The first Musketeer was the nicest one, on the surface. He invited me over to swim in his pool and jump on his trampoline. He had two older brothers, just as buck-toothed as he was.
I had spent a year overseas, and when I came back, all my friends had forgotten me. I became the fourth Musketeer, the Johnny-come-lately who never quite fit in.
I’m not sure why I wanted to fit in with them, considering what it cost me. But I guess it wasn’t my choice.
The Three Musketeers would copy my homework. In exchange, they would protect me.
Here’s the irony, though: They were the only dangerous boys in my class. I was harmless, and everyone else was nice to me.
Musketeer number 1, whose name was Jim, would hold me down on my back, squeeze my head between his ankles, and jump up and down, pounding my head against the tile floor, as my ears rubbed against his jeans.
Outside at recess, he would sit on my chest and tickle my nostrils with a blade of grass until tears came to my eyes. Then he would thump my sternum 100 times with the knuckle of his middle finger.
He twisted my nipples until they turned blue.
I couldn’t tell anyone. If I told the teacher, the punishment would’ve been worse. I would’ve been embarrassed to tell my parents or siblings.
Thinking back about it is painful. It fills me with a hatred I didn’t dare express back then. I don’t even know if I could feel it. To acknowledge it would have been to define myself as a victim. It was better to ignore it, to go home and pretend it never happened, and hope the next day would be different.
The following year I went to seventh grade at a new school and was away from the Three Musketeers, but that didn’t mean my problems were over.
After gym class one day, a group of eighth graders picked me up by the hands and feet and were carrying me toward the shower. All of a sudden I heard a raspy voice say “What are you doing?” They dropped me on the spot.
No, it wasn’t a teacher come to save me. It was Dickie, a ninth grader, and the meanest bully of them all. Kids said he had a black belt, and that he once cut a cat in two with a chainsaw.
All I remember is the laugh, and the Peter Frampton hair, and the sound of his throat as he coughed up a ball of phlegm — “hawked a greenie,” as we called it then.
I cowered on the floor and looked up at him. The greenie hit me square in the eye.
He really was super humanly evil.
He laughed and walked away. The eighth-graders were too disgusted to touch me. I got up and washed my face in the drinking fountain.
In the movies, the little kid always stood up to the bully, and always won. This was no movie.
Did it scar me for life? Yes, I suppose it did.
After one brutal day of torture at the hands of the Three Musketeers, I came home and was playing with the neighbor kid.
I wrestled him to the ground and tickled his nostrils with a blade of grass, then thumped his chest with the knuckle of my middle finger. 100 times.
I stood up, squeezed his head between my ankles, and jumped up and down, pounding his head against the hard ground.
I grabbed his nipples and twisted until he cried.
I was 12. He was 10. Life was so much worse than we had imagined or deserved.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.