Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Speed Bump in Memory Lane

Warning – long post ahead. Undedicated readers may not survive.

Recently I remembered a slightly traumatic experience from my childhood and I’d like to hear how you would have handled it. I was twelve, in the seventh grade, and just starting my first year at Franklin Junior High School. One of my classmates who I’ll call T shouted at me in the hall to meet him by the side entrance after school, saying he had to ask me a question. Even at that age I knew that meant we were going to have a fight. I sort of liked T because he was more of a delinquent than me – in fact, I think he graduated from FJHS to juvenile detention – but we were never really friends, so I wasn’t surprised that some sort of perceived affront had come between us. Anyone (guys, anyway) who remembers attending public school knows that most of the rules of prison survival apply - watch your back at all times, expect the unexpected, and some people don’t need a reason to fight, just a place and time.

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to fighting T. Not only would this drive a wedge between myself and someone who I considered to be at least a friendly acquaintance, but T was slightly older, a little bigger and, as I said before, something of a juvenile delinquent meaning he had more fighting experience than me. I knew I’d most likely lose the fight, especially if he involved any of his friends like so many of his kind were wont to do, but we were closely enough matched that I at least had a chance and at worst I felt I could give him a tough enough time that he’d think twice about challenging me in the future. Word of the fight spread faster than warp speed and by the afternoon a few of the older students pulled me aside to warn me that I was being set up. It bothered me a little that none of my so-called friends bothered to warn me about the rumors of the fight, but that wasn’t my biggest concern. I discovered I wouldn’t be fighting T; he was just the bait to set me up. I would be fighting his friend MB.

T was officially off my friends list since a line had been drawn and he stood on the opposite side, but that also wasn’t my biggest concern. Fighting MB was a scarier proposition than facing T. MB was in the eighth grade, and if you remember those years you’ll remember that most boys hit a major growth spurt during that time, but that still wasn’t my biggest concern. I had no idea how much MB had grown when he hit thirteen because I had only been seven at the time. That’s right – MB was eighteen years old, an adult with a job and a car and facial hair who should have graduated high school the previous year but had failed so many times he was just one year ahead of me. He wasn’t a very big man by fully grown adult standards, but he had just enough muscle tone to show he worked out and to a twelve year old who only came up to his chest, he looked like a giant.

I decided to face him instead of run away, a decision that sounds brave on the survace, but really was just a matter of picking which fear to face. If I ran I would be labeled a coward no matter the circumstances, and it would just be a matter of time before he found me anyway. Winning the fight or even putting the fear into him weren’t viable options; I only hoped the large crowd outside of the school’s secondary exit would draw a teacher’s attention who would put a stop to matters. In hindsight, no matter how big of a crowd a fight drew, I never once saw a teacher or faculty member dare show their face until it was all over but the bleeding.

At least now I knew the reason behind the fight, albeit a mostly unjustified one. A couple of weeks prior, I had skipped school one day with a friend of mine a year younger and still in Middle School, and the two of us spent the day with his older brother and friend, both of whom were in the tenth grade. Around early evening, when the sun started to set, they stopped by a restaurant where MB worked and chatted with him. The four of us went inside so the older boys could talk to somebody else, then we piled back into their car and started for home. As soon as the driver turned the ignition key, the interior of the car filled with ear-splitting music. He had left the car unlocked and, as a prank, MB snuck outside and cranked the radio to maximum wattage. If you’ve ever met a teenager who owns his own car, you’ll know that stereo volume takes precedence over fiddling things like maintenance or air in the tires.

The older boys laughed, but were determined to get MB back. They drove to the back of the restaurant and found his car, but the doors were locked so they couldn’t pull the same trick. One of them found a plastic bucket and began dredging muddy water from a nearby puddle and dumping it on MB’s windshield. I thought that was stepping over the line from prank to near vandalism, so I voiced my displeasure in my typical sarcastic style by pointing to a nearby fruit stand and saying “Why don’t you just tomato his car while you’re at it?” Note – I’ve gotten into so much trouble over the years for dispensing “advice” I didn’t really mean.

