Walk, man

I have no axe to grind today. I’m just telling a story. Sit back while Auntie Evil tells you about the Walkman.

In eighth grade, I lived in the suburbs on the south side of Atlanta. If I lived in Jonesboro now, I would get some mad street cred while people suddenly were overcome with a desire to frisk me. In 1990, when I was there, it was only slightly more hood than any other suburban, strip-mall town.

One morning in eighth grade, I puttered around in my locker as my English teacher looked on, monitoring the morning hall traffic. I was puttering because I was waiting for a bus to arrive. A bus bearing a guy who was allegedly two years older than everyone else in the eighth grade, a Blood, a drug dealer and the star of every boys’ athletic team at the school. As he started to pass me at my locker, I yelled out his name, snapped my fingers, held out my hand and looked up at him. Death stare received, he dug through his bag and produced my Walkman. I proceeded into English class, bypassing a very stunned hall monitoring teacher.

I’ve pulled a Memento on you. We need to back up.

This fellow and I were friends. The kind of friends who always find themselves waiting on their rides after school. As other extracurricular students went home, we were more and more alone together. I was co-captain of the dance team. He was captain of the football team. I was little, shy and naive. I kept waiting for him to love me for my mind. For his part, he rather enjoyed grabbing my ass.

Still, stupidly, I let him borrow a favorite tape and my Walkman. It became more and more apparent that I would never see either again. But for my lack of respect for arbitrary rules, this would have been very simple: saving up allowance and buying a new tape and a new player. Two months of allowance. Besides, that’s just wrong. I shouldn’t have to replace things.

While his team was out running and tackling, I went into the boys’ locker room to steal my stuff back, only to find his locker actually locked. Madness. I could see it through the metal mesh, my favorite tape pitifully crying to me through the Walkman’s tiny plastic window. After weeks of him claiming to have left the Walkman at home, here it was, mocking me from behind a 3-dollar padlock.

“Meet me in the gym after practice and I’ll give it to you…but you have to come in the locker room with me to get it.”

Ladies, forgive the stupidity. I was young. Age 14 was younger then. Sexting didn’t exist. Cell phones were only for rich people and Zack Morris. Bad things only happened in Lifetime movies. I went into the locker room.

Before the padlock even comes off, I am pinned to the wall by the shoulders. Instinct and low centers of gravity being what they are, I wriggle free and proceed toward the door. Four steps later, his foot is behind me trying to trip me down onto the weight room mats. I stumble and keep walking. By the time I reach the weight room door, he has caught up to me and has me by the wrist. I wriggle out using the “go against the thumb” technique my dad taught me.

Freedom to the hall! But no. The halls are dark because school has been closed for so long. Six feet ahead of me lie a set of double doors and a tiny slit window of light beaming in from the lit cafeteria, the site of the chorus concert which was my reason for still being at school. My hand reaches out for the push handle of the door, but my arm is six inches too short. He gets me by the upper arms. The Walkman is collateral damage. I want to be in the light.

“Can I get a hug?”

I considered, thinking this would suffice for him and get me back on the lit side of the doors. Then again, a hug would put me well in the grasp of someone who could easily carry me back over all the ground I’d gained. I opted for choice #2: I kicked him in the shin and bit his arm.

So, there I am in the well-lit cafeteria, surrounded by my fellow sopranos. I don’t tell anybody because I know I shouldn’t have even gone in there. I’m shaking because I’m nervous about the concert. How’s my hair?

This is how the scene the next morning went down the way it did. This is why he responded to a finger snap and an outstretched hand. Because, in the death stare coming up to him from the eyes perched a foot lower than his, was a scrolling marquee: “It is easier to hand over the plastic in your bag than to answer for the bite mark in your arm.”

“What was that?” asked my English teacher, closing the door behind me.

“Nothing.”

That guy is grown now, lying about his age, and trying to look like a pimp on MySpace. He has a daughter now. In raising his daughter, does he think about what he did to me? Does he wonder whether anyone has pinned his daughter to a wall?

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