Running Toward

I could already run faster than all the kids my age, in short bursts of fifty yards or at distances over two miles. I ran everywhere, all the time, so it was never a stretch for me to just break into stride. At eleven years old, I was a skinny kid with chicken legs and a terrible nickname; Pinhead, but when it came to running I had some prowess. In a pinch, I could out run bikes or cars for at least a block, even without the blue cape and gold S.
Playing football with neighbourhood kids, a fake to the left and a move to the right and I could burst past any defender even the teenagers and if the quarterback would have thrown in my direction more often, we would have scored more often. My delusions of grandeur were pretty strong, even then, as I imagined leading team after team in game after game to victory.There was the occasional pass thrown my way and with average hands, I held onto more than half the attempts. My memories are clouded by the silver lining of my imagination so I’m not sure if I scored 5 touchdowns that summer or fifty.
I appreciated my running ability and mostly I remember it was grudgingly admired by my dad. He didn’t say much to make me feel good, nothing really, but he didn’t make fun of me on this subject. Three incidents in 1965 made me believe that he was at least aware that I ran.
You have already heard the Kevin punching bag story – so here are two more.
I was playing organized football with the Demolay Knights, – uniforms, helmets, yard markers and referees meant it was organized and real. I was a real football player. Practice was every second evening and I ran or biked the three miles across Coronation Park to join the coaches and team. On Monday and Wednesday, the coaches tried to get all of us to play most of the positions in practice, except quarterback, and then assign us to a spot for the Friday games. It was surprising that I was often assigned to a lineman’s position – center or tight end. Surprising because of the skinny chicken leg thing and skinny little arms to match. There were a few kids that played both sides of the ball in important spots. The QB, Garnet, doubled as a linebacker, the safety was a wide receiver and I got into the games as a linebacker, either corner or middle for about half the defensive plays. I asked myself hopefully “Did this mean I was one of the important players?”

One Friday, we had a game at a field in the south against some kids from Lakeview – while we didn’t spit when we said their name, there wasn’t any love lost between Northenders and Southies. I was thrilled to hear my number called for offence, defense, and kick return. There was a chance that my speed might be put to use and the dream of crossing the goal line and hearing cheers would be real. On the opening kickoff, the Knights won the toss and were to receive the ball and my anticipation turned to dread. I willed the kicker to drive the ball to the players on the opposite side of the field. I wasn’t ready. Behind my face mask, my eyes were wide, my nostrils were flaring and hearing my heart beating inside my head was new. My worst fear didn’t happen until the third quarter. After Lakeview scored to go ahead the kicker booted the ball directly at me. Jumping out of the way wasn’t a serious option so I caught it. Considering that I had darted and deked my way down the playground field in tag football without even being touched, it was disconcerting to not know what I should do after I caught the kick. Frozen, deafened, panicked I saw a wall of blue charging towards me. There didn’t appear to be any other gold jerseys on the field. I was alone, it was up to me alone. The sea raced closer and just as the wave was about to smother me my body took over in rebellion to my brain. Out of instinct and distinct imaginings, my chicken legs started pumping. Left loop, shuttle step, deke right, fake left, jump, dance the sidelines and the roar stopped. My head became clear, I was in the end zone with the referee signaling touchdown. Have you noticed how that signal looks like the Internet shorthand lol? But it wasn’t a joke it was for real. The ball dropped to the turf and I nonchalantly jogged to the bench. Two back slaps and a swat on the butt and the game went on.

‘Beast’ would be the best description of me for the rest of the game. Confidence borne out of success had me knocking kids down blocking and tackling like a madman. The QB threw three passes my way, as tight end, for long gains and I ended up in the end zone one more time. It felt like I had arrived. I belonged. I was an important kid. Nothing gushy, or over the top happened. I wasn’t carried off the field by my teammates and sadly I don’t remember the score or the outcome. I like to think we kicked some Lakeview butt.

