In the presence of enemies.

Got a call from an old friend this evening. Brad told me he would call this weekend, but I was surprised by his call because I’d dozed on the couch and was less than fully conscious when I answered the phone. His number didn’t display on the caller ID. He’s currently stationed in Guam, and I’m not sure I have his number, so that may have also influenced the surprise.

That his number, or really his name, didn’t populate the phones display was actually a good thing as I usually dread talking to him. Not because our conversations aren’t anything but fantastic. If anything it’s because our conversations are fantastic, and usually rather lengthy. And usually I end up learning something about myself and that leaves me terrified. It’s stupid, and I know it. Whenever he and I get together I initially just want to get it over with to quell my fear and nervousness. Amidst the palaver the fear and nervousness work it out amongst themselves and I begin to feel sorry that our conversation will have to cease. This evening was no different.

Anther of the things that makes me uncomfortable whenever we talk is the fact that I knew him in elementary school, and I hated him. And I let him know it. Everyone in our class, save a very few, made him a target. I can’t fathom the amount of pain we put him through and would equate it to the bullying that is used as an excuse for school shootings. Don’t worry though, he let me know this evening that I’m no longer on his “list.”

None of us are the same as we were in elementary school. However, I make it a point every time he and I speak to apologize for my conduct. Not just a little either. He may, in fact, be getting tired of hearing it. So now he can read it as I truly am sorry for what I did to, essentially, torture him for fourth, fifth, and sixth grade.

He and I were in an experimental class those three years in which our class had 1 “computer” for every two students. In my opinion it was a complete failure and am glad that it has not become the standard. To have the same core classmates for three years at that age seems to stunt social growth. We were not treated well by the other classes leaving us pretty isolated and were left to hope to find a friend amongst the twenty or so kids on our island.

I didn’t start in the class until halfway through fourth grade and was not immediately welcomed. These other kids had a few months head start on typing and those shitacular computers and they let me know it. If it weren’t for the sense of humor I’d developed as a result of coping with numerous prior moves I probably would’ve been in the same boat as Brad. The S.S. Outcast. I’m not sure I would have fared as well as he did, nor am I sure I would have survived if I were exposed to similar treatment.

I could list the excuses we used for hating him, but they don’t matter. Not even a little bit. Nobody deserves to be made such an outcast that even our teacher, in another hallway session with Brad, told him that he’d better change his personality or he’d never have any friends. Geez, thanks person who is supposed to be taking a guiding and nurturing role in my life.

The number of successful students to emerge from that class are few, and fewer still for males. I’m not going to detail the bias present in the class as that is not what this post is about. Brad told me this evening that he only knows one other person from our experiment that graduated high school on time. That he is one of them is truly a testament to his resilience.

I remember a particular instance in which the class had been split into groups to complete a project of some sort. I don’t remember if was a Lego Logo project or something else, but my group included Brad and everyone, except Brad, of course, didn’t want him in the group. I remember him being a bit goofy and making ridiculous suggestions then laughing about it, and that may or may not have happened, I can’t clearly recall. At recess it was decided, by our group, that after school I would track down Brad and beat him up. “If you listen to fools, the mob rules.”

I remember stalking him on his way home that evening, and am not convinced he didn’t know I was coming. He completely outran me and I never had a chance to come within a hundred yards. I was, however, close enough to make out the smile on his face and the digits, or digit, which he extended every time I stopped running to catch my breath. Had I eventually caught up to him I’m sure he could have pushed me over with a single finger in my state of exhaustion. With all the pent up rage I’m sure he was harboring at the time he probably would’ve beat the living shit out of me even at my most rested. I’m not sure how beating him up would’ve removed him from our group, or made him more affable in the group, but I guess we were kids thinking kid-ly and he didn’t go anywhere.

Despite our best efforts Brad has grown into a man for which I have a great deal of admiration. Of all the kids, male or female, from that class I fell Brad is certainly the most successful. And I mean that in all facets of life. Socially, emotionally, financially, etc. I am truly amazed by the fact that he is who and where he is in life, not because I feel he has some sort of deficiency that would render him incapable of success, but because he weathered our abuse. He also weathered the abuse of a less than helpful teacher, and also the abuse from other schoolmates post-experiment. Perhaps he even left some of us feeling the way we wanted him to feel. Perhaps we felt that way all along.

To borrow from one of my favorite films, The Shawshank Redemption… Brad truly “crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.” I’m ashamed of the way I’ve treated him. I’m proud, however, to call Brad a friend, and am thankful, indeed, that he finds the grace and forgiveness I would think is required to call me his friend.