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I could have been kinder

I don’t remember his name, but I think about him sometimes. I think about him when I see Old Spice deodorant. I think about him when I see mixed vegetables. He comes to my mind, and I think to myself, “I could have been kinder.”

Sometime around freshman year, he showed up. He was a big guy like I was. He seemed to always be wearing the same few filthy outfits of clothes: cut-off shirts, surplus Army pants and boots.

His smell would fill the classroom.

Kids, including myself, made fun of him. We called him names until one stuck. He would go so long without bathing that a crust had developed on his neck, so he became “Crusty.”

He would pass by a water fountain in the hallway, and kids would splash him so they could make fun of the streaks the clean water left on his neck, arms and face.

Hate fills the heart that love leaves empty. Soon he hated all of us.

He had his own names for people. He swung at us in the halls. He would cuff the bottom of his pants and fill them with whatever vegetable were on our lunch tray, and the rest of the day he would throw peas or corn or green beans at people when the teacher’s head was turned.

He gave back what he got.

Eventually all this became enough of a distraction that the guidance counselor intervened. A group of us boys were brought into the office and reprimanded. We were told he did not have running water at home or parents with the means to provide him with much.

So it was decided that those of us who had been the cruelest would bring some things in that he needed – toothbrushes, soap, razors, etc., and he would be able to use the gym showers in the morning before school.

That’s why I think of him when I see Old Spice deodorant. I bought him a stick.

In hindsight it’s clear to me why I was such a bully. I had what psychologists call an “inferiority complex.”  I was so insecure that I took it out on those around me.

I have lived and learned and can forgive the boy I was that knew no better, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about my classmate – because I could have been kinder.

I could have struck up a friendship the first day he sat beside me in keyboard class. I could have invited him to stay the night sometime. I could have pretended to be getting rid of clothes and asked if he wanted them. I could have offered our shower. I could have done a lot of things.

I could have been kinder.

Stults is a performing songwriter from Russellville.

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