What if the bully wasn’t the one with the fists? I know it sounds strange, especially when the fists were most certainly real and quite sharp. Just the word, fist, stops short of an accurate description, doesn’t it. I think of a ball when I hear the word fist. You know, ball up like a fist. But the sensation of Kevin’s fists striking the side of my head felt nothing like a ball. They felt more like the ends of sticks being jabbed into my skull. And when you added them up, one, two, three, four strikes in a row, my skull started to feel like it was cracking open or breaking apart like dried mud.
This is what Kevin would do. During lunch, he would leave his table, his special table because that was where the special kids sat, over in the corner of the cafeteria as if they were put onto a stage, while the rest of the school, eating their pizzas and drinking their tiny chocolate milks, watched and waited. Then Kevin would bound over, each high step followed by a tiny jump, over to where I sat, to one of the cool tables with cool kids, and he would hit me with both fists atop my ducking, covered head. Whenever this happened, and I’d say it happened about ten times my junior year, the cafeteria erupted into laughter. The boisterous reaction tickled Kevin so much that he started to laugh too, and just as he was about to hit me again, a teacher or assistant principal would arrive and gently escort him back to his table. All the while, laughter would continue to roar, but by the time Kevin returned to his table, the absent, blank look on his face signaled he’d already forgotten why everyone was laughing in the first place.
Then there was what I saw when I saw Kevin outside of the cafeteria. Kids called him names like Downy because they mistakenly thought he had down syndrome or Ree-Ree, a play on retard. And do you know what Kevin did? He laughed. He thought they were being cool to him and so he’d jump around and sort of dance and they’d say, go Ree-Ree, go Ree-Ree, go. And what did I do? I did nothing. That’s what I did. Nothing. I didn’t laugh or join in or tell a teacher or even authorize my brain to make a thought. I simply stood there and watched, and in this nothingness, I turned into the biggest bully of them all. One friend even encouraged me to swing on Kevin. He said just knock him in the back of his big old block head when he isn’t looking. He said, lord knows that dumbass sure took a few bites our of your head. Again, I did nothing.
By the end of the year, you could say I had began to welcome his fists. Maybe it was a form of self-punishment. Maybe it was my attempt to comfort Kevin. Because he really did seem to love all the kids laughing at him, though I knew how wrong this logic was. Then I had a change of mind. On the last time he bounded over to my table to swing at my head, I had come up with a plan. Instead of sitting there and covering up, waiting for the teachers to grab Kevin, I stood just as he arrived. I could see the confusion in his eyes and it almost looked like he was going to cry. Somehow, I think I had disappointed him. But then I took off in a run, a chase of sorts. He liked this and ran after me. I ran down one row of tables and back up another and I remember there was no laughing. The only sounds were my heavy breaths and Kevin’s. I stopped and turned to Kevin who smiled. He was enjoying it. So I took off again and this time I ran up to the giant glass windows and the door at the side of the cafeteria. I paused to look at the teachers, their faces unbelieving and completely confused. I opened the door and ran out, waving Kevin to follow me. When we got outside onto the patio, he ran up to me and stopped. I said to him, this isn’t the place for you Kevin. We were both out of breath. Then I said, it’s not the place for me either but again you must know, it’s not the place for you. For his part, Kevin just stood there watching me, waiting I suppose. I don’t know what I expected. My plan had reached its conclusion and quite hurriedly, some teachers ran out to check on us. They returned us to the cafeteria where the silence was deafening. Whatever my plan did, I know this was the last time Kevin ever tried to hit me, the last time we ever became the main attraction at lunch.
A few weeks later, school let out for the summer and I never saw Kevin again. He had turned eighteen. An assistant principal told me people like Kevin didn’t really graduate, they just left.
To Kevin leaving, I thought, good. I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if wherever Kevin was, he was happy, that he made people laugh for the right reasons and that he had better people than me around, people who did more than nothing. Wouldn’t that be nice, I thought, if it was true.
Daniel W. Thompson’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications like decomP, WhiskeyPaper, Third Point Press, Jellyfish Review and Lost Balloon. He works as a city planner and lives in downtown Richmond, VA, with his wife and children.