Pushing the pile of dirt down the school hallway, John Casey noticed a few drops of blood. He stopped his sweeping to clean up the blood. As he looked at it, he thought about the day is life changed, forty-five years ago.
He was eleven years old. His father was sitting on the front porch reading the newspaper, not paying any attention to him. John, who was called Jackie then, was tossing a ball into the air, hoping his father would stop reading and play catch. It didn’t happen very often, maybe once or twice a year, but it was like everything else. His father was there, but he wasn’t close.
Jackie tossed the ball and it wasn’t a very good throw. Instead of going up in the air it went backward and slammed into his father’s newspaper.
“Damn it, Jackie. You’ve got a whole big back yard. Why aren’t you playing back there instead of out here, pestering me?”
Jackie shrugged his shoulders, but as he turned toward the back yard he noticed a kid about his age coming down the street. It was somebody new, a kid Jackie didn’t know. He walked casually toward the boy until he was just two steps away.
“Hi,” Jackie said, then he punched the kid in the face as hard as he could. Jackie’s father jumped off the porch, shouting. The kid was wailing. Blood was pouring out of his nose. Jackie stood there just looking at the kid. His father jumped off the porch shouting, “What the hell are you doing? Why did you do that?”
Jackie shrugged his shoulders.
His father took the kid inside, got him cleaned up, stopped the bleeding and gave the kid a soda and some ice cream. Then they talked. They talked for almost an hour. The next day when Jackie checked on his father sitting on the porch after dinner, the kid was there, talking. The kid and Jackie’s dad met Just about every day, for the next few months. The kid never wanted to play catch or do anything with Jackie. All he wanted to do was talk with Jackie’s dad. Whenever Jackie took the time to listen to what they were talking about he was soon bored. The kid was crazy, always talking about money and investing and the stock market.
Then one day the kid disappeared. After a couple weeks not seeing him, Jackie asked his dad, “What happened to that kid who was always here?”
Elliot, Jackie thought, that was about right name for a weird kid, “Yeah, him,” Jackie said.
“His dad was transferred, so Elliot has moved away.”
Years passed before the two boys saw each other again. Both went on to college. Elliot earned an MBA from Wharton. John dropped out, had alcohol problems and spent ten years in jail. There he became John and learned enough about plumbing, heating, and electricity to get hired to do maintenance work when he got out.
Elliot made a lot of money and was eventually hired by John’s father and became one of the company’s VPs. When John’s father died he left each of the boys ten percent of the company. Elliot took over the day-to-day operation of the business and it thrived.
Since then another ten years passed. Both boys were married and had three children, although each of Elliot’s children was with a different wife. His alimony and child support payments left him with little more money than John was making.
As John cleaned up the blood he thought about how well things had turned out. Based on their respective births, Elliot was the one who should have been fixing the radiators and sweeping the halls and John should have been running the company. For years John thought he was trying to impress his father when he punched Elliot. Looking back on what had happened to the two of them, John wondered if there was more to it than that. He wondered if he had seen something of the future that was in store for him, a future he knew he would never want. Maybe when he saw Elliot he also saw that Elliot was perfect for that future, but first Elliot had to meet John’s father.
As he threw the rag with the blood on it into the trash, John smiled. Punching Elliot in the face was the best thing he’d ever done.