Over the course of our lives, we meet hundreds of people. Some we know for brief periods, while others we know for significantly longer. As I periodically wander through the long, earthen halls of my memory, I come to sections that are plastered over with pictures of certain people I used to know. Each one was in my life for a short time, but all stuck with me. They taught me everything and nothing about humanity and life, each lesson more important than the last, and some hidden until I come upon a new struggle along the road. This month I decided to write one blog for each of my three.
The Bad One
To a four year old, everything seems to last forever. In reality, I probably went to that daycare for a couple months at most. To my recollection, however, I was there for many years. Every morning I would wake up in the front seat of our station wagon, sticky from sweat. My mom, made up for work (big hair and thick shoulder pads included), would look over at me and smile. Though she never really talked during this car ride, she said a lot with her expressions. We traveled on a single lane road that weaved its way through green fields full of hot air balloons just leaving the ground for their grand morning adventure.
My mom worked at a school of some kind, and daycare was included. I didn’t care to play with other children most of the time. I enjoyed sitting with my stuffed Pound Puppies and observing the other kids to learn more about them. At other daycares the caregivers would try to get involved, doing everything they could think of to get “that one loner kid” some friends. At this particular one, however, the caregivers didn’t bother me much. For this reason, it is still my favorite of all the daycares I have ever attended.
The morning had gone like any other: Wake up, sweaty, smile, fields, rainbow colored balloons. Change was in the summer air as soon as I walked through the care center’s doors. The caregivers were all smiling at me, excited about something. They said goodbye to my mom and immediately whisked me outside to the playground.
“We want you to meet Someone New!” they said as they gathered around.
“Someone New” always meant someone I wouldn’t like very much. I kind of wanted to go back inside where it was cold, curl up in the quiet corner and look at a picture book with my Pound Puppy toy. Alas, I was to be a fly on the wall no longer, and so I settled into the moment of disappointment with as much patience as possible. They called his name, though I can never remember what it was, and no one responded to it.
“GET YOUR DAMN HANDS OUT OF MY FACE!” a boy’s voice cut into the air.
The adults looked at each other awkwardly, as one called up the slide for the boy (I think his name was Cody) and told him sweetly that bad language was frowned upon.
“Cody, come down now. The girl we told you about is here,” she added.
He zipped down the slide, and just like that I saw him for the first time. My faulty memory does not bring back his face when I think of him. I remember most that he had feathery dark hair coiffed in the same fashion as Michael Kelso in the earlier seasons of That 70’s Show. I liked the contrast between his hair color and the porcelain white of his skin. He was lean and tall, his body persistently holding a strong and powerful posture. He wore a dark blue windbreaker, and in his hand he held a brown Pound Puppy stuffed animal.
Without hesitation he strutted right up to me and gave me a hug.
“Hi,” he said with enthusiasm. “Do you have a Pound Puppy?”
“Yes,” I said in my soft spoken way, and I handed him the Pound Puppy I had chosen to take that morning.
“It’s the same one!” he exclaimed, holding his stuffed animal next to mine. “We are friends now, right?”
He turned out to be a crazy kid. He was outspoken, loud and disrespectful. None of the other kids wanted to play with him because he was too much for them most of the time. The caregivers were constantly pulling his parents aside as they dropped him off and picked him up, and his dad always seemed especially agitated when they left.
That boy had a surplus of energy, while I was more like one of those boring ladies from a Jane Austen novel. Somehow, though, we evened each other out, and he was always protective over me. We played at a lot of different things. We were pirates, theater goers, we read books and did art projects together. It didn’t matter what it was we played, Cody’s characters always ended up being smokers. A caregiver once asked him if his parents smoked, and he said no. They asked why he wanted to pretend to smoke all the time. He decided that using a few choice words and spitting at them was the best way to respond, and the subject of WHY Cody did what he did was never brought up again.
Sometimes, after lunch, they would play Barney tapes for us and turn off all the lights. Cody said Barney was for babies and he was a “big kid,” much too old for such nonsense. He refused to watch it, and we would sit in the quiet corner together pretending not to watch. At times, we even danced together when the music parts came on.
