Sometimes things happen that you think you’ll never be able to live down.
But is that really true?
I was in Mr. Johnson’s office again. He was scowling at me worse than ever. I kept occasionally looking at him out of the corner of my eye, but mostly kept my head down. Looking into my lap. My still un-pant-covered lap. I didn’t know which was worse, looking at my lap and seeing my near nakedness, making my circumstances so obvious, or looking at his anger. I chose the former because at least it was familiar and less threatening.
While I sat there, a secretary came in and dropped a folder on his desk. She looked at me, then did a double take. I was basically naked, except for my shirt which I was pressing into my lap.
When she’d gone, Mr. Johnson opened the folder, then picked up his phone. He dialed, then said, “Mrs. Perryman, this is Charles Johnson, vice-principal at Hillgrove. I called to tell you to come pick up your son.”
There was a pause, and then he said, “No, he’s all right physically. Mentally, who knows? I don’t know what’s going on in his head, but we can’t have him here. He was standing up and masturbating on the school bus this morning, then I caught him doing it again in the boys’ room during first period, and then he was running naked in the halls. A teacher heard the commotion and walked out of his classroom just as Keith raced by. He grabbed him and pulled him into the classroom, then called me. I’ve got him in my office. I need you to come get him right away. Bring some clothes with you. We’ve had enough nakedness being paraded through our halls for one day.”
He stopped again. I was hearing mostly a roaring in my ears now from my blood rushing about 2,000 miles an hour. My mother! She was difficult at the best of times. When I was in trouble, she was impossible to deal with. And by ‘trouble’, I mean not getting to the dinner table fast enough for her, or not doing my chores on time. I didn’t have any idea what I was in for now, but knew it would be brutal, and the words ‘disownment’ and ‘adoption’ jumped to the forefront of my brain.
Mr. Johnson dropped the receiver into the phone’s cradle, then stood up. I shrank in my chair. He stepped out from in back of his desk and stood directly in front of me.
“Stand up,” he roared.
I didn’t. I just quivered in my chair.
He grabbed my arm and pulled me up. I held my shirt as strategically as I could, but I was about past the point of caring.
He marched me out into the main office. I was covering my front, but my backside was open to the public.
He pushed me into one of the chairs along the wall where kids waited till they were called into someone else office, or had to meet their fate with him. “Mrs. Montgomery, I’m leaving this kid here. Make sure he sits in that chair till his mother shows up. I want her to see how he’s dressed, and I don’t want to be alone with him in my office. You know what we can be accused of these days. So out here in public is better. Keep an eye on him, and if he starts doing anything inappropriate, let me know. I’ll come back and tie his hands behind his back if I have to.”
He glared at me again, then went back into his office.
I sat there, making sure my shirt was doing everything it could, which was only to cover the essentials. My thin and unmuscled chest and bare legs were open for review by anyone interested in gawking at me.
It was usual for kids came to the office throughout the day, sent by teachers to get something or pass a message along or for whatever. So as I sat, kids came in, saw me, and gasped, then started laughing. I was feeling worse and worse the longer I sat.
I closed my eyes, not wanting to deal with this any longer. I sort of felt something, a vibration or something, but didn’t bother to look to see what it was. I just sat and tried to keep my head as empty as possible.
Then I heard a soft voice, and someone saying, “I’m sorry.”
That made no sense, so I opened my eyes. Sitting next to me was a boy who was staring intently at me. He had kind eyes. He was also fully dressed, like everyone else except me.
“You’re sorry?” I asked, puzzled. My voice sounded funny even to me. Like I was about to lose control soon.
“Yeah. I can’t imagine what you must feel like. I’ve been watching you for a few minutes now. You look, well, you look kind of awful. I’m sorry.”
You know, it’s funny. I’d had the worst day of my life, and everything seemed to get worse and worse as the day had progressed. It was still early in the day, too, and when my mom came, well, the worst part was now approaching, I knew that for sure. But here was this kid, looking at me compassionately, and for the first time, I simply couldn’t hold it in. I started crying.
I hate crying. What 14-year-old doesn’t? We’re all trying so hard to pretend we’re grown up and past that. You prove you’re still a kid if you cry. And that’s what I did. I started crying. The whole day came back to me in a rush, and with all that had happened, compassion was what I couldn’t handle.
