The Prince’s Speech
The day Stevie was sent to the vice-principal’s office, I went to the high school to clean it up. My son wasn’t a wise guy and never caused trouble.
Despite steady improvements, Stevie dealt with a speech impediment and a bastard classmate who kept teasing him about it. Mocking Stevie over his slurs and stuttering. Maybe my son grew tired of his bait and gave that goon a knuckle sandwich.
Stevie’s tormentor was the kind of bully I always detested. And of all people, Stevie. If their roles were reversed, there wouldn’t be a situation, ’cause Stevie had the heart and soul to love and nurture.
Before one could ask who could do such a thing, I must confess it was me. Never to Stevie. Of course not. In my good ole varsity days, I played bastard by picking on another kid.
“Hey buddy, you okay?” I asked Stevie as I entered the VP’s office.
“There was an altercation with another student. That student’s being disciplined,” the VP said.
Stevie was rattled and improving. That creep shoved him against a wall of lockers where Stevie bumped his head. A swollen raspberry, already going down.
“What about my son’s safety. This has been going on all school year. What are you going to do about it?” I asked. The VP paused and took a breath.
“Dad. I started it,” Stevie stammered.
“What happened?” I asked Stevie.
“I thought if I could show him the real Stevie, he wouldn’t hate me so much.”
The bully came from a violent home where his father and brothers beat him up, day in day out. I get it. I’m understanding to a point.
“Where is he now?” I asked for Stevie’s sake.
“Evaluation. He’s already been suspended,” the VP told me. That’s a start.
When we left the high school Stevie wasn’t hungry. Instead, I started the car and aimed the rig towards his mother’s place. That’s where Stevie stayed. I had him on weekends and we got on just fine.
“Why do you have to leave? I wish you could stay with us,” Stevie said as we pulled up to the house.
“I know, buddy.”
“It wouldn’t hurt so much if you were here,” Stevie told me. His goodness only added to my heartache.
We hugged and said our good-byes. Once he reached the door, Stevie turned to smile and give his old man a fist pump. He entered the house and I pulled away.
On the ride home, I thought about my own sins. The guilt and shame of targeting a kid I grew up with.
Paul was a high school classmate who had a stuttering issue. During my darkest moment, I mimicked his struggle and made him weep. Ever since that day, I felt like shit about it.
“Hey, Puu, Puppa, Paul. Huh, huh, how’s it goin?” I asked him one time.
What was I thinking? Out of boredom, I turned copycat. Other kids did it to Paul, so why not?
The life of a teenager. You do stupid stuff for the sake of it. No idea over the anguish it might cause somebody else. Someone innocent.
And the added bonus? We were in our baseball uniforms. A double-whammy, breaking that sacred code about teammates: One for all and all for one.
At our high school reunion, I pushed myself to spit out an apology to Paul instead of acting like it never happened. I said I was sorry for that time in the dugout during our rain delay. Instead of shaking hands, Paul could have told me to ‘stuff it and go to hell’.
Paul lit up, accepting my apology with no idea how much it meant. If the world’s back in orbit for Paul then it’s okay with me.
After all those years, I conquered one of my demons, now this. The lions escaped the jungle that day and entered my son’s high school. They were supposed to attack me or another random parent. Instead, they charged our kids and cornered Stevie.
The hardest time for a father is when your child discovers how cold, lonely, and painful the world could get. Not much choice than to sit there and take it.
All one could do is hope your son turns out better, stronger, and more descent than you.