When I was nine, the beat-up game was our favorite thing to do at recess. Our gang would pretend to beat-up a kid until one of the teachers came running over to stop us. At which point it was important that we all, especially the victim, laugh. Otherwise we got sent to the principle for fighting. As fun as this game was, for some reason, no one ever wanted to play the victim. Not all punches got pulled in time and an accidental kick to the head was not uncommon.
James Carlson always volunteered to be the victim. We came to count on it. In fact if he wasn’t at school we didn’t play. James always had that sick sweet stink of an unwashed nine year old. He was short and overweight and not normally part of our group. If he had a Dad, he never talked about him and I was pretty sure he wasn’t a Christian because he swore a lot. My Sunday School teacher told us that God is the source of all love, and those without God are without love. Naturally, I began to separate everyone I knew into only those two types of people.
One day, after a pretty rough recess I sat by James on the bus home. He was more quiet than usual. I asked him, “Why do you play beat-up?” His answer was so immediate that it stuck in my stomach. “It’s that or nothing, right?” he said flatly, still looking out the window. Then, his face lit up and he added, “Do you want to see my Stingray?”
Getting off at James’ stop meant walking a couple miles home. But, I felt so bad that I got off. His home was very messy and smelled just like him, but his Mom was really nice. James ran into his room and brought back his model car. His Mom now noticed his red swollen cheek and a little blood still left on his ear. She pulled him close to her and started to softly cry, “Who’s doing this to you, honey?” I could tell James was embarrassed so I just pretended to look at the Stingray.