Rachel, Tommy, and Walter are lifelong friends. From kindergarten they’ve been inseparable. Tommy was always the rabble-rouser. Rachel was the boss, and Walter was the proverbial nice guy.
At recess one day, Tommy and Rachel watched as Walter got pushed off of a spring toy and in midst of falling, he busted his mouth on the hard concrete.
“Hey,” Tommy shouted, as he rushed to his friend’s aid. The boy who pushed Walter, Kip was his name, rushed off before Tommy could wrestle him to the ground.
“It’s okay, Walter. You’re going to be okay.” Rachel appeared over Tommy’s right shoulder. She held a white handkerchief in her hands.
“Here, Walter. Put this to your mouth, it’ll help stop the bleeding.” Both Tommy and Rachel grabbed an arm and pulled Walter toward the Head Start building.
One of the adults in the building saw us coming. The man, Willie I believe was his name, came rushing out to where we were.
“What happened out here, young’uns?” Tommy explained what happened while Willie looked on skeptically. Rachel added some details that Tommy missed.
“You’re telling me that Kip shoved Walter off the toy? Why would he do that?”
“Because Kip wouldn’t ask to share,” Tommy shouted. “He’s bigger than all of us, so he thought he could throw him off.”
“Okay, okay. Walter your mouth looked fine. You’ve got a busted lip, but that’s about it. Are you okay?”
I nodded yes, and Willie nodded back. “Okay. Recess is over anyway; you guys get headed back in for your nap. I’ll get the rest of these heathens rounded up.”
Our trio’s friendship was solidified over the loss of my teeth, and the blood that littered the playground at Head Start.
Throughout our elementary years, we stood together. There was only one incident that is worth mentioning. We were all together in the gym during P.E. and some boy, Clay-something another, decided to grab Rachel. He was thirteen and loved to bully those younger than him. I saw it and shouted at him. Tommy, who had grown some six inches seemingly overnight, snarled and headed toward Clay.
“It’s just a joke, boys. You shouldn’t hog such a beautiful girl all to yourselves.” We might have let him get away with his unwanted touching, if he hadn’t pinched her. Rachel squealed in pain, and it was game on.
Tommy launched himself at Clay with a shout. While Clay was distracted by the flying Tommy, I rushed in and swung my right fist into his chin. Between me and Tommy, he crumbled to the floor. Blood was on my knuckles, and Tommy wailed on him. It took Rachel and me to pull him off of Clay.
“Don’t you ever touch her again,” Tommy snarled. “So, help me God, I will beat you stupid!”
“Hey, relax Tommy. I’m okay.” Rachel tried to bring Tommy back to reality, but his temper soared. He punctuated the air with swings and kicks. Finally, he stomped away from where we stood, and Clay laid motionless.
As we entered our middle school years, Tommy grew more and more irate. Rachel and Tommy had always been close, so close in fact that people thought they were a couple. I was the outsider of our small group. I was glad to be accepted by them and cherished their friendship. Clay and his friends, punks Tommy called them, was in the eighth grade. The beating Tommy and I had given him was not forgotten. Clay ruled the middle school with an iron fist. He and his friends made life hell for everyone.
For everyone except Tommy. Over the course of three years Tommy had grown 15 inches. A whopping five inches a year. To boot, Tommy weighed in at 163 pounds in the sixth grade. He was monstrous, and we were glad he was on our side.
On the first day of class, Clay and his thugs decided to welcome us to middle school.
“Well, what do you know? Are you guys here for a rematch?” Clay snatched my backpack, it had a picture of Captain America on it, and threw it down the hall. People laughed, and my cheeks flushed hot with anger.
Unlike Tommy, I had only grown a couple of inches each year. I topped out at just over 5 feet and 140 pounds. Clay towered over me at 5’7 but I felt my oats.
“How about that, Walter? Captain America went for a ride. Go get your junk out of the hallway, your momma doesn’t work here.”
I swung at Clay as hard as I could, I put all 140 pounds behind it and missed. Clay slammed his right hand into my solar plexus, and I crashed to the ground.
“Get used to being on your knees, Walter. This is my house. You’ll get destroyed every day.” Tommy watched for a moment and then smashed his fist into Clay’s jaw. Teeth and blood flew out of Clay’s mouth. It was the first day of school and a row had broken out before the first bell had rang.
Principal William Ashford took exception to our brawl. He expelled Tommy and I before we even made it to our classroom. Rachel was allowed to go to class. Tommy and I walked out of school and trudged home.
“I’m dead. I’ve been expelled, and my parents won’t accept that lightly.” Tommy laughed.
“My parents wouldn’t care if I killed Clay. They’re so stoned I’m just a figment of their imaginations.”
“Yeah, man. I wouldn’t worry, they don’t.”
On the walk home, I realized why Tommy was so angry. “What kind of parents wouldn’t care if their kid came home or not?”
We arrived at Tommy’s home first. It was a 14×70 mobile trailer that was worse for wear. The paint was chipped, the windows were marred with yellow pollen. His mom, Amy, met us at the door-a crack pipe hung from her lips- and scowled at the two of us.
“Why are y’all home?”
Tommy sighed. Amy’s housecoat was unbuttoned and without removing the pipe she pulled her coat together.
“I got expelled, Amy.” Her right hand smashed into Tommy’s cheek. He stood his ground and waited for her follow-up punch. It never came.
“You no good hood rat. Why would they expel you?”
“It’s my fault ma’am. I-“
Amy’s hand slammed into my jaw. Tears stung my eyes as I backed up. Tommy stepped between us. “That’s enough, Amy.” She backed up from Tommy and lit the pipe.
“Whatever.” Without another word she went in the house and left Tommy and I standing in the yard.
“Jeez…” Tommy nodded and went toward the porch.
“Hey, Tommy. Thanks for standing up for me.”
He nodded and walked in the trailer. My friend never looked back at me, he shut the door and I walked away.
As time passed by, Tommy and I drifted apart. We remained friends, but we looked outside of our circle for companions. In time, we went from being the closest of friends to strangers who knew each other’s name.