My family first moved here when I was in the sixth grade. I didn’t know anyone at all, we lived across the border in Wisconsin for my whole life until that point. I was from a small town, so small that even Villa Park looked big in comparison.
My usual class size at home was about thirteen or fourteen kids, so seeing the hundreds that went to my new school was really overwhelming. The building, the halls, even the kids seemed bigger than they were at home. And the biggest one there, as I found out quickly, was named Ben Shannon.
We didn’t have any bullies back home, I was actually the biggest in my class, so it really surprised me when, about five minutes into my first day of school, Ben came over and started shoving me into my locker.
He kept calling me “turd shirt”, which I guess is because I had a bird shirt on and turd rhymes with bird? I’m still not entirely sure, but he was big so he didn’t have to be smart.
His attack was so sudden and unprovoked that it took me completely by surprise; I was already halfway into the locker before I even knew what was happening. I didn’t stand a chance.
A couple other kids were around at the time, but they were either scared of him too or they were pointing and laughing. There wasn’t a teacher in sight.
Ben finally had me stuffed all the way into the locker, a super tight squeeze, and he ferociously slammed the door. It didn’t shut, however, as someone had stuck a dirty lime green sneaker in the way.
Ben whirled around angrily, looking to see who dared to interrupt his work on the first day of school. At first he didn’t see anyone, but then he looked towards the floor and he saw Jimmy, shortest kid in the class, staring up at him sternly and tapping something on his chest. It was a plastic police badge, the kind they give to kids when they have officers come speak to schools about safety, or bullying. They apparently didn’t get to that second one here yet. Over the word police, Jimmy had put a piece of silver duct tape and written ‘Hall Monitor.’
“Do we have a problem here?” Jimmy asked, his voice a little high and un-intimidating.
Ben growled down at him. “Do you have any idea who you’re messing with?” Ben asked, the threat obvious in his voice.
“Yes I do. You’re Ben Shannon. Which I always thought was weird, since, you know, Shannon is a girls name.” At this comment, Ben clenched his jaw and turned his attention fully on Jimmy.
“Oh, is that right?” The menace in Ben’s voice practically dripped off his words. “Yeah, that’s right,” Jimmy said confidently. “And in case you didn’t notice, I’m the flippin’ Hall Monitor, so why don’t you get the hall out of here before I report you.”
Ben didn’t leave. Instead, he towered over Jimmy, the size difference was enormous. He reached out one of his frying pan sized hands and he snatched the badge off of Jimmy’s shirt. After inspecting it with a cruel grin, he asked, “What, did you make this yourself? It looks like it’s written on aluminum foil.”
Jimmy stood up on his tippy toes and tried to grab the badge back, but Ben held it above his head and it might as well have been a mile away. Jimmy settled back down on his feet and crossed his arms. “Actually, it’s duct tape, not tin foil. Tin foil is what your mom’s hat is made out of, the one she wears while she sits and drools in front of the TV that isn’t even on.” The comment, so out of left field, enraged Ben. His face reddened to a shade just above vermilion. He clenched his hand into a tight fist, snapping the badge in half and dropping it to the floor.
The bully bent down, anger smoldering in his eyes, daring Jimmy to speak again. “What the hell did you just say to me, small monitor?” Jimmy didn’t back down. “You heard me. My mom goes to bed early, so I watch a lot of Jerry Springer. I might have only understood half of what I said, but I meant every word of it, you cross-dressing, cousin-loving, horse grabber!”
I was impressed by Jimmy’s insults. I learned later that he kept a little notebook in his pocket and he wrote down every crazy insult he heard on the Springer show just in case he needed it later.
Moments after this exchange, Jimmy was crammed into the locker with me, a feat I didn’t even think was possible with such a thin locker. This time, with no one nearby to stick a foot in the way, the door slammed shut loudly, encasing us both in cramped darkness. The only light visible was leaking in from the slats in the door.
I gave Jimmy a minute to stop crying, Ben gave him more than a few good hits before he shoved him in here, and then I introduced myself. And I thanked him for sticking up for me, even though I didn’t know why he did.
When I asked him his reason for helping me, he shrugged; a movement which, in that cramped space, was just him digging his shoulder farther into my stomach. “Because it was the right thing to do. And you always have to do the right thing.”
In that small, dark, painful place, I allowed myself to smile a little. I felt like I made my first friend since I moved here. “And your shirt is pretty cool too,” he added. “Parrots are cool, they’re the third best animal. It goes spiders, bears, then parrots. Obviously.”
“What if they combined a bear and a parrot?” I asked, “Would that make them cooler than spiders?”
Jimmy pondered this a moment. “A bearrot, huh? That’s a good name, but a stupid animal. The wings wouldn’t be able to support its body. Nice try though. If they combined something like a toad and a tiger though, then we’d be talking.”
We spent the first two periods in that locker until a passing janitor heard us laughing and talking and let us out. When the janitor tried to sweep up the pieces of the badge, Jimmy knelt down quickly and rescued them.
I saw that he was holding back tears, looking down at the two pieces in his hands. I didn’t know this until much later, but he had gotten that badge in the first grade from the local D.A.R.E. Officer. From that day forward, all he wanted to be was a super sleuth. He never took it off. He added pieces of tape and titles that he didn’t actually carry, but that badge never left his shirt for even a day. That is, until that day we met.
Jimmy sniffed, wiped his eyes, and then turned to me. “Allergies,” he explained. “I’m not crying or anything. Not sure where you’re from, but around here only girls cry. I’m just allergic to the dust inside the lockers, that’s all.”
“Yeah. Allergies suck.”
I started to tell him that we could probably fix his badge, we just needed to find some more tape, but he shook his head no. He cleared his throat and then extended his hand towards me, handing me half of the badge. “That’s okay. This can be your half. This school is big, I can’t handle all the crimes by myself. Partners?” I smiled. “Partners,” I agreed.
As we headed off to class, he started telling me how partners was just a phrase though, he obviously would still be in charge, since he had all the know-how and experience with fighting crime. And that we should also flag down that janitor again and have him dust the lockers. You know, for allergies.
“So that’s how we met. And I know he’s a little crazy. He can get real fixated on stuff and sometimes he’s just very, very wrong about stuff. But, at the end of the day, he always does what he thinks is right. Even if it means getting hurt or getting in trouble. He really does want to help, he’s just not always good at it.”
My story now wrapped up, I looked at Lizzy nervously. I waited uncomfortably as she scrunched up her face, thinking and looking between me and the window. I was confused. Did she want to get out of here so bad now that she was thinking of going out the window? This is definitely not how I saw our first dinner together going. The police, Jimmy, I could only imagine what she was thinking.
“You’re going to have to go first,” she said. My confused face asked the question for me. “Out the window,” she explained. “If we’re going to find him without your parents finding out, you have to go first so you can break my fall.” With that, she started walking to the window.
I landed first, hard, silently cursing Jimmy for not knowing how to tie a knot. Lizzy edged her way out next. She pulled her panda out of her coat and she held it in front of her, as if the tiny body would absorb the impact. With a cute little eek, she dropped out of the window and slammed right into me, panda first.
The impact caused all the air to leave my body in a giant, choking whoosh, but Lizzy and her bear seemed perfectly fine. Once I recovered enough to stand up straight, she asked me where I thought Jimmy would go.
I already knew. We headed to the park.