I’m typing this on literally a 12 year old computer.
It’s frustrating that there is almost a 2 second lag if I start typing more than 20 WPM.
I’ve wanted to start making updates again on a regular basis, but this is just overly frustrating and not conducive to any sort of productive thought.
New hardware, top of the line, is coming in about a week. I’ll be back after that and I can get this show on the road.
For the first time in a long time, there is an underlying excitement, that magic glean in my eyes.
This bodes well for no one.
I’m typing this on literally a 12 year old computer.
It’s horrible what paralyzing depressive states do to creativity and determination.
I woke up today and realized, quite frankly, I’m a fuck up.
I have recurring dreams.
I had a few interesting moments trying to fall asleep last night. I was begging my mind to create me the ultimate of stories. Something I could turn into gold. My own personal touchstone.
So this is what it feels like to stick to a schedule, commit to doing something, and actually following through with it. Interesting.
I’ve wasted my talent, my time, my effort with nothing to show for it but empty fists raised late at night. Cursing the sparkles in the sky. Who can live like that. I can’t anymore.
As people, we tend not to understand just how dark and sinister our thoughts and actions really are. Painting ourselves in the most favorable of light, the rest of the world tends to come in a distant second to our perception. Sometimes you are presented with a situation where you can’t show that dark side to anyone. Ever. You push it deep inside you hoping it will never resurface, hoping you’ve taken away all it’s power and trapped it inside another dimension where it will never creep back into your reality. The realization comes with a deafening roar that accepting these dark thoughts and releasing them is by far the greater course. However, it doesn’t come without it’s consequences, but it’s far better than letting it rot you from the inside out.
I had plans and dreams running through my head as I tried to fall into a slumber on that particular night. Failing to flip the off switch for my brain, I shuffled over to my new bride’s side of the bed to watch her breathing, trying to interpret how deep of a sleep she was in. My hands found their way to her side and my fingers began to trace patterns across the small bump of her stomach. It was a classic movie moment, newly wedded couple, a bright looking future, and a soon to be pint sized junior. The Kodak moment was ruined by the elbow shot to my ribs. Pregnant women apparently don’t appreciate being ripped out of a sound sleep by a day dreaming, insomniac, soon to be dad.
I make it sound like a perfect situation. Two lovers striving for the very best out of each other, creating a new life to teach and mold into the best of both. The reality, well, to be honest the reality was far too unsettling to come to terms with. The make believe was a far easier pill to swallow.
The fairy tale started even before I met her. I was 5 minutes into a 4 hour train ride with my current…something, and we were already arguing over mindless nonsense. Something about a Cosmo relationship quiz got the comments started. I label the girl as my current something as there is no descriptor to really describe what we were to each other. We had gone from potential lovers to bitter enemies a year before and it seemed as if we were destined to slip into those roles once again. As the train pulled into the station, I was more then pleased to see there were two cars waiting to pick us up. I reached to help her with her bag, trying to remain at least partially interested and civil. I let go of the corded ties, I wasn’t about to deal with rug burn of the hands as she violently ripped the bag towards her.
As I got settled into the college dorm I would be making my home the next few days, I hatched some thoughts of getting even once and for all with my soon to be twice jilted train companion. I had a college campus full of pawns I could use in my chess game.
Carrie caught my eye right off the bat. Her panties did at least. There was a jazz concert away from the school and she happened to be dressed in an ankle length white crocheted dress. See-thru white crocheted dress. I couldn’t help but strike up conversation while stealing glances here and there. If she was even aware of my wandering eyes, she didn’t make notice.
Our flirting took over the talk of the group of friends I had come to visit and after the concert our dry humping in the back seat of a car on the ride home set the gossip ablaze. Somehow the play by play of the blow job in the stairwell of the christian college main dormitory had gotten back to my original traveling partner and we again resumed our roles as legitimate enemies.
The entirety of the trip was less than a moon cycle, yet there were promises and words that were passed between Carrie and I that should never have been uttered. Love, weddings, marriage, soul mates. The stuff that is poured upon the youth of the nation as what should be expected, what everyone does. I won’t say I didn’t possess those feelings, they just were misplaced, phantoms of a mind brought up to think one way and shoehorning those feelings into that mold. It would take me years to undo some of the mental and psychological damage I did to myself in those days.
Our whirlwind relationship sped right through spring, summer and fall and before I knew what had hit me, we were sharing an adult conversation for 2 barely post-pubescent people.
