When I look back over my primary school life, there's always one person who stands out. His name was Ben, and for two years, I hated him, and he hated me.
Or so I thought.
It started in Year 2, and the last thing I expect people to believe is that a seven year old has any comprehension of love. At least, any love other than what I call Disney love. Where love triumphs over everything, it's the most powerful force in the world, where no amount of ugly step-sisters or evil, lusting Arabian sorcerers can stand in the way of true love. Those were the stories I spent my lunch-breaks re-enacting, where I played every character alone (or if it was the rarity I did play with somebody, I told them what to say, because they clearly had no way with words or stories like I did.) In later years, I would come to the understanding that not everybody acts how they feel, and sometimes they act the complete opposite.
That kind of person, was Ben.
He was overweight, slow, and wasn't that great with words either. He had friends, all boys, and remember when I said about the overweight boy that the girls all ran away from in "kiss-tag"? Yeah, that was him. Looking back, I suppose we had a lot in common, the only difference was, when they pushed him out, Ben tried even harder than I did to crawl back in. I did it for a couple of years, then finally decided it was a waste of my time to go out of my way, and if I had nothing to do, fitting in, sure, I'd give it a go. We clashed all the time, and I never understood why. He was always making childish threats at me - one in particular was that his dad would come down our chimney and kill my dad because I was mean to him. To that I replied, I didn't have a chimney.
It was no secret that we hated each other, and when the teachers called us in, it was always to tell us to sort our problems out amongst ourselves. I always thought that, after thirty or so times when I was in floods of tears and he was screaming at the teachers to leave him alone, they would get the message that negotiation wasn't working. What I thought back then as one of the best decisions a teacher had ever made, and now realise it was ridiculous and wrong, was to allow me and Ben to race against each other - just each other - at the Sport's Day sack race.
Did our gym teacher, Mrs Smele, think that we would prove something to each other and embrace like team mates afterwards? Even I knew that it wouldn't end well, but watching the video tape back, where I bounded in front and he gave up halfway down the track, dropping the sack and walking like his trousers were at his ankles, I realised that was an important moment in my life.
Because the kids were cheering for me.
Not him, they laughed at him, and when faced with choosing which of the class rejects to root for, I won. And when I saw him crying to his mum after the race, I thought it was pathetic - I had no sympathy for somebody who had made my life hell. I glorified in the fact that I'd shown him - who had said before the race that his new trainers had rockets in them - that I was better than him.
Now I realise, on a field where everybody is cheering for the opponent, your parent's cheers drowned out, humiliated by how slow and unfit you are - losing to a girl - was more than enough reason to cry.
Amazingly, I saw a brief change in him after that. He was being friendly to me, and I probably slapped myself a couple of times. And one day, he defended me against the others. When the star footballer, "it" boy, kicked a ball in my face, he threw it back at them and made sure I was alright. I snapped back that I was fine and he should go away, it was instinct, and it took me a few seconds to realise that he was sincere. The next day, we played together - he was the one who asked, and stammering, I said yes. I showed him the tree, my little hide-out that I wanted to show everybody, yet didn't, because I thought they would report me and take it away. I told him how to climb the tree when he put his feet on the completely wrong branches. I could have felt like an expert again, lording over him that I knew the only real route up the tree, and he could figure it out for himself, revenge for all that he'd done.
Instead, I had a lunchtime when I wasn't being taunted and called names, and I wanted it to stay like that. So I helped him, and when we were at the top together, he held my hand. It didn't mean much to me then, I didn't understand what it meant, I simply thought he was losing his balance. So I grabbed his hand, and I put it on the branch next to me to give him more support. My hand had the memory of his, his sweaty, meaty palm over mine, still slightly clammy from his touch. And I felt nothing, because I didn't know I was supposed to.
Even if I had ever considered of Ben in that way, as my Disney prince, he the Beast, who appeared large and horrid but had been ridiculed for how he looked, and actually had a kind heart. I always loved Belle over the others princesses, she loved to read, she lived alone with her father, who she always felt like she had to look after, not the other way round. But when it came round to it, when I could have finally had my Disney moment, right after the Beast saves her from the mean pack of wolves and they were sharing that tender moment in the fire-lit study; I never saw it.
And I ruined everything.
It had taken two years for him to get over hating me, and I had thrown back the kindness he'd shown me in his face. The next day, he was horrible to me, and I pulled him aside to ask him if he wanted to play again. He yelled at me, telling me I was weird and that playing together was boring. His hatred doubled over the next three weeks, and I had finally had enough. I swore that I would move schools, and I had my eye on an all-girls school, one which I thought had no boys, therefore there could be no more bullies.
But before I could, he moved schools instead.
He was leaving at the end of the term, along with another girl who everybody liked. They made her a cake, but not for Ben, he had nothing. So I made him one, and I remember writing his name in icing, wondering why I was even bothering, but unable to put down the pen and stop making icing flowers and outlining his name in blue as well as red.
I suppose, whether I was aware of it or not, I was trying to say sorry. Sorry for rejecting him. Sorry for giving up on him.