Monday was a Blue Bandage day. Momma doesn’t like it very much when I wake up in a bad mood. Her face was cold and scrunched up in pain when she helped me pick out my clothes that morning. The worst part is that she never looks me in the eyes when it’s a Blue Bandage day. Gramma and Grampa say that I get my glowing green eyes from Momma, but sometimes she doesn’t even want me to look at hers.
I stamped my feet angrily, “I don’t want to go today!”
“Nathan, please don’t fight with me this morning,” Momma pleaded, gripping my hands tightly in her fingers. “You’re going to have a fun day with all the other kids, I promise—”
“It wasn’t fun last time,” I grunted, spinning away from her.
“Do you remember Elijah?” Momma asked sweetly. Her voice was like honey. I nodded. “He’s going to be in your class today, and he really wants to sit with you.”
“How do you know?”
“I talked to his mom yesterday, and she told me that Elijah really likes you. He thinks you’re quite the clown!” Suddenly, Momma threw her arms around me and started poking all over my body with her speedy fingers. I squealed and tried to crawl away, but she grabbed my legs and pulled me back toward her. I laughed and screamed for what I thought was hours, but Momma insisted it was only a few seconds.
“Daddy, help me!” I yelled, trying to escape Momma’s dancing fingers.
She stopped right away, “Sh-Sh,” she put her finger, Mr. Pointy, against her lips. “We don’t want to wake Dad up right now. He had a busy day at work yesterday and needs to sleep. Let’s get you ready, Natey.”
“Okie-Dokie,” I bunny-hopped up from the ground and put on new clothes as fast as I could. I always have to be careful not to pull too hard on my shirt or pants so that I don’t hurt myself—Momma taught me that. Then, I was like a frog and sprung up onto a kitchen chair for breakfast time. Momma and I always eat Lucky Charms together in the morning. “This one’s for you!” I smiled and handed her a green clover marshmallow. “Now you get good luck today!”
She took it warmly and let me see her eyes for the first time all morning. “And this one is for you,” She smiled back with a pink heart marshmallow between Mr. Pointy and her thumb. “Now you will have my love with you all day.”
I climbed down from the skyscraper-sized chair and raced into the bathroom to brush my teeth. I squeezed the bubble gum paste onto my red toothbrush and started scrubbing in my mouth. Momma says that if I want to keep my teeth as white as hers, I need to hum the ABCs four times—one time for every corner.
After I finished, Momma came in and sat me down on the toilet and started digging around in our cabinet. It was like when Gramma and Grampa’s dog, Roofus, is trying to find his bone. “What’s today’s color going to be, Natey?”
“Hmmm,” I leaned back and kicked my legs in the air, shooing away any evil dust that landed on my feet. “Blue.”
Momma pulled out a box of multicolored bandages and rummaged through it. “Why is it a Blue Bandage day today?” she asked, finally pulling a handful of them out.
“I was sad when I woke up.”
“Is it because you don’t want to go to school?”
“Kinda, but also because I like it when you’re happy, and this morning you didn’t seem very happy. So, I want to have Blue with me today.”
“Oh, sweetheart, I’m just fine, I promise.” She gave me a little smile and pat my head with her empty hand. “I was just up late working and didn’t go to bed until it was after my bedtime.”
I pinched my eyes shut and held my breath, knowing that it was going to sting when Momma put on new bandages. “Blue makes me feel better when I’m feeling sad or upset; he protects me from when God wants the water to come out of my eyes.”
Momma started to unwrap the bandages and said, “Sometimes, God wants us to cry because it makes us feel better. It’s just like when it’s raining outside, and we feel sad because we can’t go out to play. Then after it’s gone, there’s a huge rainbow telling us that’s it’s all better now.”
When she finished putting Blue on me, I shot off of the toilet seat like a big cannonball and looked in the mirror for the first time all morning. Momma tells me that I should never look at myself until I get my new bandages on, that way all my feelings can be soaked up into the cotton pad and I won’t have to worry about them!
One piece of Blue was living under my left eye. I pressed against him and felt a sting against my cheek. It seemed like there was a heartbeat coming from behind it. That’s how I knew Blue was alive. He had feelings just like me. I’m the only one who can feel his heartbeat, though, so most people don’t believe me when I say that Blue has feelings, too!
“Okay, Momma, I’m ready for school!” I crouched down on my hands and knees, making myself into a mouse, and scurried toward the front door. I was so fast, it was like I was shocked by a lightning bolt. I raced across the wooden floor, almost running into our couch and knocking over Momma’s favorite vase. She didn’t yell at me, but I knew she was mad.
