Circa 1970. I’m a 12-year old seventh grader at Clinton Rosette Middle School. (We all hated that recent name change from the venerable North Junior High and insisted on using the old name.) For one section of P.E. we actually had a bowling class, for which we would walk quite a number of blocks to the downtown bowling alley, called “Rec.” We all felt so adult; they never would have let us do something like that in grammar school. And bowling for P.E.? How cool was that!
So we’re walking back to school after bowling class one day, and the first snow of the season is falling. The last few blocks of the trip I was nursing a snowball in my hands, which was slowly morphing into an ice ball. I was just steps from the school door, and didn’t want to just waste my creation.
About 30 or 40 yards behind me were three girls walking the same path I had just trod. Giving the matter essentially no thought at all, I heaved my iceball in the general direction of the girls. It didn’t occur to me that at that distance I might actually hit one of them. It was a shot across the bow; in my mind it was actually a bit of a flirtation. (No one said that young boys actually know how to flirt effectively with girls, but the impulse is still there, even if it manifests itself in ways that girls do not perceive as flirtatious at all.)
But, much to my horror, this was the most accurately thrown projectile I have ever hurled in my entire life. The snowball follows its geometric arc and then lands smack dab between the eyes of one of those girls. She was wearing glasses, which then snapped in two perfectly at the bridge of the nose between the lenses. Did you ever see that Billy Jack movie where at the end Billy Jack shoots the evil motorcycle gang guy right between the eyes and his sunglasses go flying in different directions? It was just like that.
Mortified, I trudged into math class awaiting my doom. And it came quickly. I was pulled out of class and sent to the principal’s office. I had never been sent to the principal’s office before, and I was in big trouble, as you might imagine.The girl was ok, apart from a red face from a lot of crying and the temporary mark left by the missile. But her glasses were toast. I too wore glasses, and I knew that there was no swifter wrath from one’s parents than breaking or losing your glasses. So doing that to someone else, I knew I was in hot water. My parents would have to buy the girl new glasses, and I knew they weren’t going to be at all happy by this whole turn of events. And indeed they weren’t.
But something else happened, something unexpected. I was (most of the time) a good little Mormon boy, and as such I had a reputation as a goody-two-shoes. But after that incident the kids looked at me differently, for awhile, at least. By getting in such trouble I mysteriously had gained a significant portion of what passes for street cred in junior high. Kids were looking at me as though I were a bad-ss, and to my surprise that seemed to be a good thing. I was and am anti-bully, but for a brief time I could almost understand the lure of being mean. It was like the dark side of the force calling to me.
Fortunately my dalliance with the dark side didn’t last long. I knew I wasn’t really a bad-ss, and I hadn’t really intended to be mean, even if it looked that way to others. My bad boy rep was short-lived, and quickly enough I went back to being a preternaturally nice guy. (And of course I apologized profusely to that poor girl I had beaned.)
As I reflect back on that, I can still hazily remember my little boy thought processes, and it’s shocking to me how far my perceptions were from reality. For some of us maturity is a long, hard road that doesn’t come easily.