This is a story that highlights the aspect of bullying that is not physically violent, as well as its lasting scars. “Something to Lose” tells the story of a Japanese-American Student, Banri, who must realize something about himself in order to deal with bullying at school. Having experienced bullying firsthand for much of her life, the author hopes that this story will encourage all of us to give up whatever holds us back from seeing our own beauty and greatness in this world.
Something to Lose
“Well, well, if it isn’t the Bedtime Story Club!”
Banri Yukibayashi flinched, feeling his spirits sink lower than ever. He was already burnt out after math class, where he had to endure whispers from classmates about his grade on the last quiz—not the highest grade, mind you, but still well above most of the class. He heard them cursing his intelligence, and even his heritage.
“He’s Chinese,” one said, “of course he got a good score.”
“Wait, isn’t he Korean?”
“I thought he was Mongolian!”
“Who cares what he is?” the first kid spat. “They’re all beating us, anyway, him included.”
Contrary to what his classmates guessed, Banri was actually Japanese. (He might’ve been puzzled at being confused for Mongolian if his heart hadn’t stung with the indignity of it.) He’d been dealing with these stereotypes since elementary school, but that didn’t make them hurt any less. He didn’t mean to be the “smart Asian kid,” nor did he particularly want to be—he just enjoyed being in school, something a lot of his classmates absolutely hated, and he wanted to share his enthusiasm with them. He helped to advertise every club the school had, including the so-called “Bedtime Story Club” (actually the Mythology Club), of which he was a member.
Recently, though, he’d found that he was becoming just as jaded as everyone else. He had to force himself to keep his grades up because he knew everyone would question him otherwise, but his heart wasn’t in it. Mythology Club was his only source of joy when it came to school these days. Now, he was hoping to make it to today’s meeting without incident, and yet here he was, right outside his safe haven in the school library, once again being ambushed by—of all people—a member of the Robotics Club.
He sighed and focused his good eye on the girl. “Can I help you, Karin?” Karin Langley smirked, folding her arms and looking down her nose at him.
“Well, you could, but you refuse to join my club,” she drawled. “I thought I could try to convince you again. After all, you’re a little old for bedtime stories, aren’t you?”
As she laughed, Banri huffed. He felt a comeback burning on his tongue—“I doubt that the stories of the serial killer Elizabeth Báthory count as the stuff of children’s stories, but you wouldn’t know that, would you?” But he bit it back. He would never be so rude to her out loud, no matter how much misery she brought him; besides, he’d heard more than one rumor that she loved to fight, and even if it wasn’t true, the chance was too dangerous for him to take. He’d already lost sight in one eye in a mishap during cataract surgery three months ago—he couldn’t stand to risk having the other one punched out!
So he sighed again and said, “I’m sorry, I’m too busy. Now, I’m already late, so if you’ll excuse me—”
Before he knew it, he was pinned against the double doors of the library, his shoulder banging against the doorknob. Karin hadn’t put her hands on him; she just stepped forward, forcing him backward, and though she seemed to be staring at him evenly, there was a stirring of annoyance in her sharp blue eyes.
“Don’t you turn away from me, little storyteller! I don’t think I gave you permission for that.”
He knew he didn’t need her permission for anything—she was in no position of authority at the school, or even in her club. She was a regular student, an eighth grader just like him. If nothing else, he knew that.
So why was he still so afraid?
He’d told himself all week that he wasn’t going to be afraid anymore, that if anyone gave him trouble, he’d give them what they were waiting for. He knew he could do it–his older sister, Matsuri, often remarked that he could be quite callous if he was pushed hard enough. But his innate sense of self-preservation always held him back. How could he live like this?
“What’s wrong, storyteller?” Karin inquired. “Dragon got your tongue? I just want you to reach your full potential. Everyone knows how smart you are, but you’re not doing anything with it! So that makes me the good guy here, wouldn’t you say?”
“I…won’t answer that.” Shaking his head, Banri looked at his watch.
“Please let me go, I’m supposed to make a presentation today—”
“If you would just agree to drop these babies and join Robotics Club–”
“Stuff your Robotics Club!”
In the ensuing silence, he was strongly aware that he said something he really shouldn’t have. But he couldn’t help it–something inside him snapped when she dissed his club. He himself couldn’t stand being insulted, but he especially couldn’t stand his friends being insulted. Feeling his heart rise with indignation, he looked her in the eye. He always found it easier to defend other people than himself, but now his heart was beating so fast, he felt like he could do anything.
