Responsibilities of Being a Man
by J. C. G. Goelz
Table of Contents|
1, 2 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Kelvin Stoddard is 15 years old and in his second year of high school in Laramie, Wyoming. He feels highly loyal to and protective of his family, particularly his younger brother, who is about half Kelvin’s age; his father, who has been severely injured; and his sister April, who is more than a year older than he.
Kelvin is keenly suspicious and critical of schoolmates he considers pretentious and potentially dangerous. Cautioning his sister April against them is futile; she is as strong-willed as he is, and no younger brother is going to tell her how to lead her life. Only Kelvin’s intense feelings of fairness and justice keep his temper in check. That is, until actions incur consequences.
Jimmy and I went to college-credit advanced placement. It was the only class we had with Richardson. We all signed up for it as college credit, but you could drop it as college credit and still take it for high-school credit, if you didn’t think you’d get a good enough grade. If you took it for high-school credit, you were assured of getting at least a C, unless you didn’t do any of the work.
I was running a high B and had a good chance to get an A. Jimmy had the highest grade in the class, and that included all the college students taking it, as well as a couple hundred high school students spread all over Wyoming.
Richardson dropped out of the college credit portion after the first exam. The only reason he was in it was that there were twenty-two girls and only six boys in the class. That was great for him, but me and Jimmy were shy around girls, so we were lab partners.
I kinda felt strange when we studied external sexual anatomy. The diagrams of the male organs seemed pretty close to reality, but I was sure there was more mystery to the female anatomy than could be shown on the diagrams. I thought of how mortified I’d be if I was the artist’s model. Then I thought I’d probably be even more mortified if I was the artist drawing the female anatomy. The female anatomy was one of those things you really wanted to think about but made you feel really funny when you did.
Class was going pretty well. Lecture was over, and we were coloring and labeling a diagram of the digestive system. Then Jimmy had to open his mouth. “Hey, Sterling,” he said, “guess who just joined the team.”
“I don’t know. Maybe your momma, to dry your tears when you throw an interception.”
“I’ve thrown only one in five games,” Jimmy shot back. “Not much crying going on. You’ve thrown more in ten minutes of garbage time.”
“I was playing with the second-team receivers. They don’t know how to fight for the ball.”
“You threw one straight to their nose guard. How was the receiver supposed to fight for that one?”
“The ball was muddy. It slipped.”
“The only mud was from where you shat yourself when you were sacked.”
“The only reason you’re starting is because Coach knows we can’t get to state this year. He wants someone experienced for next year.”
“We’re five-and-o,” Jimmy said, “and ranked fourth in the state. That’s better than we’ve done in seven years.”
“We’ve been lucky,” Sterling groused. “Coach miscalculated. If he knew we were going to compete for state, he would have started me.”
“I doubt it. You’re going to be Kelvin’s tackling dummy, starting tomorrow.”
“Who the hell is Kelvin? Is he that black kid that transferred in?”
“This is Kelvin,” Jimmy said, patting my shoulder, “and he is your worst nightmare.”
“Stoddard? You’ve gotta be kidding me. He’ll end up like his dad if he tries to tackle me.”
I couldn’t help it. I relived the whole incident with my dad, again. The blood and the raw meat. “Shut your damn mouth, Richardson.” I spoke too loudly. My classmates became quiet.
“What did you say, Mr. Stoddard?” asked Mrs. Vinson, our teacher.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Vinson. I asked Sterling a question about the digestive system.”
“What did you ask him, Kelvin?”
I had a little time to recover. “I asked him which is more useful, an appendix or a backup quarterback on a high-school football team.”
“Did he give you an answer?”
“No, but Jimmy started to,” I said, smiling. Mrs. Vinson was actually pretty cool, most of the time.
“What were you going to say, Jimmy?” asked Mrs. Vinson.
“I was going to say they are both useless, but no one has the heart to get rid of them unless they are diseased and might infect the rest of the body, or the team,” answered Jimmy.
“So, is Sterling so diseased that he needs to be excised?”
