14) A CHANGE TO ACTION
Raphael couldn’t wait for the bell to ring, signaling lunch. On Friday, school became exciting in the afternoon, but today, the interrogation turned out to be brutal. He wanted to talk to his cousin Johnny about the police Lieutenant. Upon entering the lunch room, he spied Mitch and Sammy sitting at a table with his cousin. He couldn’t be sure, but he suspected both probably suffered interrogation by the cop also.
“Screw you Sammy,” Johnny burst out as Raphael sat down. “I didn’t rat on you.”
“Where did you go on Friday after lunch,” Sammy badgered. “I can’t find anyone who saw you after school let out.”
“I got sick at lunch,” he confessed, “and I ended up at the nurse’s office. Somebody called the nurse and told her everyone needed to leave the building. I didn’t feel at all well, but they still asked me to leave. I missed the bus going to my neighborhood and the Principal took me home in her car.”
“Oh sure,” Sammy sneered. “I’ll bet you chatted good and long with her too.”
“Asshole,” Johnny answered, “I didn’t rat.”
Raphael sat quietly and ate his lunch. He recognized both Sammy and Mitch used bad words. But this was the first time he learned of swearing from his cousin. He considered Johnny bold for calling Sammy a bad name because his opponent radiated a way of threatening everybody.
“The cop said Miss Gordon caught you coming out of the girl’s bathroom,” Johnny protested. “All I’m sure of is I didn’t rat on you.”
“Who are you calling an asshole,” Sammy snapped back. “Are you looking to get pounded?”
“What did the Principal say to you?” Mitch pressured. “Did she grill you for answers?”
“She told me someone set off an explosion in the basement,” Johnny explained. “She asked if I withheld anything about these events and I said no. Assuming I ratted, riding in her car would have been a perfect time to blow the whistle on you. I didn’t rat and if you can’t accept my statement, tough shit.”
“What about you puke?” Sammy grunted at Raphael. “Did you say anything?”
The color drained out of Raphael’s face as he eyed his tormentor. He might hold mixed feelings about Sammy, but this latest insult convinced him Sammy didn’t rate as his friend. He quietly sat; afraid to make any comment.
“ANSWER ME!” Sammy shouted.
“Leave him alone, asshole,” Johnny barked. “He didn’t do anything.”
Sammy jumped up out of his chair and towered over Johnny in a fighting stance. He reached out and cuffed him sharply on the back of the head. Mitch sat silently and said no word or take any action.
Seeing this unfold before his eyes, Raphael decided he needed to give backup to his cousin. Still seated in his chair, he balled up his right fist and swung in a slightly upward motion. His five, tightly knotted fingers collided solidly with ’Y” section of Sammy’s jeans.
Raphael put so much emotion and power into the swing when his fist connected, he physically lifted Sammy off the ground. Johnny jumped up out of his chair and threw a left hook to Sammy’s snarling lips.
Sammy couldn’t decide whether to shit or go blind. He screamed at the top of his lungs and all conversation in the lunch room immediately ceased. The pain in his groin grew to excruciating, but the visible flow of blood from his lower lip added insult to injury. He doubled over and fell into a fetal position on the lunch room floor.
Mitch didn’t move. To be honest, he feared moving.
A teacher who stood in the lunchroom, Mr. Jackson, came running over to investigate all the excitement. He took one look at Sammy and recognized someone apparently cleaned his clock for him. Sammy lay on the floor emitting loud moans as he held his crotch.
“What the hell is going on here?” Jackson questioned.
“He nwas picking on nmy cousin,” Raphael claimed. “So I hit him in the balls.”
“All four of you boys stay here,” Jackson directed, “Don’t move a muscle.”
Mr. Jackson left the lunch room and went somewhere out in the hallway. In two minutes, he returned with two other male teachers and the Principal. Raphael understood this probably would lead to trouble. He didn’t mean to hurt Sammy, but his emotion overtook his body and he instinctively struck out. Mitch said no word all this time and Johnny kept rubbing his left fist because more than likely, his fist hurt.
“All four of you will go down the hall,” the Principal addressed, “and assemble in my office. If you can’t do what I’m requesting on your own, these teachers will help you.”
Raphael, Mitch, and Johnny all got up from the table. Sammy still laid on the ground moaning. Two teachers grabbed him by the arms and hoisted him up to his feet. The procession of the Principal, the two male teachers, and the four boys left the lunch room. They headed down the hall to the Principals office.
“OK everybody,” Mr. Jackson said. “The excitement is over. I want everyone to leave and go to your next class.”
The Principal pulled extra chairs into her office and made sure everyone sat down. She opened up her desk drawer and pulled out a wooden ruler which she held in her hand.
“Who wants to explain what went on today?” She uttered as she paced back and forth behind her desk.
