Adults may not realize the complex social class
system that exists throughout childhood
. I don't remember when it first started - perhaps as early as kindergarten. For as long as I can remember going to school, there have been the cool kids, the dorks/nerds/losers, and the clump of people in the middle. During elementary school, I was in the lower portion of that middle ground, constantly trying to work my way up. The social class
you're in determined everything from whom you sat next to while riding the bus or at lunch, to the partners you were assigned to do work with. It isn't much, but for some reason, at that point in my childhood
it all seemed so important.
By chance, Patrick had been born with some extra genetic material on his 21st chromosome, causing a condition commonly known as Down's syndrome. But the kids didn't understand that - all they knew was he was different. His distorted face, slower thinking and bright reddish/orange hair made him a big target. I spent every spare moment of my time making his a living hell.
It started on the bus rides to school. His was the stop before mine. I would seek him out for the sole purpose of torture. We used varied methods of torment that my “friends” and I developed over the years. These included, but were not limited to, activities such as throwing things at the back of his head, kicking the back of his seat, giving him “loopies” or trying to tie his shoes together, and spitting spit with extra mucus (luggies as we called them) at him. Then there was the physical assaults. I used to try punching his leg as hard as I could. My goal was to make him cry. For some reason though, he would never cry on the bus in front of all those people – he was too emotionally strong for that.
Our attacks on him weren't limited to the bus and school. He lived right down the street from me, and very close to many of my other "friends." We threw eggs and rocks the kids house, poured sugar into his parent's gas tank. We once pressured him into dropping his pants and showing us his penis - when he did we laughed about it for days.
During the transition from elementary school to middle school, my social standing dropped significantly, and I suffered many of the same verbal and physical assaults. The kids on the bus had their own chant for me, which I won't even mention to this day because it STILL fucking hurts so much. I can only imagine the pain Patrick went through.
I didn't see Patrick much through middle school, because we took different classes. Years passed, and the next time I really talked to him again was my freshman year in high school. Many of the kids were sitting in the cafeteria, waiting for the buses to arrive. I was bored, and saw Patrick sitting there by himself. I walked up to him and asked him if he wanted to play a game of paper football. He declined, but was, as always, very polite and gracious. I sat down and talked to him about his favorite sport, baseball, before the buses came. In another life, given a different set of genes, insecurities and social pressures, we could have been good friends. That day in the cafeteria the last time I saw him.
I'd heard the ambulances that night, but didn't think much of them. Patrick died of a brain aneurysm while he was sleeping. There was a cheer from a small crowd as they announced it over the loud speaker. My heart sunk. I couldn't believe people could still be such assholes, even after his death. People there went into their mock/insulting Patrick imitations. Later that day they spray painted derogatory things about him on the side of the high school.
During the short period of time he lived here on this Earth, I contributed nothing to his life but misery, insults and physical brutality. For a period of months after his death I had recurring nightmares about the way I had treated him. I still do. There was, and is, no way for me to apologize or make things right.