Thunder and Lightening
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
Karen came into the office and went through the ordering procedure. About halfway through it, she growled and scratched an item off the order form. Irritated, she said, “We should really get this computerized. It’s really easy to make a mistake with everything done manually.”
It was an error prone process and one that usually failed if two people were working on it. The records required a person to keep track of what was on hand, what was ordered, and what had arrived. If you failed to know what arrived then it was possible that you’d run out of stock thinking that replacements were still on order. Jerry said, “Why don’t you see what kind of system you can get for the store?”
“How much are you willing to spend on one?”
Jerry had no clue how much a computer cost and didn’t know how to go about finding out. With a sigh, he said, “I’m clueless about this stuff. Check it out and give me a reasonable estimate. Use your common sense and find something that will work for us.”
Karen looked over at Jerry and realized that he trusted her to do the job on her own. It was an awesome responsibility for a new employee. “Thank you, Jerry.”
When the afternoon came, Jerry made sure that he was in the office working on paperwork to be there for Bill’s telephone call. When the telephone rang, Jerry immediately picked it up hoping to hear from his son. Instead, it was his doctor with a recommendation for an anger management therapist. He took down the names and numbers of three therapists. After hanging up, he stared down at the sheet of paper. The whole idea of going to a therapist scared him more than anything he had ever done. The rage twisted itself around his stomach, threatening to burst loose if he made the call.
Moving in slow motion, he dialed the first number on the list of anger management specialists. The name of the therapist was N. Langley. He knew he needed the treatment, but he didn’t know what it would involve. Images of electroshock therapy, insulin shock therapy, and lobotomies flashed through his mind. That was followed by an image of him on a couch while a guy dressed like Freud asked, “Tell me about your mother.”
On the third ring, a woman answered the telephone. Assuming it was a receptionist, he said, “I need to make an appointment with the therapist.”
“Let me get out my schedule.”
Realizing that the woman was the therapist, Jerry didn’t know what he thought about that fact. He wondered if a woman could help him with his rage. Could he talk about his problems to a woman? Growling at the thoughts, he wondered if he could talk about his problems to man. Which would be easier? He didn’t know.
The woman’s voice interrupted his thoughts, as she asked, “Are you still there?”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry, I just wasn’t expecting a woman.” Jerry realized as his deep voice rumbled over the telephone line that he sounded like a sexist pig.
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the phone. After the silence had stretched to an uncomfortable level, she asked, “Would you prefer a male therapist?”
“To tell the truth, I don’t know. I have no idea what to expect,” replied Jerry. The rage uncoiled a little, sensing an opportunity by suggesting that the woman would make him cry and then mock him for his weakness.
The woman didn’t say anything in an attempt to force Jerry to initiate further discussion. Finally, he said, “I guess I had an image of Dr. Freud asking me about my mother.”
The woman laughed and said, “I can do a mean impersonation of Dr. Freud, but I don’t have the beard so it loses its impact.”
The comment was so unexpected that Jerry burst out laughing. The rage recoiled as the fear of humiliation by this woman was replaced by a tentative sense of trust. Still a little uncertain, mostly about seeing a therapist, he said, “I guess I don’t have a problem with seeing a woman.”
“I can see you Thursday morning at seven.”
She laughed at his reaction and then answered, “Yes, so soon.”
“Okay, I guess.” Scheduling an appointment made this entire situation a reality to him. He forced himself to remember that he was doing this to learn how to control his rage so that he could keep his job. Maybe the therapy would allow him to let other people into his life, people like his son, Jenny, the boys next door, and his employees.
“May I have your name?”
“Jerry Smith,” he answered realizing that he hadn’t introduced himself earlier.
“Okay, Jerry Smith. I’ll see you Thursday at seven.”
Hanging up, Jerry sat at his desk replaying the conversation in his mind. He wondered how old she was. Her voice sounded young, but she was a doctor, so that meant she wasn’t too young. Glancing at the list, he realized that she might not be a doctor. Then he realized that he hadn’t told her why he had scheduled the appointment.
By closing time, it was clear that his son wasn’t going to call. He didn’t know if that was good news or bad. This was the first day of school and his son expected it to be a rough one. He stayed late just to give the boy a chance to call, but the call never came.
It was past lunchtime and Jerry was about to head out to get a bite to eat when the telephone in his office rang. He stopped in the office and answered it. “Hello?”
A male voice said, “I need to speak to Jerry Smith.”
“This is he,” replied Jerry wondering who would call on the business line rather than the customer line.
