The lawsuit was filed the following Monday. A press conference was held on the steps of the federal courthouse right after we walked out of the Recorders' office.
There were 9 reporters with their microphones and cameras ready. They were snapping pictures and recording video of us walking down the steps.
Tom Chandler, our attorney handling the lawsuit, opened the conference by saying "Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the press. The plaintiffs, Margaret Hilyard and Antoine Garza have just filed suit in federal court under the hate crimes provisions of our constitution."
"As you know, they were attacked in the office of a school counselor by the school counselor himself after his employment was terminated for knowing of the various hate crimes that had been occurring in his school but not doing anything to stop them. His death is unfortunate."
"Hate crimes against protected members of society are simply unconscionable. To have it happen in a school building is outrageous. This abuse must be stopped. The school district hails collaborative efforts with students, educators and parents to provide a safe and learning environment for our future leaders of The United States of America yet many fail to accomplish or to even support through action their written words."
"The purpose of this lawsuit is to bring to light the challenges our youth fight against today, every day. Our message is clear: STOP IT, you are accountable, and you will be held accountable and responsible. Thank you very much. Questions?"
Reporter #1: Sir, I noticed the lawsuit for damages is for only one dollar. Would you please explain?
"That's a very good question. Our lawsuit is not for punitive damages, or even for pain and suffering, rather our law suit is intended to bring home the nature of the problem … AND … to hold those responsible: accountable. Next question, please."
Reporter #2: This question is directed to the young man standing next to you. <I stepped up to the podium. The microphone was adjusted so that I could speak and be heard. I nodded>. Good morning young man. If you would, would you please tell us why the lawsuit is being filed, what happened?
Tom covered the microphone then whispered into my ear "Mr. Higgins' death has nothing to do with this conference. His death is the subject of an ongoing investigation by law enforcement. Just share from your heart and leave the part that is being investigated alone, please." I nodded my head understanding what he was saying.
"My foster mother, who will adopt me in the very near future, was nearly killed in that office because of the stupid actions of a group of kids who were bullying a guy my age, and me. Mr. Higgins' death was unfortunate, but it was down to a matter of him dying or my mother dying … but his dying is not relevant to this lawsuit. What DOES matter is that this whole thing did, in fact, lead to death. The issue IS a life and death matter."
"The lawsuit is to challenge school districts in the US to take notice that bullying, hate crimes against us kids will not be tolerated. Thank you."
Reporter #3: Is it true, Mr. Garza, that you are not a legally recognized US citizen?
Tom took the podium away from me then barked into the microphone "We are not here to question Mr. Garza's personal life."
Reporter #3: In order to file a federal lawsuit, the federal court plaintiffs must be US citizens. There is no record of any birth in any state databases or adoption in the Federal Register for Mr. Garza.
Tom replied "This conference is over. Thank you for your time." Then he quickly whisked us away down the steps to a waiting limousine that carried us away from the courthouse to our home. Arrangements were made to pick up Peggy's car later that afternoon.
Tom looked deeply troubled as we traveled the streets and highways to get home. Finally, when we turned onto our block he said "May I come in to discuss the allegations the press has made regarding Antoine's birth records?"
"I would rather you didn't, not now, Mr. Chandler. Antoine has passed all tests promulgated by CPS policies and procedures in preparation for placement for purposes of adoption. My son has given me no reason whatsoever to doubt that what he says is not true. I will be retaining counsel for purposes of adoption, and the court will assign him a guardian ad litem to protect his interests." Peggy said factually.
I was squirming in my seat, worrying about the documentation had been given to me in Texas.
When I returned from my daily run on the beach, I found Peggy sitting at the kitchen table sipping on a cup of coffee. She smiled warmly then we embraced meaningfully then whispered in my ear "I'm proud of you, did you know that?"
"I'm proud of you too. Thank you for supporting me. I just cannot get over almost losing you. I can't even imagine …" I said while feeling that lump in my throat, that lump that made me feel like I was about to suffocate …
"Go take your shower. I've invited Father Ben to dinner; he'll be here at 7. Hurry up as it is a little after 6 already."
