Innocence

December 12, 2008
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Fifth grade, Mrs. O'malley's class; back in Kirkwood Elementary. We lived five blocks away, and by my good fortune, so did Ricky Shmidt. I met him on the first day of day of kindergarden. I still remember how nervous I was, staring around at all those other snot-nosed kids; some crying, some just staring with wide eyes and even wider mouths.

Of all the kids there that day, the only one I still remember meeting was Ricky. He seemed pretty happy, playing with a truck with some blond boy next to him. This is it, I decided, I'm making my first friend! "Hi! I'm Joseph Luinsky!" RIcky looked up, and his smile quickly faded into a frown. "I live on 85th and Brookridge!" No reply. "Where do you live?" Still no answer.... Why won't he talk to me? "I--" never finished my sentence; Ricky picked up his truck and walked off.

For the rest of the day I wondered about him. He was the only unfriendly person in my class. Everyone else was just as eager for a friend as I was, so, I decided to move on. After all, not everyone would be so unwilling to meet me.

As time chugged along so did classes, and eventually Dad decided it was time for me to start walking to school. "After all," Dad would say, "He's gotta start being a man sometime."

After scooping down my breakfast in record time, heading out, running back to grab my lunch, heading out again, then running back for my goodbye hug-and-kiss, I was on my way! Oh boy, oh boy, was I on my way! All the icky girls and cooties in all of Kirkland couldn't stop me!

Three blocks later I had come to the very well thought out conclusion that walking to school in forty degree weather sucks. I was just about to sit down and wait for a car to come by when who should appear around the corner but Ricky Shmidt . . . Several months had passed since our uncomfortable encounter, and there's nothing like second chances, right? Hoping to at least warm my spirits, I called out, "Hey, Ricky!" He looked up and quickly buried his head in his jacket. I ran up next to him. "So how do you like walking to school?" He walked faster. "I mean . . . you gotta have some kind of opinion, right? . . . We can be walking buddies, how 'bout it? Every day, it'll be great, absolutely--"

"SHUT UP YOU FILTHY JEW!"

Ricky ran off. I stood there, trying to get a grasp on what had just happened to me. . . No one had ever referred to my religion in a bad way before, I mean, usually people didn't even ask, and when they did, they just said, "Cool!", and asked why we wore those funny hats.

My parents got a phone call later that night informing them that their son was thirty minutes late to class that day. When they asked me why, I replied, "Ricky... called me a filthy Jew." Several phone calls were made, and my parents were assured that it wouldn't happen again.

Only it did. By the end of the year insults were a daily custom on the way to school, by the next year a few stones were in the mix, and by the end of third grade I was an undisputed dodge-ball champion. By fourth grade Ricky had a small following. At recess I could hear, "Jew-boy, jew-boy, jew-boy!" chanted behind me.

On one such recess, Ricky took it up a notch. "You know what I think?" I turned around to stare him in the face. "I think Hitler should've finished the job." The crowd around me went silent.

"Take it back."

"Oooo, look, the little jew is speaking."

"Now."

"Make me."

I stared at him for several minutes. Then, I turned away. The jeers rose up but I kept walking. The crowd around me would spread the story; it seemed like I couldn't turn a corner without hearing my name and someone staring at me.

That event repeated itself until summer. Fifth grade was the same.

Then came October fifth. October fifth was the last time I ever heard an anti-semitic comment until I reached college. As usual, rocks stun me on the way to school. One hit me in the ear. Ricky kept on laughing, until I turned around. There was a three heart-beat, six blink pause. I then proceeded to walk across the street and beat the sense out of Ricky Shmidt.

Right-hook, left-hook, jab, jab, jab! My knuckles throbbed, but I couldn't stop. Blood poured from his noes and I still couldn't stop! I was pounding on his face like a hawk on its prey!

On the morning of October fifth, I broke Ricky Shmidt's nose, left a scar on his cheek, and knocked out a tooth.

No one ever called me a filthy jew again.





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