The kids gathered around Ian, enthralled by the story of the time his dad fended off a monkey attack.
It went like this: Ian was in Taiwan visiting relatives and there was a monkey who hung out at the 7–11 convenience store.
In the telling, the monkey jumped on his fathers shoulders, but his dad was tall and strong and more than the monkey could handle. He swatted him away.
The kids were dumbstruck. They absorbed the story in awe. It was quite a tale. I listened with envy. I wanted to be a dad that fought off monkeys.
This being 2017, an iPhone was produced to corroborate the event. Sure enough, Ian displayed a picture of said monkey in the trees near the 7–11.
The iPhone as expert witness is a new thing but it seems ubiquitous. We tell people something then immediately take out a phone to prove it. It’s as if we assume no one believes anything we say.
I could tell my son wanted to respond to the monkey story. He needed to get in the game. So he told his team that his dad was a soccer champion.
It’s a notion based in large part on the fact I have a trophy on the shelf.
It’s not untrue, but the reality is more complicated.
The truth is that yes I was on a team that won the state championship my senior year in high school. But I didn’t start, which means I didn’t play.
One reason we won was due in part to the fact most of us had played together since 4th grade, the first year a recreation league was set up in town.
My father help set up the league. He did it not because he knew anything about soccer, but because he didn’t want me to play football.
By the time we were in high school we had melded into a tremendous team.
The championship was amazing, but my strongest memory that year happened far from the field.
We were traveling to an away game. I cannot remember if it was Denville or Rockaway or Franklin Lakes. But it was far.
We were driving down a narrow country road when the bus suddenly lurched as if we had gone over a speed bump.
The driver stopped and looking out the back door we could see there was a good sized dog lying in the middle of the road.
A number of kids jumped out the back door and ran over to see. The animal was lying on its side. There was blood and it was clearly in bad shape.
Something I’ll never forget was that it was wagging its tail and looking up at us anxious and seemingly relieved that help had arrived.
A handful of us were riveted to the scene unable to move. We looked around hoping someone was coming or that the owner would show up. But no one did. We couldn’t see any houses from the road.
I don’t remember the coach getting off the bus. It was just kids.
One of the members of the team, a junior, said the dog was going to die and that we couldn’t let him suffer.
It occurred to me that that is something people say in movies.
I didn’t really understand what we were supposed to do about it.
But the junior did.
He walked over to the side of the road and began to paw through the fallen leaves as if he were looking for something he’d left there.
Then the picked up a good sized rock and began to carry it back to the dog. Even as he approached I couldn’t really grasp what was happening.
He stood next to the dog and balanced the small boulder on his knee. And then he raised it decisively above his head.
I knew then what he intended to do and I wanted no part of it. I didn’t want to see it or remember it.
But I heard it and I won’t forget the sound. And I won’t forget the stillness of the dog lying in the road after it’s head had been crushed, it’s tail motionless.
We all filed slowly back on the bus. The junior was crying. There was blood on his socks.
The rest of us were silent. I was in awe of the courage it had taken. It would have been easier to do nothing.
Our team captain put his arm around the kid and told him that he had done the right thing. We were all weighed down by the violence of the moment and how quickly it had transpired.
After that, we rode in silence.
I’ve never told my son this story from my year as a soccer champion.
It doesn’t have a monkey or a happy ending.
And it happened long ago so thankfully there are no pictures.
**Published by Ted Merz Dec 5, 2018**