It was years before the next incident. Really, he’d forgotten all about the first time it had happened because of everything that happened after. Months and months of his mother being harassed by the mailman, everything from not delivering her mail to identity theft. The local postal service sided with the mailman and didn’t take any actions to stop what was going on until the mailman, emboldened, started targeting other people of color. Eventually, he went to jail, but not before Jeremiah and his mother were forced to move.
Even though his mother had never been late on a bill, even though his father had died in Afghanistan serving in the Marines, even though there was definitive proof of the mail tampering and identity theft, the only thing the creditors and companies saw was a single, black mother and wouldn’t make any allowances for the things that had happened. It all… wore his mother down. She wasn’t the same person anymore. The fight and the optimism went out of her.
The monster had been completely forgotten, even by Jeremiah, submerged in the tragedy with the mailman. His mother believed that the mailman had done something from outside the house to scare Jeremiah and cause everything that had happened. That wasn’t totally inaccurate.
Jeremiah’s new school, because he had had to change schools – it had been the desire to have Jeremiah in a “good school” that had been the reason for where they lived – was decidedly less good. You could tell because there were almost no white kids at this school, unlike his first school which was almost only white kids. The new school had no working computers in any of the classrooms, and all of the textbooks were clearly hand-me-downs from other schools. Jeremiah was more than slightly ahead of all the other kids in his classes and, so, bored. All the time.
It got him picked on. Being the smartest kid in class is never the way to make friends. But he hadn’t been the smartest kid in his first school, just in the top five or so. Here, though, he was smarter, or, at least, more learned, than everyone. Even some of the teachers. He didn’t know it, but it was that he read that set him so far apart. Reading had been highly valued at his first school, and he had developed a habit. It got him labeled a troublemaker by the administration and a know-it-all by his classmates. He hated it. Every day.
If he had known it was the books, maybe he would have quit. Maybe. But he didn’t know, and he didn’t have any friends, not really, so he read all the time. He thought the problem was with him. Something innate.
He loved science fiction the most. He didn’t know it yet because he was only 11 and not very inciteful, but it was the idea that in the future in there was no racism that drew him to it. People were just people and nothing like what happened to him and his mother could happen in a world without racism. So he loved Star Trek, and he loved books where humanity was humanity and there was nothing made of what color skin anyone had. But he didn’t know that’s what it was that he liked, not yet.
On days when he had had his book taken away by the teacher, like today, because she told him Stranger in a Strange Land was inappropriate reading – when he asked her if she had read it, she said “no” and scolded him for “talking back” when he tried to ask how she knew it wasn’t appropriate if she hadn’t read it, and sent him to the back of the room – he leaned his head against the window and daydreamed.
The glass was cool against his forehead, and he was imagining that he’d been raised on Mars and could do all of the things that Michael could do so that he didn’t have to sit in a boring classroom. He was vaguely watching out the window and vaguely watching the reflection of the classroom in the glass and superimposing the classroom being outdoors and thinking how much better it would be to be sitting outside on the grass having class out there and trying very hard to visualize everyone outside, trying so hard it made his eyes hurt and the kids in the reflection started looking funny, so he glanced into the class, turned his head just enough to see the teacher and everyone in front of him…