The Empty Desk | Teen Ink

The Empty Desk MAG

April 4, 2014
By AnnaOfMirkwood SILVER, Raymond, Mississippi
AnnaOfMirkwood SILVER, Raymond, Mississippi
6 articles 9 photos 31 comments

Favorite Quote:
"To define is to limit." Oscar Wilde

There is an empty desk in my history class. It's been empty for almost a week now. About seven days ago a person sat there. He would slowly twirl his stringy black hair around his long pale fingers as he stared at the whiteboard without really seeing what was written on it. His dark eyes would peek sleepily from under half-closed lids, shielded by long, ebony eyelashes. His free hand would be grasping a slightly chewed pencil that would dance across the notebook paper in front of him. I had seen his notebook once as I walked by. It was covered with what looked like song lyrics. I wish I could've read them, but I was always too shy to ask, and now it's too late.

I'm roused from my reverie by my teacher, Mr. Robertson, placing a worksheet on my desk. As he passes the rest, he says, “I want you to work on these with a partner.”

The class buzzes with pleasure and I suppress a groan. I don't like working in groups. Neither did Damien, the boy who used to sit there. Because of this commonality, we usually ended up as partners, which was fine by me. He always did his share of the work and never tried to initiate awkward, pointless small talk. I don't know if I could have carried a conversation with him anyway. I always wanted to know more about him, but something had held me back from asking, some inhibition I didn't understand.

There is a chatter of voices and scraping of desks against the floor as students pair up. Mr. Robertson sighs when he sees me.

“May I work alone?” I ask, even though I know the answer.

“No, Rachel,” he answers, exasperated. “Find a partner.”

“There's no one left.”

“Then I guess we'll have one group of three?” He says the statement interrogatively, as if he's questioning my intelligence. He condescendingly looks down the ridge of his long, hooked nose at me as he glances at the nearest pair. “Go join Kaitlyn and Sarah's group.”

My cheeks tinged pink with embarrassment. Of all the pairs in class, this is probably the one I least want to join. Kaitlyn and Sarah are best friends, and they like to chat. It is both annoying and detrimental, since they'll probably be too busy discussing what happened on their favorite TV show to help me much with our assignment.

Sure enough, they aren't talking about history. They are talking about who should get voted off some game show. I open my textbook and start answering the worksheet questions about the Revolutionary War. Continuing their conversation, they pause now and then to copy what I've written. I don't care enough to be angry at their lack of effort. I just want to finish the assignment so I can be alone again.

I'm halfway through the worksheet by the time they exhaust the TV show topic. Sarah twists a strand of her hair around a neatly manicured finger. Her dark eyes roam the room and stop momentarily at the lone desk that hasn't been moved. Then they dart to my pencil as it scratches across my paper.

“Did you do a lot of the work for Damien too when y'all were partners?” she asks suddenly. She looks calm, slightly bored. Just asking a question to pass the time, I suppose, and not realizing that Damien isn't a subject I want to discuss.

“Uh, no,” I say, noting that she seems to have no guilt that I'm doing all the work. “He did his share. He was really smart.”

“He was in honors English, I think,” Kaitlyn throws in, glancing from her phone, which she has hidden behind her textbook. “Weren't you his friend?”

I can tell Kaitlyn is only asking out of bored curiosity, but I still feel oddly unwilling to answer her.

“Well, no, not really,” I respond. “I mean, we ended up being partners most of the time, but we never really talked about anything besides school. So no, I don't think I could've called myself his friend.”

“I don't think he had any friends,” Kaitlyn says. “He was really weird.”

“Yeah, he always creeped me out,” Sarah agrees. I stop writing, my hand frozen in a clenched position. I try to swallow, but it feels like something hard is caught in my throat.

“I didn't say it before, but I will now since he's gone,” Kaitlyn lowers her voice. “He always seemed like one of those kids who would, you know, shoot up a school.”

While I feel like a ball of lead has dropped into my stomach, Sarah nods in agreement. “To be honest, I'm kinda glad he offed himself before he did something like that. It was only a matter of time. Remember when Jason was messing with him, and he went off on him, like yelling and stuff, and he ran out of the room? That was crazy.”

I had been there that day, and it hadn't looked like light-hearted teasing to me. It had looked like bullying, verging on harassment. But I'm still focused on Sarah's first statement, I'm kinda glad he offed himself.

“Did you just say you're glad Damien committed suicide?” I ask in disbelief.

“What? No way,” Sarah says. “I meant I was glad he can't, like, go crazy and hurt someone now. I'm not glad he's dead. I mean, it would've been just as well if they'd sent him to some home or something. You know, one of places where they put crazy people.”

