I loved school. My family only knew about kids at school if I talked about them. And kids at school only knew about my family if I talked about them. It was like creating two separate worlds and I could decide how much these worlds collided.
I also loved school because school had *Tyler Bay. Tyler Bay was cute. I loved him from the first moment I saw him standing in line with the first graders. With blonde curls and blue eyes he looked far different from the darker features that dominated my family.
I watched for him when we lined up for class. I seemed to always know where he was, stealing glances when I thought he wasn’t looking.
I made the mistake of saying his name at home. Oh the endless teasing I suffered! It didn’t matter which sibling spoke it, his precious name was always drawn out in the same sing song voice. “Ooo! Tyler Baaaay.” I could only stand the teasing because I knew Tyler’s path would never cross with any of my siblings. Why would it? He didn’t live in my neighborhood.
It was a warm afternoon and I was relishing the cool cement of the porch while I played with cats. One of our many strays had provided a litter of kittens to dote on. From my perch I didn’t miss a soul who went by.
Marching John stomped down the street, raising one leg much higher than the other. A blue jacket hung from his tall, thin frame, and his worn jeans had a hole in the knee.
I’d asked Clayton once, “Why does he march like that? Was he a soldier or something?”
Clayton looked at me to see if I was joking. Deciding that I wasn’t he lowered his voice. “He’s drunk.”
I called out, “Hi,” sure that Marching John needed the morale.
He barely looked at me. “Hi.”
Not far behind Marching John I spotted two kids walking down 4th Street. I didn’t recognize the shorter, dark-haired one. But I’d know the blonde curls of his companion anywhere.
I’d never actually said a single word to Tyler Bay. He was a grade older than me and we didn’t have any of the same classes. I’d only loved him from a distance. So I wasn’t about to let this opportunity pass.
I cradled a kitten in my arms and crunched across the gravel driveway to greet the two boys.
“Is that a cat?” I’d known the cat was a good ice breaker!
I stroked the kitten’s head to keep it calm, unhooked its claws from my shirt, and handed the mewling creature to him. Our hands brushed briefly in the exchange. His skin was warm and sweaty from whatever mischief he and his friend had been up to. I was reminded of the stories people tell of meeting their heroes, shaking hands, and then never washing that hand again for the rest of their lives.
It was adorable. Tyler Bay holding one of my kittens that I loved so much.
He held the kitten up, I assumed to get a closer look at it. But in a sudden motion he imitated a drop kick. “I hate cats. I just want to kick them.”
Suddenly his adorable blonde curls couldn’t hide his stupid fat face. For months I’d ignored the teasing from my siblings about liking fat boys. I’d tell myself that his blonde curls more than made up for any extra mass he carried. But in that moment I knew better. He was uncoordinated and not at all athletic. Not only was he fat, but I’d heard someone call him a mama’s boy.
I snatched the tense kitten from his pudgy hands. It clung to me, scratching me, but I didn’t care. I yelled at the boys to get off my property, and turned my back on Tyler Bay forever.
Oh my word! This is a most excellent story! I do not remember this Tyler Baaaaay but clearly he was not ever going to be man enough for you.
Also, was Marching John also handicapped in some way? I thought maybe that’s why he was always drunk. What even was his life? Weird that he was a such a part of our town but I actually know nothing about him.
I love your writing!
Tyler Bay wasn’t his real name. If I used the real name you’d probably recognize the name at least. But I didn’t want to use his real name since I don’t cast him in the most flattering light!
That’s a good question about Marching John. I know absolutely nothing about him!
Once again, you’ve delighted my world with a wonderful story of your childhood. I love your writing and I love you for sharing your stories with me.
Oh my word, this is great! I think Cori’s right, Marching John had something, I always think PTSD, but whatever it was it made him kind of scary and marchy. And drunk. Poor, sad man. I have to say here that your penchant for saying hi to everyone scared the bajeebers out of me! You were way too friendly as a cute little girl and it worried me a lot…especially living on that street where the parade of our town’s humanity seemed to go marching by every day. I’m so glad you’re back to making me smile, and even laugh, with your writing. <3
I was telling Caren the other night that it’s a wonder you ever let us play in the yard!
Marching john definitely was a favorite of mine. He helped Chris Jones and I split kindling once. I wanna say he was an uncle of the elias boys??? Great job crystal. I love your childhood stories
Oh my gosh! I knew if anyone knew who he was it would be you! How do you even?
I’m sad to say, I never saw Marching John. Makes me wonder what else I missed! Thank you for your stories, not only are they entertaining, but helpful for catching me up on so many lovely characters.
Joan, it must have been just one adventure after another at your house. And look at your offspring. Crystal is representative of their hearts and talent.