Strauss Part One
1985. That was the year everything changed.
After camp that year, I started seventh grade. Seventh grade came with a few perks, the main one being that you could get a pass to go off-campus on the weekends. Only eighth graders and high schoolers could get off-campus passes on week nights, but in either case you couldn’t have been on restriction for at least six months. If that weren’t exciting enough, I found out that I’d be staying in the cottage “Straus”. Straus was my dream cottage. I’d often see the Straus table in Butler Hall. Straus’ houseparent’s were the Pros family: Mr. & Mrs. Pros, and thier son Danny. I was always jealous of how kind they seemed toward the kids under thier care. Ms. Burnett was indifferent at best, and Ms. Potts was strict. I was tired of living with old women. Straus was also isolated on the far south eastern front of campus, with a vast yard in front of, and behind it. The Pros’ also had a dog, and I often saw kids from a distance, playing with it in that yard.
After camp that year, the bus drove us directly to the Glenwood campus on a Friday afternoon. The bus ride was long and quiet, opposed to the anticipatory revelry of the bus ride to Wisconsin. Summer was over and nobody was looking forward to another long school year.
When we arrived, parents waited with glee for the return of their children. Melencholly kids, tired from another exhausting camp Glenwood trip, walked off the bus into the welcoming arms of their parents. Excited adult hugs engulfed less than excited boys, but an air of homecoming gave the exodus from Summer an acceptable, if not gracious tone. Parents took their son’s faces in their hands and offered sympathies for sunburns, scrapes and bruises; all of the typical, topical bumps of youthful boys being boys. I walked off the bus to no body; my hand wrapped in gauze with third degree burns. I watched as bags were put into trunks, car doors slammed shut, and everyone drove away.
I heard something hit the ground and looked behind me at my bag. The bus driver had tossed it haphazardly off the bus. He muttered ‘loser’ under his breath, pulled the bus door shut, and drove away as well, leaving me alone in front of the administration building.
Every year I came back to school from camp, I hoped that my mom would be there to pick me up. There was no communication, so the bus ride back was always nerve racking. What would be waiting for me? Surly she knew I was coming home? She must have known I was com….
The loud exhaust of an old car snuck up on me. Fumes surrounded it as it screeched to a jerking halt beside me in the parking lot. It was Mr. Borgia, arriving back a few minutes behind the bus.
He rolled down his window and tried to wave away the smoke that came pouring into his car. He coughed as he yelled at me “HEMPEN! I forgot to tell you, your mom can’t make it (again)….” He said under his breath, “You’re at Straus this year; get your ass over there.” He pointed toward Straus with his thumb. I looked at him in disbelief, then over the hood of his car, off in the distance, I could see Straus, standing like a brick Island in a sea of grass and trees; it was beautiful.
“Well, what are you waiting for? GET GOING!” he shouted before rolling up his window and lurching forward as his car sputtered and spat black smoke from the back.
I grabbed my bag and ran through that smoke coughing, but with a smile on my face, towards Straus.
My things were waiting there already. The weekend before the start of camp was when everyone brought all of their belongings home. Since I hadn’t gone home that weekend, my things were left at Scarborough A during the summer. At some point, they had been moved to Straus.
Mr. Pros and his family were just as kind as I’d hoped they would be. They didn’t treat me as if I were bothering them. You genuinely got the feeling from Mr. & Mrs. Pros that they liked kids and wanted them to have a pleasant experience. Mr. Pros ordered a pizza that Friday night and we all watched TV together in the living room. I loved having my new dorm to myself, and fell asleep listening to Dr. Demento that night.
In the morning, over a bowl of fruit loops, Mr. Pros asked me if I’d like to go off-campus. I knew that I would eventually be allowed to get a pass, but I didn’t think it would happen that quickly or that easily. He called the dean’s office at 9AM, and spoke with Mr. Whittaker. That was the process for going off campus: the dean on-duty had to issue you a hand written pass. If seen on the outside by an adult, you were to show them this pass. If you didn’t have it, they were obligated to escort you back to the campus and bring you to the dean’s office as a runaway. I walked to the dean’s office, and picked up my pass from Mr. Whittaker.