"Okay, love you … and thanks." I said wondering why Father Ben was coming over. Despite our previous invitations, he had never before accepted them. At the same time, I was glad that he was coming.
I went to my room, stripped down naked then after checking to make sure the coast was clear, it was, quickly headed into the bathroom. I sat on the toilet, took a good dump, cleaned up then got in the shower and took a good hot one to relax my muscles which were tight, recovering from the vigorous run. After drying off, I wrapped the towel around me then went to my room, got dressed in baggy shorts commando style, and a long t-shirt that fell to mid-thigh.
"You smell much better now." Peggy giggled then more seriously added "Antoine, I have asked Father Ben to join us for dinner because I am deeply troubled by what that reporter said about your citizenship. You and I have not talked very much about your past, and I am not going to push you but we need to talk about it. Tom Chandler called when you were in the shower and recused himself from the case. We are out there on our own. He is also going to file a motion with the court to dismiss the case."
"Isn't he going to check me out?" I said heatedly then under my breath I said walking away from her "Shit."
Peggy let it pass as if she had not heard me say it.
After Father Ben arrived, we sat down and had a good meal of veal steaks, cheesy au gratin potatoes, a green salad and soft drinks. We had good light-hearted conversations about a variety of current happenings. He asked me to serve Mass that following Sunday, I readily agreed.
Once the leftovers were put away and the dishwasher loaded and turned on we sat down at the table then Father Ben said, "Antoine, you and I have talked about certain parts of what you did and some of where you had been in your 'old' life before coming here to Hawaii, and why. I also know what happened, because you told me, to emancipate from your parents. Can you tell us anything else? This puts you and your mother in a very difficult spot, legally speaking."
"Peggy, all I really know is that I was given a birth certificate and other documentation papers when I arrived in the US. I had them on my person when I traveled from Texas to Honolulu then gave them to my parents. That's all I know."
"In what country were you born?"
"Ahhhh, I don't remember my parents telling me but I think I may have been born in France because my mother once told me that my grandparents, her parents lived there …"
"Okay, that makes sense. Your first name is French. By definition it means beyond praise or highly praise-worthy. You live up to your name, trust me."
"I have done bad things. Mr. Higgins is not the only person I have …" I started to say but could not continue as sadness took over my soul. I'd never really said those words before, not in a heart way; I'd only thought of them.
When I regained my composure I said, "I had to. Either I or someone close to me was about to die. Peggy …"
Composure comes and goes, at times, or so it seems, it went out of the window once again.
"Once again, I remind you that you really had no choice in the matter, Antoine. You had no say so really about what you had to do. Antoine, you are good hearted boy." Father Ben said convincingly.
"Honey, if I may ask what discipline are you a Master?" Peggy asked.
"My Sensei's a Ninja but over time I've developed my own form. I'm relatively small for my age in most areas so I developed a style that compensates for my lower body weight."
"Mr. Higgins was a very large man …" Peggy said then stopped mid sentence, took my hand, and squeezed it firmly.
After an indeterminable period of silence, Peggy spoke up and said, "Antoine, I am going to talk to Jim about this. He has a team of investigators, it sounds like to me, and they could probably find your birthplace. I'm positive this is just a paperwork trail issue because you are alive and sitting here in front of me. I, too, am surprised the DOJ did not investigate your origins further if they had had a problem with your origins."
"I just do not want to get deported. I have a lot to love and to be grateful for here in America … perhaps we should expedite my adoption because then they could not touch me, or you." I said quietly.
Father Ben then looked intently at both Peggy and I then said, "I know of an organization that can help. Let me make a call to them tomorrow. I've only heard of them. I have not used them for anything. I do not even know that much about them, only that they try to help in difficult situations and circumstances."
I returned to school the following Monday. The teachers were looking at me very strangely, in fact they would walk away, and had nothing to say to me in the classroom, and often looked away when I would raise my hand to answer a question.
I didn't want to bother Peggy with what was going on at school. Nothing was worth getting all in a wad about even PE which is actually notable.
