(Washington DC, 1962)
“Did you remember your bathing suit?”
“Did you pack enough sunscreen?”
“Did you remember to bring extra underwear?”
With a warm smile, Marya Maximoff kneeled down to her son’s eye level before gently adjusting the dodger blue jacket and ruffling the boy’s unique white hair. Her smile grew when saw her son, Peter, try to hide an incoming smile. Lightly chuckling, she suddenly pulled the boy into her arms, sending them both onto the carpet floor. When Marya began to tickle Peter, the boy couldn’t help but squeal with laughter.
“Mama,” he breathlessly giggled while attempting to push his mother’s hands away from his belly. “St-Stop!”
After a few more minutes of playing, Marya smiled down at her son before lifting him onto her lap. When Peter met his mother’s gaze, she could easily detect the hesitancy and sadness in his dark brown eyes.
“Do I have to go to camp?” he asked miserably.
Marya gently tucked strands of white hair behind the boy’s small ears. “Peter, you’re acting like you’re being sent to prison.” The boy merely shrugged his shoulders, prompting her to pull the small frame into a hug. “You’ll have so much fun at camp,” she whispered, her voice laced with warmth and love. “You’re going to do so many fun things, and meet so many new friends!”
“Bu-But… what about-”
“Your sister will be safe with me.” Peter shook his head before directing his dark eyes towards his mother’s stomach, which has grown exponentially these past few months. “The baby will be fine, too. By the time you get back, your new brother or sister will be waiting for you.”
Peter could feel the corner of his lips tug upwards. “Promise?”
Marya smiled down before pressing a kiss to the pasty hair. “With all of my heart.”
Suddenly, the obnoxious and persistent honk of the bus interrupted the beautiful family moment. Peter let out a sigh before tearing himself away from his mother’s embrace. The older woman stood up and carefully guided Peter’s arms through the straps of his large backpack.
“Be safe, Peter.” When the bottom of her son’s lips began to quiver, she instantly pulled him into a warm embrace. “I promise that this summer will be an unforgettable one.”
Peter could only nod, unconsciously burying himself deeper into the embrace. “I’m gonna miss you, mama.”
“We’ll only be apart for six weeks. Until then…” She unwrapped her arms from him and headed towards a small desk that rested in the living room. “If you ever feel homesick, or if you ever want to update me on all of the adventures you’ve been on,” she continued as she made her way back in front of Peter, “just write to me.” She knelt down, gently unclenched Peter’s small hand, and placed a silver ballpoint pen into his hand.
“Will you write back?”
After a few moments of staring at the object, Peter nodded his head before hugging his mother again. “I love you, mama.”
Marya returned the hug and pressed another kiss to her son, this time on his cheek. “I love you too, Peter.”
When the honking increased, the pair pulled away from each other. The white-haired boy tucked the pen into his jacket’s pocket before placing his small hand on the bump on his mother’s stomach.
“Don’t come out until I’m back,” he whispered to his future brother or sister.
Marya affectionately ruffled the white hair before guiding her son towards the door. When she opened it, a bright yellow school bus, filled with children, was parked right in front of their home. Pushing his desire to run back into his mother’s embrace, Peter slowly strode towards the bus. And then, as if a lightbulb went off, Peter snapped his head back towards his mother.
“Tell Wanda I said goodbye!”
“I will,” Marya called back from the doorway. “Goodbye, my love!”
As soon as he entered the powerful vehicle, everyone on the bus went dead silent. Their innocence and joy was quickly substituted by judgement and fear. Their eyes continued to alternate between staring at Peter’s outfit… to his white hair. Swallowing the fear and sadness that threatened to spill out of his mouth, Peter slowly trudged through the sea of kids. When he tried to sit next to someone, they quickly placed their knapsack onto the empty seat. Scanning for another empty seat, Peter’s eyes eventually found one that was right next to a young girl with blonde hair and green eyes. Hopeful, he made his way towards the girl and plopped right next to her, a smile spread across his face.
