I met my nemesis when I was six
in the first grade at Reeb Avenue
Elementary School. Recess lasted an hour,
time enough for students to go home
for lunch and stop on the way back
at one of two confectionaries.

On this particular day, returning to school,
I stopped at Bellman’s. I leaned over
the glass-top counter and asked for twenty-five
cents worth of penny candy. The clerk sacked
my purchase into a brown, paper bag.
I clutched the bag, traipsed three blocks
to the schoolyard and waited for the bell to ring.

Brent Thompson, the school’s bully, slouched
toward me, asked for a piece of candy.
I handed him a Mary Jane. He unwrapped it,
dropped the paper on the ground, and stuffed
the candy into his fat jaw. One piece wasn’t enough
to satisfy him, so he snatched the bag
from my hand. Contrary to my parents’ advice
not to fight, I punched him in the face. The teacher
on duty raced to separate us. She paraded
Brent and me to the principal’s office.

Mr. Callahan’s work space dwelled like an evil eye
watching us ascend twelve wooden steps
from the main floor. I climbed each tread,
fearful of the consequence. Even though
I explained what had happened, Mr. Callahan decided
we warranted a paddling. I bent over first.
The good point was that the paddle didn’t have holes.
Nevertheless, my butt burned like the proverbial bush
in the Bible.

When I slumped home, my parents, notified
about the incident, sent me to my room.
I looked out the bedroom window at leaves falling
from a pin oak tree, thought about how I had fallen
from my parents’ grace because of a bag of penny candy
and the grasping grab of a bonafide bully.