I knew the ways off campus, even some of the secret ones, from Frank or Mike and a few other kids who’d gone out into the world. You could walk out of the front gate to Halsted Ave. on the south end of campus, or you could leave via a service road that was never open, at the far north east end of campus. But, if you knew where to look, there was a secret egress along the east fence line, between a long row of bushes and the fence, where nobody could see you. There was a path just wide enough to walk along, until there was a break in the fence where you could exit. This was the way I always chose. It felt to clean, to permissible to leave campus from the obvious places. I wanted it to feel like I was doing something wrong. A fuck you to the place that held me firm in it’s grasp these past two years.
The first day, I walked maybe half a mile to a 7-11 on the corner of Halsted and 159th Street. I had no sense of direction, no sense of the layout of Glenwood and its borders as they related to the outside world, until that day. I mean, I’d been off campus in buses, or the rare car ride, but when you’re a kid being carted around, you don’t pay that much attention to global positioning. The first thing I realized as I walked along Halsted Ave., all the way to where it met with 159th street, was that there WAS an end to the woods behind Glenwood. Those woods, that seemed so imposing and insurmountable only two years earlier, came into full view now. They were thick sure, but they ended maybe a quarter mile from where they started, at 159th street, and there wasn’t even a fence.
I had no money, didn’t even think of money at that point. I had no sense of the value of it besides it’s use to buy things at the canteen on Wednesday nights. I remember a bell tinkling as I entered the 7-11, and a man behind the counter looking indifferently at a magazine. Other people milled about the store, and I came upon the magazine rack. I picked up a “Fangoria” and flipped through it, reading about the movie “Fright Night”, which had just been released. Then I picked up an Entertainment Weekly, People, a car magazine, I soaked up everything I could as quick as I could. I felt I could spend hours there, just reading. This was my first REAL glimpse of the outside world in years.
I’d seen movies on TV at home when I was younger, and I watched a lot of TV and cartoons before military school. TV had become a surrogate mother to me when my mom wanted to be alone, so I was no stranger to that fictional world within the box. But this…this was different. This was behind the scenes, I’d never heard of ‘Fright Night’, but this magazine had interviews with ‘special effects’ people, who shared the secrets of how that film was made. It was all new to me, and I couldn’t have felt more excited to be learning. Why was school so boring and this was so enthralling?
I put down the magazine I’d been looking at and turned around, there was the comic book spinner. I reached for something called “Spider-Ma…”, when I heard “HEY!”
I turned to see the clerk, dishevelled hair, black painted fingernails, smacking gum loudly. Everything we were never allowed to be in military school. I must have had an expression like a coma victim waking up after 35 years.
“Kid, you gonna buy anything?”, he said with some amount of bother.
“I don’t have any money” I said in all innocence.
“then get the fuck out of here” he said indifferently as he took a long draw on his super-sized slurpee. He raised his eyebrows and nodded his head toward the door.
I left, embarrassed, but not really knowing why. I vowed to myself that I would not go out without money again.
That evening, Mr. Pros went over the cottage roster with me. He knew the problems I had at camp over the summer, and he knew that some of those problems were coming to Straus, whether I liked it or not. He let me choose which dorm I wanted to be in, and who would be in my dorm with me. I chose Chris Reeves and Damion Seman. Chris hadn’t gone to camp, but he gave me his phone number when we parted ways at the end of the last school year. Nobody at Glenwood had ever given me their phone number, and although I couldn’t call him, the gesture felt special.
Chris only came to Glenwood the year before and we’d become fast friends, talking about TV shows and foods we both liked. We had similar humor and could spend hours making fun of each others mamas, laughing hysterically as we hung upside down on the monkey bars outside of the school. Other kids liked Chris as well. He was tall, personable and easy to smile. When I found out Chris was coming to Straus this year, I was very excited.
