Cole Parker’s

First Year

Foreword

I am telling this story from the perspective of years having passed since the occurrence of the events which will be herein related.  That of course means details have been lost to the mills of time, and as the some facts are thus fogged by the mists in my memories of those long ago and mostly forgotten years, so must be the emotions that accompanied them.

However, in my experience, the emotions we felt when we were young stay alive in our memories longer than do faithful, detailed recollections of what caused them.

What will follow here is mostly a recounting of a few of my first-year experiences at Banyard Preparatory Academy.  I don’t think I am stretching the truth to say that when I entered this school, I was a mess.  I was full of insecurities, fears and doubts.  But thinking back over my life, I’ve come to realize that it was my first year there—the things that happened and the people I met—that profoundly shaped who I was to become in life, and in fact were a seminal part of my journey to adulthood.

This will not be a day by day recounting of my life during that time.  Getting up in the morning, brushing my teeth, deciding on which color shirt to wear, these details are not only boring, they blend into the fabric of life as mundane trivia.  Instead, this will be an accounting of highlights of that year which now seems pivotal to me.  Hindsight tends to focus on what was important, even if at the time events occur one has no idea of what will be important, what will be memorable, and what will not.

Lucius Pallfry

Chapter 1
Welcome to Banyard

I was not a handsome boy.  Nature wasn’t feeling kind when it had outfitted me with a scrawny body and unprepossessing face, hair that refused to settle into any sort of kempt arrangement and ears that projected sideways like dish antennas.  Or maybe I was misreading how it all worked.  It might have been that Nature had only so much to choose from when it came to selecting individual parts when assembling a human structure, and I might have been an end-of-the-month, late-in-the-day, just-before-teatime—my mother was English, and ‘teatime’ had never quite left her vocabulary—rush-job creation formed while Nature was making do the best she could with the few spare parts left in the bin.  Perhaps I’d been assembled from the previously rejected parts set aside for disposal, that there’d been no comely ones left.  No one really knows how we all come to be who we are or what we look like.  But maybe Nature had been in a foul mood that day.  Maybe The Boss had given Nature a bad performance review and it was sulking, and I was the one to have to live with what resulted while it sulked.  No, I didn’t look like much.

In any case, perhaps due to a strained conscience, Nature appeared to have tried to balance the lack of winsome comeliness she had bestowed upon me by granting me a better-than-average mind and a quick tongue.  But I’d seen how that could be as challenging to a carefree childhood as narrow shoulders, thin arms, a look-away-quickly sort of face and an appalling deficit of physical courage.  Especially when dealing with other boys, singly or in groups.

Adults didn’t bother me all that much.  They went their way; I went mine.  Most adults didn’t bother with children much—not in a serious way—sweeping them under the rug with other bothersome detritus.  That was all right with me.  I didn’t take to them much, either.  Children and adults occupied separate worlds, each developing their own survival techniques.

But we were discussing my attributes, what there were of them.  Something I had going for me was a good grasp of the elements of English elocution and the wits to make it all work.  Not that that served a boy of thirteen well.  In many cases, it simply deepened the muddy hole he was usually mired in.  No one, adults or children, wants to put up with an impudent boy who can out-argue them.

This preamble sets the stage for what transpired on that warm August day when I set out to become a man.  It was not a journey I’d looked forward to.  I knew my limitations.  What boy who’s not athletic, not handsome, not brave and not likely to make any age-appropriate friends doesn’t?

No, I hadn’t been looking forward to this, but my mother, who loved me and felt she knew what was best for me, unfortunately—what mother doesn’t—was adamant.  She was going to throw me to the wolves.  Those weren’t the words she chose, but the meaning was clear to me.  I was going to enter an exclusive prep school for boys.  Before, I’d been home schooled after many unfortunate adventures in the public education system.  Home schooling was the eventual result of much tumult early on, many discussions with school administrators and teachers, and my mother’s getting tired of visiting my elementary and middle schools.  Her limo almost knew the route without Hodges driving her.