“So, I’m late…”
“Late for what, it’s 10:30 at night, where do you have to be at this time at night. You don’t have to go home, my parents have given up at making you stay over at your apartment.”
“No I mean I’m late, as in missed my period, as in…I think I’m pregnant.”
I’d always heard jokes about these conversations, but here I was having it myself. Surprisingly, I felt proud. For what I’m not exactly sure, it’s not as if I had done something that hasn’t been done a million or so times already. Perhaps it was because I hadn’t fallen into any type of peer pressure situations. Smoking, drinking, drugs, I’d avoided all of these vices as a young high-schooler and my christian upbringing kept me sheltered from most other things. It was my first cannonball across the bow of rebellion. Bringing a new life into a world where even the most advantaged people have difficulties, let alone a teenage couple, I sure could pick my poison very effectively.
We went through the various free channels gaining information and insurance before letting anyone else onto the secret we shared. Planned Parenthood, an ironic name for an organization whereby 99% of the people who visit are definitely not planning anything about parenthood, helped us with the preliminary information. Medicaid paid for the doctor visits. Forms upon forms for this state service or that. It was a never ending line of handouts which we gladly accepted. I know first hand how easy it is to make a decision and not have to live up to any of the consequences of one’s actions. My parents pushed me towards a more grounded in reality world view. At least I think that’s what they tried to do.
Each set of parents found out eventually. Hers were by far the more excited party. Truth be told, an accurate assessment would be that mine were rather unimpressed. They were neither pleased nor angry, neither disowning my relation or welcoming in the soon to be new member of the family. They almost seemed resolved to the fate that their son had done something they didn’t have an answer nor a fix for. They simply accepted the reality of the situation as one they had no control over and played the part of Switzerland. Their non-committal to public displays of emotion were something that angered my lover, but looking back, they played their hand superbly. Either edge they shifted to, they were sure to lose the respect of their son down the road. Staying neutral left the heat of the actions squarely placed on my shoulders.
We trudged through the winter snow and got a dog. Living on Medicaid, sharing a bedroom in my parents house and we go out and drop almost a grand on a dog. I can’t stress enough the mindset of two people who have completely lost their grip on sanity, yet are living their lives as if everything is moving along a time line that is very real and fantasy is just Disney movies and Saturday morning cartoons. Granted, that dog would become the glue that would hold us together during some of our most painful of moments, but at the time, it’s was an unprecedented act of foolishness.
My dad didn’t like the idea of the dog. The conversation soon turned into his not liking the idea of us living under his roof. It literally happened in minutes. Escalating from a simple yes or no question into an epic event of screaming, tears, pleas. The conversation ended with a packed car of black garbage bags and some terse goodbyes. Again my parents played the Swiss like Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. It was my first look at what parenting was about. I remember the feeling in my stomach that day, one I would revisit months later.
It was a February wedding. I had scraped enough together after our dog purchase to afford a sliver of a precious stone. I popped the question in the most awkward of circumstances, asking my seconds later fiance if she could play hide and seek in the front pocket of my jeans cause I had a surprise for her. A newly minted soon to be bride, a little pea pod of a kid inside her stomach, and the world swirling around a million miles a second.
The wedding ended up being a chapter straight out of a Worst Case Scenario handbook. The head of the church gave a not so subtle delivered sermon during our wedding vows against the demon seed that was formed to push this marriage together much quicker than it would have organically taken place. The Western New York winter weather gave it’s blessing by dumping a blizzard on most the the traveling attendees. The reception, food, and DJ were straight out of a Federline/Spears affair. 125 people who suspended their own internal compass of reality to give blessings to a couple that had no idea what it was they were doing. My best man gave me a toast and a speech that I’ve now completely forgotten, but we did talk the night before the wedding. He said he was glad that I was happy and that he looked up to me for what I was doing. I still have never asked him why it was he used those exact words.
A few weeks after my bride bruised a bone or two in my ribcage, we had our 50,000 mile baby checkup at the doctors office. We’d be getting to see all sorts of things this week. Sacs and gender and fingers and toes. It was exciting!