Damion, like Chris was just a lot of fun to be around. He would often opine about the life he imagined himself living as a stand-up comedian one day. He would practice his routine in front of Chris and I in our dorm room, and the three of us would try to contain our giggles nightly as we listened to forbidden records like Eddie Murphy, George Carlin and Richard Pryor, on my record player. Every Sunday we’d listen to Dr. Demento on the radio.
That was the fun part.
I also came to find out that Tom Padgett, Richard Shipley and Sean Murphy would be in Straus. Mr. Pros was smart enough to separate the three of them, but to me that only spread their meanness across the cottage like a wild fire. I suggested containing them to one room, but I was not in charge. I can remember Mr. Pros taking off his glasses and looking at me quizzically when I made that suggestion.
He said to me “Mike, that’s a very interesting proposal. Have you ever read “The Art of War”?”
I told him that I had not.
“In that book, Sun Tzu talks of the principle of ‘divide and conquer.’ You take your problem, and divide It into smaller sub-problems that are easier to handle. Now those boys together, pose a much larger problem than they do separately, so we’re going to put them into different rooms. You let me know if they start anything with you, OK?”
“Sure Mr. Pros,” I started respectfully, “but it seems to me that whatever rooms you put them in separately, it’s still three against one. At least if they’re all together, I can see them coming.”
Mr. Pros took me in for a moment before responding. “You’re a very smart young man Michael; you’d make a good military man if that’s the direction you want to go one day.”
He russled my hair and said “Now let’s go rouse the Mrs. and Danny and get some dinner.
Under the guidance and kindness of Mr. Pros and his wife, my attitude changed drastically that month. I was very respectful of the Pros’; not because I felt forced to be, but because I genuinely liked them. I was also motivated to go off campus. I couldn’t have any restrictions or I’d get no pass for at least six months. Exploring the world outside of Glenwood became everything to me. I went farther each time I left campus; each time in a different direction. I had no maps, there was no GPS, and as nobody offered me suggestions of where to go, I was only to happy to explore the world on my own.
I began working furiously. Any job I could get, for any amount I could get. I would wash Mr. Pros car sometimes for ten dollars, I’d clean the toilets after school for a few dollars, I’d do dishes in Butler Hall, anything I could do to earn money. I became known as the campus workhorse and houseparents would seek me out to do odd jobs. As winter came and went, I lost a lot of weight shoveling snow all around campus. My bank account grew with every day.
Something had changed within me; I was more focused. I felt that I had a purpose. I suddenly had a sense of responsibility, and my outlook changed. I was no longer just looking for ways out. I stopped calling home. After two years, I’d finally gotten it through my head that my mother just wasn’t going to pick up. I was in good standing with the adults on campus for once, and I took pride in that
The year went by quietly. As Fall turned to winter, snow fell and left thick blankets of white all over the campus. It was beautiful, and the need for shoveling everywhere kept me busy. I’d gotten Damion and Chris to join me in shoveling because the work never seemed to end. At thirteen, I’d sprouted like a weed over the summer and fall, now muscles were beginning to sprout on my arms. My forearms became thick and sometimes I’d watch the muscles flex under my skin as I made fists.
Not only was I leaving campus every weekend on my pass, but I’d had money now to call Chris and Damion on weekends from the payphone outside of the Dean’s office. I mean, they always offered to let me call collect, but I had money now. Sitting in an old plastic chair, with my feet up on the little counter below the payphone, sometimes I’d call Chris and talk to him for an hour, sometimes I’d call Damion and talk to him for an hour. Just about nothing; things I saw while off-campus earlier in the day, things they were doing while home on the weekends. More than anything I felt a connection to my friends. I had REAL friends for the first time, and that felt special.
Sometimes when I’d be laughing too loud, Mr. Whittaker would knock on the window of his office and give me a reproachful look.
