James closed the second grade school book. Homework would be easy that night, he decided. It was a simple reading about history. America was always right. That would be his constant answer. God, Jesus and America were the good guys. Always the good guys. Heroes one and all. When he grew up, he decided to be a hero like Superman, or like a cowboy with the spirit and power of god. God was the biggest hero, according to his parents.
Every Sunday, the spirit of God filled up his parents' hearts with deep love for their savior. Jesus was his savior, too, but sometimes James wondered if his parents loved Jesus more than they loved him. That's when he worried he might go to hell. What if Jesus knew he was jealous of him?
Well, no matter now. Class was dismissed and he raced out into the throng of kids.
He could see his new coat down the hallway hanging with the others. If coats could be proud, this one was-- almost smug with its light brown suede and silky red and brown plaid liner. It would keep him warm on the long walk home. Plus it looked especially neat with the collar turned up.
He threw on the coat and headed out the school door.Suddenly behind him he heard some older boys laughing. He turned up his collar as if it could hide the skin on the back of his neck which was turning a telltale red. No matter how hard you tried, he thought, in second grade you could never be as cool as a taller, older kid.
His step quickened toward his best friends up ahead. James felt immediately safe as they proceeded together up the flagstone sidewalks beneath the tall Denver elms that formed a green tunnel as far as the eye could see. He felt ashamed to be laughed at. He couldn't understand what was so funny about him.
His friends thought he was the best. They kicked a can as they walked. He ran to the can and kicked it a few yards. He'd be home soon. Just then they also broke out laughing. They pointed at his coat. He took it off and looked at the back. "Suck me," it said in scraped suede. It was permanent damage.
His folks would be so mad! He hid the coat at first. He wondered into the night if Jesus were mad at him. That must be his punishment, he decided, his own personal cross to bear.
The next day it snowed and he pulled out his old coat with the too small sleeves, but he didn't get away with it. He tearfully led his mom to the now shameful coat under the bed.
He threw it face down on the bed for her to see. She shook her head. "How could you let this happen?," she yelled. James hung his head.
"What does 'suck me' mean, Mom?" James asked. She changed the subject.
"Well, it won't come out, but it's your winter coat. You'll have to wear it anyway. God only gives you what you can handle. He works in mysterious ways."