The older boys looked at each other and simultaneously shouted “Hey, yeah!” One of them bought a basket of tomatoes, shoved a couple into my hands, and split the rest between themselves and my friend. I wasn’t happy about messing with a guy’s car when I didn’t have a grudge against him, but I didn’t want to look like a sissy in front of the older boys so I threw the tomatoes and deliberately missed. If they noticed, I figured I could withstand a little ribbing for being a horrible shot more easily than being labeled a coward for backing out. In their excitement they didn’t notice me miss, although they did notice that my younger friend hurled his at the passenger door with full force at point blank range. Note to kids – fresh tomatoes don’t splatter very well. If you’re going to attack something or someone with tomatoes, you need to think ahead and let them ripen on a windowsill until they’re nice and mushy.

We loaded back into the car and the older kids waited for MB to come out and see what they’d done (they may have honked their horn to get his attention). He eventually wandered out, stood there, and just stared at his car. They flashed their lights and he turned his stunned expression to them, stared blankly for a moment, and then went back inside. Although he didn’t react to their presence or mean trick, I could tell he was not thrilled.

Jump forward to the fight. I wouldn’t run, whine, or beg, but I did try to talk my way out of it. I told him the truth of what happened that night (all except for my friend really nailing his car). His friends believed me, but MB wouldn’t be swayed. Apparently my friend left a slight dent in his car, so he was out for blood. Now here’s the part I really remember – while we were talking, he drew in close to me so the others wouldn’t hear, and told me the other three guys involved already took their licks (his words). I wasn’t young and / or dumb enough to believe that, not deep down, but I wanted to believe and so I did. It set a precedence and provided an out for me. If the others let him hit them as a punishment, it was okay for me to do the same. All I had to do was take a couple of hits and the matter would be over. I nodded, and he stepped back and gave me a black eye.

He was enjoying the crowd’s adulation, so instead of ending it there he made a show of putting his hands behind his back, leaning in close, grinning and asking me if I wanted to start some shit. I remember thinking he needed to shave, and that I did indeed want to start some shit, but I just clenched my hands into fists and looked down. Some of the spectators including my so-called friends asked each other “Why doesn’t he fight back?” Later, some of them told me I was very brave not to run from the man, but I still felt like a complete coward.

Some aftermath: the bit about the others taking their licks was a complete lie. I was made whipping boy for that one. MB felt brave enough to tackle a preteen, but he wouldn’t approach either of the high school kids, and my friend was safe because he went to a different school and was related to one of the sophomores.

One of my friends who asked the crowd why I didn’t fight back pissed me off sometime later the same year. I went looking for him, but he ran away and hid in the woods until my mother called me home.

MB later angered an older student, one several years his junior but nearly his size. The other student looked him in the eyes, called him a dumbass, and repeated the allegation when asked. MB responded by puffing out his chest, but turning and walking away. I caught another round of hell from my so-called friends when word of that got around.

My mother didn’t notice the black eye for several days. When she did, I said it was an accident. Experience had taught me that I always got in trouble with her when I fought, but never for the actual fighting. If I lost a fight, she got mad regardless of how lopsided the odds were. If I won, I got in trouble for not doing more damage once my opponent was down and defeated.

Friends who would rather watch me get hurt than warn me, lose-lose situations, and a lot of fighting for no good reason: those were my junior and non-junior high school years. And some people are actually nostalgic about their teens. I think people like that either have very selective, rose-tinted memories, or they’re obviously alien clones.

So, what would you have done?


circe said...

I think you were unbelievably brave back then. I would say I was glad I was a female but even they fought alot in jr. high. It depended on what crowd you were in.

I will be interested to see what your guy readers say in reply to this posting.


Butterscotch said...

I had one girl who truly wanted to kill me when we were in high school. Apparently I dated the guy she liked or something of that nature. She was a stranger to me, so I had a hard time understanding her reasoning, but the way I chose to handle it was to ALWAYS be nice to her.

She would scream, rant, rave, shove, and I would always respond in a positive manner. I even made a point of smiling and saying hi to her whenever we ran into each other, be it in the halls at school, or out around.

Once she said hi back before she realized what she did. The look on her face was priceless.

I drove her absolutely batty.

