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Tikkun Olam

This is one of my many assignments from my 7th grade English class. This is the one I’m probably the most proud of, and the one I really would like to show off. It isn’t a poem this time, it’s a short story, and I worked really hard on it. So sit back, relax, and enjoy please!

Tikkun Olam

I looked at my pink, white, purple, black, and blue notebook, (my genderfluid PRIDE flag notebook) filled with ideas and the draft for the book I was writing. The only problem was, I couldn’t figure out the next part that I should write, and I hadn’t for a while.

I fiddled with my Star of David necklace impatiently, waiting for the end of the day. I suddenly felt a sharp poke on my shoulder.

“Ace! Pay attention!” Penny hissed through her teeth.

I shot up in my seat, pulling my earbuds from my ears, “Yes, Mrs. Campbell?” I asked.

“Could you repeat what I just mentioned?” she pursed her lips and stared at me coldly.

My eyes flicked to the board, and I saw criteria for a new project. I groaned quietly and answered, “You were saying that we’re about to be assigned a new project.”

Mrs. Campbell nodded tersely, “Good. I’m glad to see you were paying attention this time Ace.” then she turned back to the class, “As I was saying, your project has to address a real-life problem that is currently an issue. I want you to research a topic you feel strongly about, and address it in a visual presentation.”

I paid closer attention, and placed an earbud back in my ear. Penny swept her hair behind her shoulder, looking annoyed. I could tell she hated the project. Honestly, if someone ought to know, it was me.

Penelope Grean. I had known her since we were little, and she was my best friend. She was like another sister, and another part of my family.

Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, I heard the small, ding, dong, ding, of the announcements coming on. I jumped to my feet with enthusiasm, and quickly swung my backpack over my shoulder, stacking my chair on the desk.

Penny beamed at me, and I knew what she was thinking. I nodded, agreeing with her.

The speaker crackled off, and I shot out the door, nearly breaking into a run. As I headed down the hallway, I heard hurried footsteps at my heels. I didn’t need to turn around to know it was Penny. As we headed down the hallway, I caught a glimpse of a Hispanic boy with spiky black hair and big, black headphones around his neck.

“RILEY! RILEY!” I shouted, “It’s me Ace! RILEY!”

Taken aback, Riley whirled around and smiled at us, “Hey guys! Whatcha’ up to?”

Penny and I slowed down and Penny replied, “We were going to ask you if we could go do homework in the treehouse.”

“Sounds good.” Riley smiled, “¡Vamanos mis amigos!

Riley took a sharp turn down by the janitors closet. We followed, unfazed, knowing it was a shortcut to get to Riley’s house. Exiting through that door places you instantly on his street so you don’t have to take a circuitous route around the school.

“I love your street Riley. It’s so peaceful.” Penny sighed.

I elbowed Penny and laughed, “Come on, we should probably start brainstorming ideas on this project.”

Penny scampered off, and hurried ahead to climb the rope ladder that dangled precariously from the treehouse.

I followed her to the tree next to the treehouse and climbed up it, clinging and swinging from branch to branch with ease. I had climbed this tree too many times to count.

As we reached the treehouse, Riley asked, “Do you guys have any ideas about real-life issues for the project?”

“To be honest, I don’t.” after a pause, Penny continued, “Hey Ry, can we use some of these newspapers I randomly found over here? They might have current issues for the project.”

I walked in right behind Riley as he replied, “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.”

The three of us plopped on the ground in a lopsided oval. Penny jumped into the pink bean bag chair she’d begged Riley to keep for her. Riley cleared some room for himself so he could sit by his Xbox. I just sat on the floor in my reserved corner of many books. We had a pile of newspapers sprawled out in front of us.

We sat down, looking for ideas, becoming more frustrated all the while. Occasionally we’d hear a dog bark, or the shuffle of newspapers and small movement. Other than that, it was quiet, and the smells of mid-spring filled the air.

A cool breeze passed through the open window, and I came up with the thought that people hated others like me since I was Jewish.

I straightened up, and I thought of hate groups. That was definitely a current problem. I was also passionate about my identities as Jewish and genderfluid.

I sighed, gender could be so rigid. I wasn’t like that. Some people only believe in two genders, but I’m fluid. I tend to fluctuate between female, bigender, and agender, depending on my surroundings and other random influences and stuff.

I nodded to myself and said, “I’m doing hate groups for people who are Jewish and LGBT+.”

“How come you have ideas and I don’t?” Riley complained, throwing two newspapers behind him helplessly.

We all laughed, and continued our work. After some research, I took a break to try and continue my story draft. For some reason, it had gotten a bit harder to think and decide, like a mind block was being built, holding back my writing. I was incredibly stuck, and didn’t know how to continue.

Over the next couple days, I contemplated my identities and how I felt about the world. I figured out what I thought about the world, but not about me. I couldn’t decide on my identities. That was still the big question.

