From the Opening Chapter of Long Trail Home: A Journey of Self-Discovery
Matthew felt the tension between fear and rage within him. The other boys had gathered around him, barking their taunts like hyenas approaching wounded prey. Harrison Taft, a privileged fifteen-year-old boy with broad shoulders and a festering soul stepped into the circle. Emboldened by the chants of his friends, he walked steadily toward Matthew. Fighting the urge to flee, Matthew encouraged himself. Don’t be afraid.
“You don’t belong here,” said Harrison coldly. “You’ve only been here a few months and it’s clear you don’t fit in. You should leave.”
Under the blue sky of Virginia Fall, Matthew offered a silent prayer for the intervention of a teacher, for anyone, even God, to come to his aid. He knew his petition was fruitless. By the time anyone realized his plight, it would be too late. The fight would be over and he would be left to nurse his wounds in the black and blue and crimson of bruises and bloodshed of shame. Just don’t cry. Don’t let them see you cry.
“Leave me alone,” said Matthew, hoping the the hyenas didn’t hear the trembling in his voice.
Harrison jabbed his pale sausage of a finger into Matthew’s chest. As if lancing a boil, the fetid humor of desperation rose in Matthew, causing his face to flush. Hit him first.
“I said, you don’t belong here. Why don’t you just go back to where you came from?”
“Just hit him, Harrison. Knock him down,” barked one of the pack.
Something deep within Matthew, he wasn’t sure what, told him the time had arrived. He drove his knee hard and deep into Harrison’s groin, hoping to strike a disabling blow. Matthew watched Harrison double, seeing the searing pain in his adversary’s face. He tried to back away from his opponent, but Harrison, who outweighed Matthew by at least twenty pounds, fell forward, driving Matthew to his back.
Pressing his heels and elbows into the ground, Matthew scrambled back a foot or so before Harrison’s full weight fell upon him. Feeling the scrape of rocks and roots upon his back and elbows, Matthew was an animal trying to release himself from a trap . For a moment, he was free. But Harrison was quicker than a boy of his size should be and lurched forward enough to wrap his hand around Matthew’s ankle. Harrison slowly drew Matthew backward, pinning him beneath his girth.
Matthew couldn’t breathe. He felt the blows land on his face and neck like thick chunks of hail from a sudden thunderstorm. Then Matthew heard the vague sound of imminent rescue. Malachi Landreau?
“Enough!” said the man.
Whatever hope Matthew might have held for consolation, for vindication, or even protection from future onslaughts of abuse evaporated with the Landreau’s words.
“Get up,” ordered the teacher.
Through swollen eyes and disbelief, Matthew gazed at Landreau, the man who littered his lectures on military history with the tales of his own bloody battles.
“Boy, I think you’ve caused more than your share of trouble since you got here. I’ll not have any more fighting. Clean yourself up and go to class. Don’t let me have to tell you again or you’ll have to face the consequences with me. You’re weak. Undisciplined.”
Landreau turned to the other boys and concluded his intervention with a cold, “Go to class.” The teacher then pivoted with martial precision , leaving Matthew to wipe away the dirt and blood now crusting beneath his nose. His humiliation was complete. At least I didn’t cry.