When he’d done something wrong, Jerry wouldn’t go home. “Wrong” could be a poor class proficiency report from school or getting into fights with other students. Lots of things on that spectrum.
If his parents had to come to school for anything he’d done, or not done, he would go to Palama Settlement after school. Why? Because home meant reprimand. When Jerry was younger, his intention was always to run away from home, but by the time it started getting dark and all his friends disappeared for dinner at home, Jerry would head home as well, disappointed that he’d not been able to complete his mission successfully.
Nowadays, as a freshman, the dream of permanent escape had faded. The realism that comes with growing up had set in. Nowadays it was more like might as well face the music.
Once home the scolding would begin. Both his mother and his father would give him holy hell about whatever the school conference had been about, and Jerry would sit there taking it all in. Fortunately, his parents would scream at him simultaneously. Separately, possibly rehashing the same points, meaning twice the time of suffering, would have been unbearable. Fortunately, too, there was always the draw of his parents’ favorite TV shows to call a halt to these verbal dress-downs.
The idea of talking back never entered Jerry’s mind. Even if he resented the loud lectures, he still had been bought up to respect his parents, and nothing, so far, had caused that deference to change. And his parents had never hit him, for which he was always thankful.
One day Jerry had been in a fight on the basketball court even before school began. The campus security people had to break up the brawl. Many of them were needed. The clash had been so violent, and the two boys involved were such large boys, that it took many grown men to pull them apart.
“What was this all about, Jerry,” asked Mr. Kamaka, one of the school’s Vice-Principals.
Jerry shifted in the chair. “He was going to highjack Josh,” he said. “I wasn’t going to let him do it.”
Joshua Chin was a tiny Chinese boy in Jerry’s class. Most of the people at the school were mixed Hawaiian, Filipino, or Samoan. Joshua was the token pure Chinese. He’d helped Jerry with his homework when they were younger, and Jerry never forgot that.
The boy who’d been trying to hijack Joshua turned out to be from the high school just down the street. Jerry didn’t know his name, but he’d not seen him before and knew trouble was coming when he saw the slightly older stranger step onto the school playground.
“Well,” said Mr. Kamaka, “that’s truly quite admirable, Jerry. But if you knew this boy was about to cause some kind of trouble, you should have alerted campus security. They could have taken care of this.”
Jerry shifted in his seat again. “Never had time,” he said. “There weren’t any guards. The guy was going right for Joshua.”
Mr. Kamaka nodded. “Well, Jerry, I’m glad no one was hurt. You know, you have a record of being in trouble, right, and your parents are called in here a lot. What do you think? Should we call them in for this?”
Jerry shrugged his shoulders. “No matter,” he said. “Do whatever.”
Mr. Kamaka sat back in his seat and examined the boy’s face. He thought about the good intentions behind his actions, but he also wanted to reinforce the fact that fighting was wrong. Jerry was one of the most troubled boys in the entire middle school. But still.
“Ah, I tell you what, Jerry. Again I have to say that what you did, stepping in to help Joshua, was a good thing. But I have to stress to you the importance of avoiding fighting for any reason on campus. Jerry, as you grow up, you’re going to find that violence will solve no problems for you. Sure, you’re big, you’re strong, Jerry. But you have to learn to control your anger. I want to see you do well, Jerry. I want you to grow into a good citizen. I know you can. This time, I’m not going to call your parents. Okay?”
Jerry nodded, shrugged his shoulders again. “Yeah, sure,” he said.
Mr. Kamaka felt a great sadness wash over him. If the boy didn’t appreciate what he was doing for him, then what was the use of doing it? Whether his parents were called or not, Jerry would remain unaffected by what had happened. He would probably get into fights until he found out he’d gotten into his last fight. Still, the boy had a good heart. Such a waste.
“Okay, Jerry,” said Mr. Kamaka, “please head over to your second-period class. I’ll explain to Mr. Stevenson why you weren’t in homeroom this morning.”
Jerry stood and left the office without saying a word. He was angry, and that anger would not let him think about anything other than that he was relieved he’d not have to be yelled at by his parents that night.
Standing outside his second-period English class, Jerry was approached by one of the security guards, Mr. Nisihki.
“Eh, Jerry,” said Mr. Nishiki, “you gotta watch yourself or you’re going to be in big trouble bum-bye.”
Jerry stared at Mr. Nishiki. He always wondered if the old man had it in for him. His face hardened.
Mr. Nishiki said, “Eh, no give me attitude. I’ll take you right back to the office, boy.”