Home-school had been fine with me.  I’d learned what a boy of 11 and then 12 was expected to learn, academically, and in fact, with no other boys around to interfere, I went quite a bit further in my studies than anyone had thought possible.  I loved reading and had developed an extensive vocabulary.  Yet I’d learned to keep my joy of learning hidden to all but my tutors and mother, and nothing about me, other than my capricious use of a precocious vocabulary, had ever given anyone a twinkling of an idea I’d be capable of anything even pretending to be of an academic nature.  But I enjoyed the books and the learning and scholarship and the discussions and debates with the various tutors my mother supplied. 

I also enjoyed being at home and not getting waylaid and vanquished on the playgrounds, in the bathrooms and at the drinking fountains of my former schools; not all education in school is pleasant or painless.  Having me brought home more than once looking like I’d been in a bus crash worried my mother, and my subsequent curative resurrections weren’t all that much fun for me, either.  I found home-schooling was altogether a finer way of life.  I never felt any loneliness.  Well, not much.  I had my books and my hobbies, there was the staff on the estate to associate with, and a few of them were sociable.  I had the grounds as my own private playground, and as it was acres and acres—some of it wooded with a small creek running through—surrounded by a very comforting wall, I was quite satisfied with what I had.  Indeed, I had enjoyed life at home the past two years.

My mother didn’t like how I was growing up, however.  She wanted me to be with my peers.  She was fearful that my social graces weren’t being nurtured and lacked, well, grace.  Worried I’d grow up to be an anomic loner.  She wanted me in a school.  With kids.  Public or private, she didn’t care.  She’d leave that up to me.  But I had to pick a school.

We bickered, then fought about this.  I didn’t want to associate with my age mates.  I’d done that with disastrous results and didn’t want a second try at it.  She insisted.

Finally, shortly before schools returned to session, she told me we were going to visit Banyard Preparatory Academy, a school she thought would be perfect for me.  I had been expecting this.  She was on the board of directors of Banyard and was one of its major funders.  I had no way of refusing the visit.  We met the headmaster, a somewhat rushed-appearing but self-assured man who, in Mother’s presence, was, to my surprise, not a bit sycophantic.  He was a short man who’d moved past middle age, was balding and had friendly eyes, although when talking to him, I found his eyes never left mine, making it difficult for me to look away and so leaving me somewhat discomfited.

I’d had a quick look-see at the grounds and facilities.  I hadn’t been impressed.  Oh, it looked all right.  About what one would expect.  Spacious lawns of well-trimmed green grass, flower beds blooming in brilliant colors, large and leafy trees, buildings of a non-pretentious, Neo-Classical style scattered around in a somewhat random-appearing arrangement that was pleasing to the eye.  There was a large library and medical clinic with beds for sick or injured boys.  All in all, a place that looked like what it was: a high-priced, exclusive school for the children of the rich.  I could have expected to be happy there.  The fact was, however, that the headmaster had spoken lavishly, his pride obvious, when he’d shown the spectacular athletic fields and the modern, up-to-date gymnasium, the house for racing shells and sailboats, the swimming pool and locker room, the squash and racquetball courts, the tennis facilities.  I shuddered in trepidation.

Looking at the grounds, I couldn’t see anywhere that the boys could live.  There were no dormitories, not even a main dining hall.  I knew from reading the literature Mother had given me that the boys all lived in individual houses just off the main grounds.

The brochure said that this school emulated the British system where boys of all ages—the school educated children from the eighth grade through high-school graduation—lived together in houses, with house parents putatively in charge, but actually run by a hierarchy of boys.  The houses were not commingled with the school buildings per se but instead were located a short distance away.  The school was established in the countryside of western Massachusetts in the Connecticut River valley region.  The area was wooded, and the houses had been tucked into their surroundings such that each had its own small property, a certain degree of privacy and a feeling of seclusion from each other.  When one turned off the main road and entered through the gates of Banyard Preparatory Academy, the road changed from a Y into a V, the tail of the Y being the road one used to enter the property.  One leg of the V led to the school itself; the smaller leg brought you past each of the several boys’ houses in turn.  The houses, which I didn’t get to see on our short visit, were named after benefactors of the school, so had names like Bennington House, Culver House, Kennilworth House, Mason House, Lowell House.  There were several others as well.

