I didn’t enjoy fighting, but sometimes it’s the only way for boys to resolve their differences. One of my best friends began as a bully that I tired of appeasing. It took two fights to convince him. He was sure the first one was a fluke, plus he had to defend his pride. On the second fight, I managed to land a hit hard enough to break his nose. That ended the battle for good. His dad called my parents and demanded we pay for the ER visit, but after a lecture from my mother about his bullying, and a reminder that the second fight began when he came after me in my yard, the amateur bill collector decided to wave the fee as a one-time courtesy.
A few weeks later, when I came inside for the evening, my mother said, “Isn’t that Dale? You are playing together?”
“Yes,” I said. “We’re friends now.”
Such is the social order of the male. What looks like fighting is often actually male bonding. From that time on, we were inseparable. For the next five years, we did everything together, until his father took a new job and moved away. A few years of long distance friendship soon faded into a fond childhood memory.
My first encounter with a bully was when my friend, Jamie, was running around the monkey bars screaming like a banshee. A rather large kid was in hot pursuit. The playground at E. L. Fiquit school was a proving ground for the Lord of the Flies. No teachers and no rules. Just fun. Especially for those who had fun squashing first-graders into jelly. It was a rough school. One of my classmates brandished a switchblade knife on the playground. How he got it was a mystery. Oddly enough, the big kids never selected him for their aerobic fun. They did, however, enjoy using my friend Jamie for their intramural sports.
I sat on top of the monkey bars, safe from the chaos below, when I heard cries from my neighborhood friend. “Help me, Eddie!” he cried as he lapped around the monkey bars. The brute chasing him was a good foot taller than Jamie. Which also meant he was a foot taller than me. I wasn’t interested in being stomped to a jelly. I vowed to be a conscientious objector. But Jamie kept calling my name. I heard his voice again swirling below. “Help, Eddie.”
After the third cry for help, my brain turned off. I have no idea what I was thinking. Actually, I do know. My mind was blank. Reason departed and I jumped off the bars and landed in front of the two sprinters. My friend ran past, and the gorilla of a kid angled to pass me, but I stepped sideways into his path. He stopped and stared down at me. I don’t think he could read the blank expression on my face – and for good reason, which I’ve already stated.
The kid stepped to the left, and I stepped in front again. He stepped to the right, and I shuffled in front of him again. We Waltzed a few moments at 2/4 time, so I knew one of us was out of step.
The bully looked down at me and sneered. I looked up at him with a blank stare. For several more moments we continued gazing into each others eyes, and then I won him over to the blank side. He blinked, then turned and walked away. Unable to discern my state of mind, he decided that there might have been a reason for my complicated expression and figured it wasn’t worth the battle. Either that, or he was intimidated by my spaghetti legs and toothpick arms.
Our neighborhood was only slightly safer than the school. My next door neighbors were law abiding citizens, but some of the other kids were not quite ready to relax with tea and cookies under the Catalpa worm tree. I was six, and the neighborhood hoodlum was twelve. His name was Daryl. He was a skinny kid, so he probably built his confidence by tormenting little kids. He was very intimidating to our lanky gang of five and six-year-olds. We avoided him when possible, but when he found us, his games were on.
We ran home and told many times, but it never affected him. One day I was catching bees among the clovers with my pals, and the bully showed up. He taunted us, pushed us, and then did the ultimate assault – he took my jar of bees.
There was a game we played – see who could catch the most bees in one jar without them escaping, and without getting stung. I had sixteen bees in my jar, and was leading the pack by seven bees. I had been on a roll! I almost got stung once, but managed to recover and continued to increase my jar’s population. But now my jar was in Daryl’s hands. An hour and a half of labor wasted. That was like, uhm, one-third of my life’s work. And it was hard to get a half-gallon jar. But that poo-head snatched the jar out of my hand and claimed it as his own. I protested, but he threatened to break the jar. I threatened to tell, and he laughed. Then he pushed me down.
I ran to my house to tell. My mother and my aunt were in a serious conversation. I tried to interrupt, but my mom told me to wait. I counted to fifteen and tried to speak again. She told me that they were talking about something important. I waited forever. It must have been at least a minute, then I interrupted again, and my mother said, “Eddie, stop interrupting.”
“But Daryl has my jar,” I protested.
“That can wait,” she said.
I crossed my arms and stomped out of the room. Then something in my brain snapped. That was my best bee jar. “I’m going to get Daryl!” I spat into the air. Then I hunched my shoulders up, balled my fists, and went to find Daryl.
I crossed through the yards behind our rental house and stepped onto the hot asphalt. Daryl was fifty yards away. I didn’t see my jar, but he looked at me and smirked. Then he saw my expression and his smirk faded. I started walking toward him. Daryl picked up a handful of rocks and started throwing them at me. He was a bad aim. I danced out of the way of the few that came near. He hurled until he ran out. Then I charged. He bent down to pick up more rocks. He looked up and saw me closing in, and he began picking up rocks at a frantic pace. I reached him before he finished reloading. I saw the sweat glistening on his bare back. It became my target.
With all the strength my thirty-five pound frame could muster, I swung my arm in a wide arch, and my hand made a loud noise that sounded like a whip cracking a bowl of butterscotch pudding. I hate butterscotch pudding.
My hand felt like a firecracker exploded in my palm. Pain shot through me. Pain, glorious pain. It was the pain of great gain. Daryl dropped to a knee and rocks scattered across the road. He screamed like a cicada having toothpicks shoved under his fingernails. That would be if cicadas had fingernails. A bright red blotch illuminated on his back – a blotch with four fingers and a thumb. Daryl staggered to his feet and started running toward his house, crying out words that could only be understood by the Swedish chef. My arm throbbed, but the aroma of victory was morphine to my pain.
Not long after this, we moved to my childhood home in Marietta, GA. I know this will be hard to believe, but there was a class bully in my school in Marietta. I was playing at recess with my new friends, and a huge kid named Mark came up and threatened to tie our skinny little bodies into pretty little bows. Then he pushed my friend Norman to the ground. Emboldened by my successes, I smirked. I know how to handle bullies. I’ll dispatch of Mark quickly, and then we’ll get back to our games. I stepped between Norman and Mark, pointed my finger in the bully’s face and said, “Mark, you are nothing but a fat pig!”
I heard a thudding echo ringing between the two school buildings around us, and then another strange sound reached my ears. It sounded like the air being crushed out of a half-full milk carton. Then I realized the sound was coming from my lungs as my body wrapped around Mark’s pig-like fist. Strange lights formed behind my squinting eyelids, and I crumpled in a helpless heap at Mark’s feet.
In the distance, I heard Mark’s muffled voice saying, “Don’t you ever call me a fat pig!”
Roger that! I reflected on my choice of words and decided I should be more diplomatic in the future. Big Bird was wrong. I couldn’t be anyone I wanted to be. Superman was off the table. There were other factors to consider. I determined that I didn’t have the stomach for fighting crime.