I've talked a bit about myself as a kid. Classically nerdy, friendly with teachers, good at math, the whole calligraphy thing. I'm generally not embarassed by my own childhood attraction to suspenders and fedoras; I was stylistically ahead of the curve. But I'm not above admitting I was an indisputable dork. After school I played school like it was my job and I took math problems home for fun. I was what I was.
But, on the Nerd Spectrum, I wasn't at the bottom. I didn't wear glasses. I wasn't a braggart or a grade-grubber, mostly ashamed of my ease with spelling and geography. I laid low and was generally just quiet and conscientious, at least according to my report cards. A+. I had friends who were cool and friends who were dumb. I didn't belong to clubs focused on advancing one's nerdiness or celebrating the great knowledge of life. (Well, I guess aside from that calligraphy stuff.) I think I always hoped to pass as an accidentally smart kid, or at least one who didn't take it too seriously.
I shared a grade four classroom with a little boy named Peter. He was decidedly more geeky than me. Scrawnier, he wore glasses, his hair in tight, brunette curls. He taunted bullies by going as far as to push his glasses up on his nose constantly! On the Spectrum, he was it. He was the categorical, cast-him-for-television, ready-for-his-closeup Nerd. Capital N.
My elementary school was located on the edge of a middle class neighbourhood. To the west, a distinctly poorer subdivision. Dank three-storey-walkups, run-down duplexes, semi-detached houses with obese ladies on the porch. Cascade Avenue. This street made the rest of the neighbourhood, the one to the east, appear wholesome and pleasant. Green lawns, tidy driveways free of car parts, that sort of thing. The division was stark and probably offensive. We, on the right side of the tracks, silently delighted in our own minor success, measured by cheap Formica countertops and pantries lined with Kraft Dinner. We'd drive down Cascade Ave in our used sedan, subconsciously patting ourselves on the back.
Little nerdy Peter made me cool, if only by comparison. I have very few regrets in my life, I mean, what's the point? But one day, in the hall outside our grade four classroom, I pinched Peter on the back of his arm. And he screamed out in pain, his face crinkled up, he looked at me like I was a monster. Friendly fire, or something like it. I pinched him on the back of his arm, that horrible place that hurts so bad. I wish I could find him, take him on Oprah and tell him I'm sorry. Because that was so shitty. We were in that together, Peter and I, knee-deep in geekdom, no matter the degree to which we each quietly suffered.