His name was Olin Greene. We met in kindergarten, where we quickly became best friends.
We were both 5-years old. Olin lived in a geared-to-income survey that had been built around the corner from my house only two years earlier – not that his address or location meant anything to me at the time.
Until I turned five, I couldn’t venture away from my street – Mom insisted that I always be within her field of sight. But as soon as I hit five, my world opened a little more. Wide-eyed and eager to traverse this newly expanded world, I felt euphoric.
I met many other kids in Olin’s survey. Some teased me, and some pushed me around. Others, like Olin, accepted me, and we played together.
The survey had a big park located just behind the main parking lot, which always remained near-empty because most residents tended to be single-parents and couldn’t afford cars. The park was a wonderland filled with swings, a sandbox, and a jungle gym.
Olin resided in a lovely tenement with his mother. She reminded me of my mom – she exemplified kindness and sincerity. Every afternoon at 3:30 pm after school, she had chocolate-chip cookies and milk set out for the two of us.
I lived in a house a short walk up the street from our school, so Olin and I would usually stop by and see my mom first – she often had an aptly sized bowl of black cherry ice cream for each of us.
We didn’t mention the cookies that we would be proffered around the block a few minutes later.
One day in early October, while still reasonably warm out, Olin and I kept ourselves out of mischief by playing in the park. At about 4:30 pm, a group of three older kids came along. I knew of them – I had heard them referred to as “bullies.” Mom had warned me to keep away from them. I hadn’t had much experience with bullies yet, but I knew that it wasn’t a good label to be given.
They started taunting and teasing me because of my bright reddish-orange hair. It was the mid-70s, so my hair was more than a little goofy looking – everyone’s was. I never thought twice about it, except when Mom and her friends always told me that the women would love me for my hair when I grew older.
I overheard the word “ginger” tossed around sometimes, but the only “ginger” I knew lived on Gilligan’s Island.
This trio of shit disturbers started pushing me back and forth and finally to the ground. Not knowing how to react, I naturally started to cry. The more I blubbered, the more they goaded me. It was nothing serious – I don’t think I even got a scrape or bruise – I just had not been accustomed to being pushed around.
Scared out of my mind, they laughed at me as I wept.
The next thing I knew, Olin started shouting at them. Then, he stood up to them for me. He showed ferocious fearlessness even though the odds were stacked against him.
Before I could do anything about it, the trio started punching and kicking Olin until he fell down on the ground. Unlike the way they treated me, they physically beat the shit out of him – kicking and punching him from head to toe. I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing – it made no sense to me. They continued beating Olin until blood began to run from his nose.
Olin refused to stay down
Sniffling, huffing, and puffing, I picked myself up from the ground and started wailing into the dead space between us, hoping for these bullies to leave my friend alone.
My outcries began drawing some attention – in the background, I saw a couple of adults coming out of their front doors and starting to take notice of what was going on. I turned to them and begged for them to help my friend and me. Two men began to head over.
The trio paused. As the grown-ups grew closer, they gave Olin one last kick in the gut, followed by a kick of dirt and dust to his face from the playground. He let out a wail as he struggled for breath.
The two men crouched down to my level and asked if I had been hurt. Through teary eyes, I shook my head and stuttered that my friend Olin needed help. The two men looked at me and then at one another. Then they stood up, and one man put his hand on my shoulder in an almost fatherly manner. Finally, they turned their backs to my bleeding and moaning friend.
I began to protest. I couldn’t understand.
The man with his hand on my shoulder stopped me and crouched down. He informed me that Olin would be fine. He told me that “they” were always fine.
Still not comprehending what he meant, he shook his head and looked at the other man. Then, finally, he put both hands on my shoulders, and he stated the obvious – Olin was black.