Friday, January 9, 2015

Rat Boy and the Story of Long Regrets

Sometime in 6th grade I was walking with my best friend behind a grocery store near our home.  We had just finished a trip to the quick y mart and quiet possibly the Goodwill and had decided to take the decidedly more edgy route home, the dangerous alley behind the grocery stores where the employees park and deliveries are made.  If you grew up in a town with half as many signs as the town I grew up in had then you would realize this was restricted access territory.  You would know how courageous and slick we were to walk that way instead of the safe path in the front of the stores with the manicured parking lot and pedestrian protecting sidewalk.

We were within sight of the exit of the utility alley and I was secretly relieved to have made it out alive.  My heart was already racing, I was a little sick to my stomach, and I was really looking forward to reaching our favoured big gulp consumption point across the street as my hand was getting cold.  We had almost made it when a shape materialized out of the shadows.  Little Bird and I were both on the tall side of the scale his lanky frame contrasting to my morbidly obese one.  We were the late 90's awkwardly pubescent Laurel and Hardy.  This small shape that emerged from the shadows was not a rat, which would have been pretty exiting in our sanitized suburban life.  No this was a boy of similar age but only about half of Little Bird's height.  Little Bird was several yards in front of me when rat-boy walked up to him and asked if he could hit him.  Now Little Bird's face read the same kind of strange confusion that you, dear reader, are feeling as you read this.  It was a bit of, "Did I hear that right?" mixed with, "Hell no."  Little Bird, being the quiet fellow that he was said a simple, "aaahh....no."  When the little terror lashed out and punched him in the face and ran towards me.  I was in shock.  My hammy right hand was already sweaty from the stress of traversing this unwelcoming place and here we were being straight up mugged.  My already nervous heart rate was now running at a smooth hum and the nervous feeling in my stomach was edging dangerously close to nausea.

Rat boy now races towards me and I reach out my right leg to try and trip him and he jumps over the slow moving obstacle with ease and races past.  I think about hitting him with my big gulp but A) I've never hit a stationary target much less a moving one with anything I had ever thrown in my entire life...ever and B) That was a dear 75 cents to get that Big Gulp.  I thought about chasing him but again was confronted with 2 doses of harsh reality.  A) There is no way that 15 minute mile me could catch this spry rodent child that was speeding away from me and B) what would I do if I could catch him.  What if he hit me in the face?

Now Little Bird and I had been in several tussles at this stage in life both with each other and almost every other boy we knew and some girls we didn't.  We had cooperatively beat up enough kids to know we could do it but this shocking assault was something totally new to me.  If this kid had the guts to hit a complete stranger in an alley what else was he willing to do.  Here was a kid who was severely more dangerous than our daring saunter past the loading docks of Thrifty's.  In all my ruffian antics and bullying fisticuffs I had never bare knuckle punched another kid in the face.  We would allow head shots with boxing gloves but it felt wrong in my strange set of life rules to do things this way.  For one it doesn't make sense as a bully to punch a kid in the face.  In the gentle art of bullying the trick is to mix intimidation with a lack of evidence.  The only time I got in trouble for fighting that I couldn't lie my way out of was when one of my normal victims was kicking me and I hit him back...right as his Mom pulled up.  You don't punch someone in the face.  Body shots hurt as bad if placed properly but you send a kid home with a bloody nose and you know you've got it coming.  It just wasn't done.

Frozen in this cultural quagmire and moral quandary I simply watched this kid run away.  We walked to the light and waited for it to turn green and the guilt of betrayal burned in me.  The sickening feeling of failure that I should have done something to stick up for my friend who just experienced a drive by socking.  Looking back at my life in those days despite being a pretty bad person as a whole I was an even worse friend.  Little Bird on the other hand was the kind of loyal best friend that always considered what you were going through with his reactions to you and is always there to support you no matter what.  Good friends like that don't understand bad friends like me.  You could see a new confusion and hurt on his face that ate away at me far worse than my fear of rat boy or my failure to be a man of action.  I had failed to be a friend.

Our relationship changed that day and although we were still best friends for several years we ended up going to different High Schools and we grew more and more apart.  Not because Little Bird avoided me but because I grew to avoid him.  We still hung out at least once a week but my failure in that alley had been the first of several situations where I was not the friend I should have been and I was ashamed of myself.  I don't think he could trust me to be there for him like he had before his nose was numb from some strange pugilistic force.

It's strange that as a 30 year old man one of those memories that bothers me most is a time I didn't hit someone.  I wish I knew what I know now and that at the very least I should have chased that kid till I threw up or he punched me in the face.  I wished I would have written back to Little Bird when he was deployed instead of being too busy with my freshman year of college to find the time or buy a stamp.  I wish I would have hung out with him instead of positioning myself around girls I didn't have the guts to ask out.  I wish when I went home hanging out with him wasn't so awkward as it is now.  I sometimes wish I was that fat kid clutching onto that big gulp with my sweaty hand and that we had just stayed on the sidewalk.

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