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The Hallmark of the Schoolyard

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“Zachary Uriah Addy!”

The young boy froze halfway up the stairs. His eyes widened at the sound of his mother’s voice. He turned slowly, trying to look at her out of the corner of his eye so she wouldn’t notice his hand covering the lower part of his face.

“Hi, bom,” he said, the words coming out nasally through his nose.

She stood at the bottom of the stairs, hand on her hips. “Why are there blood drips following you throughout the house?”

Zack looked down in dismay. Sure enough, there was a shiny scarlet drop decorating each stair behind him, and a merry little trail leading back to the front door.

“Paint?” he attempted weakly.

His mother clipped up the stairs to pull his hand away from his face. Her face was angry, but her hands were gentle, as always. Zack’s nose was puffy and more pink than usual, and there was a steady trickle of blood that he failed to contain in his hands.

“What happened to your nose?”

Zack let his hand drop, defeated. “I experienced an altercation.”

“Altercation?” This was Michigan. People didn’t use words like “altercation.” Except, of course, Mrs. Addy’s prodigal son. “Did you get into a fight?”

By “get into a fight,” she meant he’d been cornered by one of the bigger kids at school again.

What was it this time? she wanted to ask. Pushed into your locker? Slammed into the wall? Hit in the face with the dodgeball?

Instead she tried a less dramatic approach. “What happened?”

“One of the sixth-grade students threw a dodgeball at me.”

Called it, she thought.

His mother noticed that this entire time he’d been breathing through his mouth.

“Can you breathe through your nose?” she asked.

“With difficulty.”

She touched his nose gently with a finger, and he winced.

“Honey, I think it’s broken. We should go see a doctor.”

He deflated. “I don’t want to.”

“Well, too bad, buddy. We’re going.”

She left her husband a quick voicemail at work, not sure how long it would take, in case he came back and couldn’t find them. Leaving her third-oldest in charge of the rest of the brood (the two oldest being in college), she hustled Zack into the car with a plethora of tissues crunched against his nose.

“We really need to talk about this whole getting beat up twice a week thing,” she said.

He mumbled something she couldn’t hear.

“What?”

“One point three times a week,” Zack managed to get out. “On average.”

His mother rolled her eyes. “We don’t need to do math, Zack, we’re driving to urgent care.”

“I’m always doing math.”

“Is that how this one started?”

“Someone asked me to keep track of the number of times he lost the ball, and when his percentage of misses exceeded that of his wins, he seemed to believe I had either miscalculated or somehow held responsibility of his failures.”

“And then he threw the ball at you?”

“No, someone else did. But I think the two events were related.”

“Zack, you’re ten,” she said. “I’m betting no one in your grade can catch up with your vocabulary if I can’t.”

“That reminds me,” he said, “is there any way we can obtain a comprehensive yet affordable copy of the Oxford English Dictionary?”

Zack enjoyed reading the dictionary from beginning to end the same way his siblings read novels (in the case of the littles, picture books). Apparently he’d exhausted the copies lying around the house and was looking to branch out.

“Maybe for your birthday,” she said.

They arrived at urgent care, where they were compelled to sit among a large group of sick and injured people while waiting for their turn.

“Do you know how many contagious diseases are transferred in hospital waiting rooms?” Zack asked his mother.

“I have no idea,” she responded, thinking it was a rhetorical question, only to be taken aback by his detailed description of the perils of hospital waiting room cleanliness. She found herself reaching for the hand sanitizer in her purse.

“Zack Addy?” a nurse called from a doorway.

“Let’s go, kiddo.” Mrs. Addy grabbed Zack’s hand and tugged him through the crowd. The entered a small white room with the typical cushioned mechanical chair, a tall desk with a computer, and mismatched posters of the human body scattered across the walls. Mrs. Addy took a seat on the small chair next to the mechanical one as the nurse helped Zack onto it.

Instead or lying down and relaxing, Zack nearly fell off the chair as he leaned over to watch the nurse pumping the pedal, raising the chair to her level.

“What are you doing?” his mother asked as she pushed him back into place.

“I was gauging the mechanics of the chair.”

The nurse looked at him askance.

“He’s a pretty smart kid,” his mother said. “We’re thinking of trying the IQ test. He gets bored in school so he reads encyclopedias for fun.”

“Would it be possible for me to be placed in a different chair?” Zack asked the nurse. “The stability of this one is questionable.”

“We’ve never had one collapse on us,” the nurse responded.

Zack looked uncertain, almost suspicious.

“Zack,” his mother said, trying to use the vocabulary he did, “there have been no reported cases of this chair hurting anyone.”

Zack shook his head. “That information is purely anecdotal.”

Mrs. Addy and the nurse exchanged glances. “How do you respond to that?” the nurse asked.

“Well,” his mother said, pulling out her last resort, “we’ll just have to deal with it, honey.”

