“You ripped my scab you shithead.”
Lonnie held his arm up to my face, “I ought to make you eat it Harmon.”
“You did it L-Lonnie.” I said. “You di- did it trying to take my lunch box.” My voice hitching as I barely held back the tears.
“Only a queer would have a Scooby-Do lunch box Harmon. And you’re a damned queer if I ever saw one.”
It was an understatement that Lonnie Stokes was the bane of my existence on my bus rides home. I watched as Lonnie picked at the scab — one of three perfect little circles on his left arm. His hair stuck out every which way; especially the hair around his ears, swooping up to the skies, making his John Deere hat look like a bird about to take flight. His t-shirt had a rip under the right sleeve, and I could see a purplish bruise with yellow edges.
“What are you lookin’ at Harmon? You got some kind of problem?”
“I ain’t looking at nothin’ Lonnie.” I said as I looked away quickly. I remember what he did to Randy Stanley, and it made that bruise look pleasant.
“Nothin’?” Lonnie twisted in his seat facing me directly, his farm-hardened body indenting the torn t-shirt. “You callin’ me nothin’? I’m gonna give you what you’ve been asking for you queer son of a bitch. “
They say that in times of great stress time slows down. Now that I’m a neuroscientist I know that isn’t actually true, but I remember clearly seeing the minute details of that incoming fist; little white scars from hay bailers on a weathered canvas. The calluses on the knuckles were the last I remember though.
Lonnie got kicked off the bus for a week after that little incident. He didn’t come to school during that week. I heard his folks didn’t have a car, just their farm truck, and even there in East Tennessee it wasn’t street legal. The next time I saw Lonnie we were getting on the bus for the ride home, and I was a scared boy. He stared at me with a hatred I could feel. Palpable. I didn’t look long at him, but I did notice that his bruise now had a little brother, the purple hugging his eye and reaching across for his ear. For the rest of the year I made sure to get in the front of the line and take a seat at the front of the bus.
Those bus rides were a microcosm of the human experience, distilled down to its most visceral elements. I remember some good times talking and sharing football cards with the one or two friends who rode my route. But mostly I remember Lonnie. He dropped out his junior year, and I never heard from him again. Though he still foments fear in me, I think of him often, and I recognize now those little cigarette-sized circular scars as crop circles of perpetuated violence, and think about how sometimes our society does indeed eat its young.