Finding Good Trouble

Chapter 20

 "Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America."    -The Honorable John Lewis speaking atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 1, 2020

 

I awoke Tuesday morning more tired than when I fell asleep. My mind was wracked with pain. Not from my concussion, but from everything that happened the past few days.

Dad came into my room and woke me. He shook my shoulder gently and said, “You have to get up, Parker. You have to be at the doctor’s office at nine.”

I had forgotten that I had a doctor’s appointment. He was going to check me out, and then I would be able to return to school. I had been anticipating returning to school, but now I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back. Things had changed. I had changed. I wasn’t sure how my classmates would react to me. They had come up to me at the balloon launch and hugged me, but would they be different now that it was over? I know I am certainly different.

“Okay, Dad,” I mumbled as I stretched out in bed. I think for the first time since I was about thirteen, I didn’t wake up with an erection.

I dressed and went downstairs. Mom had already left for work, and Dad was sitting at the counter drinking a cup of coffee. He looked up and attempted a smile. “You’d better grab some cereal before we leave. I don’t think you ate anything yesterday, did you?”

“I wasn’t hungry,” I replied softly as I went to the refrigerator and poured orange juice into a glass.

“Aren’t you going to eat anything?” asked my father.

“I’m not hungry,” I replied. I looked up at the clock. It was almost eight-thirty. “Shouldn’t we leave?” I asked. Dad gave me a worried look, rose from his chair and headed for the door.

He tried to make small talk on the way to the doctor, but I wasn’t in the mood. I know he was concerned about me, but there wasn’t anything he or anyone else could do.

The results at the doctor’s office were good. He did an MRI, and it showed no permanent damage. He gave me a few oral tests, and I did fine. It surprised me when he said, “I saw what happened on the news, Parker. Would you like to talk about it?”

“I’ll be alright,” I tried to assure him, but I know he wasn’t buying it.

He patted me on my knee. “You’ve been through a lot,” he said. “Sometimes the effects of a concussion can be overwhelming. Talking to you, I’m concerned because you appear to be in a deep state of depression.”

I attempted a laugh and replied, “No shit.” Then, tears welled up in my eyes.

“Parker,” he said softly. “Look at me.” I lifted my head. “There’s nothing wrong with asking for help.” He rose, went to his desk and returned with a business card. I looked down at it. It read, Dr. Dorothy Miller, Psychologist.

“I’m not crazy,” I yelled as I rose from my chair. “Can I leave?”

He thrust the card into my hand. “Take it, Parker. I want you to see Dr. Miller.” I threw the card on the floor and stormed out of his office. Dad tried to stop me when I walked into the waiting room, but I pushed past him and headed for the car. It was about fifteen minutes until he emerged from the building. I knew that the doctor had convinced him that I was crazy, and I needed help.

When he pulled off, I asked angrily, “Am I allowed to go back to school?”

“Parker,” replied my father worriedly. “Maybe you should get help.”

“I don’t need any damn help!” I shouted. “Are you going to take me to school or aren’t you.” He sighed and headed towards school.

The school was abuzz when I entered. The lunch bell had rung, and students were heading to the cafeteria. Two of my friends noticed me enter and hurried over to me.

“Hey, Parker,” said Roger Jones. “How are you?” His girlfriend, Melanie Edwards, was standing beside him. She reached out and pulled me into a hug. I remembered seeing them at the balloon launch. They had also participated in the walkout protest on Friday.

“I’m okay,” I tried to sound upbeat, but it didn’t go over. I could tell by the worried looks on their faces they didn’t believe me.

Roger grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the cafeteria. “Come on, Man, you can eat with us.” I reluctantly let him hold my arm as we headed toward the cafeteria. They stayed beside me as we went through the food line. I still didn’t have an appetite, but I got a salad and bottle of apple juice. We sat at a table with four other students. I looked around for Natalie and Peter, but I didn’t see them.

My friends didn’t say anything about Myles’ death. I think they could tell that I was hurting. Instead, they talked about what we had been studying in class. If they were trying to cheer me up, it didn’t work. All it did was make me realize how much schoolwork I have missed.

