Monday, June 13, 2005

Sorry Darin

When I was a boy, it was conventional wisdom to be seen and not heard. Any breach of the rules of conduct could result in a beating from a variety of specialized devices, depending on the imagination of the executor du jour. It wasn't just parents, teachers too had incredible lattitude in this regard. One of my fifth grade teachers had a paddle with bored out holes like swiss cheese, painted red and hung above the chalk board, an unspoken menace. The thought of being struck by that paddle turned my insides to jelly; I would do anything to avoid it's sting. So great was my fear that I sold out my best friend. Mrs. Arnold, a short, plain faced school marm, who for some reason was watching our procession crowding into the boys restroom, caught my friend Darin and I racing each other for last available urinal. Her dreaded voice echoed from every stall, summoning us outside. Dead men walking.

With our backs to the wall, she pronounced her sentence and I lost control of my chords. Lamely I blurted, incoherantly that it was all his fault.

Fear gripped me as I looked to Darin to respond, which I expected would be incredulous at best, at minimum some form of denial. My heart was a runaway train while the world ambled in slow motion. Mrs. Arnold turned to Darin with the "Oh really" look on her face and said, "Is this true, that you are to blame for the whole thing?" Darin looked like a cornered animal, shyly looking down, shrugged his shoulders said lightly, "I guess."

Pause the Tivo for a moment. There are times in life I remember, like the first kiss, the first penetration, the first time I punched someone in the face, the time I walked in on my parents getting busy on the living room floor, my first jog around the bases, the first time I got high, or when I snuck my dad's car out before I had a license. But no one moment in my life is more vivid, no emotion was ever so intense as the shame, the incredible fucking shame of that one moment.

"So", she continued, "then you are willing to accept the punishment for the both of you, and he can go?"

Darin, looked up, his eyes held hers with firm conviction. No malice, no attitude, just the serenity of saint. "Yes."

"Congratulations Darin," she said, shaking his hand, "You are free to go."

"You, on the other hand, are going to get it double."

I didn't get paddled that day, instead my punishment was detention during recess. I don't remember how many days. She made me write a paragraph on why I should be allowed to go. I don't remember what I wrote. It was all bullshit. We both knew that I had been revealed for the traitor I was, that my punishment was far from over.

Weeks later I was back in the hot seat, this time from my Gym teacher. After class, he escorted me to a dark room and locked the door. Wisely I think, he brought a witness. He brandished the paddle -- no holes -- and told me to bend over. I put my hands on my knees and took two whacks without a wimper. I stood up and smiled, much to their amusement. Too little, too late, but I took that one like a man.

So to you Darin, I can only say that I am sorry. In my forty years I have never met another with such integrity. What is love but the giving of it when expecting nothing in return? I'm still not the man you were at ten.

We moved at the end of the school year, which I was destined to do every year until high school, and I never had a real friend again until my senior year. I finally found someone that treated me with the derision I deserved, yet still wanted to throw back a few Millers on Friday nights.

My grandma passed away during my freshman year of college, and for the first time I was back in my old town, where Darin still lived in that small town that was so much larger in my head. I called him, and to my pleasant surprise I didn't have to repeat my name. I had sent him letters from time to time, once even a Christmas present. But after all this time he had to be wondering what the hell was wrong with me that I kept in touch, even if sparingly.

He picked me up and we went to see Revenge of the Jedi. On the way back I didn't have anything more to say.

"What's wrong," he asked, "you seem upset?"

I made some stupid excuse, the kind you make to your wife to avoid a fight. What was I going to say? I'm sorry about something that happened when we were kids? Actually, it sounds like a good thing now, but I just know I would have been disappointed.

What I needed wasn't his to give.


Beth said...

Darin, thy name is sacrifice. I did this "almost" to a kid one time. He was nabbed for my bad behavior, but before he was escorted off the bus, I stood up and said, "No, I'm the one who did it." I can't imagine how I would felt if I hadn't done that, but I'd feel horrible. I think there's some things you just never get over. Why? I don't know, but this must be one of those times for you.

Mary Witzl said...

I was always the kid who got caught -- or ratted on. I'd love to think that there are people my age walking around today, remembering me as noble and full of integrity. But I doubt it: although I was good at getting caught and always had a guilty conscience, I was also a weenie, and I'll bet they knew.

Just maybe, Darin was, like me, feeling guilty for something else? Maybe he saw taking the heat as a way of doing penance? Just a thought. If you'd mentioned the incident to him, I wonder if he would have remembered?