The usual pre-gaming was done. The gallon and a half of water the mother to be had to drink and my constant “you can do its” that always seemed to follow her complaints of not being a camel. The battery of questions as to diet and exercise. The warning of the cold gel and the slight pressure. The poking and prodding here and there. Measurements and pictures taken. More measurements followed by more pictures. Finally they lead us upstairs into a private room for the grand unveiling of our newborn’s future as either male or female of the species. They were really going above board keeping it a secret from us and giving us the royal treatment.
We settled into a darker room, a much bigger and sophisticated machine and a dead quiet that was broken only in my head by the racing of my heartbeat.
The doctor came in and examined my wife in near silence. He took measurements again with the much larger ultrasound equipment, moving the gelled wand this way and that. Wielding the tracking ball like a level 15 game of Missile Command, whisking it this way and that, depressing levers, pushing buttons. The silence was deafening, the two heartbeats in the room were rapidly moving toward their own stoppage.
It took another five minutes of careful talk and well worded pronouns to get to the truth of the matter.
“I’m sorry…but…I’ve tried for the past 15 minutes and your baby has no heartbeat. I’m sorry.”
In that moment a part of me rotted away forever. My morality was pushed face first against a brick wall and shot through the back of the head, execution style.
I looked over at my bride’s face streaming with tears, the machine that displayed a muddled black and white capture, the doctor’s face that was grim and remorseful, the ceiling tiles anything to keep my eyes off what I didn’t want to see. It was only a matter of time before it happened, before I was subjected to an apparition of myself standing in the corner of the room with a sadistic devilish grin.
I stuffed that sight into a place I hoped it would never rear it’s ugly head and went back to the tears of my bride’s face which began to match the intensity of my own. The doctor passed off our out patient care to the nurse who informed us that a full birth would be taking place the next day before shuffling us out into the obnoxiously halogen hallways. The devil stalked me to the elevator door, whispering into my ear as I tried to comfort my bride who was crumbling with each step we took. The door shut with a cackle that was audible only to me, my wife and I feeling the rush of reality slamming through our once perfect atmosphere, tearing us apart.
That night as my wife sat in bed crying and I dozed in and out of slumber, my dreams helped rearranged the steadfast notions of my life into easily digestible compartments for my subconscious to file away for a later date. My conscious self would take quite a while to decipher the coded messages that had flashed behind my closed eyelids.
The next day brought upon the most disgusting display of science and technology and the impact it has on the human life. A day normally reserved for the most joyous of moments, the introduction of a new, living, breathing, person into this world, reduced to a mockery of birth. Everything happened much quicker than I was prepared for, before I could resolve the situation in my head the doctor was wrapping my offspring in a towel and ever so gently placing it on an exam table.
We were offered in the pre-consult if we wanted to see our baby. The idea of that question seemed completely insensitive at the time. We both had yet to come to grips with the idea that we wouldn’t be leaving the hospital carrying our own bundle of joy and being tortured with an image of a lifeless piece of you was just too much to digest. I raged at the nurse for a few seconds before regaining my composure. Now though, faced with the prospect of never knowing, never seeing what could have been, I stared over at the exam table and closed my eyes before leaving my seat.
My thoughts raced as I moved closer to the small bundle hidden underneath the downy white blanket. I pulled back the white cloth and my heart sunk. The grin, the flash of that smile was sickening, it was the burn of acid on skin. The miniature hands, the already formed feet and toes, the cleft chin that so closely resembled mine. Life was all it was missing, my eyes wanted to trick me over and over, but nothing was going to change the past. I was the parent now, dealing with an unknown situation that I had no answer for, no emotion ready to display. The feeling I had when I was packing my belongings, taking one last look at the comfort of my parent’s home, hit me again like a ton of bricks. I was spinning out of control.
I had a few moments to myself with my newborn at my side. Every emotion I had experienced in my life hit me all at once. I lost my senses for a second. I let slip out what I didn’t want to reveal to anyone, let alone an innocent who couldn’t understand what was going on. My mouth curved into that selfish devils grin, fulfilling the prophecy I saw in the exam room a day before. My thoughts centered on myself and my own preservation, it went unseen, save for the two of us.
It took a death of the greatest magnitude to separate me from a life I didn’t want to live. It took a death for me to even start living. A death I hoped for more than anything in the world. A death to this day that still hangs very heavily on my heart.
I whispered a secret to my boy before my wife joined me at my side, the only one that will stay between myself and my son Alexander.
