Joel Guay



Things I Never Told Nobody

My name is Marc.  I’m in grade five and I’m ten.  My teacher is Mr. Farron.  He’s alright.  At least he doesn’t make us do ‘group work’ too much.  I hate that.  But with Mr. Farron, we all sit in rows facing him and he teaches.  It’s boring but at least I don’t have to try and find a partner.  And when I have to do a book report in front of the class, that’s when I skip school.

Some subjects are okay.  I’m really good in math.  I can add and do problems faster than anybody in the class.  But most of the time, I don’t because some of the kids look at me like I’m showing off.  I like history too, especially the explorers. I don’t talk very loud in class and I get very sweaty when I have to answer questions.  My face turns red and my ears get really hot.  I can’t get the words out right because I can feel everybody looking at me and I just want to become invisible.  And when I read out loud, the words don’t make sense.  It’s like somebody else is reading and I’m watching from the cloakroom.

Sometimes I get really excited when Mr. Farron talks about Breboeuf and how the Indians captured him and tortured him.  I know they were wrong to torture him like that but maybe they were just as scared as Breboeuf was.  When I told Mr. F. that, he got real mad and said that Breboeuf was a priest and he was doing the will of God.  He asked me if I understood and I said yes.  Butch looked at me like I was from another planet.  Maybe I am.

At recess on Tuesday, Butch said he was going to beat me up after school because Paul (that’s my older brother) called him a fat mofo.  I was really worried all afternoon and when the bell rang, I hid in the bathroom until five o’clock and then I ran home.


My worst subject is Gym.  I can’t do anything right.  I’m always the last one to get picked when we have teams.  When we lose, which is most of the time, they look at me like it was my fault.  But I don’t look back because I feel too scummy. Oh God!  Tomorrow is Play Day.  I hate that more than anything.  I can’t throw a ball or run or jump.  When I run my knees almost knock together and everybody calls me spider-legs.  Even girls run faster than I do.  I’ll just stay away and when I go to school the next day, I’ll take one of my old notes out of Mr. Farron’s desk and give it back to him. I do that a lot sometimes.  I leave home and go to my favourite spot with a book.  I come back when school is out and nobody notices.  Nobody cares either.


My God, Jennifer is beautiful!  I like her hair best but she has beautiful eyes too.  She walks like an angel.  When I see her smile, my knees kind of wobble and my heart kind of thrashes about in my chest.  I think it hurts.

She just smiled at her best friend Sara a minute ago.  I almost passed out just looking at her.  She saw me looking at her once and she turned to look my way.  I think I did pass out that time.

Of course, at school, I don’t look or talk to her  but sometimes I stand beside her when we’re in line for recess.  That’s when I don’t move until I have to.  I stand very, very still, holding my breath. And my heart is pounding in my ears and on my face.  And then, I walk around for the rest of the day with the smell of her making me dizzy.


Things are not too good at home these days.  My dad’s been gone since Christmas.  Mom says he’s not coming back this time and she doesn’t want the bastard anyway.  But she cries a lot.  She says it’s because we don’t have any money.  But I don’t know.  We never had much money before and then she did more yelling than crying.

Mom looks at me kind of funny sometimes.  Like I did something wrong.  I kind of look away and down because I think she knows the things I’m thinking and the pictures I’ve been looking at.  You know, things about ladies and brassieres.  Sometimes she looks at me like that when I’m playing with Tina.  That’s when I feel ugly in my belly.

Mostly she doesn’t like me to be in the house. “Why don’t you go outside?” she says, “Boys have no business in the house.  They should be doing things outside,” she says, without looking at me. And so, I put my coat on and I go stand out on the porch in the rain.  I’m shivering because my pants are not very thick.  And I look at the door.  I can hear my mom and Tina in the kitchen.  They are baking cookies and Tina is squealing and getting really excited.

After a while, I can smell the cookies and so, I know they are just about done.  I’m wondering how long will be long enough for me to be out here before I can go back in. How long before I can go back in without her looking at me like that.


At my grandpa’s house, I like to pet the big black cat.  Nobody else does.  My grandma acts like he’s not even there.  And my grandpa mostly just kicks him out of the way. Sometimes, I sit on the porch with the big black cat when my grandpa is hitting my grandmother.  She is screaming and I can hear the sound of his fist on her face.  But I’m outside on the porch with the big black cat and the sound is a little muffled.  I’m outside on the porch, petting the big black cat.

Yesterday though, all that changed.  The big black cat lunged at my grandpa’s bird.  He got really mad and grabbed the big black cat off the floor and wrung its neck.  And then, he carried him out the back door and threw him in the garbage can.  And then he came back in and slammed the door.  His arms were all scratched up and bleeding and he said: “That fucking cat.”