One day we were playing with a wagon, and he got into yet another fight with a younger boy for one reason or another. He gave the boy a busted, bleeding nose and was subsequently sent to time out for a good five minutes. I spotted him across the play ground, face red as he listened to a stern lecture from one of the caregivers.
When he was done with his punishment he stomped back to me, still sitting in the wagon, fuming about what a bitch Mrs. Whatsits was. He finished his heated tirade by saying everyone was out to get him and he didn’t know why.
“Well,” I said in my pensive way, “you aren’t a good boy.”
He turned his gaze on me, half upset and half shocked. I stared back at him until his expression softened and he looked down at his shoes ashamed.
“I know.” He eyed a pebble next to his foot and kicked it half halfheartedly.
“Did you ever try to be a good boy?”
“YES! Every day, but something ends up going wrong.”
“My mommy said the devil wants you to do bad things, and if you do bad things, you are in his hands.”
“In the devil’s hands?” He climbed into the wagon, suddenly interested in what I was saying.
“Yes, and in his hands is a bad place to be. You should try to be in God’s hands, that is a good place to be.”
To this day, I am not sure why talking about God suddenly made him so interested. I would even go as far as saying he seemed passionate about being good.
He leaned closer to me. “I have tried hard to be in God’s hands, but I don’t know how. How do I?”
“You have to listen to your deep down feelings. They tell you if something is right or wrong.”
“My deep down feelings.” He sat back pensively.
I left him with his thoughts and went to swing.
After a couple days of being gone, I returned to the daycare and he was already there. He looked completely different; his usual long sleeved sweater was replaced with a maroon T-shirt, and his hair was a mess.
He was rolling on the floor, playing with the little kids and the caregivers were standing huddled together looking at him in utter bemusement.
He saw me, jumped up and ran to me filled with excitement.
“Camille! I listened to my deep down feelings all weekend, and it worked! I was playing with the little kids, see? I think I am in God’s hands now.”
I gave him a hug and told him how proud I was of how good he was being, and on the inside I wondered how long his good behavior would last.
He was the picture of a good boy for weeks. All the kids wanted to play with him because he was “so cool”, and the caregivers were pleased to have that bad boy out of their hair. Every day he seemed bright, and he wore a regular smile on his face.
Then a day came that brought with it something I will never forget. I was late to daycare, showing up around noon instead of early morning. I went to the quiet corner and saw him sitting squished up into a sweater like a turtle in its shell. Only his bloodshot eyes could be seen out of the neck hole, and his hands were hidden entirely. I sat in my favorite spot, the coziest corner of the quiet corner, and I said hello to him. He hid his face deeper into his turtleneck.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“No!” he retorted, his word muffled.
“YOU!” He said bursting out of his woolen cover. “YOU ARE WHAT’S WRONG!” He picked stuffed animals and books up, throwing them at me bitterly as he shouted. “I NEEDED YOU AND YOU WEREN’T HERE! WHERE WERE YOU!!” He sobbed with everything he had, incredibly internally defeated. He melted to the floor when he ran out of things to throw.
One of the caregivers came to see what all the commotion was about. She chastised him and said he was scaring me.
“Look,” she scolded. “She is hiding in a corner because you are being beastly.” She told him to stop and went to break up another fight happening at the art table.
I sat for a moment, observing my dear friend. He was on his knees curled into the fetal position, hands over his ears, his crying now a soft whimper. I didn’t know what was causing him so much inner turmoil, and I didn’t know what to say. I slowly crawled to him, patted his back and hugged him until he stopped crying. He rolled over onto his back and looked up at me, and I could see he was going through something tough for a five year old boy to handle. While I didn’t know what it was, I wanted to be there to help him through it.
My mom picked me up early that day. She explained to me on the way home that we would not be returning to that day care. She didn’t work at that school any more.
Perhaps I remember this boy so often because it was evident he needed me at that time in his life, and I wasn’t there for him. It is a story that never got its finish. I am always looking back to my memories of him and wondering how his life turned out. I wonder if he ended up being the smoker he pretended to be, a good guy or a bad guy. I hope he is doing well, wherever he is.
When I think back to that boy, I am always reminded that even if some people can be problematic at times, they are still people — people who are going through things that we don’t always know about. It is important to always be patient, kind, firm when needed, and when all else fails, a hug can go a long way.