It started in the spice aisle of the Daniel Island Publix.
Daniel Island was unlike any place I had ever lived before. I had lived in the mile high, mile dry, snow dessert, Denver, Colorado from the time I was born in June of 2000, until the August of 2012 and I loved it. I loved the weather, I loved the people, I loved everything about it, and I especially loved everything about it when I was twelve and I had to move to Charleston, South Carolina, the worst city in the official dumbest state in the United States of America. For lack of a better term, I was pretty pissed about the whole situation.
I really did (do) not like Charleston South Carolina. I hated how damp and heavy the air was. I hated the jurassic roaches that I found in my shower. I hated the way there was always sand everywhere. Most of all I hated the fact that I was forced to live on a tiny island covered in spoiled, rich brats who were raised in the care of the country club daycare, and I had to go to school with all of them. The only way to get off the island was by highway bridge. In other words, the island was typically over run by angry, sweaty, middle schoolers who were constantly looking to start a fight with any other unlucky, middle school, bastard that crossed into their path. Far too often, I was one of those unlucky middle school bastards.
It really all started with a question, in a note, from a young Charlie Meyers, that I received in English class, on November 10th, 2013.
“You’re from Colorado, right?” the note read.
I was an outsider and people like Charlie Meyers, captain of the boys soccer team and best friend to eighth grade "it" boy, James Green, did not talk to me. Unless of course, they were shouting insults at me from across the street or “accidentally” tripping me in the hallway, so as to make me drop my books and cause a commotion.
“Yep.” I scribbled under the question, before crumbling the paper into a ball and hurling it back Charlie’s head with the strength of a nasty MBL pitcher while the teacher wasn’t looking. I was rough and harsh out of necessity. At that point I was so used to any interaction I had being the setup of a joke where I was the punchline. As a defense, I was rough around the edges with anyone who came to close to me, especially boys like Charlie.
Charlie, upon receiving my paper meteor, tried his best to unwrinkle it on his desk. After writing his response he folded it back into a neat little square and sent it back my way. At this point I was suspicious, because I had never in my life seen someone go so out of their way to be polite. I didn’t quite understand why I was entitled to some sort of respect then, after months of name calling and strategic self esteem destruction.
“Cool, I think I need your help with something…talk to me after class?”
I didn’t have to think over my response at all. I would have been an idiot to even dautle in the hallway on the way to my next class, let alone purposely wait for Charlie Meyer. That would have been like if I had agreed to let someone bash my teeth in with a sledgehammer before math class.
“Yeah, right.” I chucked my response back.
When he read my response, he smiled and gave me a thumbs up. It was then I realized that sarcasm doesn’t translate into writing well.
It felt like a trap.
However, it was only 9:00 a.m. and the boys didn’t usually start giving me a hard time until around lunch, and even then I could rely on whatever happening not being too bad, since they were all still in school. The worst case scenario was that I would get tripped or my books would get thrown out and I would be humiliated publicly for a second and then I would go to Algebra and try to forget about it all. Besides, if it was a trap and I didn’t show, I would just get hell for it after school. The middle school bullies are persistent like that.
To my surprise, when I met Charlie in the hallway there were no other boys with him, and his face carried no expression that seemed possibly malevolent. It was just Charlie leaning against a locker, arms crossed, eyes glued to the ground.
Standing up straight Charlie was at least nine inches taller than I was, which meant that in order to have a one on one conversation with him in a crowded hallway, I had to tilt my head ninety degrees upwards. I have never been good at starting conversations, but this certainly wasn’t one of my shining moments.
“What the hell do you want, Meyers?” I barked up at him. I must have reminded him of an angry little chihuahua or feral rodent. He glanced around shakily, before he looked down at the floor before him, running through his words carefully. “Spit it out, bonehead! I have to get to Algebra in three minutes and I want to get there before all the good calculators are taken. I don’t want to end up with the one missing the multiply key again.”
He glanced behind me again, when the coast was clear he spoke. “You know Devan?” I did know Devan.
“Maybe, I don’t know,” this was me acting like I was too cool to know people by name.
“Devan Andrews? It’s his birthday this weekend…”
“Yeah, and since when do I care about your friends' birthdays?”