Over the years I’ve grown a little less destructive and a little more cautious when it comes to everyday life. After a certain point in time, the thrill of doing 115 down the highway or making homemade napalm take a back seat to mundane things, like safety, and not committing felonies. It’s a shame really as burning patches of your father’s perfectly kept lawn can be entertaining as hell.
My career as a carnival barker seemed to be in the bag as well. Give me a few people, a prop, and some working material and I light up like fission.
Also to be noted is the human condition of being unable to put a lid on something even though you are well past the meter of taking it too far. Lying and tickling come to mind. Two activities that cross borders with ease.
The perfect storm of all these factors came together on a rainy night late in July. It was only a matter of time until the truth of this story was released to the police. Or just the fact that the statute of limitations has kicked in and I am no longer allowed to be prosecuted for crimes against nature.
My sister had a habit of hosting a girl’s night jamboree about once a month. I had a habit of dating, or at least sloppily making out with a multitude of my sister’s friends. One of the few benefits of having an older sister. Kim, my current conquest of my sister’s social circle, was a missionaries’ daughter; wet behind the ears and had a penchant for the good boy/bad guy routine I strove to bombard her with. Sadly, she was unable to attend this particular meeting of the “Brat Pack”, the label the group of girls had decided to paste on themselves. I found my solace in the fact that the weather outside had cut into my late night outdoor activities and I was instead left with a crowd of older women, no girlfriend present, and hankering for delivering some unabashed entertainment.
Within a few minutes I was the embodiment of Murphy, Pryor and Carlin. I had the room on the edge of their seats. The one liners were strung together seamlessly, the laughter dying out just as the next quip was being received by stretched cheek muscles and bright attentive eyes.
“She’s like a pair of socks in your Christmas stocking. Everyone gets some, but who really wants it.” A perfect barbed stuck into one of the more promiscuous girls attending the impromptu show. It took a few more biting stings and parting shots before I packed up my comedy show. One thing I’ve learned is that girls will turn into praying mantises if you don’t escape when you have the chance.
Hot off the stage I was too geeked to just turn in for the night. I needed action, I wanted some thrills, and I was determined to stroke my male ego just a little bit more. I settled in for a long distance phone call and a bit of seductive triangulation.
“Oh it’s been such a blast here. I was just downstairs entertaining all the girls.”
“Aww, I wish you were here too…”
That was a bit of a lie. I’m a shameless flirt. Having 4 teenage girls in one room was like Spanish Fly.
“Wait a second, I’ve got an idea. Oh you’ll love this, just give me a minute.”
I tossed the phone towards my bed and it bounced off my pillow and stopped with a jolt against my headboard. I slid into my computer chair and within a few clicks, the monitor was staring back at me. A delayed choppy image projected in horrible resolution. My eyes caught the edge of my devilish Joker grin as I swiveled around for the telephone.
“Okay, sorry about that. Go over to your computer and sign online, tell me what you see.”
The receiver muffled a squeal of happiness as I started waving my hands in front of the camera lens. I could tell Kim had started to watch.
After a few minutes of chit chat my romantic side kicked in and I sprang a plan into action.
“Since we didn’t get to see any firework shows this year, I thought I’d shoot some off for you and we can watch them together.”
“No, right now. I’ll shoot some off from right here, right out my bedroom window. It’ll be fun.”
The prospect of lighting gunpowder and shooting balls of fiery gas indoors didn’t set off any not so great of an idea alarm bells.
I dug inside my closet and got out the paper shopping bag full of leftover fireworks from my earlier outdoor 4th of July extravaganza. I searched for the hand held Roman Candles as they provided the best means for indoor to outdoor shooting. The pfft noises echoed in my quiet room. The colorful balls of light flashed through the window and streaked halfway across the front lawn before being smothered out from the fast falling rain. Kim giggled and cheered me on over the phone. The praise just sent me over the edge and as the light stick spat out it’s last puff, I instantly took things well over the top.
“Alright I’m going to go outside and set up the grand finale and I’ll drag the camera to the window so you can watch.”
Before she could respond, I amassed an armful or two worth of pyrotechnics and I waddled down towards the front door. I did make sure to pause long enough in front of the room full of girls to coax their curiosities into coming to see what I was up to. I do so love a big audience.
“Come on he’s going to light all those fireworks off!” Girls love bright flashy things.