Back in Straus, we got a new kid in December. He was a Pakistani boy named Pinter. He was brought to Straus by Mike Myzlinski, my old NCO from Campbell A. Mike was always one of the good high school kids. He was a Junior now and like me, he’d grown considerably in two years. He remembered me and after he’d introduced Pinter to Mr. Pros, he motioned for me to follow him to the foyer as he was walking out.
“Hey Mike,” he said, and looked at me seriously. “Do me a favor, kinda look out for that kid. He reminds me of you when you first came here. He’s scared, y’know?”
I nodded, “Of course I will, Mike.”
“Good, because I heard his mom telling Mr. D. that he sometimes wets the bed; you know what that could mean for him, right?” Mike was genuinely concerned.
I did. Being a bed wetter in Glenwood was the same as being a prison snitch. You were going to get got. Sometimes, if someone REALLY didn’t like another boy, they’d put their hand in a glass of warm water as they slept. This would make them wet the bed and become a true outcast amongst their peers. To come in and START as a bed wetter, I couldn’t imagine. I’d heard stories, but I’d never been in a cottage with someone who wet the bed.
I knew that the empty bed where Pinter was going to bunk, was in the same room as Richard Shipley. He didn’t stand a chance.
I told Mike I’d figure something out, and I went to find Chris and Damion.
They were just outside the cottage. I told them about Pinter. I’m lucky to have had such understanding friends. The three of us agreed that we’d ask Mr. Pros to put Damion in Richard Shipley’s room, and move Pinter into our room. This would be temporary until we gauged the severity of Pinter’s problem. Mr. Pros agreed to the switch and Pinter moved in with Chris and I that night.
Pinter was a quiet boy, with a heavy Pakistani accent. Mike was right, he was as frightened as I was on my first night, and I was determined to show him something different than the fear I’d felt. Unfortunately, Pinter’s experience would be far worse than mine, and he didn’t last past that Friday.
Despite Chris, Damion and I welcoming Pinter in as Joe and Derreck had done for me, Pinter was inconsolable. He cried loudly, which was another no-no, especially with bullies like Sean, Richard and Tom around. In between his sobbing, Pinter told us that he came from a large family, and he missed them all terribly. He wasn’t crying because he felt abandoned, as I had, he was crying because he was no longer present in that family of love. His mother and father were wealthy, but they were going to Pakistan for five years for their business. They wanted Pinter to grow up in America, but his sisters and brothers worked, while his grand father was too old to be responsible for raising a boy. Glenwood was their only option if Pinter was to stay in America.
It seemed like after talking to us, Pinter was calming down. He was still breathing heavily and sobbing, but when it came time for lights out, he lay down in Damian’s old bed, closest to the door, and sobbed loudly into his pillow. I tried putting on the radio, but it didn’t help. Sean’s room was across the hall, and he shouted a loud whisper at us from the dark….
“SHUT THAT LITTLE MUTHER FUCKER UP OVER THERE, OR I WILL!”
This only stoked Pinter’s fear, and he began breathing more heavily as he smashed his face into his pillow to muffle his cries. Eventually, uneasily, we all fell asleep.
I woke up before revelry to go to the bathroom. I stood up groggily, stretched, and walked toward the door. I looked down at Pinter, as I passed him, and saw a large dark spot on his orange blanket. Oh shit, I thought…he pissed the bed.
This had to be done stealthily and quickly. I looked over at the clock on my radio, it was 5:47. Revelry was at 6:00. Soon everyone would be up, milling about and in each other’s rooms. We had to get rid of Pinter’s blankets and the proof of this in :13 minutes.
I ran over to Chris’s bed and shook it; from his side, without moving, he said angrily “WHAT, MAN?”
I bent down and whispered “SHHHH! Pinter wet the bed, we gotta get rid of it before everyone wakes up!”
