BellaOnline Literary Review
Pompeii Dog by Ophelia Sikes

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Non Fiction

A Slug on the Shoulder

Rebekah Tucker

At Kansas State University after a student meeting, two people who had not met yet stood beside each other in the circle of lingering students. Neither yet knew how much they would mean to each other. As with all conspirators keeping their schemes a secret, fate had not revealed his plans to either party.

The young man, with already receding hair and blue eyes clear as a spring’s day, spoke a punch line now lost to the vaults of memories forgotten. Perhaps, if he hadn’t grown up with only a younger brother, then the course of this story might have taken a very different direction. The infinitesimal difference of one X and one Y chromosome, compared to two X chromosomes, could have impacted the manner in which Bryan became first boyfriend, then husband.

As the group erupted into laughter, to emphasize his joke, Bryan slugged the shoulder nearest his in a teasing manner – it just happened to be the shoulder belonging to Debbie, who very much did not appreciate this gesture. (As I said earlier, he’d only grown up with a brother. He cannot be blamed for then not knowing that this is not a deed that women find particularly appreciated or appealing.)

Who was that oblivious jerk? Didn’t he know how hard he’d hit her? Debbie rubbed her shoulder and cast a frowning look in his direction, but Bryan missed the nonverbal message. The moment passed, and Debbie didn’t see or hear from Bryan again until a week later, when her phone rang.

It was the offender of the shoulder.

She could almost feel the ache throbbing again.

He wanted to know if she’d like to go out with him on a date Friday night. Naturally, Debbie wasn’t keen on the idea, but being a young woman who disliked offending or disappointing others, she offered an alternative idea. She was sorry, but she and some friends of hers already had plans to go to the rodeo that evening. Would he like to join them instead?

Friday night rolled around, and despite her discomfort, Debbie ended up in the seat next to Bryan. They chatted at a casual level. Bryan was interested; Debbie was not impressed.

At the request of the jokester in their group, the rodeo clown sauntered over in his gaudy outfit and plopped down between Bryan and Debbie. The spotlight followed the clown, to Debbie’s horror. An arm around each of them, the clown then proceeded to tease. Was this their first date? Why wasn’t Bryan holding her hand? Had they kissed yet? The line of questioning made Debbie’s cheeks redden more and more.

But then came Bryan’s answer in as calm and collected a manner as Debbie was flustered. No, he hadn’t done any of those things yet. He wanted to get to know her first and respected her too much to deepen their relationship in those ways until they were both ready.

This gave Debbie pause. Who was this young man? It seems she misjudged him. With those honest words he succeeded in silencing the clown’s teasing and piquing Debbie’s interest.

Over 26 years later, this story is still beloved by our family and recounted at dinner parties to get some laughs. Though time has changed and improved that pair, essentially the same man and woman remain devoted and loving of one another.

How different would their lives have played out if one detail of that story had changed?

* If they hadn’t stood beside one another that first night, then Bryan wouldn’t have slugged her shoulder.

* If Bryan hadn’t slugged her shoulder, then would Debbie have remembered him?

* If she hadn’t remembered him, would she have felt badly enough about turning down the date as to invite him to the rodeo?

* If Bryan hadn’t gone to the rodeo, then Debbie’s friend never would have asked the clown to give her a hard time.

* If the clown hadn’t given them a hard time, then Debbie may not have seen any reason that made Bryan stand out from other young men. They could have easily parted ways without even realizing the whole future that they were missing out on.

But that unwanted slug on the shoulder birthed an altogether new path for the future.

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