Thursday, April 9, 2015
Shame in the Night
Last night I woke up with a memory of something I wish I'd permanently forgotten. In the darkness I blushed.
I was 9, maybe 10, living in Enid, Oklahoma, attending Adams Elementary School at 2200 East Randolph. Our playground--in the back of the school--was rough Sooner State red clay, baked hard by Sooner sun and covered with pebbles.
This picture above--from GoogleMaps--is from 2013, and the exterior looks very similar, although the grass is greener. The winged A on the front lawn was Adams' symbol--our school always dominated the city-wide Little Olympics, a track-and-field competition among Enid's various elementary schools. The event still is going on, still sponsored, as it was in my day, by the Kiwanis Club. (Link to the site.)
And here I am, dressed for competition, in my grandparents' back yard. I was in the shuttle relay. We came in second, a finish that I assured when in my turn (I was the first to run for Adams), I came in ... second.
Anyway, I'm avoiding things.
I was about this age and size when the event happened that bolted back into my memory last night with such ferocity that I woke up.
Each day at Adams we had both recess (15 minutes? 20? can't remember), and we played outside after lunch, as well. The games could get rough. We played "Smear the Man with the Ball"--which, after we moved to Hiram in 1956, I learned had a different name in the Buckeye State: "Smear the Queer." Sometimes we divided into Confederate and Yankee and re-enacted the Civil War. We'd form two lines on opposite sides of the playground--then charge. And grapple with the "enemy." Our teachers actually let this go on for a while--unthinkable now. I saw wrestling matches, fistfights. The more quiet kids would make for the trees that lined the west side of the playground--or wander to the playground equipment--and hope the rougher bunch would leave them alone.
One boy in my class--whose name I am changing to Victim--took a lot of crap from the rest of us. He was, well, challenged. Very slow in class and elsewhere. Most of the time we ignored him, but every now and then we would see Victim and, deciding his life was not hard enough, would do things to make him miserable. Teasing, taunting. Bullying is the word now.
I don't remember if our teachers just ignored it, or if we were cruelly clever enough to do it when they weren't looking. I prefer to think it was the latter.
One day--the day that I remembered last night--a group of us found Victim hanging around the northeast corner of the building. There was a large tree there then, with branches low enough that it was easy to climb, even for Victim.
We started tossing pebbles at him, crying out things I am forever grateful that I cannot remember. And Victim, cornered, started climbing the tree.
We circled below, throwing harder now. Yelling.
I fired one that hit him in the corner of the eye.
He screamed as if hit by a bullet. I froze while the other boys scattered like chaff. Victim clumsily descended from the tree, and I walked slowly over to the weeping boy. I was weeping now, too, and apologizing--probably more from fear (Had I blinded him? How much trouble was I in?) than from compassion.
His hand was over his eye, but I asked if I could look. And there was the pebble I'd thrown, lodged in the corner of his right eye--but it had not hit the eyeball. I gingerly reached up and touched it. And it promptly fell out, and Victim's cries slowly transformed to shudders.
"You're all right," I told him, again and again and again. "You don't have to tell anyone ...."
And he didn't.
And I never bothered him again.
But he bothered me--rather, the memory of what I'd done bothered me. It took me a long, long time to forget Victim--and what I'd done. Decades flew by.
And then I woke up last night, that memory as sharp as a fresh knife wound.
I don't know what happened to Victim. We moved to Ohio a couple of years later. I just tried to find him on Google and Ancestry.com, but didn't have any luck. I didn't really look too hard, though. Maybe if I can't find him, I will forget again ...?