The headmaster, Dr. Rettington, spoke of the houses when he was showing us around but apologized for not having the time to show them to me.  My mother had seen them as a matter of course consistent with her appointment onto the board of directors.  Dr. Rettington told me that the boys developed strong allegiances to their houses.  Competitions pitting house against house were of great communal interest and more intense than interscholastic meets the school was involved in, and the boys tended to take them seriously because they were proud of their houses.  Dr. Rettington’s enthusiasm while talking about them made my stomach curdle.  I’d tugged on my mother’s hand in alarm.  She’d pretended not to notice.

I went home from the visit absolutely certain Banyard wasn’t the place for me.  In the middle of nowhere, surrounded by boys who more or less ran the place, all I could think of was the book I’d read last year: Lord of the Flies.  I could well imagine there being tribes at the school, probably on a per-house basis, and I certainly would not be part of the ruling class: I was not a hunter; I didn’t want to be one.  I had no intention of ever becoming a savage.

I made my feelings known to my mother.  She smiled, and a week later a packet came to me in the mail.  I was to room and board in The Culver, which Mother assured me was a wonderful house, perhaps the finest at the school.

That was when I put my foot down.  I was not going to Banyard.  Period, end of debate.  Now the fights increased in intensity, volume and frequency.  I used my entire bag of tricks.  They were presented in phases: absolute rejection of the idea, followed by screaming and yelling and door slamming, then by pouting, then by silence in her company.  There were no salutary effects, however.  Nothing worked.  She was convinced as only adults can be when dealing with their children that she knew best, that this would be good for me, but, bowing slightly to my fears, she did advance the calm palliative that, as she was on the board of directors of the school, she could easily ensure that nothing untoward would happen to me.  This did nothing to assuage my dread.  I argued, screamed and otherwise expressed my agitation.

I fought the good fight, but not only was it in vain, it had a worsening effect on my situation.  That was because, when she finally decided enough was enough and that I was going whether I liked it or not, we were already three weeks into the school term.  I’d be entering late.  She said that would be no problem because I was already ahead of my class year in my studies, so I’d have no problems in that regard.  She wasn’t thinking at all about how I’d be a newcomer when all the other newcomers had already been absorbed by the school community.  Routine assimilation would not mark my entry into Banyard society.

This was going to be terrible.

It wasn’t that Mother was uncaring of my concerns or unsympathetic; it was just that awful affliction she had—that feeling that she knew what was best for me—that was to do me in.

The day had come.

It was a warm Saturday in September.  I was riding in a taxicab up the lengthy driveway that led to Banyard Academy, the tail stroke of the Y.  The driver came to where the road split into a V and turned to ask me which house I wanted.  I’d just told him Banyard Prep.

“It’s The Culver House,” I said.  My voice was a little shaky, and higher pitched than usual.  I was getting in a state.  I knew it would be difficult to climb out of the car.

The cab pulled up to the first house we came to.  It was large, as I expected that perhaps as many as 40 boys lived there, along with the house parents.  It was a rambling place, three stories high with lots of windows.  It was painted an attractive grayish-green color with white trim, white shutters and white railings on the porches. Surrounding the house were tidy lawns, front and sides, and they were backed by bushes and trees—lots and lots of trees.

I suppose the place looked cheerful as well as rather elegant, but I barely noticed.  What I was focused on were the front steps on which sat a handful of boys.  All watching the cab.  All to be watching me when I got out.

“Thirty-seven fifty,” the cabbie said, turning off the meter.

I reached for my wallet, then hesitated.  I was in no mood to argue with anyone, but at least this was an adult.  I had no problem with adults.  They didn’t reach out and sock you for no reason.  “Uh, I was told it would be twenty-five.”  My voice still was betraying my emotions.

He pointed to the meter.  “Thirty-seven fifty.  With a small tip, we could call it forty even.”  His emphasis on the ‘small’ was explicit.

I was intimidated enough by the boys sitting there, watching.  There seemed to be a predatory presence in their collective mien.  I wasn’t going to let this man daunt me as well.  “You’ve got a radio, don’t you?  Please call in and ask someone.  I was told that Banyard students got a flat rate for a cab ride from the station to the school.”

