Childhood Antagonists

I had a relatively drama-free childhood. I was looked after and I was provided for. I did OK. But here is a list of the three sets of antagonists I would choose as my enemies in the inevitable movie of my formative years.

The Couple Two Doors Down

First, I want to say that it’s not their fault. They were just old people. (Which might mean they were the age that I am now. Which is not old. To be clear.) They had probably lived in their house for a long time. And suddenly, they found themselves surrounded by young couples, who inevitably became young parents, which then inevitably led to a street full of kids kicking footballs and racing Grifters and Tomahawks up and down the paths.

I am now at an age where I can empathize with what I imagine their reaction was to all this: We are too old for this shit. Kids are the worst.

But still, for Little Me, they were mysterious and frightening. They were the one house where you did not want your football to go…the one where you would draw lots before deciding who was going to retrieve the ball if it was lost over their fence.

I’m sure they had more than their share of ringing-the-doorbell-and-running-away pranks. Maybe even a bag of flaming poop or two on their doorstep. As a child, they were powerful and to be feared. As an adult, they were an old(er) couple who just wanted to be left alone.

The Brother With a Turntable

When you live in a street full of kids, the birthday parties are never-ending. We all got invited to each other’s parties, regardless of if we were really friends or not. We were a job lot. So it was that I ended up at a party at the end of the street for a girl I didn’t really know except that she was loosely part of our group.

She had an older sibling – probably a brother. And he must have really wanted to DJ a 6 year old’s birthday. He had a record player and a pile of vinyl. He played us songs and we danced. Which meant we leapt up and down, screamed a lot, bumped into each other, into furniture, into walls. 

And this is not how a record collection should be treated.

So, this is how we had a very unusual end to a child’s birthday party: trapped in a group in the party room while our DJ – very angrily – played us his now-ruined records – scratched to hell because a group of small kids had not treated his collection with the respect it may or may not have deserved.

I don’t remember, really, if the older sibling was male or female. I don’t remember the music s/he played us. But I remember feeling trapped and guilty as we were made to listen to the warped, jumped records we’d apparently destroyed. Funny thing, childhood memories.

The Uber-Bully

F was not a standard bully. He was a ringleader, a sportsman with a heritage that the teachers seemed to be impressed by. And he was a master strategist – his battleground: the sports field. Any sports field.

I had been very tall for my age in middle school, so I’d been drafted into the basketball team. I was delighted; my brothers were both sporty and this finally was an opportunity for me to stand in the same spotlight.

Our team, as far as I remember, won only one game in the season I played. But, still…A WIN!

I was looking forward to high-school basketball. Bringing my defensive intelligence to a much better team (I imagined) would lead to much better performances and maybe even a second win in my career. I was sadly mistaken; there was no way someone as short as I was would make the high school basketball team. Sure, I was still maybe slightly above average height, but the high school kids were huge. They were virtual men. They were mountains. They weren’t built to the same scale as me and my friends.

So, I took my basketball confidence into PE. And there, I caught the eye of F. He knew exactly what I was: a fraud with a fragile ego. Sure, I was still slightly taller than most of the other kids. And sure, I looked oddly enthusiastic for the kid who hid at the back of the line for football, rugby, or cricket practice. Here I was, on the basketball court: demanding the ball.

F was not fooled. He saw through my brittle confidence, reached into the crushing embarrassment that lurked just beneath the surface, and he yanked it out, deftly and with no small amount of genius. And all he had to do was do nothing.

A tussle in the center circle, I came away with the ball, and surged to the opposing net. I faced F, he looked into my soul, and he stepped aside, letting me shoot. Knowing I’d miss. Knowing, somehow, that just being expected to shoot with everyone else on the court watching, was more than my keenly developed sense of self-consciousness could stand.

Every time I had the ball, he let me shoot. Soon, everyone on the opposing side was letting me shoot. I missed every one.

I stopped playing basketball. Presumably, F is now in some special ops psychological warfare thinktank. Good luck to him.

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