“I’m Mr. Haroldson. I’m the principal at Jefferson Junior High.”
Rather than answering immediately, Jerry sat down on his desk considering what this call meant. He asked, “What’s the problem?”
“Your son was in a fight, and I’m going to have to suspend him.”
“He picked a fight with a smaller kid,” replied the principal sounding angry.
The automatic assumption that his son had started the fight irritated Jerry. He asked, “So is the smaller kid hurt?”
There was a moment of silence as Mr. Haroldson considered the question. Finally, he answered, “No.”
Jerry replied, “It doesn’t sound to me like my son hit him.”
“That’s what he says, but why would a smaller kid pick a fight with him?” The principal sounded like a prosecuting attorney who had just delivered last piece of evidence that would convict a felon.
“I don’t think my son was fighting. If that other kid is still standing, it doesn’t sound to me like my son was hitting him.”
“I hate to tell you this, but your son is a bully.”
The rage within started to boil as memories of never being believed by authorities returned. He didn’t know how many times a small guy picked a fight with him in order to prove that he was some kind of tough guy. Always the jerk ended up flat on the ground and bleeding. If the kid that picked the fight with his son wasn’t laid out flat, then his son didn’t hit back. He said, “I’ll be there in thirty minutes. I’ll want to talk to you when I pick up Bill.”
After hanging up the phone, Jerry got into his truck to drive to the school. Glancing down at the gas gauge, he noticed that he was running on fumes and would have to stop to get gasoline. Rather than getting angry, he said, “I guess the principal will have to wait a little longer.”
It was nearly forty-five minutes before Jerry pulled up to the school parking lot and found one of the visitor’s parking spaces. The drive over had been uneventful, but he kept thinking about how the principal had discounted everything his son had said. Entering the building, he was reminded once again just how large of a man he was when the kids all looked at him terrified.
After finding his way to the principal’s office, Jerry stepped inside the room and looked around for a second before seeing his son sitting on a chair with a black eye. His son looked up at him with fear in his eyes, concerned that his father wouldn’t believe that he hadn’t fought back. Jerry smiled and walked over to Bill. Making a production of examining the black eye, he said, “Nice shiner.”
“Yeah, it kind of hurts,” replied Bill as he touched the bruise with a finger.
“So did you impress anyone?”
It was a good question. When the fight had started, a number of kids had gathered around to watch Bill destroy the kid. The kid had started by kicking him in the balls. Despite wearing a cup, Bill’s hands had moved down to stop it. The action was purely reflexive, but he didn’t follow through with his normal fist to the face of his attacker. The gathered crowed watched, disappointed, as he didn’t react to the further attacks.
When the principal broke up the fight, he looked around and spotted two kids looking at him with expressions that differed significantly from others. One was Woody, a well-known nerd that enjoyed computer games, chess, and reading science fiction. The other was Sandy, a girl that tended to blend into the background to avoid notice. He didn’t know much about her. Bill answered, “Yeah. I think so.”
“Good, now I want to talk to that principal of yours. You got a raw deal on this and we need to fix that, right now,” Jerry said.
His stomach growled announcing his hunger. Although embarrassed by the growl, he was relieved to find that his father believed him. Bill smiled and said, “Okay.”
The secretary had watched the exchange, staring at the huge man in the office. The principal had come out of his office as Jerry had talked with his son, brought out by the deep voice that carried through the walls of the office. He stared at Jerry, shocked at the size of the man. He immediately pictured Jerry pounding his chest like a gorilla just before it charged to tear apart an intruder. Voice cracking, he said, “I’m Principal Haroldson.”
Jerry turned to see the man standing at the door. He took an immediate dislike to him. The guy reminded him of a kid that used to call him gorilla, ape-man, and Neanderthal. When he had finally lost his temper, he had hit the kid twice and was expelled from school for a week because of it. The memory chafed as he followed the man into the office.
Bill was left in the outer office looking at the secretary. Looking down at him, she shook her head believing that he was a bad seed. Many of the teachers would be happy if he were to get sent to another school. Officially, Bill was suspended from school for three days. If you wanted a reputation as a tough guy, then it wasn’t a bad record to get suspended on the second day of school. That wasn’t what Bill wanted, he had expected it so he wasn’t that surprised. After talking with his father, he felt a glimmer of hope that his punishment was going to change.
Inside the office, Jerry leaned across the desk and stared at the principal. He wasn’t trying to intimidate the man, but to make sure that he had his attention. His low voice reverberated through the room as he asked, “So did you talk to the kid that attacked my son?”
