Another Try

I was standing behind my desk at the front of my study-hall class when I saw Kelso walking down the school hallway. It was mid-period and the hallway empty but for him. His movement, out of place as it was, caught my eye through the little portrait window that was standard in every classroom door in the school. For a moment I thought he might be looking for me. The first cracks were in the wall already as far as my team was concerned. Not everyone would have seen the signs, but Kelso, knowing the game and the personalities involved, would have understood that I was in trouble, maybe better than I did.

.
I did not have the slightest notion of granting even the humblest, most sincere plea for another chance. I could not bring him back onto the team. I may have by then realized my mistake and I may have even started to regret it and to understand that there were consequences beyond what I had imagined, but I had drawn the line and there would be no erasing it. The resentment that I feared his inclusion would have caused originally would only be amplified if I now made the admission, inherent in any such act, that I had been wrong in the first place and that what this team really needed was the guy that everyone else on the team had convinced theselves to hate. I told myself that I didn’t want such a conversation and that I hoped that Kelso would not knock on my door.

.

But when he passed it by, other feelings overcame me; emotions that I was not ready for. I felt a sense of loss and even loneliness.

.
I stepped toward the little window to watch him approach Aletha’s classroom door. I saw the hall pass in his hand. He had been summoned. I crossed to the window side of my classroom and rocked open the lever lock on the window nearest Aletha’s room, angled the pane out and began to listen, doing my best not to let on; not to let anyone in the room suspect what I was doing.

.
I could not make out the first few exchanges, but I knew from the very start that this conversation would not be like the others I had heard. I had to pick out words here and there and train my ears to the frequencies and tones that my clandestine listening post allowed me. But the desire to know a secret can do wonders for your hearing.  My ears adjusted and I heard every syllable, as if they were in my room, right in front of me.

.
She did not approach him as she had the others. There was no playing to his failure or any sore spot or weakness. She spoke to him almost as if he were her peer. I don’t even know what to call her approach. It was anything but a sales pitch and there were no apologies for the offer. I’ve never heard anything like it, before or since. It was almost as if they were speaking in another language.

.
She told him that she had known young men like him before. That she had grown up with some of them. She said that she saw that he had not one, but a whole “constellation” of talents and that these excellences could be for him a door into a life full of success and meaning the heights and depths of which he could not even now imagine. He resisted at first, but she told him that the kids in the school – particularly those who “mattered” – were either too self-absorbed or obtuse to perceive or understand his strengths or they would be jealous and resent them. Those who did see them would never admit or allow him the slightest reason for believing that he was so equipped. She didn’t say the same about his teachers – or me – but that had to be understood.

.

She said that he was at a crossroads. A critical moment when he could decide to simply fit in or to take the road that his character fit him for. She said that it was very unlikely that he would be made the same offer by anyone else in the school or in his life. She told him that the message that would be preached to him in every class at school and in every other context in the life he lived in Walhonde was that people are all basically the same. She said that there were important truths there but that the local corollary of that message was that anyone who tried to excel or attempted anything out of the ordinary was suspected of arrogance and accordingly shunned.

.
She said that the message he needed to hear was just the opposite – people are different; very different. And he was different; very different. He had capacities far beyond what this life he was now living could ever demand or give him opportunity to exercise. He could take it or leave it, she said, but leaving it would entail him throwing away a chance at a life that no one now around him could imagine. She wanted him to understand that he had to change his goals and re-order his priorities and make substantial investments immediately that if made now would pay him dividends for all of his life. She said that he would have to swim against the current for a long time but that such an effort would undoubtedly carry him out of the shallows and into the depths of life. She said that if he decided to swim that there would come a day, sooner than he would expect, when every one of the problems he now faced – every enmity, every failure, every insecurity, every injustice – would fall into the sea, like Pharaoh’s horsemen.  On that day he would be unable to imagine that anything of the like had ever troubled him.

.

He believed her.

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