It had already been a long day.
A case I thought I had settled blew up again. My star witness gave a statement to the defense. I don’t know why and everybody in the office seemed to blame me for that although I had no idea. I’d given the guy every warning. You don’t have to talk to them, I said. It can only hurt your case. They aren’t your friends, I told him. I don’t know what they want me to do to keep a lid on. Threaten the guy. I don’t know. I thought this would make a good month for me. And it was about time. Now it’s just one more staff meeting where I’ll have to ask for patience; tell them it’s coming.
I hope it’s coming.
And then this call from the school. I’ve done my best with Duane ; given him lots of time; lots of encouragement; lots of instruction. I do remember school myself, what a bunch of idiots there were there. How they worked to make life miserable for anybody that didn’t pay their dues. Made life miserable for me. Don’t want that for my kid. Do about anything to keep that from happening.
In one passing moment just now I allow myself to think again of all I had hoped for for Duane: that these high-school years would be good ones, happy ones, for him. That he would have friends, be respected, have dates, dance, play ball. All that.
Duane is a good kid and that’s not just me talking. Anybody would tell you that – his teachers, his friends’ parents, anybody. So, that much is good. The way it ought to be. But I worry about other things. Him being the one who gets picked on; always getting the short end of the stick. He’d settle for that, just to keep the peace; I know him.
But I also know that in this world he’ll inhabit for the next four years settling to keep the peace will not keep the peace. It will invite further abuse. The more you give in this context, the more they’ll take. Anybody who has been through it will tell you the same.
And now here I am in the waiting room outside the principal’s office. Called in from my office. A meeting about my son and no word at all from him. I don’t know what this is about, but I have a strong hunch that he’s gotten into a fight and gotten whipped and is now in trouble with the school even though he was not the aggressor. I want to blow up against the principal if I find this to be the case but I remind myself that that will be counterproductive in the long run and that I need to keep my cool.
As I sit I am already feeling terrible for Duane. I don’t want him living in this rut that I lived through and I want to stop this sad music from repeating itself and I feel powerless. I have done all I could do to prevent this. Hanging that heavy bag in the basement when he was seven years old, so he’d learn how to punch. Telling Duane that if he gets picked on he can let it all loose and it’s alright. I’ll answer for any damage if that was the case. But Duane, that’s not his impulse. He’s not a big guy, either.
Now the secretary opens the door to the office.
“Mr. Davis, won’t you come in?”
I walk inside, doing my best to look calm. To look like I do this every day. Like I know what I am doing. Like I am ready to defend my son. I’m even carrying a folder with a legal pad inside as a prop. The first thing I notice is that Duane is not in the room. At first I am relieved. Whatever this is should be easier for me outside of Duane’s presence. But then it strikes me that he may not be here because he is hurt and somewhere in a dispensary or even hospital.
The principal, Hobart Bailey, is an older gentleman who many would say is so far past his prime that he can’t keep up with the goings on at the school. He stands, nods to me, then points to a chair before his desk and tells his secretary that he wants to speak to me alone. She obviously knew this was coming and closes the door quietly on her way out. I am almost sick to my stomach with apprehension; with fear. We both sit down.
“I wanted you to get this straight from me, unfiltered. And the reason for that is that I actually saw everything that happened. . .”
“Excuse me, sir,” I interrupt, “But I don’t have any idea why I am here. Is my son okay?”
I am almost shocked at his response. He smiles and chuckles. “Oh, yes. Duane is in fine shape. He’s in the library right now and you’ll pick him up in just a minute. But I want to explain to you a few things, man to man.”
“Well, your son was getting picked on. Just outside the door of the shop class. I was inside a classroom just across the hall. The light was off in that room and they could not see me, but I saw everything that happened. You’ll be pleased to know that after the other guy – an upperclassman – slapped your son he grabbed the guy by the neck and had him on the floor in no time. Duane held him in a stranglehold headlock and the guy was gasping for air. I came out into the hallway, but I didn’t intervene immediately. I’ve had trouble with that other guy time and again these past two years and I’ll tell you that something in me – this was not the most professional response, I know – but something in me just reveled in seeing this guy just his just desserts. So I let it go until the other guy was gasping and just about to pass out and then I told Duane to let loose. The other kid was completely disoriented and almost unconscious by then. It was a thing of beauty, I’ll tell you. I wish it had been my son that did it. But here’s the thing, David. I am stuck here. There is a written policy here in place at the school that anyone who gets into a fight must be disciplined. You know how these rules are these days. I’ve got no discretion in the matter. I guess when they wrote this policy they didn’t allow for those cases where the principal himself saw the whole thing So, Duane is going to have a week of detention hall. Half an hour after school for the next five days. It was the other guy’s third offense, so he’s kicked out for two weeks. I can’t stop that from happening, but I wanted you to know that Duane was in the right and that he acted bravely and that he has probably put one of my major disciplinary problems to rest for the year. I don’t think Duane will be having any more problems like this for the rest of his time here. I wasn’t the only one who saw it. Word will get around.
“I know that both you and Clare are working now and I know that Duane being kept after for half an hour will present a problem. He’ll miss his bus, I know. But here’s where I can help out. I leave for home at about the time Duane will be getting out of detention hall. I can bring him out your way and drop him off myself. It’s no trouble for me, and to tell you the truth, I’d like to get to know this young man a little better.”
He has finished his speech, but I am so moved that at first I cannot speak. This is an answer, no, the answer, to my most secret prayer. I don’t know that I have ever felt more grateful or more gratified. I try to maintain my composure and act as if what I have been told is exactly what I would have expected from my son.
“Well, sir. I thank you for this. I appreciate the offer of the ride for Duane. I’m sure we’ll take you up on that. I’ll get out of your way now. Did you say that Duane is right across the hall?”
“He is. Sarah will point you to the room.”
I stand and turn and Mr. Bailey speaks again. “David. This has nothing to do with the fight, but we got Duane’s standardized test scores back today. Just a coincidence, I guess. I want you to look at this. Look at his score on the math section.”
He hands me the print out and I scan it and orient myself to its format and in the lower right corner see the 800 score on the math section.
“That’s a perfect score, David. We see something like that once every ten years, maybe. It puts Duane in the top one-tenth of one percent of the test takers. He’s one in a thousand. That means an academic scholarship is in his near future. Maybe even Ivy League. My idea right now, David, is to keep this quiet for the time being. You agree?”