We tied my shoes, creating two floppy bunny ears on each foot, and hurried to the car. Momma won’t let me ride in the front with her yet, but I finally got big enough so that I don’t have to sit in my booster seat anymore! I rolled down the window once we left the driveway and stuck my head out to taste the yummy air and yelled goodbye to my house. The sun was peeking up over the gigantic forest in our backyard. As we drove away, I reached my hand out to try and touch it; I stretched my fingers as far as I possibly could, feeling the heat hug my arm.
When we pulled into the school parking lot, the happy tingles in my legs were gone, and I felt God turn the water on in my eyes again. I sniffled twice, as hard as I could, to keep my nose from running. I gave Momma the biggest hug in the world. “I don’t wanna go.”
“Nate, look at me,” she narrowed her eyes and stared at me. I felt like she was looking into my brain. “I will be here to pick you up at the end of the day. You’re going to have fun, I’m sure of it. And remember, you have that pink heart marshmallow in case you need to remember that I love you.” She touched my pocket with the piece of cereal inside; I forgot it was there. Momma always does a good job of reminding me that she loves me. She says that ever since I was born, I was like her guardian angel. I get to protect her from all the bad in the world.
“Okay. But if it’s not fun then I’m not going back tomorrow,” I argued.
“Deal.” Momma showed me her pinky finger, and I showed her mine, then they gave each other a huge hug—that meant we promised.
Momma handed me my backpack, and I raced out of the car like a cheetah. I didn’t pay attention to any of the other kids walking to school; I was too fast for them. I was basically the first kid to sit in my seat when I got into the classroom, and that made Miss T really happy. I set my backpack beside my chair and started looking to see what Momma packed for me. I found a notebook and some crayons waiting for me to play with. As soon as I dumped all the colors out on my table, causing the green and purple ones to roll off and hit the floor, Miss T walked up to me.
“Good morning, Nathan,” she smiled. Her curly red hair was like spaghetti. She tucked part of it behind her ear.
“Hello, ma’am,” I said, pretending that I was Dad. He always grabbed people’s hands when he saw them, so I stuck my hand out in front of me to try and be more like him. I’m always less of a scaredy-cat when I pretend to be like Dad.
Her eyes looked like the clearest blue sky ever. She held my hand and shook it gently up and down in hers. It was like touching a cloud. “You can just call me Miss T,” she giggled.
“Okay! You can just call me Nate.”
“I know who you are, silly,” she said, letting go of me. “By the way, Nate, why do you have those bandages on you?”
“Oh! That’s because Momma says they help soak up any of the pain or feelings in my body.”
“Is that so? What feelings are they soaking up now?” Miss T asked, kneeling closer to me. I started getting a weird tingle in my belly.
“Well, this is Blue. He soaks up my feelings when I’m sad,” I told her, pressing against the part of Blue that was on my arm. I pushed on him until I felt a little sting and his heartbeat to make sure he was still alive.
“Blue looks like he’s doing a very good job,” Miss T smiled, showing her big white teeth. “On Friday, you were wearing purple bandages, right?”
“Yeah, Purple helps soak up the feelings of being scared. I like to be with her during thunderstorms and bad movies.”
“Or your first day of Kindergarten?” She asked. I didn’t answer. “Well, I am happy that you’re here today, Nate! Which color is happy?”
I reached down for a yellow crayon and shoved it in her face. “Yellow, duh!” I laughed.
I was scared that I would cry in front of everyone again without Momma here with me, but Blue kept all the sad feelings from coming out. Eventually, Elijah showed up and started coloring with me. We taped four pieces of paper together and made the hugest picture I’ve ever seen; Miss T was so proud of us that she hung it up on her wall. During Reading Hour, Elijah interrupted the book me and him were reading to ask why I was wearing bandages. I told him all about Blue and Orange and Purple and Red, and he laughed.
“I only wear bandages when I fall and hurt myself!” he said, pressing against my knee where another piece of Blue was living. I felt the heartbeat again. It hurt.
“Well, these are special bandages that protect me from bad feelings and give me better ones!” I tried telling him, but he just laughed more and more.
“You look crazy, Nate,” he snorted, and his face turned into a tomato. “It’s almost like you’re a clown!”
“I’m not a clown!” I shouted. Other kids stopped reading and looked right at me. Their eyes felt like an angry swarm of bees trying to attack me. I wished that I had Purple on. I ran out of the room and found a corner in the hallway to hide in. I slid my arms and legs into my big shirt and covered up my face like a turtle. Now no one could make fun of me.
