Published on August 4th, 2015 | by Richard Black0
I Hate Boys – Kafka at the Pool (Part III of III)
When I was fourteen the middle school I attended held a yearbook signing event in the gymnasium. My class of about fifty kids wandered around and solicited each other for signatures and gossiped during what was, for me, an incredibly painful reminder that I didn’t have many friends.
I spent the bulk of my time wandering around, pretending that I had somewhere to go, someone else to talk to. I manged to get a few people to sign my yearbook but exactly how many I couldn’t say because I’d rather sit on my balls a few hundred times than revisit my eighth grade year in school.
The administration, in their wisdom and upon determining that forcing awkward 14 year old children to mingle in a giant room with each other wouldn’t be damaging enough, decided to present the graduating class with wooden paddles. After all what’s the worst that could happen by handing a bunch of hormonal, angst filled assholes and bitches a paddle?
In retrospect it was a fitting token of my time in middle school. What better way to commemorate a truly horrid period in my life by handing out large wooden weapons to a bunch of angst filled hormonally challenged kids?
I remember wandering around the gym, pretending to look like I had a purpose, that there were more than four or five people I could approach to ask for a signature or even write a kind word or two.
My paddle was abruptly ripped out of my hands. I spun around to see it a second before the side of it slammed against my right temple, driving me to the ground. My vision starred, then blackened. I tried to get up but was bludgeoned back to the floor and when I was finally able stand I saw all six gangly feet of Robby Sparks grinning down at me.
I didn’t attack. When it comes to fight or flight I was decidedly a fan of flight back then but there was nowhere to go. From the ground I asked Robby why he hit me but he didn’t answer. Instead he grinned and threw the paddle. It pinwheeled, striking a glancing blow to my head as Robby turned his back, chuckled and walked away.
No one noticed or seemed to. None of my peers, no teacher or member of the administration staff intervened. Despite being a kid who followed “the rules” I left an hour before school was let out and walked home.
I wish I could say that I’ve matured and learned how to deal with bullies over the past few decades but I haven’t. There isn’t a day or time that I don’t remember Robby and wish that I could go back, that I had the balls to take a giant two handed swing, and plant the side of that paddle into the back of his head. I’ve made some progress but there’s still a part of me that simply reacts when I see a perceived slight to anyone but specifically my daughter.
A few weeks ago Darcy and I were at the local pool and it was a treat. For Darcy that is, not me. I hate the pool. After spending ten some odd years on swim teams when I was a kid I can honestly say that I would rather have my genitals waxed than go back into the water. The experience lost its novelty sometime around my junior year after a four or five thousand hours of practice and God knows how many hundreds of miles of laps. I quit mid season and have not entered a pool willingly without consuming large amounts of alcohol since.
And then my daughter was born.
Darcy loves swimming and what kid doesn’t? To be more precise Darcy loves flouncing around in water because she can’t quite swim just yet. It might not sound like much of a distinction but it is one that requires my direct supervision and participation and, in turn, requires me to go into a pool.
The local pool is a great facility. There’s a lap pool and a place for the toddlers to play and finally a large lake like area that never gets more than three and a half feet deep. I know this because my daughter is three feet eight inches tall and, in the deepest part of the pool, can manage to keep her nose above water only by standing on her tippy toes and bobbing precariously up and down to catch a breath.
Darcy was bouncing about in the depths, she’d just come up for a gasp of air and then some little shit splashed her in the face. She coughed and sputtered a bit. By the time I was certain she was all right the boy, probably ten or eleven, had disappeared.
A few minutes later I saw him splashing a few other younger children in the face and I became “That Parent”, the one who takes it upon him or herself to rectify the wrongs of the pool or playground. Darcy was in the shallows and I waded up to the boy on the other side of a short wall separating two parts of the pool. I tried a few “excuse me’s” and then a “hey you” before I had his attention.
“Stop splashing other kids,” I said as severely as possible and then waited for some response and was remarkably disappointed. I was ready for denial, for aggression, for just about anything other than what had happened. The boy didn’t confront me or acknowledge my presence in any way. He simply smiled and drifted away.
“I’m watching you,” I said using the last resort of the impotently enraged parent.
And I watched him. I could have spoken to a Life Guard. In retrospect I should have but I did not. I didn’t think that a bunch of teens would hold much sway over a child I’d already assumed was a bully or the parents who had raised him.
Instead of tending to my daughter and giving her my entire attention I watched the boy. He disappeared from time to time but I kept him mostly within my field of vision. Over the course of an hour I didn’t see him with a parent or guardian no one, in short, I could make aware of his behavior. I resigned myself to letting him splash other children in the hopes that someone else might intervene and keeping my daughter as far away from him as possible.
I lost sight of the boy for the past half hour we were at the pool. Darcy moved towards a section that mimicked the current of a river and then I saw him, dead ahead. The boy was about twenty feet in front of us. My daughter was bobbing up and down and, as we passed him, I screened Darcy as best as I was able.
Somehow he splashed my daughter again just as she was coming up for air.
“What’s your name? Where are your parents?” I barraged him with questions.
Darcy had moved on and was cheerfully bouncing around some ten feet away.
The boy turned his back to me and then I grabbed his arm.
“Tell me where your parent’s are,” I said furious that he had the chutzpa to ignore me, that he continued to smile like some dullard and pull away.
“Are you retarded?” I asked and then the penny dropped.
“You are berating a child who might have a learning disability,” I thought.
I released him from my grip. His back was still too me but as he drifted away he turned around and gave me the same seemingly vacuous smile he’d given me earlier.
Darcy was a good twenty feet past us both. The incident was, in her mind, forgotten. She was still alive and breathing and I…I gathered my daughter and left the pool as quickly as possible.
Was I berating a child with a learning disability? I don’t know. In all honesty I’m not sure what I’ve learned from the experience. Go talk to the lifeguard and the people in charge seems a bit too tidy and trite. I regret my actions. I could have done better. During two hours at the pool however I never saw a single adult check in on the child and, as such, assumed that he was a somewhat functional ten or eleven year old boy.
No permanent harm was done to my daughter. I don’t know how many children have died at a pool because of splashing but I assume that the casualties are minimal. I can still see that grin though. It was so…ambiguous and left his intent up for interpretation. The only thing I can say with any certainty is that it reminded me of Kafka’s short story, perhaps the world’s shortest story, “Give it Up”.
It was very early in the morning, the streets clean and deserted. I was walking to the station.
As I compared the tower clock with my watch I realized that it was already much later than I had thought, I had to hurry, the shock of this discovery made me unsure of the way, I did not yet know my way very well in this town; luckily, a policeman was nearby, I ran up to him and breathlessly asked him the way.
He smiled and said: “From me you want to know the way?”
“Yes,” I said, “since I cannot find it myself.”
“Give it up! Give it up,” he said, and turned away with a sudden jerk, like people who want to be alone with their laughter.
The question, I suppose, is who in this story is the policeman and who is the narrator when it comes to me or the boy.