“He nstarted nthe fight,” Raphael finally admitted, “He cuffed nmy cousin Johnny.”
“Why did he cuff Johnny?” the Principal queried.
“Because he’s an asshole,” Raphael responded.
What a definitive statement! This was the first time he swore in his life and the word ‘asshole’ unconsciously slipped out. He realized immediately this made a bad situation worse, but could do nothing to take back his error.
“Hold your hands out face down,” the Principal ordered.
Raphael complied. With a quick flip of the wrist, the Principal whacked him on the knuckles of his right hand with the wooden ruler. He quickly pulled his hands back, but the Principal told him to put them back out in front of him. When he did, she whacked his left hand with the ruler.
“That’s for swearing.” She accused. “And the other is for punching Samuel.”
She turned her gaze to Johnny and asked him if he would like to add anything to Raphael’s statement. He said no, which caused her to ask if he hit Sammy.
“Yea, I hit him,” Johnny confirmed. “He threatened me and my cousin. He’s been doing this for a while and I got tired of listening to his mouth. So I popped him.”
“Hold your hands out in front of you facing down,” she told him.
Johnny learned of who would be smacked next but also considered his resistance would be futile. Two whacks later, she walked over to face Sammy, who still kept moaning. He lifted his eyes up at her, expecting her to command him to hold out his hands. To his surprise, her command took on a different flavor.
“On your feet Mr. Lovelace,” the Principal commanded.
Sammy worked his way up out of his seat. As soon as he reached an almost in an erect position, the Principal lashed out with an open palm to his chest and pushed him. This action slammed him back into his seat.
“I told you to stand,” she bellowed loudly. “Stand completely up.”
Sammy once again moved to stand. As he got to his feet once more, the Principal slammed him again with the palm of her hand.
“How do you like being pushed around,” she pressed. “Do you think you are tough, harassing everyone? I took the time to review reports from several teachers about your belligerent attitude. I’m sick of hearing these stories. From now on, I will make your life a living hell.”
Mitch sat quietly as a mouse while all this action went. He thought he might escape the wrath of the Principal; a thought which abandoned him when she turned and stood in front of him.
“Mr. Stockton,” she teased. “How should I deal with you?”
“I didn’t do anything Maam,” Mitch replied. “In fact, I didn’t even get out of my seat.”
“No,” the Principal mocked, “I’m sure you didn’t. You do nothing because you are so lily white. Why do you always seem around trouble?”
The Principal circled around to her desk and put the ruler away. She picked up a paper lying on the desk and read aloud.
“Samuel Lovelace,” she mused, “Our records show you flunking two years at this school. Your last report card indicates an average grade of ‘D’. Mitchell Stockton; our records show you flunking one year at this school and your last report card says your average grade is a ‘D’ also.
Because of this, I am informing both of you; you’re on mandatory detention after school. My job is to educate you and I will try to do what I’m being paid to do. Perhaps having a little less free time and a little more homework, you can learn to stay out of trouble and get passing grades.”
“You can’t make us stay after school,” Sammy snickered.
“I can, and I will,” the Principal insisted. “If you try to skip out or not show up, I will call the police to pick you up. They will ship you off to Tryon School for Boys. Believe me, when I tell you this. You don’t want to go to Tryon. It’s one nasty place.”
The Principal picked up another set of papers on the desk and read them. She kept looking alternately between the papers and Raphael and the papers and Johnny and back. Finally, she let out a large sigh.
“Mr. Rivero,” she announced. “You are carrying a ‘C+’ average. Not the best I’ve seen, but not the worst. Mr. Hernandez. You hold a ‘B’ average, which I consider quite good. Both of you boys could be excellent students if you work a little harder and keep out of trouble.
I will forget this incident today. But I will report to your parents and I will watch you. Now please go back to your afternoon classes. These two boys and I will talk some business.”
Johnny and Raphael got up and left the Principal’s office. Sammy snarled as they left and couldn’t contain his disdain for either one . Plus, his balls still hurt.
“We obviously suffered an explosion here on Friday,” the Principal . “I don’t suppose either of you can tell me anything about what happened, can you?”
“We already got interrogated by your stupid Copper friend,” Sammy taunted. “We didn’t do nuthin’.”
“That’s exactly what I thought you would say,” she offered. “One lies and the other swears to the lie. Well boys, here’s what I will do. Mr. Lovelace ... I want you to work down in the furnace room after regular classes. You will do anything and everything the janitor tells you to do. If you don’t ... you’ve been told what I am prepared to do. You will report to the janitor after classes and stay until five o’clock every school day. Do I clarify myself?”
“What a bunch of crap,” Sammy burst out. “You can’t make me stay after classes. They wrote laws against shit like you’re trying to pull.”
