This is the first in a multi-part series on the subject of the various great and memorable enemies I have had the pleasure of knowing over the years, from the earnest gibbering of schoolyard bullies to the courtly dance of the merely ritualistic antagonist.
I have often found that identifying someone as an opponent can crystallize one's position in a muddy situation, or even inspire one to achievement in order to thwart their evil. The notion of the personified nemesis speaks to a deep part of the human tribal psyche. It is the basis of our stories, the stuff of nightmares, the archetype at the foundation of our understanding of conflict, righteousness and victory.
Our series begins when I am just four years old.
Jessica No Legs
On the first day of preschool I was introduced to three enchanted playthings: a child-proportioned wooden automobile in which one could sit and pretend to be driving around, a storey-high wooden castle with tiny rooms inside, and a girl named Jessica with curly hair who wanted to hold my hand.
She did not enjoy the wooden automobile as much as I did, which I could not fathom since pressing the pedals made little coloured lights on the dashboard illuminate -- a reward inarguably among the coolest cause and effect relationships available in the preschool's toy complement. Never the less, Jessica favoured the castle.
It was while we were racing up the down and tiers of the castle's tower that we were sandwiched in a child-jam: Jessica could climb no higher because the top of the castle was crowded, and I could not retreat because someone was pushing aggressively on my bum. Stuck in the companionway between tiers, my face was pushed up against one of Jessica's legs.
The leg was not flesh. It was made of skin-coloured plastic.
The smooth, inhuman texture of the thing gave me the willies. I was simultaneously repulsed and transfixed. It was like Jessica was not a real girl at all, but some kind of toy. At my Grampa's house I had seen part of a movie called Westworld in which robots who looked like people had become angry and tried to hurt everyone. It scared me, so Grampa turned it off.
I wasn't sure whether or not Jessica's toy leg scared me until the whining and crying in the castle became serious enough for the authorities to intervene. The north wall of the tower hinged open by adult hands and, in a mishandled effort to loosen the clot, I was yanked out of the companionway. Since I had been supporting Jessica who was in turn supporting the suddenly claustrophobic party at the top, this uncorking resulted in a violent landslide of children.
When the dust settled I saw one of Jessica's toy legs, and I saw Jessica. They had landed on opposite sides of the pile of human moraine. Jessica's thigh terminated in a slightly irregular bulb which waggled in the air like a giant nail-less thumb. Her other toy leg had come only partway uncoupled, and hinged off her knee at a sick, free-wheeling angle.
I suddenly felt the way I had felt when I had swallowed too much snot one day. (I recalled the term nosey-ated from my father's explanation.) I did not know exactly why, but I was now sure that Jessica's condition made me feel icky and strange.
So, from that day forward whenever I saw Jessica coming I ran the other way. And she gave relentless chase.
I tried tattling on Jessica, but none of the adults I knew supported eschewing the girl just because she was a cyborg. Once I mentioned her having "funny legs" I lost any sympathy the earlier part of my narrative may have earned. My mother thought it was quite adorable the way Jessica chased me and told me that Jessica might have a "crush on" me.
I was horrified. Could her bionic legs be possessed of the adult-scale strength required to actually crush me? I resolved never to let down my guard.
Whenever I came into the room or approached a toy I scoped things out so I could know where Jessica No Legs was. I kept her under stealthy observation, glancing over the heads of other kids as we mucked in the sandbox. I followed her movements, prepared at any moment to dash away should she spot me.
As the preschool year wore on I learned that there wasn't anything inherently icky about Jessica. I sat beside her in the singing circle and I didn't even mind playing with her at the crafts table. It was easy to forget that she was a cyborg when you were only dealing with her torso.
In all full-bodied contexts I continued to run away and she continued to chase me. Our confrontations had become ritual, our motions and feints rehearsed.
The following autumn kindergarten began. It was only when I learned that Jessica was in the morning class instead of the afternoon class with me that I realized how much I would miss having an adversary. Coming to school wasn't nearly as exciting when you didn't have to hide from and athletically dodge a semi-mechanical nemesis.
I guess I had a sort of crush on Jessica, too.
Posted by Cheeseburger Brown at 19:44