Joe Christian

Troubled senior, Joe Christian, moves to California during the middle of the school year with his mother to escape an alcoholic and abusive father. In his youth, the man was a national championship wrestler. Now, he lives in his glory days and vicariously through his son coaching wrestling at a high school that is well-known for producing All-American champion wrestlers. Joe’s father has been verbally and physically abusive to him whenever he loses a match, which is not often these days, since Joe is nationally ranked. His co-dependent mother has finally had enough and decides to take her only son as far away from their harrowing home as possible. So in the middle of the night, she packs their bags and they leave Iowa behind.

In Orange County, Joe stands out like a hawk among peacocks with his mid-western accent and generic clothes at his new private high school. Needless to say, the stranger is not warmly received by his peers. 

What makes matters worse is that Joe has his eye on Jennifer—the most beautiful and popular girl in school—the captain of the cheerleaders and the steady girlfriend of the captain of the football team. Jennifer has no desire to get to know the new kid at school.

Jennifer‘s boyfriend, Jake, notices Joe’s fascination with his girl, so he begins to make life miserable for the naïve newcomer. Jake Googles Joe to gather information about him and uses it to send Joe a “welcoming present,” which he places inside his lunch.

Later that day in the cafeteria, Joe opens his brown-sacked bag to the overwhelming but familiar scent of an indigenous Iowa stinkbug. The entire football team watches with twisted delight from the other side of the cafeteria as Joe reads the note attached to his insolent gift: “Go back to where you came from! You stink!”

Jennifer and her posse of cheerleaders arrive at the boys’ table just as they erupt with laughter. She becomes annoyed at their mischievous prank and leaves.

Joe stands up. As he walks by them, he puts the note inside his sandwich and takes a bite. He smiles and says, “It’s delicious! Thanks!”

As he leaves the cafeteria into the quad, he frees the poor provoked creature near a blossoming rose bush. Jennifer watches with interest. His tenderness to living things, even life smaller than his own, makes her think twice about Joe.

Jennifer is a poet at heart and so her favorite class is English literature. She also loves her English teacher who is her biggest inspiration besides her father, who’s a pastor.

In class, the teacher calls on Jake to comment on Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” which the class has been studying for the last week. He makes a smug statement about how poetry is for girls and gays. The class laughs as the teacher shakes her head in disdain. Jennifer can see the teacher’s disapproval in her sad eyes. Joe raises his hand to volunteer an answer although it’s his first day. He methodically explains the structure, meaning, and application of the poem. The teacher smiles with delight, and so does Jennifer. Jake can sense his girlfriend’s attraction for the outsider. So he makes fun of the sensitive soul enfleshed with pure muscle, calling him a gay transgendered girl. Joe smiles at the juvenile remark not feeling the need to defend himself.

“Only steers and queers come from Texas. And you ain’t got no horns!” says a member of the football team.

 Joe responds back: “That would be funny, if I were from Texas!”

The class laughs at the monolithic jock. His diatribe gets fumbled.

From that point forward the entire football team is dead set on sending Joe home with his tail between his legs. Jake sends his associates to meet with him about a possible reconciliation. Joe agrees to his demands, that is, to meet him on the football field after school. In truth, they are luring him into their den to pounce on him.

Jennifer finds out about their maniacal plan and sends a message to warn Joe. Joe realizes that Jennifer likes him so he arranges a talk with her, instead of walking into an ambush with a crazed quarterback and his cronies. 

Joe asks her why she warned him. She stays silent. He says there can only be three reasons: “One, you like me so you want to protect me.” (To this, she shakes her head.) “Two, you have a sensitive soul so you don’t like to see anyone suffer.” (To this, she stays quiet and gently smiles.) “Or three, you’re in an abusive relationship so you’re crying out for help.” (To this, she remains reticent while her eyes water.) He finishes by saying, “I know what you’re going through and you need to run as far away from him as possible.”

At that moment, they’re interrupted by her best friend who acts as a scout: “He’s coming!”

Joe sneaks away as Jennifer’s boyfriend approaches. Jake complains about “the coward” not showing up after they’d agreed to meet. She smiles. Jake notices. “What the hell are you smiling about?” he says looking like the devil. Her eyes betray her fear of him. He grabs her by the arm and tells her it’s time to go. She struggles and runs away. “What the hell’s gotten into her?”

The next day, Jake walks up to Joe in front of his locker and challenges him to a fight with the school behind him. Joe ignores him and attempts to open his locker. Jake slams it shut, inches away from Joe’s face.

“I know you’re scared of me. That’s why you didn’t show up yesterday!”

“I thought you wanted to offer me an olive branch. Why would I be scared of that?”

Jake realizes that Joe is on to him.

“You and me, right now!” roars Jake.

The truth is that Joe is afraid, but not of Jake. He’s afraid that once he gets a hold of his opponent he will tear him to shreds unleashing the hell he’s been repressing deep in his soul.    

Joe gets goaded and prodded to his breaking point. Jake hurls insults about his alcoholic father.

He concedes to a fight. “After school, then. On the football field.”

Jake squirms with delight. “I can’t wait!”  

