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King Worm MAG
I stared out into the golden horizon, watching a parade of sunlight blink across the surface of the water. It was that magical time when the sun pokes its head up from the horizon, signaling the start of a new day. The morning air filled my lungs as I breathed the satisfying color of blue that you can only smell around water.
It was just me and my papa that morning, standing on the sandy bank of a lake, the water's edge splish-splashing a few feet away. My pole was in my hands, and my eyes were fixed on the tiny circle where the line disappeared beneath the surface of the water. The line remained motionless, waiting to snag a fish.
But my head was stuck in the past, stuck in a time when the smell of hatred lingered, and the reservoir of vengeance was waiting to be filled. Nobody knows, I told myself. I'm the only one.
My pole started to shake, and I jumped. I shook myself from my daze and reeled the line in furiously, but when the hook popped out of the water, it was empty. A lost worm.“How many times do I have to tell you?” my dad snapped. “When you feel it go down, the fish is biting and you have to set the hook. Pay attention.”
“I know, I'm sorry,” I replied.
My dad didn't talk much, and when he did, it was mostly to scold me for what I had done or tell me what I should have done.
Still, I wanted him to know what was on my mind. I knew he would yell and criticize me for my mistakes, but I wanted to gather the strength to tell him my story.
I reached in the bait container and grabbed another plump worm, crushing it in half with my thumb. It reminded me of myself when I was a kid. Vulnerable. Defeated. I was a worm, or at least I felt like it.
And some people really hate worms.
My childhood enemy was Eric. He was one of those arrogant, overprivileged types, but one thing that always stood out to me was his devilish smile. I hated that smile because it meant he was up to no good.
One time in third grade the class was lining up to wait for the buses to take us home. Most days I avoided Eric, but that day, unfortunately, I was lined up near him and his group of cronies.
I was wearing a yellow polo my mom had bought for me, with the letters “LBBJ” across the breast pocket.
Eric was laughing with his friends. I remember thinking, Please don't look my way, but it did me no good. He and his friends spotted me and marched over like a bunch of thugs.
“Hey, what's that?” He pointed at the letters on my shirt. “LBBJ? Does that mean Little Baby Butt Junior?”
“N-no!” I stuttered. My face reddened.
I tried to act cool, but he could sense my fear. His expression turned bleak, and that familiar, devilish smile appeared on his face. Nobody would help me. I knew this, and so did he.
Heart pumping, I bolted for the other side of the hall. But I was too slow, and one of his cronies caught me around the waist and shoved me back toward Eric.
“You can't hurt me,” I said, trying to sound courageous.
“Can't hurt you?” Eric snickered. “Wanna bet?”
Before I could reply, he cocked his arm and launched a fierce uppercut into my belly, forcing the breath from my lungs. The burning sensation seemed to seep into my skin, engulfing my body. It was the kind of punch that has a lingering aftertaste.
When I got home, I took off the yellow polo shirt and furiously stuffed it into the depths of my closet, vowing never to wear it again. That punch stayed with me all night, as I lay in bed soaking my pillow with tears of regret.
I was powerless to stop the bullying, and because of that I became absorbed in meaningless self-pity. I pitied myself; I hated those who made me feel like a worthless worm. And most of all, I pitied my life.
When I was little, my family moved to this small town in Missouri to open a family Chinese restaurant. I hated almost every moment living in that place. Though my parents were oblivious to it, the city had a faint whiff of prejudice. I always felt different, like a foreigner. The burning heat of racism constantly surrounded my life at school. My parents were too busy with their restaurant to notice. And ironically, I didn't want them to know that I was too afraid to tell an adult about it.
So I wandered around every day like a sardine in a school of whitefish. During my time in that school system, I saw only a few kids of color, and that whiff of prejudice would become stronger when they were around. Many of them didn't stay for long, and I always thought they were the lucky ones. When they left, the sad thing was, nobody cared. It was like they were instantly forgotten. I always wished I would be the next to leave, but the family business took priority. I knew there was nothing I could do, and being teased and pushed around was so normal that I associated school with bullying.
Desperate to find a way to deal with the bullying, I decided to become a bully myself.
It was a gradual change, like how milk turns sour as it warms up. I sat back quietly and watched the many Erics doing their thing, carefully observing the secrets to being a bully. I was tired of waiting for results; I wanted change.
I decided to become the King Worm, the one nobody would pick on without facing punishment. I copied the attitude of my bullies and began to torment other helpless victims.
I soon commanded my own group of cronies. I used my brains to outsmart the teachers; a friendly game of tag in their view was a perfect opportunity to push someone to the ground, or a little race on the playground was a cover-up to trip an unsuspecting victim. Ironically, I made a lot of friends this way. People started to respect and fear me. Other bullies even stopped teasing me. I had won acceptance, but it was not the satisfying life I hoped for. But I did not give up, and one day a new kid named Adam arrived.
He was white, which was no surprise, with freckles below his heavy eyelids and a big pair of buck teeth that protruded past his lips. His face was almost rabbitlike. When asked to read in class, he stuttered horribly.
How embarrassing, I chuckled. An easy target, I thought.
“Hey, Adam,” I said during recess. “Follow me. We're going to have some fun.”
I led the way; Adam followed quietly. Near the back of the playground was an area we called The Hill. It was just steep enough that nobody could see you at the bottom, and because of that, teachers told students to avoid the area. But the teachers were somewhere else, so I took Adam down The Hill.
There, I turned around and said, “You're the new kid here, and I don't like you.”
I glared at him with deadly eyes. He was hopeless, a nobody at the bottom of the hierarchy.
As soon as he turned to run, my hand clenched into a ball. I hesitated, but then I did it anyway. My fist struck out quickly and grated into his upper back.
Adam let out a startled cry, loud enough to turn the heads of a few kids, but not loud enough to alert the teachers.
He ran off without a word.
After that, I made Adam my special victim, shoving my knuckles into his back throughout the day. Pick on the weak, and you won't get picked on yourself, I thought.
One day when I got home, I found a letter addressed to me in the mailbox. It was from Adam's dad, and it contained a picture of Adam's exposed back, covered in red marks. I was forced to face my mistakes head on.
Now, at the lake with my dad, I looked at my hand covered in worm guts. The plump worm writhed in my grip as I stabbed it onto the hook. It continued to squirm, trying to escape the steel skewering its flesh.
I looked at my dad, thinking again about telling him. I wanted him to know everything. I wanted to tell him about how I had been punched because I was Asian, kicked because I had no friends, and spat on because I tried to resist. I wanted to tell him why I became a monster myself.
But I didn't. His sad brown eyes were peering deep into the lake as if they knew all too well. I cast my line out into the shining sun, and the worm danced in the watery depths, hoping for another chance to catch that fish.