I wasn’t the most studious child in school. One of my best middle school performances was straight C’s. A classmate looked at my report card and said, “Oh my gosh! What are your parents going to say?”
When he handed it back, I reexamined it to try to see what was wrong. Did he see something I didn’t? No D’s. No F’s. What could be wrong? After examining it for something unusual and finding nothing, I felt happy with my performance.
My parents had a reward system: fifty cents for every B and a dollar for every A. In my entire twelve years of standard education, I accumulated a dollar and a half. For some reason, this concerned my parents. In fact, at this point I still had zero earned income from my grades. Adding to my problem was a terrible education experiment called ‘pods’.
For reasons unknown to anyone with half a brain, our county decided to build a new school with open air classrooms. Each pod had three classrooms going on at the same time. Three teachers teaching three different lessons to three bodies of middle school kids in the same room at the same time. Apparently, the county school superintendent studied as much as I did. But even I could have figured that to be a recipe for disaster. Every classroom distracted every other classroom. Our middle school had the lowest test scores in the state and one of the lowest in the nation.
This brilliant plan was scrapped after three years, and the pods were divided. I just thought of something. I can blame them for my low scores. Never mind that a paper clip in a quiet room was a distraction for me. It’s still their fault. Before coming to middle school, my scores were as high as, well, never mind. It’s still someone else’s fault.
In the eighth grade, my parents pulled me from the middle school social experiment and placed me into a private school, hoping it would make a change for the better. One thing I learned quickly was that private schools don’t have the same tolerance level as public schools. I set a school record and got a paddling my second day there. All I did was shoot someone in the back of the head with a rubber band. Hey, the classrooms were two quiet without three bodies of students vying for dominance, so I had to create a little noise. I just didn’t realize that noise would be the sound of a wooden plank popping on my behind.
Making friends was very difficult in this school. Everyone kept calling me ‘the kid’ and would have nothing to do with me. It wasn’t until much later that I found out ‘the kid’ was a student who attended the school the previous year. He was hateful to everyone and they returned the favor. He left for a few months, and I showed up. And it seems that I looked enough like him to assume his identity.
This school is where I met my friends Bob and Jerry. It’s also where I met a bully. I’ve had lots of experience with bullies over the years. My very first bully experience was when I went to an inner city school called E. L. Fiquit. I’m not sure on the spelling, but I was only 6. That school didn’t have a bully. It had invading hordes of bullies. They would swoop into the playground and rob all the kids of money. One big kid cornered me and a classmate and said, “You got any lunch money?”
I said, “No.” When he didn’t believe me, I insisted I brought my lunch. I did have the money in my pocket, but I figured he had no way of knowing that. My classmate didn’t share my insight. Every day he would be forced to hand over his money. Then he’d sit at the lunch table empty-handed while those who survived the fleecing got to eat. I felt sorry for him, but I also felt glad that I didn’t give into the threats. Eating lunch was worth the risk of getting beat up at recess.
Another thing I learned on the playground was to avoid the monkey bars. If a hapless soul attempted to cross the bars, one of the mean kids would rush over and hang from his feet. Begging them to let go never worked. They would hang until you tired and lost your grip. Since they had your feet, a head injury was inevitable. I made this mistake only once.
The playground in this school was a social experiment in anarchy. The teachers sat at tables on top of the hill, oblivious to the fight for survival going on below. They never responded to cries for help. In fact, the only time they ever showed concern was when one of the kids brandished a switchblade knife on the playground. He could have slain us all and they would never have noticed, but after wards the word got out and an investigation began. The kid had stashed the knife when he got wind of it. Though many children testified they saw him with the knife, his denials eventually persuaded our teacher.
At times I had success against bullies. Jamie, a close friend of my family became a victim of a bully. The overcrowded playground left no room on the swings, so some of us would climb on top of the metal bar and wait for a swing to open up. Then we could drop down and claim the spot. While I waited for my turn, I heard Jamie crying out, “Help me, Eddie. Help me.”
I looked down and saw a kid twice the size of Jamie chasing him. I was no bigger than Jamie. My friend started running laps around the swing, crying for help. What was I supposed to do? Each lap he would cry again, “Eddie, help!”
To this day I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe that was it – I wasn’t thinking. I dropped off the swing set and when Jamie passed, I stepped in front of the kid giving chase. He stopped and glared at me. I glared up at him. He stepped to the right and I stepped in front of him. He stepped to the left, and I stepped in front of him again. He stopped and stared down at me with angry eyes. I didn’t flinch. He stood there for about another minute and I can only imagine what was going through his mind.
Why is this skinny little kid challenging me? I can take him. But what if he knows something I don’t know? No shrimp that size would challenge me unless he has a secret. Could he be a sumo master with a blackbelt in Shuai Jiao with a championship in Jiu-Jitsu? I better not take a chance.
He then turned and walked away. My friend thanked me for saving his life, and I wondered what kind of an idiot I was. And what would happen when that bully rethought his retreat and came back. Fortunately, he never came back. I never even saw him again.
Our neighborhood wasn’t much better. Actually, my immediate surroundings weren’t too bad, but the street down from me was awful. There was a big kid of about 12 years old who roamed the neighborhood. He tormented me. Every chance he got he hit me, threatened me, tried to hold me captive, and generally made my life miserable. I could outrun him, so if I got out of his reach I made a break for home. I’d tell my mom and she’d sympathize with me, but I don’t think we knew who his parents were, so nothing ever stopped the abuse.
One day he abused me until I escaped and ran home to tell. My mother was in the middle of something and I couldn’t get her to avenge me. I kept insisting that she do something, but she was too busy to help me at that moment. But the outlaw was still in the area, and we couldn’t let him get away. I don’t remember what she was doing, but I remember that I kept on and kept on until she snapped at me to stop complaining for a minute. Something in the back of my mind also snapped. That was it! I had it with Billy the kid and I wasn’t going to take this anymore. I went on the hunt.
A quick cut through the neighbor’s yards and I emerged onto the street behind us. Then I saw him standing in the street like a gunfighter waiting for high noon. He saw the rabid look in my eyes and knew something was wrong. I started toward him and Billy the Kid scooped up a pile of rocks and started throwing them at me. I stopped and danced out of the way of his projectiles. I dodged until he ran out. When he bent down to pick up more rocks, I charged. I knew he could hear the pattering of my bare feet on the street, because the closer I got, the more frantically he grappled for rocks. He wasn’t too smart. For some reason, he didn’t start throwing the rocks he had, but felt the need to fully reload before firing again. He was still grasping for rocks when I reached him.
His sweaty bare back glistened in the sun. With all the strength in my six-year-old skinny arms I could muster, I swung my arm toward his back. I heard a sound like a bullwhip and pain shot through my hand as I slapped his back as hard as I could. The kid screamed. I wanted to scream, but didn’t want to let him know it hurt. He dropped to one knee for a moment, then got up and ran. The imprint of my hand glowed red on his back. Suddenly my pain was buried behind the elation of victory.
Billy the Kid didn’t bother me for a long time after, but in time some of his courage returned. He threatened and taunted, but he never hit me again. I knew what he was made of and he knew I knew. From this point on, he would saber rattle, but he didn’t really want war. Most bullies don’t. I said most don’t. Some enjoy the fight as much as the bullying. I would soon find this out. And next week, you will to!
Eddie Snipes 2012
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