The noisy room suddenly grew silent. I looked around to see what had happened when I noticed Mr. Nettleman walking around staring at students. Roger leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Mother fucker is going down tonight.”

I asked, “What do you mean?”

“Word is the school board meets tonight, and he’s going to be canned,” he informed me. Just then, Nettleman walked past our table and scowled at me.

“Fucker!” hissed Roger. “After what he did to you and Peter, I’ll be glad to see him go. Did you see how he just looked at you?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I hope they fire his ass.” I watched as he strutted out of the cafeteria. The room quickly erupted into excitement once again.

I didn’t see Natalie until school let out. She was waiting for me beside my locker. When I approached, she rushed to me and embraced me tightly. “Oh, Parker,” she cried. “I’ve been so worried about you.” She pulled away and looked into my face. “Are you alright?”

“No,” I frowned. “But you know how it is. Life goes on.”

“Come on,” she said as she grabbed my arm and pulled me toward my locker. “Put your things away and come with me.”

“Where?”

“Peter’s house,” she replied. “He didn’t show up in school today, and I’m worried about him.”

“I don’t have my car,” I informed her.

“That’s okay,” she replied. “He only lives a few blocks away. We’ll walk and talk.”

We really didn’t talk. Well, Natalie talked, and I pretended to listen. I was worried about Darius. He hadn’t called or text me since last night. I called his cell phone, but he didn’t answer. It wasn’t like him not to take my call. Usually, he would answer by saying, “Parker’s love toy.”

When we got to Peter’s house, his mother answered the door. We had met her the night before, so she knew who we were. She seemed hesitant to let us into the house. “Peter isn’t feeling well,” she informed us.

“Can we see him, Mrs. Schelling?” begged Natalie.

She stared at us a few seconds, and then she pointed down the hallway. “His room is the second door on the right. Don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t answer. He hasn’t come out of his room all day.”

Natalie knocked softly on the door. “Peter? It’s Natalie and Parker. Can we come in.” There was no answer. We waited about two minutes, and Natalie knocked on the door again and said loudly, “We’re not going anywhere until you let us in.”

A minute later, the door slowly opened, and Peter stood staring at us. He looked horrible. His hair was ruffled, and his eyes were red from crying. Natalie reached out and embraced him tightly. He began to cry uncontrollably. His mother looked down the hall, but I told her that Peter was alright. When she started to approach, I held up my hand to stop her.

“Can we see him alone?” I pleaded. She reluctantly nodded her head.

Natalie led him over to the bed, and we sat down. He was still crying. I took his hand and held it. “I don’t know what to do,” he cried.

“None of us do,” I told him as I squeezed his hand. Natalie and I spent the next ten minutes trying to assure him that things would get better. It was hard for me because I wasn’t sure myself that things would get better.

Peter’s mother knocked on the door. When she entered, she approached Peter and hugged him tightly. I felt sorry for her. She had just learned a week ago that her son is gay. Now, she has to help Peter deal with losing his first boyfriend. “Honey,” she said as she pushed back his hair. “Your father and I are leaving soon to attend the school board meeting.” She looked at Natalie and me and asked, “Can you stay with Peter while we are gone?”

Before we could answer, Peter stood and exclaimed, “I’m going with you.”

“You really shouldn’t, Dear,” she insisted. “You should stay home with your friends.”

Peter rose from the bed and went to his closet and pulled out some clean clothes. “I’m going to that meeting. I want to tell them what Mr. Nettleman did to me.” He then walked out of the room, and we heard the bathroom door slam shut.

“This isn’t a good idea,” Mrs. Schelling said worriedly. “He’s not in the right state of mind to deal with something like this.”

Natalie said, “I don’t think you will be able to stop him. He seems pretty determined to do this.”

“Let me go talk to his father,” she replied as she left the room.

Peter returned a few minutes later. He had combed his hair, and he was wearing the BLM tee shirt that Myles had given him. Natalie insisted, “This isn’t a good idea, Peter.”

