The memories are sketchy. I was maybe seven years old and the teachers had arranged an Easter egg hunt for the class. We filed down the stairs to the yard in the back of the school, lined up against a wall that was bleeding paint chips. The structural integrity of the school left a lot to be desired. It was decades removed from any kind of worthwhile maintenance. The yards however, they were quite lovely from what I remember. We were told it was because the yard was tended to by local parishioners of the church that bordered us, not that we really cared.
All that mattered were the monkey bars, the swings and the see saw which sat in a lonely corner of the yard, away from the plush gardens; almost as if an afterthought in spite of the utility of recess.
The only part of the hunt I remember was finding an Easter egg tucked at the base of a tree. I pretended I didn’t see it, in spite of the bright infusion it threw inside the pale dirt. I was waiting for Patty, who in spite of my best judgment, had become my school girlfriend. Truth be told, outside of the thunder claps of blonde hair that sprouted from her pigtails, we shared no kismet. She thought me a ‘bad boy’ for cursing all the time, and I found it repugnant that she couldn’t do a better job of wiping her nose. Yet somehow, we had forged a strange alliance. We looked out for each other, as if we knew there were struggles we had endured far beyond the walls of a school.
So when I found that Easter egg nestled inside the veins of a big old tree, I waited for her. She hadn’t found an egg to that point, and I felt badly for my gal pal. I remember just standing guard, waiting for her to arrive when a teacher came up to me, bent down and picked up the egg and said something to the effect of,
“Oh for God’s sakes! It’s right here!”
I don’t remember the teacher, but I do remember hating her for killing my moment. And I remember carrying that hate with me for the rest of the day. The world was full of adults who wanted to steal your dreams before they got started.
After school, I was ushered back to the yard with the other kids whose parents schedules conflicted with the end of the school day. For the span of an hour or more, we would entertain ourselves with war games and marbles and school gossip.
Me? I usually just wanted to run, until I got to anywhere else. This entailed scaling a tall, chain link fence that surrounded the yard. After which one of the Baptist kids who volunteered to watch us would have to give chase. My legs were filled with rocket fuel on this particular day, and if memory serves me right, I made it a couple city blocks before being caught.
The kid’s name was John. A tall and lanky, clean cut high school student who never lost his cool. No matter how hard I tried. He must’ve chased me down dozens of times, and never once did he utter a bad word or flash me a disjointed look. He would simply walk me back to the school yard, every single time.
There we were, sitting in exhausted heaps on the cool concrete sidewalk, not saying a word to each other; simply trying to get back to even before returning to the yard. I was a kid who hated adults and Jesus and anything that ever tried to tell me the what’s what, but try as I might? I couldn’t hate John. We walked back to the school in silence as I tried to find a reason to believe in the world.
It was years before I realized I’d already found one.