The Bad Kid.
To a four year old, everything seems to last forever, and to my recollection, I went to that daycare for many years. In reality, I was probably enrolled for a couple months at most. Those summer mornings, I would wake up in the front seat of our station wagon, sticky from sweat. My mom, made up for work with big hair and thick shoulder pads, would look over at me and smile. Though we never really talked during those car rides, she said a lot with her expressions. We traveled on a single lane road that weaved its way through green fields full of hot air balloons just leaving the ground for their grand morning adventure. I still vividly remember their vibrant red and yellow colors dotting the horizon.
My mom worked at a school of some kind (when you’re four you don’t fret about unnecessary details), and daycare was a benefit of working at that particular location. I didn’t care to play with other children most of the time, as I enjoyed sitting with my stuffed Pound Puppies, observing the other kids — taking in their many varieties of odd behaviors. At most daycares the caregivers would try to get involved, doing everything they could think of to get “that one loner kid” some friends. At the school’s daycare, however, the caregivers didn’t bother me much. For this reason, it is still my favorite of all the daycares I have ever attended.
The morning I met him had gone like any other: Wake up, sweaty, smile, fields, rainbow colored balloons. When I walked through those blue, double doors, I realized something was slightly off. The caregivers were all smiling at me, excited about something, giving me looks I was all too familiar with, and I was starting to feel annoyed already. They said goodbye to my mom and immediately whisked me outside to the playground.
“We want you to meet Someone New!” they said as they gathered around.
“Someone New” always meant someone I wouldn’t like very much — a booger eater, a sand thrower, or worse! I kind of wanted to go back inside where it was cool, curl up in the quiet corner and look at a picture book with my Pound Puppy toy. It looked as if I was about to be a fly on the wall no longer. Thus, I settled into the moment of disappointment with as much patience as possible.
“Marcus,” the youngest caregiver called “where are you?”
There was no reply, and I tried to drift away unnoticed as the caregivers searched the area for their Marcus fellow. I made it to the doors when Mean Old Melinda took me by the hand and led me back to the others.
“We aren’t going inside right now.” she said.
“GET YOUR DAMN HANDS OUT OF MY FACE!” a boy’s voice cut into the air.
The adults looked at each other with shocked expressions, until one walked to the end of the slide and hollered up at him.
“Marcus,” she said “no bad words, remember?”
An echoing boys voice traveled down the slide. “Miss Teacher! He putted his hand right in my face!”
“Cody, come down now. The girl we told you about is here,” she added.
He zipped down the slide, thumping on the tube walls as he went. My faulty memory does not bring back his face when I think of him. I remember most that he had feathery dark Michael Kelso hair, and porcelain white skin. He was tall and his body persistently held a strong, powerful posture. He wore a dark blue sweater, and in his hand he held a brown Pound Puppy stuffed animal.
Without hesitation he strutted right up to me and gave me a hug.
“Hi,” he said with enthusiasm. “Do you have a Pound Puppy?”
“Yes,” I said in my soft spoken way, and I handed him the Pound Puppy I had chosen to take that morning.
“It’s the same one!” he exclaimed, holding his stuffed animal next to mine. “We’re friends now, right?”
He turned out to be one truly crazy kid. He was outspoken, loud, and disrespectful. None of the other kids wanted to play with him because he was too rough for them most of the time. The caregivers were constantly pulling his parents aside as they dropped him off and picked him up, and his dad always seemed especially agitated when they left. I rather adored his feisty, suborn attitude, and he would say to me often that I was the only one who understood him. I remembered him making every day exciting, and he actually contemplated the things I said.
That boy had a surplus of energy, while I was more like one of those boring ladies from a Jane Austen novel. We evened each other out, and he was always protective over me. We played at a lot of different things. We were pirates, theater goers, cops and robbers. It didn’t matter what it was we played, Marcus always ended up pretending to be a heavy smoker. A caregiver once asked if his parents smoked, and when he said no, she pressed the issue by asking why he wanted to be a smoker. He decided that using a few choice words and spitting at her was the best way to respond, and the subject of WHY Marcus did what he did was never brought up again.
Sometimes, after lunch, they would play Barney tapes for us and turn off all the lights. Cody said Barney was for babies and he was a “big kid,” much too old for such nonsense. He refused to watch it, and we would sit in the quiet corner together pretending not to watch. At times, when no one was watching, we danced together when the music parts came on.
