“Your mom’s a whore,” said Paul. Mother’s last words floated in my mind, “You would like school if you tried to make more friends there.” It had only been a week since the ski trip. Paul was sitting in front of me on the school bus and had turned around to give me this bit of information. He had short wavy brown hair and a pug nose. His features seemed too large for his face. “She’s a whore!”
“Don’t say that,” I told him. I could feel my defenses rising. I wanted to start calling him names, but Patsy did a good job shielding me from the vocabulary I needed as weapons.
“And your sister’s a lesbian,” he said. I didn’t know what that meant but I knew Paul didn’t mean it as a good thing. The bus headed to the Lab School. It shook and rumbled down Wisconsin Avenue. Paul’s hair was slicked back and he had on a leather jacket with the collar turned up, emulating “Fonzie” from Happy Days on TV.
“They are both whores.”
“Stop saying that.”
“Whores, Whores! WHORES!”
Next to me was my Star Trek lunch box. I gripped its handle tightly and each time he said “Whore”, I banged it against the back of his seat.
“WHORES! And what are you going to do about it?”
I swung the lunch box high over his head and brought it down with all my strength. Paul’s head was harder then I thought it would be and when I hit him, his head didn’t move. The other kids were quiet. Paul was quiet. Then the blood poured from his head. The other kids started screaming. The bus driver looked back and stopped. He called for an ambulance. Immediately, I wanted to take it back. I closed my eyes, thinking hard, trying to stop time and go backwards. But when I opened my eyes, everyone was looking at me as if I were a monster.
I felt remorse wash over me or maybe I was afraid of what Mother would do to me. Tears started running down my face. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” I said, but he didn’t answer. He didn’t even cry. “I’m sorry. Please be okay.”
The paramedics made their way to where he was sitting and wrapped his head with gauze.
“Paul. I’m sorry,” I said as he walked off the bus. He stuck his thumb up in the air and, just like Fonzie, said “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.” I knew he wasn’t going to be mad at me. From then on, I would feel obligated to try and be friendly with him.
I was suspended for three days and cried for the first two until Mother said, “When I was your age, I was playing around with a baseball bat and my friend walked up and I hit him in the head. Just about killed him, but he got better and everything was okay.” I felt a little better. I wasn’t the worst person on Earth and Mother had been bad too. She really understood how I felt. “But I want you to be nice to that boy from now on, okay?”
On my first day at the Lab School, I had seen Paul’s tennis shoes sticking out from under the timeout box. In class he was always getting in trouble. He didn’t have any friends, but Mother made it clear I should try and befriend him.
I found him at lunch. His back was turned to me, but I could see white make-up at the fringes of his face, up near his hairline and around his ears. I sat next to him. He turned to me, his face was covered in black and white makeup with a silver star over one eye, just like a member of the band “Kiss”, he explained. I had no clue who Kiss was and thought he made it up. He wanted to be anyone other than himself. I understood the feeling. It was the nature of being dyslexic.
I was about to say I was sorry when he burst in with, “We can be friends now!” He sounded desperate.
“Okay,” I said and, with that, the contract was made.
At my house, he didn’t wear the makeup; that was only on school days. We went outside and he grabbed a discarded sandwich bag that was lying on the sidewalk. He used it to pick up a pile of old dog poop, walked over to my neighbor’s car and slapped it down on the windshield, wiping it across the glass, in a motion that, if he was using a rag instead of crap, might have buffed it nicely.
“Why did you do that?” I said to him, utterly confused.
“Why the hell not?” he said back.
Paul was hyperactive; his outbursts were due to the chemical imbalances in his head. His dyslexia was related to being hyperactive. It made it impossible for him to focus. They grouped dyslexics on our inability to learn but, in fact, there was a wide range of reasons why we couldn’t learn. My difficulty was with codes and symbols; other kids could read them perfectly but once they were done, couldn’t remember a thing. Paul’s was hyperactivity. But at the time Paul was entertaining. I never knew what would happen next. And, in part, that was why he did the things he did. If it was disgusting, people gave him more attention, even if it was just to run away.
We went into the house. Mother had made breakfast of sausage, eggs and toast. Sitting at the table, I filled my plate and made myself an egg and sausage sandwich. Paul looked at the sausages, then turned to me.
“Is this pork? I’m not supposed to eat pork.” He could play with poo, but couldn’t eat pork?
