By Clyde Bruffee Hager
When 8th grade began, there was a new face in our homeroom class and he sat right next to me. Rumor said that he had been to Reform School for two years. I believed the rumor because he looked like he should have been in high school. I distinctly recall gym class with him. Every day, we dressed out in gym clothes, exercised outside, and showered in a group. Here I was barely getting pubic hair and this guy was, well, fully matured. The most striking thing about him however were his thighs. They were huge and well defined, sculpted like a Greek statue. In gym class, I was a quick little shrimp but he could run like a racehorse. He was intimidating in every way but I was not afraid of him. I didn’t know it at the time, but I felt compassion for him. I know why now. For my entire life, I have had an overwhelming fear of going to jail. There is no logical explanation for this, so I have assumed it was due to a past life experience. My understanding of Reform School was that it was really jail.
In many ways, he was different from the rest of us. He didn’t talk much, but when he did, he was very intense. One morning, in homeroom, he said “That’s a nice watch. I’ve never had a watch. Can I try it on?” I immediately took it off and handed it to him. A small quiet voice in the back of my mind began to say something, an objection to the action, but I ignored it. He asked me, “Can I take it home? I’ll bring it back tomorrow.” “Sure”, I said, without hesitation. The bell rang and it was time to go to first period class.
Later, a part of me thought that I had made a mistake. I saw him in gym class and he wore the watch outside. He looked at it a lot and smiled. I could see he really liked it. I wondered what he did that got him two years in jail. Stealing a watch probably meant nothing to him. Regret started sinking its teeth into me and worry occupied my mind. My brothers would have told me not to give it to him. They would have said “You’ll never see that watch again.” I certainly couldn’t fight him for it. If he didn’t bring it back, what would I do? Nothing probably. I didn’t tell anyone what I had done. I made up a good story about how it got lost.
The next day in homeroom, he sat down next to me, took off the watch, handed it to me and said “Thanks.”
I like to think he got something positive out of it and I was glad I trusted him.