The boy put his arm around my shoulder, scrunching closer to me to do it. He held me as I cried and then whispered in my ear, “I know there has to be a reason you’re almost naked. I’m new here, and don’t know anyone, but you look like you need a friend worse than I do. Maybe we can be friends. I don’t mind if you want to run around naked.” He laughed, and sighed, and said in a wistful sort of voice, “I wish I had the nerve to do that.” I sat up a little straighter. The way he was holding me, and the intonation he used when he spoke, and what he’d just said, made me forget my problems for a quick moment and wonder if maybe, just maybe, he was gay, too.
Right then, my mom came in. She took one look at me and yelled, louder than even Mr. Johnson had, “Keith Rogers Perryman. What in the world happened to your clothes? How in the world can you be naked in school? And those other things Mr. Johnson said you’d done—!”
I started crying again. My mom wasn’t done yet, however, and had started to say more when the most miraculous thing happened. The boy next to me stood up and looked my mother in the eye and yelled, louder than she was yelling, louder than anything, “STOP IT!”
I think it was the shock of someone yelling at her that did the trick. She stopped. The boy didn’t. He lowered his voice some, but didn’t stop talking.
“Look at him! Does he look like he needs someone yelling at him? There’s an explanation for him being like this. You don’t even know what happened, what his side of the story is. Does he do this all the time? Huh? He doesn’t look to me like he’s used to being in trouble. Think about it. He wouldn’t be looking like this if he was. He needs a chance to explain. He needs help right now, not you getting on him when you don’t even know what’s happened!”
My mother isn’t one to back down. She meets aggression with aggression. By the time he’d finished, she’d recovered. And was ready for a fight. “Who’re you, and what gives you the right to talk to me that way? Go away!” She turned her gaze on me, dismissing him. “Keith—”
He interrupted her again. “I’m Gary. Gary Jenks. Keith needs to be taken home and not embarrassed any more than he already is. You yelling at him isn’t helping. Take him home and talk to him in private. Or is your embarrassment over having to come get him more important than the embarrassment he’s feeling because of all this? You’re quadrupling what he feels by yelling at him.” He paused long enough to glance at me, then was back at her with, “Who’s the adult here, anyway?”
That shut her up! I couldn’t believe it, but it did. She turned to look at me, and for the first time in about forever, I briefly saw something in her eyes that I used to see occasionally before Dad left us. I saw my mom the way she sometimes used to be. Just for a second.
She held me in her glance for a moment, then said softly, “Come on, Keith. Let’s get out of here.”
I stood up, more embarrassed than ever about not being fully covered. The kid saw my expression. He had a shirt on over a tee shirt underneath, and he slipped off the outer shirt and handed it to me. At least now I could cover both sides of me, one hand for each.
As I was walking down the hall with my mother, he trotted up next to me and, brushing his long blond hair away from his face, whispered in my ear, giving me his phone number before saying, “I really do hope we can be friends. Call me.”
I realized half way to the car that my mother had been told to bring me some clothes, and that she hadn’t. That really pissed me off. I was in a funny mood: too much emotion had occurred already today, and that made me much more erratic than I usually was. I was almost ready to do battle with her. I wasn’t feeling like taking any more ridicule, humiliation or even badgering. I was tired of no one listening to me, tired of everyone yelling at me, tired of feeling like I’d been elected the school’s punching bag for the day.
She’d parked out in front of the school, so I was able to scoop up my clothes the football players had draped there. I didn’t bother trying to put them on, which would have been about impossible without flashing anyone looking out the school windows. It was bad enough just walking like I was, a shirt being pressed against both my front and back and the rest of me bare all over. At least I couldn’t hear and so was unaware of any hilarity or chaos in the classrooms because of the spectacle I was making.
By the time we got to the car, my mother had lost whatever compassion Gary had stirred in her. She was starting to rant again.
“I’ve never been so humiliated!” she began. “You’re going to tell me exactly what you were doing. I can hardly believe you did what Mr. Johnson told me. You’re going to tell me why you did those things, and then we’re going to figure out how many years you’ll be grounded for it, and what privileges you’re going to lose, and how many extra chores you’ll be taking on, and—”
I was ready to yell at her, to tell her to shut up. That would have got a reaction, probably me being slapped, the mood she was in. I have to say, hitting me wasn’t in her repertoire, but today? The way things had been going so far, who knew?
