ill will

One of my earliest memories is of playing with an older girl who lived a couple houses away. Her name was J.J. Nestled in the woods in J.J.'s back yard was a big old rusty smokehouse, a round metal structure with a cone-shaped roof like The Tin Man’s head. It was big enough to fit four or five little kids inside, perhaps even large enough for an adult to stand, its slightly curved door hanging on creaky flaking hinges, which when closed made it pitch black inside. Its dirt floor smelled musty, like rotting leaves or cat piss—or both.

I was about five, the youngest and smallest of the group of kids who played fort, climbed trees, and kicked the can. Throughout the day when any of the other kids needed to go to the toilet J.J. let them inside to use her large tiled bathroom with its mauve double sinks and plush pink shag rug. But when I needed to go she told me I had to do it in the smokehouse into an old corroded bucket. She shoved me inside and clanged the door shut, leaning on it so I couldn’t escape. Though frightened, alone in the dank blackness uncertain of my fate, I refused to obey her cruel demand. She eventually let me out, teasing and mocking me as I ran down the grassy hillside to my home, to my mother.

I suppose it's obvious that J.J. was trying to exert her control over me—a young innocent victim ripe for manipulation and torture. And while I avoided harm I didn’t get away completely unscathed, however, as I went on to try a handful of my own dirty tricks on unsuspecting friends when I got to be J.J.’s age. Thankfully, those regrettable acts left me terribly ashamed and I quickly grew out of that bent—became the hero instead of the villain. 

And while my boy Calvin—since he is always with an adult—is shielded from the ill will of other kids, I often wonder how he'd fare if he ever had to live in some sort of group home, like if something happened to Michael and me. Would unsound individuals prey on his innocence and disability? If so, would he try to defend himself? How could he tell someone that he was being harmed?

I can only hope he'd have the wherewithal to run away like I did.

detail, photo by Michael Kolster

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