He stared at me for a moment, then picked up his radio transmitter and called in.  I heard the squawked reply.  “He’s right, Barney.  Twenty-five, and no tip.  When he pays, you take three dollars out of that as your tip.”

I was too nervous about what would be coming when I got out of the cab to smile, but did feel vindicated.  I handed him a twenty and a five, he apologized, saying he’d just started that week and I was his first fare to the school, and no one had told him.  So that was that.  He got out, pulled my large suitcase from the trunk, and after some courage-screwing, I opened my door and stepped out to face whatever awaited my arrival.

▪▪▪▪

I walked up the sidewalk leading to the steps, about a twenty-yard walk.  The faces I was nearing weren’t the slightest bit welcoming.  The boys ranged in age from my own, thirteen, all the way up to possibly eighteen.  I wasn’t sure.  They were all seated, making their size problematic.  They were all arranged on the steps leading up to the front porch, some sprawling, some leaning back so their elbows were on the step behind them.  Together, they took up the entire area.  I had no where to go.  There wasn’t room to climb the steps.  I stopped, facing them.

“What have we here, then?”  It was a curly-haired boy who spoke.  Black uncombed hair, a stern expression, one of the older boys.  In fact, he was sprawled in the middle of the group, on the middle step, taking up about twice the room he needed.  He was evidently the leader.

I wasn’t sure how to answer.  I hated questions that had no obvious answers.  Like when meeting someone who’d say, cheerily, “Hey, whadda ya think?” or “What’s up?”  How was I supposed to answer that?  This was the same sort of thing.  He knew what he had here: a smallish, unimpressive looking, somewhat scared and obviously timid young boy.

So I didn’t.  Answer.  My suitcase was getting heavy, so I set it down.  Stood there.  Silent.  Watching them as they assessed me.  Anticipating whatever my doom was to be.

Another boy spoke up.  He had impish eyes.  Well, I actually thought them devilish, but I was on uncertain ground here and so thought I should give the doubt I felt the best possible complexion.  Some people probably found those eyes cute.  Some people.  “I think he’s a traveling salesman, Frank.  You know, the kind who sleeps with the farmer’s daughter?”

Frank sneered.  “You sleep with farmer’s daughters, kid?  I doubt you got the sack for that.”

That was addressed to me.  I didn’t answer.  The kid in front of me went on, speaking to them all, but mostly Frank.  “He’s got his wares in that carryall he lugged up here.  The way he was carrying it, maybe he’s an encyclopedia salesman.  That it, kid?  You selling encyclopedias?  We ain’t buyin’ no encyclopedias!”

He didn’t grin at me with his face, but his eyes were laughing.  This was some sort of clown, I decided.  But no one was laughing, and I certainly didn’t feel doing so.

There was more silence, and then a kid on the top step—one with a severe expression, looking like he hadn’t smiled since he was about six, if he even had then—said, “He asked you a question, numbnuts.”

The entire group was glaring at me.  I felt like turning around and walking away, but where would I go?  And the suitcase was too heavy to carry very far.

I sort of looked vaguely at no one and said, “No.”

A kid in the front row said, “No?  What the bloody Jesus does that mean?  Speak up, and say ‘sir’ when you’re addressing your betters, which is any and all of us.  But for Christ’s sakes, don’t be so ambidextrous.”

“Ambiguous,” corrected a smallish boy, not much larger than I was.  He was sitting on one edge of the group, near the top.  The boy he corrected didn’t even look at him.  I guessed maybe this smallish kid did that a lot.  Maybe he was the brains of the outfit.

“What’s your name, numbnuts?” asked the guy who’d called me that before.

I hated telling people my name.  I thought for a moment of making a name up but knew the house parents had my real name and would call me that.  Making up one now might just lead to further grief in the future.  Might as well get it over with now.

“Ardmore,” I said softly.

“Ardmore?”  Frank was back to having his say.  “What the hell is an Ardmore?  Oh, that’s your last name, huh?  And weren’t you told to say ‘sir’?  We don’t like to have to repeat things.  I can tell you’re sort of slow, but try to remember things, huh?”

I looked down.  “No,” I said again.  “S-s-sir.

