I find myself digging up old memories from my childhood. Particularly of kids less fortunate than I was. And when you’re a kid it isn’t always apparent that something is wrong, until you do see something odd or off-putting.
I was in fourth grade. This thin boy with shoulder-length hair always came to school in the same outfit; an oversized hoodie, jeans, and a pair of beat-up sneakers. He was always targeted by bullies. Kept his head down, would put his hood up, and had angry outbursts often with either the kids around him or the teachers. He was nice enough of a kid before he started having these outbursts. Very ecstatic, just wanted to make friends. His name was James.
James was a cute kid. I remember I had a little crush on him but felt ashamed to admit it. All my friends thought he was weird. Which to be quite frank, so did I. He started to become less social throughout the year. Seemed angry at everyone and everything.
And that’s around the time I remember him coming to school with cigarette burns on his face.
Someone had taken their cigarette and ashed it out on his forehead and hard too because it had left a bloody crater on his face. At first, he had a band-aid covering it but eventually, that fell off during the school day. I remember all the kids were kind of staring at him during the reading hour. A teacher was called in and asked if he’d go with her to the principal’s office. He looked scared.
A few weeks had past and the days he was at school I could see the cigarette burn was getting better. But, of course, that didn’t last long because a month or so later, another burn was on his face, this time in between his eyebrows. And every day he became more and more insecure. Hiding in his hoodie, looking down, crossing his arms.
I feel bad now that I’m older and can comprehend it all. I know he could have used a friend.
He had nobody. Every kid steered clear of him, either because they thought he was weird or didn’t want to be associated with him and have the bullies pick on them as well.
A few more months passed. Now he was starting to have outbursts. He would lash out at teachers because he’d get in trouble for not behaving or paying attention.
It was spring now. He had this awful purple and blue bruise on his throat. Looking back now, he was likely choked, but, to either cover it up and/or to inflict self-harm, he started choking himself in class. He would take his two thumbs and wrap his hands around his neck pressing hard on the bruise. He’d choke and press till his face turned purple and the veins popped out of his forehead.
He hated himself.
I can’t imagine his home life. To cause a little kid that kind of mental distress… he was only 9 years old…
I’m angry with myself for not standing up for him or being more friendly.
I saw him three years ago. Hadn’t seen him since elementary school. I was with all my friends who also all had gone to the same school. We were at Denny’s laughing and talking, waiting for our order when he walked in. He walked in with his family. He was still cute; long hair, big brown eyes, freckles. He was very tall now, but, still skinny. Suddenly memories came back and I remembered that purple bruise, the cigarette burn, and that sad, angry little boy. My friends remembered him too and started looking. Either out of awkwardness or just plain naivety, my friends started laughing “Omg, is that James?!! I remember that kid! He was so weird…”. I was afraid he could hear, he was pretty close. And I didn’t want him to see me if he had, so I tried my best to not look and changed the conversation but I couldn’t stop looking up at his table.
His dad, mom, and his younger siblings were all there. They hadn’t even smiled once since sitting down. They all looked so down and gloomy. They’d even sat in a darkly lit booth, so perhaps my memories hold them there in that depressive light. Doesn’t help I’d known all that had happened and why James had to transfer schools as a kid.
He caught my eye. And we kept making eye contact throughout the night. I saw sadness and worry in his eyes. I tried to keep my focus on the conversation because I didn’t want him to associate our laughter to be at his expense.
Eventually, we left and I hadn’t thought of him since until a few months ago. Something must have reminded me of him.
I searched all social media for him, eventually coming across his Facebook. Didn’t have many posts but did have one… “In a domestic relationship” 2018. There were 33 comments. All his relatives were seemingly unapproving of the relationship. They all spoke badly of a woman named Billy. Said she was trouble, a whore, and likely had an STDs.
I looked her up. She was 26 years old, with a kid, and looked as though she had some kind of drug habit. Her bio read “Tired and overwhelmed with life. bipolar disorder and PTSD making this crap hard”. I looked in our area for her name to see what kind of trouble they were all alluding to.
She’s had several encounters with the police, second-degree harassment charges, failure to show up to court, etc., etc. I came across James’ name as well. Both of them had trespassed a property in August of 2018.
It makes me sad. How circumstances shape a person’s life; poor working-class families never getting to the latter, never breaking the cycle.
No one chooses their family. We are dealt a card in life, and that’s what you get. It takes real courage and strength to change the deep-rooted beliefs in a family. And it just makes it 10x harder if they’re reinforced at school.
So be nice. Be nice to that weird kid, shy kid, or angry kid. You never know what they’re dealing with or the cards they were dealt.
I’m sure you already know that.
“Those faces you see every day on the streets were not created entirely without hope: be kind to them: like you they have not escaped.” – Charles Bukowski