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Aimes was reading. Her piece was about heartbreak and pain. It was about loss, and the way a girl could be thrown away and forgotten.

Aimes was probably my best friend. We had been friends since the first day of seventh grade, when she came to the bus after school, shell-shocked and dazed. We had both survived a terrible day of classes and ridicule. We had both seen the face of middle school and were horrified and traumatized by it. In our pain, we had bonded. By the time we had gotten to high school, only she understood me. Only Aimes knew what I really was. Only Aimes could talk on the topic of me with any real authority. And through her vast knowledge of the subject, she still loved me.

She read now, her voice calm and measured, her hand steady as a stone. She was above the core group in a way I could not place. Higher on a chain of popularity and acceptance than the dregs of the school would allow. They would never be her kind of people. And one of the great mysteries of her life was why I was with them at all.

Aimes knew me well, but she did not see the hole in me. She did not see the desperation in my life for the thing only these people could give me.

The two of us had sat down early on and discussed the future of Writers Club. We had discussed the direction we wanted it to go and had decided we would take it over. She wanted to be the president, wanted to be able to put that on her college application. She said if a technical problem arose, something she could handle, she would do so.

But she didn’t want to run the meetings. The crew was too chaotic, too raw. They wrote about things she didn’t understand and wore proudly a temperament she could barely live with. Aimes was not their type of person, and while she did not hate them for it, she didn’t want to mix, didn’t want to understand. She knew the Club spoke a language she did not comprehend. Knew they would not listen to her, and when we plotted out the path of the Club, she wanted me to lead.

I was made Vice President. But the rest of the positions were open.

Mrs. Bronte, Mrs. Atwood, spoke to the group every week, warning us often that if we did not have a constitution by the end of the year, we would be disbanded. The word was coming down from above that our Club was near the point of madness, being held on track by the will of one kid, and if we didn’t legitimize ourselves soon, we would be disbanded.

After months of this speech, Aimes and I talked about this constitution on the way to my house one day. I told her I wanted nothing to do with it, and she took over.

By the next meeting they had a constitution. They had a course and we were real. They would have a hard time pulling us apart now. We were official; we were a Club.

Almost.

That day after her reading, Aimes stood at the board and raised her voice. The din was immediate, the beast before her rolled and lapped at itself. It grumbled and growled, and she pointed at them, stern and commanding.

“We are not done today. Cry and I have written a constitution. I am the last to read because we have to get it right today. We need officers.” She wrote President on the board in big all caps. She wrote Vice President below it, and Secretary beneath that.

“I’m the president,” she said. She wrote her name, and the room grumbled and spat. All eyes turned to me, all asking, all ready for an uprising. Aimes looked at me shaken, and I nodded.

“We need to vote for Vice President,” she said. “I nominate Jesse.”

Harvard seconded. The room went silent, every eye looking for a contender before Brett lifted his hand and pointed it in Glare’s direction.

“I nominate Glare,” he said.

Quiet rolled out through the room. Every eye touched Glare, every eye swung to me. Brilliance seconded, and we were on our way.

The room was pregnant with it, every ounce of tension rising to a pinnacle. Most eyes wandered the floor, most feet shuffled.

“OK,” Aimes said. She sounded oblivious to the tension, and why wouldn’t she be? She knew nothing of our beef. Aimes came around these people once a week. None of these were her friends. She never knew that between Glare and I sat a barely contained war, a battle held back by the slightest of touch. He looked at me while she spoke, his perfect smile speaking for him.

I have you this time. This time we see that they will follow me. This is when it all swings in my direction. Glare knew what we all knew. If they voted him vice president, the next meeting would look completely different. No tapping of my class ring to the desk. No Jesse calling it all to order. He would lead the conversations about the work. He would take over as the head of it all. He smiled at me, his face calm. His eyes wild. He held it all in check with the discipline of a samurai. But I could see it. He was right on the verge of losing his control. He almost had everything he wanted.

It was not close.

When Glare obviously lost, his smile made no move. His eyes registered pure hate, but his body he held in tight control. All except the flex of the fingers on his left hand and the fist it curled into. He nodded to me and my fear of him rose. He turned and walked away.

Aimes nominated Cry as Secretary. I backed her. I think she ran unopposed. She would keep track of who read what. I think she took attendance. If she did, those records are lost for all time. No one will know the names of the ones who belonged to that Club, save the ones who were there. This record will never show. We will take it all to the grave with us.

For in that group lived a kind of hope, a hope that the world would find a place for the voices of the outcast. A hope that the artist we all felt within us was powerful and had something to say. And we were all filled with a hope that we would be heard. Heard by our peers, heard by our world. Heard by the ones that counted.

See, that was what that group was about. When Chanel read her one poem, she nearly cried. And I cried with her. As far as I know, she did not read again. If she did, it was a day I was absent. I heard that piece. I bore witness to it, and I took it with me. I remember it still, the fragile tenderness in it that spoke of its composer’s love for us all.

I remember when Cry broke all our hearts with her story, written in her pristine notebook. I recall when Katty pulled her piece out, looked at it while Jammy was reading, and put it away. We never heard that work. She was too nervous, too traumatized to ever open herself that way to us, but I knew it was there.

Brett and his one perfect poem, Glare and his dominating poem about the rose. When that kid wrote, when that kid read, it was impossible not to see his perfection.

We all belonged in that Club. From Aimes’s heartbreak, to Jammy’s wild and vivid rendering of a world only she completely understood. My destructive mind, my self-loathing was held up there. It was shined to a polish and held up, metallic and bleeding.

I once read a piece that tore me open so bad I got up and left. I walked right out, setting the page down and walking out into the hall. I walked to the end, rooms and rooms away. Mrs. Bronte’s big heart could not let me be out there alone. She erupted from the room and stood in the hall looking at me. I saw the pain on her face as she struggled with the need for professionalism and the desire to run to me and wrap me in her arms.

When I came back, full of fire, I grabbed the page from the desk and read it while I stood. I stood that day for every one of us who needed this place. A place to rip ourselves wide open and hold out our bleeding heart.

That was the very essence of Writers Club. Vulnerability, protection through shared loneliness and heart break. Every one of us belonged. Every one of us was home when we stood in that room and read our heart.

You know who you are. You know if you sat in that room while we shared our soul. You know what that place was to us. A cathedral to art. A safe place to writhe. You know that it will never be truly gone. It will stay with us forever as a place where we were first heard. A place where we mattered for the first time.

If you wiped away everything that came after. The pain and the beatings. The shame and the abandonment. If you wash it all away, all the things I did that were inexcusable. All the things I did that were god-like. If you wash all of it away and cut it all there, pull out the scissors and sliced us off at Writers Club, if you measured us after it all faded away, you would find that we all left that place bigger, more powerful, if even a little.

We all left that room an artist. We all left as writers.

If you are out there, those who shared that space with me, know that I count you as brother, as sister. Know that I saw you. I heard your voice. I cherished it. Know that I still do.

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