In fifth grade, at the age of ten, I had a crush on my homeroom teacher, Mr. Boracino. He taught math, which then became my favorite subject. Two or three weeks into the school year, he replaced our original teacher, a woman I can’t remember at all. He stood tall with broad shoulders and a boyishly handsome square-jawed face. I imagine every one of my female classmates remembers Mr. Boracino. Most of the boys in the class probably remember him too, but for a different reason.
I grew up a spirited tomboy. I loved sports: baseball, football, basketball, and all the games us kids in the neighborhood made up. I usually got chosen early when picking teams, even before some of the boys. I could run fast, hit hard, and throw accurately. For a young girl, I was quite strong as I spent most of my time outdoors climbing trees, building forts, or running through the woods. I look back on the fifth grade as my final year of quietude, or maybe I should say ignorance. One begat the other.
In 1971 at North Shore Elementary School in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, recess was a segregated event. Boys played outdoors on a paved courtyard on one side of the school wing, girls on the other side. The more adventurous of us girls would play a game called Red Rover. The game consisted of two teams. Each team held hands and formed a line facing the other team, about fifteen yards apart. One team called out; “Red rover, red rover, send (insert name here) right over.” The girl whose name we called would have to run into the opposing team’s line and try to break the chain of hands. If successful, she would return to her team. If not, she assimilated to the opposing team. Not long into the school year, the principal banned the playing of Red Rover in the playground. Too many skinned knees and elbows, I suppose. Recess became boring.
After that, I walked around the end of the school wing to watch the boys play catch with a football or baseball. They also had a basketball hoop in their playground. I remember thinking how unfair it was. On the days when Mr. Boracino monitored recess, he would have the boys run routes and toss them the football. I wanted so badly to join them, and not just because I wanted to play football. I also wanted to spend more time with Mr. Boracino.
One rainy day as we spent recess in our homeroom, some of the boys got into an arm-wrestling contest. Mr. Boracino enthusiastically congratulated Brian, who won every match. I can’t recall exactly how I convinced Mr. Boracino, but I’m sure I relentlessly channeled my desire to challenge Brian to an arm-wrestling contest. I was confident I could beat him as I had arm-wrestled a few of the boys in the neighborhood and triumphed.
The challenge was on.
Brian, of course, felt over-confident and made jokes. That only served to fuel my extremely competitive nature. As I think back on it, I can’t imagine what Mr. Boracino’s motivation was for allowing the match. With every classmate watching, I eased Brian’s arm down onto the desk. He was mortified, and I felt vindicated for all those times I could only watch the boys play ball on their side of the playground.
After that day, whenever Mr. Boracino supervised the boy’s playground, he invited me over to join them in a game of catch. I recall running routes on the paved surface and hauling in the pigskin whenever it was in arms reach. Most of my male classmates accepted me, even encouraged me.
I’m sure Brian took a lot of ribbing because of that day. Three years later, on the school bus heading home after school, Brian threw a punch at the bus driver as he drove. The driver was able to safely pull over to the side of the road, but Brian persisted in throwing punches. The bus driver finally subdued him, but because of the circumstances, he drove the bus right back to the school. On the drive back, it became obvious to us that Brian was under the influence of drugs. We would have been around thirteen years old at that time.
What I used to recall as a fun memory now gives me pause. I had no malicious intent toward Brian. I don’t know if my actions caused him unhappiness or emotional distress, but if they did, I am truly sorry.
Life is full of unintended consequences and regrets. It’s unavoidable. I suppose it’s what we do about them that defines who we are as human beings. I believe we need to acknowledge them, own up to them, try to make amends, and move on. So, wherever you are, Brian, I hope you are well.