One of many things that continue to haunt me:
When I was about eleven or twelve years old, and in the 6th grade, I was a member of a Cub Scout/Boy Scout troop at the [name withheld] Methodist Church in Paterson, New Jersey. I attended P.S. No. 4 at that time, an urban, racially mixed, working- and lower-class school. At school, I had a black friend named R.M. He was both friendly and hostile toward me – and sometimes he was both friendly and hostile at the same time.
In any case, I invited him to come to a scout meeting on a Friday night, and he did so. But it turned out that he was not welcome. The scout leaders, all adult men, asked me to come into “the office.” In “the office,” they explained to me that kids like R had their “own places” to go and that I should tell him so.
I went out and talked to R, telling him that he was not wanted at [name withheld] Methodist Church and that he could not come again. I said I was sorry. He said he understood. We both felt very bad, I think, although I could not then and cannot now fathom his subjectivity.
I really don’t know how he took it. I felt like crying. It was one of the many times in my life that I have felt a tightness in my upper chest and throat and a tension behind my nose and eyes – a deep and hopeless sadness that I have not been able to express in anything but momentary outbursts of tears and weeping, a kind of pathetic (or even bathetic and rather self-indulgent) breakdown that does not really communicate accurately the feeling behind the display.
R also hurt me (at least) once:
The first time I went to School No. 4 (“Foursies”), I was in the 4th grade. My family was very messed up at that time, and I was in a wretched and neglected state. I was bullied, bullied, and bullied – not only by tough boys but also by a girl (who, actually, I had a crush on), Elizabeth Brown. Here’s the (sorry) story:
I was in the fourth grade, sitting on the left side of the room (students’ point of view). We were still using straight pens and ink wells in the old wooden desks. I did not have (could not find?) my pen. The teacher always had a supply of extras from which students without pens could draw. The teacher gave me a pen. Elizabeth Brown, a pretty black girl sitting nearby, saw the pen and said, “Hey, that’s my pen!” I, feeling intimidated and also not particularly concerned as to which pen I used, began to give it to her, but the (white) teacher rather angrily intervened, insisting that Elizabeth keep quiet and that I keep the pen. Elizabeth looked sullen and said to me in a kind of “Ebonics talk” style that she was going to “get my ass” later.
“Later” (lunch time) came, and I, in a panic, tried to escape the building ahead of Elizabeth and my other black classmates. But R.M., who was at that time (almost) a friend of mine, saw me trying to make off. He ran after me and grabbed me and held me while the other black kids caught up with us. My black classmates surrounded me. I was being held by R on one side (the left) and by a girl named Elvira on the other side (the right). Elizabeth came up to me and belligerently threatened to kick my ass or something to that effect. I was terrified and felt miserable. She said, “you bess give me my pen.” I immediately and meekly (squeakily) peeped that I would – that she could have it as soon as we were back in class after lunch.
They then let me go, and I went home for lunch feeling hurt and pathetic. I guess I gave her the pen per our lunchtime “negotiations.”
I had many other hard times in PS No. 4 – getting my “ass kicked” now and again. Then, I went back to PS No. 17 for the 5th grade, and then back again to No. 4 for the 6th grade (this was when the Boy Scouts episode with R took place). By that time, I was beginning to do a bit of ass-kicking of my own. When I moved for the second time to PS No. 6, for the 7th and 8th grades, I was no longer a victim but rather an executioner.
Ah, the joys of youth!