“You’re slow as molasses!” boomed Sister Theresa across the classroom. I was pretty slow. All of my peers were in recess while I struggled to complete my assignment for penmanship class. Finally, I managed to finish the work and I handed it to her. She took the paper and shook her head telling me to go outside with the other kids.
Grabbing my coat and hat from the closet room in back of the classroom, I proceeded outside. The other kids were playing so I went and sat in my usual corner. I liked that corner of the playground because of the ants. There was a crack in the bricks where the ants lived. I would watch them crawl in and out of their hole searching for food. That particular day, I brought a piece of bread from home. When no one was looking, I crumbled the bread and watched the ants take the bits into their hole.
After watching the ants collect food, I would turn my attention to other important matters -- Isabel. She was beautiful. I remember her running around with the other girls playing ‘it’. I figured that Isabel and I would be married one day. I loved her.
I didn’t get to watch Isabel for very long. The other part of my daily routine would always arrive just as I became intent with watching Isabel. That part was named Daryl Chrome. That particular day, Daryl made his presence known by smacking me in the head with a basketball. My head pivoted like a Pez dispenser and stung in the cool, fall air. When I looked up, Daryl (the ontology of Satan) was standing above me. That was when the other kids would all gather round to watch the show. “Live! From Saint Philips and James Elementary school; it’s Daryl Chrome!”
That was when Daryl would tell me how dumb I was. I just stood there in the middle of all of the kids as they laughed. But that’s not what bothered me. It was the Daryl Chrome Intellect Quiz, which I despised the most.
I tried to answer the questions, but they were asked too quickly. I just couldn’t keep up, or I just couldn’t remember. I was just too stupid.
I tried walking away, but Daryl always stood in my path. I believe it was during those times when the lump first began to plague me. It would well up in my throat, choking me, but I fought it.
On several occasions, my parents were called into school. The nuns were evidently displeased by my performance. I tried telling my Mother that the other kids really did not like me. I tried to explain that it was hard to concentrate when you are being tormented. My Mother told me that I was just being too sensitive and that it really wasn’t that bad. “Oh, okay.” I thought. The real problem, my parents decided was that I was simply not focused enough. I daydreamed too much. But they had the answer to this problem.
After one of these parent-teacher conferences my parents took me home and told me they were going to teach me to focus. “From this point forward, every day you have to go to your room from five o’clock until eight o’clock.” my Mother announced.
They stood looking at me as though they had just solved world hunger. I inquired as to what I was supposed to do when I was sitting in my room. “That’s the best part,” my Mother said, “you can do anything you want!”
So, every day at five o’clock, I sat in my room for three hours. I could hear Abba playing in the living room or Saturday Night Fever. Sometimes there were other people talking and laughing along with the music playing. I think they were playing board games. Sometimes when I came out of my room I would see the remnants of visitors lying around the living room; glasses, coke cans, games lying around. Sometimes the people were still there, but I wasn’t really interested in what they were doing, since I had to be in bed by nine o’clock. I would run downstairs and turn on the T.V. so I could watch Buck Rodgers or Battle Star Galactica.
Once, my mother told me to try playing sports with the other kids and perhaps they’d start liking me. At the time, I figured I was not much of an athlete. I was more of a television and cinema type of person. I was a very Sci-fi kid. When I hear people talk about how sports changed their life I feel the same way about Star Wars. Having nothing to lose, I decided my mother’s advice was worth pursuing.
I reluctantly asked my father to teach me how to play some sports. He decided that baseball would be the game. We went to the yard with our gloves and ball. We started throwing the ball back and forth, and we progressively increased the distance between us. Then it happened; a pitch. I went backwards trying to get underneath of the ball and when the ball came down, it missed the opening of the glove and hit me in the face. My lip was busted, and my Father stood above me shaking his head, “I don’t have time for this nonsense. Now either get up and try again or learn on your own.”
I started getting up, but I guess I wasn’t fast enough. He threw the glove at my feet and walked off in disgust. I stood in the yard looking down at the glove. That was the only and last time my Father and I played sports.
Undaunted by this defeat, I again tried the part of the athlete. The next week in school, I decided that I was going to play sports with the other kids. I had no idea what I was doing, but I gave it the old college try. Basketball was the game. I ran up and down the court screaming and yelling for the ball. For a very long time, no one would pass to me (although I was open quite a bit). At last! Someone passed me the ball. It was my moment of glory. I had to strut my stuff. Smacking the ball down the court, as opposed to dribbling it, one foot hit the other, and I flew into the air. The ball stayed locked within my hands as I collided with the earth. My face smashed into the ball. Just before I passed into unconsciousness, I heard the roar of laughter.
One time, Daryl caught me in my corner feeding the ants. Needless to say, I was back after giving up the dream of sports. On this day, Daryl decided to give me his full undivided attention during recess. I was sitting there crumbling my bread when Daryl came over to see what I was doing. Naturally, Daryl began crushing the ants. Truly, he was a persistent person. He stomped and stomped! Then he found the hole and began stuffing chewing gum into the opening. He used an entire pack. I never saw those ants again. I turned and stared out the playground fence with Daryl and the others jeering behind me. I didn’t hear them. I was too busy fighting the lump.
In all the years of elementary school, Isabel only spoke to me once. But more importantly, she never once stood in the group laughing. Never once did she utter “molasses” or “stupid”. Her silence was golden!
Now this is a bit silly, but one day somewhere in the sixth-grade year, during one of my corner sittings, I heard one of the girls yelling. Daryl was on the prowl! He had decided to pull the girl’s skirts up. I watched him chasing the girls around until he got to Isabel. That was when I got off the wall. I dashed across the playground and leaped on Daryl’s back. He easily threw me to the ground. I was skinny and weak.
I held the ice bag to my eye. It stung a bit, and my jaw ached. But it was the lump that hurt the worst. Gnawing at my throat to be released. In the midst of this agony, Isabel came into the nurse’s office. Her uniform was ruffled, and her knee was scraped. She sat with the moisture of recent tears on her cheeks. I looked towards her and she whispered hoarsely, “Thanks.”
The lump was gone.
At the time, I felt a new hope. Isabel had spoken to me. My thinking was inspired to new dreams. Yes, it was as I had always conceived; we would be married. I was the heroic knight, (losing the fight did not dim my thinking on this matter) who had saved her from the wrath of Daryl. In a child’s way, I thought, “She loves me.”
I would never learn whether my belief was true. Shortly after the Main Event, Isabel left the school. Her family moved. I remember that day well. I was sitting in my corner staring at the ground. The ants were gone. Isabel was gone. Of course, there was still Daryl, and the war with the lump.