There was a slight let up in the rain and I rushed to get everything set up before more thunder and lightning rolled through. I strung together a hodgepodge of fireworks, stringing some extra wicks here and there to make sure everything didn’t go off at once. I gave my setup a once over to make sure all the wicks would light at their designated moments. I flicked through 3 matches before giving in to the rain’s attempts to thwart my plans for teenage greatness. I wound up lumbering back into the house looking for the red handled grill lighter stuffed in one of the kitchen’s junk drawers. I had a show to put on and I was determined to see it through to the end.
Coming back outside, all the girls were huddled under the front stoop eagerly waiting to see some action. I was flushed with a feeling that something unknown, but ultimately memorable was about to happen. I felt like Jordan looking into the crowd as he walked onto the court in an epic NBA game 7 finale.
It took a few clicks of the trigger, but with a spark and a sizzle, the twisted cords of primed cotton began their burning countdown.
As so often happens with adolescent boys trying to impress women, this story followed the inevitable path to catastrophe.
The white hot light disappeared into the first set of cardboard gunpowder holders, and after a brief pause, a brilliant purpley blue light erupted from within. Sparks shot into the air before erratically falling back to earth. Erratically falling right on top of the row of gunpowder purgatory.
I had strung up the fireworks so they would detonate in order with my master design. In the planning stages, I didn’t take into account the close proximity of all the fireworks, nor the fact that errant sparks might ignite the rest into a ball of dervish inspired flaming projectiles.
Fortune didn’t smile upon me as the box that caught fire happened to be the last in line, a powerful multi-ball shot I had seen go off a few weeks earlier. Matters worsened as the entire setup, which was secured to the ground by nothing but a Newton Theory or two, tipped over at the force of the out of order blast. Rockets of rapid firing yellow, blue, orange and red fireballs found their ending against the leafy oak tree in front of the house.
“Oh my god! Oh my god! You’re going to burn the tree down!”
The chorus of voices called out for me to do something, faces filled with terror watching the out of control firemakers blasting round after round into the tree. I wasn’t as worried as the hard rain of the day had protected the tree from any harm, and there was little I could do reverse the actions of a volatile string of fireworks.
After a few more fiery bursts, bangs, and whizzes, the smokey charred boxes finally relented their oak bark onslaught. The only evidence of the almost tree fire were the sulfur soaked raindrops filling the air.
I got a mini applause, but mostly disapproving head shakes as I headed back to the breezeway. As the front door clicked shut on my failed light show, I strained to hear a very far away, but familiar sound. My concentration was interrupted by Kim’s voice coming over the phone. I had almost forgotten she was on the line.
“Yeah everything just tipped over and it started shooting fireballs everywhere. I didn’t think it was going to catch anything on fire it’s too wet outside. Such a shame the camera didn’t catch any of it, it was actually quite awesome.”
“No no no, the tree is fine, at least I think it’s fine.”
As I went into the kitchen to return the grill lighter, my eyes were drawn to the red globes of spinning light cutting through the dense leaves of the wooded land behind my house. It took only a few seconds before the sound that had eluded identification earlier was replaced by the very visual picture of a fire engine screaming down the road. With the thunderstorm again raging outside, I watched the red truck disappear behind some houses.
“Probably just a power line down or something. Maybe something got struck by lightning.”
I tried convincing myself the firetruck had some other destination in mind, but that notion was quickly smashed as the red engine #17 re-emerged and made a sweeping right turn onto my street.
“Oh that’s not good. FUUUCK! That’s really not good!”
The woods and the fire truck had done the job of obscuring not one, but four police cruisers in equal pursuit to whatever crime scene they had been called to. Make that, MY crime scene they had been called to.
I leapt down the staircase and burst out the front door frantically running towards the cardboard graveyard that was in plain sight on my front lawn. I needed to get rid of the evidence. Quickly.
As I reached the front lawn, I could see the fire engine between the houses. It less than 100 yards away from where I was standing and bearing down fast. I gathered up all the spent fireworks as my brain raced trying to figure out what to do with them.
“If I bring them inside and they search the house they’ll find them. I can’t throw them into the road…Fuck fuck fuck what am I going to do.”
In an act of desperation, I heaved the charred boxes over the house with the hope they would sail into the woods, and with how dark it was outside, remain unseen to any sort of property search I was convinced was in the cards. I pitched the last one right as the firetruck’s headlights breached the hedges of the next door neighbors driveway. As a horde of police and firemen stormed my front yard armed with hoses and flashlights, I tried to look the part of a curious teenager wondering what was going on in his yard. In a thunderstorm…With no shoes on…Holding a red handled grill lighter.
