• Beat up a kid, go to Disneyland

    When my brothers and I were younger we were shy, reclusive little creatures. My brother Justin was scrawny and nervous; I was chubby and withdrawn. Throughout elementary school and junior high we were frequently tormented, teased, and were eventually even isolated from our peers. By my freshman year of high school, I would often spend my lunch hour walking the perimeter of the campus, waiting desperately for the bell to ring so I could return to the ironic anonymity of the classroom.

    At least in there I wouldn’t have to bump into anyone one on one.

    I remember being pushed and shoved around. One time was in Home EC: A kid named Derrick repeatedly slapped at my face with a spatula until I excused myself from the class, running to the restroom to sob violently and wait out the remainder of the period. Another occasion was math class: Gabe repeatedly punched my shoulder until a purple welt provided testament to his violence and tears squeezed from my tightened eyelids.

    For this reason, my father made us (and my younger brother and sister) a deal: If we ever fought back against our tormentors in self-defense, and subsequently got suspended, he would take us to Disneyland during our time of suspension as a reward.

    Now, let me toss in a couple of clarifications here:

    1. According to my dad’s promise, we were never allowed to seek out other children to beat up merely in order to secure a sojourn to the Magic Kingdom.

    — and —

    2. We were not allowed to provoke or bait another kid into fighting us. If our father discovered we had done this, our punishment would have been much more severe than the seven days off granted by any school district. And I don’t even want to know what he would have done had he found out such incriminating information after he had spent mega-money on taking us to the happiest place on earth. However, it would most likely involve the decapitation of Huey, Dewey, Louie or their uncle Donald.

    His promise really never came to anything. Neither my siblings nor I actually got into any fights at school, and as such we never really had an opportunity to test the legitimacy of his offer. But that wasn’t really the point of the whole arrangement. The point was something more, something protective, secure, at the time, indescribable.

    A few years ago Beth and I became legal Godparents to a young boy named Alex, the parents of whom are two of my best friends and whom I have known for over a decade. Earlier this year the couple had a second boy and we have adopted the Godparent title (in both name and legal deed) for young Merret as well.

    On one of my last visits to Northern California, Alex let slip that he had been bullied (on more than one occasion) at school. I listened quietly as he explained shyly (he is actually usually a rather outspoken kid) how some kids had taunted him and put him down. My first impulse was one of silent but seething rage: I wanted to track those little bastards down myself and slap ‘em around with a Home EC spatula.

    My second impulse was slightly better than the first: Just tell Alex that if those kids ever bothered him again to inform them that his Godfather – who is big, and buff, and brave, and mean, and newly tattooed – would be checking in on them.

    I managed to suppress these two impulses and instead told him about the deal my father had made with me when I was younger. For less than a nanosecond I saw a slight smile crinkle from the right corner of Alex’s small mouth. It wasn’t the promise of violence that triggered the subtle upward tug on his thin lips; it was the promise of safety. It was the realization that if worse came to worst, he would have an escape route. If for some god awful reason running, or hiding, or telling didn’t solve his problem, he would still have a way out. And he wouldn’t be punished for it. He wouldn’t be harmed for being harmed.

    Immediately after I finished my narration of my childhood deal I could see Alex’s parents’ eyes flickering from one to another rather frantically, as if inaudibly screaming, “Wait, he didn’t just suggest that did he? He didn’t just suggest Alex deck another kid, right? Please tell me he didn’t say that. Tell me that’s not what I heard.”

    On that day I didn’t officially make the promise to Alex. I didn’t want to undermine his parents’ authority without first running the idea by them. But since it’s now been put out there, and since I have not heard any audible objection to the contract I now officially make this promise to my Godson in good faith:

    If you beat up a kid in SELF-DEFENSE, your Godmother and I will take you to Disneyland during your suspension.*

    *Restrictions apply. See numbers 1 and 2 above. Also, you might have to bring your homework with you and I suck at math. So come prepared.

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