Hollowtop Smoke Signals
A school day’s rite of passage: Some things never change
The word “change” often seems to be the word most used to portray modern life. These days, one either adapts to change or gets consumed by it. However, some things, especially as they apply to human relations, never change. Today, I was reminded of that fact as I drove past the local school and noticed several young students grappling outside the building. The boys’ unrefined antics reminded me of a similar day many years ago.
As I recall, it was late summer and the school year had only recently commenced. I was 11 years-old at the time. I was walking to school with a group of other students, including one older (by four years) upperclassman that was much bigger than I was. Impulsively, I made what I thought was an especially witty remark concerning the upperclassman’s funny-looking hat.
While I was preoccupied with laughing, the towering brute fairly shot his hairy arm around my unsuspecting head and—squeezed it as hard as he could. Like a badger caught in a bear trap, I struggled heroically for release, but to no avail. After the humorless hulk relinquished his grip, the other kids were quick to point to what appeared to be a toilet seat ring around my head. Despite my scathing verbal retort, there was no denying I had just suffered public humiliation at its worst.
For weeks after, I seethed over what I thought was a wholly unwarranted overreaction to an attempt at kidding around. Moreover, I reckoned that there were more civilized ways to settle minor differences than crass violence—especially when said violence was directed at me. Consequently, I resolved, from then on, to strike a higher path and conduct myself civilly in my dealings with others.
Then one day, a younger and smaller underclassman made an uncalled for disparaging remark concerning my physical appearance. Remembering my resolution, I ignored his provocation. Regrettably, my self-imposed pacifism only encouraged the little simpleton to hurl additional insults my way. As the situation escalated, within my mind, a battle between evil and good raged. On one hand, my human nature cried out for righteous retribution. At the same time, my better nature argued fiercely for adherence to my noble resolution. And so--I squeezed his head!
Next, while admiring the ring around his ruffled noggin, I justified my actions by convincing myself that fate had provided me with an irresistible opportunity to extract revenge. Better yet, as I saw things, destiny had also allowed me to reclaim my honor after suffering the identical indignity from the afore-mentioned upperclassman. Indeed, I had to admit, the brutish episode was one of the more gratifying experiences of my life to that point.
Although I didn’t personally witness the event, I am certain that the underclassman who was the recipient of my ill-mannered behavior, soon found a younger and smaller student upon whom to carry on the time-honored tradition of head-squeezing. Equally likely, by so doing, he also derived immense satisfaction. Most importantly, in the process, the lad’s prestige was duly restored.
Ultimately, there’s a part of me that still wishes I could find that upperclassman and return the favor. Chances are he’s too old to fight me off nowadays. Regrettably though, my head-squeezing days are long past. The other morning, I struggled to squeeze an orange for juice. So, I guess it’s a wound I’ll carry to my grave. Even worse, as witnessed at the local school, the same school-days-rite-of-passage goes on today. Some things never change.
Art lives in Harrison, Montana. His essays, stories, and poetry have been published in newspapers, journals, literary magazines, and on-line magazines.