Peter responded, “It’s something I have to do. I have to tell them what Mr. Nettleman did to me. He’s a racist.” Tears welled up in his eyes as he said sadly, “I have to do this for Myles.”

The meeting room was packed with students and parents when we arrived. I was surprised to see a few Black students from Rosemont scattered around the room. It also surprised me to see my father, mother and Mr. Abrams sitting in the second row. They turned and smiled when they saw me. I would have sat with them, but there were no seats beside them. Instead, Peter, his parents, Natalie and I sat near the back.

I turned when I saw Darius and his father enter the room. I jumped up and rushed over to him. I pulled him into a tight embrace and cried. I didn’t care if other people were staring at us. I needed to hold Darius in my arms. We cried for a minute until his father pulled us apart and told us to sit down. I sat beside Peter, and Darius sat next to me. Darius reached over and gave Peter a big hug. He asked Peter if he was okay, and Peter assured him he was.

The secretary of the school board walked to the center of the room and announced that anyone wanting to speak would have to fill out a card. There would also be a three-minute time limit for each speaker. I watched as numerous people headed to the front. My father, Mr. Schelling, Pastor Moore rose and walked over to the secretary. I grabbed Peter’s hand and asked, “Do you want to do this?” He nodded, and we rose and walked to the front still holding hands. Our fathers hugged us when we walked up.

When the meeting began, I looked around for Mr. Nettleman, but I didn’t see him. Six board members walked in and sat down at tables arranged at the front. A man called everyone to order. After saying the Pledge of Allegiance, he began to speak. He told us that this was a special meeting called to discuss concerns about Mr. Nettleman, Principal of Somerset High School. He briefly described allegations that had been made that prompted the meeting. He also informed us that Mr. Nettleman had declined an invitation to attend to defend himself.

My father was the fourth speaker. The three before him related incidences of how Nettleman had unfairly suspended their sons and daughters for what they thought were minor infractions. Dad began by saying, “We all know why we are here tonight.” He turned and pointed at the people present. He then talked about the racial incident at the basketball game. He pointed out that only one Black student attends Somerset High School. He then related the conversation with Nettleman in his office when he suspended me. He ended by accusing Nettleman of being a racist.

Two other parents spoke, and they too addressed the racial incident in the gym. They felt that Nettleman hadn’t handled the situation properly. As a result, they blamed him for much of the problems that had occurred later.

My heart stopped when the secretary called my name. Darius patted me on my leg as I rose to head toward the front. My voice cracked several times as I related how Mr. Nettleman had targeted me after I videotaped Darius’ arrest. Like my father, I told them that I thought that Mr. Nettleman is a racist.

Pastor Moore spoke after me. He told the board members how he had tried to arrange several meetings with Nettleman to address the incident during the basketball game. He said Nettleman refused to meet, and he told him that it wasn’t his job solve a situation that had existed for decades.

Peter was the last to speak. His father accompanied him to the podium with his arm wrapped around him. Mr. Abrams also rose and stood beside Peter. Peter tearfully told them how Nettleman had approached him and tore the BLM tee shirt off him in front of everyone and scratched his back.

The president of the school board held up his hand and asked him to stop. “Peter, I understand you want to tell your story. However, there is a legal problem since there is a referral to the prosecutor’s office alleging sexual abuse against Mr. Nettleman.” He looked the other board members and continued. “We are all very aware of what happened. Your case will be taken into consideration when we make our decision.” Mr. Abrams began softly talking to Peter and his father. When they finished, Peter thanked them, and then they returned to their seats. I gripped his hand when he sat beside me. “You were great,” I whispered in his ear. He squeezed my hand tightly.

After asking the secretary if anyone else was scheduled to speak, she told him no. “In that case,” he said. “We are going to go into an executive session.  We will be retiring to another room. I am not sure how long it will be, and I can’t assure you that a decision will be made tonight. However, you are free to remain if you want.”