“I think so,” I said. “It tastes really good. Try some.” I gobbled it down.
He shook his head.
“Why can’t you eat it?”
“My dad’s Jewish but I can eat it.”
“If you’re Jewish you’re not supposed to, ” he said.
I didn’t understand.
“It looks good. What does it taste like?”
“It tastes great. Salty and sweet at the same time,” I said.
He picked up a few links of sausage, eating the eggs first, then stabbing the sausages with his fork. “Don’t tell anyone,” he said just before taking a bite.
He finished the rest.
We suffered the same torture at the Lab School from older bullies like Sermon. Out of the two of us, Paul was by far the tougher.
“You stink like shit,” Paul said to Sermon. Sermon punched Paul so hard he fell down, but when Paul got up he just said it again. Sermon kept beating him, but Paul wouldn’t take it back. I hated Sermon but I hated Paul too sometimes. Why would Paul want to get hurt again? He was so desperate for attention and watching him get hurt made me feel bad. When Sermon stopped and walked away, Paul called after him from the floor with a bloody lip. “See, he even knows it! You stink like shit!”
Physically, Paul had been a bit shorter than me, not husky, but not frail either, with brown wavy hair that he kept in check by constantly combing. His brown puppy eyes seemed to beg for forgiveness, but then he would just be bad again.
Every day before we went to the playground, Paul would stop by the nurse’s office, his face painted like “Kiss”. He had to pick up his Ritalin. At lunch Paul walked over to a kid who was eating his sandwich from a paper bag. The boy was pulling the crust off his bread. Paul stood behind him for a moment to make sure I had an eye on him, then slapped the kid hard on the top of his head. The teacher grabbed Paul by the tender part of his arm and quickly pushed him toward the door. Paul smiled on his way and stuck his tongue out, wiggling it like Gene Simmons. He was drinking in the attention from the other students, his audience, slowing his exit. The teacher pushed with more force. The timeout box, which was more of a chair with blinders, sat next to the receptionist. I could tell when Paul was in it by his tennis shoes. They were sad and beaten, worn down and out. He periodically painted them white with Liquid Paper, but they never looked new.
His house was in North East and his was the only white family on the block. Walking into his house for the first time, I passed the living room, looking through the clear plastic sheets meant to keep in the heat. I could see that the floor had fallen into the basement.
“Don’t go in there.” Paul led me on and I didn’t mention it to him or the other kids at school.
His family was poor white trash, with four boys and two girls, His parents were messy. His mother was overweight and his father slouched. I felt lucky to have the parents I did.
The last day I hung out with him we aimlessly walked around his neighborhood. The front of Paul’s house had bare wood siding. In the corners, you could still see the green primer. The front door was filled with tan wood putty that hadn’t been sanded. The paneling had rotted away under all the windows. The steps were uneven and looked unsafe to use. The lawn was nothing more then dirt and patches and dead weeds. A broken down boiler, refrigerator and television sat on one side of the house. The walkway was cracked and uneven. Every other house on the block was well kept. As we walked away from his house, some kind of change in polarity had taken place inside him as if the further away he was from his house, the less shame he felt .
“Watch this!” Paul exclaimed. He strutted over to a black kid about our age and punched him in the face. The fight lasted under a minute. Paul lay on the ground, receiving blows by the dozen. The black kid, tired of the workout, finally released him. He walked over to me and said, “What are you looking at cracker!” Then socked me in the eye. I grabbed Paul and we ran away.
“Did you see that?” he laughed, unaffected. Paul's head was rock hard. His supernatural strength lay in his extra thick skull. It must’ve been at least four inches deep because he didn’t have fear of the pain that comes with a beating. My eye was already turning blue. I wasn’t as tough and I wouldn’t be going back to Paul’s house. At school the next day, I avoided him. At lunch he cornered me.
“Let’s go to the arcade,” he said.
“No. We will get in trouble.”
“No we won’t. After we can just go home.”
“I have to hang out with Dash.”
“Dash is an asshole.”
“Why do you say that?”
“He’s just some stupid fat kid.”
“He’s my friend.”
“Come on let’s go to the arcade.”
“No.” I walked over to where Dash was and turned my back to Paul. I could feel him watching me, then he faced the kid closest to him and slapped him hard across the face. The teacher sent Paul to the box. I wouldn’t hang out with him again until I was in high school.
-Ethan H. Minsker