“We do not speak to our dead at school,” said the teacher.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Aiden.
“Tell her I’m your father.”
“I can tell by the look on your face that he is still talking to you.”
“Yes, ma’am, he is.”
“Tell her that you weren’t talking in class. It was the rat faced kid.”
“Whatever he is telling you, it can wait until after school.”
“You’re not going to say anything?”
“You need to set expectations right now, Aiden, while you are still in elementary school. No teacher will tolerate this behavior next year.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Aiden looked at his hands resting on top of his desk. His teacher stood over him looking down and trying to catch his eyes. She waited for more. The standard classroom clock was heard ticking.
“Just get your things and let’s go.”
Aiden studied the tile as he walked down the hall toward the exit. It was half empty since the kids who rode buses were already gone.
“Why didn’t you say something?” Aiden’s Dad asked.
“I didn’t want to tattle.”
“It’s not tattling if you are getting into trouble for something you didn’t do,” Aiden’s Dad said. Aiden said nothing. “You could have at least told that boy to shut up.”
“He would have just said, ‘Make me.’”
“Well, you can’t ignore that boy. He’s the type that picks on decent people because he knows they won’t retaliate. ”
“I’m not going to waste my time.”
“You need to stand up for yourself,” Aiden’s Dad said. “If you don’t confront people they won’t respect you.”
Aiden stopped by a drinking fountain. He put his books down so he could push hard on the button with one hand and hold himself up with the other. He had to lean in close to the spout to reach the water that dribbled out. A dirty boy named Jacob walked around the corner and saw Aiden trying to drink. Jacob went out of his way to hit Aiden with his hip. Aiden stumbled onto the fountain.
“Watch it!” Aiden said after preventing falling further by grabbing the sides of the fountain. “I’m standing here!”
“You’re not yelling at me; are you, Fat Hen?”
“That depends. Did you push me?”
“Why? Did you get dizzy and lose your balance thinking about what rhymes with Aiden?”
“I’m going to make you dizzy, Pig Pen.”
“Are you going to get close enough that I can smell your breath? Dizzy and nauseous aren’t the same thing, you know.”
“They’re both symptoms of the concussion I’m going to give you. I’ll see you after school, Gwen.”
Aiden wiped the water off of his face. He looked down at the wet spots on his shirt and then looked for drips on his pants. There were none. When he looked up, all of the kids in the hall were looking at him. Jacob never lost a fight against anyone that wasn’t his father. Aiden picked up his books, walked briskly down the hall, and exited the school.
“That wasn’t what I had in mind,” said Aiden’s Dad.
“You always said, ‘No time like the present.’”
“That wasn’t just standing up for yourself, you were aggressive. You were asking for a fight. That kid looks like he should be in prison.”
“You’d rather I fight the skinny rat faced kid from class?”
“I’d rather you don’t fight at all; but if you’re going to fight, at least give yourself even odds that you’ll win. You could beat Rat Face easily.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Even animals consider the odds. Their life depends on it. If they don’t think they’ll win, they run.”
“I’m not an animal. Winning is not the point, Dad.”
“Then go around the block. Look, there he is.”
Jacob stood on Aiden’s side of the street. The two boys were far from the eyes of teachers, crossing guards, and parents waiting for children at bus stops.
“What’s up, Gwen? Ready to learn some manners?”
“You’re the one that pushed me.”
“Is this how I pushed you?” Jacob shoved Aiden who fell to the ground on his back. His books spread out on the street.
“No, it was a lot softer than that,” said Aiden. “Show me how you say, ‘Excuse me’.”
“You’re stupid, Gwen. Take a time out there and get smart.”
Aiden got up. He looked at his scraped palms and dusted off the gravel. “I accept your apology.”
“Now you’re just making me angry,” Jacob said.
“Duck!” yelled Aiden’s Dad. Aiden ducked. Jacob’s right hook did not connect with Aiden’s face, but his left uppercut did. Aiden closed his eyes, turned his face sideways, raised his arms in front of himself like a zombie, and clawed and slapped at Jacob. Amused by the weak assault, Jacob stepped back and watched. Aiden opened his eyes and saw Jacob smiling. Aiden used the moment to try something he had seen boxers do on television. He jabbed twice and, to his surprise, connected both times with Jacob’s face. Jacob was stunned by Aiden’s reach, but quickly recovered. Jacob punched Aiden’s stomach once. When Aiden bent forward after having the wind knocked out of him, Jacob elbowed his back and then pushed him to the ground.
“You got some good punches in,” said Aiden’s Dad. “Why don’t you stay down and let him walk away?”
Aiden stood up slowly and looked defiantly at Jacob.
“That’s it, Pig Pen.” Time slowed down. Aiden was Jacob’s punching bag. Aiden was unable to block punches or return them. Finally, Jacob kicked his leg hard and made him fall to the ground. Aiden looked up to see where the next punch would land, but Jacob was walking away.
“Wait until your mother sees your face.”
Aiden got up slowly. “What does a broken rib feel like?”
“Are you happy now?” Aiden’s Dad asked.
“Yes, I am.”
“Why did you do that? It wasn’t to get me off your back about standing up for yourself, was it?”
“No,” said Aiden, “sometimes I don’t say something when I should because I’m scared of what could happen. I don’t know why. That was the worst that could happen, right?”
“On average, yeah. That was pretty bad.”
“And I was able to get back up and say something again?”
“Yes, you were. More than once.”
“OK, then.” Aiden picked his books up and started to shuffle home.
“Since you like hard lessons, don’t look both ways before you cross that street.”