Fibs can be good things. They can shroud truths not ready for sunlight. They can buy time when the skin is still too thin. I considered these facts as I looked over incident notes I took today. A mean quick little sequence at lunch time led me to write the report out long-hand so that I could see all of the pieces.
My notes describe how a knot of students gathered near the basketball hoops. They recount the distance I had to scoot from the door of the lunch room toward the tightening ring. They tell how, even ten yards out, I could hear a familiar voice shouting “Get away from me!”.
I had to push through the ring to reach Bishop Riley, a nine-year old. No secrets now. Someone had pantsed him and there he stood. His baggy jeans and drawers sat in a rumple at his ankles. He clenched his fists, cried, and swung at no precise target. One girl prodded him: “Pull your pants up, skinny little boy. Ooo my, look at those chicken legs.” He tugged up his trousers and spat back: “I’m gonna break your little chicken neck. Brush your teeth you ugly little girl!”
“OK. Clear out!” I boomed. Children scattered. That left me to sort out the details with the still smoldering Bishop. “You wanna tell me what happened?” I asked. We both waited until his tears and rapid breathing eased. Other than naming Tatiana as the one who pantsed him, he said nothing.
When I come to places where secrets dwell, I recognize them as powerful places. Not places I enjoy, but the dynamics I do indeed respect. Scars from these places can last a lifetime. Rapid exposure of hidden things can call out monsters and ghosts that are, as Stephen King says, “Real. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”
For example, even in the five seconds Bishop needed to retrieve his trousers, I chanced onto more secrets, like six welts that stood out on the back of his left leg or the fact that the girl who taunted him – and likely pantsed him – was his cousin. The two lived together in the same apartment, yet again a house of secrets in its own right.
I stood by Bishop for a good while to assess the damage. I then made required phone calls and dealt out consequences that seemed somehow insufficient. But for all that I discovered, instinct whispered that still more secrets remained beyond the shaming. A story before the story and one that was not my business.
Sun set. Sun rose and Bishop returned the next day. He stepped to the end of his line. He did not look at me and did not speak as he went inside. “Don’t pry, Principal.” I heard the voice of a former mentor, Eloise Brooks, advising me to “respect the dignity of privacy.”
Truth has its place. Timing matters too. Bishop, like all little boys, is a storyteller. If he can learn to spin new stories, he might recapture that which was taken, and shape new truths so that they work in his favor. Tall tales provide buy time, and clear the way – a shot at a fresh start. A good thing for a nine year old boy and also for men like me.
to Charles and Susan who gave me the space to think this one through