“A mental hospital?” inserts Kaitlyn.

“Yeah,” agrees Sarah.

“I honestly don't know which is worse,” I say, my voice icy. “Damien wasn't crazy, and he certainly wasn't dangerous. He didn't deserve to die, and he didn't deserve to go a mental hospital.”

Sarah's dark eyes narrow. “I didn't say that –”

“That's sure what it sounded like,” I interrupt.

“Well, it's not!” she snaps defiantly.

I resist an eye roll and look back at my paper. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Kaitlyn mouthing to Sarah, I think she liked him.

Like him? Of course I liked him. I mean, I didn't dislike him. He wasn't annoying or judgmental like them. But I know they're suggesting I had a crush on him. I have no idea if I did or not. It's not like it matters. But I do know that regardless of whether I liked him, no one deserves to feel so awful that he thinks his only option is to kill himself.

As I fill in the last answer on the worksheet, I feel my anger grow. I finally decide I'm going to say something.

“You know, just because someone is different doesn't mean he's a homicidal maniac who's planning to shoot up the place,” I say as I shut my textbook. “You say he had no friends because he was weird. Maybe it's because of people spreading nasty rumors about him.”

Sarah glares at me. “Oh yeah?” she retorts. “Or maybe he had no friends because people ignored him. I know someone who claims she wasn't his friend but has no problem talking about him like they were best friends now that he's gone. Too bad she didn't care enough to talk to him when he was alive.”

All at once, the fire goes out of me, and I feel as though I've been punched in the chest with a ball of ice. I try to speak but can't. I'm not even sure what I would say. I can see Sarah and Kaitlyn smirking triumphantly at me, but I am too stunned to feel angry.

Sarah's words ring in my ears like a church bell. A nasty feeling – guilt – begins to pulse through my veins. I know she only said that to make me mad; she didn't really care about Damien. But had I cared about Damien?

“Rachel!” Mr. Robertson's sudden reprimand jars me. “I said move your desk back.”

I hear snickers, especially from Sarah and Kaitlyn, as I scrape my desk back. Those snickers remind me of a time in class when Damien had been walking to the front. One of the boys had stuck his leg out in front of Damien. He hadn't fallen, but he had stumbled, and the class had snickered too. I hadn't, but I hadn't called the boy out either. I had remained silent.

Several more scenes flood my mind. I see Damien walking down the hallway, one boy shoving him, and another calling him offensive names. I'm standing nearby but say nothing. Then I'm in the cafeteria; I see people cut in front of Damien in the line, pretending he's invisible, discreetly challenging him. I didn't say anything then either. Then I remember the scene Sarah and Kaitlyn were just talking about.

“Hey, what're you writing?” The teacher had left for a moment. Without waiting for a response, Jason snatched Damien's notebook. Damien tried to take it back, but Jason tossed it over his head, and it landed on the floor. As Damien bent to retrieve it, Jason nudged him with his foot and Damien toppled over. Jason and his friends howled with laughter.

I sat silently in my desk, wanting to speak but not daring to. I thought of all the reasons I shouldn't do anything. Jason and his friends might tease me. Or Damien might be mad if I intervened. Boys didn't like it when girls protected them, right?

“What're those marks on your arm?” Jason continued. He grabbed Damien's arm. “They look like razor cuts that emos have.”

“Just let go and leave me alone,” Damien growled.

“You write poetry and cut yourself. That's so gay, man,” he laughed. “You're one of those emo freaks who pretend to be sad so people will feel sorry for you.”

That was the last straw for Damien.

“SHUT UP!” he yelled, and people jumped. Damien ripped his arm free, grabbed his notebook and backpack, and stormed from the room.

I had just sat there that day, stunned, much like I was now. Then I had been stunned by his behavior, but now I am stunned by mine. Why hadn't I said anything? Why hadn't I stood up for Damien? I'd had no problem defending his memory; why hadn't I stood up for him when Jason tormented him, or all those times people teased him and made his life difficult? God, why hadn't I at least talked to him?

The bell for the end of the period rings, and the students rush out as if it's on fire. I slowly gather my things, moving as if in a trance.

“Rachel, are you okay?” asks Mr. Robertson.

“Yes, sir,” I mumble, dropping my worksheet on his desk as I pass.

Standing in the doorway, I glance back. Even though all the desks are empty now, Damien's still stands out to me. Is it my fault his desk is empty?

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This article has 1 comment.

Tonya said...
on Apr. 17 2014 at 12:19 pm
Wow!  This had such an impact on me.  Although I am an adult now, this took me back to high school memories.  I wish I would have stood up more for people who were bullied.  If you do nothing you are part of it, at least in the eyes of the bullied.