WARNING: Do Not Open

“Hey, Jerk-off!” I tried to ignore the taunt coming from the pack of junior-high punks standing around the dented outdoor lockers. If I could just grab my stuff and make it to class. . .  Rough hands grabbed me, and I struggled as Mike Kasting hurled me headfirst into a mud puddle. I tried unsuccessfully to wipe the rank smelling slime off my clothes.

I could hear others snickering up and down the shaded sidewalk. I hated him and his stupid pink Izod shirt; the alligator appropriately marked him as a cold-blooded hunter, stalking the weak and preying on new kids. Since moving to California this wasn’t the only thing going wrong; something dark stirred deep in my gut. Foolishly, I had believed a pair of Vans tennis shoes and my Sony Walkman would be all I needed to fit in at my new school.

Stepping out of the blazing sunlight and back under the covering, I knelt on the concrete to pick up my scattered books and papers. Mike put his muddy shoe on my math homework and ground it into the sidewalk.

Glaring upward I said, “Knock it off, Kasting!”

“What are you gonna’ do about it?” He sensed I wouldn’t fight him and dared me to challenge him. Flipping back his wavy blonde hair, he dismissed me as a threat and returned to his pubescent herd. He wrapped his arms around a pretty brunette cheerleader who snuggled up to him. I wanted to hurt him, but feeling afraid, I walked away sulking.

A special-needs student named Robert Montorio attended our school. (He really should have gone someplace else.)  President Carter had signed some kind of bill that required him to go to our school with all the “normal” kids. He had a locker just down from mine, but I disregarded him because he was retarded.  Robert couldn’t speak very well, but somehow he had learned the art of cussing. Every time he would walk by, some jerk would hawk a loogie and spit at him. He would always freak out, and everyone would get a kick out of him as he hurried away shouting obscenities. Sometimes, it felt good to know they were teasing him instead of me.

Each day I dreaded facing the bullies.  They always found me, either walking to school, in the hallways, or trying to find a safe place to eat in the cafeteria.  The bathrooms had rusty window frames near the ceiling.  Sections of the fogged security glass were chipped out allowing just enough light to see the art etched onto the doorless stalls.  A closer look revealed profound wisdom such as, “Surfers Rule!” and “Chicanos Kick Ass.”  The stench of ammonia from urine on the graffiti-covered block-walls performed its toxic duty, always causing my eyes to burn.  This is the pungent soil that spawned my desire to open the lid of my soul.

Robert stood at the urinal peeing with his pants piled around his ankles like a little kid. I tried to ignore him and read the gang signs scratched on the surface of the stainless steel mirrors.  Shouldn’t he be embarrassed? We were in eighth grade for crying out loud! I pretended I didn’t see him, because he was mentally handicapped.  When I turned toward the door, in walked Mike and his cronies.  He snuck up behind Robert shouting, “Hey RETARD! Your pants are down!”

They burst out in laughter. A guy from the football team walked over and gave Robert a push, knocking him against the stained porcelain.  Robert’s glasses fell into the urinal and his pants got wet. He started cursing and then hollered for the teasing to stop.

I knew something bad was about to happen, I felt a hunger awaken in the pit of my stomach. I wanted to walk away, but this was my chance to fit in.

Like a carnivore circling wounded prey, I joined the hunt, barking, “Hey Robert! Learn to piss holding your pants up next time.”

Swatting at us to back off, Robert stuttered a few cuss words.  Wolfish grins and nods of approval drew me into the pack. Excited by the smell of blood, we toyed with our injured quarry. Howls of exhilaration secured my position in the group. Nausea embraced me as our animalistic jeers dragged our victim down for the final strike. He began crying and screaming for us to leave him alone,  but it seemed too late to stop the feeding frenzy.

An older teenager (I think he was from a foster home) must have heard the commotion and walked inside. He shouted at us to leave Robert alone and said we should be ashamed of ourselves for picking on someone who is handicapped. He lifted Robert back to his feet and started cleaning him off.  Then he pulled the glasses out of the urinal to wash them in the sink, getting Robert ready for his next class.  In single file, each of us started slinking outside in complete silence. With the thrill of the chase over, the bitter taste of adrenaline left me feeling sick and hollow.

Outside, I was still the same person, but inside, something had changed. All my dreams and plans of becoming a popular kid lay buried in a pile of rubble within my skull.  Like Pandora, I believed I could open and close the lid without consequence.  The horrors, which had clawed their way out of my thirteen-year-old soul, had permanently transformed me. I didn’t stay for my next class. I walked home from school, both embarrassed and ashamed. My parents were working, and I curled up behind the shed whimpering.  Sobbing I realized that I had become a predator—just like the others.

About the Author: This is an original memoir by Paul Farmer writingden@gmail.com

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