by Caleb Williams
Little Timothy Busey has punched three people in his life: a linebacker, a marine and a writer. All three probably deserved it. The first punch Busey ever threw was delivered in early January 2003 and landed square in the gut of Trevor Rodgers, the star middle linebacker at our high school.
Rodgers was doubled over before he even knew the fight had begun. The way I first heard the story, Busey’s blow was a cheap shot—he hit Trevor while he was getting his books out of his locker. Busey remembers it differently and for some reason I’m still inclined to believe him.
The builder-grade blue lockers that line the halls of Mayde High are stacked one on top of the other. Though the school administration would never admit it, the upper-tier lockers were reserved for the movers and shakers of the high school—the jocks, the cheerleaders, the student council members and so on. The rest of us were on the lower tier, forced to bow to the kings and queens in their vermilion letterman’s jackets.
The way Busey tells it, while the rest of us fed on the crumbs that fell from the royal tables, Busey was catching something else from Trevor: a history book. There’s a simple reaction that comes from someone who has just taken a hit to the head from six pounds of European history, and Busey was always prone to overreactions. In the verbal scuffle that preceded the fight, the linebacker is alleged to have called Busey a bastard. That’s an innocent enough offense, but to Busey it was a personal affront worthy of war.
The month before, Busey’s mother had broken the news to him that the man he knew as his father had merely adopted him and that he was, in fact, the product of a failed first marriage. This was deeply troubling to Busey and, as payment for the insult, he retaliated in full force, delivering a strike right between the linebacker’s numbers.
That was the only punch Busey landed.
The linebacker landed two. The first was a retaliatory left jab to Busey’s gut, the second, a right cross to Busey’s left eye. Before the linebacker could continue the beating, Mr. Crandall rushed in to break up the fight. Looking back, Busey was lucky the English teacher didn’t punch him, too—his wife (also a teacher) and brought their newborn daughter to introduce to other faculty. As it happened, they were standing only a few feet away when the fight broke out. Both Busey and the linebacker were suspended for a week.
I first met Busey the week he came back to school. During a fire drill. It wasn’t really so much a drill as it was a fire scare. Apparently two girls had been smoking in one of the bathrooms on campus when they thought they heard a teacher walk in. In a panic, both girls threw their cigarettes in one of the industrial-sized Rubbermaid trashcans. Why the girls didn’t throw their contraband into the toilets or on the ground, no one knows, and I can’t help but wonder what would have happened had the cigarettes not ignited the paper towels in the trashcan that day.
The great bathroom fire of 2003 forced an evacuation of students and faculty into the parking lots and greenbelts that surrounded the high school. It was one of those peculiar January days where the temperatures climbed into the 70s, bringing with them false hopes of spring and care-less summer. The air was warm and the trees were barren, their leaves decomposing under the feet of the throng that poured out of the school.
It was there on the greenbelt I first saw Busey, hunched over in the back of the crowd, playing with a piece of brown grass. I’m sure I had seen him before, either walking the halls or at lunch, but I had never taken notice of him until I saw the shiner that the linebacker’s fist had left behind. The swelling had gone down some, but Busey’s pride was still clearly injured as he sat in a squat on the grass. He had pulled the hood of his sweatshirt tight over his medium-length blonde hair in a losing attempt to hide his battle wound.
“You alright?” I asked Busey.
“Fine,” he mumbled.
He clearly had no interest in talking to me and had the fire not started during my health class, I would have gone elsewhere, but the burned-out seniors who had saved that class for their last semester in high school wouldn’t give an underclassman the time of day.
“Hell of a shiner you got there,” I said.
“I don’t really want to talk about it,” Busey snarled.
“It’s Timothy, right?” I asked. “How the hell did you not get expelled? I would have thought Crandall would have gotten you sent across town.”
“Tim,” Busey answered. “And I did for a week, but there were some,” he hesitated, “extenuating circumstances.”
“But wasn’t his kid in the hall there, too?” I asked. I knew the story already, everybody did. If there was one piece of news that traveled faster throughout a high school than a fight, it was that someone was pregnant.
“Yeah, the kid was there and so was Crandall’s wife,” Busey said, staring at a blade of grass he had pulled up and was tearing into strips. “Crandall was pretty pissed, but he understands. Talked to the principal for me, actually.”
“He’s not a bad guy, he’s just puts on a show,” Busey said peering at me from beneath his caterpillar eyebrows. It was the first time he made eye contact. The linebacker’s fist must have landed right where he was aiming because Busey’s left eye was swollen near shut.
“You should really keep ice on that thing,” I said.
“The swelling has gone down some.”
“Really?” I asked in disbelief. “That must have been one hell of a punch.”
“Knocked me out,” Busey stated matter-of-factly.
“That kind of punch? I’d imagine. You’re lucky he didn’t hit your nose. It would have broken in half.”
“Yeah. Well it’s over now,” Busey said. “All I have to do is avoid Trevor for the rest of my life and I won’t have a problem. What do you think is going on in there?” Busey asked gesturing to the school.
“Who knows, there’s no smoke that I can see, probably just a student prank-calling 911 trying to get out of a test or something.”
“Makes sense,” Busey said as he grabbed a handful of grass and tossed it into the air.
“Wouldn’t mind sitting out here all day,” I said.
“We better not be out here all day,” Busey said. “If it’s that bad, they should just cancel classes today. No point in being here, we might as well go home.”
“Yeah, keep dreaming, buddy. The only chance of that happening is if there’s a storm coming. Or maybe if a battalion of flying pigs attacks.”
“Squadron,” Busey said.
“You said a battalion of flying pigs. A battalion is for ground troops, a squadron is made up of air troops. You meant squadron.”
“If you say so,” I said.
Our conversation continued like that for almost two hours before the administration decided it was safe to go back to school. Busey could have been called a lot of things, but intimidating wasn’t one of them, he had a disarming quality about him but something about him seemed off. The rest of that day is lost in the the haze of memory except for that one event which is forever burned into my mind. I can still see the puffiness of Busey’s eye and those bushy eyebrows.
© Caleb Williams, 2011