It was an ordinary day at Northeast High School. The second bell between classes was about to ring and all the students rushed to make it to class before it did. Well, all but one. As other students darted around me and hurried to clear the halls, I lay on the floor doubled over in pain. My two books were jumbled on the floor surrounded by a few errant pages of college ruled notebook paper. My hands clutched my crotch, the source of the pain. The bell rang and I was alone. I rolled to my side and struggled to get up, but it was no use as all my energy had left. I thought it couldn’t possibly get worse. Then I noticed the pair of well shined shoes a foot from my nose. I looked up at the Assistant Principal standing over me.
Mr. Price, who seemed very, very tall from my vantage point regarded me with a curious expression. I cast about for some excuse, some reason I could give for my predicament, but I wasn’t sure what to say. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure exactly what happened. I was walking to class when a girl I did not know stopped in front of me. She was upset.
“You men are all alike!” The words hissed like poison from between her clenched teeth.
“Um, are you talking to me?” I should have run very fast and very far.
“You are all such scum!” She emphasized the last word by crushing my testicles (plural) with her knee, which she could apparently move at Mach Three. I dropped everything I carried and crumpled to the floor. The pain overwhelmed me, as did confusion. Since I didn’t know her, I couldn’t figure out how she could be so upset with me. I heard her yell at another guy and craned back just in time to see her slap him. I could tell be the shocked look on his face that he didn’t know her either. It was little comfort that she seemed more upset with my gender than me specifically.
There was not enough time for anyone to help me up before class, which is why I was left alone as everyone scattered. At least that’s what I tell myself. There couldn’t possibly be any other reason, right? Right?
I ran through it repeatedly in my mind, and wondered if I should try to stall for time, but Mr. Price surprised me.
“Some girl has done gone and put her knee between your legs, huh, son?” I snapped my mouth shut as nothing I was about to say matched this question.
“Yes,” I squeaked.
“Well, let’s get you up then,” he said as he offered his hand. He helped me up and we walked to his office. Actually, he walked. I just shuffled. When we reached his office, he motioned for me to have a seat, which I did (gingerly). He offered me coffee and we talked for a while. He never once asked me about what happened.
When our conversation ended, he wrote a note to get me back in class and sent me on my way. When I got to class small bursts of snickering rippled through the room. I handed my note to the teacher and took my seat. The whispers started immediately as everyone tried to satisfy their curiosity.
“You dropped like a ton of bricks,” one peer laughed. “That was one of the funniest things I ever saw.”
“Have you been lying in the hall this whole time?” another asked.
“Actually, I was in Mr. Price’s office,” I said.
“So you got in trouble for being late?”
“No, we just sort of hung out and had coffee.”
“Wait, what? You’re not in trouble?”
“Nope, we just talked over coffee.”
“What did you talk about?” I looked at the faces of my fellow students and realized the true depth of the kindness Mr. Price showed me that day. His actions changed the conversation from one about me being humiliated by a stranger to one about a rare moment few had experienced. Everyone was far more interested in the latter.
“I really can’t say.” I wish I could say I wanted to keep it mysterious and make the story that much more interesting, but the truth is I couldn’t say because I didn’t remember what we talked about. I kept mentally preparing for the question that never came and stupidly missed our entire conversation. I’ve often wondered what wisdom I missed out on that day.
When I think about the girl who embarrassed me that day, part of me wants to scream at her that not all men are scum. Part of me wants to thank her as well. I’m sure it was not her intent, but her actions set up the opportunity for one man to prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that men can be kind and good as well. Yes a few are scum (we are all certainly capable of acting like it), but there are plenty more men like Mr. Price. Men of quiet dignity who are stubbornly noble. Fathers, like the one I am blessed to have, who teach their sons about true strength, honor, and respect so they will grow into men worth knowing. We men need to stop complaining when a woman says we are all scum and simply live in a way that proves we are not.
For that matter, we all, men and women alike, need to stop whining about the decline of respect, manners, or whatever currently bugs us.We need to stop longing for some half imagined past where everyone was better. Instead, let’s just become better now, in the present. Each one of us. Together.
I’m in. Who’s with me?