Sugar and Spice and Absolutely Nothing Nice
By Nathan Confer
“Why do you even like Harry Potter? Losers like Harry Potter.” The hard, sharp feeling of someone’s knuckles against my cheekbone. Warm sticky blood dripping down from a gash left behind. Why don’t losers like you just die? My lungs burning, screaming for air as I thrash. My vision blurs and the shimmering light reflecting in the water begins to darken. “No one will even miss you.” The blackness of the locker door closing as the claustrophobia sets in. Bullying was a daily occurrence to me and often left me thinking to myself; but are they speaking the truth? Would the world possibly be better without me? Or do I give them a taste of their own bitter medicine?
Growing up in a very liberal household, I never had a problem with expressing how I felt. I often did so with gestures of grandeur. If something needed doing, why not do it with a flair? I was an expert in dress-up and a professional in make-believe. I didn’t always fit the socially acceptable categories of a little boy. True, I was a hoarder of Hot Wheels and tractors—as any grandson of a John Deere worshiping family would—with a passion for playing cops and robbers. But I also did not shy from playing with a baby doll nor playing house. Very little did my carefree mind adhere itself to how others perceived me. I merely went about my own business. Life was so simple back then yet still so vivid in my imagination. But all that is gold does not stay.
A number of years ago, as both of my parents worked full time, I constantly frequented different forms of daycare. Once I had graduated to the formal education facility of Arapahoe Ridge Elementary, I remained at the school after normal academic hours ended in the BASE Program. Before and After School Enrichment, BASE existed as Adams 12 Five Star School district’s attempt to advertise a “program for furthering the education and social development of our pupils”.
In its first condition, the program was an ideal, picturesque, and well-meaning establishment. I expect some of you will know it. By the time I graced the program with my presence, BASE was decidedly out of fashion. The “enrichment” masked nothing more than a breeding ground of germs, cliques, and of course a prime example of the unfair and ever so dread phrase “I’m telling.” Aside from contracting strep, pink eye, and the flu more than the typical 1st grader, my time at the BASE program was initially drab and lack luster.
Much of our time in the after school program we spent outdoors on the mediocrely maintained fields and playgrounds of Arapahoe Ridge Elementary. The playground itself was an endless sea of beige wood chips that would find their way into one’s shoe and remain there stubbornly for ages. In the heart of that sea stood a large paint-peeling castle (in reality just a jungle gym) adorned with ladders, slides, monkey bars, turrets, and bridges.
I digress. Around this time, creeping up at about seven years of age, my mother and father dragged me to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. As a child of the mild actioned Disney of my time and being told of screaming books, a creepy forest, and a three headed dog, I had no interest. I sat in the theater clutching to my bucket of buttery popcorn for dear life in near tears only to discover with delight the wonderful world of Harry Potter. I lost no time in calling myself an aficionado. So how could a fan of imaginative play and Harry Potter, not see a giant castle like structure and not spark excitement?
Every late afternoon, around 4:00 sharp, I would meet with my normal group by the slide. With imaginary wands in hand, the casting of fake jinxes and hexes would commence. To us, fake witchcraft was the highlight of our day. But some people just hate seeing others happy. As our wizarding escapades progressed, gradually came the points and snickers from other groups of BASEers. Most of these kids were the ever so (in)famous popular crowd.
Like any academic establishment, BASE had its own ecosystem of cliques. There were the pretty boys who came to school sporting baggy jeans, exposed plaid boxers, Aaron Carter spiked hair with frosted tips, and the puka shell necklace. There were the sporty boys who knew only how to communicate through athletic lingo and often reminisced of their tee ball days. There were the pretty girls who knew every word to every Spice Girl song and would uncomprehendingly fawn over the ramblings of the sport boys. There were the normals that just existed and could meld with any group. And then there were the losers and outcasts. The bottom rung of the academic hierarchy where those who liked fantasy and actually did their homework during study hall resided. Losers like me.
At first, I took little to no notice of these points and laughs. They could be pointing at something else, laughing at a joke someone just told. Points and laughs frequently become harder to ignore when you can hear your name in their taunting from afar.
My days at Arapahoe Ridge Elementary BASE Program darkened. I dreaded the final bell of the day. It meant I’d have to take the horrid walk into the cafeteria and check-in with the BASE faculty, advertising myself as present and ready to torture. While everyone impatiently waited for the famous ringing that released them from academia, packing up their backpacks before the teacher even finished, I remained lethargic in my work. I’d draw out as much time as I could. When everyone else would stampede for the door, I would lollygag behind trying to come up with questions to ask my teacher as to delay more time. Of course, in those days, speaking with a teacher after the final bell helped very little with one’s image.
One specific spring day, I packed my bag extra slow. It was second grade, which at Arapahoe Ridge Elementary meant frequenting the mobile homes rather than the school proper. Most of my peers complained about the mobiles. Separated from everything and everyone, they just hated having to walk the excruciating 15 steps to get to the main building. Exercise hurts, after all. I personally enjoyed the isolation; I viewed the mobile homes as a privilege and they made me feel special. I never felt special anymore.
That particular day had been “Show-n-Tell”. I had recently come into possession of a rather large and clunky plastic model of the Hogwarts castle complete with cheaply painted figurines, tacky sound effects, and an overall atmosphere of mass produced capitalism. It was my prized possession. I proudly felt no shame showing off my treasure to my classmates, as I believed no one would dare make fun of me while under the false protection of the teacher. But whatever I brought with me to class followed me to BASE.
Earlier that day, while waiting with the other second graders to enter the mobile homes, castle in hand, two brothers had spotted me. As partisans of the sport clique at BASE, these brothers and I were sworn enemies. Lucky for me, their mother accompanied them to school each morning so they said nothing at that moment, but I could see their taunts silently screaming from their lips. Bradley and Mitchell— fraternal twins that resembled gorillas with large hairy arms, protruding brows, and possibly the last remaining DNA of Neanderthal. They were not a pair you wanted to be in sour relations with—
When the final bell echoed throughout the makeshift classroom, everyone else ran for the door. They all screamed as if their lives depended on passing that threshold. I picked up my castle and dragged my feet out the door. I said my goodbye to my teacher as if I were making the final walk to the electric chair and crossed the asphalt blacktop towards the cafeteria. Of course, as expected, Bradley and Mitchell greeted me at the door.
Instead of a polite hello, Bradley book-checked me while Mitchell ripped my castle from my hands, tossing it into a nearby trash bin. Verbal taunts soon followed. I looked at my feet trying with all my might to ignore them. Apparently not looking someone in the eye comes off as rude even when being verbally assaulted. An iron grip and a hairy hand quickly yanked me up by my shirt and blinding sharp pain shot through my face, just under my right eye. My mouth opened to scream only to have that same iron grip gag my attempt.
“If you tell anyone, anyone, I will personally kill you. Do you understand me?”
“Why do you even like anime? Only losers like anime.” The sharp feeling of knuckle against nose bone. Warm sticky blood running down the nostrils and screams of horrible pain. “Why don’t freaks like you just go away?” Points and laughs all around. Vision blurring through tears. “No one will even notice you’re gone.” The explosive slam of a locker door echoing in the empty hallway. Desperate pleas flooding out from the other side. Bullying was a daily occurrence. Nothing had changed after starting middle school. Nothing, except the bully became—