“It isn’t your last name?  Or are you still going on about peddling anvils?  Joe’s right, you are an ambidextrous little snot.”

“Ambiguous, Frank.  Ambiguous.”  From the little kid on the edge.

Frank didn’t pay him any mind.  Instead, he sat up a little straighter.  “That your first name?  That’s the worst name I’ve ever heard.  What’s the rest of it?”  He turned to address the others. “This is going to be spectacular.”

I didn’t raise my head.  “Ardmore Lucius Pallfry, sir.”  OK, now they could laugh.

“Lucius?  As in luscious?  Hey, at least we know what to call you now.  Luscious Lucius!  Man, if ever there was a kid who shouldn’t be called ‘luscious’, you’re it!”

All of them were laughing.  Go ahead, I thought.  This was nothing I hadn’t gone through before.  Laughing was better than being beaten up.  Not a lot better, but some.

“Hey, I want to hear his salesman’s spiel.”  This was devilish eyes, the clown again.  “Go ahead, Luscious.  Sell me something.”

“Later, Curt,” said Frank.  “We got more important business with him.”

I tried to meet Frank’s eyes, then any of their eyes.  I didn’t see anyone who looked the least bit friendly.  So, feeling very alone and a little shaky, I sort of focused on the entire group as a whole and didn’t speak to anyone in particular.  “I’m just here to get assigned a room.  I was assigned to Culver House.  Can I get by, please?”

Frank looked around at his housemates, then back to me.  “We’re the welcoming committee, and you haven’t been welcomed yet,” he said in an unfriendly voice.

“I’m not sure we want you here.  Actually, I’m pretty sure we don’t.  I don’t think you’ll fit in at this house.  Whadda ya think, Frank?”  This from the numbnuts guy.  He looked a bit dangerous with hard eyes and no empathy.

“I don’t think so, either,” Frank said to the hard-eyed, numbnuts guy.  “Can you see him trying to go against Cam from the Bennington?  He’d annihilate him.”  Then he turned to me.  “We still haven’t heard enough ‘sirs’ when you speak.  Are we going to have to pound that into you?”  Frank pushed himself up so he was sitting straight, not leaning back on his elbows.  I could see he’d be pretty tall, standing.  Much bigger than I was.

The mood seemed to change a little with that threat.  They all seemed to come together and tighten their ranks.  Where the mood hadn’t been light before, it hadn’t been severe, either.  Now it was.  I started to tremble.  I could feel something coming.

The smallish kid who’d known ambidextrous from ambiguous stood up.  “I think I’d like to see what Luscious is peddling.”

The others made way for him to work his way down the steps.  I’d been right.  He was about my size, maybe even a tad shorter.  About my age, too.  But where I was scared and trembling, he was all confidence.  He looked like he’d be at ease facing off against an army of Huns.

He made his way to my suitcase, gave it a kick so it fell over on its side, then, looking back at the other boys, ignoring me, said disparagingly, “Look.  Straps!  How fancy is this one?”  Meaning me.

It was one of my father’s handsome leather suitcases.  I didn’t like him treating it like that.  But what could I do?

He loosened the straps, then tried the latches.  They were locked.

He stood up and came over to face me.  “The key,” he said and held out his hand.

He was forcing me to stand up for myself.  I never did that.  Now, the trembling got a little more pronounced.  I looked from him to the boys on the steps.  They glared back at me.  Expressionless.

“Hey!” The boy in front of me didn’t like me looking away from him.  And he didn’t like it that I wasn’t handing over the key, either.  “I told you to give me the key.  What’s wrong?  You deaf?  They didn’t just send us just a mouse, did they?  They would try to send us a deaf mouse!”  Then he reached up and shoved me, pushing my shoulder, hard.

I stumbled back a step, just keeping my balance.  He stepped forward and shoved me again.  I was expecting it this time and didn’t stumble.

He looked back at the others, a grin on his face.  “Hey, this one really is a chicken.  Look at this,” and he shoved me again.

“Hey, Joe, let up on him.”  I wanted to see who’d spoken, but Joe was now right in my face, and I couldn’t see anything but his eyes.  They were flashing, eager for what was happening, and not a bit attractive.