On Monday afternoon, my mom shouted out the back door. “ Bobby, Bobby”. It wasn’t near supper time. What did she need me to run and get from the corner store? Cigarettes? Can you imagine that I could buy cigarettes just by saying “my mom sent me” for Player’s Filter or Buckingham if my dad was out.No avoiding her voice or her beckoning or there would be a reckoning. I was at the door in a flash and ready to dash to wherever was needed. “ Come in, your dad and I have to tell you something.” An immature mind can concoct a story from a few facts and suspicious tone but in the next three seconds, my brain couldn’t even imagine what was coming. ” Had they discovered something that I had done or not done?” Did my sister rat me out and tell them that I had punched her on the arm?”

“ Your coach called and invited you and your dad to attend a Saskatchewan Roughriders’ luncheon on Friday. Some of the players and coaches will be there and you are going to receive an autographed football and a trophy for your play in the game last week” Stunned, all I could think was ‘dad won’t be able to go, he was at work, he had never seen me play so mom would need to take me’. That would be okay, I guess. Suprisingly, he smiled and said, “ I am going to talk to my foreman and arrange to take a long lunch so I will meet you at the hall”.
Was this going to be a turning point in father/son relations? No. Was he proud of me? I think so? Did he make it to the luncheon? Yes. Running had opened a door that never quite seemed wide enough for either of us to go through. I was running towards something but had no clue what the destination looked like.

The fall of 1965 stretched summer even as the leaves changed – Indian Summer we called it. At 11, Mom added some responsibility to my week. I was in charge of the feeding, walking, and cleanup for Scamp, a lovable if headstrong Cocker Spaniel. For the most part, I fit Scamp into my day when it was convenient for me not him. One Friday, I was supposed to get to MacLeod’s Department store about 10 blocks from home to pick up food and then do the pooper scooper duty in the back yard. Harvey, Brian, Gary and I ducked behind the school to talk about girls and plot our Saturday adventure. Time evaporated and it was 5:30 when I felt the money tucked deep in the front pocket of my jeans. In those days, the sidewalks were rolled up at 6, on the dot and didn’t open again until 9 the next morning. “ Gotta run” I blurted as I bolted across the school yard, hoping I could get the dog food before it closed and all the while planning my excuse for not doing what I was supposed to do. “ I twisted my ankle and couldn’t walk. Harvey’s mom needed me to help her. We were working on a school project” would all be susceptible to interrogation and simple investigation. My pace increased. Running against two deadlines store closure and supper, was exhilarating or it would have been if the tension of disappointing my mom wasn’t so high.

The fretting was unwarranted. I was at the till dog food and change in hand with ten minutes to spare. Now to race the supper clock which was easier to explain away when I was carrying the big bag. Still, the urgency compelled me to hurry. Through the inside door of MacLeod’s and a quick turn to exit through the outside doors. My head stung, my ribs hurt, my eyes were closed and I was outside with a 20-foot high glass window shattered around me. I had walked through the window without slowing down. Two shoppers; mothers I didn’t recognize, stared agape at my stunned face. Anxiousness leaped to panic and I swung the bag to my shoulder and raced, faster than I had ever run, across the parking lot. My right foot hit the top of the back step before I thought of anything but escape. “ What the hell.” Was my dad’s first response as I burst through the door and then “ what’s wrong?” My face and the blood dripping down my forehead had betrayed me and all the facts of the past 30 minutes poured itself out.
“ I forgot to get Scamp’s food. Ran to MacLeod’s and got the bag. Was thinking about supper. Walked through a window. Ran home.” I huffed realizing that I was red-faced from embarrassment and winded from the tension.

“ What did the manager say?” my dad demanded. What was he thinking? The manager didn’t say anything because I got the hell out of there before I was recognized. “ I didn’t stick around to find out” I boasted and realized immediately that instead, it should have sounded like a confession. “We have to go back. You need to tell him what happened”. New panic swelled. I don’t remember the long walk with my dad beside me or what the manager said except “ I am glad you are okay. We were worried that you were injured”. Running away from the fear of reprisal lead to running away from fear of getting caught, both deeply rooted in my imagination alone.

