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The Principal's Office
The door shuts with a click behind me and I turn to look at my son sitting behind the principal’s desk. His cheek is scraped and it looks like he has the beginnings of a black eye. The crinkles in his forehead speak of worry and guilt despite the rigid bearing of defiance.
“Your son Tristan was involved in a school fight. You know our zero tolerance policy, we’ll have to suspend him for day,” the principal explains, “It will be on his permanent record.” Tristan shrinks away from me slightly almost as though he can feel my face crystallizing into ice. I conduct the various legalities of the meeting without once looking at him, and thank the principal for notifying me. The first five minutes of the car ride home are spent in complete silence as I try to compose myself to speak with a gentler tone.
“Would you like to explain to me what happened?” I ask somewhat stiffly. Tristan just looks out the window before mumbling, “You won’t listen to me anyway.” A sigh of exasperation escapes from me, “I just don’t understand what you were thinking! It’s your senior year, you’re about to go off to college and now is not the time to be doing stupid things!” I try to calm myself again, “Please tell me what happened, did someone say something? What started all of this?”
Tristan seems to be struggling with himself, anger and embarrassment both visible on his face. ”I wanted them to leave her alone,” he says finally. I look at him in surprise, he isn’t one to fight but I had assumed that the fight was over some ridiculous masculinity thing, a matter of pride. I hadn’t considered that he could have been protecting someone.
“Who is ‘them’ and who is ‘her’?” I ask, “And why didn’t you tell the principal about this?” A bit of hope rises in me that maybe we can salvage his record from this mess if it wasn’t his fault. ”I don’t know who they were,” he says miserably, “But they were harassing Maria. You know she used to have really bad skin issues, but then they started to get better right?”
I try to envision Maria and I remember a somewhat tall and slender girl who would be quite pretty if it weren’t for the red blotches on her complexion. ”Yes, I vaguely remember Maria,” I answer, “Go on.” The anger appears on his face again contorting the usually gentle features and I realize just how disgusted Tristan is with the older boys. ”She was taking birth control pills to help with her acne, and the older boys saw her with them. They thought she was sleeping around and started making crude comments about her. She tried to walk quickly and get away from them but one reached over and grabbed the strap of her backpack and pulled part of her shirt down. That was when I hit him.” Tristan confessed, “She didn’t want me to tell anyone for fear of what everyone else would think. No one else saw but me.”
I sit quietly thinking about what I had just heard. I can’t be angry with Tristan, not when I know how Maria felt. Something similar had happened to me once in high school and I only wish someone had been there to punch the guy in the face too. Tristan was protecting Maria over himself and a part of me admires him. But this suspension is not okay, and although he doesn’t realize it, by not telling the principal he spares the older boys the proper punishment they deserve to make sure it never happens again.
“Are you still angry with me?” Tristan asks sheepishly. ”No of course not,” I say and give him a slight smile, “But I am going to talk to the principal about those boys. Ba ba ba!” I cut him off when I see he’s about to protest. ”You don’t deserve a suspension for this and you need to make the adults aware of this so that they can handle things before you have to intervene and get beat up. And no, I’m not going to mother you, you can fight your own battles. Just trust me, okay?”
He thinks for a moment, then concedes, “Okay mom.” “Good,” I reply. Tristan stares out the window again then turns back to me, “Mom?”
“Yes? What is it?” I ask. He smiles a little.
“Thank you.” I smile a little back.