It appeared that most people decided to stay. A few began to wander out as the board remained away for over an hour. We talked quietly. I kept squeezing Darius’ hand and staring into his eyes. Once, he leaned over and whispered, “If you don’t stop, I’m going to kiss you.”

I smiled and challenged, “I dare you.” He leaned over and kissed me. We giggled when his father loudly cleared his throat behind us.

The board members finally returned. Once everyone was quiet, the president shuffled a few papers before him and announced, “We have made a decision.” He looked at the other board members, and they nodded their heads. “We informed Mr. Nettleman a few minutes ago that we are going to terminate his contract immediately. Beginning tomorrow, Mr. Allen, the assistant principal, will assume the position of interim principal of Somerset High School.” The room erupted into applause.

“That’s two down,” said Natalie as we rose. “Morgan and Nettleman are gone. Now maybe things will settle down.”

Things did settle down for a few days. The protests across the street stopped, and the media trucks were no longer around. All our attention focused on Myles’ funeral and memorial service.

We didn’t have a lot to do with his funeral. His parents decided it would be a private event. Only family and a few of Myles’ close friends were invited. It was held at their church, but they invited Pastor Moore to say the eulogy. Peter and his parents, Natalie and my parents and I were invited. I thought it was touching that they asked Peter and his parents to sit with them in the front row.

It was a closed casket funeral. I later learned by Pastor Moore that Myles’ face had been seriously damaged due to his assault. His parents requested that the casket be closed so that others could remember Myles as they last saw him. It was very emotional. I kept thinking that if Myles was looking down, he would be unhappy seeing everyone cry. He was always so funny and animated. He would probably have enjoyed watching us dancing. I could almost hear him saying, “You go, Girl.” His burial was also very emotional. He was buried next to his grandmother. She had died a few years ago from cancer. Pastor Moore told how Myles had comforted her in her final days. There wasn’t a dry eye as he spoke.

* * * * * *

“Mmmmm,” I purred as Darius ran his hand through my hair. We were lying on my bed, and he had spooned his body against mine. It had been three days since Myles’ funeral. I had been studying for a literature test, but Darius had surprised me with a visit. We began talking, but soon we were lying together on the bed. There was nothing sexual between us. In fact, it had been over a week since we were intimate. For some reason, it just didn’t feel right to have sex when Myles had just died. Neither of us talked about it, but I know Darius was feeling like I was. Sex right now seemed so unimportant after everything that had happened. And surprisingly, we felt closer to each other than we had ever been.

“What’s on your mind?” he asked as he ran his hand over my chest.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I was just thinking.”

“Thinking about what?”

“When would be the best time to tell you?” I responded as I tried to hold back a smile.

He sprang up in bed and looked worriedly down at me. “Tell me what, Parker?”

I sighed deeply and replied, “I don’t know how you’ll take the news.”

“Parker!” he shouted. “What is wrong?”

I sat up and smiled into his concerned face. “I’ve been accepted to Boston College. They approved my application.”

“Really!” he shouted as he pulled me into a tight hug. “We’ll only be miles from each other.” We embraced and kissed.

I lay down, and Darius spooned his body once again behind me. “I can’t tell you how happy I am right now,” he said as he kissed me gently on my neck. “It’s like all my dreams are coming true.”

I turned my head and kissed him. “I know, I feel the same way.”

“We need to talk about what we’re going to do,” he said.

“Like what?”

“I think we should go to Boston in a few months and look for an apartment,” he replied.

I gripped his hand and said, “Don’t freshman have to live on campus?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “But we could spend the week on campus while we attend classes. And if we have apartment, we could spend the weekends together. We can afford to do it. After we settle our lawsuits, we’ll have the money to do whatever we want.”

I giggled and replied, “Okay, but you have to pay for the apartment since you’ll have more than me.”

“It’s going to be our money,” he replied.

“Our money?”

“Yes,” Darius replied as he sat up, took my hand and pulled me up. “Our money,” he replied as he stared into my eyes. He gripped my hands as tears filled his eyes. “I want you to marry me, Parker. Will you?”