Before I said it though, I stopped to think. Something I should do more often.
She was upset. I was upset. I was upset the way my day had gone, which was mostly a matter of circumstances. I hadn’t done much of anything wrong, at least nothing I had any control over. She was upset because she had a lot of misinformation she was dealing with. She was dealing with it badly, but I could understand why, if I looked at it from her perspective, a perspective that rarely took my feelings into account. So rather than making her even angrier, I thought maybe I should try sitting down with her and explaining. Maybe, if I used the right tone, the right body language, she’d see it all from a different perspective. Maybe.
If she didn’t, I could always tell her then to shut up.
She got in the car. I opened the other door, then just stood there. She put the key in the ignition, yanked on her seatbelt, then reached to turn the key before she realized I was still outside.
“What are you doing? Get in the car! Get in!”
I leaned down so I could see her eyes. “I will, but there’s a condition. You can yell at me all you want when we get home, but not before. If you’re going to yell at me all the way home, I’m not getting in. We’ll talk about this at home. We’ll be quiet in the car.”
I guess she wasn’t ready for any ultimatums, not from me, not right then.
Her face turned red, she started to scream at me, but instead, she started the car and drove off. I didn’t bother shutting my door, so it was still hanging open, somewhat reducing the dramatic effect of her driving away in a huff.
She stopped about 100 feet away, jamming on the brakes. That caused the door to fly all the way open, bounce, then slam back, closing and latching when it did. I could see her, looking back at me. I looked at her. Neither of us moved. Then I turned around and started walking in the other direction. My dramatic gesture was probably as absurd as hers had been since I was mostly naked. I had nowhere to go, but wasn’t expecting to go far. I thought the odds were she’d come after me. She’d be too mad just to drive away.
I’d judged her right. She did. She put the car in reverse and shot back in my direction. Knowing my mom’s driving skills, I moved away from the curb.
She stopped next to me. I stopped too, and turned to look at her. She opened her door, started to climb out, and was jerked back by her seatbelt.
“Fuck!” she shouted, the first time I’d ever heard her use that word, sank back into her seat, jabbed at the belt release, got out, and pounded on the top of the car. I watched her silently.
It took a while, but when she’d calmed enough to speak, she started, stopped, then managed to say, her voice low and ominous, “Get. In. The. Car.”
I managed to say, “If. You. Don’t. Yell. At. Me.”
We stared at each other. I was shocked at myself. I never confronted her. It wasn’t who I was. I was very meek and unassertive for a 14-year-old. Most of us that age are testing our new bodies and energies and spirits. Not me. But as I said, I was feeling a mixture of emotions, and simply didn’t feel like taking any more shit today. Come what may. And it probably would. But I was past caring.
Finally, after thinking about driving off again—I could see it in her eyes—she said, “OK, I won’t say a word till we’re home.” It was difficult for her to say it, I could hear that, but she said it.
I didn’t reply, just walked over to the car and got in.
It seemed the first battle I’d won all day. And all I’d done was stand up for myself.
The ride home wasn’t pleasant, but it was quiet. There was tension in the air, and the feeling an explosion was near, about as near as our driveway which was fast approaching. It was better, though, that kaboom only being imminent, not actually being in the car with it going off, over and over.
She pulled into the driveway, then into the attached garage, and I was out of the car almost before it stopped rolling. She got out, looked at me, then opened the door into the house from the garage and held it for me without saying a word.
I walked past her, into the kitchen and sat down at the table. She walked in right behind me and started talking before she even got to the table.
She started by asking the same questions, saying the same things she’d said as we were leaving school. Her voice got louder as she went. She must have yelled at me for five minutes, asking questions, talking about how much of a disappointment I’d turned out to be, even mentioning my dad a bit, using him as a comparison. Neither of us seemed to win out in that, somehow.
I didn’t say a word, and she finally she ran out of breath, I guess. I just sat there looking at her. She stopped. She and I looked at each other. Then she pulled out her chair and sat down. She looked like she was ready to start in again, but I beat her to it.