Chris shot up, and looked over at my clock between our beds, “SHIT!” he whispered loudly, taking in the severity of the situation.
“Get Mr. Pros!” he said as he ripped the covers off of himself and got up, “I’ll get the bedding.”
I ran out of the dorm, past Mr. Pros open quarters, and into the living room, my feet pounding heavily on the lightly carpeted concrete floor as I went. Mr. Pros was in the dining room with Danny, his glasses sat on the table beside a bowl of cereal. He looked up at me, and put them on.
Calmly, “what, Mike? What is it?” Danny looked at me over his cereal.
I got close to him and whispered in his ear: “Pinter wet the bed.”
“Oh, shit.” Mr. Pros exclaimed as he pushed back from the table and got up.
“We need clean sheets, can you get some?”
We were both walking quickly back toward the dorm rooms.
“We don’t have any extra’s; but I’ll grab Danny’s for now. I’ll meet you back there.”
“Hurry, we only have a few minutes.”
Mr. Pros ran past me into his quarters, as I ran down the hall to the dorm.
Pinter was sitting with his legs crossed on the floor, crying into his hands. As I ran in, Chris was pulling the sheets off the bed, which only revealed a large wet spot in the middle of the bed. No matter how many layers you peeled back to hide it, it only became more apparent.
“GET HIM CHANGED” Chris whispered loudly and nodded towards Pinter who’s blue boxer shorts were dark blue and soaking wet. I knelt down and got face to face with Pinter.
“Pinter, this is going to be OK, but you HAVE to snap out if, you have to get up man, c’mon.” I grabbed him by the elbow and tried to pick him up; he screamed and I let go. Chris stopped at the scream and we could hear other boys rustling from their rooms.
Mr. Pros came into the room with bedding and threw it on the bed. “Make the bed please Chris, shove those under” He pointed towards the soiled bedding. “I’ll fix this after everyone leaves for school.” As always, Mr. Pros was calm and collected, which in turn eased Chris and myself.
Mr. Pros put his hand out in front of Pinter “Come now boy, come with me.”
Pinter took Mr. Pros hand and was sobbing still. He stood up, when Mr. Pros turned to leave the room…there stood Sean Murphy, his tall lithe body, wearing nothing but boxer shorts, leaning against the door jam with his arms folded.
The scene he looked in on was a half-covered bed with a giant wet spot, Chris Reeves furiously shoving bedding under the bed, and Pinter holding Mr. Pros hand with a huge wet spot on the front of his boxers; just then I also noticed the wet spot on the floor where Pinter had been sitting.
“Well, Well, Well, what do we have here?” Sean said with a cocky smirk on his face.
He leaned his head back into the hallway and shouted for everyone to hear “Seems the new boy pissed the bed everyone. He’s even got Hempen and Reeves cleaning up after him.”
Mr. Pros shook his head tiredly and said under his breath “Jesus Christ Murphy, why do you have to be such a shit?”
We had a cottage meeting after school that day; Pinter sat next to Mr. Pros on the couch in the living room of Straus. This cottage that I saw as a refuge from my struggles. Pinter sat somberly next to Mr. Pros, head down and hands folded on his lap. His secret was out. Mr. Pros, in his kindness, tried to explain to the boys of Straus why bedwetting might occur; he approached the situation with sympathy, and asked for empathy from the boys in his care. Some responded to that approach. When he was done, first Chris, then Damion went up to Pinter and extended their hand. Pinter shook them and smiled uneasily for the first time. A few others did the same as did I. Sean, Richard and Tom began walking away together, talking quietly and snickering. Mr. Pros said loudly before they could leave the room “And any boy caught doing anything to Pinter, will be expelled. Got that? He looked at Sean over the top of his glasses and repeated “Got. That?” They turned and left the room.
Mr. Pros was very adamant, he was very convincing, he was very forceful in his proclamation. He was also very ignored.
