“I want to make sure I understand what happened.” Mr. Eckleman pointed at Paul. “Trevor was apparently talking about your mother.” He turned his finger toward Jordan. “You hit him for that, but Trevor said Jordan was the one talking about your mother, so Paul hit Jordan.”
Both boys nodded.
Mr. Eckleman shook his head and looked at Paul. “You’ve been warned about fighting, Paul.”
“I know,” Paul said softly. “Am I going to be expelled?” That’s what the principal had said the last time Paul got into a fight.
“But I said it was ok!” Jordan leapt up from his seat. “Look, I’m fine, and he said he was sorry.”
“That doesn’t mean he didn’t do anything wrong.” Mr. Eckleman just kept staring at Paul. “Why did you come in here to confess?”
Paul thought for a moment. “I don’t want to be that person anymore.”
No one else said anything. The silence grew every bit as uncomfortable as Mr. Eckleman’s stare.
“I’m angry all the time.” Paul wasn’t sure if Mr. Eckleman wanted him to keep explaining, but he just couldn’t tolerate the quiet another moment. “I don’t want to be angry, but I don’t know how not to be. I think someone gave me a hint, but even then I’m not sure how it works. I just want to change.”
Paul realized he wanted to sit down and read Romans. No matter how infuriatingly short Nobody’s visits were, they always left him with advice that helped. Nobody’s questions were infuriating, but the answers gave Paul options he hand’t considered.
“I want to try something new,” he said. “But I guess that doesn’t really matter here.”
Mr. Eckleman smiled. “I wouldn’t say that.”
“You’re not going to punish me!?” Paul was shocked. Maybe he was going to get one last chance.
“I didn’t say that either,” Mr. Eckleman replied, “but given what you’ve said combined with Jordan’s desire to help you, not to mention your science teacher, who seems to be the only adult in this building you respect, I’m willing to reduce your punishment.”
Paul nodded. It was already more than he deserved, and he knew that.
“Instead of being expelled, I’m going to suspend you for two weeks,” Mr. Eckleman continued. “I suggest you use that two weeks to do whatever it is you’re planning to do to let go of that anger. If you’d like access to our counselor, we’ll allow that.”
“Thank you, Mr. Eckleman,” Paul said. Then he turned to look at Jordan. “I’m still sorry I hit you. I’m sorry that I didn’t ask what happened.”
Even in that moment, a part of Paul wanted to track down Trevor and beat him. It was such a powerful desire. I don’t want to be angry anymore!
Jordan shrugged again. “Like I said, it’s ok.”
Mr. Eckleman smiled again. “I’m not actually sure what happened here, but I’m encouraged by it. We’ll call your mother to pick you up.”
The principal dismissed Jordan and had Paul sit in the waiting area until his mother arrived. While he waited, he used his phone to read Romans, trying to see what Nobody was getting at.
The answer the the question Nobody asked was pretty easy to find.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” The verse was Romans Chapter 5 Verse 8.
Paul considered the last thing Nobody had told him. “Nobody deserves forgiveness. That’s why it’s a gift.”
It only took Paul about 45 minutes to read Romans. With nothing better to do, he started reading it again.
His mom appeared after Paul got about halfway through his second pass of the letter. She stood in the doorway. Her long black hair flowed over the her shoulders and nearly blended with the purple Lularoe dress she wore. She looked at Paul with brown eyes that shimmered in unshed tears.
Paul hated that look for some reason. Why did she have to look at him like that? Did she hate him? Was she disappointed in him because he was turning into someone just like his dad? Was he destined to grow up to be just like the man he hated?
Paul got up and walked past her on his way to the car. He heard her take in a sharp breath as if she were about to say something, but he didn’t give her time. He walked to the car and got in. He wasn’t particularly interested in reading the Bible, but focusing on his phone seemed to keep his mother from trying to talk.
He was doing it again. He was ignoring her. He was avoiding her. Why was he so afraid?
Paul’s head shot up. He hadn’t noticed his mother had pulled over.
“Every time you defended me,” her voice caught, but she kept speaking. “You’d protect me, and all I could do was patch you up, but I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Paul forced himself to look out his window. He couldn’t look at her. He couldn’t watch her bury her face in her hands and cry.
After a moment, she found the strength to talk a bit more. “I couldn’t keep trying to heal you when I was the reason you were hurt.”
“Let’s just go,” Paul said sharply. He still couldn’t bring himself to look at her. He didn’t want to see her cry. It hurt him, and in strange way it made him more angry. What did he expect her to do? What did he want from her?
“I shouldn’t have stopped coming in to help you.” She rushed the words out. “But it was worse because I never should have let him lay a hand on you in the first place.” The last word ended in a wail. She dropped her head onto the wheel of the car and sobbed.
Paul could look away all he wanted. He even shut his eyes. But he couldn’t block out the sound of his mother’s weeping.
“I couldn’t stand to hear you crying,” Paul said. “I couldn’t stand to see you hurt.”
He finally turned to look at her, and tears streamed down his face. “That’s why I did it, Mom. I was trying to protect you, and it never worked.”
In some random parking lot in the suburbs, a mother and son held each other and wept.
“I’m sorry,” Paul said between sobs. “I’m sorry I was so mean. I’m sorry I avoided you.”
His mother gently pushed him away to look into his eyes. “You don’t owe me an apology for anything! I did this, understand? I failed you.”
He still wanted to know why. He still couldn’t understand why she never left his father. He couldn’t understand why she ever married him in the first place.
“I deserve it,” she continued. “I know you hate me, and I deserve that, but I still love you.”