“There was no need. I know all about your son and the fact that he is a bully. He did the same thing last year.”
His rage sought a chance to strike out at the principal. Jerry asked, “So do I understand this situation correctly? You are suspending my son without any investigation into the circumstances and without due process?”
“No. I talked to him. It was obvious that he was lying to me and I suspended him,” replied the principal getting angry.
The rage grew within Jerry as it sought the chance to wreak havoc according to its nature. Jerry took a deep breath trying to control it and glanced around the room. Spotting the telephone, he reached over and picked up the handset. It didn’t take him a minute to dial his lawyer. The rage inside cackled realizing that it was going to achieve its goal despite the disappointment that it would be done without violence. When the lawyer answered, Jerry said, “This is Jerry Smith.”
“Ah, Jerry. What can I do for you?” asked the lawyer.
“I’d like to bring proceedings against the Jefferson Junior High. My son was the victim of a malicious attack by another student. Even though my son did not strike back, they are suspending my son and not my son’s attacker, without investigating the circumstances, only because my son is the larger boy involved. I want to seek damages and tuition to put my son in a private school.” Jerry watched the face of the man behind the desk pale at the promise of a lawsuit. Even the rage was enjoying the man’s reaction.
“Where are you?”
“I’m in the principal’s office,” answered Jerry flashing a smile at Mr. Haroldson.
“Let me talk to him for a moment.”
Jerry handed the phone to the principal, noticing that the man’s hand trembled as he accepted the phone. Seating himself in one of the chairs in the office, Jerry crossed his legs and watched the telephone exchange. As little beads of sweat broke out on the forehead of the principal, Jerry couldn’t help thinking that he was enjoying this way too much. It was as though he was achieving revenge against every school administrator that had ignored his pleas of innocence when he was a student.
After a few minutes, the principal handed the phone back to Jerry. Holding the handset to his ear, Jerry said, “Hello.”
His lawyer said, “He’s reconsidered the suspension. I suggest waiting to begin proceedings against the school at the moment. If the problem persists, I’ll be glad to bring the suit.”
“Thanks,” replied Jerry as he looked over at the principal.
After replacing the handset in the cradle of the phone, Jerry looked over at the principal. He was silent for a moment and then said, “I expect you will investigate this episode and punish the guilty party.”
“I’ll look into the matter,” replied the principal.
Jerry smiled as he replied, “I’m going to take my son to lunch. When we get back, I hope that I’ll hear the results.”
Shocked that Jerry expected him to investigate the matter so quickly, the principal was about to object before he recalled the telephone conversation. Looking down at his desk, Principal Haroldson replied, “Okay.”
Jerry stood up and left the room without a goodbye. Going over to Bill, he said, “Let’s go to lunch.”
“Am I still suspended?” asked Bill in disbelief. He was shocked that his father hadn’t been able to resolve the problem. The sounds from the office had made him think that everything had been cleared up in his favor.
Jerry said, “The principal is going to investigate what happened. When we get back from lunch I expect that the guilty party will be punished.”
Bill relaxed and followed his father out of the school satisfied that at least he was being given a fair chance. His mother would have come to the school and dragged him out by his ear, yelling the entire time that he was worthless. This had been a very different experience, one that had made him feel much better about himself.
The pair sat at a table in a chain restaurant eating lunch, Bill devouring a hamburger and Jerry eating a plate of spaghetti. They were quiet as they concentrated on their food. Despite the positive outcome, Bill was still worried about what the principal was going to say happened. For all he knew, the principal would still find him guilty of something and he’d end up expelled.
Jerry finished his spaghetti before Bill had finished his french- fries. He looked across the table at his son thinking about how much courage his son had shown in the fight. Curious, he asked, “So what are you going to say to Woody and Sandy?”
Looking up at his father in surprise, Bill realized that he hadn’t thought about what he was going to do now that the fight had ended. As a puzzled look crossed his face, he asked, “What do you suggest?”
“Just let them know that you appreciated their support.”
“But they didn’t do anything to stop the fight.”
“What did you feel when you looked over at them?”
Smiling, Bill said, “A little better. It was nice to know that not everyone there was disappointed at the fact that I didn’t cream the asshole.”
“Then let them know that.”
Woody and Sandy had never called him names. In fact, he couldn’t remember ever having anything to do with them since they both kept to themselves. He dipped a french fry into a pool of ketchup as he thought about it. There was a good chance that they could use a friend just as much as he needed one. Looking up at his father, he said, “Thanks Dad. Thanks for everything.”