Thursday night came and went without incident. Chris and I were comforted in knowing that Mr. Pros sat at the end of the hallway in a metal folding chair for most of the night. Mrs. Pros was not happy, and before bedtime we could hear them arguing behind the closed door to their quarters.
When it was time for bed, he sat in that chair in his robe, with a book sitting on his knee, right across from the bathroom so everyone going in and out to brush their teeth and get ready for bed could see him sitting there, prepared to make a night of it. I was going into the bathroom as Sean was coming out; he smiled his crooked smile at me and slammed his shoulder into my arm hard, right in front of Mr. Pros.
“Oh man, sorry Hempen; must have tripped.” He snickered and looked at Mr. Pros. “I must be tired.”
“Get to bed Sean.” Mr. Pros said, cool as a cucumber.
“Yes sir, Mr. Pros. I can’t wait to get a good. Night’s. Sleep.” He fake yawned and stretched. As he walked away, Mr. Pros mouthed the word “Asshole” and shot me a smile.
I brushed my teeth and went back to my dorm.
Same routine on Friday night, until…
I woke up to the sound of loud thumps, and looked over to Pinter’s bed. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’d heard of blanket parties before, hell I feared them for a long time, but they never happened as far as I knew. We came to see the blanket party as a tall tale, told to new kids to keep them frightened, but there it was, right in front of me. Four boys knelt on either side of Pinter’s bed, pulling his blanket down tight and trapping him underneath. Richard Shipley and another boy each had a sock with a fresh thick bar of soap in it, and they were beating Pinter over and over again.
His cries were muffled, but I couldn’t tell why as his head was under the blanket. The six boys were stealth. I recognized two who had shook Pinter’s hand after school the other day. Sean Murphy stood just inside our room, leaning against the wall. He watched as Richard and the other boy beat Pinter over and over again. His muffled cries becoming more desperate. Richard was nearly frothing. The look of delight on his face frightens me even now when I think of it.
Sean looked at me, put his finger to his mouth and whispered “Shhhhhhhhhh, or you’re next Hempen.”
I was terrified.
Sean said to the six others, “OK, let’s go”.
He peeked outside the room and with one leap sprinted across the hall like a gazelle to his room. The boy with Richard stopped, went to the door, peaked out and ran as fast as he could to his room. The other four began to get up, relieving the taught blanket that held Pinter down. Richard took one step towards the door, looked back at Pinter, held the sock above his head and swung it down where Pinter’s head was. There was a loud “SMACK!” and silence. The figure beneath the sheets stopped struggling; the muffled screams went silent. The other boys left our room in the same way.
I looked over at Chris. He was sitting up, slack jawed just like I was. We both got up slowly and went to the side of Pinter’s bed.
Just then the lights in the hallway came on; Mr. Pros came running into our room wearing his robe. He was soaking wet.
“Aw, no…” he said looking down at Pinter’s bed. He lifted the blanket. The thing I remember the most was how slight Pinter was. He was so thin, and you could see his ribs. Dark bruises riddled his body. There was a sock stuffed in his mouth and a two-inch gash above his left eye where Richard’s final blow hit him. The three of us stared silently at the battered boy.
Pinter was there for three days. Only three days.
An ambulance came and took Pinter away; we never saw him again. I was told later that he went to Pakistan with his parents.
Part 6 – Epilogue
Mr. Borgia came to our cottage that night, he was wearing starched pajama’s and a thick housecoat. He was pissed. It was midnight and he lined all of us up, six on either side of the hallway.
“Who did it?” he started off softly, imploring. Then almost immediately “WHO THE FUCK DID IT!?!” in Tom Padgett’s face. Oddly enough, Tom was not one of the boys who were in my dorm that night.
Tom winced as Mr. Borgia’s spit sprayed his face.
Calm again “I can stand here all night boys. Hell, we’ll stand here all weekend. Nobody goes home until someone talks.” He began gritting his teeth as his anger seethed once again…”I’ll see piss running down your legs and shit filling your shorts BEFORE I LET ONE OF YOU SHITS SIT DOWN! NOW WHO DID IT? WHICH ONE OF YOU ASSHOLES BEAT THAT BOY!?”
