Tommy, Chief of the Blackhawks (A Bully’s Story)

Cruelty lives in the hearts of young boys.
No jungle can compare to playgrounds
full of sixth grade boys.
Yes, it is different
for the jungle is life and death,
eat or be eaten.
Oh, but the playground is worse
by far.
Death is not found on the gravel
and grass heavily tread
by bare feet and sneakers.
Rather there are bloodless wounds
inflicted with ease
and often accompanied with boyish laughter.
Laughter that intensifies the effect
and that echo years, even decades later.
Tommy joined us
in the middle of the school year
long after boyish bonds had been formed.
He was the new kid and often that was not good.
Had he been able to hit the ball
over the fence or throw a perfect spiral
to Royce streaking over the goal line,
he might have blended in after a bit.
Not Tommy for he was awkward
and, as we said back then, threw like a girl.
He was from the country
and it showed. 
Back in Longview, he claimed,
he had this club, the Blackhawks,
and he was the leader.
He told tales of his deeds
that not even the most gullible
would believe.
Had he been handsome or even cute,
at least enough to make the girls giggle,
he might has worked his way
into being one of us.
But he was scrawny and unkempt. 
One eye was slightly askew
as was his grin.
Looking back now, I see his grin
like an oft kicked puppy
wagging his tail as he approached,
head down, and coming in at a slight angle,
waiting for the kick or the blow.
That was Tommy, never sure
how he would be taken.
See the flag? 
See the American flag blowing in the breeze?
We used to send Tommy’s pants
up that flag pole
to wave in that breeze.
And Tommy hid his head
until someone, not us of course,
got his pants down
and told us to never do it again
as we giggled softly,
but he never cried.
When Tommy walked down the hall
he had more frogs than Elam Creek.
He would flinch at threatened blows
only to have one of us
yell “Flinched” and take our free shot
until his arms were red from his elbows
to his wrist,
but he never cried.
Whatever the joke,
whatever the cruel idea we dreamed up,
Tommy was the butt of it all,
but he never cried.
Oh, we weren’t mean to him all the time
for we played baseball with him.
Naturally he was always the last one chosen
on whatever team it might be.
And if he muffed his swing
or dropped a sure out,
he caught more hell from us
than we gave anyone else.
We called him a girl and worse.
He was at the wrong end of every insult
and our newly developing skill of cussing,
but he never cried.
Just yesterday,
decades away from that playground,
I was telling a friend about Tommy.
I told her about years after we were together
that I saw his picture in the back
of a newspaper.
He still had that lopsided grin.
It told about Corporal Tommy Loftis,
his unit and his home town.
The picture had grabbed me
and I stared for a long time.
I thought of that playground for the first time
in so many years.
According to that newspaper,
Tommy had left all the playgrounds behind
in some southeastern Asian jungle.
I remembered our playground
and all the hell we gave.
I looked at that lopsided grin
and remembered that no matter what
he never cried.
Nothing on that playground ever made me cry either
until now. 

So, here’s to you,
Tommy, Chief of the Blackhawks.
I am proud of you for your service.
It may be stupid to say this,
but I am also proud that despite all that hell
on the playground
you never cried.
It is the only thing from those playground years
that I am proud of. 
The absolute only thing.

Michael Mathews
March 16, 2015
Monday, 4:04 PM
RV on the lake

NOTE: Loftis is not the last name.  I do not want to use his last name just in the remote chance that someone from his family would see this and have my words bring them pain.  I have enough pain of my own and do not care to share it.