The Life of an American Boy at 17

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'But there’s this thing that still bothers him. It has to do with an incident last year in the computer lab. It was a Friday, near the end of the period, and Ryan waited by the exit. He began absentmindedly opening and shutting the door. This girl he didn’t really know told him to stop. When he did it again, she smacked him in the face. He smacked her back. She clawed at him, and he fell into a row of computers. The bell rang, and the girl ran off. “The teacher asked me to report it right away,” he tells me, “but I had a bus to catch.”

Ryan went home with a cut on his eyebrow, two on his forehead, and another on his ear. Tori told him to take pictures. “That girl could go home,” Ryan recalls his mom saying, “slit the whole side of her cheek with a knife, and come to school Monday and say, ‘Hey, look what he did to me.’ ” That was news to him. He’d never even been in a fight before. In middle school, he and this other kid had agreed to punch each other in the face because they wanted to know what it felt like, but when the time came, they just went home. “I guess girls sometimes just do that,” he says. “It happened once when my mom was in high school. A girl purposely broke her own arm just to get another person in trouble.”

He took photos of his face and went to the principal’s office first thing on Monday, like his mom told him to. “He was so upset,” the assistant principal tells me. “He didn’t know why he was in trouble.” Ryan spent a couple hours in the in-school suspension room. He got a ticket referring him to the municipal court, where he appeared in August. He pleaded not guilty. At a second meeting, Ryan spoke to a prosecutor. At least, “I think it was a prosecutor,” he says. “I think he felt like it was stupid that I got a ticket for this. The look on his face was kind of like, What the heck is this?” Ryan thinks that if he were a girl, he wouldn’t have been punished. “As long as I don’t get in trouble again for a year, I’m okay,” he tells me. “But I had to deal with it for a few months.” The kids in school, “they called me a woman beater. I don’t think anyone actually thought I was. They were just giving me crap. It was just a stressful time.”'

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