As I lay on the floor of the cafeteria bathroom, it became obvious to me that the girls who were beating me up didn’t care about their seventh-grade classmate or her lost mouse. They just wanted the feeling of kicking someone’s teeth in.
I don’t know how I misunderstood her, about which mouse of her collection I was permitted to take. The science teacher no longer needed the mice my friend had contributed to the lab. It was time for them to move on. Trouble was, my friend’s mother didn’t want an entire litter of rodents to return with her daughter. She’d given her permission to keep two. “Just don’t take the white one with the big black spots on its back, or the one with black speckles. You can have any of the others.”
Without checking first with The Parents, I chose a white one with a few medium-sized spots. I was pretty sure it was not one of my friend’s favorites.
It was Friday. I brought my new little friend home with me. “See, Mama? Isn’t he cute?”
My stepfather decided that there was no room in the house for a rodent. “Call your friend. Give it back. Or turn it loose. It’s not staying here.” Finality, thy name is Stepfather.
I couldn’t reach my friend. She and her family had gone away to the city for the weekend. I pleaded my case. “Can’t I just keep him for the weekend, and bring him back to her on Monday?” The Stepfather was intransigent.
“Sweetie, you didn’t ask us first. If you’d asked, we would have said no. Then you wouldn’t have this dilemma.” My mother, trying to make a bridge between the hard line of justice and love.
Twelve-year-old heart breaking, I turned my little friend loose in a field a mile from my home.
But this isn’t a story about family dynamics — however worthy of dissection they may be. This is a story about riots after admittedly bad events.
After all these years, I can’t tell you how I misunderstood — but apparently, I did. The fact is, somehow, I was wrong.
“You took the wrong mouse! That was my favorite one!” She was livid. I tried to appease her, but to no avail.
I can still see the faces of her friends standing nearby. “You are so going to get it, you bitch.” No one said the words aloud. But I could hear it as if they were screaming, spittle spurting and enraged eyes engaged.
I apologized, did what we all do in such situations, demurred, left. Assumed that it was over, that the worst would be social shame and a few nasty remarks behind my back for the remainder of the year.
At lunch, I went to the restroom… and wished I’d drunk less chocolate milk.
Suddenly, the room was filled with malevolence. No teachers, no authority figures. Just ten angry young zealots, lusting for blood.
“You hurt our friend. You broke her heart,” said the leader of the rat pack. “You have to pay for being heartless!”
“Yeah! Yeah! You hurt our friend!” chimed in the gang.
I was a writer, even then; and part of my mind was editing for them. “Cheesy dialogue,” I was thinking, as the first punch hit me in the face. Editorial comment dissipated with subsequent punches to the belly, and when I was down, wrapped around a toilet, kicks to the back, the head, the legs…
They left finally. And now, more than forty years later, I see their lust for giving pain in the eyes of rock-hurling children in Ferguson, in Brooklyn, in Baltimore…
It is very likely that, like the mouse-losing kid in seventh grade, the police were culpable. I can’t know from this distance. I wouldn’t presume. But let’s say they were absolutely 100 percent wrong.
Three thousand people show up for a drug dealer’s funeral. That’s all about love, right?
Thousands riot and tear apart towns that have been sweated for and built by their brothers-of-color. Justice, right?
Policemen that were not even present during the admittedly questionable arrests debilitated by rocks hurled at their blue-line brains. It’s all about making things right. Right?
I wonder if those girls got the jollies they’d pursued that day. I wonder if these youth got theirs. I know there is not, due to their “efforts,” increased justice in the world.
Just a few more broken windows, broken bones, broken dreams.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi are rolling in their graves.