Monday, December 11, 2006

DAN SMITH

"WHEEEEEEEEEEEE" bellows the huge football player's voice from 100 yards down the high school hallway as I open my locker.

"WHEEEEEEEEEEEE" roars the giant pain-in-the-ass as I get out of the car in the morning, and attempt to walk into school.

"WHEEEEEEEEEEEE" harrasses the popular jock as he wheels his whole big body in his typing chair out of his classroom, taught by football coach #1, and into my classroom, taught by football coach #2, only a grey accordian divider between the two rooms. Not enough protection from the constant assault.

The harrassment begins when I get on school property, and continues all day, until I leave. It occurs at parties, dances, football games and basketball games. Everywhere we are together. Days, weeks, months, years of this.

I smile.

I "ignore."

I discuss this with no one. I do not tell my mom. I do not complain to the teachers, counselors or principal. I figure, "What's the use?" They all hear it too, they don't try to stop it, what good is it to complain?

I hate him. I hate Dan Smith and the horse he rode in on. I hate the group of jocks that follow him around, smiling at my misery. I hate the pack mentality that forbids any of them from saying, "Hey, that's enough. Stop." I hate the boy that I love, the one I have a crush on, for knowing I have a crush on him, and not having the balls to make this torture end. He doesn't have to like me back, but does he have to join forces with the enemy?

I cannot think of high school without associating this torture. I hated high school. Nobody knew. I kept that secret, along with all my others, well-kept. We children of alcoholics are the very best secret keepers. It's a trait that both serves us well, and serves to bring us down. We do not know when it is time to blow the whistle on bad behavior. "When" has been taught right out of us. We've tried, and we've been punished for our trying. We stop trying. We keep the secret. It's easier for everyone.

I finally graduate, leave town, never to live there again. Never. Too many bad memories in that town.

Ten years later I return for my high school reunion. Dan Jones, thick from head to toe and still thick in a group of jocks, starts in. He tells me I look better with the ten pounds on me I've gained since high school. He announces my weight gain for all to hear. I know it is his back-handed compliment, I was way too skinny in high school, and he is right, I've gained ten pounds, exactly. I hate him.

Eventually he's liquored up enough to leave the sanctuary of his pack, and come find me. He wants to talk. Confess. I am in no mood. I hate him.

"All those years I teased you? I really liked you," he confesses.

"I eventually figured that out, Dan, but that doesn't help much now. You ruined high school for me."

He tries to come back with something to say to that. There is nothing. Our true confession time is over. For ten more years.

At the 20th reunion he is re-married and his darling wife is heavy with his first child. He spots me right away, comes straight over, guilt and shame written all over his face.

"I'm so sorry for how I treated you in high school. Not a day goes by that I don't think of you, and hope you're doing OK."

I assure him I am more than OK now, I am great. I know that happiness is the greatest revenge.

"What can I do to make it up to you?" he pleads?

"That baby you are about to have? If it's a girl, teach her never to accept such total bullshit from a man. If it's a boy? Teach him how to treat women. It's too late to make it up to me, but you can help break the pattern."

He seems to be listening. Age, divorce, re-marriage, impending fatherhood have softened and wisened him. He is not the boy he was, he is the man he is choosing to become.

A couple more years go by. I decide a formal burying of the hatchet is in order. I seek out his e-mail address and write him of my intent. He responds within hours. He wants this more than anything.

Several e-mails are exchanged, friendly banter has replaced harrassment and shame. He tells me that baby his wife was carrying? Turns out it was a boy, a boy with a communication disorder. His wife works tirelessly to get him the treatment he needs. They want this child to have the ability to speak, to communicate, to relate in the world.

Hmmmmm... me too.

5 comments:

Kimberly Meisner said...

What a terrific post--so much is said here in such a short time. So much growth and learning and insight. And good for you for your kindness and generosity to this man.

Jerri said...

Yours is a large and shining soul, Ms. Link. You are the living example of love.

Michelle O'Neil said...

I LOVE you. Period!

Jenny Rough said...

I love how you answered his question. Brilliant!

Jennifer who refuses to be a BB said...

Great writing, great story!