Still, the sixth grade social scene was
moving fast, and before I knew it, I was being paired with Merry.
I liked Merry, so named because she was born on Christmas day. She
was cute and fun and seemed to like me. Our desks were next to each
other in Mr. Miskiewicz's sixth grade classroom. And wherever
I was on the playground during recess, Merry and her best friend Maria
always seemed to be near by.
Maria was the go-between, the matchmaker, the agent provocateur. The sixth grade girls had chosen Merry for me, and me for Merry. I was defenseless before them, and perhaps, so was Merry. We stood out on a crumbling concrete slab, the ruins of a forgotten building, bouncing a basketball. The ball was only the medium for the real game we were playing. Maria and Merry were all smiles. The courtship consisted of their teasing taunts. When I made a retort, Maria would get coy.
"But Peter, that's no way to talk to your girlfriend." I was intrigued, but bewildered. Did I have a girlfriend? When did this happen? Where was I when it happened?
One day, there was a scuffle over the ball and the two games merged.
"Give it back!" I pouted, trying to snatch the ball from Merry's grasp.
"No, it's mine," said Merry, clinging to the ball and smiling.
"I mean it!" I yanked the ball and Merry closer to me. She didn't resist, but held tight to the ball. I was in over my head. What kind of game was this? Merry seemed to be deliberately egging me on. She let the ball go. Then, smiling impudently, she knocked it from my hands, sending it bouncing across the pavement. She put her face up to mine.
"You'll have to go get it."
A familiar anger and frustration and fear welled up within me and enveloped me in moments. The color red swirled around me, blinding me to my surroundings.
All I could see was Merry's laughing face. I swung and hit her squarely in the jaw.
Merry stepped backwards, her eyes filling with tears. Maria started to yell. I stood there stupidly, staring at them, at the ball, at my clenched fist. The spell was broken.
The next day, Merry's cheek was purple and
puffy. Mr. Miskiewicz asked her how it happened.
"Peter hit her," someone said.
"Peter, that's no way to show a girl you like her." My classmates giggled.
The incident became part of sixth grade lore. Some of the boys teased Merry, calling her S.J. or Swollen Jaw. For awhile, to punch someone, was to give them an M.J. or Merry Jaw. Merry acted as if nothing had ever happened. She never said a word of blame. She never even accused me with her eyes. After the swelling went down, it really did seem like nothing had happened. But there was no more flirting. No more talk of girlfriend and boyfriend. There was no more Peter and Merry.
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