I heard the clicks of Miss T’s shoes walking up to me, “What’s wrong, Nate?”
“Elijah said that I looked like a clown, and then everyone started looking at me. Now everyone thinks that I’m a clown, and I’m not!” I cried into my shirt. Not even Blue could soak up this many feelings.
“Oh, Nate, of course, you’re not a clown. You’re a super-hero! You have all those bandages that can control how you feel! That’s like a superpower,” Miss T exclaimed.
I poked my face out from my wet shirt, “Really?”
“Of course!” She said with a smile like Momma’s. “You’re super strong! Now, let’s go save the day inside the classroom, okay?”
I stuck my arms and legs out from my shell and took Miss T’s hand. I have always wanted to be super strong, just like Dad. He’s always teaching me how to get stronger, so now I’ll get to tell him that I’m a super-hero! After I went back into the room, Elijah had moved to sit with some other kids. The rest of the school day went by really quick, and once the bell told us to go home, I saw Dad waiting for me at the door.
I zoomed across the floor and hugged his leg as tight as I could. “Daddy! You made it!”
Miss T walked over and started having a grown-up talk with Dad. I watched them shake hands and whisper things to each other so I couldn’t hear them. Dad is super tall; he has to duck when he walks through the door sometimes. He has brown hair, like me, and some lines on his forehead that he tells me are from working so hard. He even has some hair that pokes out from his chin sometimes. It tickles me whenever we wrestle.
“All right, Nate, Mom’s waiting for us at home,” he said with a voice as deep as Santa Claus.
“Okie-Dokie! Goodbye, Miss T, see you tomorrow!” I shouted, looking over my shoulder to wave at her. She didn’t smile at me as I walked away, though. She looked like a statue—I didn’t see her move an inch.
“How was school today, Nate?” Dad asked from miles above me.
“It was fun sometimes, but other times it was scary.”
“And why’s that?”
“One kid, Elijah, said I looked like a clown, and then everyone was staring at me,” I felt a tear in my eye just thinking about it. Thank goodness Blue was there to help me.
“Bullies are mean, aren’t they? Don’t worry, bud, we’ll go home and forget all about him.” Dad doesn’t really look at me when we talk. His legs are so long that I have to run to keep up with him, too. I wish he would still let me hold his hand, but I got into trouble the last time I did. Sometimes Dad has bad days at work and he’s not in a good mood. At least, that’s what Momma tells me. I think he likes to play with me to cheer himself up.
When we got home, Momma was in the kitchen making us a snack to eat together. Dad didn’t want anything to eat, so he went to bed. Momma and I talked about school, Miss T, Elijah, and the humongous picture I colored. Our snack was celery and peanut butter and ibuprofen. After snack time, Dad woke up and played with me for a while. I got really tired after that, though, so Momma helped wash me and take off Blue. We said our goodbyes as he was flushed down the toilet. No more mirrors for tonight.
As soon as the bandages came off, I became a kangaroo and hopped toward my bed. Momma tucked the blankets in on each side of me so that I could feel her big hugs all night long. Then, she kissed me on my forehead and on each of my cheeks. She told me that she loved me, and I told her that I loved her and Daddy, too. She left the nightlight on because I don’t have Purple to protect me from the dark tonight. I slowly closed my eyes, excited for another dream, as she shut the door.
Tuesday was a Green Bandage day. I didn’t feel very good in the morning, so Momma didn’t make me go to kindergarten. We put on Green to soak up my icky tummy and to help me feel better. Momma put another piece of Green under my right eye to heal me even faster. Because I was sick, I stayed in bed all day and didn’t get to have a snack or play with Dad. Sometimes, Momma would walk in and touch my head with her hand. Then, she would pretend that there was a fire on it and would bring me water to put it out. She helped me take my bandages off before I went back to sleep that night.
Wednesday was a Yellow Bandage day! Green took away all my icky feelings, so I felt super-duper happy! Momma always loves it when it’s a Yellow Bandage day. Yellow makes me feel super happy whenever I see her in the mirror! She protects my happiness and helps other people, like Momma, feel happy, too! I flew into the school like a bird, and even Miss T was happy to see Yellow on me. Some of the kids had funny looks on their faces when I flapped my wings toward my seat. I learned a lot with Miss T and the other kids, and when Momma picked me up, I got to show her how high I could count! For snack time, I got to have graham crackers, ibuprofen, and milk. Dad didn’t come home from work until really late, so I didn’t get to play with him again. Momma tucked me in, and I fell right to sleep.