After entering the locker room I received the usual cat calls, whistles, hoots, hollers, black meat, donkey dong, blue balls, black balls, cunt buster, and what have you. What made that day different was that Larry Johnson was in the locker room. He had not previously been in my class before. As I walked past him he called me a nigger murderer and said that killing each other is what niggers do best and why wasn't I living in the ghetto, and who was that white chick I was hanging around with. He made a really bad comment, "So, are you getting some pussy from that white chick you are hanging around with, huh? You like older women do ya bozo?"
I surveyed the situation, who and what was in the locker room, and what they were doing, where they were standing, and finally I saw what I needed to see – the coach was standing there watching the whole thing transpire as if in live video.
"Larry, let me explain something to you, do I have your full and undivided attention?" I said directly up in his face. I left no room for misinterpretation of my displeasure and disgust.
"Nigger, I saw what I saw. Get the fuck out of my face." He said with evil dripping from each and every word, his eyes bugging out, his jaw set, his posture never once flinching, his arms hanging at his sides coiled like a snake ready to attack, his fists clenched tightly. Several other guys were gathering close by; I sensed their presence however my eyes never left Larry's, not for one second did they waiver.
"Your problem, Larry, is that you have no respect for your momma. If you did then you would not be talking your shit about mine."
His eyes blinked one too many times, the 'oh shit' look momentarily replaced the menacing one just a second before then he resumed as before, not moving.
"How about you Coach, are you going to continue to let him get you and the school and the district in yet more trouble than it already is?"
After looking around the room, at each and every student in his PE class he turned to me then said, "It's your word against Larry and me and everybody in this room. Give it your best shot."
"Sorry coach, I'm out." A tall, skinny and lanky, red haired boy said as he walked past us and out of the gym locker room door.
"Me too. I'm out." A pale skinny, short blond haired boy said. He followed the same path as the red-headed kid did.
16 other boys, in various stages of dress made sure that their clothes were presentable then exited the room.
That left 6 of us remaining in the room, including the Coach. The circle was tight. Everyone in that room was waiting for the coach to speak, to say something, to do something.
He turned away then walked into his office, shut the door. My mistake was that I watched him walk into his office and shut the door. Johnson sucker punched me in the gut, hard. The punch knocked the wind out of my chest. I very quickly stepped back 3 paces back to regain my composure. Every fiber in my being was telling me to neutralize the situation before one more second passed.
"Larry Johnson, you are a dead man. Someone somewhere is going to kill you because of your mouth but it is not going to be me. Not today."
With that said I followed the rest of them out of the locker room. I wandered aimlessly toward the front office not even stopping by my hall locker. As I passed the front office, I noticed that it was full. The kids from the gym class were hanging around then I noticed that they were talking to Mrs. Montgomery who was standing behind the receptionists' desk.
When she saw me outside of her office, she went around the reception desk then reached for the door into the hallway. Without an ounce of restraint, I walked out of the building and headed for the park bench closest to the driveway where students are dropped off and picked up. I sat down then before I could stop them the tears began running down my cheeks and onto my lap from my eyes.
Quickly, I brushed them away then when Mrs. Montgomery began walking down the sidewalk toward me, I stood up to greet her though every fiber in my being wanted to walk, no every fiber in my being wanted to run away so that I did not have to talk to her, but I stood still almost rigidly so.
"I'm sorry Antoine. The boys told me about what happened back there in gym class. Larry Johnson has been suspended indefinitely. The Coaches' contract is likely to be terminated … for the meantime, I am suspending him without pay until the investigation is complete. The rest of the students in the locker room are on notice, or will be."
"Mrs. Montgomery, I'm leaving. I don't belong here. You should not have to expel the entire school student body and terminate every teacher contract because of their prejudices and ways of thinking."
Just then, just as those last words left my lips, we both heard the voices of boys and girls of all ages, sizes, shapes, yelling "ANOTOINE IS THE MAN! ANTOINE IS THE MAN! ANTOINE! ANTOINE! ANTOINE!!"
The chants were getting louder and louder and louder as they walked toward us. As they got closer and closer they began spreading out. They were enveloping us in a cocoon.
One boy came and stood in front of me and to the side of Mrs. Montgomery. His name was Michael. He was the student body President, and represented the entirety of all who attended the school.