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Running Away

At the beginning of grade 7 , in 1966, my class moved to another school, not that far away but a world apart from what we knew. It had a reputation as a tough school with tough kids, ready to fight at a drop of a hat. Why dropping a hat would start a fight was a mystery to me but I didn’t dare ask for fear of starting an all out war. Twenty-five kids joining a new school gave us an awkward comfort. At least we knew each other and could rally together if we didn’t understand the rules de jour. I was sure from the first moment that one of the regular kids was waiting to pounce on one of us (me) with fists flying and feet kicking. It turned out that they were more curious and cautious than cranky and cruel. By mid-September, we were fitting in and I had a couple new east-side friends. We were all north end kids so we had that in common. Instead of twenty-five possible friends, there were now seventy-five candidates and I apparently was good at breaking the ice so I knew the names of about a dozen. The big surprise was that there were really more fish in the sea. For five years Patty had ignored and rejected my overtures and now there were thirty-two potential girlfriends. Early on Marion was the one who caused my heart to beat faster than after running 3 miles. I had never seen or met a redhead before but I managed to be in the same place as her, after watching for four days, at the morning recess. I used the ‘ we know each other but you don’t remember’ approach. Just join in and never let on that she hasn’t been introduced. Turned out she was gracious, kind and popular as well as stunning. She allowed my feigned attempt at nonchalance and it turned out that she did know my name. “ Bobby, what are you doing tonight? It’s Friday, any party plans?” I had never been to what could be described as a party or what I imagined she meant as a party. Boys and girls together, dim light basement rumpus room, music playing and some quiet necking. I wasn’t sure what or how necking happened but I was very interested, especially with Marion or even Patty. “No.” I stuttered. “Too bad.’ she replied letting me off the hook.

For the next week, I managed to be where she was for ten recesses. She went home for lunch like the rest of us and I didn’t dare follow as we lived on opposite sides of Broad Street. The weekend became painful as I anticipated 10:15 on Monday morning and our next contact. The first Monday in October something changed, Kevin appeared at our rendezvous. He had made a name for himself. I had heard about him, even before we made the move to the new school. One story was that he had been caught smoking cigarettes, that he had ‘lifted’ from the corner store. He wouldn’t have been caught at all except that smoking in the front entry of a public school still drew a crowd (even on 1966). They had been at a party together on Saturday and hooked up (whatever that meant). I don’t know the definition of hooked up but it was clear they were a couple now. I was devastated but optimistic. “He was sure to be sent back to Juvie.” was my expectation and hope. He wouldn’t be a threat for long and I just needed to stay below his radar.

Remembrance Day came and went; Kevin had stayed out of trouble and was still around Marion all the time, all the damn time. At Thursday afternoon recess, I saw a window open. There she was standing close to the wall on the west side of the school, shivering a bit and looking sad. “ Are you okay?” I tentatively offered. She looked me in the eye and started to cry. I couldn’t understand much of what she was saying between sobs. “ He…pushed .. I said no …love… rough… no … gone”. I pieced a story together that I still don’t know if any of it was accurate, and wrapped my arms around her in a consoling hug. She leaned in and sobbed harder and said “ grmpf …why…bph …snrk … Fankyou”. My imagination was too undeveloped to make a story from that but I didn’t care because here I was at 11 years old with the girl of my dreams in my arms. Life couldn’t get any better. My heart was racing, my brain was racing, I was on cloud nine. Thud. I felt a sharp pain on the right side of my head.” What the fuck are you doing?” rang as I fell to the ground. Pandemonium broke out as Marion tried to explain that we were friends and I was helping. I tried to insert that “ she was sad and crying ..” Kevin kept shouting “ what the fuck? I am going to kick your ass”. “ He pushed Marion away and kicked me in the ribs as he turned away. After two steps he swiveled towards me and said “ After school, you and me. Be there you chickenshit”.

Embarrassed, afraid, and with my ears ringing I spent the rest of the afternoon in panic mode. By four o’clock everyone in the school knew there would be a fight just outside the west gate. I was determined not to flee. I thought I could explain that nothing was going on and that Kevin and his gang would say okay and leave me alone. I didn’t understand that power could come from mindless violence and bravado.

