I won't paint myself a victim. However, it's hard not to when a fellow student was slapping my face in front of a teacher and nothing was being done to stop it. But these were the rules of the game that day and I had to either play to lose or break even. The odds are tricky bitches sometimes...
Advanced Placement Gym was a senior-only class available in the second semester. The name of the class was purely for paperworking purposes. It was basically an excuse for the most popular athletes in school to play fun games for an hour each school day. No need to change clothes. No need to run drills or sweat. Just come through and party. Sometimes we even left the property for field trips.
Mr. Burke was the teacher and if ever there was a up-front and fair man, it was him. He had two requirements in order to make the class:
1) Play a sport at the Varsity level.
2) He must like you.
The second req was infinitely harder as Mr. Burke did not suffer fools too much. Either you played the game and it reflected in your social circles or you didn't. That aside, not even the star athlete had a chance to get in if Mr. Burke didn't think he or she would fit. But getting in signaled a certain pinnacle of social achievement.
AP Gym was everything I could have ever hoped it would be for a senior year experience. I quickly got to enjoy the looks of jealousy from other students as we watched them run track while we took golf swings on ping pong balls. Our goofing and laughter echoed across the playing field amidst whistle blows and calisthenics.
The one activity all semester we got into that nearly required effort was floor hockey. I hated it. I didn't get how chasing a rubber ball with a plastic stick to hit it into a net was fun. It sounded dumber playing it without checking as it WAS a form of hockey. And positively asinine playing it with girls. Cute girls. Cute girls in skirts and tight slacks. The whole situation was backwards.
Smiling when you're miserable is difficult in general, impossible when you're a child and you've been indulged too much. And moving from one ridiculously fun activity into this one was like going to the fair to find out the rides, games, cotton candy, and elephant ears were gone...but you could sit in the dunk tank if you wanted.
I pouted by playing lazy defense or finding ways to end up in the penalty box. Mr. Burke was happy to let me sit out chunks of time there or in the alternates pen while he busted my chops mercilessly for being a baby. Once near the end of the first week I actually tried to participate earnestly a little, but I got semi-checked into a wall and felt my temper flare up. I complained to Mr. Burke, but again he busted my chops for acting like a baby. Then when Julie, a particularly athletic young hottie, took the ball from me during another period of lazy defensive play he, and everyone else, busted my chops again. Inside I was burning up with fury...mostly because they were right. I WAS being a baby. But these were the rules of the game. I can bitch, and lose, or not play, and draw. I elected the latter.
Two days near the end of the second week Mr. Burke had some personal business to attend to so he placed Mr. Muschott in charge. Mr. Muschott was not my favorite teacher. We'd had some disagreements about my playing time and position when he coached my freshman year of JV Soccer and I'd held it against him like an adult whose parent had lost his favorite toy as a toddler.
Mr. Muschott's way of negotiating my attitude was by making me play. He responded to my lazy play with wide-eyed incredulity and begged me to perk up. I rebelled by finding ways to stay in the penalty box. Floor hockey is a ridiculous game with tons of rules to break and I exploited them as frequently and flagrantly as I could. Stick over my head? High-sticking. Kicking the ball? Inappropriate play. Soft-checking a girl? Get out. I had more fun breaking those rules than I ever had actually playing.
Competition, however, would win out. And I, no matter how stupidass the game, will at some point want to win. And with a particularly close game coming to a close we had a chance to win. So for the first time while playing floor hockey, I actually started to jog to the ball. Jogging turned to sprinting. And pretty soon I was up and down the floor like a man possessed.
I still couldn't play the game worth a crap, but what I couldn't do I threw more effort at. To my utter surprise, and probably to everyone else's, I wasn't that bad. And with me not sucking our team looked like we had a shot.
The game was ending, the class bell was about to ring, but the game was close and Mr. Muschott had declared the next goal dictated the victor. So when that ball came rolling into my corner of the gym I hunted it down like a fox hunter on the chase. That same ball was being chased by Jack, another fierce competitor. We weren't friends in any way, but I respected his effort. So I put myself between him and the ball and made to shoo it back to the offensive side. But as I reached the ball and trapped it against the wall I saw his stick between my legs trying to fish it out...and entirely too close to another set of competitive objects. I made my objections, but Mr. Muschott bid play on as no one was hurt. Somehow I managed to get my way and the ball went sailing towards my teammates on offense. But I was pissed.
