Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Misfit, Part 1 of 2 Parts blog post #359
The Dreamcatcher-Courtesy of Free Stock
This week, my story comes in two parts. I confess to some trepidation in posting this story, as it involves “meeting yourself unexpectedly,” so to speak. And when a young man discovers things about himself, he doesn’t always accept them gracefully if they conflict with the way he believes things ought to be. Let’s see how John Running handles them.


The enraged youth stood motionless, absolutely rigid. Yet his body pulsed with fury. Legs planted, knees flexed, fists clenched, he made me consider the possibility this might become physical. Like most teachers, I often take on misfits as projects, but John Running had me stumped; I was ready to throw in the towel. Working with problem students had already cost me my marriage, no use letting this one pop a blood vessel.
I stared at the angry youth with no clear idea of what initiated this blowup. His failure to complete some homework had earned him an ass chewing, but when you broke the rules you expected to pay the consequences. John had taken it manfully but when I threatened to flunk him, he totally wigged out.
I wasn’t even certain why John Running kept hanging on. Two years older than most seniors in this southwestern high school, statistically he should have bailed a year ago. The kid was bright, but woefully lacking in the basics. His record showed a staggering number of schools he had attended in three different states. It was a miracle he’d only been held back two years.
Maybe it was because the kid was a Native American that I couldn’t connect with him. John looked like an exotic, athletic jock but he wasn’t. Despite his wiry runner’s build and his long swimmer’s torso, he didn’t participate in sports. While most high school kids were cautiously approaching the threshold of real manhood, John had already swaggered through—at least physically.
Unfortunately, physical maturity didn’t always translate into emotional and mental stability. The kid had a problem. He resented authority. No, he distrusted authority; not like a typical teenage rebel, but with a deep‑seated jaundice usually found in disillusioned men with midlife crises.
He should have been the most popular kid at school, at least with the girls. Handsome as an Irish devil, as my mother used to say. Carrying a hundred seventy pounds on a six‑foot frame, he had midnight black hair with highlights like glittering stars. Unblemished skin had never known acne. Muscled, hairless arms. A broad forehead, deep‑set eyes bigger than they ought to be, and lashes any girl would die for crowned a thin aquiline nose, wide mouth, and firm chin. “Fucking beautiful!” as one girl in the hall expressed it. Yet the other kids shied away, put off by a cold, callous attitude. Now the snapping black eyes leveled a gaze designed to intimidate me.
“Shoulda known you’d let me down too, motherfucker!” The boy’s voice came from deep in his throat.
“Don’t use language like that in my classroom, John. Clean it up or get out. But if you leave, you won’t pass. If you don’t pass, you won’t graduate.”
The youth swept his workbook to the floor and glared as if daring me to do something about it before stalking out of the room on long legs. I fought the urge to go drag the stubborn young man back. The kid had an affinity for the machines. Computers were his ticket to the future, but he habitually came to class unprepared. I’d worked with him all semester, allowing him extra time, tutoring him, feeling that he was making progress. Then this.
“Mr. Mason?” The voice was half‑apologetic, half‑hostile. “Sorry, I lost it. But you didn’t give me a chance to explain.”
“No excuses, John. You had an assignment and an obligation to complete it. I understand an occasional missed deadline, but it’s a way of life with you.”
The boy flushed but held onto his temper. “Sorry. Can I make it up?”
“Sit down and do it now, and I’ll accept it.”
“But, I’ll—”
“That’s it, John. It’s the only break you’ll get. I’ll be here for another hour or so. Do what you can in that time.”
Sullen again, John Running retrieved his book from the floor and took a seat at a PC, his face a dusky, frozen mask. I watched for a moment, struck by the power of the boy’s overwhelming masculine grace.