At five after four, most of the grade 7 and eight kids were waiting by the fence. As I approached I couldn’t make out faces, the all blurred into a mass. I saw Kevin and a blob behind him and Marion standing just outside the blob. I had no blob with me. I was walking into this alone. I still fought to believe that I could use words to get out of this. Assuming a subservient posture, head down looking at the ground I started “ Kevin, you don’t understand” Boom he was on top of me, pummeling my shoulders and chest with punches working his way to my head. I wriggled and squirmed and made noises that shouldn’t come out of a boy becoming a man. “ Fight back, kick him, swing, do something” echoed in my head and yet I squirmed and squealed. I squeezed out from under him and in my head started with the explanation again. My brain said “if he comes at you again, kick him in the balls” I heard the blob chant “ fight, fight, fight” and one small voice say “ that’s enough”. My brain and body weren’t working under the same plan because as my brain was saying fight my legs were saying flight and I flew. I flew, like a chicken, west down 4th Avenue towards home with my assailant and two others following. I had a head start because my escape and choice to run had left them surprised. The other kids must have been too humiliated on my behalf to join the chase. I knew with the five-second lead I could out run them to home. No thought of tomorrow or the next day was in my brain just immediate survival. I added distance between us as my legs moved faster than ever before. Down the street, across the field with the three of them in pursuit. I could see the front of my house. There was someone looking out the window as I crossed the last street. I took the three steps to the stoop in one jump and didn’t look back until the door slammed behind me.

“ Get back out there and either fight like a man or take your lumps” shouted my dad. He was spitting his words and was visibly shaken by my retreat. “ But” started to go through my head but his eyes assured me that no logic or plea was going to change his mind. Resigned, I stepped back out into the cold.

I got in one or two punches and received a shiner, a bloody mouth, and bruised ribs and for the next month undying silent ridicule from my classmates, Marion, and my dad. Kevin did go back to juvenile detention and eventually, the vividness of my cowardice faded. I never waited for recess again. For the next two years, I lived in the shadows, alone. I didn’t relive the experience or dream about a different outcome. I went to school, did okay, went home, waited until the next morning and repeated yesterday.

A Knight’s Tale

After ten weeks in grade 4, I had figured out a pattern that made me popular or at least not unpopular. Being a teacher’s kid wasn’t as bad as a pastor’s kid but I was always viewed with a little suspicion. ” He might tell his mom.” ” Bobby is coming, don’t let him see it”. It made it difficult to be part of a group and impossible to get a girlfriend (whatever that meant). Patty and Diane, two very cute girls, didn’t reciprocate any of my clumsy advances but there were a couple of other boys who would run to the far corner of the playground with me and sit watching the girls giggle at us oogling them. Crossing the monkey bars, two hand holds at a time and shinnying up the swing standard had given me some credibility with Brian and Allan and instilled some awe in the grade 2 kids. For north end kids, all we had was name and reputation.

Life for kids was far more disorganized then, and way more fun. No teacher picked teams at recess for baseball or hit fly balls for Shag or explained the rules for freeze tag or fretted about boys being boys (or girls being boys). Life was simpler. You knew who liked you. You knew who you hoped would like you. You knew who didn’t like you and you shunned them just like they were avoiding you. Feelings got hurt all the time. Kids pushed each other and name called. Kids got knicks, and bled and bumps and bruises appeared and disappeared. Kids learned a lot.

November 1963 had been chilly, dipping to -20C ( 4 below on the old scale) and winter felt like it was edging in early. Well, maybe not early because my memory serves up many Halloweens with snow covering the lawns and eggs freezing on windows. Regardless, the weather hadn’t gotten frigid enough to confine the 200 kids in the basement at lunch and recess. That only happened when they were really afraid that one of us would get frostbite or stick our tongue to the bootscraper, on a dare. After all the teachers needed a coffee and a smoke in the teacher’s lounge and 15 minutes away from their charges. For Mr. Berg there wasn’t any respite. He had grade 5 kids asking inane questions, getting on his nerves, not listening to instructions and yawning in his classroom and then did supervision so his wife could get new curtains, or slipcovers, or dishes or something. “Every little bit helps”

