Martin's "Cuban Missile Crisis"

I remember in Beachwood High School there was this thug who used to terrorise the other kids. He was in the year ahead of me — an excellent athlete, tall, lithe and well muscled. But he was also streetwise and downright nasty. One day our freshman class had the misfortune of having to share a classroom with his (older) class due to some emergency. The teacher unwisely left us unattended for most of the period. The thug proceeded to press-gang some of my classmates into playing a sadistic game where they had to cane each other. Martin Middleton and I were playing our own “board game” (one we had invented) and watched the unfolding events with trepidation out of the corners of our eyes. Then the thug approached Martin and said: “Okay, you’re up next.”

I still remember Martin calmly ignoring him. The thug became quite exasperated and aggressive at this “insubordination”. But no matter how dire Martin’s personal “Cuban Missile Crisis” became he continued to ignore the thug — as if oblivious to the monstrous threat facing him.

Abruptly, the stand-off ended. Martin, it appeared, simply wasn’t worth it. The thug grabbed another kid who obsequiously agreed to his orchestrated sadism and Martin and I were left alone.

I’ve often wondered what was going through Martin’s head at that time. Surely participating in the thug’s “game” would have been infinitely safer than the high probability that, in defying his orders, he would get thrashed to within an inch of his life?

But I’ve finally worked it out. The indignity of submitting to the thug would have been worse than any beating that the thug could have administered. There are some things in life that are just not worth it. In this case, cowardice was one such thing. It would have left a far deeper scar in Martin’s memory than any beating. I often wonder what would have happened if the thug had picked me instead…