And so, without making any noise, I go out the front door and walk around to the back of the house.  To the garbage can.  He is lying in there on his back, twisting and turning with his eyes bulging out of his head and looking up at me, dying.  He keeps opening and closing his mouth, but the sounds don’t come out.  And his eyes are full of pain.

And so, I pick up a rock and I try to smash it on his head.  But he is still moving.  So, I pick up a bigger rock and I do it again, only harder this time.  But he is still moving.  Again and again, I hit him.  It takes a long time before he is still.  And then, the flies start buzzing around his head, landing in his open eye sockets.  And so, I collect some dandelions from around the yard and I place them over his face and then, I close the lid real tight. And then my mom calls me in to go to bed. I never told this to nobody before.


I’m hiding in the bathroom today.  It’s cold outside and I can’t go out for recess because I don’t have a winter coat.  Mom says I have to wait for the Family Allowance cheque to come in because we have no money for a coat.  I don’t mind the cold that much but if I go outside at recess with my summer jacket on, Butch and his friends will make fun of me and call me poor.  And Jennifer might be there. So, I’ll stay here in the bathroom until the bell rings and then I’ll leave and go back to class as if I did go outside.  It’s really kind of peaceful in here.  It feels almost like my secret place, except that I’m scared the principal will walk in.  There are forty seven cracks on this wall.


Mike is always my partner in class.  He doesn’t talk too clear and his head is a little big.  Mike is a cripple and when I work with him, some of the other kids snicker.  Two freaks in a side-show.  Butch makes farting sounds with his armpit when he walks by us and everybody cracks up.  Some of them whip erasers at us.  I’d rather work alone.

Mr. Farron never smiles.  Most of the time he looks like he’s really mad.  Yesterday, he walked by my desk and got really upset because my hands were dirty.  He said I was disgusting and he sent me to wash them.  I could feel everybody’s eyes on my back when I left the room.  When I came back, it was worse because they were looking at my face.

I read 88 books so far this year.  And some of them had no pictures in them.  I told Tina this and she gasped in that way of hers.  I had to laugh.  She ran and told mom and she looked at me for the longest time without saying anything.  I didn’t look up but I knew she was looking at me.  I feel ugly when she looks at me.

She says: “You’re ugly.  You’re stupid.  You’re dirty.  You smell.  You make me sick.  You make me want to vomit.”  She doesn’t really say these things, but I hear them. She kind of says these things with her face.


Once, on a Track and Field day, I skipped school and I went to see Back To The Future. I sat down with my popcorn and pop.  There was a man who came to sit beside me and he put his hand on my knee.  He started to rub it and he said that if I didn’t let him, he would tell the usher that I wanted him to do it.  And then, he touched my you-know-what.  I was so scared that I jumped up and I spilled everything all over the place and I ran out of there. I never told this to nobody before.

Once, when I was an altar boy at mass, I stole $2 from the collection plate.  I never told nobody about that either.


I like being an altar boy.  I like the smell of the incense and the mass is nice in a weird way.  I don’t feel shy when I’m up there.  I feel almost like people can’t see me, like I’m invisible. And it gives me time to think about Jennifer. Today in class, Jennifer turned around and whispered something to me.  I just about passed out.  I was so nervous I couldn’t understand the words she was saying.  I could see her lips move and I could hear the words, but I couldn’t understand them.  I got all red in the face and I didn’t know what to do.  I just kept looking at her.  She handed me a note with a big red heart on it.  My hand was shaking so much that I dropped it on the floor. And then I picked it up and I was going to open it but across the front it said, “Pass to Butch”.  And so, I did. I think I want to vomit.


I’m in grade six now.  I’m eleven.  My mom’s new boyfriend said that I should go to Late Immersion.  He says it would be a great experience for me to learn to speak French.  I don’t even like to talk English. But he says his daughter went and it was great.  My mom agreed.  I didn’t want to go but they both looked so excited about it.  So I smiled and said nothing.  And so, here I am. I don’t know anybody here.  There are so many kids and they all seem to know each other.  Except me.  Everybody talks a lot and loud and everybody is all excited.  Except me.

I’ve been here for three weeks now.  My teacher is Mr. McInerney.  He says that if we promise to do our best, he guarantees that we will be speaking French by the end of the year.  He says that he likes people to do their own thing as long as they don’t interfere with others.  Nobody has to do work in groups if they don’t want to.  And to get a good mark in Phys Ed, you just have to do your best.  Sounds weird to me.

We have a suggestion box.  And every Friday morning, he reads the notes that the other kids have put in the box and he talks about the suggestions and he asks us for ideas.  He says that all the best ideas in a school come from kids. I don’t know what to think about that.