At morning recess, he faced south leaning against the greying brick at the ready to pick up the pieces if a humpty dumpty incident happened, like when Harvey parachuted off the big swing and broke his left leg. Like the all the King’s men, he wasn’t responsible for stopping the carnage just repairing the damage and watching for true craziness and listening for potty mouths. He could hear Kevin say “shit” from 200 yards and knew that if Adele was moping by the back gate that she might be contemplating a runner. In September, Adele took off at morning recess heading east and Patty said: “ her parents found her in Winnipeg a week later.” I don’t know how a ten-year-old could travel 500 miles but that is what Patty said and we always listened when she was making pronouncements, beside the goal posts.
At lunch break, Mr. Berg faced east imagining something better. Maybe some excitement would jump in his lap tomorrow. “It is only November, I have 7 months until summer and two months away from this drudgery”. When he was in the noon position, he couldn’t see what was going on at the swings, teeters or climbing bars and was oblivious to the activities at the corner gate. Plots were hatched, nicknames were taunted, horseplay arose and I remember trying to hold Patty’s hand. Nobody swore, or thought about smoking or really hurting each other but the rules were different then.
By the afternoon recess, Mr. Berg had given up on another day and didn’t even come out of the covered entry. The principal always took an extra five minutes before ringing the bell and never did a sweep to see if he was earning the extra $2. If havoc and mayhem was going to break out, this was the time. For most of us, we had no real sense of time but it was obvious that freedom was on the horizon. Even in November, the sun was still promising something and our imaginations worked together to fill the hours between supper and street lights. We were powerless to change the cycle so we adapted to the rhythm.

November 23 started just like November 22. Harvey and I were first to the playground, just before 8:30, and staked the best spot in the grade 4 territory, on the pavement under the Kindergarten window. We bragged about yesterday and proudly prophesized about tomorrow, avoiding today. Four other boys joined us before the lineup bell rang and then the stragglers raced across the field from every direction. If we timed it perfectly, we could meander kicking stones and looking cool to arrive at the back door just as the second bell rang and the girls lined up. The daily dance started. It is hard to flirt and avoid being seen or seeing all at the same time. By now, we were pretty much in sync and our moves were choreographed like the Virginia Reel we practiced in the playroom. “Would today be the day that Mrs. Mattson actually paired me with someone other than Shirley – Squirrelly Shirley?”
I don’t recall what occurred at morning recess or in any of my classes which is weird because I did well in school and this would turn out to be one of the most important days of my life. Maybe I was foreshadowing the upcoming events or maybe the rush that was coming has erased pieces, to leave room for clarity and sharpness, in what was important and remarkable.
Lunch was the highlight, for me. I rushed home to grab a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of whole milk with a plan to meet back on the playground in 5 minutes to play a game of Aerial. Aerial was a local version of football where one kid, the quarterback picked up the ball off the dirt field and all the other kids on his team raced toward the goal posts. The quarterback had three or five elephants to select a receiver and heave the ball in his direction before the opposition madly chased him in an effort to tag him with two hands. Invariably, “ I got you on the back”, “ You only tagged with one hand”, “Missed me” rang from the playground as often as the ball was caught. The team with the ball had three chances to score( CFL rules) and then the other team took over and tried to move the football across the other goal line. A score of 21-14 was a good noon hour, especially if you scored one of the three touchdowns. You could be a minor celebrity for a couple hours. “Nice catch”, “ You really deked him out”, or “ I want to be on your team tomorrow” was the highest compliment.
For some reason, the television was on. It was never on at lunch. Maybe one of my sisters turned it on hoping to catch Flintstones but with only one channel you got what was delivered not what you wanted. A news program was playing and a serious man in a dark suit was saying something important. All the suits looked dark in black and white. “ President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, at Dealy Plaza at 12:30 Central Standard Time. “ How could he be shot at 12:30 when it is only 12:10?” was my first thought and then the serious man said “ Reports indicate that the wounds were fatal but the Whitehouse hasn’t confirmed this”. Shot, president, wounds, fatal… fatal meant dead didn’t it? There weren’t any pictures, just serious man. I imagined as hard as I could what the president looked like. I had seen glimpses of him on the news that was on every day before supper, when we all had to be deadly quiet if dad was watching. I conjured his image and a gunshot with blood spurting out like when I got clunked on the forehead with a rock hit off a broken bat. I couldn’t picture dead, I didn’t have a picture of shot dead except from the occasional Saturday movie at the Capitol Theatre. Then no one ever bled, they just fell down when it was their turn.

