Something got me thinking about a kid I grew up with named John B______. He and his two older brothers lived just down the street from the time we were in 5th grade. All three boys had heads of dark brown, unruly and quite large hair. Our families were quite friendly and sometimes got together for meals or outings. His mother was a lovely lady named Mary Ann. His father, Leo, was a bit of an odd duck. He used to get very mad at evidence of rabbits in his lawn, and would refer to their feces as rabbit pills. We accessed their house for many years through a vacant lot between our street and theirs, and later, when the lot was finally built on, by sneaking through the neighbor’s yard.
John suffered an undiagnosed and unreported form of child abuse at the hand of his older siblings. Often the victim of sibling-on-sibling abuse myself, I always forgave John’s strange and often obnoxious behavior. But both his brothers and mine were merciless, constantly subjecting him to humiliation and all sorts of physical torture. If that wasn’t mean enough, they would frequently create awful nicknames for him, including the one that stuck – Squirt.
Once on the school bus, John, who I think may have had a lifelong crush on me, was squirting water at me through a hypodermic needle. (I never did learn how it was he came upon such a thing.) I put up my hand to deflect the water at the same time the bus lurched, resulting in the needle literally going all the way through my hand. I passed out for a brief second, mostly due to the eww factor, and woke to see John, as white as a sheet, looking very guilty, scared, and concerned. I never told my parents who shot me with the needle, but the incident did result in a small trip to the emergency room later that night.
Once, on the day after Halloween, our doorbell rang and I opened the door to find a somewhat wilted red rose, an index card, and some leftover Halloween candy. (Clearly the dregs of the previous evening’s haul – Zagnuts, Bit O’Honey and other B list candies.) The index card read “To Julie. Love, Your Secret Admirer.” And on the back, in his brother’s handwriting, “From John B_______.” Surprised by this new level of attention, I think I tried to press the rose to keep it as a memento, but any hint of an early middle school romance was quickly dashed by the constant teasing and lewd comments from our brothers.
Though we were always cordial to one another, we never traveled in the same social circles in high school. I think we had been through too much humiliation together, at the hands of our older brothers, to ever truly be friends. And, perhaps the result of the abuse, an ongoing crush, or maybe even due to a mild and undiagnosed case of Asbergers, he was never quite able to look me in the eye.