Learning To Love You More




Assignment #11
Photograph a scar and write about it.

Justin Vickers
Jinhua, Zhejiang Province CHINA



Antwana Butler's name, face, and graphite will be with me forever. I'm not sure how tall I was in the second grade, but Antwana was no less than three inches taller. She wasn't the brightest student in the class. She always wore t-shirts and beige, stained shorts. Her hair was a mass of thick braids that looked she'd done them herself. She was, without a doubt, the most intimidating person that I, or anyone in my class, had ever laid eyes on.
Antwana's size made her a formidable athlete. Everyone backed up when she came up to kick in kickball. She struck the big red rubber ball, and it took the shape of an egg as it zeroed in on the shortstop's head. Her athletic prowess was most dangerous in the tetherball arena. She dominated everyone. Everyone, that is, but me. I'm happy to say that my one claim to fame in the second grade was that I was Antwana's only rival. She and I would stand on the opposite side of the pole and fling the ball at one and other every day during recess. The other kids would gather around to watch as we struck wicked serves and made the best of the slap attack to put spin on the tethered ball. I had to try my best not to get tangled in the rope (resulting in serious rope-burn) while trying to reach Antwana's impossibly high hits (she was always in danger of jumping the top of the pole, which, I learned, gave me a quick advantage). I can't say that I won most of the time, but it was a genuine rivalry. It was perhaps the first and last great rivalry of my life.
So was it jealousy that made Antwana wound me? Was it an attempt at sabotage? A Tonya Harding copycat attack? There was, after all, a great deal at stake on the tetherball court. If you weren't a player at tetherball you had two choices: watch the kids who were players, or try and break your friend's tailbone on the seesaw*. Antwana would never be a spectator, and to my knowledge, no one would ever be so foolish as to get on a seesaw with her. Perhaps she thought that if she could destroy my right index finger, my days of tetherball would be over. Whatever her reasons, she wasn't afraid to draw blood.
It began innocently enough. We were in the same group for an assignment that included pencils and paper. Some one in the group had seen some one in a movie spread their hand and quickly thrust a knife into the gaps between fingers. They moved from one gap to the next at lightning speed (this might have been in a cartoon). The faster you could do it, the cooler you were. Did you have your palm up or down? We all decided that palm up was the way to go. The girl next to me did it with the boy across from her. She used a pencil and moved from one gap to the next. No harm done. Very exciting. Antwana was seated across from me, so I put my hand palm up on my desk, which made up one corner of our four-desk group, and she took hold of her newly-sharpened pencil.
I'm not sure why I trusted her. She was, after all, the competition. Tetherball was all I had. I had come to Umatilla Middle half-way through the second grade school-year. I was still the new kid. I tucked my shirts in and didn't have a southern accent. My father didn't work at the orange factory. I was the new kid. Could I really have been so foolish as to sacrifice my only source of credibility? Was I not the giant-killer? I had no need to put myself in harm's way. "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Sure, but that doesn't translate to, "Give your enemies the chance to maim you." Maybe I was desperate to prove to Antwana that I wasn't afraid of her. Or maybe I just wanted Antwana to like me. She was a freak and I was the new kid, which is worse than being a freak because people aren't afraid of you. Everyone was afraid of her and no one knew why I was invading their class. Could giving Antwana my hand have been my way of offering a truce or of demonstrating mutual respect or of saying, "Imagine what we could be together?" I don't know. The only thing I know for sure is that not five second later I was screaming while blood gushed from the index finger of my right hand.
The teacher rushed me over to the sink and applied pressure with the brown paper towels that are a staple of all public schools. I don't know what Antwana did. I don't remember anything after being taken to the sink. Did I cry? Did I go to the nurse's office? Did we have a nurse's office? I know that Antwana and I continued to play tetherball. I know that in third, fourth, and fifth grade we didn't have class together (perhaps we were too dangerous a combination). I also know that she gave me the gift of a physical oddity. For the last sixteen years I've been able to contribute to the episodes of injury show and tell that are a common part of youth culture. While everyone else is showing their scars, I get to point to the little black spot in the dead center of the tip of the index finger of my right hand and tell them that inside me there is, and always will be, a little piece of Antwana Butler.
*My elementary school had incredible seesaws. They were wooden and no less than twelve feet long. They were the kind of playground equipment that caused playground equipment today to be Rubber-Made.