Whoever had spoken kept going.  “You don’t want to get into it with him.  Wouldn’t be fair.  Let me do it.  I haven’t been in a fight all summer.  I’m out of practice.  He looks like good warmup material.  I want to see if I can still break a jaw with just one punch!  Let me do it.”

Joe backed off from me a step and half turned.  I could see again, and now the curly-haired leader, Frank, spoke to me again.  “We like to be fair here, Luscious.  Who’d you rather fight?  You get to choose: Joe or Teddy?  Either of them will probably put you in the hospital, but Teddy would do it quicker.  Joe likes to take his time with his opponents.  You know you’ll have to fight someone before you go up these steps.  Now or later.  Up to you.”

“I’m not going to fight either of them.”  I’d finally found my tongue.  My voice was shaky, but at least it still worked.  “I came here to check in, find my room, and go to school here.  Not to fight anyone.  You guys—leave me alone.”

“Doesn’t work that way,” Frank said.  “Got to earn your way into this house.  You’re already two strikes down because you can’t remember to say ‘sir’, and you let Teddy get away with challenging you to a fight without any response, and you said you wouldn’t fight.  Joe’s already pushed you around, and you let him.  We don’t got no wimps or cowards living here.  Just real men.  Now I suggest you either pick one of these two and accept the fact they’re going to kick the snot out of you or give Joe the key and hope for the best.  Maybe he or Teddy’ll change his mind about the fight.  I doubt it.  It’d be a miracle, but you never know.  No one gets in this house before we see what they’re made of.”

I thought probably my trembling would be noticeable by now, but if so, no one seemed the least bit put off by it.  One thing I knew: I wasn’t going to fight anyone.  I just wasn’t.

I’d been beaten up on numerous occasions before my mother saw the light, and the one or two times I’d tried to fight back, it had been worse.  Considerably worse.  So I’d given that up.  I simply didn’t fight.  Usually, that resulted in getting hit once or twice, me falling down or running away, and that was it.  Not a bit fun, not a bit good for the old ego, but survivable without a prolonged stay in the emergency ward.

So, I did what I had to do.  I just stood there.  Joe looked me in the eyes, then shook his head, come over to me and reached in my pockets, found the key, took it out and showed it to the other boys.  They applauded.

Joe had a gleeful look on his face.  For the first time, he looked his age.  But just as quickly, he wiped the smile off his face, gave me a baleful stare, sort of fake lunged at me and laughed when I jerked back.  Then he stooped down and unlocked my suitcase.

I had no idea what was in there.  My mother had had our upstairs maid pack it.  I hoped it was just clothes.  That would be bad enough, having all my clothes pulled out for inspection and ridicule.

What Joe found, however, was about the worst thing that could have been there.

When I was four, my dad gave me a teddy bear for my birthday.  I had loved that thing.  It was my best and truest friend.  It was what I turned to when unhappy, even as I got too old for it.  When I’d get beaten up, I’d resurrect it from the closet and sleep with it, even when I was 11 and 12.  When Dad got killed — he was an officer in Army Intelligence, a colonel, and was given some pretty dangerous, secret assignments; he didn’t return from one when I was 10—the teddy bear was what I treasured most of the things he’d given me.  That teddy bear had meant so much to me growing up.  To tell the truth, it still meant a lot in a last-vestiges-of-childhood sort of way.  But I certainly hadn’t wanted it to come to Banyard with me.

Joe’s eyes lit up like arc lights.  “OH, NO!” he cried.  Using only the tips of his fingers and with a look of horrified disgust on his face, he picked the bear up by pinching it between finger and thumb, just barely touching a bit of its fur.  “Someone get a shovel!  We have to bury this!”

I was stuck.  I didn’t want him to have, even to touch, that bear.  But I knew if I put up a protest, yelled at him, lunged at him to get it back, it would be a lot worse.  Then they’d have a game to play with my teddy bear in the middle.  No, I’d be better off just being stoic.  Whatever happened then, at least I wouldn't be promoting it.

Joe tossed the bear toward the steps.  One of the boys caught it.  I couldn’t look as the boys began throwing it between them, and so I focused on Joe instead.  He was busy taking out clothing, unfolding it, then tossing it high in the air so each piece landed helter-skelter on the sidewalk and lawn.  Then he stopped.

