The Sadomasochism of Sixth Grade

We were all at the sixth grade dance – our very first dance at McNulty – and the girls were on one side of the room and the boys were on the other. We had split into such factions in about the fourth grade, and while my heart (and humor) were with the girls, my allegiance (and feigned loyalty) was bound to the boys.

The dance was painstakingly dull. Nothing was happening. A pathetic bowl of soda punch sat on a colorful paper tablecloth. Some stale, soggy chips went untouched in a bowl. Most of us boys stood with our arms folded, daring the girls to approach us. I don’t remember if any did, or if any of us said no, or what happened. There were no memorable embarassments, no life-altering snubs, and nothing of particular note. I only remembered the walk home.

His name was Craig. Well, that’s not his real name, but it will do for these purposes. Craig and I had been friends for a while, though he was from a completely different way of life. He wasn’t in the “gifted and talented” program that half of my class was in (what a wretched and unfairly exclusive group that was monikered). He didn’t wear nice clothes. He sometimes smelled of his parents’ cigarettes. But while rough around the edges, he didn’t mind my, well, attitude.

I did not like like him – he was a friend and no more. I did not have a crush on him, not in the least (and I had had crushes on boys by that time). I felt a certain tenderness toward him, and all that he didn’t have. We were friends – and that is all. I say this now to preemptively strike any notions of anything romantic between us. Craig was, and to my knowledge remains, completely heterosexual.

After the dance drew to its excruciating close, Craig and I walked a few blocks together. Beside us the land dropped off where a steep hill led down to the four diamonds. While the baseball fields below were level and meticulously mowed, this hill was wild and unruly with knee-high grass and a few shrubs that threatened to turn into trees. Craig and I playfully started pushing each other closer and closer to the edge of the hill, and as boys at play tend to do, we escalated into a friendly competition to see who could hang onto the upper ground for the next block or so.

Craig was about a foot taller than me (everyone was), and at least fifty pounds heavier, but I was scrappy, and though by rights I should have been down for the count, I managed to gain the top of the hill more than either of us expected. But that wasn’t my goal. My thrill was in being slung back down the hill, scrambling against someone more physically powerful than me, and meeting that force with defeat – and relishing it.

Beyond the sexual, beyond the sadomasochistic – somehow I felt that I deserved to be punished. And somehow I think part of me liked it. The martyrs, the downtrodden and the put-upon – is there not something exquisite about them and their plight? It goes deeper than simple gluttony for punishment, penetrating further into the recesses of the psyche than simple sadomasochistic pleasure.

Every time he threw me back down the hill a part of me thrilled in the brutality of it, in the raw act of aggression – all the while knowing that Craig would never really hurt me. It was play. What went through my head was the furthest from his, I’m sure, and that only added a secretive element of subterfuge to the game. All the time he thought he was the dominating force, I plundered his power for my own amusement and excitement.  I sought out the role of submissive, knowing full well that Craig never stood a chance at matching my wits or outsmarting me if it came down to it.

For that day though, it was enough just to have him fling me through the air, push me down on the ground, feel the force of his strength and the pull of gravity have their way with my little body. I knew it wasn’t the same enjoyment that other boys got out of wrestling or playing, and I knew enough to keep that to myself. I also knew that one day I would seek out excitement in other forms, far more terrifying and dangerous than a hillside tussle, and this quaint little game, for which I made Craig feel great guilt over his power, with feigned injuries, heavy breathing, and willfully injured pride – was but the beginning of a boy’s strange entry into adolescence.

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