Occasional Prose

The Ballad of Mickey, My Friend (Things Heard and Said)

Back then, the television stroller in school seemed taller and the 19-inch square screen seemed massive. One teacher had a laserdisc to show us some science mumbo-jumbo, but the real favor was with the VHS tapes. It could also be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, maybe they would put on something interesting, or at least put on Timmy Tugboat or something like that. And at least Ms. Whiterance would leave us alone for the time being. On the other hand, it might be some decade old tape that flickered wildly on the screen and made awful noises as the tape scratched against whatever mechanisms that made it work. Worse yet, it might also be something educational.

It was a tape about bullying, as it turned out. Why we would need to watch a tape about that was anyone’s guess. Everyone in the room, including the teacher, seemed to have a pretty good grasp on what it was. The others had perfected the craft over time. Mickey, one of my closer friends, sat forward at his tiny desk to take thorough notes as some garbled synthesizer music projected out of the TV.

The first thought on my mind–verbally clarified by one of the others–was that the person on the screen deserved to be bullied. He was some middle-aged dweeb with a dork haircut and nerdy disposition. He had stepped in to save some younger looking dweeb with a dork haircut and a nerdy aura about him. The bullies on display were mere amateurs; I got told worse things on a daily basis from Mickey. Those kids on the screen (who were probably in nursing homes by the time we saw the tape) only said the boy looked funny.

The older guy looked into the camera, his face waving with the used-up tape, said something inaudible about being nice. “It doesn’t cost a thing for you to say nothing. It doesn’t cost a thing for you to say something nice. But once you say something mean, you can’t take that back.”

Someone was snoring by this point. Who could blame them? The lights were out and the windows gave us the full picture of the gray sky and diagonal rainfall. Others were fixated on that. Others were drawing pictures or making those paper finger games that answered life’s burning questions. Who knew colors and numbers had such insight? Still others were hanging on to consciousness for dear life, afraid that Ms. Whiterance would notice them sleeping and belittle them in front of the class. It wasn’t until high school English class that we realized she was immortalized in history though never mentioned by name at the bequest of Grendel’s mother; Ms. Whiterance really scared that woman. I stared around the room to see what was going on and accidently made eye contact with her. Her eyes glowed like a cat’s and it was enough for me to turn back toward the screen. It was only out of the corner of my eye that I saw Mickey transfixed by the program.

It made me wonder what fresh torture and torment awaited me and the others when we would have recess again. With the rain, it would likely be inside today. But one could always do some damage with the kickball, the jump rope, the wiffleball bat, or even the two hands and feet you had. Mickey liked to hit his closest friends on the groin and kick the shins of those he was indifferent to. I never took up cussing until junior high but even as his friend, Mickey could be a real bastard.

I lost track of the bullying movie because we would all be kinesthetic learners soon enough. It came to a close and the static took over the screen. Ms. Whiterance rushed over to turn it off and turn on the lights. It was a brief moment that we kids had to reevaluate our lives and where we wanted to be in five years, or more likely, in five seconds. Her grunt was as if a growl that shook the dropped ceiling and made the fluorescent lights blink like lightning. Had you heard her voice, it would have seemed indecipherable. But to us learned pupils of the first grade, we understood the dialect and vernacular. She had hissed that it was now time for recess. “Go down to the gym,” she said in a tone two decibels lower than a banshee.

We were expected to walk single file to the gym, and I always preferred to be the caboose of the train. It was a frightening place to be since all would be made known there. The alternative was not knowing what happened. And on this day I watched as a stray student or two dared to jump to one of the tiles on the floor instead of staying in the line. The teacher would send them to some unspoken place, the dreams of recess dashed with a precision unknown to humanity. She would shatter that one moment of reprieve for the students. It was not out of necessity for order, nor did she do so with the intention of correction. Ms. Whiterance just enjoyed power and suffering with the scale tipped to the former.

Now, I liked recess and had no problem staying focused enough to get there. But recess was just a changing of the guard: Ms. Whiterance for Mickey. We were set loose in the old gym and knew where to find the equipment we needed. She would leave us there to chain smoke a half dozen cigarettes in the allotted twenty-minute time frame. Freedom is always great until you need protecting. A big kid like me should have known how to defend myself but I excelled more as a doormat.

The popular kids decided today was kickball day. That was fine by me. I liked kickball. I was even good at the kicking, not so much with the base running though. Mickey was on my team and preoccupied with the game, thankfully. He liked kickball too.

Not long into the game, the bases were loaded and we had two outs. All the pressure in the world was no doubt somewhere else but I dare you to explain that to an unpopular first grader. All eyes were on me as the pitcher rolled the ball my direction. Under the stress, I missed the first kick and got a strike. There was an audible groan from my team. Then the pitcher rolled another and I kicked it, only for it to go out of bounds. This day would have no bearing on the rest of my life but I could feel something was about to happen. I would be the hero for this team and kick the ball to the stage: a home run.

The pitcher got hold of the ball again.

He drew it back.

He pitched.

I kicked.

And boy howdy, did that ball soar across the gym. That is, it soared upward and knocked a tile down from the drop ceiling. “You’re out!” the pitcher yelled, reminding us of the automatic out that type of play resulted in.

Some of the team were angry as we took the outfield. Mostly it was the usual insults. Moron. Idiot. Dweeb. Fatty. Things like that. But to my surprise, Mickey told them to shut up. He even kicked little Sammy in the shin. “Don’t talk to him like that! It costs you nothin’ to say nothin’!” And with Sammy crying and on the injured list, he, Mickey, and I had to sit out the rest of the game.

As we had our backs to the wall and watched the game proceed, Sammy sniffled and refused to look our direction. But I was thankful and trying not to beam, knowing that I had a friend like Mickey in my corner. He blankly watched the game go on like he had been watching the tape earlier. “Hey, Mickey, I just wanted to thank–“

Wham! Just like that, I felt a terrible pain from being hit on the crotch.

Mickey only shook his head and continued watching the game. “Why do you let them bully you, fatass?”

6 thoughts on “The Ballad of Mickey, My Friend (Things Heard and Said)

  1. This piece brought back memories of elementary school. I found myself back in class watching the same TV and videos. And the bullying was something I knew I couldn’t avoid but I fought back with all the courage I had and that was plenty. I love the ending. What a twist in a twist. Great writing! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I got lost in the old memory bank too, lol. There’s quite a bit of embellishment of my own experiences in here, but the only thing changed about Mickey was his name.

      Glad you enjoyed it! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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