Ah, memories.

Course this is me in a girly situation. Hard to say how I would have handled things as a guy.

I do not see that you had any other options than the ones you chose. If you had of hit him back, and actually hurt him, it would have been worse for you, because then you would have to always be watching your back.

Some of your friends may have shot off to you, but at least you never literally got shot, right?

Plus, you found out who your real friends were. That is a good thing to know in junior high.

It seems I have written a post as a comment. I will stop now.

Kira said...

I'm probably going to surprise you here, Grant...

I'd have punched the shit out of him. Since I'm female, the nuts would have also been an option.

I had ummm....anger management issues as a child. I was 16 the last time I was violent. That incident scared me enough to force me to re-evaluate my temper and try and get a grip on my urge to throttle. Basically, as I slammed a girl two years older and 50 lbs heavier than me into a locker by her collar repeatedly, I realized in one of those out of body experiences that hey, that's not good.

I had two older brothers who taught me to fight and taught me to come to them for backup if needed. I won all my fights except one in fourth grade, to a boy named Chris Richards. He was a year older than me too (they all were...I had skipped a grade). He started it *whines* ;) Anyway, that one was a draw. I tore his shirt and scratched him (I always kept long nails as they were great weapons); he punched me in the stomach when I was having stomach problems anyway and so I doubled over and limped off. He was limping off when I looked over my shoulder too. My brother Mark saw me in a bad way at the car a few min later, asked for a description of Chris, and then went and "took care" of the issue. Ironically, I found out YEARS later that the reason why he punched me to start with was that he had a crush on me. GEES.

So yeah. I'd have never taken my licks. I'd have gone for his throat and ripped it out. Today? Today I'd do something different. But 7th grade? Dead. The man would be dead ;)

Kira said...

You know what I forgot to mention? I went to 11 years of Catholic schooling. This wasn't even the public school. I lucked out that nuns armed with rulers never found me when I was in the middle of a scrap!

Just Some Gal said...

Being that I'm a female and I was painfully shy in junior high...I hated being noticed for anything. I got called out to fight with the school's girl bully and was just a bit mouthy back before the gym teachers sent us both to the principle's office.

I think you did a good thing. I also remember how cut throat it was at that age. It seems as if each public school junior high has their token "older kid". We had Charlie. He was 16, had a mullet and facial hair. I saw one young man get his face crushed into the brick wall over telling Charlie to stop talking shit over a girl.

I honestly don't know what I'd say or do if I were a young man. A pre-teen no less. What you do you think you'd do differently Grant?

Liz said...

You did handle that very well. Today I would have probably told a teacher of my impending doom. When I was that age I would have went into it scared to death but swinging with everything I had.

One of the fights I got in was with another girl that was very heavy compared to my stick armed self, just her breasts alone probably weighed more than me. We were really nasty back and forth for months until it broke out in the locker room. We ended up on the floor wrestling until I looked up at the spectators faces. I burst out laughing because they all looked so serious. The other girl must have thought I was insane but then she started laughing too. From then on we became good friends until she transferred out 3 years later.

sands of time said...

You were unfortunate not to have an older brother to deal with him for you.I can unstand that being called a coward would of been far worse than the beating you had.It would of lasted a whole lot longer.I do think i would of hit him back though.In general i am fairly placid but if provocked will fight back.There was a large age difference though so you were very brave.Wonder if you met him today if he'd be so brave.

VomitGod said...

Damn, Grant! You sure know how to attract the ladies!

Valkyrie said...

I would have probably gone down in a blaze of glory.

No guts, no glory right?

Weary Hag said...

Well, as you may remember I had my ass broken in early high school by five amazon girls. I stood there and turned to mush while they pummelled me into oblivion, but the one thing that I remain proud of today was that I took extra punches rather than to make some ridiculous 'demanded' apology they wanted me to make. That was where I drew the line.

As to your so-called friends ... had that been the case with me? (it wasn't), I might have paid some obscure bully to beat them into next week.

The thing about junior high and high school that everyone needs to remember ... there are no fuckin rules when it comes to ass-kicking.

I don't see that you had any choice but to do exactly what you did.

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