The defining moment of my childhood took place on a cold, winter day, on the snow-covered playground of my elementary school. I was in the 4th grade. My class was out for was mid-morning recess. Most children can’t wait until the recess bell rings…but I dreaded it. For me, recess was a lonely, frightening place.
As per usual, I spent half of the recess period sitting beneath the swing set, digging a hole in the dirt with my friend and fellow dork Patrick. I decided I needed some alone time and headed to my favorite slide.
As I was about to go down the slide for the 8th time, I spotted him coming in the distance: David Murphy. The person most responsible for making my elementary school years a never-ending hell.
This kid gave me trouble from the moment he arrived in the 2nd grade (which at least spared me two years of torture). My first encounter with David was in the little boys’ room, where he pulled out what looked like an old school switchblade on me while I was taking a whiz, proceeding to steal my brown-bagged lunch that my mom lovingly wrote “Bobby” on with a heart around it that I had nestled under my arm en route to lunch. As I attempted to shield my face from a potential knife attack, I dribbled piss all the front of my pants, which I suppose was better than getting slashed by a knife.
David then laughed like maniac, when he revealed to me that his “blade” was actually a plastic comb.
The joke was on me!
He laughed all the way out of the bathroom and down the hall. It should come as no surprise that David Murphy later went to jail for stabbing somebody in a bar fight. The victim survived. It was just a flesh wound. Although his victim may have deserved it, if I learned a thing or two about David Murphy, his victims rarely deserved it. David did his time, of course – as he would continue to do over and over again. He was an unusually slow learner.
Two years later, he was still up to his old tricks. And I was still falling victim to them. At no point during those two years did I learn to defend myself against the Davids of the world—or at least the ones in my little corner of the world at Snow Elementary in Dearborn, Michigan.
As I sat on top of the slide, I watched David continue to hover in the distance, flashing me sinister glances every few seconds. I could never be sure if I was being targeted, or just being paranoid. There was no method to his madness. Sometimes, days would go by before I fell victim. Or even weeks. Sometimes, it was multiple times a day. Like every great terrorist, the element of surprise was one of the most effective tricks to the trade.
After much debate, I decided to slide down on my stomach this time around, just to mix things up a bit. Perhaps a lower profile would keep me less visible. Besides, my ass was getting sore from going down so many times. It needed a break. As I prepared my descent, I spotted him. Heading in my direction. As we locked eyes, there was no doubt he was coming for me. I quickly averted eye contact and pretended that I didn’t see him coming. I looked at Patrick, who was still digging away in the dirt, oblivious to everything.
All I wanted to do was disappear.
I considered going back down the ladder, but figured it would make no difference, but only to delay my undeserved comeuppance. So down I went.
The moment I landed, he grabbed me by the scruff of my neck like a helpless kitten. Per usual, my teacher was nowhere in sight. She was smooching my gym teacher in the bushes. Or was it the band teacher? After all, he was in far better shape than our gym teacher, who would drop dead of a heart attack the following year.
“What’s up, dork?” David asked me, using one of his many not-so-creative pet names for me. My other bullies were far more savvy.
“Nothing,” I said in return. It was the best I could offer.
“Come with me,” he demanded. Patrick finally looked up from his digging, but we both knew there was nothing he could do, other than to find friends who knew how to have each other’s back, rather than the kind who scampered off at any sign of trouble. I didn’t take it personally because I know I would have done the same – as had been the case numerous times. It was only natural that any friend of mine would be a target for David Murphy.
“Get down on your knees, dork!” David commanded (a phrase I’m sure he either said – or heard – in prison on a daily basis).
As always, I did as he asked of me. Only this time, there was a twist: awaiting me was a frozen, pile of dog shit.
“Lick it,” David insisted.
“Please, no,” I begged.
“Lick it. Before I make you eat it.”
I froze in terror.
“Lick it or eat it … dork!”
By now, a small group of classmates, including my number one crush – Nicky Smith – stood around to watch. Some for shits and giggles. Some with morbid curiosity. Some with fear that they were next, yet relieved to be at least spared for the time being.
