Out­foxed

Hello Mr. Magazine - - GROW TO UNDERSTAND - Text by Mike Mut­saers il­lus­tra­tion by Al­fonso Casas

I was not an overwhelming aca­demic suc­cess in school. My re­ports, usu­ally a pa­rade of C’s and D’s, were lit­tered with com­ments such as “must ap­ply him­self bet­ter,” “needs more con­fi­dence in his own abil­i­ties,” and “should vol­un­teer his point of view more of­ten.” It’s true I had a sub­dued class­room pres­ence, but this was more a con­scious choice than an in­abil­ity to per­form. I had learned early on that be­ing un­re­mark­able was a highly ef­fec­tive bat­tle strat­egy in the peer war waged daily in the school­yard. If I kept quiet and an­swered only ques­tions asked di­rectly of me, I could man­age to fly un­der the radar and there­fore avoid un­wanted at­ten­tion. As a young man of noted dif­fer­ence, I whole­heart­edly be­lieved that be­ing in­vis­i­ble was much eas­ier than em­bark­ing on a fu­tile mis­sion to as­sim­i­late. So well crafted was my con­trived per­sona that many of my teach­ers be­lieved I had a limited ca­pac­ity to learn. The only real chal­lenge to this as­sump­tion would come in the form of a Year Eight cre­ative writ­ing as­sign­ment about a cun­ning lit­tle fox.

The class had been asked to write about an an­i­mal, giv­ing it hu­man emo­tions that mir­rored its nat­u­ral be­hav­iors. Re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence with a fox steal­ing our chick­ens away in the night prompted me to se­lect it as my muse. I hastily scrib­bled down a story about a vi­cious monster, driven by an in­sa­tiable de­sire to cap­ture and kill. It was a rea­son­able ef­fort, but by no means sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent to the work I had sub­mit­ted in the past. I put the story in my folder ready to move onto other home­work, but it soon be­come ap­par­ent that the fox wasn’t ready to be put to rest. As I com­menced al­ge­bra he ap­peared on my mind’s hori­zon, and by the time I’d reached ge­og­ra­phy he was cir­cling my feet and nudg­ing my legs. He was a char­ac­ter done poorly, and he wasn’t hav­ing a bar of it. I re­viewed the story, de­cided I could do bet­ter and promptly tore it up. I be­gan again, this time pen­ning a piece that ex­plored the fox’s true mo­ti­va­tions. I dis­cov­ered that his blood­thirsty be­hav­ior wasn’t driven by cruel in­ten­tions; they were the ac­tions of a de­voted fa­ther pro­vid­ing for his fam­ily. I de­scribed in de­tail the fear he felt en­ter­ing the farmer’s property, fully aware that his hunt for food posed a se­ri­ous dan­ger to his own life. This was a mat­ter of duty, not of de­sire; the fear would have to be ig­nored. The story cul­mi­nated in a heated ex­change with the an­gry farmer, who shot at the fox, a bul­let nick­ing his back leg as he at­tempted a hasty es­cape. He limped back to his bur­row and lay on the cold earth, the seep­ing in­jury slowly steal­ing his life away. The fox sur­veyed the wor­ried faces of his fam­ily, and won­dered how they would sur­vive with­out him. This would be the fi­nal im­age rest­ing on his eyes as his heart slowed and the in­evitabil­ity of death claimed him. Pretty deep stuff for a 13-year-old!

I re­mem­ber be­ing ner­vous sub­mit­ting the as­sign­ment. To me it was more than a story about a fox; it was a bold dec­la­ra­tion. I wanted my teacher to know that un­der my veil of si­lence there was

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