A Man's Growth simply deals with the absurd nature of being a teen. The relationships and pecking orders that develop and define high school are ultimately not important. The character,Paul, was one of those that laughed in the face of boundaries and won.
“A man's growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poet, Essayist
It made no sense to me that Paul did what he did. It was quit pointless, but courageous in some teen-psycho way all the same. I stood in the midst of all these familiar faces where I knew very few personally in awe of his nerve. Paul and I were certified outsiders among this group. Passing these idiots in the hall every day at the high school without a word or nod was very easy. We didn’t belong, weren’t going to fit in and we didn’t care. We were unworthy of friendship in the eyes of most these cliquish, rich dolts and we simply understood and still didn’t care about these opinions. Occasionally Paul and I would simply interject our presence into their world uninvited to irritate them and tonight was one of those times.
Paul always had “dangerous” written all over him, from his mod black leather jacket, dark Italian good looks and the way unnerving way he’d walk right up to the biggest jock and verbally destroy the guy. Paul was a cocky guy, but he was a very good friend. It didn’t hurt that he had a reputation of being a little crazy. I liked that in a friend where some people might not. Paul was never boring and always out for an adventure.
The girl, and with Paul there always was a girl, had been watching for an opportunity to talk with him without her boyfriend around and Paul was aware of her charms. This particular girl, Diane, was a knockout and the pink sweater she wore to the party showed her physical charms for all to see. She was taller than most the junior class girls at about 5’10” and had all the right proportions to fill her tight jeans. Paul was barely 5’9” and generally used lifts in his black boots. Even I wasn’t supposed to know that he used lifts.
So Diane waits until her linebacker boyfriend goes to take a leak and the heads right for Paul and I. “Hi, guys. Hi, Paul.” she says with a look that said she was looking for a little danger tonight. Paul was cool and replied, “Hey Diane. I see you’re busy over there. When you gonna make some time for me?”
“Oh, Paul, I want to see you, but Lonnie just don’t give me room to breathe. You understand, don’t you?”
“Naw, I see Lonnie and I see you. You’re gonna need to do something about Lonnie or there ain’t no me and you, Diane. You’re way too hot for him.” She smiled at that remark. Paul could be very smooth.
About that time Lonnie came back from the boy’s room and saw Paul and Diane. If looks could kill, we could have planned Paul’s funeral the next day. “Paul, Lonnie at your three o’clock and coming hard.” I said quickly. Paul, instead of turning around to wait, moves toward the big guy and stops with his big Italian nose right in Lonnie’s face. Lonnie is about 6’2 and 190 pounds so Paul looked less than intimidating as he asked, “You want something from me, Lonnie?” He said it with such conviction and strength that I thought he might just get away with the bluff. Paul sounded pretty tough. Lonnie must have heard what was going on between Diane and Paul while taking his leak. He had a pretty full head of steam going on. Instead of talking, which Paul was really good at, Lonnie simply hit Paul so hard on the chin that he took two steps backward and fell like cut timber. Paul lay on the ground shaking the cobwebs out of his head. “That went well”, he mumbled. You just had to appreciate Paul’s dark sense of humor.
About then, Lonnie decided he wanted more of Paul and I decided it wasn’t nice to hit Paul while he was down. “It’s over, Lonnie.” I said firmly and stepped between Paul and Lonnie. Since I was taller than Lonnie by two inches and had at least as much weight, Lonnie looked around for help. Now you got to understand, Paul and I were the outsiders at this party. There was a very good chance Lonnie was going to have his cavalry coming to his rescue if things went against him.
I wasn’t a bad-ass jock, but some interesting things had happened during my first year physical education periods where lettered athletes found themselves out-wrestled, out run and out played by the new kid. At the intramural games, I came in second on the 440-yard dash barefooted. So physically, I was an unknown and this dumb shit couldn’t see my fear. Almost everyone at the party had gotten quiet and formed a circle around Lonnie and I to watch and listen. Paul was still on the ground, but I could hear him getting up just behind me.
“What’s it going to be, Lonnie? Are you going to walk away a winner tonight or what? Who knows, we might be friends someday. It’s up to you.” I stopped for effect. Paul was now standing next to me with his black leather jacket covered in dry grass. My friend didn’t look hurt now and he also was in full control – no anger showing at all. What kind of psycho was hiding inside him, I wondered? His face was smiling and he looked eager for whatever happened. I loved this guy. Better to have him on my side of this ruckus.
Lonnie stood silently with just a little heavy breathing. Adrenaline was probably rushing through his system and I wasn’t certain what he’d do. He was looking from side-to-side while thinking. My guess was his fellow jocks had left without him, not knowing they’d be needed. I was looking from side-to-side too, but didn’t see any great support outside a few wanna-be second-string freshmen.
Before I could say anything more, Paul steps forward and really hammered Lonnie on the side of his head. Lonnie stepped back about two steps, but didn’t go down. “We’re even now dirt-bag.” Paul said with a grin from ear to ear. “Never sucker punch me again!” He shouted loud enough to assure Diane heard him. Lonnie didn’t know quite what to do. He stood there again for a minute or so. I was waiting for all Hell to break loose. Lonnie then turned slowly toward Diane and said, “Let’s go.” I even had to admire this unexpected classy move.
Diane looked at Paul and Paul looked back at Diane. Lonnie looked at them looking at each other and I just tried to keep my eyes on Lonnie. Finally, Diane said to Lonnie so absolutely casually, “Yeah, I guess we better go.” And Diane, smiling, walked over and took Lonnie’s arm. They strolled out of the party like high school royalty and Paul and I stood there watching them exit in wide-eyed, open-mouthed astonishment. I swear Diane even put an extra wiggle in her walk for our benefit.
“It ain’t easy on this side of the tracks, is it, Buddy?” Paul laughed as he pulled me along to get a beer. Losing another round in the game of life for us just came natural, but the fight was what made it all worth it. We played hard in this game every day. There was maybe a winning tomorrow waiting after each losing day. We believed.
“You know, Diane really looked great in that pink sweater tonight, brother.” Paul laughed. What a guy.