Tears began streaming down my face. The thought of marrying Darius had never occurred to me. But as I looked into his beautiful brown eyes, I knew that we were destined to be together for the rest of our lives. We were young, but we had more love for each other than most couples who had been together for years. I wiped tears from my eyes and replied, “Yes, I’ll marry you.” We sealed it with a kiss.

* * * * *

“You’re going to do what!” shrieked Natalie in the cafeteria as we ate lunch. I looked around and told her to be quiet before someone heard her. “You’re getting married?”

“Not right away,” I said. “We’ll probably wait a few years until we get our degrees.”

“I think it is wonderful,” replied Peter. His eyes were filling with tears. I felt guilty telling them because I knew that it would hurt Peter.

I smiled and informed him, “I want you to be our best man.”

“What?” his eyes widened. “Why me?”

Darius and I had discussed it the night before. We both agreed that we wanted Peter to be our best man. He was saddened because he would have asked Myles, but he felt so close to Peter because he and Myles had shared a special friendship. Peter would always remain a special friend to us. In fact, we had even decided to see if we could get Peter to enroll in either Harvard or Boston College so he could share the apartment with us. The plan was finalized when we later found out that Peter had been accepted at MIT.

“What about me?” asked Natalie. “Can’t a girl be a best man for a gay couple?” She gripped Peter’s hand and told him, “Tell Parker you won’t be a best man unless I can be one too.” Peter gave me a sheepish look.

“Alright,” I sighed, “I’ll talk it over with Darius.”

“Oh, goodie,” shrieked Natalie. “I’m so excited.” She turned to Peter and exclaimed, “You can help me pick out a dress.”

I was glad that Natalie was planning to attend Michigan State University. If she was going to attend a university in the Boston area, she would have insisted on sharing the apartment with us. I love Natalie like a sister, but sometimes she can be a bit controlling. I’m sure by morning, she will tell me that she has already talked to a wedding planner.

* * * * * *

The memorial service for Myles was held on the Saturday following his funeral, and two weeks since his death. Darius, Dwayne and Natalie were the main organizers. They asked for the help of Pastor Moore, several national civil right organizations and leaders of the communities of Rosemont and Somerset. Rather than just honoring Myles’ memory, they wanted it to be a unifying event between both communities. I was skeptical because I thought it might draw too much media attention which could result in a backlash. Afterall, it had only been a month ago that the racial outbreak had occurred during the basketball game.

As the day of the service approached, I became more nervous. What if Dan and a bunch of his friends decided to disrupt the event? Members of the media would certainly be there. Darius kept trying to assure me everything would be all right.

I was startled one day at school when I was walking alone down the hall, and someone put their hand on my back. I looked over and it was Mr. Allen, the new principal. “How are things going, Parker?”

“I’m fine, Sir,” I replied nervously.

“Good,” he said as he patted me on my back. “I graduated from Boston College. I have to look out for my Eagle recruits. Are you going to pledge to a fraternity? If you are, I’ll be happy to write a recommendation.”

“Thank you, Mr. Allen,” I replied politely, “but I don’t think I’m going to join a fraternity.”

Darius and I had discussed joining a fraternity. If we joined, we would be expected to live in a frat house and be involved in fraternity activities. We would already be very busy with class assignments. We wanted the weekend to be our time together in our apartment. Fraternity life would drastically disrupt that.

He patted me again on the back and said, “Well, if you do decide, you come see me.” He smiled and walked away.

On the day of the memorial service, I was a bundle of nerves. With tensions being so high the past few weeks, I just didn’t see how our communities could possibly come together. I was getting dressed when I heard the doorbell. A few minutes later, Darius appeared at the door.

He whistled when he saw me. “Would you look at you,” he smiled as he approached and pulled me into a tight embrace. “You clean up nicely,” he laughed. I had spent an hour getting ready. I pulled a dark blue suit from the closet and wore a powder blue shirt and striped tie. When I saw that Darius was wearing a gray suit, I wanted to return to the closet and change what I was wearing. When I told Darius what I planned to do, he stopped me. “No one is going to care what you are wearing, Parker,” he insisted. “This day is a day to celebrate Myles’ life. Tomorrow no one will remember if you had on a blue suit or a gray one.” He pulled me into a hug and kissed me.