“Are you ready for me to talk now, to tell you what happened, or do you just want to keep yelling at me?”
She opened her mouth, then closed it. The fact I’d been almost confrontational probably sunk in. It wasn’t me, and she must have noticed that. She didn’t say anything, simply nodded.
So, I told her. I told her everything, starting with leaving my essay too late and that causing me not to get enough sleep.
Well, not everything. I didn’t tell her I was especially horny, or why. I did tell her that I’d had a wet dream on the bus. I didn’t tell her why Mr. Johnson thought I was humping the hand dryer, just that he was mistaken, I’d only been wiggling to get closer to it when he’d walked in. I did tell her why I was naked and only had my shirt to partially cover myself.
I told her about my detention, and about the threat of being called out in an assembly and being humiliated before the entire school. I told her how embarrassing it all was, how it was going to be difficult to ride on the bus or go to school, how scared I was thinking about those things. How my life was going to be almost impossible now. And then, I finished by telling her that what I needed to get through all this was a mother who loved me and supported me and who I knew would be there behind me as I tried to survive what was ahead of me. I told her she was all I had, but if I had her, I had a chance.
I had no idea if this would work or not. My mother had been a loving mother, once. Then dad had cheated on her, and it had been ugly. An ugly divorce with horrible accusations on both sides, written up with lurid details in the papers. It had hurt Mom, and she hadn’t been the same since. She had only me to take her frustrations out on, and I was male, and the male subdivision of the species was high on her shit list. Probably tops.
I told her my story, then just stopped. I figured it wouldn’t hurt my chances any, so I thought real hard about what was going to happen to me, about trying to ride on that bus with the abuse I’d be taking, about gym class, about walking in the halls, and managed the effect I wanted. I was able to start shaking and dribble a few tears.
Hey, they were real tears! And in all honesty, I didn’t have to try all that hard.
She looked at me, saw the tears, then looked away. I couldn’t read the expression on her face. Her eyes seemed to be focused about eighty miles away.
I just sat there, still basically naked, and hung my head. That happened without any internal coaxing.
Finally, I felt something on my hand, which was lying on the table. I looked up, and saw she’d put her hand on mine.
“I’ve been kind of a bitch, haven’t I?” she asked, her voice low and hurting.
I was out of my chair in an instant and in her lap, hugging her, real tears pouring down my face. I couldn‘t have spoken if I’d wanted to, which I didn’t. What I wanted, what I desperately needed, was the hug she was giving me, and I was giving her back.
We held that hug till I got too heavy for her. She hunched her hips, and I knew I had to get off. I did, sat back in my chair, and dried my face and eyes.
“I need you, Mom. I really need you.”
“I know. And you’ve got me. We’ll figure this out together.”
I smiled. I think it was the first time all day. Well, maybe I’d smiled at Gary.
Gary! I had to call him. Maybe I’d got my mom back, we’d have to see. I didn’t really expect this change in her to last. But maybe, just maybe, I had a new friend. Maybe this wouldn’t end up as the worst day of my life after all.
I didn’t ride the bus to school the next day. The relief that gave me was miraculous. I watched out the window to see if the bus driver would stop, or at least slow down, in front of our house. She didn’t.
But before that even, after my mom and I had found something we’d lost over a year before, after we’d spent the day together, talking and talking and explaining ourselves, what we’d been thinking and why we’d done what we’d done for the last couple of years, after she’d taken me out to lunch and then we’d gone to a park and sat at a picnic table and just gotten to know each other again, I finally called Gary. We talked for a long time. He was really cool, and I hoped he was going to be a good friend. I hadn’t realized how much I wanted one. Needed one.
I’m one of those kids who go to school, do their work, and seem to disappear in the crowd. It’s my fault. I’m not at all assertive. I don’t have much courage. I’m not strong, or good-looking. I don’t stand out at all. Whatever it is that allows kids to make friends easily with other kids, I don’t seem to have that, either. Maybe I lack social skills. But I watch other kids hanging with their friends and feel an emptiness when I see it. I was really excited now that maybe Gary would make that emptiness disappear. What was so great about it was, Gary spoke in just as excited a voice as I did. Maybe that was just who he was, an outgoing and happy and excited kid, or maybe, maybe, he was as eager as I was to have a friend. And that friend he was eager to have was me!
