They May Not Mean to, But They Do
Sitting at my desk at home, I scrolled through my LinkedIn profile. What could I change to get a company to bite? I went to Google and searched for “resume tips.” The phone rang.
I waited for the second ring before picking it up. “Hello?”
“Mr. Holcomb?” came a nasally voice over the crackling line.
“This is he,” I responded absently, skimming the first page of search results.
“Hello, sir, this is Hilda from Valhalla Elementary School. I’m sorry to tell you that your daughter has been cited for playing too roughly on the playground.” I stopped scrolling. “It’s our policy to send her home early for the day. Would you or your wife be able to come pick her up?”
I let out a deep sigh, rubbing my eyes. “You need me to come now?”
“As soon as possible, please, sir.”
“Yeah, alright, I’m on my way.”
Pulling into the teachers’ lot, I realized I hadn’t asked which daughter was in trouble. I parked in a handicap space, figuring it would only take a few minutes. I took a long swig of my coffee before getting out of the car. The short trek to the front office left me breathing heavy. I needed to start walking more.
I walked up to the desk. An old receptionist glanced up from her typing. “How can I help you, sir?”
“Yeah, uh, I’m the father of… Courtney and Veronica. Holcomb,” I took off my hat, smoothing back my hair. “They said she was in trouble. One of them. I got a call.”
“Oh, yes, I believe we spoke on the phone. I’ll go grab her,” She got up and walked over to the room on my left.
I glanced over to the right, into what appeared to be the nurse’s room. A motherly figure was kneeling down, her back to me, gently blotting a boy’s scraped up arm with a wet towel. He was redheaded, freckle-faced, and whimpering. I could see the remnants of recent tears on his cheeks. The scrape didn’t look so bad. Back when I was a kid we would have just brushed it off and kept playing.
The receptionist came out, leading a pouting ten-year-old toward me.
“Courtney,” I breathed, bending down to her level. Mystery solved. “What happened?”
She shrugged, avoiding my gaze over her folded arms. “Nothing, Dad, we were just playing monkey bar wars.”
I looked up at the receptionist questioningly. “It’s when they hang on the monkey bars and use their feet to try to pull each other off,” she explained. “Billy Morris got hurt pretty badly.” She motioned her head toward the nurse’s room.
I nodded, standing up again. I looked down at Courtney. “Have you apologized to Billy?”
She was impatient. “Yes, Dad, they made me hug him and everything.” She looked up with a crinkled brow. “Can we go please?”
“Just a second,” the receptionist said, “I need you to sign an early release form.” She handed me a clipboard and a pen and I scrawled my name.
“Yeah, let’s go.” I put my hand on Courtney’s shoulder to guide her outside. “Uh, thanks a lot,” I called back to the receptionist.
My cell phone buzzed as we stepped outside. “Just a sec,” I said to Courtney, pulling it out of my pocket. It was her mom, Melanie. “Hello?”
“Hey, John,” she sounded stressed out. “The school just called, I think they need you to—”
I cut her off, “Yeah, don’t worry, I just got Courtney, we’re on our way home.”
I looked over at Courtney. She had climbed on top of a bench and was walking across it. She reached the end and bent down to leap onto the next one.
“Hey, quit it!” I said, covering the microphone with my hand. Courtney glanced over mid‐jump, startled. She nearly lost her footing as she landed on the next bench, but she recovered her balance. I motioned for her to get down, angrily, picturing her falling and spraining an ankle, or chipping a tooth. I turned back to face the parking lot.
“What?” Melanie sounded confused. “What are you talking about? The junior high called. Apparently Tom threw up in the middle of Pre‐Algebra. Can you go pick him up?”
“Oh, Jesus. Yeah, just give me five minutes. I’m right across the street. I’ve got Courtney too.“
She was alarmed. “What? What happened?”
I sighed, stress bubbling up in my chest. “Listen, don’t worry about it, Courtney’s fine, you sound stressed. Just get back to work, I’ll handle the kids.”
“Wait, but—” She paused. “Nevermind, I’ve got to take this call. Thanks, John.” She hung up.
I turned back toward Courtney. She was a few benches down now, still jumping. “Hey, what did I say?! Get down NOW!” I stormed over to her, furious. She glared at me, taking her sweet time sitting down, and finally sliding off the bench. I was fuming.
“Do you know how dangerous that is?! You could fall and break something!” I firmly put my hand on her shoulder and turned her toward the car.
She pulled away, walking in what she clearly knew to be the wrong direction. “HEY. Turn around!” I followed her in a fury, storming up behind her. I leaned over and smacked her on the side of the leg. She stopped abruptly and whipped around toward me, outraged.
I drew back, wide eyed and immediately ashamed. I had never hit my children. Courtney turned and stomped over to the car. She climbed in and folded her arms tightly. I walked back slowly, feeling like a dog with a tail between its legs. I got in and started the car. She wouldn’t speak to me on the drive to the middle school. When we got there she moved to the back seat and let Tom sit up front. I didn’t say anything on the drive home, either.
Twelve years later—when we were back on speaking terms—I reminded her of the encounter. She only remembered getting in trouble at school. I told her the whole story, waving my arms dramatically. “And that’s the only time I’ve ever hit any of my children,” I finished.
She cackled, grinning at me. She knew my own mother had used beating as a frequent learning technique. “I must have repressed the memory!” She exclaimed. “It sounds so traumatic!” She smacked me on the arm. “There. Now we’re even.”
Courtney Holcomb is a fourth-year English student with a creative writing concentration. She is involved in the Pediatric AIDS Coalition at UCLA, the UCLA Cultural Affairs Commission, and UCLA Radio. Some of her interests include music, mindfulness, and hiking.