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Beware, Bewilder, Besiege, Befriend

How I turned the tables on my schoolyard bully and earned my reputation as a middle school scrapper.

Aztec Elementary—or so I’ll call it: where we lay our scene.

My first week of sixth grade was a hot mess — and that’s putting it mildly. I was still the new kid, having just arrived in Phoenix during the spring semester of the previous year, and I was also a fat kid. No, no: not a fat kid, although I was also certainly that — I was the fat kid.

My only friend was Adi, a diminutive, fast-talking kid from California who lived a block away. We’d been friends since my first day of school in Phoenix — and we’re still friends today — but this year, we were in different classes. Which means we had recess at different times. Which means we’d only see each other before and after school.

So I found myself wandering around the schoolyard on this particular day, kicking dirt and longing to be at home with my Game Boy. The boys were playing kickball on the makeshift diamond while the girls flocked around the jungle gym, chatting. I must have been somewhere between the two groups when a kickball thwacked against the side of my head and spun me to the ground in a heap. A few of the girls ran over to see if I was… alive? okay? seeing double? and two of them helped me to my feet.

A gangly, dark-haired boy half a head taller than me chased after the ball. He scooped it up without even bending his knees and headed back towards home plate, right past me and the girls, who were now walking back to the playground. I recognized him; he was in my class. He pointed in my direction, jerked his arm back, and wound up to throw.

I flinched. I shouldn’t have flinched.

“What are you, a girl?” he called to me, mockingly. His voice had changed — it was husky and deep; I was all at once jealous and scared. Mistaking my fear for confusion, he continued — “Are you deaf, little girl?” I didn’t move or say a word. He came closer — close enough to smell — and he smelled awful.

Would having a deep voice like his be worth the body odor? As I began to consider this bargain, he shoved me — hard.

“I’m talking to you,” he growled.

This isn’t me, but it might as well be. Not pictured: Dennis Cole’s enormous proboscis.

And then my instincts took over. I swung squarely at his head with my right arm — and this is where I must inform you that Dennis Cole has an enormous nose. It’s a good thing, too, or else I’d have missed him entirely. Instead, my fist glanced across the bridge of Dennis’s aforementioned gigantic schnoz, turning his head and forcing him cry out in pain. His horror intensified when he looked down and realized that he was bleeding profusely. If he could see himself right now, he’d probably pass out, I thought. His nose was swollen and crooked and turning purple. Is it broken? I wondered. It is, isn’t it? Rad.


Because fighting was frowned upon at Aztec Elementary no-matter-who-started-it, Dennis Cole and I were both given three days of in-school suspension as a punishment. In this case, in-school suspension meant sitting together at the office conference room table with the door closed, working on various mindless worksheets and quizzes Mr. McKay had sent up for us to do. The first day, we barely looked at each other. Heads were down, eyes were fixed on the work at hand. I had decided that I was going to wait for Dennis to make first contact, and that hadn’t happened all day — he hadn’t so much as looked up from his reading! Bells rung, we filed out of the conference room and onto our buses.

The next day — the second day of our suspension — Dennis arrived wearing a pair of bottle-thick horn-rimmed glasses, which he clearly hadn’t picked out, and which — from the looks of it — he most certainly did not like. Between his new specs and his abnormally-outsized proboscis, he looked like a nerd — like me.

As I began to read the first of a stack of worksheets in front of me, my eyes kept getting distracted by a reflected red light in Dennis’s direction — from his new glasses. His neck was craned and his head was pointed at the book on the table, except — he wasn’t reading the book. He hadn’t turned a page in — a long time? Had he ever turned a page? There was that red light again, just like the red power light on my —

I looked under the table, and there it was: a Game Boy. Dennis Cole had brought his Game Boy to in-school suspension with him. That was a ballsy move.

Better hope my Fighter doesn’t get turned to stone by Medusa’s Gaze!

“What are you playing?”

Final Fantasy Legend.

“Lemme play.”

“No!”

“Lemme play or I’ll tell the principal you brought your Game Boy.”

He handed me his Game Boy. “Start a new game — don’t play mine.”

I wasn’t going to play his game, anyway — I wanted to start from the beginning. Ten minutes in, it was the best game I’d ever played — and from that moment until the last day of eighth grade, Dennis Cole and I were inseparable. And then we went to different high schools.

We haven’t talked since.

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