The Bad Kids
I really struggled with this month’s theme, and how to approach it: memories of Halloween’s past, write about celebrity mischief in the news (Kanye West, Serena Williams, Joe Wilson, David Letterman, etc,) or even some funny made-up tale that makes people laugh – or at least try to. Instead, I choose to be extremely serious about mischief makers…but, hopefully, thoughtful.
I was a paperboy growing up, a career path that no longer exists for preteens. I remember having to ride past the bad-kid’s house. You know the ones, or maybe were the ones. They had a penchant for flannel and work boots though they never worked or seemed to have any responsibilities. Their face was etched with a permanent snear that only flickered into smiles and laughter and somebody else’s expense. Their hair never seemed to be combed or washed for that matter. When pets would go missing, though nobody blatantly accused them, everyone had their suspicions who may have been involved. They had a reputation and it was not undeserved. Now I realize that the mischief makers didn’t deserve what created them.
The ‘bad kids’ were tough, or at least appeared that way. In one instance, I remember opening a mailbox, and on closing it ready to ride my bike to the next stop I suddenly noticed one of these ‘bad kids’ in front of me. He was holding a compound hunting bow – loaded – in full draw. All I saw was his dark eyes and the sparkle of that steel arrow tip focused on me. I don’t know why I did what I did, but I simply laughed and said, “Oh, you scared me.” Upon that, he lowered his aim and slunk off. Thinking back, it was no laughing matter. I’m not sure how ready he was to simply let those fingers slip and ruin a perfectly good paperboy. I try not to think about it.
They never beat me up not because I was all that tough, but I’ve always been tall and on the strong side (a genetic advantage that has always served me well.) However, they did beat up a lot of other kids. They shoplifted and were caught once, drank heavily before the age of sixteen, smoked marijuana, and “lived it up” with little parent intervention. How do I know? Because my best friend growing up defected to their side. He was my friend when we were with others, but when they showed up, he transformed into my nemisis. It didn’t take me long to break the friendship. I felt betrayed. Now, after years of experience, I feel compassion.
Beneath the layers of mischief, criminal activity, and general sociopath tendencies, were boys – just boys. They wanted love and attention but received abuse and neglect. They craved for a Dad or Mom to rub their hair and tell them they’re good enough…that they were proud of them. Instead, they were beaten, sexually abused, neglected, and despised by the very people who birthed them. My God, how could they not have rage and anger?
I probably should have joined their ranks because I had a similar upbringing, but two people invested time into my life and made me realize I was loved. They made me feel important despite the verbal/physical abuse and alcoholism that pervaded my upbringing. These boys never had anybody like that.
I’ve had a tendency, despite my lessons learned, to judge people, classify them, and keep them at arm’s length out of a perverse insecurity. It is only recently, over the past two years, that my heart has been broken for those I used to admonish. The litterbugs, the red-light runners, traffic weavers, bad parents, dope smoking, midnight radio blasters, and general ‘mischief makers’. Why? It was easier to classify them than to relate to them. Now I’m learning that they’re the same as me. There’s no difference except their circumstances and their response to their circumstances. Does this absolve them of their antisocial behaviors? No. Regardless of what brought us to this point, regardless of our upbringing and the scars that accompany it, we have a choice with what we do from this point forward. That does not mean we should not take the time to truly understand them; sympathize with them.
You know some bad kids, don’t you? They’re up to no good. They’re mischief makers. Who’s going to love them? Who?