Our childhood holds so many keys to our busy, modern lives and the behaviours we engage in, doesn't it?
I remember when I was a kid in grade school, that time taught me so much. There were a bunch of us, eight or ten boys all decked out in our dark blue uniform pants and our white button-down shirts, all good Catholic boys, busy laying the basis for the rest of our lives then. We didn't know that, naturally, being young. All we knew was that school was school, the weekends meant cartoons on Saturday morning, Sunday was church, which was cooler if you were an altar boy, and we knew exactly how long eternity was, because summer vacation was an eternity away each year.
The school didn't have a big budget for toys and such, as I recall. We had a steel jungle gym and a big metal slide, and a big cardboard box full of sports balls, but we could bring things like frisbees if we wanted to, and one of our little group always showed up for recess with a big, bright red Wham-O, one of those 120 gram professional models that made all other Frisbees look like dwarves, and we'd stand out in the grass field in a big rough circle and we'd fling that red Frisbee back and forth like some huge lifesaver candy from boy to boy, laughing in the sun, thinking that this time would never end.
It was a day just like that when one of our little gang, a young boy by the name of John Setliff, walked up with a surprise. John was a tow-headed blonde kid with big ears, skinny as a fence post we'd have said back then, and he had a tube sock full of the coolest cats-eye and steelie marbles you could imagine. He walked up to the group, this gaggle of boys in the summer sun, playing off the taste of the day's school lunch. It was strange because as boys in the seven to eight year old age group, running was the thing to do. You ran everywhere, but John (we always called him 'Jon Jon,') Jon Jon was walking toward us. The Frisbee was already flying, but we all stopped when he walked up, because we could see that he had a sling on his arm.
Any bodily injury to a boy that age is automatically worth several cool points and bragging rights for a week or more, but Jon Jon wasn't playing it like that. He didn't want to talk about it, didn't want to admit anything, and being boys that age we didn't press him, we just went on with playing Frisbee. The next afternoon's after-lunch recess found us back out there in the field, tossing that big red Frisbee back and forth, and Jon Jon came up to the group, this time not only in an arm sling but with a big bandage on his cheek. We all crowded around trying to find out what was going on with him, but like the day before, he was quiet and not very forthcoming. And naturally we lost interest pretty fast, and back we all went to our game playing, but you could tell Jon Jon's heart wasn't in it.
The next day, a Friday I recall, Jon Jon didn't even come to school. There was a lot of talk, of course, amongst us boys in the yard because anything different was ripe for the picking, and opinions flew back and forth. Come to find out none of us was right. Nothing could have entered our world views like this, not yet. We were all too young.
The weekend passed like all weekends passed when I was a kid--far too fast. Monday morning rolled around, and Jon Jon was back in class, but I didn't sit by him through those first few interminable hours, so all I could do was sort of look at him and wonder what had happened. When lunch came he was nowhere to be seen, but by recess time I found him out on the playground under one of the big pecan trees that lined the farthest part of the fenced-in playground, right next to the street.
The rest of the boys were out in the grass field already playing Frisbee, the spinning red disk flashing out across the green field from hand to eager hand, but Jon Jon was standing under one of the big pecan trees, picking up the big paper-shell pecans that littered the ground, cracking them slowly in one hand, favoring the other that still resided in it's dark blue sling. I sort of sidled up next to him quiet like, being the sensitive one of the groups, and I sort of kicked pecans along under the rubber soles of my Converse tennis shoes, picked up a few, and start cracking them. I can still recall how sweet those pecans tasted, flavoured with summer sun.
I finally asked him what had been happening to him, and he told me that the past few days he'd been beaten up each night. Nothing he had done to provoke it, he told me, it just happened. Every evening his father would get home from his job at the sawmill and his mom, who was a housewife, would serve supper. They'd eat together, and afterwards his dad would drink a few beers while he and his mom would wash dishes, and after the dishes were all put up they'd go and join his father who was already sitting in the living room in his big recliner, beer in hand, and they'd watch tv.
And one night, Jon Jon said, there had come a knock on the door. He had gotten up to answer it, he told me in a quiet voice, very unlike his usual shout of boyhood, without asking his father's permission, and when he had swung the door open wide there stood on the doorstep a six foot tall cockroach. It had beaten him up, punching him with four hard, sharp legs while it stood on it's hindmost two, and when it had hit him more times than he could count it tossed him across the room and slammed the door behind it. The same thing happened the next night, he told me in a trembling voice, and the next. At this point I wasn't sure if he was just making up stories to protect himself or what, but what he told me next put the proof to it.
His parents, Jon Jon said, deeply concerned about him had brought him to the hospital that Friday instead of letting him go to school, and he told me in his quietest voice that they had told them after his exam that it was really nothing to be concerned about, because, as the doctor had said, "There's just a bad bug going around."