Zack sighed.

The nurse pulled the blood-soaked tissues away from Zack’s face to examine his nose, which had begun to swell significantly. She clucked her tongue. “What’d you get yourself into, tough guy?”

“I’ve never been described as tough,” Zack responded. “Which I’m guessing is why incidents like this continue to occur.”

“It happened at school,” his mother quickly supplied. The last thing they needed was someone calling CPS because they thought Zack was being abused at home. She couldn’t imagine the chaos that would ensue in having all ten of her children displaced while she and her husband were investigated. With such a large brood, there had been quite a few trips to various levels of the hospital. Zack ended up being the most frequent visitor. She didn’t blame them for being suspicious.

“We’ve talked to the principal several times trying to find the source of the violence, but there doesn’t seem to be a pattern in who targets him.”

“I have a tendency to irk my fellow students,” Zack said. “I’m not sure why.”

The nurse raised an eyebrow, but didn’t respond verbally. She lifted Zack’s chin with her hand to peer inside his nose.

“Well, it’s definitely broken,” the nurse said. “I’ll call in the doctor to get it set.”

Zack’s eyes widened in fear. His mother reached over to pat his shoulder reassuringly.

“Will I be put under anesthesia?” he asked.

“Just a local anesthetic,” the nurse said. “You’re lucky, this isn’t so bad. Just needs realignment. A twist and a pop. Boom, you’re done.”

“When does the boom occur?” Zack asked worriedly.

“It’s an exclamation,” his mother explained. “Not a descriptive onomatopoeia in this case.”

“How do you deal?” the nurse asked. “I’d go nuts.”

Mrs. Addy shot her an annoyed look.

“Sorry,” the nurse said. “I’ll go get the doc.”

“What did she mean by ‘deal’?” Zack asked his mother as the nurse walked out.

She sighed. “Nothing, buddy.”

“Am I really going to take the IQ test?” Zack asked.

“Do you want to?”

“I admit I’m curious to see what the result may be.”

“Zack,” she said seriously, “you need to tell me more about what happens at school.”

Zack looked at her thoughtfully. “Today we started a unit on the solar system. I’m hoping it’s more in-depth than the one we talked about last year. I’ve already exhausted Tom’s textbook on the topic.”

“You read your brother’s college textbooks?”

“I was curious beyond what was being covered in the lesson.”

“Okay,” his mother said, “we’ll get back to that. But what I meant was we need to find a solution to this problem right here. Every since you skipped up to sixth grade, you’ve been having more issues than usual.”

“In addition to being smaller than most boys my age, surrounding myself with older males who have begun their growth spurts does not do too much to help me protect myself from the other students.”

“Okay, but you shouldn’t have to protect yourself…”

“I do a lot of running,” Zack said. “I’m deceptively fast. Most of them don’t expect that.”

“Do you tell your teachers? I haven’t been getting any notes. It’s just you coming home with a black eye, or some other bruise, or—” she waved her hand at his face, “—a broken nose.”

“The teachers aren’t as concerned about what happens in the schoolyard. The playground monitors do most of the supervising.”

“Do they do anything to stop this?”

“On Mondays and Wednesdays, Sherell does most of the intervention. Tuesdays and Thursdays we have Mike, who spends most of the time on his phone.”

“Okay, note to principal about Mike,” his mother said.

“Then on Fridays we have Lindsey, who seems frightened of the older boys and primarily yells at them across the schoolyard rather than confronting them. The older boys do not respond well to yelling. They just become more discrete in their actions.”

“They need to stop hiring teenagers as their playground monitors,” his mother said.

“Mike is thirty-three,” Zack said.

“Nice,” his mother said sarcastically.

The door opened, and the nurse returned with the doctor.

“Hi, Zack,” the doctor said. “My name is Dr. T. The T stands for a name that’s pretty long and hard to say, so I just use the first letter.”

“I’m fairly adept at pronunciation,” Zack said. “I’m studying Latin.”

“Awesome,” Dr. T said. She looked at Mrs. Addy. “Does he go to some gifted school?”

“Not right now,” his mother replied. “He teaches himself this stuff. My husband and I are thinking of enrolling him in one though.”

“You are?” Zack looked at her eagerly. “Will the curricula be advanced and comprehensive?”

“We’ll do some research.”

Dr. T bent to examine Zack’s nose. “Okay, bud, let’s take a look here. What happened to result in this?”

“An altercation at school.”

“What preempted the altercation?”

“A miscommunication of some kind concerning a student’s need for my calculative skills during a game of dodgeball.”

“Well, that’s unfortunate. A little clarification would have been beneficial, huh?”

“Most definitely. I’m still not sure what I got wrong.”

“Next time, just tell them they’re a bunch of malus nequamques.”

Zack quirked a smile. “You know Latin?”

“I minored in it in undergraduate school. It was advantageous in my medical history classes.”

