Traverse City Record-Eagle

Generation Why

September 7, 2010

Reality hits that playtime is over

I was not an easy student as a young kid. I didn't think of teachers as human beings, and when I saw them hold their heads in their hands, I look back and realize that they had a real personal life outside of the classroom.

It never occurred to me that elementary school was a real place to learn. To me it was more of a jungle gym where adults coddled you and warned you about the big junior high where, once there, your antics would not be taken lightly. Which is funny because a junior high is the most immature of places.

Something tweaks in the male juvie mind at that age — we are ready to go boldly forth but find ourselves still clinging to our mothers. There is no humor in feeling torn, and even I, the Black and Gold writer, found myself on top of a locker-room bench in an eighth-grade fistfight.

It's an event that remains vivid to me because it was then that I realized that playtime was over. There was never any blood in elementary school; we always started crying before that. But now the blood was here: It was on my shirt, on the ground, on the kid's face.

On a satellite phone from my father in Afghanistan, I explained my transgression to him. In the background I could hear gunshots being fired from real men who had drawn real blood. Even then it was not hard for me to catch the irony: On that day boys my age in Mazar Sharif were fighting for their lives. They didn't have the luxury of going to school, much less fighting in one. They lived in a town where the soccer field wasn't used for playing games. The Taliban's executions clearly could be heard throughout the city.

Three years later I saw my junior-high rival in a high school bathroom during my junior year. We both stood there with the mutual understanding that we were much different people then.

Somehow the developmental process proceeded: Us boys are almost men, ready to go off to the Marines, to Michigan State, to all the places that we couldn't really fathom while we were sitting cross-legged on the bus seat.

There is something cataclysmic about reminiscence.

Johnny Stanton graduated from Traverse City Central in June.

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