The day my Stepfather ran off for good, my brother Sam, broke Stacy Reed’s nose at Vacation Bible Camp. The blood dripped onto her shirt as the volunteer councilor took her inside to clean up; it was the first time I remember wondering how much a person could bleed before they dropped dead.
He said hadn’t done it on purpose. It was the fifth day of Bible camp, and having mastered the entirety of Christendom in a work week, boredom had set in. There are really only so many Christian-retrofitted Jackson Five songs a group of kids can learn before you lose their hearts and minds. Our councilor was twenty, pretty, and at a loss for how to fill eight hours. So, before lunch that day, she turned to God’s most hearty Sunday competition – organized football.
There weren’t enough campers to play traditional teams, so we settled a mishmash game involving various elements of football, but with no real cohesion. Score was not kept, and half the players lined up on the wrong side. Our councilor sat on the steps of the old school house and watched; her concern had run dry.
Sam had been playing quarterback when it happened. My brother was the oldest of the dozen or so campers – maybe thirteen-years-old at the time. We were only two years apart, but nobody would have called us brothers based on anything other than our eyes and cowlicks. He was a fiery kid – rebellious and cruel when he wanted to be. I feared him the same way a person does a dog who only bites occasionally but always goes for the throat.
Stacy was only a few months younger than my brother, and the type of tall girls get when puberty strikes overnight. She was only half paying attention when my brother was snapped the ball. Across the line of scrimmage, I counted loudly to five alligator, ready to rush him and maybe humiliate him with a sack in front of the neighbor kids. I was a chubby kid, and he was faster than me, but I dreamed of glory. I saw the smile on his face when he let go of the ball.
She cried for half an hour with a rag across her face. Our councilor gave her a once over and determined there was no reason to contact her parents (nothing short of sepsis seemed to warrant a phone call). Any more football was put firmly out of the question for the day. When the tears stopped, Sam apologized offhandedly for what he had done to her. To my horror, she quickly forgave him and the councilor excused us for lunch.
Most of the kids lived far from the old school house where camp was held each year, but Sam and I were close. Each morning we rode an old Yamaha three-wheeler a mile up the dirt road to learn the grace of God, and then took it home for lunch. That day, my stepfather’s truck was in the driveway. He had been gone for months, leaving my mother with no explanation and no money. I had never liked him, and the thought of him being back scared me.
When we got there, my mother was outside; I could tell she had been crying. She wiped her face and immediately insisted we go back to the school house for lunch. My brother refused, so she drove me back up the road in silence. I joined the group again and ate the sandwich she sent with me; only the councilor asked where my brother was.
After lunch, I took my place among the other kids as we started a rip-off version of “Louie, Louie” chronicling the saga of Moses. Half way through the song, the engine-whine of the Yamaha drifted through the windows.
He didn’t bother turning the engine off, leaving the trike idling in the heat-scorched grass yard of the school. We heard the door slam open as he ran inside. His face was hot and red with tears, but the welt under his eye and the cut on his lip were more than noticeable.
“He punched me! The son of a bitch punched me!” he screamed at us.
I knew immediately what had happened. The other children stared quietly, as worried that he had cursed at Bible Camp as anything else. The councilor took him by the shoulders into another room.
I glanced at Stacy Reed. I thought she would have been smiling, but she looked as worried as the rest of the class.
I smiled for her.