...but this one caught my attention!
To the victors, belong the spoils...
A couple of years from now, in a suburb near you...or perhaps the suburb you live in....
It was a cold November morning. Jack hated the cold. The sharp cold air reminded him rather rudely that he no longer had a left leg. The doctors had warned him that his phantom limb pain would be worse in the winter. I do not have time for this. Pain is simply weakness leaving the body, Jack thought as he attached his prosthetic leg.
Jack was going to be busy all day. He had a meeting with the chef he partnered with to open his restaurant. She wanted to name the place "Chesty's", after Marine Corps hero Chesty Puller. Jack wasn't thrilled with the idea. Although he was decorated for many acts of bravery while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps, he never talked about it. It wasn't that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, nor was he ashamed of anything he or his men did. Jack always felt that the War on Terror was a noble endeavor that he was proud to have been a part of. He simply wanted to be known as a restauranteur, not a war hero. After his meeting, he was going to meet a few purveyors and pick up his son Tyler at school, and then drop him off at his mother's apartment. Then he would head to the restaurant and hopefully finish painting the place before he had to pick up Tyler again.
As Jack headed towards his beat up Ford Ranger, his cell phone rang. Little did Jack know what kind of havoc this phone call would cause.
"Mr. Slater ?"
"Yeah, this Jack Slater," Jack replied while lighting a cigarette.
"My name is Maxine Ojeda. I'm your son's principal. I need you come down here as soon as possible. We need to talk."
"What did he do ?"
"This is a very serious matter, Mister Slater. I urgently need to speak to you, and I need to do so face to face."
"No problem," Jack said ending the call.
Jack then dialed his ex-wife, Charlene. Perhaps she knew what was going on.
"Yes, Jack ?" she responded coldly.
"Did you get a call from Tyler's principal ?"
"As a matter of fact, I did, Jack. I'm heading over there now. Will you be gracing us with your presence, or will this just be Mommy to the rescue yet again ?"
"Yet again ? Charlene, you haven't been--"
"Not now. I'll see you at the school," Charlene rebutted huffily as she ended the call.
On the way to the school, Jack's mind was racing. Tyler had never been in trouble before. He had always done well in school. He was a pleasant little boy who played Little League. If one was to look up the definition of "well adjusted", a picture of Tyler Slater would be found next to the definition.
Both Jack and Charlene pulled up to the school at the same time and parked next to each other. They exchanged muted greetings as they headed to towards the front door where a security guard with a badge that read "Department of Education Security Team" awaited them. They said nothing as the security guard checked their picture ID's and waved his metal detector around them. The guard then gave them directions to the principal's office.
"Boy, things have changed since we went here, huh ?" Jack whispered to Charlene as they headed towards the office. Charlene rolled her eyes in annoyance instead of answering him. Of the many, many things Charlene hated about Jack, the thing she hated most about him was, as she put it, his desire to live in the past.
Jack and Charlene arrived at the waiting area outside of the principal's office to find Tyler sitting there. The little boy's face was red and he was sobbing. He looked up to see his parents.
"I didn't do anything," the boy mumbled.
"We'll talk later, Squirt."
Jack and Charlene entered Principal Ojeda's office and was surprised to find not only the principal, but another woman as well.
"Mr. and Mrs. Slater---"
"I changed my name back to Watson," Charlene interrupted as she shook the principal's hand.
"My apologies. I'm Maxine Ojeda. This is Theresa McDermott, our school psychologist. Please, have a seat."
Jack and Charlene sat as far as possible from each other on Principal Ojeda's couch. As Jack sat, his pant leg rode up, exposing his prosthetic leg slightly. Principal Ojeda couldn't help but briefly stare. Jack quickly caught on and fixed his pant leg.
"Let's get started," Principal Ojeda began. "Tyler's teacher, Mrs. Parks, gave her class an assignment: Draw a picture of a person you most admire and present it to the class. Most of the students drew a picture of Barack Obama, some drew pictures of sports heroes, some drew super heroes, and your son drew this."
Principal Ojeda handed Jack a picture of a green stick figure with a gun shooting at other stick figures. On the bottom of the picture, it read "My Dad".
"So ?" Jack responded, handing the picture back to principal.
"You don't find this alarming ?"
"No. I'm actually kind of flattered."
"This is a very serious matter, Mr. Slater," Dr. McDermott said with her gaze bearing down on Jack. "This is a clear sign of latent mental illness that may manifest itself in violent ways. Doesn't it worry you that your son has such violent thoughts ?"
"Whoa...whoa....wait a minute...."
Dr. McDermott opened her laptop and pointed it towards Jack and Charlene. "I'm going to play the video of the interview I had with Tyler before you arrived," Dr. McDermott said rather coldly. "Maybe then, we can see if this is truly no big deal as your attitude seems to convey."
"Tyler, do you know why you're here ?"
"Mrs. Parks didn't like the picture I drew."
"No, that's not it Tyler. What you drew was very violent, and that makes us very sad. We don't like violence. Violence is bad."
"I drew a picture of my dad. He was in the Marines. When I get older, I want to be just like him."
"Tyler, what does your dad tell you about his time in the Marines ?"
"He says he hadda go to a place to find terrorists. He did, and I think he killed a bunch of them. He says that he was protecting our country."
Dr. McDermott paused the video. "What exactly do you tell your son about the war, Mr. Slater ?"
"I don't understand where you're going with this."
"It's a simple question."
