Saturday evening, after detention. The red Chrysler squeaked and moaned as it turned into the driveway of the modest, working class home, coming to a crunching halt in front of the garage door. The sound of deteriorating suspension, brakes and transmission rung in his head a bit less than usual, he had a lot on his mind. He sat in his seat, lightly tugging at the neck of his green sweater waiting for his father to say something.
His father carried the demeanor of a man who was nearly at wits end. Brian Johnson could see the stress building in his father's face over the past couple of days since the locker incident. He was torn between trying to be the stern, responsible father figure and the laid back, comforting hand that a son would need after a potential suicide attempt. If he punished his son too severely, it could set him off. Not severely enough and there would be hell to pay from his wife. The internal conflict was wearing him down. Brian could understand that and didn't want anyone to feel that kind of grief over him.
Mr. Johnson rubbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, pushing his glassed up to his forehead and took in a big breath before breaking the silence. "Brian," he began but paused. He adjusted his glasses and turned to face his son before continuing, "I'm sorry you've been getting so much pressure from your mother and I. I had no idea how much it had been bothering you." He opened his mouth to continue but paused again trying to choose his words carefully. Brian could sense where the conversation was going and while he appreciated the effort, it felt way too awkward to have this conversation with his father, in a car.
Brian began to think about the events that happened earlier at school and though he didn't feel like sharing the details with his father, remembering them somehow gave him a confidence that made him feel like he could open up a little and speak his mind. His father was just about to start unloading carefully assembled dialog again when he was intercepted.
"Dad, you don't have to apologize. It makes me feel better knowing that you understand." Brian said, shifting his eyes around numerous times trying to avoid eye contact with his father. Mr. Johnson's mouth closed and eyes opened wider slightly like a kid who was waiting to hear the opening monologue of an epic fable. Taking the cue of silence, Brian continued, "Don't worry about me. I'm not going to kill myself and I promise I'm going to work my ass off the rest of the year to make up for the F." Brian's face began to feel numb when he realized he'd just cussed in front of his old man for the first time. He expected the hammer to fall right then but his father just sat back with an expression that let Brian know he was still listening.
Regaining his confidence, Brian started up again, "But I'm not perfect. I've screwed up. And I'll screw up again, pressure or not. I took shop because I thought it would be easy and I ended up failing because I didn't realize the skill involved. I got nervous when I knew I had to tell you guys I flunked and thought about killing myself as an easy alternative to facing my problems, which I know now was a childish way of thinking." The edges of his father's mouth started to curl upward and Brian could almost feel the tension melting away.
He was now looking his father directly in the eyes. "Now I know I need to face my problems like a man. I understand if you feel like you have to punish me. I'll accept the consequences for my actions. But if you do, I ask that you only punish me for the flare gun. I feel that being grounded for failing shop is somewhat unjust because the failure was a lesson through which I learned humility." Brian gasped for air as he finished. His eyes were open wide with shock as though he didn't realize what he was saying until he finished saying it. He couldn't believe he'd just said all that to his father.
Brian's dad sat looking at his son whose words hung in the air. After a moment of silence he started chuckling lightly and nodding his head in approval. "I'm impressed, son. You've always been so smart but I never knew how mature you could be." He threw an arm around his son and pulled him in close for a hug. When he let go he said, "I'm proud of you, Brian. Thank you for putting my mind at ease." They exchanged smiles and opened their doors to step out. "Oh." Brian's father called over the roof of the car. Brian looked up at him after pulling his backpack out and slinging it onto his shoulder. "You're grounded for the rest of the weekend and you're going to have some chores tomorrow." Brian chuckled, "No problem."
They both entered the house and Brian's mother came into the living room to greet them. Brian was on a straight track for his room. "Where are you going?" She asked with menacing tone? "Into my room to study." He replied stopping and looking over his shoulder. "I didn't get a chance to during detention, I had an essay." The confidence he had while talking to his father was considerably less while talking to his mother but he managed to retain some of it. "Well you get in that room and don't come out until it's time for dinner." She raised her voice a little. "Ok." he said as he turned to walk down the hallway. His mother turned her focus to Mr. Johnson who was still near the front door hanging his coat. "Did you punish him?" He smiled as he carried his briefcase across the living room. "Of course sweetheart." He said and gave her a peck on the forehead as he walked past. He stopped and turned almost the same way Brian had and said, "But I think he may have already learned his lesson."
He crossed the threshold of his bedroom doorway, pushed the door shut with the toe of his shoe and flopped down onto his bed. He laid there staring at the ceiling, going over the days event's in his mind. He had just done more in one day of detention than he had in his entire high school career. He had lied to the principle, snuck out of detention, ran through the halls of the school to avoid discovery, hidden drugs, taken part in their consumption, ran riot to loud music, poured out his soul and feelings to some of the greatest people he'd ever met, connected with them, said "Fuck you" to one of the most popular girls at school and blatantly ignored the directions of a school assignment. But what floored him the most was that he had made friends. A smile crept across his face as his eyes began to close. He had made friends. It felt nice. Even if it was just for today…..