My mother drove me to school the next day. Now you have to understand, my mother can be something of a force of nature. It’s intimidating as all get out to have that force directed against you. It’s quite different when it’s at your back.
She, with me very much in her wake and happy to be there, marched down the hall, into the office, and into Mr. Johnson’s office. His secretary was up out of her desk immediately when she saw what was happening, but she might as well have been a flea trying to stop an elephant. A small flea; a large and determined elephant.
Mr. Johnson was on the phone. My mother grabbed the receiver from his startled hand and hung it up.
“Wha—” he started to say, but that was all he could manage.
“I’m Ms. Stuart,” she interrupted. “Keith’s mother. Not Mrs. Perryman, which is what you called me yesterday. I’ve come to talk about how you treated Keith yesterday. How dare you?!”
She glared at him. Which could have been humorous but wasn’t. Standing, he was about six foot three and weighed something to the north of 250 pounds. She was five foot five, maybe, and certainly more than 100 pounds lighter. But when she was riled up, size became immaterial.
Mr. Johnson started to rise and opened his mouth to speak. My mother put her hand on his chest and pushed him back into his chair.
“You spoke to my boy twice yesterday. Both times he told you what happened. You didn’t believe him, you didn’t investigate, you furthered rumors about him that were untrue, you didn’t help him at all when you saw how intimidated and overwrought he was, you told him he had detention without even bothering to learn the truth of anything, and now you’re in trouble.”
She was on a roll and gave him no chance to say anything. “I’m a lawyer, and what you’ve done is violate your in loco parentis responsibilities. You’ve also slandered a young boy with sexual insinuations. You, and this school, are going to be paying Keith’s way through college and that’ll only be part of it. I hope this school district has really deep pockets. And, I’m suing you, personally, as well as them.”
She stopped, but her angry glare didn’t. She was right in his face, and she remained there.
Finally, Mr. Johnson spoke. He sort of hesitated as though expecting to be interrupted again.
“Uh, I didn’t really—”
“Bullshit! You did really. What you need to say now isn’t what you didn’t do, or how innocent you are, or why you made the mistakes you did. No, that won’t help at all. If you want to play the game that way, fine. Your bluster might work on high school kids, but in court, I’ll eat you alive. However,” she said, her eyes gleaming, “it’s your choice. You choose we go to court, I’ll go start taking witness statements. When the papers get it, and I’ll make sure they will, the settlement costs will just keep climbing higher and higher.”
She paused, expecting him to say something. He didn’t. I think he was in shock. My mother can do that.
She waited until he opened his mouth to speak, then jumped in before he could. “No, that’s not how you should play it. The smart thing for you to do would be to ask, ‘What can I do to prevent all that?’ It might not help, but at least you’d be doing the smart thing.”
Mr. Johnson looked at her, then switched his eyes to me. I was standing there watching. Well, actually I was standing there slightly behind my mother, watching.
Mr. Johnson was thinking, I could see that. When he spoke again, his voice was much softer than I was used to hearing it. “While I have the feeling what you’re threatening me with is nuts, I’d be happy to hear what you have to say that might calm the waters. Won’t you sit down?”
My mother ignored the request, staying standing up against the front of his desk. “So you want to test that feeling you have in court? I’m perfectly willing to do that. In fact, that would probably be best for Keith’s future. Come on, Keith, let’s go.”
She turned on her heel and had taken one step toward the door when Mr. Johnson said, “Wait! I’d like to hear what you’d like me to do.”
“And I,” she said, turning back to him, “would like to hear an apology to my son, hear you tell him you were wrong not to at least investigate before dismissing him so egregiously, and to hear you tell him the detention is waived and never should have been assigned in the first place. I’d like to hear that right now.”
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This story may contain occasional references to minors who are or may be gay. If it were a movie, it would be rated PG (in a more enlightened time it would be rated G). If reading this type of material is illegal where you live, or if you are too young to read this type of material based on the laws where you live, or if your parents don't want you to read this type of material, or if you find this type of material morally or otherwise objectionable, or if you don’t want to be here, close your browser now. The author neither condones nor advocates the violation of any laws. If you want to be here, but aren’t supposed to be here, be careful and don't get caught!