Footsteps. People running. Must be Joe and Russ, my friends, my running partners. But it’s late, it’s 10 p.m., it’s Monday night, the night after graduation, the first night of summer school, May 16. Who the hell goes running at 10 p.m.?
I begin to turn. “You guys are nuts.” I wanted to say that. I still want to say that. I wanted the two guys behind me, running fast, sprinting toward me, to be Joe and Russ. It would have been funny. They scare me. We laugh. We get in my car. We grab a beer
I turn to greet my stupid friends. Wham-boom-smack-what the?-NO!!!-OK I’ll be quiet-OK-I won’t look at you-my wallet’s in my back pocket-no, I can’t reach it-I can’t move my arm…The guy not on top of me bends down and smiles. I hate his smile. He holds a long-blade knife to my face. I turn. I wince. My face is a fist. My body shrivels. I become a fetus, then a corpse. I think, very quickly, in nano-seconds, “This is where I die? In this goddamned parking lot? Here?”
And they are gone. I raise my head. They run away toward Sheffield Street. “Run you XZ@!!!y*&!, you MQ^##(!!z!” I would have said that except that I begin to feel the queerest feeling of my life. Not exactly pain. But it is. Not exactly hurt. But it is. I am holding a fragile crying baby, a baby that is attached to me but doesn’t belong to me, a baby that can not be comforted or calmed. A baby that is broken. Shattered. The baby is my left arm.
A young woman in a blue windbreaker calls the campus police, who call the local police, who call an ambulance that takes me to Mercy Hospital, where X-rays that show my left arm—my friend for life—is badly broken high up on the humerus bone just beneath my shoulder. I am given wonderful drugs, the ’60s are revisited, I see large goats in the road as my son drives me home in the middle of the night, and for the past five months I have been in a sling (for almost two months), in physical therapy (for three months with a year to go), unable to sleep without pain, unable to write on the damned board when I lecture, unable to bang a simple nail into the piece of fencing that was blown down by Hurricane Irene, and unable to walk out of Locklin Hall at night without casing the joint as if I were some private detective from a Mickey Spillane novel.
I have worked here since 1986. I first set foot on this campus in 1957 when I was just shy of seven years old and my dad was hired to teach here. I was a gym rat in heaven. I shot baskets in the old fieldhouse, climbed ropes in the wrestling loft, swam in McCurdy Pool, swam in the lake, played baseball on whatever field was available, went to camp here, went to college here, sent my kids here…and when I was attacked by two idiots, held at knife-point, robbed of $400, blah blah blah…this college, where I have spent the major portion of my life, announced the event thusly (I paraphrase):
Last evening at ten o’clock an employee was mugged and robbed. He was taken to Mercy Hospital where he was treated and released.
That employee was me, Derek Paar.
I am angry at the cruds who attacked me. I am angry at my college for not telling my friends and colleagues that I was the guy on the ground.
Big deal. So what? A guy gets angry. People get angry all the time. People have rotten things happen to them all the time—such is life. Absolutely true and I could not agree more. But this event got me thinking about what Springfield College does next.
It seems that we have two choices. Either we build a Berlin Wall around the campus, fortify it with razor wire and guard towers every dozen feet, shine spotlights all night long, and put snipers in the towers and tell them to shoot anyone who doesn’t know the password.
Or, we might reconsider the mission that brought most of us here in the first place. How about going all-in on our commitment to this community where we live and work? How about we establish an on-campus Charter School for neighborhood kids? How about we take an oath to get more local kids from the neighborhood to come to Springfield College? How about making it a requirement that each academic department has to have some sort of presence in the community?
For example, the Business department might be able to unleash some entrepreneurial spirit in kids, and the Health department might be able to teach mothers how to cook from scratch. How about having standing clinics for mental and physical health liberally sprinkled throughout the area?
I don’t think there is a middle ground on this. All-in one way or the other.
Derek Parr is a Professor of Psychology at Springfield College.