Jerry turned away and tried to ignore the guard.
“You hear me?” said Mr. Nishiki.
Jerry turned back around. Looking at Mr. Nishiki, he wondered how he’d do in a fight with the old man. He figured he could take him.
“Yeah, yeah, I hear you,” Jerry said.
Mr. Nishiki nodded and turned away. Jerry, smoldering, watched him go, thought about what it would look like if he punched him. He almost smiled.
The bell rang. Jerry stood to the side while the students filed out. One of them was Joshua Ching. When he saw Jerry, he stepped out of the avalanche of students’ bodies.
“Hey, Jerry, thanks for helping me this morning.”
Jerry smiled and patted Joshua on the shoulder. “No worries, Josh, I always got your back, brah.”
Josh turned and rejoined the flow of students.
It surprised Jerry, the feel of the blade entering his back, and he felt he took forever to cry out. All the students nearby froze.
Jerry gasped and turned around. It was the stranger, the boy from the high school, and he’d just come up behind Jerry and stabbed him.
Jerry looked down and saw the knife in the boy’s hand. Reaching for his wrist, he grabbed it, squeezing so hard that the other boy dropped the knife. Jerry felt dizzy, and the pain in his back was growing.
He let go of the boy’s wrist and stooped as quickly as he could for the knife. He intended to pick it up and use it on his assailant.
But he collapsed, fell backward on the floor. Looking up he thought he saw Joshua holding a gun. And then, in slow motion, he watched his little friend pull the trigger.
Jerry’s attacker backed off. The blood sprayed in a great fan. The gun fired again. Jerry watched the other boy topple ever so slowly out of his view and then he saw blackness.
The next thing Jerry knew, he was waking up with a strange man looking down at him.
“Good, Jerry,” said the man. “I’m Doctor Hazen. I handled your surgery. I’m glad you’re awake. You gave us a little scare there, but you’re going to be all right.
Then Mr. Kamaka was standing over him.
“What, what happened to me?” asked Jerry.
“You were stabbed,” said Mr. Kamaka. “It was that boy you fought with this morning.”
Jerry remembered. “Josh, he had a gun, right? He shot the guy.”
Mr. Kamaka nodded. “Yes, he did. He killed that boy. Just recently, he’d started bringing his father’s pistol to school. He was afraid of being attacked.”
“Oh man, what’s going to happen to him?”
Mr. Kamaka shook his head. “It’s so unfortunate. The police have him in custody. It won’t go well for him, I’m afraid.”
Jerry’s eyes watered. “So he was there for me,” he mumbled.
Jerry shook his head. “Nothing,” he said.
Jerry’s mother and father joined Mr. Kamaka, all three of them now looking down at the boy. Jerry feared there’d be some big-time yelling about this.
“How are you?” his mother asked.
“Stabbed, Mom,” said Jerry.
Jerry’s father smiled. “Yes, but you’re gonna live. Damn, Son. You had us so worried. We thought we were going to lose you.”
“We’re so relieved, Jerry,” said his mother. “I was praying very hard for you.”
This was strange. It was not at all what Jerry had imagined the consequences to be. For fighting at this level of violence, he was sure he’d get the scolding of his life.
“You not mad?” he asked.
They both smiled. “Mad?” said his mother. “Son, we are overjoyed. If we’d lost you we’d have lost our world.”
“That’s right,” said his father. “Boy, you are our shining light. You’re all we have. You’re everything to us.”
Jerry closed his eyes. He pictured poor Joshua Chin having to deal with the police. But he had to smile in thanks. He’d probably be dead if it weren’t for the little Chinese boy.
He opened his eyes. “Hey Dad, Mom, did you hear how Josh Chin saved my life.”
“Yes,” they both said, both nodding and smiling.
“It’s so sad,” said his mother, “that he’s going to end up in juvenile detention.”
“And who knows,” said this dad. “His sentence might run longer. Maybe he’ll even end up at O‘ahu prison.”
Jerry thought about what Mr. Kamaka had just said that morning about violence. Well, so what then? Was some violence justified? Was violence actually good sometimes?
He owed his life to Joshua Chin bringing a gun to campus and killing another boy.
“Mr. Kamaka,” Jerry said. The Vice Principal’s face came back into view.
“What you said to me about violence this morning. That my helping Josh was, what, admirable, you said, right? So what? So it is good sometimes? Violence, I mean. If Josh never killed that guy, he might have killed me, right?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Kamaka, nodding. “Yes, violence is . . .” he said, thinking.