The defining moment of my childhood took place on a cold, winter day, on the playground of my elementary school. I was in the 4th grade. It was mid-morning recess. And I dreaded it. Most children can’t wait until the recess bell rings. But when you have no friends, recess can be a lonely, frightening place.
I was about to go down my favorite slide for the 8th time in a row when I saw him coming in the distance: Johnny Perkins. This kid was trouble from the moment he showed off a comb disguised as a switchblade knife in the 1st grade. With this in mind, then it should come as no surprise that Johnny Perkins later went to jail for stabbing somebody in a bar fight. The victim survived. Johnny did his time, which wasn’t much. It was just a flesh wound – nothing a large Band-Aid couldn’t fix. Besides, it’s likely the victim deserved it. Then again, if I learned a thing or two about Johnny Perkins, his victims probably rarely deserved it. Then again we change over time, don’t we? Morphing out of one experience and into another. If so, then it should be no surprise that Johnny Perkins ended up doing time for having sex with a 17-year-old at the tender age of 25. It may have been consensual. But why any woman would give Johnny Perkins consent for sex is beyond me. Although I’m sure he’s tapped more tail than I can ever dream of. Assholes tend to have the easiest time getting laid. At least, that’s my impression.
But I digress.
As I was saying, I was preparing to slide down my favorite slide for the 8th time that day. After much debate, I decided to go down on my stomach this time around, just to mix things up a bit. Plus, my ass was getting sore from going down so many times. It needed a break. As I prepared my descent, I looked out into the distance. There he was. Heading in my direction. And although I couldn’t be certain, I knew he was coming for me. I quickly averted eye contact and pretended that I didn’t see him coming.
Half way down the slide, I got stuck, giving Johnny more time to greet me at the bottom of the slide. The moment I landed, he grabbed me by the scruff of my neck like a helpless kitten. Of course, my teacher was nowhere in sight. It always seemed to work out that way. She was probably somewhere in the bushes, nailing the gym teacher. Or maybe the band teacher. After all, he was in far better shape than our gym teacher, who dropped dead of a heart attack the following year.
“What’s up, Bobby boy?”
“Nothing,” I said in return. It was the best I could offer.
“Come with me,” he demanded.
Weighing my options, I realized there were none. So I allowed him to lead me toward a patch of grass not far from the slide – my one and only loyal recess friend. But unlike a real friend, this playful tower of metal was of no help to me now. It did not have my back. Nor would it ever. Then again, I’m sure if I had real friends at the time, they would have scampered off by now in fear of what may happen to them. Surely any friend of mine would be a target for Johnny Perkins. But I didn’t even have those kind of friends.
“Get down on your knees,” he commanded, years before I ever saw Deliverance.
As always, I did as he asked of me. And that’s when I first laid eyes upon it: A frozen pile of dog shit, staring me right in the eyes.
“Lick it. Before I make you eat it.”
I froze in terror, like the frozen turd pile that laid before me.
“Lick it or eat it.”
By now, a small group of classmates stood around to watch. They watched with morbid curiosity. They weren’t there to cheer him on. But they weren’t there to help me, either.
“Do it,” he shouted.
But I silently refused. Something deep from within compelled me to do something I had never done before: I resisted a bully. And this is what it took.
Johnny placed his chubby hand on my neck and whispered seductively into my ear:
“If you don’t lick this poo pile, I’m going to force feed it to you. Do I make myself clear?”
“My teacher, my teacher, why have you abandoned me?!” I cried out in my mind, holding out hope that Mrs. Fitzsimmons would come to my rescue at any given moment – after finishing off the band teacher. Or was it art? In any event, she had forsaken me. Yet, again. Since I knew there was no way I would ever tattle on Johnny, my only saving grace was for her to lay witness to one of my daily tortures. 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!” Johnny warned. But like a determined fighter, I refused to go down for the count. I held my ground. But no matter how much I resisted, I was rewarded with having my face slowly lowered toward the ground.
Inch, by inch, centimeter, by centimeter, he lowered my face toward the frozen 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 turd, 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 target, I continued to resist with all my might, but Johnnie persisted on pushing my face toward impending doggie-doo-doom.
“Open your mouth,” Johnny insisted, as he applied more pressure on my neck.
But I refused. Nothing he could do could get me to open my mouth. Johnny Perkins could take away my soul, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t make me open my mouth. What he ultimately could manage was shoving my face against the shit. Despite my best efforts to withstand the growing pressure of his hand, when it was all said and done, the turdsicle certainly grazed more of my face than I would have preferred: 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 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 than smeared by it. And no matter what, I did not open my mouth. I would never succumb to that. It was my victory.
As a sidebar, incidentally, it wasn’t the first time my mouth and poop hooked up. It had just been awhile, that’s all. The first time was my own doing, perhaps preparing me for this moment several years later. I was two. My parents were getting ready for church and I was waiting in my crib. Apparently, I got tired of waiting. At the same time I had a bowel movement. When my parents walked in to retrieve me from the crib, I greeted them with a literal shit-eating grin. My teeth were smeared with my own excrement. Only God knows why. Or perhaps not even God does. Looking back, it certainly prepared me for this moment.
But I digress once again.
When Johnny 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, Johnny ran off to join his friends in a friendly game of tetherball. And I returned to my one and only friend in the world – my favorite slide, filled with a sense of pride that I survived yet another Johnny Perkins attack, relatively unscathed. Deep down, I knew that I was going to be okay. And that Johnny Perkins probably wouldn’t be. Looking back after all these years, I realize now that I was right.
Bobby Fox is the award-winning writer of several short stories, plays, poems, a novel and 15 feature length screenplays. His works have been published in the The Naked Feather, The Medulla Review, Lap Top Lit Mag, The Path, Contemporary Literary Review India, Yareah Magazine, One Title Magazine, The Knotted Beard Review, Bareback, The Zodiac Review, Fortunates, Airplane Reading, Untapped Cities, The Lyceum, Detroit News, Dearborn Times-Herald, TravelMag and inTravel Magazine. His recent stage directing debut led to an Audience Choice Award at the Canton One-Acts Festival in Canton, MI. Fox teaches English and video production in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. He resides in Ypsilanti, MI.