And We All Fall Down
So there we were...15 years old in the summer of 76'. I met Bobby and we hung-out every day for one glorious summer. It was a summer which would stay with me for a lifetime. We were constantly is search of new adventures, new girls, and new troubles. Bobby had his gang of cronies; all from his elementary school days. There was Joe, Ken, David, Cazzie, and Glenn. Now Joe had a sister, Lisa. She was one year older than us and we were enamored with her. We all wanted her, and none of us were brave enough to ask out an "older girl." One day, Scott, a local kid, began spreading rumors that Lisa was engaging in amoral activities with neighborhood boys. Joe was furious. He had to defend his sister's honor. The poor kid was just starved for attention, meant no harm by it, but we didn't see it that way. All we saw was the reputation of our Lisa being sullied by this lonely malcontent. We decided to straighten him out.
July 4th had just passed and we had some left over fireworks. It was then that Joe decided how to enact his vengeance upon poor Scott. We all walked to Scott's house. Joe proceeded to tell us his plan. He would plant an M-80, a really big firecracker, in his doorway and light it up. I knew what we were doing was wrong. I knew I should have walked away. I deliberately trailed behind the gang that day, hoping it would appear to decrease my culpability. I thought this to myself as I walked towards the house with the guys. I watched Joe plant the M80. As I watched him find just the right place for it, I thought of my parents. What would they think of me right now? What would they tell me to do in this circumstance? I only had a minute to ponder this because Joe was about to light the M-80. Then...BOOM! It was done. The glass partition shattered into tiny pieces.
It was a hot summer day and there had to be dozens of witnesses who saw and heard what we had done. I recall walking up to Scott's house seeing lots of elderly people hanging out on their stoops, watching us. These old folks had nothing better to do than make our caper the fodder of their evening's conversation. We were going to get busted and I knew it. We proceeded to the bus stop where I would catch my bus ride home. We were emboldened by our bravery. We had saved Lisa from the slanderous allegations of the discontented Scott! But something inside me told me we were wrong. Even at 15, there was a blueprint inside of me that was evaluating what I had just participated in. I raced home from that bus stop, not even waiting for the bus. I felt that guilty. I had to get away fast. The faster I could get away, the less responsible I was for what we had done. Even though I did not plant the firecracker, I knew I was just as guilty. I did not plan it, but I did not stop it either. I was guilty for watching. So I helped save Lisa, but had dug myself a grave of guilt. Scott's parents would now have to fix the glass we had broken. They probably would never even find out why we targeted their house.
I recalled an incident when I was 12. I had been leaning against a window along the side of a house. I leaned too close to the window and felt and heard it shatter at my back. John, the kid I was with, immediately got-up and ran away, leaving me alone, surrounded by glass shards. It was then I learned what a "fair-weather" friend really meant. He didn't even stick by me when I needed back up. I stayed there - stunned. The homeowner came outside demanding to know who broke his window. I stood my ground, took a deep breath, and confessed. I had been taught values. I had been taught to take responsibility for the things I do. The lessons my parent's taught me reverberated in my mind. I wondered why John's parents hadn't taught him the same.
The homeowner said they had just purchased the house, were short on cash, and couldn't afford to fix the window. They stated I would have to find a way to pay the $2.50 for the window. I ran home; tears were streaming down my face as I entered my house. My parents asked me what had happened to cause me to be so upset. I was afraid of being scolded for breaking the window. But my father, who never spoke a word to me growing-up, just smiled. He then told me how proud he was of me for staying at the scene, admitting fault, and promising to make restitution. For the first time in my short life, I was proud of my father for standing by me. I took the $2.50 needed to repay the homeowner from my piggy bank, ran back to the house, placed the money in the doorway, and left a note apologizing for breaking his window.
Bobby's crew was irrepressible that summer day. We were sure what we had done was right. We saved Lisa's honor so it had to be right! After all, Scott had committed a mortal sin. This was all his fault! After dinner, I returned to the scene of our crime. It is said that criminals will often return to the scene of their transgression to relive it. But I was returning due to guilt. I rang Joe's doorbell and was met by Lisa. She explained to me how all the guys were picked-up by the police, returned to Scott's house and identified by the neighbors as having committed the criminal act. I heard they were all picked-up at the very bus stop I had fled from moments earlier. The police drove each of them home, and told their parents what they had done. Once again, in fear of being identified as an unindicted co-conspirator, I fled Lisa's house and returned home. Here at least I was safe. Miles away from guilt, from transgression, and from the police.
That day was always remembered by the guys as the day we risked our very freedom to save Lisa's reputation. For me, I could not take part in any celebration. I remembered it as the day I succumbed to the pressure of the "pack mentality" in spite of what I had always been taught - to be your own man, and do things your conscience tells you are right. I have read and heard it repeated several different times, in several different ways: "When you know better, you do better." Well, I knew better, but did not do better. It was more important to me to be popular with the guys than to be right and follow my parent's guidance. What would the guys have thought had I stood-up, defied, and stopped Joe from planting that device? They most assuredly would have looked downward at me, and quietly considered excising me from their circle, or so I feared. I have since come to learn that I was accepted by them and liked by them simply for who I was, not for what I stood for. I have also accepted the reality that there are no coincidences, no mistakes, only lessons given to us to learn from. And I learned another very valuable lesson that day: that the only real choice I had was to be myself. After all...every one else was already taken.
Greg Sacchet – 12/10/2011
Author Notes: www.gregsacchet.com