A tall, muscular policeman got to me first.
“You see anything?”
“Why are you outside with no shoes on in the rain?”
It was a legit question.
“I just saw all the flashing lights and heard the sirens. I thought something was going on outside and I just came out to see.”
“What’s with the lighter?”
“Umm, I uh, had it just in case I needed to light a candle?”
The last part came out as more of a question than a statement, but it was too dark and the flashlight in my eyes kept me from seeing if he believed anything that had just come out of my mouth.
“Had a report that lightning bolt struck a tree in your front yard.”
I took a breath before answering. A very sulfur filled breath.
“Wow really! I heard a big crash of thunder earlier. It probably was from that. That’s crazy! I can’t believe that tree got struck.”
The cop gave me another skeptical look as I pointed to just one batch out of the 4 clumps of trees that were in my front yard.
I was drowning in my lies.
Before he could question me further, our “hero” next door neighbor crashed out his front door sporting his ketchup stained wife beater and his technicolor bathrobe. He bounded across the property line gripping his phone and wagging his finger wildly towards the tree I had just identified to the police officer.
He did have a love of trees. A few years earlier he mourned the loss, with a beer in hand, of a rootless Christmas tree he had planted in the hopes it would magically grow and be usable for the next holiday season.
“That’s the one, that one right there. I saw her get hit. All these lights! They were sparking in the air. The whole tree was lit up. I saw it catch fire!”
Hahaha, oh lord this wasn’t pretty.
As the fire fighters shined their lights up the tree and the police officer moved past me to talk to our neighbor, I felt something clamp down on my shoulder. My eyes followed the hairy fist that was attached to me, up the arm, settling on the unmistakably pissed off face of my father.
“What did you do?”
I tried to plead innocent as to why there was a platoon of Cheshire’s finest stationed in front of my house inspecting a phantom lightning bolt that had struck an unsuspecting tree.
“I didn’t do anything, it was a lightning bolt.”
I thought following the official storyline would be convincing enough.
“It smells like fireworks out here. Did you just light off some fireworks?”
My father had a stunning accuracy to point out the fact that I was a young and stupid kid and he was quite the wise ol’ poppa bear.
“Umm…welllll…maybe a few?”
My father loosened his grip on my arm and moved past me towards the fire fighters crowded around the scarred tree. I held my breath figuring my father was turning into Sammy The Bull and I was going to be spending the rest of tonight in the Big House.
After a few minutes of back and forth conversation, the small crowd of people consisting of my father, our crazy neighbor and a few municipal workers, had hashed out the goings on of the night, and everyone started walking back to their respective points of origin. The firefighters were convinced that a lightning bolt had struck the tree. The dark soot marks all over the upper bark and the sulfur smell in the air was enough evidence to keep the suspicion, off me, and squarely on Zeus. With a few handshakes and the scraping sound of wet tires making K turns, my father started walking back towards me, his face reserved but filled with a little hint of a smirk.
“You’re lucky I was a kid once.”
With that, he put his arm around my shoulder and led me back into the house.
“Psst, did you hear? Joe and Rob are going to fight after school!”
I’ve grown into quite the pacifist since my early elementary school days. I’ve stopped picking fights with the bigger kids just to prove a point. I’m very calm, rational, and often I hear, “How can you always be so calm, don’t you ever get mad”? Whether it was those 3 years of terror I reigned down on my fellow classmates, or the result of this fight that slowly caused the changes in my behavior, I’d need a phrenologist to figure it out.
Going into the 4th grade I was a year younger and a good 5inches shorter than my fellow peers. I made sure I compensated by flaunting my believed excellence in education and bullied the older bigger kids to lessen the physical differences between us. Unfortunately, all of my perceived greatness was really due to school board politics and not so much of my own doing. I happened to have a birthday capped at just the right time where I was bumped up a grade. I however, was under the impression that I was of such intellectual superiority over the other kids in town that I got to skip a grade. My parents set the course straight when I got into middle school that I was in fact not a unique and special snowflake, just blessed with a favorable birthday in relation to school placement. This information could have spared me a huge headache. Quite literally.