Thursday was a Red Bandage day. Dad never came in to kiss me goodnight after he got home, so I wanted to wear Red so that he knew that I was mad at him. Momma asked if she could make me feel better, but I told her no. I went to school and didn’t smile one time at anybody. Miss T noticed that Red was with me today and tried to make me laugh, but I didn’t want to. Dad didn’t come to pick me up from school, either. Momma and I ate a snack of chips and ibuprofen. Right when Momma was tucking me into bed, the door opened and Dad walked in. Momma looked at him and then hurried away. She never stays in the room when Dad and I play. She doesn’t like to play with him. Me and him talked about super-heroes and super-villains. Then, I got to pretend like I was a monster burning down the city, and he was the hero trying to stop me! Super-Dad saved the city! I fell asleep right away.
Friday was another Yellow Bandage day! Momma put a bunch of them on me because of how happy I was. Miss T was excited to see Yellow again, too. She said that it’s her favorite color in the whole world! It was the best day ever. We got to paint, read a bunch of books, sing different songs, and learn fun games using our numbers! Dad picked me up from class this time, but he still didn’t let me hold his hand. I told him all about school, and he was glad that I wasn’t letting the bullies bother me anymore. He told me funny stories all the way home. I guess he had a good day at work, too! Momma made a snack for all three of us to share: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! After we had our snacks, we watched movies all night until I fell asleep on Dad’s lap. His fingers were petting my hair like I was his favorite puppy.
I wore Orange on Saturday and Purple on Sunday. Then I wore Yellow and Blue and Yellow and Orange and Green and Purple and Red. I loved having different colors on so that I got to spend time with each of my friends. The kids at school didn’t like talking to me or playing with me very much, so I liked to make up stories and games with Yellow or Blue or Purple, instead.
Sometimes on Mondays, I feel really sad or mad, but this time I was feeling really goofy. Momma and I love being silly together, so she said that after kindergarten we would get to go play in the park. I knew she was serious because our pinkies hugged. Sitting in my seat and learning stuff was really boring, so I just made up stories in my head until I could go outside to play.
I was sitting under a basketball hoop during recess when a boy from a different class came over to talk to me. “Hi, my name’s Will. What’s yours?” He asked, playing soccer with a pebble on the ground.
“I’m Nate, and this is Orange,” I told him, pointing to the bandage across my nose.
“My favorite color is orange!” Will smiled, showing me a giant hole where his two front teeth should be. “I have a bandage on my ankle from when I fell down, too. Look!” He stretched his leg up into the sky and peeled the bandage back. There was a fiery red patch of skin underneath it.
“Does it hurt?” I asked, reaching out to touch it.
“Only sometimes. Does yours?” He asked, quickly ripping one of my bandages off.
“Ow!” I screamed, grabbing the piece of Orange he stole from me. It felt like my whole body was on fire. Tears rolled down my cheeks like giant waterfalls. I wished that Blue was here right now. I ran over to Miss T for help. “Miss T,” I cried, “That boy ripped Orange off of me!” I pointed at Will, who was now lying under the basketball hoop, kicking his feet in the air and pretending like nothing had happened.
“Don’t cry, Nate, it’s going to be okay. I’ll have someone go talk to him, all right?” Miss T said, kneeling down next to me. She put her hands on my arms; they were as cold as ice. “Where did he take Orange off of you from?”
“My arm!” I tried to stop the tears from hitting the ground, but God wouldn’t turn the water off.
“Here, let me see.” Her voice reminded me of Momma’s when she takes care of me when I’m sick. It was soft; like a marshmallow. “Nate, I don’t see any cuts on you. Only this bruise.” She turned my arm over to show me a dark black spot next to my elbow.
I sniffled, “No, I don’t have any cuts or scratches. Momma puts bandages on me every morning to soak up my feelings, remember?”
Miss T’s eyes looked back and forth into mine for a while before telling me that I could go back to playing again. I put Orange over the black spot on my arm and pressed down against him. I felt a quick sting, and his heartbeat came back. I was worried he died!
When I went back into the classroom after recess, there were only four kids inside. I didn’t like being alone with other kids anymore, and I didn’t see Miss T at her desk, so I started to sneak back out of the room. Before I could hide, the four kids all walked up to me and started making fun of me for being friends with Orange. They all started shouting at me:
“You’re so annoying!”
“Stop being such a whiny baby all the time!”