“Hi,” he began while placing his backpack onto his lap, “my name is-”
His hopes of making a new friend instantly crumbled when the girl hastily grabbed her own backpack and moved to sit next to another boy, who sat on a bench opposite of Peter’s. With a sad sigh, Peter glanced out the window and saw his mother’s warm smile.
For a split second, Peter seriously considered running off of the bus and back into his home. He desperately wanted to ditch this camp and spend another summer with his family and the people who’ve already accepted his unnatural looks. He just wanted to feel, and be with people who made him feel, normal. He just wanted to feel accepted…
When Marya waved to Peter, he pushed down the tears that stung his eyes, and waved back to her.
For the first time in his entire life… Peter Django Maximoff felt alone.
Not even four minutes into the journey, conversations and rumors about Peter began to fill the bus. From his hair, to his outfit, all the way to his family -- all of the occupants’ attention was directed towards the “weirdo” with the white hair. At first, Peter tried to ignore their insults and questions. But then-
“Is your hair real?” a little girl asked, her blue eyes scanning the unique white hair.
Before the boy could reply, another small hand viciously tugged at his locks, eliciting a pained yelp. “Ouch!!! That hurts,” Peter cried out.
“Woah,” a newer, more masculine voice chimed in, “that’s so weird.”
Blushing with embarrassment, Peter unconsciously ran his tiny fingers through his locks. “L-Leave me alone,” he muttered miserably.
“Why isn’t your mom’s hair like yours?” When Peter didn’t respond, the boy conjured up his own theory. “Are you adopted?” No reply. “Did your first mama and papa not love you?”
At this point, Peter could begin to feel himself crumble. Even though he had friends and family, his unique hair was constantly the source of jokes, insults, and rumors. It was the one -- or rather, a -- flaw that Peter desperately wished he could fix through whatever means necessary..
“If I were a papa, I wouldn’t want to raise a kid with freakish hair like yours.”
“If I were a mama, I wouldn’t want to give birth to a spoiled jerk like you!!!” Peter suddenly gritted out, anger now hidden in his newfound voice.
“Wait, don’t you have a sister? Is she a freak like you, too?.”
At an unexpectedly alarming speed, Peter impulsively charged at the bully and grabbed him by the collar of his jacket. “Don’t talk about my sister!!!”
Depending on the situation, Peter was often a very vocal being. He could spend hours either talking about the things that interested him -- music, movies, history, and comic books featuring superheroes -- or asking questions about the unknown. However, because of the difference in his looks, Peter would suppress any question or idea he had whenever he was in a public location. His hair already made him stand out in an uncomfortable manner, so he never raised his voice, for it would draw even more unwelcome attention. That said, there was only one exception to this practice: his family. Whenever someone mentioned his mother or sister, in an unflattering or insulting manner, Peter would push all self-consciousness aside and defend them until the opponent grew weary of the boy’s endless
stream of words.
“Don’t talk about my family ever again!!!”
“Or what? You’ll run home and cry to your mommy?”
“Get out of here, freak!” another faceless kid screamed.
Peter didn’t even have the chance to begin his case, when the entire bus erupted with chants. “FREAK! FREAK! FREAK! FREAK!”
At one point, the little girl who ditched the seat from earlier threw an apple at him, but Peter’s surprisingly fast reflexes allowed him to catch the fruit, when it was an inch away from the back of his head, before angrily chucking it right back at her. It was her scream of shock, not the humiliating and belittling chants, that final caught the bus driver’s attention.
“What is going on back there?!”
“He threw an apple at me!!!”
“She threw at me first!!!”
“ENOUGH,” the driver shouted, his voice reverberating around the condensed space. “Kid, apologize to her right now.”
Peter was in shock. “Wh-What? She threw the apple at me first!!! She started all of this! She should say sorry, not me!!”
