In 1987 I was seven years old. I had just moved from Pleasanton, Texas (population 8,000) to Paris, Texas (population 25,000) and was starting the first grade. Like any child I was anxious about making friends and succeeding at my first year of school and life in general.
I didn’t have a very complicated personality at that age. I was so shy that my parents had to send me to speech therapy at an earlier age because I never spoke. It’s not that I couldn’t. I just let my identical twin brother do all the talking for me. He understood me. So he translated for the adults until they caught on to what we were doing and put a stop to it.
I was also trusting to a fault and vividly insecure. Despite my anxieties I didn’t have a hard time integrating into my new environment, because children enjoy meeting new children. So it wasn’t long before I was on a first name basis with a third of the kids on the playground, and I even had my own best friend, a swell kid named Robert who lived within walking distance of my house.
I’d been in first grade for almost a semester, and Christmas break was coming up. One day Robert and I were walking aimlessly around the perimeter of the playground at school after lunch talking about all things Christmas. At some point in the conversation I said one of the things I liked best about Christmas was that stores sold eggnog, and I love eggnog. Robert looked at me like he was a Ku Klux Klan member, and I just told him I was a gay black atheist.
Wide-eyed and with a tone of voice full of accusation, he shouted, “EGGNOG!” I flinched, and he shouted again, “EGGNOG!!” He kept shouting it over and over, and soon other kids standing nearby joined in. In no time there was a crowd of 5-10 children shouting angrily at me, “EGGNOG! EGGNOG! EGGNOG!”
I was just a poor country boy who moved up to the big city and was trying to fit in. I didn’t understand what social faux pas I had broken, but apparently it was fucking major. I was terrified. So I ran. It didn’t take long before all 40-60 children on the playground saw what was happening and joined in. They chased me through jungle gyms and across basket ball courts. I ran as hard as I could, but it was only a matter of time before they caught me and pinned me to ground. I can still remember the crowd surging above me screaming with such sincere disgust, “EGGNOG! EGGNOG!”
I don’t remember how long I laid on the ground in a fetal position while my peers pelted me with accusations of eggnog. I remember going home feeling more confused about life than ever. I wanted to be a good person. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to make adults proud of me. But I couldn’t even get the eggnog thing right. I’d gone and fucked up by liking eggnog, and I didn’t even know why that was a bad thing.
These thoughts and question racked my mind all night and the next day until the end of lunch break when my classmates and I were released onto the playground again. I walked outside that day feeling vulnerable. So I hung back by the edge of the building to survey the scene. I made eye contact with a few kids, and nothing happened. My paranoia began to dissipate until I heard a shout from behind me, “EGGNOG!” As soon as that happened, every child on the playground immediately joined in. Again, I was chased around the playground by a mob of angry anti-egg-noggers until they pinned me.
I know there were teachers watching this whole fiasco unfold, and to my memory they didn’t put a stop to it. I imagine they were just leaning against the wall of the school smoking cigarettes laughing at us. I don’t know if they ever said anything to any of the other children, but nobody ever said anything about eggnog to me again after that day. It’s like it never happened. At times I’ve wondered if did since my memory is the only validation I have that this scenario ever occurred.
Whether or not it was real, the experience shook me deeply for a long time. I didn’t admit to anyone else that I liked eggnog until high school. Even then I did so timidly.
As much damage as this event did to my self-esteem, it taught me a few things:
- Question everything.
- People tend to do whatever the people around them are doing, even if it’s being mean to someone else.
- You don’t have to be ashamed of your choices if other people don’t agree with them. They may get on top of you sometimes, but in the end, they’re not going to spend their lives with you. You can do what you want when they’re not around.
- Young people do stupid things that don’t make sense. That’s because we’re all born crazy, and life is a life-long struggle to figure out what sanity is. None of us will ever truly know what that is. So we all deserve a little leeway for doing stupid things like shouting “EGGNOG!” at their best friend and causing a riot that scars him emotionally for years of his formative life.
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