My fourth grade classmate Davy was something out of the 19th century. I remember him as a boy dandy who once wore an ascot and had a face so pale I'm surprised he didn't die young from tuberculosis. He had a concave chest, ruddy cheeks and a runny nose, and his voice, deep yet nasal and sing-songy, made me think of poetry when, tomboy that I was, I'd rather be playing kickball.
Maybe that's why I bullied him.
That sunny afternoon when we were 9 years old, Davy and I were milling around with some other kids during recess, doing nothing much on a concrete stoop near the playground. I don't know why or whose idea it was, but we told Davy to lie down on the ground, and we took turns walking on him. I knew Davy better than some of the other kids -- we'd performed a magic show together on Meet the Teacher night -- and I remember taking a few steps and then becoming angry with him. Why wasn't he fighting us? We soon let him go and that was the end of that. Davy never said much of anything to me again.
Then, a few weeks later, I realized I was more angry with myself. I was ashamed, also scared that people would find out. How could I have done such a thing? What kind of awful, evil person was I? And what would my parents think if they knew -- or my teachers or the principal? And how would they punish me? I was not from a religious family, but I found myself lying awake, praying that I could erase the memory -- or at least convince myself that it never happened. The entire incident only took a few minutes but I found myself thinking about it for what became my very own eternity.
At school I studied the other kids who walked on him with me -- maybe they were feeling bad about it, too -- but they all seemed fine. Even Davy was the same, except a little quieter. And he never looked me in the eye.
I was walking down the hall one day when I saw some kids trying to knock the books out of Davy's hands and Davy was snarling back at them with that quavering, oddly melodious voice. I stepped in front of him and told the kids to leave him alone. They did, but Davy didn't thank me. He just righted his books and went on his way. As I watched his hunched little body skulk its way down the hall, I remember promising myself that, no matter how hard it might be, I would always do my best to stick up for underdogs.
A short time later, our teacher announced that Davy was moving, and I wondered if it was because of me. I hated the thought as much as I hoped this would make everything finally go away. I decided to make up for my behavior; I would say goodbye to Davy and hopefully we'd part as friends. If I could muster enough courage I might even apologize for what I'd done.
I went to his house and knocked on the door, terrified. His mother answered. Davy wasn't home. I thought the whole neighborhood could hear my sigh of relief. I asked her to tell Davy that I wished him luck in his new town. She thanked me for being "such a good friend," and I just stood there unable, or unwilling, to move. Davy's mother waited for me to say something else, but I couldn't. She slowly closed the door.
I ran all the way home, thinking she couldn't have meant what she said, could she? What did she know? Did Davy tell her what I did? My heart throbbed in my chest. I was sorry I didn't get the chance to say goodbye, but I was relieved that I didn't have to face Davy. I ran into my house, went straight to my room and thought that maybe now I could get on with my life.
But then I thought of Davy. What would he think when his mother told him I had stopped by? What if she told him that she thanked me for being his friend? I felt sick and wondered if the feeling would ever go away. And then I wondered how Davy would go on with his life, knowing he had laid himself down on a concrete stoop all those years ago, on that sunny afternoon when I was a bully.