Through the years I’ve often found myself thinking about a particular individual from way back in the day, someone I haven’t seen since grade school. Although he was just a minor player in my life journey I have never forgotten him and always wondered what became of him. Several years ago I even resorted to Google and FaceBook to try and learn something about him but found nothing. So why does this kid from my elementary school days at St. Frances of Rome haunt me so? Let me explain.
He was just another kid that I went to elementary school with back in the day. He was in my sixth grade class. I wish I could say that he was a friend but he wasn’t, far from it. You see he was that kid we all knew at one time or another at school, you know, the fat kid, the the freckle faced kid, the lanky, uncoordinated kid, the goofy kid, the runt, the kid with big ears, the kid who talked funny, in other words, the victim, the kid wearing the perpetual target on his back. The one that everyone loved to pick on or play practical jokes on. Sometimes the victim didn’t even look or act funny, sometimes they looked just like (everyone else and were still targeted. Why? Because these kid had one thing in common they were weak and everybody knew it.
Larry the kid I’m talking about didn’t have the luxury of looking normal or being able to blend in. The poor guy had bright red hair, a face covered in freckles and really large hands for a kid. We used to say he had man hands. To make matters worse he was a little slow which made him ripe for picking and pick we did. During lunch and recess he didn’t hang out with anyone preferring instead to play detective and pretend to be talking on his two-way wrist radio. This quickly earned him the nickname Dick Tracy.
My introduction to his victim status came in sixth grade.One day Sister Anastasia was taking roll and called his name. When he didn’t respond, the Bear (sister’s nickname) asked if anyone had seen him. A couple of kids were laughing and pointing at the coat closet so sister went over and slid the door open. There he sat covered in coats and sweaters, wearing a bucket on his head. Sister grabbed him, pulled him out roughly and removed the pail from his head. Dick Tracy stood there giggling, his red hair a mess, and the class roared. The Bear took him by the arm and forcibly pushed him to his desk. She then gave him her trademark knuckle to the head and stormed away. He sat there rubbing the top of his head still giggling. He sure didn’t seem to mind being victimized, it looked like he kinda enjoyed the attention, but that would change.
For three years I watched and sometimes took part in the many pranks that were pulled on him. The pranks ranged from mild to severe but were never physically harmful except for twice in eighth grade when we took an empty Chicklet’s box and filled it with Feen-a-mint laxative gum. By that time Larry was suspicious of everything and everyone and wouldn’t take the gum. We had anticipated that so the first four pieces of gum were really chicklets. To prove there was nothing wrong with the gum my friend opened the box and took two pieces of gum and popped them into his own mouth. Larry was still suspicious so I took two pieces and put them in my mouth. Satisfied that it was not a trick Larry took the box and took two pieces for himself. Let’s just say it was a pretty shitty day for poor Larry.
The other prank involved a Webster trash bin. Larry had always expressed an interest in joining our gang. Of course we weren’t really a gang just a group of friends who hung out together, today I guess we’d be called a crew. Long story short we told Larry he could join if he passed the initiation. After school we took him to the shopping center and initiated him. When all was said and done a shoe-less Larry was drenched in Seven-up and covered with mixed sherbet ice cream. His shoes had been tossed in the dumpster. Larry climbed in to retrieve his shoes and we ran away but not before one of my friends ran over to dumpster and lifted the lid to close it. Unfortunately Larry who had been seated going through the trash looking for his shoes was just starting to stand up as the lid slammed down and it hit him in the head or back. An audible moan could be heard from the dumpster as we fled the scene. Fortunately for us Larry was back at school the following day and never said a word about what we had done. In fact he wanted to know what else he needed to do to join the gang.
There are so many more incidents I could tell you about, like the time Larry tore the cuff of his pants jumping the school fence and how by the end of the day the pants were pretty much ripped to shreds or the time we got Larry to stand up on a table at an eighth grade grad party and do his Mick Jagger impersonation, it was so funny but I think you get the picture.Larry was our plaything. Freshman year I went off to Bishop Amat HS and Larry went to Azusa High where I heard the teasing and pranks continued. I’m not sure but I don’t think he finished the year there. I never saw him again after that. I always wondered about him, a handful of us did, but for most of those who terrorized Larry life went on, the object of their fun was gone so they moved on in search of a new whipping boy, you know “out of sight, out of mind.” I too moved on but carried the painful memory of the part I played in the horrible treatment of Larry, taking pleasure from his pain.
I’ve lived with those memories for over 50 years now. From time to time they rear their ugly head and remind me of what a low life I was, am. How the hell could I have done those things to him? Yeah I know was just a kid but just the same I knew right from wrong and I still did it. Was my need to belong really that important? Was my fear of becoming a target myself motivation enough to continue harassing Larry? I guess so. Old Larry may have ended up in a mental institution somewhere or worse yet taken his own life and I regretfully played a part in it. It’s something I’ve learned to live with.
Then last week a miracle happened. I received some incredibly good news. New that set me free. free at last. A good friend and fellow classmate of the Larry era who shares the same guilt and shame as myself called to tell me that everything was good. All of our years of guilt and wonder were for not. It seems he had spoken to another former classmate at a wedding on Saturday and learned from him that Larry is alive and well! He still looks the same and works and lives in the Sacramento area. He’s been there for years and is quite happy with his life.
I gotta tell you the relief I felt was incredible! The decades and decades of guilt simply disappeared and I was filled with a sense of peace. As I listened I could feel the smile on my face stretching far beyond the norm. Indeed this was good news, great news! Larry had persevered in spite of us. He had been much stronger than I’d given him credit for. I also tend to think that old Dick Tracy wasn’t as ‘slow’ as we all thought. You gotta have some smarts to have made it this far. I’m just so happy to know that we didn’t drive him crazy or push him over the edge. What we did together and the part I played was deplorable. No one should ever be treated the way we treated Larry. I’m so grateful that God had other plans for old Larry. I only hope that somewhere along the way Larry forgave me. By the way, in case you’re interested, my friend said he still has big hand.
Just a thought…