1982 was a rough year. Jamie left. Mrs. Butterball left. And, on the last day of school, mom told me my school was closing down. No more Devonshire St. Elementary. There weren’t enough kids in the area. We were just on the border of the district, so all my friends would be going to Superior St. Elementary for second grade, while I had to go to Topeka Dr. Elementary.
“Cheer up,” mom said, “you won’t have to go alone. Your sister will be in Kindergarten! You guys can go to school together.”
I never considered Jean a friend. I had a ranking order of who I would play with: Dad, mom, Jeffrey, Jamie, my baseball cards, Puddles, and then Jean. She couldn’t ride a two-wheeler. She couldn’t push me on the swings. She couldn’t climb the big trees. She followed me around. And she was a girl.
One Friday that summer, she just wouldn’t leave me alone. She wanted to eat the same lunch as me, even though she didn’t like salami. She wanted to play with her stickers next to where I was playing with my baseball cards. She sat next to me to read a book when I sat down to read. I had had enough.
“What’s that word say?” I pointed to the longest word I saw in her book.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“What’s that word say?” I pointed to another long word.
“I don’t know.”
“Jean, you really can’t read.”
She closed her book and left me. I got tired of reading about two minutes later and went outside.
Jean followed me. I thought quickly. It had rained earlier and I went by the swingset. I picked up a stepping stone there just as she was walking near. I grabbed the biggest, slimiest worm. It tickled my hand. I ran toward Jean.
“Ha, ha, I’m going to put this down your shirt!”
She looked at me, but didn’t move.
The worm started to move in my hand, slimy and segmented. It felt gross as I got closer to Jean, but she still didn’t move.
“Jean, I’m really going to put this down your shirt,” I said. I wanted to get rid of it, I didn’t want to touch it any more. I couldn’t stand it anymore.
I screamed and threw it up in the air. I bent down to wipe my hand on the cool grass. I breathed a little slower, calmed myself down.
Just as I wiped the last of the worm away, I heard a giggle and felt my shirt being pulled back. I turned to see Jean running away, laughing. I smiled at the thought that she didn’t realize that I was afraid of the worm. I stood and looked for an orange to throw at her.
And then I felt it. I screamed and tore at my shirt as the worm slid and crawled down my back. Jean ran back to see what was wrong.
“Get it off, please get it off,” I screamed at her.
She looked at my back and pulled the worm off. “Jimmy,” she said, “look, it’s just a worm, they don’t hurt.”
“I know they don’t hurt,” I said, “I just don’t like them on me.” I watched it flop around in her hand. “Doesn’t it tickle you?”
“A little, but it’s not so bad.”
“Yeah,” I said as I pulled the worm from her hand, “it’s not so bad. This one’s mine, I found him. You’ll have to get your own.”
Jean ran toward the garage. I was afraid she was going to tell on me for stealing. I walked after her so I could explain my side of the story. As I turned the corner for the garage, I saw Jean come out with the bucket and shovel that we took to the beach.
She went to the dirt part of the yard, under the treehouse tree and started digging. I watched. She found three worms in less than a minute and put them in the bucket. She put some dirt on top of the worms. She kept digging and found four more worms. I looked down at the worm I was still holding.
“Hey, Jean, do you want to share worm collections? We can keep our worms in the same place and then either of us can play with them whenever we want to.” She shrugged her shoulders and I put my worm in the bucket before she could change her mind.
“It looks like we have eight worms together! That’s like four worms each,” I said. She nodded while she continued to dig. After a few minutes we had so many worms that they covered the bottom of the bucket. I went and got a big shovel and started turning over the dirt. We worked as a team. I went to different parts of the yard, turned over a shovel-full of dirt, and Jean picked up all the worms and put them in the bucket.
After about a half an hour, it was getting late and our bucket was loaded with slimy worms. I put a shovel-full of dirt on top, so the worms could eat, we left the bucket outside, and went in for dinner.
Our worm collection was the topic of the dinner conversation. We told mom and dad where the best spot to find worms was and how we had a whole bucketful of them. We went outside after dinner to water the worms and talked about them before we went to sleep.
The next morning, Jeffrey came over and I forgot about both Jean and the worms. We talked about boy things like playing catch, CHiPs, and going to school. We rode our two-wheeler bicycles and laughed at Jean when she came out with her training wheels.
We got our baseball gloves and threw the ball back and forth. Jean brought her glove out too and tried to play with us, but she was younger so we ignored her.
“Jean,” I told her, “I’m going to go to the bathroom and you can play with Jeffrey while I’m gone.” I threw the ball to Jeff and ran inside.
I had just closed the bathroom door when I started to hear Jeannene scream. I flushed the toilet and ran outside to laugh at how Jeff made her cry this time.
I got to the sliding glass door and started to scream, too.
“Worms, worms, worms,” Jeff said, “Gross!” He dumped our bucket onto the patio and started stomping on our worms. He kept repeating himself all while laughing at Jean. “Worms, worms, worms, gross!”
I pulled the door open and ran toward Jeff. I hit him as hard as I could in the stomach. “You like worms too, Jimmy?” he said, laughing. “Worms are gross!” He kept stepping on all of our worms. I flailed my arms at him and started crying too. He kept laughing. “Worms are just gross.”
After a couple of minutes of our screaming, dad came out to see what was going on. “Knock it off, Jeffrey.” Jeff stopped.
“Aw, Dad, we’re just playing.”
I looked down at our smushed worms.
“Come on, Jim, let’s play some more catch,” Jeff said.
I looked at Jean, who was still sniffling. “No, thanks,” I said. And I went to the garage to get my shovel.