So he decided that he would do anything.
“Listen,” he continued, “I’m just not into that sort of thing. I’m perfectly happy in Mythology Club, where my friends and I exchange great and terrible stories from all over the world–stories of heroes and villains and gods and goddesses and all sorts of bloodsucking, man-eating, soul-stealing, body-snatching monsters! If you think that that’s the stuff of bedtime stories, you must not have heard one in a very long time! We are only doing something we love, just like you’re doing something you love in Robotics Club. So, please respect that, and leave us alone!”
He hadn’t meant to yell, and when he heard his voice rising, he tried to will it back down to no avail. He hid his face in his hands, reeling at what he’d just done and scared stiff at the thought of the trouble he’d gotten himself into. He was so tired of being a victim, so eager to try being a hero, being his own hero, and now—even though he was mostly civil to her, even though he hadn’t insulted her—he was sure that he was going to suffer for it. So much for self-preservation!
“Well,” Karin chuckled, “I guess I was wrong about you, little storyteller. That was pretty impressive.” She sighed. “That was also pretty dumb.”
Just as Banri registered the girl’s hands reaching for his face, he heard footsteps advancing toward them. He couldn’t see who it was out of his bad eye, but he thought he recognized the voice that he heard.
“Allie,” the boy called, using Banri’s English nickname, “What’s going on? Are you okay?” He stopped in front of them and looked over at
Karin, who stared back in surprise. “You again?! God, he keeps telling you that he doesn’t want to be a poster boy for your stupid Science Snobs! Haven’t you heard that no means no?!”
Ignoring the girl’s insulted spluttering, he opened the door of the library and stalked inside.
“C’mon, Allie, everyone’s waiting for us!”
Banri felt himself being tugged into the library. “Kevin, it’s okay,” he protested. “She does this all the time—”
“No, it’s not, Allie!” Kevin Admiraal countered, cutting him off. “This is bullying, pure and simple, and that is very high on the list of things that don’t slide.”
“How dare you?!” Karin cried, having suddenly found her words. “We are not snobs! At least we’re learning things that we can use in the future! What are you doing with your lives?”
“Precisely what they want to do with them, Miss Langley.” From his seat, Banri watched the Myth Club’s advisor, Mr. Arceneaux, standing in the doorway, effectively blocking the boy’s view of Karin. He couldn’t hear what the man was saying, but it was probably something profound, something about her being too young to be so serious, and how she shouldn’t force that seriousness onto others. Mr. Arceneaux was prone to quoting philosophy whenever possible, even though he was a history teacher.
Feeling tired from the confrontation, Banri put his head down. He’d vaguely felt like crying since the math class incident, and he had hoped the feeling would go away once he got to Myth Club–it was like a second home to him, the other members like a second family, a refuge for when he’d been worn thin by his classmates. Now, that feeling was even stronger and he didn’t know if he could hold himself back. He never liked to cry in front of people, because that wasn’t how he and his sister were raised; he tried his very best to keep his emotions in check whenever possible, but now failure to do so was almost certain.
“She’s gone, Banri.”
Blinking the oncoming tears away, Banri looked up at the club’s president, Gina Orozco, who looked back at him sympathetically.
“She’s gone, okay? Mr. Arceneaux sent her away.”
“Indeed I did,” the advisor declared as he took a seat at Banri’s table. “And I hope I taught her something.” He ran a hand through his short gray hair and regarded Banri. “I think I heard you say that this happened before. Is that true?”
The maligned boy ducked his head, black hair falling over his eyes as he debated how to answer. He didn’t like people to know that he was suffering, even if those people were his friends–he didn’t want to cause any trouble for them, but more than that, he struggled with asking for help. With his grades, he hardly needed it.
And yet…he knew that his grades and his life were not mutually exclusive. What good was his intelligence if his life wasn’t happy? One would think that he could use the one to pursue the other–get into a good high school, a good university, a good job–the American dream, right? But if he couldn’t even go for his own dream, to become strong in mind and spirit (and maybe body, while he was at it), how could he expect to go for the American Dream?
He sighed. “Could we please go somewhere else, Mr. Arceneaux?”
They retreated to the computer lab attached to the library. Banri took a deep breath, took off his eyepatch–he knew he was going to cry now, there was no stopping it–and explained everything. He didn’t mean to explain everything; he just wanted to talk about Karin, because that’s ostensibly all Mr. Arceneaux had asked about. But there was so much more bubbling up in his heart, he felt like he couldn’t hold it back. As long as he was spilling some of his guts, he thought, “Why not spill all of them?”