Mr. Mac says nobody has to do anything they don’t want to do.  If you don’t want to present in front of the class, you can get a tape from him and tape it at home and then he’ll listen to it at his home.  He says it’s not fair to expect everybody to do things the same way.  He says some people are shy and we shouldn’t expect them to go to the front of the room to present.  Tell me about it.

One day, Mr. Mac asked me to pass out some sheets to the class.  Everybody was busy working, so it wasn’t so bad being up in the room.  I did it again the other day.  The room doesn’t even look the same with me standing up and everybody else sitting down. Mr. Mac has this look on his face.  When he talks to us he looks like he’s almost ready to crack a joke all the time.  Sometimes he teases people in the room and when they bug him back, like about his bald spot, he acts like he’s really mad and really upset.  But everybody knows that he’s just joking and they all crack up.

One day, Barbara started crying in the middle of our math class.  She just put her head on her desk and started bawling real hard.  Mr. Mac was standing at the board with his back to us.  He turned around and just stood there looking at her.  And she just kept crying real loud.  And Mr. Mac didn’t move; he just stood there, real calm-like, with his hands by his side and he watched her. After a while, he put a box of Kleenex on her desk and then, he brought a chair around and sat down, kind of in front of her in the aisle, with his hands in his lap.  And he still didn’t say anything.  He just let her cry for a long time. And then, he asked her best friend Lise to come sit beside her.  And she did.  And we all sat quietly and let her cry some more, while Lise had her arm around her and whispered soft things to her.

And then, Barbara started to babble that her dog had been run over by a car that morning.  And she cried some more, blowing her nose real loud about fifty times and there was a huge pile of snotty Kleenex on her desk.  Nobody knew what to do and Mr. Mac just sat there with a quiet smile on his face.

And then, he talked a little about how everybody has hurts.  And he thanked Barbara for telling us about hers.  He said that she had helped all of us by crying in front of us. He said that her crying was a gift for us. And then, he asked Barbara to tell us a little about her dog.  And she talked about when he was a pup and how she got him for her birthday one year.  She said how he liked to run around the yard and dig up her mom’s flowers and how she would sometimes bathe him in the tub.  She told us about the time he peed in her bed and everybody laughed.  Barbara too.

And then, Mr. Mac asked us to take out a paper and some pencils and to draw a picture of one of our own hurts.  And so we did.  I drew a picture of the big black cat in the garbage can, looking up at me, with the flies buzzing around his face. And then Mr. Mac invited people to show their picture to the whole class if they felt like it.  I got real scared because I thought he had tricked us into telling our hurts.  But he didn’t.  He said you don’t have to if you don’t want to.  And I started breathing again.

And so, I folded my picture very slowly and I slid it into my desk.
We never did finish math that day.  Mr. Mac said there are some things more important than math.  And at recess, Barbara was running around the school yard laughing and screaming her head off.  She looked real happy.

Mr. Mac says something nice to me just about every day.  Yesterday when I was leaving to go home, he smiled at me.  I don’t remember anybody ever smiling at me before.  He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it.  I don’t remember anybody ever touching me before either. I don’t know why but I ran into the bathroom and I cried for a long, long time.  I couldn’t stop.  I don’t know why.  When I came out, my bus was gone and I had to walk home.

I couldn’t sleep for a long time last night.  I was all shivery and kind of twitchy in my belly.  I felt all wobbly inside.  Every now and then, I would start crying for no reason.  I was all sweaty and exhausted.  I didn’t know crying would feel this good.  After a little while, it felt so good that I felt like I was going to sink right into my mattress.  And then, I put my thumb in my mouth and sucked it for a long, long time.  And then, I fell asleep.


4 thoughts on “Joel Guay

  1. I am so moved by Joel’s prose poems (and so glad for that fine teacher figure who saved so many souls from terminal sadness in that classroom). Should be mandatory reading for all teachers, and parents, for that matter! Wish that could be so. Thank you.

    • Joel says:

      Hello, Caroline…thank you for your kind words. It feels so wonderful to get feed-back on my writing, as I’m sure it must be for you. Blessings. Joel

  2. Anita Vautour says:

    For the most part, you’ve described me in my early school years. I never felt that I ‘measured up’ because I was embarrassed at the fact that our family was poor. I wore hand-me-downs and always felt that I was being gawked at by the other kids and yes, even some of the teachers. I didn’t do well in sports and always found a way to avoid them. When I returned to school as a young adult, I was blessed with a teacher much like the one in your story and to this day, I maintain that he helped shape my life. I will be eternally grateful for his kindness and his insight. Should your story reach just one teacher, think of all the children whose lives will be touched by it. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Phil Mader says:

    Feels very real. I like that… revealing stomach punches to the gut a way that’s wrenching.

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