With the exception of my other bullies, most weren’t there to cheer David on. But they certainly weren’t there to help me, either. Nicki, specifically, showed some degree of concern, but did nothing specifically to stop it. Patrick, meanwhile, continued focusing on digging a hole to China, perhaps to plot his escape.
And where the fuck was my teacher?
My teacher, my teacher, why have you abandoned me?!
“Do it!” David shouted, pointing to the frozen turd pile.
But I silently refused. This was the closest I had ever come to resisting a bully.
David placed his chubby hand on my neck and whispered:
“If you don’t lick this shit, I’m going to force feed it to you. Do I make myself clear?…dork?!”
I continued to pray that Mrs. Fitzsimmons would come to my rescue at any given moment. But no such luck. Since there was no way I would ever have big enough balls to tattle on David, my only saving grace was for my teacher to lay witness to one of my daily tortures, so she could see for herself. Once would be all it would take. But it wasn’t going to be that day. And I wasn’t going to bank on the next day, either.
“Last chance!” David warned. But like a determined fighter, I refused to go down for the count. I held my ground. But no matter how much I continued to resist, David continued to physically lower my face toward my brown, frozen fate. At this point, I lost all sense of my surroundings. The world could have ended for all I knew. Nothing else existed. Just me. David Murphy. And a turd.
Inch, by inch, centimeter, by centimeter, David lowered my face toward the turdsicle. Textures and colors of the like I’ve never seen before began to reveal themselves to me. A layer of frozen crystals coated the entire surface of the fecal matter, sparkling in the sunlight, only to lose their vibrant luster when the shadow of my face extinguished them. Or was it the warmth of my face that melted them from their glowing existence? As my face was pushed lower and lower toward its frozen brown bulls eye, I continued to resist with all my might, but David continued pushing my face toward impending doggie-doo-doom, taking delight in the dramatic tension that was slowly developing.
“Open your mouth, dork!” David insisted, as he applied more pressure on my neck. But I refused. Nothing he could do could get me to open my mouth. David Murphy could take away my soul, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t make me open my mouth. This was my stand. Nothing could stop me now. Well, at least nothing until I was no longer able to resist the pressure David was exerting on the back of my neck.
But it was no use. Before I knew it, the “chocolate” kiss of death was grazing my face: the tip of my nose, my cheeks, my forehead and ultimately, my lips. But due to my sudden burst of stubbornness, grazing was all he could manage. Sure, the texture scratched the surface of my flesh a little, but I was still relatively fortunate nonetheless. It’s a good thing it wasn’t summer. If I had my druthers, I would much rather have my face scratched by poo, then smeared by it. And no matter what, I did not open my mouth. I would never succumb to that. It was my victory.
Incidentally, it wasn’t the first time my mouth and poop joined forces. The first time was at the ripe age of 10 months. As my parents were getting ready for church, I sat in my crib and had a bowel movement. Apparently, I was also hungry. When my parents walked in to retrieve me from the crib, I greeted them with a giant shit-eating grin on my face; my teeth smeared with my own excrement. Looking back, it certainly prepared me for this moment.
Then again, nothing prepares one for a moment like this.
When David decided that I had enough, he warned me: “If you tell anybody—“
“You know I won’t,” I confidently interrupted him, sealing my fate that this vicious cycle would live to see yet another day.
Satisfied with my response, David ran off to join his friends in a friendly game of tetherball, where he proceeded to whack the ball with such force, it ended up landing smack dab in his friend’s face. This guy was a real asshole to even his buddies. I had no chance. Meanwhile, I returned to my favorite slide, filled with a sense of pride that I survived yet another David Murphy attack, relatively unscathed.
Over the years, some have asked me how I was able to cope with the David Murphys of the world (which were certainly not in short supply). The answer is simple: I knew even then – specifically, while my face was shoved in dog shit – that when it was all said and done, I was going to be okay. That this was all a phase, rather than a lifetime sentence. Eventually, the David Murphys of the world would fade into oblivion, as I passed by, bursting forth like a phoenix rising out of the ashes – or, more specifically, a frozen pile of shit.
Not only did I know that I was going to be okay, but more importantly, I knew that David Murphy probably wouldn’t be.
Looking back after all these years, I realize now that I was right.