A somewhat grungy John dressed in the same clothes as yesterday was already at work in the lab when I arrived the next morning. That was out of character for him. So far as I could tell, he only had two outfits, but he rotated them and showed up scrubbed clean each day. By the time I stopped by his station, he’d washed up in the boy’s restroom. From his expression, he was expecting some grief; I tried to put him at ease.
“Just wanted to say yesterday’s behind us, John. You keep on working like you did today, and you’ll make it. You ought to come in early more often.” He gave me a funny look, nodded acknowledgement, and left.
Over the remainder of the week my misfit reverted to form. Friday, when John failed to turn in his assignment at the end of class, I detained him again.
“I couldn’t get to a machine,” he said before I spoke.
“Why didn’t you come in early?” I demanded. “You’ve done it before.”
“I couldn’t get a ride, Mr. Mason. I tried! I really did.”
“If you can’t get a ride, then walk, John. I’m not going to put up with this much longer.”
“But you don’t understand—”
“No, you don’t understand. Hand in the assignment Monday morning before eight o’clock or no grade. Is that understood?”
“Yes,” he replied sullenly. “Can I do it now?” he asked, leveling that dark gaze at me.
“I’m not staying late tonight. Look, I’ve got some work around the house tomorrow. Come over and you can use my machine.”

John showed up around mid-morning on Saturday and cast such intense glances around my modest little house that I wondered about his home. It wasn’t until then that I realized he probably lived on the reservation twenty miles to the south. Damn, that meant access to a computer was a real problem for the boy.
Finished with mowing the yard, I showered and shaved and pulled on a pair of denim cutoffs and a T‑shirt. I took a final glance in the mirror and wondered how I looked to that kid working on my computer. At twenty‑seven I wasn’t much older than he was. I was considered good looking, but my fair hair, tanned Caucasian skin, and green eyes paled in comparison to his dark, brooding looks.
John was ready for a break when I checked on him. We settled on the back patio to talk and nurse a couple of cokes. I learned that he did indeed live on the reservation and was dependent on others to get into town. My attitude mellowed a little.
I was strangely lonely when he left that afternoon. This kid was getting under my skin. As I watched him stride down the pavement, yearnings that I worked hard to keep in check bubbled to the surface only to be forced back into the dark part of my psyche once again. When he left that day, he’d only partially finished his assignment and promised to return again tomorrow.

I’d given up on John by the time he finally arrived Sunday afternoon looking disheveled again, not dirty but not totally clean either. He trailed the odor of alcohol behind him. “You been drinking, John?”
“Beer or two.” The words were slightly slurred. His look held an element of danger, so I backed off.
As I cleaned up around the house, I could see the boy was having trouble with his coordination. It was possible he was drunk. After ten minutes, his fumbling got to him. He became verbal and abusive. I lunged for him when he shoved the keyboard off the computer table. Bent on mayhem, he drew back his fist. I seized him from behind in a bear hug and swung him bodily away from the computer. Arms pinned; he struggled furiously. He was amazingly strong, but I had wrestled in college and was able to hold on until he collapsed, taking us to the floor in a heap.
“Leggo, dammit! Let me go, you fucking ape!” he cried, going limp. I lay atop him, aware that my hidden impulses were becoming ascendant. In spite of myself, I stirred. Suddenly, he twisted around so that we faced one another. His eyes were wild and out of focus.
“Calm down, John,” I said in an even voice as I lay atop him, my excitement becoming evident.
His dark eyes searched my face. “M-Mr. Mason, is there any way I can pass your class? Anything I can… do? I’ve gotta pass the course.”
I made a mistake then; I met his gaze and saw visions of mystic shamans and impish Irish devils. “John, I can help you. Make sure you pass. You’ll have to do the work, but I can make a machine available to you. Mine... here. You can stay overnight if it gets too late and you miss your ride. But....” My voice dried up. What I was thinking was monstrous, an abuse of my authority as a teacher.
He closed his eyes. “I understand.”


John says he understands, but does he? Intellectually, yes. But does he really comprehend the type of life Mr. Mason intends to show him? Tune in next week to find the answer.

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