Charlene stood up and glared at Dr. McDermott. "Jack Slater may be many things, but 'maladjusted' is not one of them. He was never depressed when he got home, even when he came back with one leg."
"If you don't mind me asking, why are you divorced ?"
"We're divorced because I never loved him. We only got married because I was pregnant, if you must know. The white picket fence, the dog in the yard, those were his dreams, not mine. I wanted excitement, he wanted to be Ward Cleaver."
"Has it ever occurred to you that Jack is hiding his emotions ? That he's suffering from post traumatic stress disorder in silence ?"
"The only time Jack Slater suffers any sort of distress is when one of the dishes he cooks doesn't get rave reviews, or his stupid vegetable garden is attacked by rodents."
Principal Ojeda stood up and adjusted her jacket. "Mr. and Mrs. Slater--"
"Watson....Watson," Charlene mumbled under her breath.
"I wish to inform you that, in accordance with the Freedom From Violence Act of 2015, I have alerted Child Services. They're going to come to your homes to do visits that will determine whether or not the two of you are fit parents. Then, we will have a hearing to determine whether or not Tyler should remain in your custody."
"Lady, you can kiss my a--." Jack snarled as he stood. The happy-go-lucky look that normally resided on Jack's face melted away. His face turned beet red. "You have no authority to do this! You wanna know why ? Tyler doesn't go this school anymore! I'll home school him if I have to."
With that, Jack stormed out of Principal Ojeda's office with Charlene in hot pursuit.
"What do you mean 'you'll home school Tyler' if you have to' ?" Charlene demanded. "What about the restaurant, genius ?"
"It doesn't matter. I'll sell my share to my partners and work as a chef somewhere else. I'll teach Tyler during the day and work at night."
Charlene caught up to Jack and grabbed his arm. "I want you to think about what you're doing. You're throwing away your dream."
"You're just worried that you'll have to be a mother and watching Tyler at night will put a crimp in your lifestyle. I guess you don't want to explain to your son who all those strange men are, huh ?"
Charlene was shocked by Jack's remark. Despite all he had been through and all she had done to him, he had never spoken that way to her.
"You b------..." Charlene began to mutter through clenched teeth. She stopped herself when she realized Jack was right. While she could never love him, at long last she respected him.
Jack and Charlene quickly walked over to the waiting area where Tyler was still sitting.
"Grab your stuff, Squirt. We're leaving and you'll never, ever have to come back to this dump again."
"Mr. Slater! You stop right there!" shouted Principal Ojeda, as she clumsily ran into the room in her high heels. "You do not have authorization to take that child off of this campus!"
"Oh yes I can! I have sole custody of him. Now slither back into your hole and see how many other families you can destroy with your psycho-babble."
Jack turned away from the principal only to see the security guard from the entrance of the school with a gun (with a clip that held 30 rounds) pointed at him. "I strongly suggest you calm down, sir," the guard said menacingly. "You're not taking that child anywhere. I will use force if I have to."
"This is my son," Jack replied. "I'm taking him out of this lunatic asylum and there's nothing you can do to stop me."
"I strongly suggest you step away from the child."
"Gangway or sickbay. You decide."
"I am counting to three. When I hit three, You had better be away from that child. One....two...."
Jack's training and instinct took over and in a fraction of a second, he slapped the guard's gun away. With a lightning punch, he knocked the guard out cold. Charlene slumped onto the nearest wall and slid down it. She covered her face and began weeping uncontrollably.
"Are you all right ?" Jack asked.
Charlene was too choked up to speak. She weakly pointed to a window that had a view of the parking lot. The SWAT team had arrived. The parking lot was now filled with police cars and the media.
"Oh my God," Jack muttered to himself.
The security guard started to regain consciousness. With lightning moves of his own, he grabbed the gun which was still lying on the floor. He fired a shot at Jack and missed. Jack quickly began a grapple with the guard. The two rolled around with Jack getting the upper hand. Jack grabbed the gun and pointed it at the guard. "I don't want to hurt you or anyone else! But I am taking my son out of here and there's nothing you or anyone else can do about it!" Jack shouted with tears streaming down his face.
Within moments, the SWAT team entered the waiting area. Immediately they opened fire on Jack, hitting him in the chest. The security guard rolled the mortally wounded Jack off of him.
"Daddy! Daddy!" Tyler shouted as he ran to his father. A SWAT team member stopped the boy and put him on his shoulder and carried him out of the room.
As Jack died, his life didn't flash before his eyes. He didn't think of his time in the Marines, nor did he think of Charlene. His last thoughts were of how much he loved his son and how he wouldn't let anything or anyone stand between them.
The years that followed the incident weren't kind to Tyler or Charlene. Tyler was placed in a psychiatric group home after Charlene overdosed on sleeping pills and died a month after the shooting. After aging out of the foster care system and a short period of homelessness topped off with heavy drug abuse, Tyler threw himself in front of a subway train. He was eighteen years old.
Maxine Ojeda and Theresa McDermott both wrote books about the incident and joined the talk show circuit. Ojeda ran for Congress as a liberal Democrat and won handily. One of her first priorities, she promised, was to shore up the Freedom From Violence Act of 2015 by introducing mandatory home visits by social workers every six months to households with children in public and private schools under the age of 18. It passed the House and Senate unanimously and became law in 2020.
To the victors, belong the spoils...
..."The beauty of being a liberal is that history always begins this morning..."
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