Here’s the thing about writing. You never know where it’s going to lead. It’s a lot like life itself.
I wrote a story called “The Fight.” It was about being beaten up in the seventh grade by a classmate who, for 40 years, would remain a nemesis in my mind. And then we reunited at a high school reunion -- the kid who beat me up and me.
A friend of mine remembered the fight so he grabbed me and dragged me over to reconnect with the fellow who beat me up. But to my surprise, my antagonist turned out to be a pretty nice guy. We both remembered the fight. Then we laughed, shook hands and shook our heads at the dumb things boys do in seventh grade.
I wound up emailing him the story I had written because even though I didn’t mention him by name, I still wanted him to read it before I posted it on my blog. He liked the story and wrote me back. And now here’s the part about life being like writing and not always knowing where it will lead.
What this fellow told me was that he had moved to my hometown of Tuscaloosa in the middle of seventh grade. At his previous school, which was much smaller than his new school — Tuscaloosa Junior High — he was the only seventh grader who went out for the football team. Being on the football team gave him status and respect from his class peers and the upper classmen. He was popular and the girls liked him.
Then, he started at Tuscaloosa Junior High. It was a new ball game and it seemed to him that all the cliques of friends were already formed and he was not included. Girls hardly seemed to notice him and had little interest in talking to him.
There also was a “crazy fight culture,” he wrote, and a fight broke out almost every day as some hapless victim was bullied. Crowds would gather and during these fights these bullies and their victims were the centers of attention. “I was wary of all those guys, too, and I dreaded the day that they would pick on me,” my antagonist wrote in his email.
"So,” he confessed, “I came up with a really bad and stupid idea. I thought that if I picked a fight with the most popular guy in school and won or at least held my own then somehow those bullies would think twice about picking on me. And I would get attention and magically the popular girls would like me.”
After the fight none of those things panned out for him, he admitted. Particularly with the girls. "All the most popular girls truly seemed to hate me now since I picked on you.”
Then he added, "The hardest part of reading your piece was the fact that I was the bully in this situation. I detest bullies and you would be hard pressed to find another person on planet earth who would describe me that way. But for this one time in my life, I was a bully and for that I am ashamed and truly sorry. Fortunately, time moves on and by eighth grade I became better adjusted at school.”
Whew! I took a deep breath.
The story behind the story — his story — was unlike anything I could have imagined. So he didn’t pick on me because I was a wimp! What a liberating piece of information. It had never occurred to me that I became his prey because he saw ME as popular.
But then came the clincher: “My wife and I lost our beautiful 18-year-old son to a freak accident in 1997,” he continued. “We adopted another son in 1999. In 2002, he was diagnosed with autism. We love him with all our hearts.”
It was as if I was looking in a mirror: I, too, have a special needs son, who my wife and I had adopted.
He explained he was interested in enrolling his son in a special needs program at the University of Alabama. My son recently finished that program. “My wife and I see this experience as an important next step for him as he moves into adulthood,” he added. The opportunity at University of Alabama had been just that for my son.
I shook my head and re-read his entire email. Who could have imagined on the day of The Fight, as he walloped me in the face more than 40 years ago, that one day we’d both have adopted sons with special needs, with him wanting to enroll his son in the same program ours’ had attended.
“You never know where your life will lead,” he wrote at the end of his email.
Yep, I thought to myself, it’s like writing — you never know.