"Antoine, on behalf of the student body, I apologize to you for all that has happened to you. It is wrong. It is not who we are. It is not what we stand for. Mrs. Montgomery, we want a student and teacher assembly at 1:00pm today because it is time to bring this all out in the open. Otherwise, the student body will be walking up and down the streets with pickets that say stop the bullying, and stop it now. We are in the process of writing them up. The media will be here. This crap has to stop right here and right now."
"An assembly is approved for 2:00pm. I need time to contact the school board. We all need to be on the same page. This needs to be done orderly so that it can be effective."
"Uhm, Mrs. Montgomery, I do not have an attorney. He signed off. The case will be or has been dismissed." I said dejectedly then shrugged my shoulders in defeat.
"What lawsuit? I didn't know anything about a lawsuit … what is it about?"
"He was and is suing this school and certain staff and students and the board for various hate crimes perpetrated on his person, and others."
"Has the suit actually been dismissed? Why?" Michael asked solemnly, determinedly.
"Uhm, they're saying I am not a US citizen. I can't file suit in federal court." I said factually.
Just then Harry walked up and said, "My mom is an EEOC lawyer. Antoine, I came out to her yesterday. We're okay. She might … I can't speak for her but from what she said yesterday …"
When Harry left his sentence hanging, I looked at Mrs. Montgomery. She nodded then said "Antoine, the police have been called. An assault charge will be filed … you do remember what we said about violence, right?"
I nodded remembering all too well what had happened in the counselors' office …
I looked up and away from that virtual spot on my brand new white tennis shoes only to find a bunch of very quiet fellow students apparently waiting for my next action. Mrs. Montgomery reached her hand out to me. The moment had come to right then and there. What was I to do?
Just then a part of the crowd broke away, made a passage way as Larry Johnson was being led, in handcuffs and shackles, looking all alone in his misery. He had bumps, bruises, scrapes all over his face and arms, and a cut over his left eye.
When they reached where I was standing, a few of the guys separated us, me and him, but I made my way to Larry when he looked me in the eyes. Gone were the evil corrosive tendrils of hate, replaced with, what? I couldn't read him.
"You've got balls Garza." He said then was led away to a squad car that had driven up at some point in time; I had missed its arrival.
I realized that he was not talking about my testicular size when the Coach came by, also handcuffed and under law enforcement control, then when they arrived, he said, "This isn't over yet."
Mrs. Montgomery, hearing what he said, said to Coach, "Oh yes it is. Your employment is terminated. Your shit will be packed up and mailed to your wife's address – err, that is your soon-to-be-EX-wife because, didn't you know – she is filing for divorce today. Have a good day and good bye, Coach."
"I'll get you bitch. Some day. Some time. Just you wait and see. Watch over your shoulder at all times because I have not gone away."
"Okay, you piece of shit, you just earned another felony charge. I can't wait to write your ass up." A cop said then quickly and roughly led him away. I do believe that when he was getting into the squad car the policeman 'forgot' to put his hand between the Coaches' head and the top of the car door …. I would not swear to it though.
Mrs. Montgomery looked deeply into my eyes then offered her hand. I stood there, spellbound wondering what to do next. Where had they been before? Why hadn't they stopped things before they had reached the point where they were now? Why?
"Are you going to leave me here all alone?" A boy asked. I turned around to see Harry standing there all alone. He looked so sad, he looked so vulnerable. The scared look in his eyes tugged at the very essence of my life and my purpose in life – my decision was made.
"Come on Harry, we have an assembly to get ready for." I said softly, only to him then I took Mrs. Montgomery's offered hand in my own. I squeezed it lightly then to her I said "Okay."
"Our next speaker is Antoine Garza. He's a remarkable young man. He came to our school at the end of last years' school term and immediately picked right up his course load and passed his final exams for the year with flying colors. I have had the great opportunity to get to know him and his mother … under very difficult and challenging circumstances no less. Antoine?" Mrs. Montgomery said smiling.
"Thank you. Thank you very much."
As soon as the applause ended the room became quiet, so quiet that I could have heard a pin drop 50 feet away.