“What’s this?” he asked, and picked up a picture the maid had put in the middle of all the clothing to protect it.

It was the picture I’d kept on my nightstand, next to my bed.  It was of dad, in his dress uniform, wearing the silver star on a ribbon around his neck.  It was framed in gold and had glass over the picture to protect it.  My two most important treasures were the picture and the teddy bear.

My dad had been in and out of my life as I’d grown up.  He was a high-ranking officer in Army Intelligence, and while most of the clandestine work done by his service was done by junior men, occasionally an older man was needed.  Every year or so, he’d be gone for some time, a month or more, and would come back a little thinner, looking tired and haggard.  I was always worried during those times because I knew he was in danger, but young kids who have their mothers with them cope with many things, and their fathers being in danger was just one more thing.

When he wasn’t away on assignment, he’d be off to committee meetings in Washington or at various bases.  We—Mother and I—could have lived with him when he was transferred around, but she wanted more stability than that for me, and so we stayed on her parents’ estate.  They died when I was young, and the house then belonged to my mother.  It was a mansion; my grandparents had been very rich.

So I saw less of my father than I wished; I wished for more, because he loved me profoundly, as I did him.  The last time I saw him, he came to my bed, sat on the edge and gave me the picture that was in the suitcase.  He set it on my nightstand and told me it would look over me till he returned.  He said this would be the end of his career; he was retiring after this, and what he was looking forward to most was spending more time with me, having fun with me, just us two being together, talking and learning from each other.  In the meantime, I’d have the picture to look at every night so I could think of him while falling asleep.

That picture was what I had to remember him by. To me, it was sacred.

“What’s that?” Frank asked, standing up.

“Give that back,” I said.  My voice was really shaking now.  Joe took a glance at me, then turned back to Frank.

“Just a picture of some funny looking dude wearing a costume.  Here.” And Curt tossed the picture to Frank, who wasn’t able to catch it.  It fell to the ground, and the glass front shattered.  When Frank came forward to pick it up, he managed to step on it, grinding some of the broken glass into the photograph.

I was stunned.  While I was looking at the wreck of the picture and the mess of my clothes lying strewn out around us, I heard, “OOPS!” and looked up to see two boys holding my teddy bear, one the head, the other the body.  They’d been playing tug of war with it, and had come apart and now the stuffing was spilling out.  Both boys began laughing.

It was all too much.  The intimidation, the threats, the promise of a fight, their eagerness to hurt me, the destruction of my property, the lack of any humanity in any of them.  I had a quick flash of how it would be living with them, of putting up with this sort of demeaning behavior day after day, of what my life would be like.

I didn’t know what to do; I was shaken to my soul; maybe this was what it was like to go into shock.  I just stood there, and my feelings seemed to intensify as the laughter and jibes continued around me.  There must have been something in my face then because the laughter and noise all slowly abated.  The boys were all looking at me, and many of their faces showed contempt.

I’m not proud of it, but I couldn’t stop myself.  My feelings peaked, and I lost all control of myself.  I sank to my knees, and then the tears came.  I covered my face with my hands and just cried.  Then I began sobbing—horrible, howling sobs.  I don’t know how long I cried, but it continued long enough that I was exhausted when I stopped.

When I finally was able to begin to regain control of myself, which was accompanied by terrible wrenching heaves of my chest, I was sure quite some time had passed.  I found I was lying in the grass, curled up into myself.  I was weak from the spent emotions and almost dizzy when I tried to stand.  It was then that I noticed the boys were gone, all but one.  The boy with the devilish eyes was still there, looking unsettled.  He was stuffing my clothes back in my suitcase.  Unfolded, they didn’t even start to fit.  The tatters of my bear and the remains of my photograph lay where they’d been abandoned.

I made it all the way up onto my feet.  The boy looked at me, but I looked away from him, and before he could say anything, if he had been going to, I just turned around and started to walk back up the sidewalk, stumbling and weaving a bit at first before getting my legs under me, and leaving the suitcase and my now-ruined, precious mementos of my childhood behind, lying on the ground.