Sean and Richard stared at Chris and I from across the hall. As Mr. Borgia passed us, Richard ran his finger across his throat. We said nothing. Nobody went home that weekend and we all stood in that hallway for 14 hours until 1400 hours the next day; guilty, innocent and those withholding the truth alike. Mr. Borgia eventually let us have lunch, and go to sleep for 6 hours. He came back to Straus at 2000 hours with a garbage can lid, and banged it loudly until we were all awake again. Then we were back up in the hallway for 12 hours, until it was time to go to Butler Hall for Monday morning breakfast, and then school. That was that. No punishment was given beyond that.
Two of the boys who’d held Pinter down, were threatened to do so by Richard and Sean. They felt horrible for their part in it, and they told Chris and I what had happened.
Tom Padgett snuck out of their dorm window, and walked around to the front of the cottage. He opened the back door to Mr. Pros car, put a big metal garbage can inside and lit the paper inside on fire. Apparently he and Shipley had stuffed it full of flamables earlier in the day. Mr. Pros was sitting in the hallway, when he smelled the smoke, looked outside and saw his car on fire. He called 911, grabbed a bucket and ran outside to douse the flames, but slipped on the ice, fell backwards and the bucket of water fell on top of him. That explained why he was soaking wet.
After the third bucket of water, he realized that this was a distraction. That’s when he came running into our room.
After school on Monday, Mr. Pros took Chris and I into his quarters. Boys were NEVER allowed in a houseparents quarters, that was one of the biggest rules at Glenwood. But there we stood, Mr. Pros normally calm demeanor was shattered. He was crying, and tears glistened in his thick beard. His glasses fogged over and he took them off. He was angry as well, not at Chris and I, but at the situation.
“You two HAVE to tell Mr. Borgia what you saw, you HAVE to.” He was pacing and slamming his fist into his hand.
Chris and I became emotional, pleadingly we said “We didn’t see anything Mr. Pros, we didn’t see anything.” What he heard was “We saw everything Mr. Pros, but don’t make us tell.”
“No, you’re going to tell him and they’re going to get expelled. Nothing’s going to happen to you boys! You see that, right? They’ll be expelled?” He was frantic.
I was looking at my feet “But their brothers…their friends won’t be expelled Mr. Pros.”
One last desperate gambit. Mr. Pros bent his head down and forced me to look him in the eyes. I followed them as he moved up, with all sincerity he said “Mike…” he looked at Chris now “Chris…you boys wanted to help Pinter…help him now. It’s the only way to stop this from happening again…”
“’Hold out baits to trap the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.’ Sun Tzu…we know the book…they live it. It’s always going to be a war to them; that’s all they know. They won Mr. Pros. They won.” Chris and I walked out of Mr. Pros quarters, dejected. I heard him fall backwards into a chair as we left.
Mr. Pros, prompted by Mr. Borgia, changed the dorm room roster. He put me in a dorm with Tom Padgett and another boy. I was in the middle bed again. Chris and Ethan were in separate rooms as well. The fun we’d had earlier in the year was gone. The three of us barely spoke. I’m not a psychiatrist so I can’t tell you what caused the rift. Maybe it was a shared shame from our mutual lack of action, or our cowardice at not coming forward. Maybe we just didn’t want to talk about what happened and really…what else was there to talk about?
I think, more than anything, we tried to do a good thing and failed. We tried to help someone, and that person was hurt horribly despite our efforts. It’s a debilitating feeling to try to help an adult and fail, but you can always justify a failure in that regard. After all, an adult is ultimately responsible for their own actions and you can’t help an adult unless they let you. But when you’re a kid, just trying to help another kid…who’s supposed to know better, man? Who do you blame but yourself? That shit stays with you forever; it’s does me anyway.