“That’s a matter of opinion, Mrs. Vinson, but a doctor operates only when he has noticed the symptoms. Not everyone recognizes that Sterling is a stinking pus bag.”
At this point, pretty much the entire class was laughing, but I just wanted to disappear.
“I’ll give you a stinking pus bag,” said Sterling, and threw one of his colored pencils at Jimmy.
“Mr. Richardson, we do not throw pencils. You should have learned that in kindergarten. Now, if you can tell me what pus is comprised of, I will not give you a detention.”
“It’s that green crap that comes out of a guy that’s been with some dirty whore.”
“Mr. Richardson, you seem to want three days of in-school suspension.”
“You can’t do that. They were picking on me.”
“Mrs. Vinson,” said Jimmy, “Sterling is a critical part of our team, and I’d be a poor leader if I didn’t stand up for my teammates. Let me answer the question for Sterling.”
“Pus is the greenish-white discharge from an inflamed wound. It is a combination of dead white blood cells, bacteria, and other debris, and apparently Sterling contracted gonorrhea by having unprotected sex with a prostitute.” The class broke into laughter.
“That’s enough,” said Mrs. Vinson.
“It was with your mother, Timmons,” said Sterling.
“That is enough! Now remember, if you didn’t finish shading and labeling the diagram, it’s homework. Tomorrow we’ll play the Jeopardy game about the digestive and circulatory systems. Please study so the Timmons and Stoddard juggernaut doesn’t win again. They don’t need any more bonus points.”
“I need some bonus points,” I said.
“You can be on my team, Kelvin,” said Molly Ford, a senior girl who sat in front of me. She always made me feel funny. I didn’t like it when a girl seemed to flirt with me, because I never knew if she was serious or not. Molly seemed nice, but she outweighed me by twenty pounds, was three years older, and was trying to make fun of me. I just laughed.
In the rush at the bell, Sterling came up to the table where Jimmy and I sat. “I haven’t forgotten you, Stoddard. And you’ve made my list, too, Timmons.”
Jimmy responded, “Oh my. What are you going to do? Throw a football at us? We have a better chance to get hit by a train.”
I’ll say it: I hated Sterling Richardson. But that didn’t mean I wanted to get into a fight with him. He was eighty or ninety pounds heavier than me. I wished Jimmy would just leave him alone.
“You’re on my list!” said Sterling, apparently trying to look intimidating as he left the classroom. At least he wasn’t in any other class with us.
* * *
I just wanted to get home without any trouble. If I got into a fight, that would kill my chance for joining the team. I might have trouble with Mom as it is. I’d end up having to break the curfew they imposed upon me. Dad would be on my side. He had been a tight end and linebacker himself. That was back in the day when a one-seventy-five pound linebacker was good-sized.
Sterling had to get to practice. I hoped he wouldn’t have enough time to beat me to a pulp. I didn’t want any trouble from him.
There was trouble all right, but not what I was expecting. April was walking to the truck, and Sterling had his arm around her, tight. I don’t know how folks can walk like that, but they were taking their time, that’s for sure. He was talking and she was looking away, down to the side, and smiling.
When they stopped in front of me, it looked like April sort of rolled into him, like a wave, pressing her hip into him first, then her upper body. She had her arm around his waist, hand curled around on the front, her thumb in his pants pocket, and he had the palm of his hand on her shoulder, but the fingers were sort of doing a little tap dance on her chest, pointing out the direction where my sister’s breasts lay.
If I’d had something in my hands right then, I might have beaten him into a bloody pulp. It was just the familiarity of it that drove me crazy. He was so casual; it was like he was saying to everyone that he could have her whenever he wanted. No big deal.
What really drove me crazy was that he probably could. April had only one boyfriend, last year for about four months, and I’m not sure how far they got. I had thought not too far, but maybe I was wrong. Even if she didn’t mind, it was a big stinking deal to me. A real man didn’t treat a girl like she could be tossed away like a snotty Kleenex when he was through. Hell, if that’s all he wanted, he should have used his hand. A real man treated a woman like having sex with her was a big stinking deal, like it was something special, like she was something special.
