Lori Jakiela

Johnny Monico Brought a Knife to School

And my son, who’s been a superhero from the time he was four, who used markers to make his own spider-web designs on all his turtlenecks and called himself “HS,” The Human Spider, says he knows what to do.

“I’ll take him down,” he says about Johnny Monico, one of those kids everyone calls by two names, set up from the beginning to be the villain.

Last year Johnny Monico dropped his pants in the Moon Bounce at Fun Day and shit in the corner, one perfect turd.

The teachers thought it must be a joke, a melted Snickers bar, but it wasn’t.

Johnny Monico, probably disturbed, maybe misunderstood.

I don’t care. This is what it’s come to.

Johnny Monico brought a knife to school. He’s in my son’s class. Third grade.

“He tried to stab Geno,” my son says, his green eyes serious. “He tried to stab Nate.”

The principal says what happened: another kid saw the knife in Johnny Monico’s bag and told.

Five days suspension, Johnny Monico’s mother called in, weeping, end of story.

“I’ll take him out,” my son says, and punches his small fist in his hand.

I want my son to know danger. I want him to fear it enough to keep him safe.

But fear is a learned thing.

After my first swimming lesson at the Y, I came home and told my father I could swim.

I was six.

My father took me to Blue Dell, a pool as big as the ocean, the biggest waterslide I’d ever seen, and said, “Show me.”

I loved my father.

I loved him when he picked me up.
I loved him when he threw me in the deep end.

I’m sure I thrashed in that blue water, thick as Jello. I’m sure I pushed my feet off the rough concrete sides and bottom and sank like the quarters adults tossed for other kids to dive for, a working-class lesson about money and what a body must do to get it, but all I remember is fear and my father’s arm coming down like some pale blue God to pull me out.

What can I say?

This was the 70s.

They called this parenting.

My father loved me.

My father was terrified by the world.

My father didn’t want me to drown, so he showed me drowning.

“That will teach you, smart ass,” my father said, but he held me when he said it.

I still don’t swim. At the ocean I don’t go in the water. I’m safe from that at least. Maybe that’s something.

As for Johnny Monico, the knife was a pen knife, dull, plastic-handled.

I want to take my son and shake him.

About the Moon Bounce incident, the principal said, “Johnny was angry.
The other kids were having a good time. He wanted them to stop.”

On our refrigerator, there’s an old drawing my son did from his HS days – a head with a turtleneck pulled over the nose, the word helps.

These days my son loves Indiana Jones. He has the hat, the whip.

He likes to watch his own shadow when he puts the hat on.

He’s in love with adventure, his own imagination.

I don’t want to take this from him.

But still.

“Even Indiana knew you shouldn’t bring a knife to a gun fight,” I say and pull my son close until he struggles to get loose.

“Even Indiana knew
when a boulder’s coming, get out of the way.”


Lori Jakiela is the author of seven books, most recently the poetry collection How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen (Brickhouse Books). Her newest book, They Write Your Name on a Grain of Rice, is forthcoming in 2023 from Atticus Books. She lives in Trafford, Pennsylvania. Her author website is http://lorijakiela.net.