Wednesday, July 16, 2008
At ten years old I was one of those tomboys with a boy’s nickname, and if it weren’t for the skirts I was forced to wear you would probably have a hard time knowing I was a girl. I hated skirts. My mom made me wear them to school so I would behave more “lady like”. Everyone else at the time wore acid washed, pegged jeans with neon sweatshirts and matching socks. I looked like something from Little House On the Prairie, but maybe it inadvertently reflected my dual nature.
I rode the smelly, yellow bus to and from school everyday. With the early morning mad dash to the bus stop I sucked in cold air until my lungs hurt. The few times I missed the bus I could see the kids in the back watch me walk back home, defeated; I cursed my skirt and kicked rocks with my high top tennis shoes as I tried to look casual- as if I was unaware a bus even existed. I was just out for a walk at seven in the morning on a school day.
On the ride home I sat at the back of the bus with the tough kids. I had to be extra tough because I wore a skirt- like that song “A Boy Named Sue.” Nobody would tease me to my face-- I made it clear I would clobber them.
My little brother was crazy. He had a high tolerance for pain and never got tired. He was a legend in our neighborhood. That kid had more battle scars at eight than anybody I have ever known. One time he jumped out of the window of our two story house because he had been grounded to his room. We were a formidable duo that other kids showed respect to. At the back of the bus we ruled supreme. Our neighbor from across the street, a boy who screamed high pitched like a girl but acted like Han Solo, sat with us. Then there was obnoxious Maurice. He was half white and half black, with a fuzzy round hairdo and buck teeth. He always started fights and said things to bug you. Nobody liked him but he always sat with us.
One day Maurice seemed more ornery than usual. He was grabbing my brother’s back pack and calling our neighbor “Freckled Freak.” We told him to cut it out, but he was the one kid screwed up enough to not fear us. Maybe because we were nothing compared to what he had to fear at home. Anyhow, he was being a bad example to the others on the bus.
“Just wait ‘til we get off this bus, you jerk.” I warned with my most menacing voice and slantiest glare.
“What are you going to do? Dance with me to death, Cinderella?” He tugged at my flowery skirt.
He had to pay. I glanced at my henchmen and they nodded. Time to teach that snot a lesson. The four of us got off at the same stop. Several of the kids who usually get off a few streets later followed us. We stood and faced Maurice with a ring of kids around us as the bus groaned away from the bus stop. Beside us was a large cement trench used for drainage and a stop sign. Maurice laughed nervously and backed up to the edge of the trench.
“Get him!” my brother yelled and ran toward him with his fists flying. The neighbor boy roared like Chewbacca and followed. They all ended up at the bottom of the trench pounding and kicking. The other kids stood with me as I looked down at the show and they cheered. Like I said- nobody liked Maurice. My brother and neighbor did some theatrical flying kicks using the stop sign pole to swing around on- they were living the dream. After awhile Maurice curled up into a little ball and stopped fighting back. At that point the crowd broke up and my two warriors gave a last kick or two to their defeated foe. At that point it wasn’t a show anymore- the audience gone and the enemy pitifully moaning at our feet. My brother and the neighbor boy walked away and left me alone with Maurice.
I was a toughie and he annoyed me, yet my heart began to ache for him. I gathered my skirt in my hand and jumped into the trench. Maurice rolled over and looked up at me. His nose was bleeding but, I think that wasn’t the source of the pain I saw in his eyes. In a weird way I guess we were his only friends- if you could call us that. I pulled him up without a word and half carried him down the long road that stretched to a dead end. A dirt canal full of weeds lined the street that passed in front of some of the older and more run down houses of his neighborhood. I let go of him and he straightened up, still sniffling. There was blood on my shoulder but, I didn’t say anything. We were almost to his house so I decided to let him continue on alone- (no need to face his parents- if he had them).
“You OK?” I asked.
“Yeah. No big deal.” He said.
I watched him hobble farther away and I turned toward my house which seemed miles away. After I had walked a bit I heard him call out from up the street so I turned around.
“You @$#%* girl!” He screamed and flipped me off at a safe distance.
All my mother instincts vanished. I chased him down, my skirt waving like a battle flag. I fumed. He made a fool of me and knew it. He laughed and tried to run on his hurt leg but I caught up and shoved him into the dried up canal. Lying on his back in the weeds he looked up at me with a mix of surprise and admiration. I looked down in disgust, pinched the sides of my skirt and curtsied low. I left him in that ditch and didn’t feel sorry for him again- until years later when I thought about it and realized he was only ten years old. I have wondered what was behind the doors of that sagging house where the road dead ended.