So he did–from Karin’s constant haranguing to the whispered debates over his ethnicity to the pseudo-Chinese gibberish people would shout at him in the halls. He’d once sat in on a meeting of the school’s Anime Club and attracted the fetish-like admiration of a starry-eyed sixth grader who would only answer to the name “Madoka-chan,” and continued to bother him to this day. (Her real name was Cassandra Rafferty, and she was the first person Banri ever considered to be the bane of his existence.)
By the time he was done, he realized that tears were slipping down his face. It was a little embarrassing, but more than that, it was freeing, so he couldn’t bring himself to care. He held a hand over his sightless eyeand tipped his head back, trying to pull himself together.
“Well,” Mr. Arceneaux remarked at length. “It seems like you had a lot to get off your chest.”
“I…guess so,” Banri replied. “My chest is a bit lighter.”
“That’s a good start. But there’s something else I’m wondering about. How could you keep this to yourself for so long?”
The boy shrugged because he didn’t have any other answer.
“I have a theory, if you’ll allow it. Do you know the Seven Deadly Sins?”
“Huh?” He brought his head back down, looking confused. “The Seven Deadly Sins…I think so. Gluttony, lust, envy, greed, sloth, anger, and…pride. Right?”
“Exactly right! I think that last one is holding you back.”
“Pride? But that means you’re overly proud of yourself, isn’t it? I haven’t been proud of myself at all recently!”
“Clearly,” the man agreed, “but it’s not quite that cut-and-dry. You see, people suffer in different ways. Some are open with their troubles, because they know that they can’t handle it by themselves. They avoid holding it in because they know it’ll harm them later on. But others, like you, opt to suffer in silence. They think that nobody will care about their problems, or that they’re being a bother. Chances are that they live in a society where you’re expected to handle everything on your own, and that asking for help suggests weakness. They don’t want to lose face among their peers, so they hold it all in. That is a sort of pride, and I think it’s oppressing you.
“It’s even more specific to you because you’re a boy. From a young age we’re taught that being male means that you must be strong and indifferent to suffering–even your own–and anything less makes you ‘not a man.’ You’re meant to offer help, not accept it, or even seek it. And God help you if you’re ever seen crying! Is that why you wanted to hold it in?”
Banri shook his head. The tears had mostly stopped by now, and he was putting his eyepatch back on.
“I was feeling overwhelmed and didn’t want to drag everyone down,” he explained.
Mr. Arceneaux nodded. “Understandable. But you see my point, right?”
“I…I think so. Um, thank you for listening to me. I feel a little better now, but…I think I’ll have to hold off my presentation today. I’d just like to go home, if you don’t mind.”
With the sun halfway down, Banri left the building and started his walk home. Pride, huh? he thought. I guess I have to work on that…
“Well then, Banri, I think it’s time you said your piece.”
The following Monday afternoon Banri found himself in the principal’s office for an increasingly tense conference with Principal Michaelis, his father, Senri, Karin and her mother, Laura. They’d spent half his lunch period unraveling the semi-hostile dynamic between the children, with Banri adding information wherever necessary, much to Karin’s annoyance. They had established that Karin really did only want Banri as a poster boy for the majorly-white Robotics Club, which surprised him greatly because he thought that was another one of Kevin’s wild exaggerations.
Now, Banri was trying to think of the most civil way to tell Karin to leave him alone once and for all. He was incensed at the thought of being used, but he couldn’t yell at her again–he hated yelling, and besides, there were adults around. Principal Michaelis tried to encourage him.
“Surely you have something to say, Banri?” she asked. “I imagine that this must be hard for you, but we want to help you make it end, okay?”
He bit his lip and spared a glance at his father, who looked back tiredly. These sorts of events always seemed to take the wind out of Senri’s sails for some reason or another, and the thought that Banri might’ve caused that served to tie his tongue even further. He didn’t dare to look at Laura; he was sure that the woman was glaring daggers at him, cursing him for the trouble he had caused her daughter.
You have to calm down, he told himself. From the moment you let her have it, you decided that you wouldn’t be afraid anymore. How disappointing would it be if you went back on that now? Father must be especially impatient…so get it over with. You know you have to. You know you want to!
With that uncertain but willful resolve, Banri bit his lip, looked Karin in the eye once more, and threw his pride to the wind.