"Next time you put that stick between my legs dude..."
"Quit being a baby!"
I take great care as to not inflame my quick temper, but the competitive attitude I'd taken on left me vulnerable. And Jack's quick return pulled it naked and free. My face was hot, my heart was pounding fresh with adrenaline. And I could feel my hands crushing that stupid plastic hockey stick. But this was the game and once again I had two choices. So I shut down.
A couple times more the ball ended up in my corner and I barely tried to play it. Somehow the other team couldn't succeed in scoring even with Jack charging here and there around me, but my teammates were annoyed with me regardless. Deservedly so. But I was teetering entirely too close to expressing my seething anger and unsure how to manage it aside from dis-involvement. Still we neared closer to the end and spirits were high as two teams battled it out for phantom supremacy. Well, two teams and one protester.
The ball rolled into my corner again as seconds were ticking off the final minutes. No one was nearby, so I actually jogged my chase to it. As I neared the wall where the ball was trapped I heard Jack's size 14's clop-stomping my way. I tried to get the ball out, but it would not cooperate. Then Jack's stick was between my legs again. I tried for a few seconds to get at that damn thing, but between all the effort it jumped into the air. And Jack's stick went after it.
I took one great leap to my right to avoid his efforts, held my stick in the air, and walked away towards the penalty box. Mr. Muschott began to voice his dissent, but I ignored him. Play stopped and Jack started to follow me.
"You're being such a baby! Stop being a baby!"
He was poking me in the back with his stick while he said it. I reacted the only way I could allow myself. I raised my stupid plastic hockey stick with my right hand and brought it down in a swift chopping motion behind me. I didn't even know how far back he was. I found out later that I got him on the wrist. I also found out later by Mike, a guy on my team as he told everyone who would listen, that when Jack left-handed baseball swung that stupid damn hockey stick at my leg I never even broke stride as it broke and the last eleven inches of it went flying across the gym in front of me.
Mr. Muschott, wide-eyed in surprise, beckoned the both of us over. Jack continued poking me with the end of his broken stupid hockey stick and calling me a baby until he finally tossed it aside and we stood in front of Mr. Muschott.
"C'mon! What's wrong with you guys? Why can't you play nice?"
"I told you I didn't want to play"
"He's just being a big baby! Just a big dumb baby!"
Then, to my surprise, Jack started slapping my face. Not hard slaps. Just rapid, authoritative, open-handed taps to my face. I looked at him, but didn't react. To react would be to kill him. The rules of the game meant I had to shut it down or risk expulsion or worse. So I stood there and counted out the three sets of four, six, and seven staccato slaps Jack administered to my face directly in front of Mr. Muschott. After the third set I looked at Mr. Muschott.
"Jack! Why are you doing that?"
"Because he's being a big baby! C'mon big baby! You gonna keep being a big baby?"
Two more sets of three and four staccato slaps.
"Jack! Stop that!"
"Well he should just stop being a big baby!"
I looked back at Jack and said nothing. It was weird to see everything in red from the gym walls to the gym windows to the locker room doorway to the other students as they left their classrooms to walk into another, oblivious to how close they were to witnessing a double murder.
"Guys, let's just shake hands and never speak of this again."
I thought it cowardly that an authority would take that route and not punish Jack, or even both of us for our actions that day. But I'd never known Mr. Muschott to be an effective authority of any sort before, so I figured following instructions would give me time to get away and cool down lest he further try to influence us.
After shaking hands with Jack and walking away to more taunts amidst Mr. Muschott's impotent requests for silence I reflected on what I did wrong. How I got so angry so fast and let the situation put me in a position where I couldn't do anything while another student slapped my face, in front of a teacher, after having broken a stupid hockey stick on my leg.
The only answer I have is the same one I use today in situations where unfortunate people do unfortunate things. The world is broken. And these are the rules of the game: You can play to break even or to lose. Only the world wins. And your victory remains in contentment. I am displeased with the circumstances that befall me, for whatever reasons they do. But I gain by remaining within myself, staying confident in my course, and not breaking stride regardless of the obstacles. In that, in time, I'm confident I'll triumph.