Mrs. Addy was impressed at how quickly the doctor caught on to Zack’s use of large and obscure words. Most people—like this nurse, who was simply staring at them—were taken aback by Zack. Here, Dr. T’s use of her obviously big vocabulary seemed to be putting Zack at ease.

“So,” Dr. T said, straightening up and putting her hands on her hips. “We’re going to give you a little anesthetic, and then I’m going to reposition your nose.”

“With your hands?” Zack asked. “I’m not going to have surgery?”

“It’s just a little misalignment. It won’t be difficult to manipulate it back to its proper position.”

Zack nodded, but he still looked nervous.

“It’ll be okay, bud,” his mother said. “If you need to hold my hand, just give me a thumbs-up.” Zack wasn’t very good at asking for help verbally, so they typically resorted to wordless forms of communication in situations like this.

The nurse helped Dr. T administer the anesthetic, and Zack squeezed his eyes shut as the doctor fixed the position of his nose. He didn’t give a thumbs-up, but his mother grabbed his hand anyway. His grip wasn’t that strong—not like Kaley’s, who’d nearly cut off Mrs. Addy’s circulation when she got her wisdom teeth pulled.

“There, all done.” Dr. T stepped back, pulling off her latex gloves. “Can you grab us some tissues, Maggie?” she asked the nurse.

Zack let go of his mother’s hand to grab the tissues and gently dabbed them on his nose.

“The bleeding should stop soon,” Dr. T said to Mrs. Addy. “When you get home, give him an ice pack and have him sit with it on his nose for a while. Watch TV or something.”

“He doesn’t really watch TV,” Mrs. Addy said. “But I’m sure we’ll find something for him to do that doesn’t involve hands.”

“Whatever works. If he keeps bleeding for much longer, give us a call. It may take a few days for the swelling to go down.”

“How did you do that?” Zack asked.

Dr. T turned to him. “Do what?”

“How did you know how to manipulate my nose without getting an x-ray first?” Zack asked.

“Well, I’m a doctor,” she replied. “I have extensive knowledge of facial structure.”

Zack tilted his head. “You learned it in school?”

“Yeah. I get a lot of busted noses. After a while I can tell after just a little examination what needs to be done in each case.”

“Can I see?”

“You want to see me fix someone’s nose?”

“No, I want to see my nasal structure.”

“Bud, we don’t have money to get an x-ray,” Mrs. Addy said.

“I can show you a picture,” Dr. T said.

“I would be very interested in seeing a picture.”

Dr. T grabbed one of the posters from the wall. It was a large picture of a human head. One half was shown covered in skin; in the other, you could see the skull.

Zack peered at it curiously as Dr. T explained how she’d fixed his nose, describing the structure of the skull, cartilage, and nasal cavity. Mrs. Addy tuned most of it out, checking her phone to see if her husband had called her back. When she looked up again, she saw Dr. T had switched to showing Zack a full-length poster of the entire human skeleton.

“Zack, didn’t you talk about this stuff in school?” she asked, slightly embarrassed that her son was demanding so much attention.

“Not nearly to this level of detail. We mostly dissected frogs, and that focused primarily on the entrails. Mom, did you know that the distal ends of the radius and ulna bones articulate with the hand bones at the junction of the wrist?”

“No,” she said. “I didn’t.” She’d probably learned something to that effect in school, but her memory was not nearly as good as Zack’s.

She rarely saw Zack so excited as he was now, looking at this poster. Sending him to an advanced school was probably going to be beneficial. Especially if the kids there weren’t fond of breaking noses.

Zack looked up to Dr. T. “Thank you for showing me this.”

“No problem,” Dr. T said. “You gonna be a doctor?”

“Perhaps a PhD, but not an MD. I want to be an engineer,” Zack said. “It seems like the human skeleton is put together in a similar way that mechanics are assembled. It’s fascinating. Maybe I’ll engineer prosthetics.”

“Look at some more bones?” Dr. T asked.

“Cool,” Mrs. Addy said. “Zack, we gotta go. I’m sure Dr. T has lots of patients to see.”

Dr. T rolled up the poster and held out her hand to Zack. “Well, it’s been a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Zack. Keep up the Latin. It’ll help when you study the skeleton.”

Zack nodded eagerly, shaking the doctor’s hand.

“Let’s go, bud.” His mother took his hand again and lead him out of the room, calling a thank-you to the doctor over her shoulder.

“Zack, you shouldn’t ask the doctor so many questions during your visit. She’s not your teacher.”

“She taught me more in five minutes than my fourth grade teacher taught me all year,” Zack said. He looked at his mother as they made their way to the car, eyes sparkling behind the mass of tissues still on his nose. “Mom, I think I’ve changed my mind. For my birthday, I’d like a book about the human skeleton. Something comprehensive.”

She nodded. “Sure, Zack. Skeletons.”