This has been their summer, these two boys of 8 and 5. And largely, they have passed by me unnoticed.
So we take our Miss Dolly for a walk, J-man and I. J-man holds the leash proudly, sliding the loop up his arm nearly to the shoulder as we head down the block. He doesn't really understand the purpose of walking a dog, but he does understand the basics. And lucky for us, so does Dolly.
Along the way we stop at a neighbor's home. The mom is relaxing outside while her daughter (6) plays with chalk and her son... the younger boy... rides the loop with his friend. We stop to chat. J-man heads to the toy bin in their garage, pulling out a toy gun (of course). Makes shooting noises at no one in particular. The boys arrive and circle us like hawks. The older boy's eyes are sharp on J-man. He sees the different in him. He pulls the younger boy over and whispers in his ear, casting glances at J-man. The younger boy's eyes widen and he stares at J-man with new speculation.
The exchange goes by me on my periphery. I barely notice it until I see their eyes. How they look at him. With suspicion, contempt? Can a five year old look at another child with contempt? I am not sure, but some quality of 'less than' was in their eyes.
I heart stops and I go cold.
Nothing has been said. Or done. Just those eyes staring at J-man.
I try and shake it off. I move to taking J-man home, but he will have none of it. These toys are too cool, the evening air too sweet, to go home and have pizza. After a considerable amount of protesting, I finally get him moving toward our house. He is pissed.
The boys follow us with their bikes, passing and circling back. They stop to whisper to each other again, shooting glances at him as they do. I hear his name emerge from this click and my head whips around. I make steely eye contact with the boys. The younger one flushes bright red and speeds off. The older one looks me in the eye for one beat longer than he knows he should, and then leisurely rides home.
J-man is oblivious to all of this.
I go inside and cry. J-man sits on my lap with a wrinkled forehead.
"Areyouokay?" he asks in his lilting way.
"I'm fine, buddy. Okay. Don't worry." I say, trying to calm myself. I mean, nothing has happened!
"Smile!" he insists. And I do. Really, what choice do I have when this little slice of heaven commands it?
Later I ask myself: Have I just witnessed it? The bully seed being planted? The seed of difference, of other, of contempt, being planted. Is this where it starts? Passed from an eight year old to a five year old.
A five year old.
And where do we go from here?
This is just craptastic.