School lockers slammed latching to metal. Students zipped their backpacks closed. The warning bell rang signaling that last minute dash to class. There was always the smell of salami sandwiches in brown paper lunch sacks. Or, the myriad of times our backs rested against those chain link fences. One by one the captains of teams would call out names. I was always the last one standing, waiting to be picked. It didn’t seem to matter. My optimism in this schoolyard hustle was that I was considered one of them.
Yet eighth grade left me a stranger, fighting a war among those I deemed to be friends. He came to conquer my world. At least, that was my impression. Smirk across his face, he held his head high. He was mighty, a champion. He knew how to hunt, and annihilate with words. The arsenal that contained his ammunition resonated power. The weaponry at his disposal relegated me to mere prey, a mishap. He certainly knew how to choose his battles. He wounded me deeply, and fired at will. It has taken years to recover. The mental limp is still evident.
It was a bright, clear day. My eyes squinted in the afternoon sun. The moment I saw his figure in the distance, I froze. I could have retreated to my front door, waving that white flag of surrender. Instead, I stood like deer in the headlights. Confused; caught off guard; immobilized; the outside forces advanced, while my inner voices helped pull the trigger. A smile turned into a frown. My shoulders slumped. A chin fell low. His laughter became the prelude to my discontent.
The shot he fired lodged deep within. It was that name he used. Everyday he saw me, his strategy fortified his stance. He stood as a giant in my midst. It became a toilsome drudgery to go out of my own home. I wrapped a neck brace around my ill configured, bulging neck as a decoy. I coveted that peace, a freedom – anything. However, the yearning to ward off my nemesis resulted in an infantry of hysterics. The attacks were relentless, pawning my armor to the value of filthy rags.
He knew how to shout it, and even mimic it. “E.T.”, he screamed. He pointed at my neck. He gawked. The scope through which he aimed presented him with an accurate target. “Look at him”! The blood spilled. My scars remain embedded. He kept stalking, combing the battlefield for more. He lurked. He waited. It happened like clock work. And, on this day, I was just going to check the mail. His tactics proved exceptional. His sarcastic whine of E.T. wedged a piece of shrapnel that became a festering ache.
Torsional dystonia, as it is called, would stigmatize me for a lifetime. Everything about me physically in eighth grade seemed to be dying. Mentally, I believed I was damaged goods and a curse. I had been stained spiritually – lashing out unanswered questions, shaking fists at a so-called loving God. The outside world personified fear. I wanted nothing but walls surrounding me. The stronghold of structure, I craved amnesty from a life that now held me captive. Society routed me with glances. Some spoke precise words contributing to my demise. E.T. was a name that delivered the final blow.
It was family and true friends that saved my sanity. A poster hung on my bedroom wall. It was a banner to motivate when all else seemed lost. It stayed for weeks, penned with lines of encouragement, get-well sentiments from those who cared. I had not seen a classroom in weeks. School was not a possibility. Hospitals were the educational institution of choice. A series of medical tests debilitated me for months, only to confirm expert opinions. It was a rare muscle and nerve disease that would be difficult to pronounce not to mention predict a prognosis for.
So… there was power in his words. It was an onslaught of a name that he used. He mustered his rank, and declared victory. He brandished that insignia scrutinizing his plunder, beckoning a confidence that I so desperately desired. I wanted to rise above my impoverished state. For the time being, my self-esteem provoked other issues. Words spoken against me became my gospel truth. With a back resting against those chain link fences, I just wanted to play.