to admitâI was glad Auggie hadn't read them. I guess I knew what Dr. Jansen meant about “crossing the line.” But then I thought,
So if it wasn't Auggie who ratted me out, who was it?
We were all quiet for a minute or two. It was awkward beyond belief.