"I have been in many schools. My old family, we traveled much in the family owned and operated 'business', if you will. We traveled the world over. I have been schooled in the countries of Peru, Argentina, South America, Brazil, The Dominican Republic, China, Hong Kong, and that business, or my involvement in it ended in the United States of America, here in the great and beautiful state of Hawaii."
"My first trip to your fine beaches was one day after my arrival. I love to run. I love to feel the nice warm breeze blowing across my face and my body. Running the beaches is where I truly feel free from life's little worries and concerns. I love to play in the ocean."
"When my plane was on its final approach, I saw so many people on the beaches having fun, so it was then that I decided that I too would have fun here. It was then that I decided I would no longer work for the family in their line of business."
"I did not know how I would survive but like a little boy I had a dream. I saw the dream actually happening … it was right there in front of me as the plane landed."
"I was welcomed to Hawaii by a drug dealer who went bad, and a father who disowned me, by a mother who had been abused telling me to go away for harming my father because he had harmed her in filthy and vile ways. My parents' disowning me hurt very badly, as you might expect."
I sniffed a few times remembering the hurt and pain of seeing my mother hurt in that hotel room, seeing the rage and anger and disengagement from his son through my fathers' eyes.
After regaining my composure I continued, "You know what really hurt me though? Let me answer you in just a moment, please. This hurts me very much. Could I please have a glass of water?"
Mr. Samuelson handed me a glass of ice water, I took a good healthy sip then sat it back on the podium.
"Thank you for your patience. My first day here and after my parents had disowned me, I took off for the beach and ran hard for a while. I found a very lonely and quiet place on the beach. I was all alone for a few minutes. I took my shirt and shoes and socks off, laid them down then got into the water a little bit. I didn't get in very far because I still had my pants on."
"Within a very short period of time, I was greeted by some local people, some boys not much older than us here in this auditorium, and you know what they said?"
"They said that the beach was theirs, and that they do not allow people of my skin color to be there. I said okay, then as I was gathering up my things, not even spending any time putting them on, they physically challenged me. They were quite insistent that people of my color were not allowed on their beach. I defended myself from their attack in the way that I know how – and left their beach."
"A few days later, maybe a few weeks later, I returned. I was troubled and knew that I could find the solace I needed. Once again, I was confronted by those gentlemen. Their attack on me was both verbal and physical, and much more severe than the first time. The verbal abuse gives me no trouble; I can take it without becoming angry. They do not even know me so they are ignorant of my usual casual and happy self."
"I lived on the beaches and I got very, very sick. During that sickness, I had a dream, a very vivid dream – one that remains with me to this very day. The dream was a very special one. It changed my life in many ways."
"During my sickness I was taken care of by the blessed souls at the Mission Church. Father Ben and Mildred nursed me back to healthy. During my sickness, I met Peggy Hilyard who was a nurse on special duty for the health department. She was and is an angel. She took me under her wing, gave me the pills and medicines and made sure that I made my appointments at the clinic by taking me to them."
"Mildred was her mother. Mildred was a mutual friend to us, loved and respected in every way."
"When Mildred passed, Peggy asked me to sit in the family section of the church at the funeral. It was that day that she asked me if I would come to live with her because she said I was special. She was and is special too."
"Peggy Hilyard is in the advanced stages of adopting me as her own son. She is Caucasian."
I interrupted myself because my throat was getting so tight that I thought I would asphyxiate right then and there on the spot.
But I didn't asphyxiate. After taking another drink of water I continued, "Thank you, Peggy, from the bottom of my heart. I have tried to be a good almost son to you. We do okay. No we do better than okay. I have grown to love you and that love gets deeper and deeper every day, day by day, minute by minute."
One again, my throat tightened up, I thought I was going to die right there on the spot.
I looked through the auditorium, trying to find her so that I could introduce her, so that I could hug her deeply, so that I could tell her that I loved her so much, and, especially to thank her. I did not see her. I could not find her amongst the many faces.
