On My Way Home
By Joe Maurantonio
"Victory is for the one,
Even before the combat,
That has no thought of himself."
--Shinkage Ryu adage
Courage is defined by Webster's Dictionary as a noun meaning "bravery; fearlessness; daring." Yet, I don't consider courage a display of fearlessness. Perhaps, that's misleading. I feel the act of courage means that in spite of feeling afraid, in the midst of danger, and possibly with harm and grave damage likely, you stand up and do what must be done. You do what is right and just, regardless of the consequence. The story below gives a slightly different take on "courage". The year is 1981...
Her name was Lori and we'd been good friends for over three years. Our friendship had probably started about the time we began high school and found ourselves in a few classes together.
Now, saying Lori and I were friends, means we knew each other's interests, spoke about classwork, school events and, on occasion, took the same bus home together. Other friends rode the same buses but got off earlier than us.
So, maybe you are thinking I had a crush on Lori. If so, you're wrong. She reminded me a bit of my sister and I never thought or considered going out with her... and truth be told, I had a terrible crush on another one of our friends.
On one occasion, Lori and I were walking from one bus stop to another when a black Camaro screeched out in front of us blocking our path. As I stepped away from the car, Lori moved with me and we put about ten feet between us and it. The driver's door opened revealing someone we both knew: James, Lori's boyfriend.
An odd feeling overcame me. I wanted to be angry at James for a moment. I mean the guy had almost hit us with his car! But to not over react, I wanted to say hello to him. I mean he was basically a nice guy, and Lori and he were close to getting engaged. So, unsure what to say or do - I stood there looking perplexed for all of a second. Which was long enough for...
"Get in the car Lori," James said fiercely. (3 seconds have passed)
Lori didn't move. As a matter of fact, I'd say that she couldn't move. She seemed paralyzed with fear that something terrible was about to happen. "GET IN THE CAR NOW!" James shouted.
Lori didn't move closer to his car nor did she move away from it. Yet, my memory sees her as almost shrinking... and then with her eyes beginning to fill she said, "It's over James. I can't talk to you any more. I can't..." Her voice, almost a whisper, didn't sound anything like the Lori I knew.
I stood there looking back and forth between them. I don't know if anyone, anywhere was noticing us. James and Lori are twenty feet apart. I don't know what to do...
"Lori! What the f*ck is wrong with you! Get in the g*d d*mned car right now!" James said walking toward us (though it feels like a eternity, about 9 seconds have passed) and I feel something bad happening in my gut. My stomach tightens and my brothers' words fill my ears, "Never get between a boy and girlfriend. It's a dangerous place to be. Your not safe from either side." That was about a year prior to this incident, when my brother had stopped a guy from hitting his girlfriend, and gotten attacked by her for interferring.
I can't tell you exactly what I was thinking at the time... I know I was more afraid than I'd even been before. James was strong and tough. He was about 5' 7" (4 inche shorter than me) and was on a local college football team. To say he was built like a Mack truck would be impressive. But James was more like, oh... what Mack trucks were going to be built like once the company realized that his design was better. Okay, maybe I think I was terrified.
"Let's get in the car, go somewhere, and talk about this." And James is about 10 feet away. And suddenly... my body somehow, without my permission, decided it was going to step a bit between Lori and James. When did my body start thinking for itself?
"Ah, James." It was a small voice. My voice. I knew I had no right to speak. Yet, some alien was controlling my body. And it was "its" fault I followed those words with, "Let it go for now." I didn't know what was going on. But it didn't take a rocket scientist to tell that they'd broken up. (About 14 seconds have passed)
He turned and looked at me. I think it was the first time he even realized I was there... that anybody else around for miles. "You thinking you have a chance with her?" A heard Lori sniffle. He thought I wanted to go out with Lori. I smiled (I think that I almost laughed!).
"Lori?" I said. It was my voice. The fear was leaving my belly and something else was replacing it... I think that James saw it too. Because he turned to Lori and said, "You and him? Is that it?"
"We are friends, James. That's it." She said in her little voice. I followed that with, "Just friends. That's it." He turned toward me again. and stepped very close to me. He wanted me to swing at him. I could feel it. It was written in the way he moved, held himself and the way his mouth sneered at me.
It was a dangerous moment. The situation was charged and could turn explosive... when I realized something: "Looks like somebody's gonna hit your car." There was not another car in sight.
(About 21 seconds have passed) He steps toward the car as I step backward a couple of steps. Now there's distance between us again. He's thinking about his car... then turns to look at Lori -who's crying- and realizes (I think) that she's totally frightened of him.
And turns towards me, anger in his eyes, "You and me this isn't over." I look at him and that's when it hits me. A wave a pure "adrenaline high" hits me and I think "poor little man." And I realize what my body knew...I would not stand by and let this person harm my friend.
There is nothing for me to say, so I keep quiet. He backs away and gets in his car. "I'll be at your house," he tells Lori. "And you," he yells from the open window of the car, "its not over yet." I think about the fact that 'it' hasn't even begun and yet, it was over.
Lori and I continued our trek home together. When she stopped crying a bit later, Lori told me that she really didn't want anyone to know that she had broken up with James... mostly, because she'd begun dating a guy on the soccer team. Great, I thought. As we approached her home, I noticed that James was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he'd realized how frightened he'd made Lori feel. That he'd made a fool of himself. Nevertheless, the adventure was over.
This little episode had remained recessed deep in my memories for a great number of years until a friend asked me about "courage." I gave a few stories of famous people showing courage in war time and during great times of tragedy. "But," he insisted, "what about you?" So, I told him about the "On My Way Home" story.