I was 9 years old, living in a different country but this was the most important thing that I had ever heard and there was no one to tell. My sisters had already headed back to school to sit by the playground and watch the big kids climb, swing and teeter. It felt like I was teetering. My heart and brain were racing. I remember touching my tongue to the roof of my mouth and it felt soft and sticky. I had stopped munching on the PB&J and was sitting with my mouth wide open staring at the first images of the car and the chaos. I didn’t see blood but in black and white not everything is clear. I don’t know how much time had passed but I eventually recovered and washed my mouth out with a big gulp of still cold milk. I picked up my sandwich and glass and took them to the sink. I wasn’t supposed to eat in the living room. There were rules that you never got caught breaking.

I knew who I could tell. There was one adult who I knew would be there. Mr. Berg would be standing guard in the schoolyard and he would know what to do with this information. I slammed the back door on my way out and took the three steps off the stairs in a leap. I raced back to school rehearsing the words, rethinking the words, reconsidering the words. As he got closer, he seemed so relaxed as if nothing had happened. “he didn’t know”. I was going to be the one to tell him, to share this important news. I had something he didn’t have. I knew and he didn’t. I slowed a bit to relish the moment of power but unfortunately, I didn’t have much restraint. From ten steps away I shouted, “ The President has been shot and I think he is dead.” All the kids in earshot turned and the sentinel swiveled in my direction. Everything went into slow motion and this was way before slow motion replay on every second play of the televised football game. The pace crept and sound lengthened so as to be almost unintelligible. Those final steps took what felt like minutes and I had become the center of attention for hundreds of kids. It was likely less than 20 kids, but when you have the spotlight it seems like more.
The moment was greater than scoring a touchdown and greater than what I had imagined kissing Patty would be like. I felt my head swoon and I started sweating and panting. I could taste steel in the back of my throat like when I fell off the roof of the school after retrieving a football. I couldn’t catch my breath.
“Stop, What did you say, young man?” ‘Young man’ was his phrase when you were in big trouble. It was like I had said “ shit, damn, piss”, he was glaring at me with crazy eyes like when Kevin pounded on Larry beside the pump outside the gate. “Why was he furious?” I was the messenger, not the shooter. My left arm felt his grasp and I was lifted into the air in one motion. “ You are coming with me. You are a liar. You can’t spread horrible rumors like that”. He shouted as loud as I had. “ Mr. Davidson will want TO DEAL WITH YOU”. Mr Davidson was the principal and grade 6 teacher. He didn’t come out on the playground unless a man arrived to do an inspection and then we all lined up alphabetically by grade so he could check out our hair, fingernails and for some reason the knees of our pants. What did he mean Mr. Davidson was going to deal with me? I had heard about the ‘strap’ but surely he meant I would get some kind of award.
We were charging up the back stairs and down the hall towards the teacher’s lounge. Before I could feel true foreboding, he opened the door and tossed me through it. I stumbled and fell forward onto a chair where the Kindergarten teacher was sitting. She looked as stunned as I must have looked. “ He is telling lies on the playground and scaring all the other kids”. And then the most shocking statement rose from Mr Berg. like a machine gun in a mobster movie, he rat-a-tat-tatted;“ He needs to be strapped for saying that the President, the president of the United States was shot and is dead. Make an example of him so he learns not to say things just to scare us, to scare the other kids”.
Now my audience was six teachers and Mr. Davidson and the venue was their territory, not the schoolyard where I knew every turn, every stone, every dip and rise. I was in their sanctuary, still not sure how or why I had arrived. My mom, who taught grade 2, must have been there but I don’t remember seeing her and we have never really talked about the incident.
But the teachers and Mr. Davidson weren’t looking at me, they were staring at Mr. Berg. I glanced up and his face was flushed, like he had just run around the schoolyard, his eyes were as big as the big red balls we threw at each other when he wasn’t watching and his nostrils were flared. I had only seen nostrils like that on the horse at grandma’s farm. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one shocked by the past five minutes.
There was silence, staring and then a sigh from the school nurse. Not the kind of sigh that says, this is good but the kind that says “oh no, what should I do?”. The principal broke the spell and stood up. As he approached, his eyes moved from me to my charge and back to me. “ What’s this about William?” I didn’t know who he was talking to but Mr. Berg started “ He came racing across the playground past the grade one and two kids shrieking that the President of the United States had been shot and was dead. I had to stop him so he didn’t really scare the little kids. You know how they are. What if what he said was true? We would all be doomed to the Russians coming over the north pole.”
The voice of authority regained composure and plainly asked “ Why would you say something like that?” Before I could respond Mr. Berg said “ He is a bad kid who will do anything to get attention. I saw him pretending to smoke just to impress a couple of girls.” I wasn’t a bad kid. I listened in class, got mostly As and Bs, didn’t swear when adults were around, didn’t tag hard in football… I wasn’t a bad kid. The voice continued ignoring the rantings saying “ who told you to say that?”
I collected myself, “ no one told me to say it, I saw it on TV and thought I should tell an adult and Mr Berg was the first one I thought of”. This time I could tell where the sigh came from, maybe from everyone. It was probably more of a gasp that sent one of the teachers to the radio on the counter. She either turned it up, I hadn’t noticed it being on or turned it on. I really hadn’t noticed anything in particular but now I saw the yellow-brown walls and thought of my last diarrhea and realized the room smelled like sweat, cigarettes, and maybe fear (not at all like the diarrhea).
As I started scanning the room, which was way smaller than I would have imagined, the radio announcer solemnly reported “ President John F. Kennedy is dead. He was shot in Dealy Plaza in Dallas while his motorcade was on parade. Vice President Johnson will be sworn in as President this afternoon”. Then almost as an afterthought “ Investigators are searching for the gunman or gunmen”.
The silence was different this time. Not driven by fear but rather a disbelief. Not the ‘you are lying disbelief’ but the kind that rises when you don’t want to believe. I felt Mr Berg’s hand leave my shoulder. I really hadn’t known it was there until it wasn’t. He sort of swayed sideways and fell to his knees. No one breathed as if we could reverse time if we didn’t move it forward. The room was choked and I felt responsible. It felt terrible and thrilling all at once. My knowledge, my words, my little voice had power.
“ Bobby, go back out to the playground” the principal whispered. As I made my way to the door I heard
“ What do we do? What do we do now?”

