The boy with the long blonde hair who had flashed a knife before my friend’s face a few days before was following me home again. Last time, he’d embarrassed me in front of a girl I liked and insulted my sister. In response, I ran home.
Now, my heart quickened. I was still two blocks from home. . . .
Then, I saw my dad’s car on the other side of the road. Then, my dad. And then, him sprinting through traffic towards us.
My family moved from Fairfield to Stratford when I was nine. Stratford is further from New York City so it is more affordable. In addition to the sizes of houses and backyards, there were other differences, too.
For example, in Stratford, kids hadn’t begun to learn division in third grade. So, when I arrived, in the spring of 1983, I was (for the first and last time) Top of the Class in math. Also, no Fairfield kid that I knew had heavy metal band logos scrawled or embroidered into their clothing. In Stratford, though, it seemed trendy for boys to sport patches such as “Black Sabbath,” “Iron Maiden” and “Quiet Riot” on their blue denim jackets.
Stewart Bohn had one of those jackets. And long blonde hair. And fangs. . . . Well, not fangs. But he did have a butterfly knife.
A Saturday morning in sixth grade. My friend Jeff and I rode our bikes to the basketball courts at Second Hill Lane Elementary School. I always treasured the times with my friends on days off from school. I thought it was strange when I saw Stewart and his friends, dressed in jean jackets and boots stop at the same courts. But, apparently, Stewart didn’t like Jeff liking Suzanne or Suzanne liking Jeff. Or whatever. Nonetheless, Stewart decided a deft displaying of his butterfly knife, whisking and clinking it inches from Jeff’s nose, was needed to prove a point. It was the first time I’d been in the presence of a flaunted weapon. But nothing else happened that day and they left.
Shortly after, though, Stewart started following us home, giving us a hard time. The kid scared me, and didn’t see why he was targeting us. When Jeff and I went our separate ways walking home, Stewart began following me home. I had no idea why.
I thought maybe he’d heard that I’d told some people about the knife incident. Or maybe he just took me for a timid target; I didn’t listen to heavy metal and my mom STILL cut my hair. Maybe he wanted to make me look bad in front of Susan, the freckle-faced girl with pigtails who lived near and accompanied me (along with my younger sister Erin) on our walks to and from school. Or maybe he was just mean.
Either way, the walk to and from school was a quarter-mile stretch along Nichols Avenue, a busy state route. I’d walked it every day since fourth grade but that spring Susan began walking it with me. One particular spring day, the kind when the sun shines and a light breeze blows, the three of us were walking home: me, Susan and Erin. Commuters and moms on errands and truckers zoomed by, exhaust mixing with freshly-cut grass. Erin dug for details and chattered away with Susan as we approached the consecutive ranches each with their half-moon driveways. A block more and Susan would turn right to go home.
It was Stewart. He’d been following us home for a few days, shouting at us, and we’d just keep walking and he wouldn’t make an effort to catch up and we’d get home. But everyday I felt he was getting closer. On this day he caught up to us. He was with a kid I didn’t know but who looked and dressed like him.
I turned to face them. Stewart had this amused look on his face, like he was enjoying a cartoon.
“You two are cute,” he said. “You two boyfriend-girlfriend or something.”
Susan and I liked each other in the way that sixth-graders who live near each other and walk to school together do. But we never talked about it, let alone hold hands or anything.
I didn’t say anything. Stewart looked at me, still smiling.
“If you guys are boyfriend-girlfriend you should kiss,” he said.
I felt my heart begin to beat blood throughout my chest.
Finally, I was able to say: “I’m not going to kiss her. Please leave me – leave us – alone.”
“Please leave me alone,” he mocked, smiling.
“Just leave me alone, Stewart, please. I don’t know why you are bothering me. Please. Go away. What do you want?”
“I want you two to kiss.”
“Go away, you jerk!” That was Erin. Three years younger than me.
“Who asked you, Piggy?”
“LEAVE US ALONE!” I managed to yell.
I looked at Susan, who hadn’t said a word, and, choosing flight over fight, said: “Go!” and pushed her in the direction of her house and grabbed Erin and sprinted home, cutting into our backyard from the side street. I looked back. Stewart and his friend hadn’t moved, and Susan was gone.
“I’m sorry he called you ‘Piggy.’”
“Why’d you run?”
“I don’t know.”
That much was true: I was so confused. I’d never been in a fight before and if I did fight Stewart I did not know what we’d be fighting about. Defending myself, I guess. And, apparently, I just wasn’t ready for that. When I entered the house my mom knew something was wrong. We’d come home through the backyard, to begin with.
“I don’t believe you.”
I looked at my mom. I couldn’t hide anything from her. So I told her. And, later that night, she must have told my dad.
Next day, same situation: But just as I hear Stewart this time I see across Nichols Avenue my dad’s silver Volkswagen Rabbit parked on the side of the road. And then not only do I see him standing outside the car but then I see him race through traffic like Mel Gibson in “Lethal Weapon” towards us – and then past us and right into Stewart’s face.
I put my head down and walked home as fast as I could.
Yes, I was embarrassed my dad got involved. But, nevertheless, I was relieved. I did not know what I was going to do. Stewart carried a knife and listened to heavy metal and I carried my homework and listened to whatever was on the radio. I wanted to fight my own battles, but I wasn’t ready. And my dad must have known that.
I didn’t talk to my dad that night and I didn’t see Stewart in school for a few days. When he returned I saw him as we were entering the building. My stomach flipped.
I walked into the building and I heard him quietly call out to me. I stopped and turned. We were alone in the stairwell. Then, in a soft and sincere tone, Stewart apologized. I accepted his apology, and we shook hands. And although Stewart and I would later attend both middle and high school together, those may have been our last words to each other. I never asked my dad what he said to him and to this day I don’t know what became of Stewart Bohn.
He was a cruel kid for those few weeks in the spring of 1986. But I also think he didn’t have a father too involved in his life. And, luckily for me, I had mine.