All night Joe argues with himself over the impulse decision he’s made. One minute he revels over the opportunity to put a bully in his place. “Someone needs to do it. If I don’t, who will? What about all the people who’ll continue to get hurt, if I don’t step in to stop him? Jennifer will suffer. And how will he ever learn his lesson, if I don’t teach it to him?” he rationalizes to himself. “I’m drawn to him like a moth to a flame. I’m supposed to fight him! It’s the right thing to do!”

The next minute, when he calms down and has had time to think, his focus changes. “He got my goat! I’m feeding his addiction to power. I’ve become his servant. But what if I become his master by physically dominating him? He’ll end up in the hospital. Jennifer will suffer. She’s sensitive. She doesn’t want anyone to suffer. I’m just responding in the same way my father responded to me when I didn’t please him. And I vowed to never become like my father. I can’t fight him! It’s the right thing to do!” Joe continues to argue with himself all night. (At one point, he remembers thinking that if his mother would overhear him bantering with himself, she would think he’s gone bananas.)

Joe decides not to go along with Jake’s demands.    

The following day, the entire school shows up to watch the fight. But when the time comes, Joe is nowhere in sight. Jennifer is relieved.

“I knew he wasn’t gonna show!” says Jake. “Good riddance! He better be packed and on the next flight home.”

Jennifer never thought of the possibility that she would never see Joe again. She starts to feel nauseous.

Then someone screams, “There he is!”

Jennifer is elated! But then it dawns on her that things are not going to end well. She feels sick again. 

Joe comes walking down the hill to the football field holding something in his hand.

“He’s got a weapon!” yells one person.

“I think it’s a whip!” screams another.

 As Joe approaches, it becomes evident that he’s holding a leafy branch.

Jake laughs and comments: “What’re you gonna do? Tickle me to death?”

“No. I came to call a truce. A real truce!”

“And here I thought you came to defend your honor.” He pauses, then continues, “You know, I looked you up. One website said you’re pound-for-pound the best wrestler in the nation at 182lbs. But you don’t look like much to me,” says his heavyweight aggressor.

“That’s your right. You can think whatever you want,” he says with a shrug, then continues, “I won’t cause you anymore trouble,” says Joe poised as he looks at Jennifer, who’s standing off to the side by herself watching carefully and listening intently.

Jake nods.

“The only thing I ask,” Joe’s voice becomes sterner, “is that you never lay a hand on her again!”

Everyone hushes to listen to Jake’s response.

“Oh, so now I’m some kind of abusive bully?! No….” He glares at Jennifer. “We’ve known each other since we were kids. I’ve protected her from creeps like you all my life. You show up here and in less than a week you think you know everything. You don’t know me! You don’t know her! You don’t know how we do things here! Why don’t you leave and take your olive branch and your stinkbug with you!”

“I will. As long as you promise in front of all these people,” adds Joe.

Jake changes his tactic. “I know what this is about. This is about your dad, isn’t it? You’ve never gotten over the beatings your alcoholic father put on you. And what about your mother? She stood by and let him do it. What a pair! They really screwed you up royally. But that’s nothing compared to what I’m gonna do—”    

Just before Jake finishes his verbal assault, Joe drops the olive branch and then drops his opponent to the ground. He gives in to his rage and beats Jake to an inch of his life. Joe has to be pulled off him by the entire football team.

Jennifer runs away crying disturbed by Joe’s anger. He runs after her and reassures her that he would never hurt her. As he lifts his hands to caress her face, she sees his bloody knuckles and runs away.

Joe calls her on the phone repeatedly but she does not answer. She stays home from school the day after the fight. Joe is suspended from all his classes so he goes over to her house see her. She asks him if those things that Jake said about his family are true. Ashamedly, he nods. He tells her about his father’s alcoholism and all the abuse he suffered growing up, since he was old enough to wrestle. In the middle of her bedroom, he falls to his knees and sobs. His hands start shaking. She jumps off her bed and throws her arms around him.

“I don’t know how to let go of my anger. Help me….” he cries out.

Jennifer offers to pray for him. 

Joe says he doesn’t believe in God. “A loving God would never allow an innocent child to suffer at the hands of a cruel tyrant.” He adds, “And that’s precisely what happened to Jesus. He was innocent and his father’s wrath beat him to a bloody pulp on the cross.” 

Jennifer explains to him that Jesus willingly chose to suffer for all the sins of every person who’s ever lived. And his father’s plan to save all sinners was to sacrifice one person for the sake of many for all their offenses against a perfectly holy God. “To not punish sin is to sin. Love corrects and disciplines. My father taught me that the only person who fits the criteria to save the world is Jesus because he is perfectly God and perfectly man. Only an infinite God could atone for finite people’s infinite dishonor against him. And only an innocent human should do it because only his sacrifice is an acceptable representation of all humanity.

Joe looks up from his puddle of tears and the first thing he sees is Jennifer’s cross ornament around her neck. “I don’t know if I have enough faith,” he confesses looking at her feeling defeated and broken.

Jennifer responds by saying, “You only have your anger to lose?”

Joe is bombarded by a barrage of abusive images about his father.

He folds his hands. “Pray for me.”

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Chester Delagneau


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