When I was four-years-old, my family lived in an Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. Townhouses lined up side-by-side in our neighborhood. Every house was a different color. It was like living in a box of crayons.
Across the street from us lived a man named Captain Oscar and his family. Captain Oscar could be good fun, but he could also be a bully. Everyone called him Captain and obeyed him the first time. He had a bunch of kids who were obedient within his earshot and ran wild everywhere else. They called him Captain, too.
My brother, Jamie Boy, and I often spent afternoons there. One time, we spent the night. After dinner, Jamie Boy was sent off with the other boys, and I went with the girls.
We girls took a bath together. Captain Oscar’s girls stood up in the tub, taking turns to pee. They tried to bully me into doing it, but I was already iffy about all this naked flesh. Adding urine to the stew wasn’t my cup of tea, and I refused.
I was tired of watching pee dribble down skinny legs into my bathwater, so I high-tailed it out of there. I threw on my pajamas and hopped into bed. I was dead asleep before the other girls climbed in the bed with me. I woke up when they started pinching my backside and giggling.
“Stop that!” I yelled.
Captain Oscar suddenly framed his giant silhouette in the doorway. He tried to decide whether his bully side or fun side was going to speak. He agreed to a little of both and made a few jokes.
The jokes were followed by a stern, “Go to bed.” that did not bear questioning.
The next morning we all piled into Captain Oscar’s van and headed to church. It was a new church for Jamie Boy and me. I felt shy, and so did Jamie boy. I held Jamie Boy’s hand tightly.
Jamie Boy and I were left in a room with toys during the sermon. There wasn’t an adult with us, just Oscar’s older kids and a new big boy we didn’t know.
Jamie Boy and I hid under a crib to play with some blocks. The big kids ignored us for a while. Then, all of a sudden, the big boy pulled Jamie Boy out from under the crib.
“Are you potty trained, Baby?” the big boy asked my brother.
Jamie Boy just sucked his thumb.
“Let’s see if he’s wearing a diaper!” the big boy laughed.
The big boy pulled Jamie Boy’s pants and underwear down to his ankles. Jamie Boy cried and pulled them back up. The big boy pulled them right back down. Jamie cried louder and tried to get his pants back up, but the big boy was holding them down with his foot.
I rushed out from under the crib. The springs in the mattress tugged at my hair, but I didn’t care. There was no way anyone was going to be mean to my little brother. I didn’t care how big he was!
I pushed the big boy and helped Jamie Boy pull his pants up.
The big boy turned his sights to me.
“Maybe you’re wearing a diaper, huh Baby?” the big boy reached for my dress.
Captain Oscar’s girls would have none of that. They didn’t mess with boys when they were doing boys stuff. However, no boys were going to bother any of the girls. The girls linked arms with me.
“Our daddy is Captain Oscar!” the girls cried, “You mess with us, and he will beat you raw, boy!”
The big boy stopped laughing and backed out of the room. Jamie Boy fell asleep on a stuffed animal. I laid down next to him, and the girls covered us both up.
I woke up when Captain Oscar put me in the van. He smiled at me, “I heard you stood up to a bully today, Toni Lynn. That’s real good. You got to take care of each other.” He nodded to Jamie Boy, who was asleep beside me.
I didn’t know what a bully was or understand any of it. I just knew that no one was going to make my brother cry without facing my wrath.
I leaned my head against the window and watched the lights go by until I fell back to sleep.