>>> Against Your Will
By staff writer John Marcher

April 14, 2008

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As luck would have it, Katie and I ended up having kindergarten together with Mrs. McKenzie. I am going to take a second here to reiterate that while for many of you out there my age and older it probably seems like kindergarten took place in an altogether different reality, to me it feels like it was just the other day. The classroom, the toys, the desks; all of it still exist in its Aristotlian-esque perfect form for me within the steel trap that is my memory. I would even wager that given a cookie line-up, I could still pick out the distinctively crumbly, typically stale, and yet delicious chocolate chip cookies we got every day at snack time.

Kindergarten was a time of great revelry for me for a variety of reasons. The sense of being socially ostracized during my middle school years was still yet to come. On top of that I guess you could just say that, in general, life without women tended to be an altogether more enjoyable experience. Sure, there were girls in my class, but not in the sense of the word you might generally regard the female sex with right now. It was all a semi-platonic, asexual playground (no pun intended). Since this environment was devoid of sexual pressure and social expectation, the camaraderie I experienced with my playmates was truly enjoyable on many levels. A big part of the lack of pressure in this environment comes from the fact that before you learn about the differences between boys and girls, you don't realize how inferior they are.

“My delicate sense of logic prevented me from understanding that she was an insecure little cunt.”

Another big part of my kindergarten enjoyment was the academic aspect. Simply put, I was a dynamic student at this point in my life. The kindergarten learning environment is a delicately-constructed series of fantastic adventures. Numbers are represented by animals, words by pictures, and the greater-than lesser-than signs are alligators deciding where there are more ducks to eat. To immerse yourself in this world with such an innocent perspective on life, and enjoy the gentle encouragement and acknowledgement of a dedicated and caring educator within this context is an experience of near bliss, perhaps only comparable to your first time getting drunk.

In contrast, however, Katie Keeney was not a particularly bright student. On top of a general kind of slowness to her thoughts and movements, she had a speech impediment. I really would be at odds to explain to you how this particular nuance of her person iterated itself, but if I were to take a stab at it, I would probably say Balkie from Perfect Strangers meets the Swedish Chef from the Muppets: Final Answer. What you might be surprised to hear however, is that I made a concentrated effort from day one of meeting her to never let her feel like I even noticed it. In fact, after living there for maybe a year or so, I probably understood her (Swedish-Stranger) dialect better than anybody.

Katie hated that I was smarter than her, mostly because her two sisters before her had come through the same school and the same kindergarten teacher and had both been exemplary students, especially Gwen. The dynamic between our mothers probably didn't help either, as I know they traded achievements weekly, if not daily. I would surmise that this culminated in a less than savory environment for Katie indoors, as it related specifically to her frumpy-ass mother, even though she would never show any sign of it to me. I got this feeling because she would constantly bring up whatever test or project I had scored well on that week in a sort of snide manner that was entirely polite at face value, but simply reeked of indignity.

“Jonafon I ‘eard you gawd a ‘undred on er spewwing tess dis week, good jawb,” she would stammer like some sort of donkey braying in heat.

“Thank you, Katie,” I would reply, my head down in shame because her forced compliments always made me feel somewhat mortified at the exoneration on some level at first. But after a prolonged series of these accolades, I began to somehow glean that the reason she was prompted to admonish my scholastic achievement had less to do with congratulating me than it had to do with departing that on some level she hated it. I didn't exactly understand why, but I definitely concluded as time went by that her ignoble compliments were related to a more general sense of resentment.

Unfortunately, my delicate sense of logic prevented me from understanding what would have been the next conclusion in this line of reasoning: that she was an insecure little cunt. Even without this advanced examination of the issue at my disposal, I still understood the negative overtones of her charade and it began to infuriate me in a manner I hadn't really felt until that point. YES, I DID GOOD ON MY HOMEWORK FROM TUESDAY KATIE, WHY DOES IT MATTER? I wanted to scream in her cherubic little face, slathered ear to ear with that sly little smile that can only indicate insincerity, even at the most basic stage of social interaction.

Katie hated that I got 100's on all my spelling tests and she hated that I was better than her at math, but most of all she hated the fact that I was in the Red Robin reading group while she was in the Blue Birds. For whatever reason, this came to represent an immense psychological divide between Katie and I developmentally. She dealt with this by refusing to play with me during recess and barely acknowledging that we were neighbors to the class at large.

I remember that one day I was playing with these gigantic oversize Lego blocks and I made a motorcycle complete with a seat and handlebars. Soon enough my friend Jimmy asked for a seat, so I quickly slapped together four more of the blocks and made one for him too. Then my friend Kevin came up and asked for one as well and it went on and on like this until every last person in our classroom was on the motorcycle with me, one after another behind me. I saw that Katie was steadfastly playing with some dolls over in the corner trying not to look concerned. I took the last four blocks left in the classroom and made a final seat on the end for her before returning to the front. She never came and sat on it though, and from that I can only conclude that she was jealous I had made the tandem motorcycle in the first place. As I think about it now, I wish my motorcycle had had an engine and wheels on it so I could have turned it around and run over her with it.

One day in particular, however, stands out from all the rest. We had an inside recess due to the weather outside and for some reason the 2nd grade teacher in the classroom across the hall was watching us. This was a very exciting event because we got to play with an entirely different set of toys than our regular ones. Immediately I noticed that Katie was playing with a Panda hand puppet. Pandas were my favorite as a kid and once I saw it, that was the only toy in the room I wanted to mess with. I politely walked over and asked her if I could play with it.

“I don fink so, Jonafon,” she stammered.

“Okay Katie, I'll just wait for you to finish,” I replied patiently, clasping my hands together. But she just stood there, not even playing with it, just staring back at me with a grin on her face like the Cheshire cat. “Well aren't you going to play with it?” I asked, impatience getting the better of me.

“I taucked to ‘im and ee said ee doesnud want to plaa wid uu,” she replied, clearly having not corresponded with the panda at all.

“Katie, can't you just play with him for a while and then let me?” I asked in near desperation.

“I tol' uu I taucked to ‘im and ee said ee doesnud want to plaa wid uu,” she said again, never breaking the ear-to-ear grin or even attempting to do anything to interact with the toy in contention. She made me stand there the entire recess while she did nothing but gently pet the hand puppet, smiling at me like a child predator dreaming about being on the island in Lord of the Flies. WHY WON'T YOU LET ME PLAY WITH THE PANDA, KATIE? YOU'RE NOT EVEN PLAYING WITH IT! YOU'RE JUST HOLDING HIM SO I CAN'T! I wanted to scream into the cavernous smile that seemed to signify not only contempt, but a sense of vindictiveness in its pearly opalescence.

And with that experience, the fire in my stomach took on a new level of intensity. In fact, for the first time in my life during that recess, I began to understand what anger was. Previously, it had been wrapped up in a sort of general anxiety concerning the situation, a derivative of fear or helplessness in its infancy. But coupled with her snide compliments, and outright opposition to me within the social arena of our classroom, I began to realize that my feelings, my anger, had a focal point, a reason for being. More importantly though, I silently began to question how I could make Katie feel the same way.

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