“You are right,” the Principal agreed, “and I am the law. You either obey my law or go to Tryon. Which would you prefer?”
Sammy scowled but said nothing more. His mind crystallized a thought. He would figure out a way to skip out of doing any work cutting into his free time. How he accomplished cutting out still remained to be seen.
“And Mr. Stockton,” she continued. “Even though you didn’t directly contribute to today’s altercation, your grades are terrible. I want you to stay after school one hour every day. You will write out an essay on everything you learned during the day. And believe me; I think you are getting off easy.”
Mitch hated his assignment and punishment. He realized however, an extra hour each day beat working in a hot boiler room like Sammy. He nodded in agreement to the Principal while Sammy contemplated him like a traitor.
He knew he got off better than Sammy, but he couldn’t say he took joy in the fact. He sure could justify giving no one any arguments about his punishment. He got the gut feeling he abandoned his buddy. Physically, they both stood about the same and had been pals for a long time. Therefore, he didn’t worry about Sammy beating him up or anything.
But somehow, he thought he was a traitor.
Dinnertime at Raphael’s house offered no fun . The Principal called Raul at his office during the day and informed him about a problem at school. She informed him Raphael was involved in an altercation during lunch hour and as part of his discipline, she whacked him with a ruler.
“I don’t believe in corporal punishment Mr. Hernandez,” the Principal remarked, “but in this case, four boys were involved in a fight. Raphael got punished for punching and swearing. The other boys also face punishment.”
“Is my son alright?” Raul worried.
“Yes sir,” she reassured. “He appears to be fine. He claimed he came to the defense of his cousin, John Rivero. The boy hurt most is named Samuel Lovelace. Your son punched him in the groin.”
Raul almost choked on a sip of coffee as he listened to the details. Raphael gave no indications of aggressive behavior . The mental picture of his short, pudgy little boy taking a swing at someone’s testicles, made him laugh.
The Principal described the entire incident and recommended Raul conduct a little talk with him; to explain the reality . She pressed on the notion of how The Village School prided itself on giving the best education value in a non-violent atmosphere. Raul agreed a talk with his son would be forthcoming and they ended their call.
That evening at dinner, Raul initiated a conversation with his son.
“I understand you got in trouble at school today,” Raul noted as they sat at the table. “Why don’t you tell me your side of the story?”
“This nbig kid in nschool picked on Johnny,” Raphael said sheepishly. “He nslapped him in his head. So I punched him.”
“Son,” Raul objected, “it is where you punched him I’m concerned about. A punch or kick in the groin is not something you should do.”
Sylvia didn’t know of the problem at school and listened intently. When she found out her little boy somehow got involved in fighting, she couldn’t help being shocked. When his retaliation came up, she jumped into the conversation.
“Honey,” she pointed out. “I told you how serious punching someone in the groin might be. You hit the man in park, who took your hat and now this situation. You need to stop with this response. Someday, you may cause real damage by your actions.”
“He nwas a nbig boy Mommy,” he maintained, “and he nhurt Johnny. Sammy and Mitch are older nkids and nthey always pick on the other nkids.”
“Size doesn’t matter Son,” Raul reasoned. “The only time you would hit a person there, is as a last resort. If you are protecting Mommy or me, nobody would complain. Hitting someone not directly threatening you or your family is bad. I pay good money for you to go to Village Community School. I don’t want you getting thrown out because of some stupid little fight. And what’s this about you swearing? The school Principal told me you used a swear word.”
“Sammy is an asshole,” Raphael stated.
“I don’t want you swearing,” Raul complained. “You don’t hear me or your Mommy using bad words. Where did you pick up a bad word like ‘asshole’?”
“Sammy and Mitch both swear,” he argued. “They say ‘shit’ too.”
“Well you aren’t going to talk like they do,” Sylvia proclaimed. “The last thing we want is a cute little boy running around with a dirty mouth. I should wash your mouth out with soap.”
Raphael thought about choking on a bar of soap and the vision of how soap would taste didn’t seem pleasant . The truth of the matter; today became the first time he ever swore and the word slipped out. Even Johnny occasionally uttered a swear word, but Raphael didn’t think profanity presented a big deal. But apparently his parents didn’t care for ‘creative language’ and let their feelings be known.
“I’m sorry,” Raphael apologized. “I won’t swear anymore.”
“I better not get any more calls about incidents like this again,” Raul warned. “You are a good student and I expect you to continue to be a good student. Now go to your room; and no television tonight.”
Raphael sulked and went off to his room. In his way of thinking, he took the blame for something not his fault; and he didn’t like being in this position. Jeez, he only tried to help his cousin. So now he sat here in his room and couldn’t watch his Ninja show.
His only thought: Screw them all.