One day we were playing with a wagon, and he got into yet another fight with a younger boy. He gave the boy a busted, bleeding nose and was subsequently sent to time-out for a good five minutes. I spotted him across the playground, red faced, and listening to a stern lecture from one of the caregivers.
When he was done with his punishment he stomped back to me (I was still sitting in the wagon reading a book), fuming about what a ‘bitch’ Mrs. Whatsits was. He finished his heated tirade by saying everyone was out to get him and he didn’t know why.
“Well,” I said in my pensive way, “you aren’t a good boy.”
He turned his gaze on me, half upset and half shocked. I stared back at him until his expression softened and he looked down at his shoes ashamed.
“I know.” He eyed a pebble next to his foot and kicked it halfheartedly.
“Did you ever try to be a good boy?”
“YES! On all the days, but it doesn’t work.”
“My mommy said the devil wants you to do bad things. If you do bad things, you are in his hands.”
“In the devil’s hands?” He climbed into the wagon, suddenly interested in what I was saying.
“Yes. In his hands is a bad place. You should try to be in God’s hands, that is a good place.”
To this day, I am not sure why talking about God suddenly made him so interested. I would even go as far as saying he seemed passionate about being good.
He leaned closer to me. “I tried hard to be in God’s hands, but I don’t know how. How do I?”
“You have to listen to your deep down feelings. They tell you if something is right or wrong.”
“My deep down feelings.” He sat back.
I left him with his thoughts and went to swing.
After a couple days of being gone, I returned to the daycare and he was already there. He looked completely different; his usual long sleeved sweater was replaced with a maroon T-shirt, and his hair was a mess.
He was rolling on the floor, playing with the little kids and the caregivers were standing huddled together looking at him in utter bemusement.
He saw me, jumped up and ran to give me a hug.
“Camille! I listened to my deep down feelings all weekend, and it worked! I was playing with little kids, see? I’m in God’s hands now.”
I gave him a second hug and told him how proud I was of him. He was the picture of a good boy for weeks. All the kids wanted to play with him because he was “so cool”, and the caregivers were pleased to have that bad boy out of their hair. Every day he seemed bright, and he wore a regular smile on his face.
Then a day came that brought with it something I will never forget. I was late to daycare, showing up around noon instead of early morning. I went to the quiet corner and saw him sitting squished up into a sweater like a turtle in its shell. Only his bloodshot eyes could be seen out of the neck hole, and his hands were hidden entirely. I sat in my favorite spot, the coziest nook of the quiet corner, and I said hello to him. He hid his face deeper into his turtleneck.
“You okay?” I asked.
“No!” he retorted, his word muffled.
“YOU!” He said bursting out of his woolen cover. “YOU ARE WHAT’S WRONG!” He picked stuffed animals and books up, throwing them at me bitterly as he shouted. “I NEEDED YOU AND YOU WEREN’T HERE! WHERE WERE YOU!?!” He sobbed with everything he had, incredibly internally defeated. He melted to the floor when he ran out of things to throw.
One of the caregivers came to see what all the commotion was about. She chastised him and said he was scaring me.
“Look,” she scolded. “She is hiding in a corner because you are being so beastly.” She told him to stop and went to break up another fight happening at the art table.
I sat for a moment, observing my dear friend. He was on his knees curled into the fetal position, hands over his ears, his crying now a soft whimper. I didn’t know what was causing him so much inner turmoil, and I didn’t know what to say. I slowly crawled to him, patted his back and hugged him until he stopped crying. He rolled over onto his back and looked up at me, and I could see he was going through something tough for a six year old boy to handle. While I didn’t know what it was, I wanted to be there to help him through it.
My mom picked me up early that day. She explained to me on the way home that we would not be returning to that day care. She didn’t work at that school any more.
Perhaps I remember this boy so often because it was evident he needed a good friend at that time in his life, and I wasn’t there for him. It is a story that never got its finish. I am always looking back to my memories of him and wondering how his life turned out. I wonder if he ended up being the smoker he pretended to be, a good guy or a bad guy. I hope he is doing well, wherever he is.
When I think back to that boy, I am always reminded that even if some people can be problematic at times, they are still people — people who are going through things that we don’t always know about. It is important to always be patient, kind, firm when needed, and when all else fails, a hug can go a long way.