The driver only rolled his eyes at, what he perceived as, the lie. “Stop trying to shift the blame onto others.”
“Listen kid, if you’re going to disrupt the peace at our camp, then-”
“BUT I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING,” Peter angrily shouted back, hints of hurt laced in his voice. “They asked those mean questions, insulted my family, called me a freak, and PULLED my hair!! Why should I be punished for something I didn’t do!!”
For the first time in the entire drive, the driver looked back and stared at Peter. However, when his eyes moved towards Peter’s hair, he raised his eyebrow.
“Boy, you really do have some freakish hair.”
Tired of being humiliated, Peter hastily grabbed his backpack before storming towards the bus doors. “I want to go back home,” he demanded.
To be perfectly honest, Peter was expecting and hoping that the bus driver, whom he realized was a camp counselor, would put up some kind of resistance. He wanted someone, anyone, to defend him… to fight for him. However, much to his disappointment, the older man pulled the bus over to the corner of the street and opened the door.
“Have a good summer, kid.”
Before Peter could reply, he noticed the attendance list from the corner of his eye. He quickly scanned the document and realized that-
“Wh-Why isn’t my name on the attendance list?” When the counselor didn’t reply, the realization his Peter hard. “You… didn’t want me here either.” And then, a wave of anger surged through him. “My mom paid for this, but you’re kicking me out, then give the money back to her!!!”
“Kid, get off of the bus before-”
“You scammed my mom! Give me back her money!!!”
Everyone on the bus was taken aback by the boy’s newfound voice. There was no wavering or softness in his tone, only anger and determination. After staring at the kid for a few seconds, the counselor reached into his back pocket, took out his wallet, and rudely threw two hundred dollar directly at Peter’s face.
“Now scram, freak. Next time, your mother should enroll you in circus camp. At least that hair of yours makes you look normal amongst the sea of other freaks.”
When all the children began to laugh at him, Peter’s face instantly turned red with embarrassment and shame. He hastily stuffed the money into his coat pocket before turning towards the exit. He didn’t even take one step, when he unexpectedly felt a pair of small yet vicious hands roughly shove him out of the bus, causing him to tumble onto the pavement below. By the time his brain registered what had happened, the bus had already taken off into the distance.
Finally alone -- away from all of the persecution and humiliation --, Peter buried his face into his knees and began to cry.
He didn’t know how long he’d sat on the curb and cried his heart out -- seconds, minutes, hours, days. Eventually, however, the drop in temperature harshly freed him from pain in his heart. Wiping away some remaining snot and tears, Peter slowly stood up and buttoned up his jacket, which now had dirt stains on the left elbow. Then, his brain clicked.
‘Wait a second… I’m right outside of the capital!’ Peter felt his spirits rise exponentially. ‘I can finally explore the city… alone!!’
Without a second thought, Peter threw his backpack over his shoulders before running towards the heart of Washington, DC.
Considering that this was the first time first time he was alone in a major setting, Peter was fascinated by the diverse faces and places on every street and road. The car models, the unique gift shops, the melting pot of individuals -- the new environment was exhilarating. However, as he made his way deeper into the city, he could detect looks of curiosity and intolerance being directed towards him; more specifically, his white hair. Feeling heat appear on his cheeks, once again, Peter instinctively reached for his black baker boy hat and slapped it onto his head, hastily tucking in as much of his pasty hair as possible. Despite the judgmental looks, the boy continued to walk down the streets of the capital, taking in everything the urban environment had to offer. The more active and chaotic environment was, he’ll admit, overwhelming and frightening. However, at the same time, it also liberated him. He saw a different side of the community he grew near. He saw people who could potentially become his new friends! He saw a world where everyone, for once, could be different and accepting.
He continued to stride down 16th Street NW with a smile, fueled by fascination and excitement, plastered on his face. However, his moments of bliss were interrupted by-
“Erik, look out!!!”