“Well I thought you might be able to help me out...with a gift for him…” His eyes were wide like golf balls staring through me.
“You want me to help you pick out a gift for your friend?”
“No, I have it picked out, I think you might...have it…” I wasn’t following
“I’m not following,” I crossed my arms and he just continued to stare at me, waiting for an answer that I didn’t have.
“I want to get him something special, something he will have a lot of fun with. And since you are from Colorado, I thought you might have what I’m looking for…”
Of course, I'm from Colorado. Everything clicked, I knew exactly what he wanted. In front of me, I saw the type of opportunity that kids like me dreamt about. The opportunity to seek revenge and profit off the idiocies of my aggressors.
“Right,” I winked, “I know what you’re talking about.”
“So you’ll do it?” His voice raised slightly, I reminded myself that I had to play it cool and act like I knew what I was doing.
“Sure, just lower your voice, okay?” I got close to him and pulled him by the ear to eye level with me. “Snapchat me, we will talk, okay?”
“Okay!” he said giddily, I pushed him away.
“Now get the hell outa here, I gotta go to Algebra,” I growled back at him
“Okay! Okay!” He spewed as he practically skipped away.
He was already puddy in my hands, it was that easy. For the first time in all of middle school I felt strong and powerful, and I liked it. Maybe I liked it too much.
At 3:14 p.m. that day I was at the Daniel Island Publix, in the spice aisle, skimming over the hundreds of tiny glass jars. I was standing in the aisle for almost twenty minutes, carefully considering my options before I decided on a two ounce of oregano.
“Just this?” the cashier seemed slightly confused, it probably wasn’t often she saw anyone, let alone a thirteen year old buying one jar of oregano only.
“My Mom is making spaghetti and she didn’t realize we were out,” I said quickly.
“Okie dokie, your total is going to be $3.64.”
“Alright, how much do I owe you?” Charlie asked as he dug through his backpack for his wallet. I had met up with him that night after dark, 7:00 p.m., in the park closest to my apartment complex.
“Fifty bucks,” I responded in the hardest voice I could manage. “Fifty bucks,” I repeated to myself, as if to check back in with myself, reassuring that was the right price.
“Wow, really?” Charlie asked back.
“The stuff isn’t cheap, man. I gotta make a profit somehow.” While I spoke he gazed at the sandwich bag I was holding, the one I had filled with clumps of Publix oregano. “Do you want it or not?” I snapped.
“Yeah, yeah, sorry.” from his wallet he pulled out two twenty dollar bills and a ten dollar bill and in exchange for the money I gave him the bag.
“Now get lost. And don’t tell anyone about this.”
He told everyone about it.
The next day started off normal. I went to class, I fought to stay awake, I got my work done. I dragged myself through the halls just like I did every other day, but I noticed that I had no trouble walking through the halls. No one was in my way, no one was there to walk over me, to push and shove me. People were moving out of my way.
“Maybe everyone just had a crash course in politeness,” I smirked to myself.
From there things just became more bizarre. I noticed eyes on me in all of my classes, not just a couple people staring, glaring, here and there. No, these eyes were gawking at me, awestruck, afraid. Kids were talking about me. Kids weren’t just making fun of me because it was easy, kids were talking about me because they thought there was something about me to talk about.
There was something about me to talk about.
My peers were talking about the fact that I had done business with Charlie Meyer. The choir girls called me a criminal. The volleyball players called me freak. The other weirdos called me a legend. I was in the center of a gossip cyclone that was about to tear apart the eighth grade.
Before I knew it I was at Publix once a week buying oregano. The cashier knew me by name.
“Ran out of oregano again?” she would ask when she saw me in line, eying me suspiciously as I picked through the magazines in line.
“Yeah, you know how it is,” I would respond casually.
I must have been selling the best oregano on the island, because the kids kept coming back for more. I had turned my prison into my empire. The kids who tormented me were just peasants below my feet. I was making over 20,000% profit. I thought I was like Robin Hood, and they were the corrupt rich.
I kept my oregano cartell running until I left, and if I had to go back in time I would do it again. Because those awful little snot rags deserved to waste their money on overpriced oregano.