With my project finally ready, I walked into Mrs. Campbell’s room with my head high. I was proud of my work, and excited to show it off. I hoped the rest of the class would like it.

When Mrs. Campbell came in, the room fell into silence. Mrs. Campbell smiled as everyone settled down.

“Alright, everyone. Let’s see who wants to present their project to the class first.” Mrs. Campbell asked us.

I was too excited about my presentation to notice nor listen to anyone else’s until Penny made her way up to present her research project.

Penny spoke loud and clear, making it obvious she cared about her topic. Mrs. Campbell was beaming as Penny finished; Penny had a knack for public speaking. I gave her a little round of applause. No one seemed to notice.

“That was absolutely wonderful, Penny. Now, Ace! It’s your turn to present your work.” Mrs. Campbell gestured to me.

I broke into a cold sweat, “Could someone else go?”

“You’re the only one left, Ace. You can go now, or you can receive a zero.” Mrs. Campbell shrugged.

There’s no way I’m getting a zero after this much work, I thought. As I made my way to the front of the class, I looked to Penny with a wildfire of anxiety burning in my eyes. She gave me a supportive thumbs-up.

With quivering hands, I set my board up on the desk that was pulled out for everyone to use.

“Um, hi.” I stammered, “Today, I’m going to talk to you about my presentation, which is on hate groups.” everyone was staring directly at me, making me feel extremely uncomfortable. I opened my mouth to continue, but my tongue betrayed me and no sound came out.

I closed my eyes and took a shaky breath to relieve myself.

I continued to talk, “Hate groups are groups of people who show and advocate ideas of hatred towards designated groups in society. Today, two targeted groups I will be talking about are the Jewish people and LGBT+ community.”

As I finished that sentence, my confidence level skyrocketed, and everything I was supposed to say came easily. Everyone was genuinely interested in my topic. After I spoke, and when the last word came out of my mouth, no one said a word.

“Ace, that was a wonderful presentation. One of the most passionate ones I’ve ever seen.” Mrs. Campbell complimented me. I beamed with pride, “How did you come across this idea?” she inquired of me.

My face fell, I was at another loss for words, surprisingly similar to how I felt about my story draft. I didn’t know if I was ready to share, but I had to at least try to explain who I was. I couldn’t not answer her question. I decided to explain the easier portion of my identities; my Jewish faith.

“Well you see, I’m a very strong believer in equality for all, and rights for everyone, regardless of religion, sexual orientation, et cetera. I’m also Jewish myself. I thought of this while thinking, and I decided to address it.”

“That’s lovely. But why did you include the LGBT community as well?” Mrs. Campbell probed on. My mouth went dry, I was not ready to explain that. My gender was not something I was open about sharing. Not yet, and probably not for a while.

“I just found that interesting too.” I lied. It was a hardcore lie, but it was the best I could manage, “I think people in that minority need to be recognized too.”

“Interesting.” Mrs. Campbell nodded as she scribbled on her clipboard. “Thank you, Ace, you may take your seat now.”

The rest of the day flew by, but Penny had disappeared. I didn’t mind. But after lunch was the part when things got worse. If only I had known that Cassie Lardon herself, the most popular kid in school, was out for my head.

Cassie is the kind of person that every teacher adores, and she can persuade anyone to do anything and tell her anything.

I was walking down the hall and all of a sudden, she popped out of nowhere with her little minions, Darleen Wastikowsi and Beatrice Lucy.

“Hey, Ace! I heard from a little birdie down the street that you’re Jewish, aren’t you?” Cassie inquired with a sickening sweet voice. I instantly felt weird; being called female when I was agender at the time.

“Hi, Cassie.” I said.

She leaned closer, her shiny lipstick smelling of artificial strawberries, “But I also heard another secret of yours. From another quite reliable birdie, may I add?”

“What do you mean?” I asked dubiously.

As if on cue, Darleen and Beatrice laughed in exact time.

“You know what we mean, Ace. We know you’re genderfluid. And if you don’t figure out who you are in terms of normal, then we’ll tell the whole school about you. Got it?”

Beatrice added, “Please, you’re the Jewish girl. That’s enough weirdness to be labeled as, isn’t it?”

“You’re disgusting. You’ll never be as good as us.” Darleen flipped her hair dramatically.

“Just go back to the little hole you crawled out of. Just remember, you will answer to me. Seem okay?” Cassie asked.

I scurried away without answering, trying to search for Penny or Riley. But before I knew it, the end of the day had come, Penny and Riley were missing, and I was left to fall into a spiraling abyss of confusion.

The next day at school, I went to talk to one of my other friends, but she glared at me and turned away. Confused, I went to write in my notebook. That always helps. But this time, it was confusing and difficult; writing the next part was harder than it had ever been. I gave up trying to write, and I finally found Penny. But she wasn’t nearly as happy as she usually was.

