In third grade only two kids got chased around the playground. One was a shaggy-haired boy, I think his name was Peter, who miraculously appeared in Lincoln, Nebraska, from England in 1964, trailing clouds of Beatlemania. I watched in helpless amazement as the girls squealed and took off after him at every recess. Hard to imagine what they would have done had they caught him. Held him down and kissed him? Torn him limb from limb like the maenads in Ovid? The other was Dudley Ball, whose yellowish face and bloodshot eyes I now know indicated jaundice and liver disease but at the time signified only strangeness, laughable ugliness, untouchable difference from the rest of us. The other boys chased him, threw kickballs at him, thrilled they could zing a ball at a weird kid named Dudley Ball. “Hey, Dudley, have a ball!” “Dudley Ball, what a dud!” The red hair and freckles, puffy cheeks and constant perspiration amplified his otherness. No one spoke to him. But why do I see his face so clearly now, the fear and loneliness in his eyes? The faces of all the others I’ve forgotten. I was outraged at the injustice of it, the cruelty of the schoolyard taunts. I told the teacher but can’t recall if she did anything about it. And then he stopped coming to school. A few months later we learned he had died. I wish now I’d said a kind word to him, tried harder to protect him. I had my own strangenesses, though mine were mostly invisible. I wish I’d put my arm around his shoulder, asked him to eat his lunch with me. We could have watched together the screeching girls, their mad pursuit, and marveled at the vagaries of luck and circumstance that exalt some and cast down others, dealing out adoration and ridicule in unequal measure. We wouldn’t have talked that way back then, of course. More likely we would have sat in awkward silence, or talked about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Or maybe compared our cowlicks — I remember now how alike ours were, a cresting ocean wave on the right side of our foreheads, as though we’d each been licked by the same thick-tongued cow, a calm old cow who saw all our fears and flaws and loved us just the same.