Butch to the Rescue
I've known Joseph Campbell since elementary school, and as I remember it, he's been over 6 ft. tall the whole time and built like The Bus. We used to hang around together in the after-school program, playing that stupid pencil break game (he was unbeatable) or thumps (I'm pretty sure he was too nice to use his full strength on any of us).
When we got to middle school, our social worlds grew apart, as they do. I was a buck-toothed, 55-lb band nerd and he was, well, substantially cooler. One day of 6th grade, still pretty unsure in my new, tougher school, I headed to lunch. Clarinet case in hand, I wore the uniform of an early-90s tween—neon biking shorts loose on my spindly legs and an oversized Gap turtleneck cinched at the hip in one of those clips. I'm sure I had a side ponytail, just to heighten my coming embarrassment, but I don't actually remember.
All of 6th grade was hurtling down the central stairway to the cafeteria when I lost my footing, skidded down half a flight of stairs on my shins and knees, and came to a stop on the landing, my ankle folded underneath me. As I thumped down, so did my clarinet case, bursting open and spewing the instrument's pieces skyward. I watched them rise above my head, a bright symphonic symbol of my low social status. A giant, neon Vegas arrow flashing "NERD" above me would not have been more clear than the mouthpiece and array of reeds of varying strengths now crashing to the floor around me.
And, then came the pointing and laughing. Sixth graders are not known for their subtlety, and I found myself smack in the middle of two flights of stairs, surrounded above and below with literal pointing and laughing. I determined quick escape was the best solution, scrambling on my knees to gather my clarinet, shove the pieces back in the case, and retreat...somewhere. The plan didn't really go beyond "GET OUT OF HERE."
But then I tried to stand. My ankle gave, and I fell again. I know! I know! Sometimes I wonder if I should leave out this part of the story because it's so truly pitiful. But I fell again. More pointing and laughing, with the cartoonish cruelty of the anonymously evil opposing teams of the Mighty Ducks trilogy.
I was trapped, no possible escape or redemption. Until. My old friend Joseph, who had since earned the nickname "Butch" for obvious reasons, parted the stream of guffawing classmates. Towering over all of us, he came down the stairs, easily picked me up in both arms, and carried me back up the stairs and all the way down two corridors to the office so I could call my dad. I remember a sort of sheepish silence as we went up the stairs.
He didn't have to do that. He could have left his old, nerdy friend sitting at the bottom of the stairs. It would have been safer and easier for him to join in with the others or politely ignore me. Frankly, in the cutthroat world of middle-school social survival, I would have understood and I would have survived. But wow, I was so lucky he was a bigger man than that, both inside and out. And, I don't think I've said thank you since that day.
So, thanks, Butch! Happy birthday! I hope I'm not embarrassing you by telling our middle-school business. Now, Joseph is raising a beautiful family of his own, and I'm glad there are three little Campbells running around Durham doing what's right. Their actions won't be forgotten, either.