I’m not an idiot. I know that most relationships don’t last forever, but there should at least be some hope for a fairytale ending. I think most girls, even the ones that sleep around, have that hope every time. They hope this guy is the one. That’s why a man has to be protective, and not let things get too far unless he thinks this girl might be the one for him. He’s setting her up for a disappointment, a real heartache and pain, and real men don’t put the risk on someone else’s shoulders; they take the risk themselves. At least that’s what I think. I might be wrong. I haven’t kissed a girl since Amy Lanigan’s seventh birthday party.
The beast spoke: “You make sure you get April home safely, Stoddard. We have plans for a big date on Saturday.”
“In that case, if we get into a big fiery wreck on the way home, I’ll consider it a mercy killing.”
The asshole just grinned, but I succeeded in getting April out of his clutches, because she hit me hard, right around my collarbone, and she said, “Kelvin, you weirdo. You’re so morbid! They should have put you away when you wrote that story about the cannibals.” She pushed me hard, with both hands, and I stumbled back against the truck door.
I said, “Get in the truck,” as I opened the door and climbed inside. I cranked it up, and noticed Sterling was kissing April on the lips, and not just a little peck, and their hands were kneading each other like some stinking loaf of bread dough. What the hell was this world coming to? This was some crazy stuff going down.
As we pulled away, dumbass was just smiling at us and giving us this little beauty-queen wave. Vehicular homicide seemed like a very good idea, but I didn’t want to spend the next three-to-life in some institution.
As we were driving back home, April hit me again on the upper arm, hard enough to hurt. “Can’t you just act normal for a while? Sterling is going to be my boyfriend.”
“Oh hell no! What the hell is wrong with you, April? I used to think you were at least a little bit smart. Can’t you see what a prick he is?”
“Sterling is a real man. He’s a senior. A little boy like you wouldn’t know.”
“A real man? A real man doesn’t treat girls like a piece of meat.”
“It’s not like that. He thinks I’m special.”
“He probably said that to the five other girls he’s had this semester.”
“They were all whores; he’s looking for a real girlfriend.”
“He kept only one more than a week, and if the rumors are true, that’s just because Taylor let him sodomize her, both ways, and got her girlfriend to join them the second week.”
“They were sluts. They’ve all been with other players already this semester.”
“Sure, they’re sluts. After you lose all self-respect, what else are you going to do? The convents aren’t very popular these days. After Sterling treats you like a whore, you’ll probably make the rounds of the football team, too. You’ll give blow jobs to anyone who smiles at you.”
In retrospect, that might have been a little bit harsh, but I was dishing out some tough love here. April’s idea of tough love was different, and her back-handed slap gave me a bloody nose.
“April, I’m sorry, but you can do better. If you want to date a football player, you should date Jimmy. He’s always liked you, and he’s the starting quarterback. Jimmy would treat you like a lady.”
“Jimmy is a sophomore, a little boy like you, and he can’t hardly get five words out when I’m around. Sterling is a senior, and he’s tall and rich and popular, and he’s a real man.”
“Did you maybe think that Jimmy is nervous around you because he actually gives a damn? If a guy isn’t a little bit nervous, he probably doesn’t think you’re anything special. And did you maybe ever think there is a right kind of popular and a wrong kind, and Sterling is the wrong kind?”
“He’s still more of a man than you.”
“I might not be a man yet, but the difference between him and me is that I’m trying to be a good man. I’m trying hard. I want to protect you. That’s what men do, not just use other people, regardless of the consequences. Sterling is still the spoiled brat he was when he was three, and that’s the truth.”
We didn’t say anything else, which meant April was thinking. Trouble was, I didn’t know if she was reconsidering the whole Sterling idea or plotting my demise. I doubted that. April could think, and she was good at making compromises. I hate compromises on issues I think are black and white. They just allow the wrong side to gain ground.
* * *
Copyright © 2019 by J. C. G. Goelz