An excerpt from
Walls, a Metaphor
A True Story for All Caregivers of Children
By Will Lonardo, 2012, Dailey Swan Publishing Inc.
The harassment seemed endless at times and I lived in fear of it daily. How could I escape it? There just wasn’t any way I could avoid or hide from it. Even simply walking from place to place I’d often hear some kind of name called out at me, or find a note on my bed with a ridiculous message on it like, “Hey Baldy, your mommy doesn’t even want you” or “Buffalo Billy is ugly.” The Buffalo word referred to how my head would shine when the nurse put the ointment on it. Their sick imaginations would run wild and stupid but always feeding the anger growing inside me.
“Hey, scab, don’t serve our table,” a boy called out from behind me, as I waited tables one day in the Dining and Food Services Center.
“Yeh, skinhead, we don’t want your germs,” another said.
“Baldy should wear gloves,” someone else commented.
I ignored them and continued to place the large food platters on the tables. Waiting tables was a detail we all had to perform at some point when we were older. It was a thankless job hustling food and serving the gluttonous whims of a dining hall full of hungry boys. And there were no tips. It was even more nerve wracking in my case, because most of them didn’t want me handling their food for fear of catching the hairless disease. Even my fellow waiters and kitchen help were leery of me.
I had just finished serving a table and was pushing the food cart to the next one when there was a loud crash of shattering china behind me. Someone had deliberately knocked a large meat plate to the floor.
“Whoops. Hey, Baldy, you dropped something,” one boy said as the others laughed. “Waiter.” The table captain raised his hand and smirked. “We need another plate of meat.” It was none other than Butchie, the same boy I fought with in the sandpile at Good Friends and who also had led the chorus in Billy Boy back at Lafayette Hall. His twisted mind kept revising the lyrics. The Banker Hall version went something like,
Oh, where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Oh, where have you been baldy Billy?
Have you been to seek your hair?
For missing strands that laid you bare?
Oh, poor dreadful sorry ugly Billy.
At times Butchie was like having a personal bully. And that day in the dining hall I could have tangled with him. But I didn’t say a word and began picking up the meat and broken pieces of china. The others meanwhile kept up their taunts and laughter.
“What the hell is going on here?” Coach Boggs said with a thunderous roar. “Who made this mess?”
“It was an accident, sir,” I replied.
The boys around us giggled, and Coach Boggs pointed at Butchie. “This is your table, mister. If you think it’s so funny, you clean it up. Billy, go get them another plate of meat.” The coach glared at Butchie and his cronies. He was aware of what actually had happened, and I thanked him quietly to myself. There were those occasional moments of retribution, but not enough of them to satisfy me.
Athletic activities that required close physical contact with the others were unavoidable and created all sorts of other uncomfortable situations. The boys’ lack of understanding of my disease had made it unacceptable to them for me to use the same athletic equipment or even be in a swimming pool with them. It wasn’t every boy who had felt that way; but, as always, a few controlled the minds of many.
The first part of the year was gymnastics, with the winter months devoted to wrestling, and spring to track and field. Girard’s physical education program was very demanding, and the requirements in order to pass were tough. By year’s end we were expected to know the basic fundamentals of all three sports. Wrestling presented the most awkward situation, because no one wanted to have bodily contact with me. Coach Bradley tried his best to ease their minds, but to no avail, so he’d often practice with me himself. My hair loss remained a medical mystery, and being the only one with it made me a physical oddity in a close environment of cautious and cynical minds.
Swimming class was even weirder. The students were convinced I might contaminate the water, so most often I’d be alone in the far end of the indoor Olympic size pool. But in spite of the adversity I became a pretty good swimmer and even beat some of them in races. Unfortunately, that only made the ridicule worse. Coach Boggs said to me one day, “Swim teams should shave their heads, less drag in the water.” He gave me that toothy smile of his. “They’re jealous.”
“The hell with all of them,” I said to myself one day, and took to forging medical excuses from the infirmary to get out of the classes altogether. That’s the one time when the disease had served my purpose well. No one ever questioned, let alone understood, the technical reasons I would make up. I firmly believed back then that neither the instructors nor anyone else really cared if I participated anyway. To them it simply meant that they wouldn’t have to deal with my disruptive bald presence.
My dislike for Girard festered within me as those long days slowly passed by. The things I had once loved to do became insignificant, and I quit the soccer and baseball teams that year. Once again it hadn’t seemed to matter much to the coaches or my teammates. I was a decent athlete, yet no one asked me to stay on, maybe because then they didn’t have to explain the freaky-looking hairless kid to the opponents. Being bald like I was in those days was uncommon, especially for a teenager.
The disease had altered my life in so many ways by then. I had become a true loner, and very insecure about myself. There wasn’t a soul I trusted. As if being fourteen was tough enough, that was the age the boys would display their most vicious patterns of cruelty. It wasn’t all my classmates who treated me that way, but those who didn’t would keep their distance from me. I guess with some it was fear of the disease, and others, fear of the tough guys who might ridicule them.
For more than a quarter of a century, Will Lonardo has worked in communications, as a promotional designer/writer, marketer, publicist and event producer. He attended The Philadelphia College of Art, where he majored in visual communications/advertising. He has provided expertise in the areas of college relations and development, product and service presentation, capital fund campaign packaging, employee quality programs, business-to-business promotion, consumer sales and awareness events, corporate/institutional identity campaigns and people management. While president/CEO of the Lonardo Group, a $3 million advertising agency, he directed the firm during 17 years of client marketing successes. He has given numerous college lectures on visual communication and has written six books and a screenplay.
"Walls, a Metaphor" is available on all ebook sites. A print edition will be available later in 2013.