“Penny!” I called out, desperately needing her right now.

She turned, “Oh, hi Ace. Look, I-I can’t talk. Bye.” and then she was gone.

On the verge of tears, I gathered my stuff from my locker in a daze, trying to figure everything out. It hit me directly in the face as I walked into my first class. Cassie had told the school to hate me, and she had told them I was genderfluid. Even Penny was ignoring me, and for that I hated Cassie even more.

The day was miserable. I had tried to talk to Riley, and he was the only one remotely nice. Even then, it was still awkward around him. Finally right after school, I found myself slammed into a locker.

“Forgot to choose, didn’t you Ace?” I heard Cassie’s disgusting voice from behind, and felt two pairs of arms holding me down.

“You turned everyone against me!” I exclaimed, “This is your fault!”

Cassie laughed, “No, it’s yours for not being female. Anyways, you know that little birdie I heard from? She’s quite a reliable source. Want to play guess who?” she observed her long, pale blue fingernails with a smirk.

Darleen and Beatrice threw me forwards, turned me so my back faced the lockers, and back again. They stepped away and I said, “No. I don’t want to play any games. I am who I am, and that’s who I hope I can be.”

The next thing I knew, an angry Cassie was at the tip of my nose, “You’re going to hear anyways, girl. ‘Cause guess what? That little birdie was Penelope Grean. She was the one who betrayed you and told me who you are. A revolting and dirty rat from the sewer.”

The world seemed to stop. I was shocked, but it made terrifying sense. Penny was stubborn, but when people were nice to her, she’d do anything for them, “No! You’re lying! Penny would never do that to me!” I retorted.

“Oh yeah? Let’s ask Penny then.” Cassie hauled me off the lockers. Standing there was a red faced Penny. She seemed far too guilty for my liking.

“Ace, I-I didn’t know. I’m s-so sorry. Cassie, sh-she seemed so nice but-” Penny’s voice caught, and she began to cry.

With a sneer, Cassie announced, “See, even Penny has betrayed you. Who are your friends now?”

I looked down at Penny. I couldn’t not forgive her. This was Cassie’s fault. Not hers. I balled up my fists, “No. I have friends. You’re wrong, Cassie. Penny loves me, and this isn’t her fault. She accepts me for who I am, and that’s what matters.”

“Hey, Makeup Gal!” a boyish voice cried out, “Why don’t you pick on someone with more makeup than this kid, bueno?”

It was Riley.

“Ugh. The stupid one in this friend group. Go away, we’re teaching Ace a lesson. If you don’t, then we’ll put you in the dumpster.” Cassie threatened.

“Oh yeah? Well, we’re even. I’m not standing by this.” Penny announced with a small sniffle.

“Aw, does someone need a tissue?” Darleen mocked. Penny scowled and marched right past her. She hurried into a classroom to get a teacher.

“Lay off my friends.” I demanded, shoving Cassie away, “I’m Ace Colburn, a proud Jew and genderfluid. You can’t define me, and my identity doesn’t fit in your labels and boxes. Neither does anyone else’s. If you think that people’s identities do, then you need a lesson.”

Cassie paled, she was stuck. She didn’t have anything prepared to say, which was a first, but before she could say more, Penny was back with Mrs. Campbell, both quite unhappy.

“Miss Lardon! Go to the office, now. You two, come with. You’re facing consequences too.” Mrs. Campbell ordered. She took them and walked off, without as much as a glance at me.

With them gone, it was a lot quieter. All of a sudden, I found myself hugging Riley.

Estás bien, Ace?” he asked, worry in his eyes.

I nodded, “Yeah, I’m okay, and thank you for doing that.”

Riley replied, “Why wouldn’t I? You’re one of my best friends, and you are too, Penny.”

I turned to see Penny standing awkwardly to the side, “But I told Cassie you’re genderfluid, Ace! She weaponized who you are against you. Now the whole school knows. It’s my fault that this happened!” Penny exclaimed.

“Penny, I forgive you. I know you’d never do this on purpose, and I can tell you’re sorry.” I added on.

“You sure?”

“I’m sure.” I said.

Penny hugged me fiercely, but tenderly, a feeling of true friendship warming my insides, and I knew for Penny the feeling was mutual. I smiled to myself. For the forgiving and forgiven, all was well between us.

Riley joined us, and we didn’t protest. When we came apart Riley said, “That project though, it really did kickstart all of this, didn’t it?” Penny shrugged in response.

But I replied, “Even though it did, people understand this kind of hatred more. And I know some people will take this into account. But this is Tikkun Olam, we’re repairing the world. One step at a time.” we hugged once again.

Later that day, I opened my pink, white, purple, black, and blue genderfluid PRIDE notebook and stared at the blank page again, finally knowing what to write and how to continue my character, Anna, and her story. Content with my life, identity, and decisions, I sat down and began to write the next chapter of my book.