When, once again I regained my composure, I continued, "When I came to our high school I was very glad to be here, eager to learn and anxious to make friends. Making friends is very difficult for me, but making friends is not impossible. I have a great friend in the hospital. He was gravely injured in a fall a few months ago. We may even be special friends, time will tell, I don't know but I like to be around him and he likes to be around me so we'll see. I am building deep friendships with his brothers also. Most of them are gay and are together with the loved one of their choice, are together with the one that is meant to be with them. They are accepting me for who I am and for what I stand for. I don't know if I'm gay. Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. I wish I knew but my almost to be mother tells me time after time again and again that I do not have a choice to be who I am or to have the skin color that I have."
"This school reminds me of the difficulties that I had on the beach those two times, only here in school it is every day. Here in school, the difficulties have escalated to extreme violence – and death. The rumors are true: I killed Mr. Higgins but only because he had a loaded and cocked gun pointed at she who will become my mother soon. She was in imminent danger. So was Mrs. Montgomery."
"I am a trained Warrior in the Martial arts. I am a defender. My training and my morals dictate that I only react in such a manner so as to defend someone, or myself, when we or I am in or threatened with mortal danger. I do not act when I am angry, emotionally hurt or distressed, or depressed or disgusted or for any other trivial excuse."
"Today, in the gym, I was confronted by a student who disparaged, denigrated, dismissed, demeaned, discounted and demoralized she who will become my mother soon in the most vile and filthy ways ever imaginable. The coach condoned Larry's words by standing there and supporting him. Larry sucker punched me in my gut very, very hard. I lost my breath and became weak. Thankfully he did not knock me down when I was weak. He may have even succeeded in killing me."
"Something happened in that gym locker room today, something that because of previous experiences I thought would never happen, not in a million years. The boys in that gym locker room began filing out of there when the Coach said that nobody would see anything, that nobody had seen anything, meaning that the event had never happened. Here we are right now in this auditorium listening to a bad boy with a mean kick."
"But you know what? That bad boy with a mean kick bleeds red just like you do. My skin is of a different color than yours but underneath all of it, the blood is still red. The skin is very thin in all actuality but it causes so much trouble for so many people. Why?"
"HEY FOOT-LONG DONKEY DICK … TELL 'EM HOW YOU SWING IT AROUND LIKE A LETHAL WEAPON!" Somebody shouted from the audience high up in the bleachers.
The guy was quickly subdued by students around him but not before the crowd began booing and hissing their dissentions and disapprovals. He was led away by the school guards.
"See what I mean? We guys might look differently but everything works the same." I said smiling.
<Thunderous applause, hoots, hollers and wolf whistles>
When the auditorium regained its composure and after I took a drink of water I said, "When you bully or discount or take someone's honor away from them did you know that you have the power to actually kill them?"
"How many people are you going to kill before you understand that being bullied hurts, and that it hurts bad, how many?"
"For those of us who are bullied, I do have hope for the future. I have hope that things will be different – and I know they will be because good things are unfolding right underneath my nose, I just have to open my eyes to see them, to feel the good people who are in my life and to not pay any real attention to those who appear to not like me. God loves me, and God loves you. Thank you."
Until another time.
Author's Notes: I am an avid reader of a columnist named Dan Savage. Recently, he has launched a campaign designed to bring to the forefront Hope for those who have been or who are being bullied because there is something about us that is just different – be it our sexual orientation, our skin color, or hair color, our weight, our height, our dick size, which testicle hangs lower than the other, who we love, how we love … you name it.
I have literally spent hours, when not writing my stories, watching, listening and paying attention to the profound heartfelt stories of hope for our younger people who are struggling with being put down and out by certain members of our societies.
In my own personal life, I have seen how life changes over time. I am glad that I lived to tell about me, to share with you, my readers, and others just how life has changed for the better. Please have hope.
If you are young person and have not been told that you are loved today, please hear me when I say that you are loved very deeply and meaningfully. Do not quit before the miracle happens. Give it one more moment, then another and another and another… pretty soon the moment grows exponentially until the moments add up into hours, days, weeks, months and years.
Remember that life is a journey that has no particular finite destination. Keep going. The Light will guide you and provide strength to keep on keeping on in one moment, the next hour, the next day, the next month, the next year.
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