“Who has bandages for friends?”
“My brother says you’re a freak.”
“Stop being a loser!”
I backed away from them, but they kept getting closer. I felt like they were lions and were going to pounce on me. Then, my brain reminded me of what Dad taught me. He said that sometimes bullies will gang up on you and make you feel bad, so you have to show them that you’re stronger than them. He showed me how to do it all the time! I tucked my fingers into my palms and made two giants fists. Before they even noticed, I ran at them as fast as a lightning bolt, hitting them over and over and over until they got scared and started running away. I heard them call after Miss T, so I hid in the bathroom where no one could find me.
I sat in the darkness for what felt like days before Miss T came in and sat down next to me. “What’s going on, Nate?” She asked, but her voice wasn’t like sugar this time. She sounded scared.
“Those boys were calling me names and saying that I was stupid,” I cried, feeling snot run onto my lip. “I pretended to be like Daddy again to protect myself from the bullies.” Orange was not helping me anymore. I started taking him off of me.
“What does your dad teach you, Nate?”
“He wants me to grow up to be big and strong like him so that I don’t get hurt.”
“How does he teach you that?”
I finished taking the last piece of Orange off of me and threw him onto the ground. “Sometimes we wrestle, and other times we get to be super-heroes who stop the bad guys. We have a lot of fun.” I squeezed my eyes shut as hard as I could and pretended that Dad was sitting next to me. “I wish he was here right now.”
“Nate, does your dad ever hurt you?” Miss T asked. I looked up at her and saw that the sky in her eyes looked like a bunch of clouds covered up all the blue.
“Dad would never hurt me! We’re just pretending.” I accidentally looked in the mirror across the room, forgetting that I didn’t have my bandages on. I noticed a bunch of dark spots all over my body, just like the area that showed up when Will ripped Orange off earlier. I pressed against one of the spots under my eye, feeling a pinch and a heartbeat. Why was there a heartbeat there if Orange wasn’t on me anymore? I started to cry again.
“Nate, would it make you feel better if your mom was here?”
I sniffled twice, as hard as I could, and then forced out an answer, “Yes.”
“Okay, sweetheart,” Miss T smiled, rubbing my cheek like Momma does when I’m upset. “I’ll have her come over. You can stay in the bathroom until she gets here, okay?”
“Okay,” I said, stuffing my arms and legs back into my shirt to be a turtle again. She closed the door once more, leaving me alone in the room. I just stared at myself in the mirror, even though it was against the rules. Where did these spots come from? Some of them were dark purple. Other places on my body even had blood coming out! It felt like I was being shot whenever I tried to touch the marks on my skin. I closed my eyes and hid my face in my shell again, waiting for Momma to pick me up. I felt the dreams start playing in my head.
I woke up to the sound of Momma and Miss T talking outside the bathroom door.
“How long has this been going on?” Miss T sounded scared again.
“Over ten years.” When I heard Momma’s voice, I nearly burst through the door, but I calmed down and waited for her to get done having a grown-up talk.
“Have you been a target recently?” Miss T asked, but I didn’t understand what she was talking about.
“Not in the last four years.” Momma was crying.
“He moved on?”
“Yes. I realized that Nate would keep me safe.”
“Why didn’t you tell someone?”
“Because for the first time in my life I felt like I was safe,” Momma started to choke on her tears. Then, her voice turned really scary; I haven’t ever heard her get so angry. “For the first time in my life, I haven’t been living in fear.”
Momma’s screaming started to hurt my ears. “They would take him away from me. I need him.”
“All right.” Miss T was quiet for a long time. She sounded upset. “Please know that the police are on their way. Nate is waiting for you in the bathroom.”
Suddenly, I heard the creak of the bathroom door opening. Momma’s red face smiled down at me. Miss T closed the door behind her, turning the rest of the world off. I listened as the click-clack of her shoes got quieter and quieter. Momma sat down, and I found a spot on her lap to lay my head down on. I closed my eyes so that I could only hear Momma’s voice; just like when I’m trying to go to bed.
“My body hurts, Momma.”
“I know, baby. I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you for protecting me, Momma.”
“You are the one who protects me, Natey.”
“Do we get to go to the park after Kindergarten?”
“But our pinkies hugged!” I wanted to cry.
“We’ll go tomorrow.” She blew out a big breath. “Do you want a blue bandage to soak up the sad feelings?”
“No, I don’t need them anymore. I’m big and strong. Just like Daddy.”
“No. You’re stronger than him.”
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