My only visit to the teacher’s lounge was over as the door closed behind me. The hallway was empty and seemed longer than a few minutes ago. I was on a rollercoaster as the floor pitched and the walls shook. I was at the stairs before I knew I was moving and through the east doors. The light was bright and my eyes dilated from the glare. The image ahead of me was fuzzy. It seemed all the kids were huddled in a semi-circle around the entrance. There was no one on the field, or on the swings or at the gate. They were all here waiting. They weren’t pushing. There wasn’t any swearing or name calling. My ears rang from the stillness. Still swaying from the hallway pitching, I hit a wall of anxiety and worry.
Harvey and Brian started it. The applause rippled through the circle. Even Patty and Diane were clapping. My only possible response was a smile, a crooked disbelieving smile. I told the group, who listened without interruption the news I had heard on the TV. The reaction wasn’t like the teachers or like what Mr. Berg anticipated. Like me, they didn’t know what to do with the information. There wasn’t enough information to think about the consequences. Slowly small groups drifted away back to regular lunch hour activities. I was famous for a day but the story of the teacher’s lounge got me an audience every time I told it until I went on to middle school.
We were all changed that day whether we knew it or not. Innocence evaporated for some, dread directed decisions for others. Our future changed and we can only imagine how another 5 years of Camelot might have played out. I learned that knowledge is power and even when you don’t completely understand it you can still wield the sword.