The first time I saw someone die was when I was seven. It happened in the late 1970s at St. Gertrude’s in San Antonio, Texas. The kid’s name was Kevin Curtis.
He was also seven.
The school was behind the church and made of the same beige brick that was used to build most schools in the fifties and sixties. The classrooms were of adequate size for about fifteen to twenty students each. All of the desks were older hand-me-downs, more than likely from a local junior high or high school judging by what was written and carved onto them. Most of the teachers were actual hand-slapping-with-a-ruler nuns.
There were two classrooms per grade level and it was my bad luck that I was in the same class as Kevin Curtis…again. I’d been in the same class with him since pre-school. It made for long school years.
Kevin was several inches taller than any other kid in second grade. Most of my classmates had come to the conclusion that his sole purpose for being born was to torment us and he did a pretty damn good job of it.
Mrs. Holladay, an older woman who spent most of the day with chalk on her pants, face and shirt, was going over addition problems she’d scribbled in yellow chalk on the blackboard. Math had been easy for me but then again we were only dealing with adding and subtracting, two or three digit numbers max. Already having written out and solved the ten numerical puzzles, I drew a simple two-dimensional picture of Batman on a separate sheet of paper. The way I drew him at the time didn’t make him look very intimidating.
At lunchtime some of us went to the counter where we had our lunchboxes lined up by the window. Most of us took pride in our lunchboxes and none of us had the same one. Jerry’s was Hong Kong Phooey. Marco’s was Star Wars. Roland’s was the Six Million Dollar Man. Mark’s was Adam-12. Mine was the Super Friends. But something was wrong with the usual orderly row of lunchboxes. There was one in the middle of the row that wasn’t quite square-shaped. Approaching slowly, I saw that mine was the one that was distorted, crushed, totally out of place.
As I stood there in shock, Jerry strolled up next to me and in a low, unsure voice said, “Sorry, Nick. Kevin stomped on it while you were in the restroom this morning.”
I felt this urge to cry as I handled the crippled lunchbox. Batgirl’s face was scuffed and bent. The warped lid opened on its own, like the limp arm of a person that’d just died. When the box’s destroyed contents were revealed, it wasn’t really the destruction of my lunchbox that bothered me. It was seeing what had happened to my sandwich that set me off. The sandwich that my mother had lovingly made for me in the morning was smashed; the ham and cheese, the wheat bread, all broken and deformed. The only thing keeping it together was the plastic sandwich bag it was in.
It was as if Kevin had attacked my mother. I was hurt and embarrassed. All that laughter that sounded far away didn’t help either.
I reluctantly turned toward my classmates, ashamed, but needing to verify who was responsible for this. Even if Jerry hadn’t told me I would’ve figured it was Kevin. He was laughing the hardest, his little entourage patting him on the back.
I felt my face tingle when my eyes locked on the tall, pudgy child. I looked directly into his brown eyes and that’s when it started. Kevin’s laughing slowed, the features of his face changing, his smile fading, turning to a grimace. Everyone else continued with their fits of hilarity, much of their happiness probably just relief in the fact that someone else was the target of Kevin’s cruelty this day.
Despite the pain growing in my head, I couldn’t look away from him.
The children’s glee faded as they saw Kevin begin to shake, watching the larger boy’s eyes beginning to roll back in his head. Even as he stood drenched in sweat, blood beginning to ooze out of his nose and the corners of his eyes, the tormentor would not go down.
A girl screamed.
Mrs. Holladay looked up from her desk, slammed her pen down onto her lesson plan booklet and stormed over to the small mob scene. “What is going on here?”
She made her way through the group of children. A couple of the girls were pointing at the boy who was convulsing but still standing as if held up by puppet strings. Strange clicking, choking sounds were all the boy could utter, his mouth agape.
“Kevin,” she screamed, grabbing him by the shoulders. But when blood poured from his mouth all over the front of his Starsky and Hutch t-shirt she stepped away from him too.
Some of the children ran out of the room screaming. Others were frozen, eyes wide. When Kevin fell over backwards crashing into desks and chairs, that was enough to stimulate most of the remaining children into running out of the classroom too.
The pain in my skull was like a steel spike being driven through it. That’s the last thing I remember. Jerry told me a couple of days later that I grabbed the sides of my head, screamed, and collapsed.
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