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"...the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."
-Proverbs 12:10

I am confounded, as always, by the rules. Or perhaps it isn’t the rules so much as the expectations of what I should know or do in any particular situation. “I don’t know anything,” I want to say. “I am trying it all on for size.” Or maybe simply “I have no idea what you are talking about.” I have felt like I am catching up my entire life. Notes and grades and pay-stubs and comments and tax returns and memos and emails and letters and advertisements are all compiled into neat little stacks and promptly forgotten. Snippets of code fall out onto my son’s homework. A story idea is in a project folder. Ask me what I did two weeks ago. I haven’t a clue. Maybe that’s a lie, but it isn’t far off from the truth. I feel inundated with information, most of which says nothing about my life so far, most of which serves to distract momentarily from the world spinning on its axis underneath my feet, most of which gets it all wrong. Perhaps that’s why I have to write. “You’re getting it all wrong. All of you.”

A boy at school choked Thomas this past Thursday. He wrapped his hands around my son’s neck and held him on the ground until he turned blue. Then, later, in the cafeteria, this common rat punk was overheard to have said, “I’m going to kill him.” Third grade is the new sixth grade. Or so I hear whenever I describe the degradation of our public schools to another slack-jawed, five-cent school bureaucrat. Such is life that our kids appear to be in more danger at school than anywhere else.

There are three ways out of the hell of being bullied and none of them are attractive. Perhaps you’ve forgotten. Or perhaps you never faced this problem. In either case, I can’t say we’d have much truck.

You tattle and get your ass handed to you later.

You fight and get your ass handed to you by the bully or by the school for fighting.

You give in to the notion that there are assholes and victims and you ended up on the wrong side of the coin (a small hint: there’s no right side).

I’m obviously inclined towards violent solutions, but such is my way. It got me far enough along, but it also caused silly grief, both in others and myself. I don’t think the system is on your side. The system is on its side. The system exists to preserve itself. It will help where it can help, but it does not foster pride or shame, it does not seek to solace or burn bright the embers of the human heart. It cannot or will not tell you how to build a friendship or seduce a woman or fend off life’s thousand cuts. It hands out notes. It writes memos. It consults. Not to belabor the point. John Grisham has made a fortune off such common sense.

The good news is that the offending child was suspended for four days. He will have to undergo some form of counseling and, should he threaten or harm my son again, he’ll sit out the rest of the school year. The bad news is that there will be more of this kind of kid and I have to get with the business of showing my son how to hold himself in a way that basically says, “Don’t try it, bud.” That’s a fine line and a difficult hat trick. Go too far (as I did) and you end up wooing the entire backbench of idiot sluggers. Don’t go far enough and you’re beat worse than you might’ve been had you let the whole thing go. The miserable fact is it’s all too soon for me. Thomas is a kind heart who prefers the solution of telling the teacher (which was OK as far as that sort of thing goes, but which isn’t so useful when you’re alone) or attempting to find the good in the other person. He is ceaselessly trying to make friends and he’s easily hurt or shamed. He wears everything on his sleeve. Today he told me he wasn’t so sure he believed in the Easter Bunny anymore, but he still definitely believes in Santa Claus. For these sentiments he’s repaid with smart-asses who call him names that would get a movie rated NC-17. You think I’m joking or exaggerating? [NC-17 alert] One kid called him a “useless cunt.” Try that mouth on for size. And this is a good school with good kids. I’m sure some people hear that last line and laugh. Maybe I’ll be one of them. There was some school not so long ago where the parents discovered the boys and girls were having orgies and giving each other herpes. It was a good school with good kids.

Here’s a blunt question: Why wouldn’t the parent(s) of this kid have him call Thomas and apologize? I think that’s what I’d do if one of our kids strangled somebody in the middle of their classroom. What’s happened to us? We don’t live in the same houses. We don’t share anything other than the faint praise we give to tribe-like justice on television.

So here I am having conversations I hoped to have a few more years to work out. Here I am telling my son to both tell the teachers in certain situations and, also, to protect himself in other situations. Every situation elicits its own response. Be smart. Don’t trust so much. I don’t want him endlessly tattling and I don’t want him punching the next girl who calls him a “motherfucker.” I want to try to understand what makes the bully tick. I want to listen to the possibility that his mother is a single mom and he’s angry with his dad for leaving. I want to call the parents and see if there’s any solution we can think of together (I’ll likely do this). I want, in essence, what Thomas wants: for all of us to get along. But there is a part of me that knows sometimes people are simply jerks and that this world is too full of them. There is a part of me that thinks none of this goes away until you establish your ground. And that ground is sacred. It takes a lot to punch somebody in the face. Sometimes the sooner you learn how much, the better.

“Too soon, too soon,” the beetle says to the crow. “Too soon, too soon,” the cliff says to the waves. “Too soon, too soon,” the sun says to the moon. “Too soon, too soon,” we say to each other.

I’m getting it all wrong.

content ©1998-2012 josh magnuson