“I love you,” I whispered in his ear.

“I know,” he smiled. “I love you more.” He grabbed my hand, and we headed downstairs. After talking to my parents for a few minutes, we headed outside and got in Darius’ car.

The memorial service was being held in the Rosemont High School gymnasium. Since Myles had been a popular student, it was decided that it would be the best place to honor him. Many people had already arrived when we pulled into the parking lot. Dwayne, Natalie and Peter were waiting at the gym doors for us. After brief hugs, we went inside.

Chairs had been placed on the gym floor, and a several tables were placed in the front. On the tables were large pictures of Myles along with memorabilia of Myles’ life. There were awards he won, pictures of his school life and cards from friends. Darius appeared in many of the pictures beside Myles.

Darius collapsed in my arms when we approached the table. We both cried for several minutes as we walked in front of the display. Several times Darius would pick up a picture or item and tearfully explain its significance. Peter was overcome with emotion when he saw a selfie with Myles taken in Myles’ bedroom the day of his death. Dwayne pulled us away and led us to the men’s room. After several minutes, we felt could return without being too emotional.

The gym was beginning to fill quickly. It was 1:45, and the service was to begin at two. Our parents arrived, as did Mr. Abrams and members of the civil rights organizations. I looked around and I didn’t notice any BLM shirts or banners. When I mentioned it to Dwayne, he informed me that he had asked Rosemont students not to display them. He told them he didn’t want Myles’ service to be political. It appeared that they had respected his wish.

We were sitting in the front row. I turned to look when people began to stand and applaud. Members of the Somerset and Rosemont basketball teams were entering side by side. They were wearing their uniforms, and they sat together in the front row of the bleachers. Next, officers of the Somerset and Rosemont police departments entered together. Again, there was soft applause as they took their seats behind the basketball teams. Then, Mr. Ivy, Mr. Allen and several school board members entered with who I assumed were the superintendent and board members of Rosemont High School.

I leaned over and asked Natalie if this was her idea. “No,” she said surprisingly. “We didn’t plan this. They must have gotten together on their own to do it.”

When everyone was seated, Pastor Moore began the service with a prayer. Then, one by one, people came to the front to speak. Many were friends and students who had funny anecdotes about Myles. Instead of a funeral atmosphere, it seemed almost like a roast for Myles. I’m sure he would have liked it that way.

Next, leaders of the clergy and community spoke. They talked of building an alliance between the two communities and bridging the differences that had divided us in the past. Dr. Ivy told how he was going to encourage more black families to move into the Somerset school district. Somerset Police Chief Waterman talked about a new diversity program he was creating with the help of the Rosemont police chief.

When Darius spoke, he broke down several times with emotion. He told how close he and Myles had been since childhood. “Myles loved life,” he said. “It’s tragic he had to die the way he did. Only God knows why it happened.” He paused as he looked around the gym. “But Myles would be happy if he were here today.” He looked up and added, “And I’m sure he is.”

“Myles would be happy because he was filled with love. And as I look around this room today, I feel the love among us.” He looked over at the basketball players and nodded. “I don’t want Myles’ to have died in vain. As we leave here today, let us take with us a renewed understanding of love, peace and understanding. I know there is much more work to do, but today we have taken the first step towards that. Let us agree to bury those things that have divided us in the past.” The audience began to applaud. “And let us find good trouble,” he continued, “until hate, racism and intolerance are words of the past.” He turned, picked up a picture of Myles and clutched it tightly. “Myles would have wanted it that way.”

I looked around the gymnasium and thought: Today, we came together; but what about tomorrow?

 

THE END

Thank you for reading Finding Good Trouble. It was a difficult story to tell. I would love for you to write and share your thoughts with me. It is the only thing I ask of readers.

Please send me an email or post a comment on Facebook. Thanks- Ronyx

 Email: ronyx@themustardjar.com 

 

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