The other day I found myself thinking of two different kids that I knew back in junior high that called me “friend.” Two very, very different kids.
Lewis Hibbard sat beside me. He was a stocky guy, some of it fat and some of it just bulk. He had an unusual mean streak, even for a junior high kid. He also chose his victims well, of which I was one. While Coach Dawson taught us American History, he would take a pen and jab it in my arm. It was more a stab than a poke. When he would get started, my arm would be bleeding by the time I left class. Without words, he dared me repeatedly to rat him out. Being a stupid kid in junior high that didn’t want to be the kind of kid to rat a guy out, I took it. I never said a word to anybody about what he was doing while our hapless teacher wasn’t paying attention. I am at once proud and angry at my silence.
He was a sadist then and I would be surprised if he wasn’t one now. I’m not sure what compels someone to stab a classmate. Yet despite the physical abuse, it never felt like he was picking on me. He never made fun of me. In fact, he never said anything negative to me at all that I can remember. In some perverse way, I think he considered me his friend. But nor did he do it because I was his friend… rather it seemed that I was his friend because I endured it.
One row over, two seats in front sat Orson Millard. Orson was a scrawny and short kid. He wasn’t smart enough to get in the honors class, though like me he stood out in the regulars. To Orson, I wasn’t a just a friend, I was his best friend. As far as I know, I was his only friend. I don’t recall being particularly nice to him, but since everyone else behaved so maliciously towards him, my relative indifference was the most kindness he’d seen.
In addition to being small and nerdy, he was also just a little bit weird. One day he mentioned, in passing, that his mother still bathed him. Had someone else said it we would have assumed that he was joking or lying to get attention, but he was nothing if not an earnest young man. Anyway, this little factual tidbit made its way around the classroom in very short order. Half the class was stunned, the other half couldn’t resist making fun of someone that was still being bathed by his mother at thirteen. The only person that came to his defense was the Coach Dawson, who said that his mother had bathed him when he was thirteen, too. It was his oafish attempt to get the kids to lay off, but it only confused us more.
Looking back and remembering meek little Orson, I wonder if rather than an odd little piece of creepy information what he told us was indicative of his timid, passive nature. I wonder what kind of mother continues to bathe her son at 13 and I don’t come up with very many benign answers. In fact, what comes to mind is a mother that likes to touch young men. If it were a father bathing his daughter at that age, it would almost certainly have caught the attention of the authorities. Looking back I think it should have been brought to their attention regardless.
Neither Lewis nor Orson went to high school with me. I figure that Orson just moved away and Lewis was probably placed in the district’s alternative school for thugs, troublemakers, and girls who found themselves pregnant.
I’d be interested in knowing what happened to each. I can’t image either story having a particularly happy ending.