I was a weird child. My English assignments were blood and guts tales of macabre the teacher never requested. In social studies, when asked to draw a scene from the civil war, I drew soldiers cutting each other’s limbs off, severed heads flying, and piles and piles of dismembered corpses scattered across the battlefield. When filling out worksheets, I used to pick my scabs open and wipe blood across the top. Then I would draw an arrow and write “BLOOD!” in all caps. Recently, I asked a friend what the consensus about me was at that time, and she said, “We all seriously thought one day you might show up to school with a gun.” So let’s linger on that troubling revelation for a moment. And oh yes, I’ll cut to the chase here and confirm your budding suspicions: I wasn’t the most popular kid in school. Sometimes people say they “weren’t popular” when what they really mean is they were “too smart for other kids” or “too outside the mainstream” — kind of a boastful way of being self-deprecating. Not me. I was just straight-up evil.
In my 6th grade TX History class, a boy we’ll call Logan sat in front of me, although I rarely paid any attention to him because I spent most of class desperately trying to string together the correct series of statements that would lead to face mooshing with the girl who sat behind me. In retrospect, if I’d just asked her out, something might have happened, but, no. Instead, I thought I would dump huge volumes of irrelevant information on her until she was wooed (a technique that has not changed but only grown more sophisticated with time). In any case, at the beginning of class, Logan turned around and asked me to write an essay for him for the rather lucrative fee of ten dollars. Logan was a sort of demagogue at our school: always surrounded by girls, tons of friends, funny (or at least people laughed at his jokes). His hair was spiked up and dyed the color of apple sauce, and he dressed in polo shirts with khaki shorts — a sharp contrast to what I wore at the time: Hawaiian shirts, baggy blue jeans, and glow-in-the-dark Godzilla (the American movie) t-shirts. Logan was tall for his age while I was about half the normal height of a sixth grader due to a woefully delayed growth spurt. All these things made me a bitter vengeful child. So unbeknownst to Logan, this ten dollar essay deal was a Mephistophelean pact.
The paper, a standard five paragraph persuasive essay, was due the next day, so that night, I cranked out a perfect A+ paper for him, and when I wrote mine, I made sure to omit any overt similarities in language or voice. Flawless execution, although in hindsight, I needn’t have bothered.
The next morning in class, I pulled out the essay, and he pulled out his wallet. “Wow, man, thanks for doing this,” he said. “It’s like three pages long!”
As he thumbed through twenty after twenty, I slowly withdrew the paper. He extended two fives toward me, but I shook my head. “Looks like the price just went up.”
He laughed. “Yeah, whatever.”
“Hold on. You’re serious?”
“Yep. Forty bucks or your paper goes back in my bag.”
I happened to know he needed a good grade in English as he was perilously close to failing. He squirmed and looked around nervously.
“That’s a lot of money.”
“This is a long paper.”
Other kids began filing into the room, and his anxiety rose, I suppose, because his peers might discover he’d been finagled by this dumb kid. Then the teacher arrived, and there was no more time; he had to close this deal.
He slapped two twenties into my hand. “Fine!”
I gave him his essay, and at the beginning of English class, we turned in our assignments. Transaction completed. That should have been the end of it. A few weeks later, though, the teacher handed back our essays. I received a 100%. Logan, on the other hand, confronted me at the end of class, brandishing his paper: 0% and a little red note at the top saying, “I know you didn’t write this.” How had our English teacher ascertained deceit in light of all the previously stated pains I’d taken to conceal it?
Flashback: after class on the day we turned in our paper, I approached the teacher. I contritely laid out what I had done, that, oh my poor dear friend, he’d forgotten about the essay and was terrified of making a bad grade, and, in an act of uncharacteristic charity, I had taken it upon myself to write his essay for him. The subsequent tidal wave of guilt, however, had driven me to confess my crimes. He listened carefully to these lies. At the end, he said because of my honestly, he would let me keep my grade, but Logan would receive a zero.
“How did he know you wrote my paper?” Logan asked.
“I told him.”
“What? Why would you do that? You have to give me my money back!”
“I paid you! Now I’m failing the class because of you!”
“I don’t care.”
Then I just left the class, inexplicably without getting beaten up. To be clear, Logan had never wronged me, and, in fact, I hardly even knew him, yet I attacked him viciously with the cold calculation of the burgeoning clinical sociopath. The whole thing was so unnecessary and undeserved. Such arbitrary cruelty. It’s a reminder of why I don’t want to have children, the memory of how I was in middle school, a kind of monster. Later, Logan ended up as a contestant on an episode of Fear Factor, an appearance notable for the amount of vitriol he spewed at his mother, his partner on the show. It made me feel a little better about the whole thing.