My jihad over the other second graders began over a war of words. John McDonald, a kid who had certainly already started puberty at age 8, had been taunting me mercilessly under the Swamp Of No Return at Norton School. All the kids used to play in this mud puddle that overtook most of the playground and now that winter had set in, the mud was mostly frozen on top. The icy exterior hid the dirt and water below, hibernating to be awoken only by the obnoxious footsteps of elementary school kids.
John thought it would be funny to call me a wimp and a nerd, before giving me a swift heave into the swamp. A few kids standing by laughed and pointed at me as I regained my feet. I could feel the slush of icy mud soaking through my pant legs. My ears were ringing with “hahaha he’s got poop on his pants. Poopey pants, poopey pants.” 8 year olds can be so cruel.
While at the time it was a pretty stupid idea, John being almost a foot taller, a year older and outweighing me by at least 30lbs, the only thing that flashed through my mind was punching John square in the face. He happened to to be wearing a Charlie Brown like woolen hat and in an instant I had pulled it over his face, reared back, jumped a little, and let loose with the most devastating punch my 3’6″ 40lb frame could muster.
I don’t remember there being any blood or tears on his part, more just a look of shock that someone had punched him in the face. Or at least that was what I imagined was going on underneath his winter hat.
The kids who had been standing around watching started instantly oohing and ahhing. Being predictable school kids, they enacted the emergency broadcast system indicating there was something big happening and everyone, including the teachers, had to come witness.
“Fight Fight Fight Fight Fight”, echoed across the just seconds prior silent playground.
Before John could remove the hat from his face and I could stop posing in a “fighting stance” I had probably learned from an episode of Thundercats, the teachers had come between us and I was being dragged down to the principles office.
From that day on, until midway through the 4th grade, my rule over the playground was absolute. My notoriety as the only student to have ever thrown a punch at another kid helped keep me sitting on the throne of my elementary school serfdom.
2 years later….
A few days of poke and relent went on before everything came to a head during indoor recess on a raining afternoon.
“What’s your problem Rob? Do you think it’s funny to keep bumping my desk?”
“I don’t have a problem Church Boy, is there something wrong?”
Rob had found one of my Achilles Heels. I indeed was quite the perfect church kid outside of school. Top of the Sunday school class in bible verse memorization and attendance. Apparently, a few days before Rob made his presence known to me in school, he had visited my church with his parents. I of course was too enthralled with a recent bible verse discussion in Sunday school to notice he was in the class that week, let alone that he sat a few desks behind me in school. Narcissism and self involvement even at an early age.
“Yeah there’s no problem with the perfect church boy is there?”, Andre one of Rob’s friend interjected.
“Definitely nothing wrong with choir boy Joe is there Rob?”, another of Rob’s friends chimed in.
“Well there’s going to be something wrong with your face Rob! If it wasn’t raining out and we had recess outside I’d punch you in the face.”
It’s the best I could muster at the moment. I didn’t like anyone attacking my kingship, especially within a distance other people could hear.
“Whatever Joe, you don’t scare me.”
“I bet you’re scared to fight me Rob. I bet I’d hit you so hard you’d go home crying to your mom. Wuss.”
“Oh yeah! I’ll fight you after school tomorrow.”
Those were the dreaded words I was fearing would come out of his mouth. I had one encounter a few years earlier whose coattails I was still riding. To tell the truth, my fight with John was hardly that. Surprising and sucker punching an 8 year old was hardly a fight. I had hoped to never have to fight again as the thought of it was rather terrifying, standing toe to toe with another kid on even ground instead of me getting in the unseen attack and having a teacher breaking it up before he could retaliate.
“I’m not going to fight you, you’ll probably have Andre and Dave jump in and it would be 3 on 1. You couldn’t beat me by yourself.”
I tried backing out without it sounding like I was backing out. Rob didn’t swallow the bait.
“You’re just chicken. I’m going to tell everyone that you’re a wuss and to make fun of you. You are just a little kid. Dork Face.”
Like Marty McFly, I too had insults thrown my way that would get me into a lot of trouble. The challenge, the idea that all the kids who feared me through some misguided perception were now going to be laughing at me was too much for my fragile ego.
“I’m not a chicken, I’ll meet you after school tomorrow. I’ll even fight Andre and Dave after I get finished with you.”
What.The.Fuck. I had no filter on my mouth and the bullshit that was spewing out was Grade A USDA cow dung.
Rob just laughed…
At 2:30 the next day the classroom had the pre-fight feel of Thrilla in Manila. The crowd watched the two future combatants throwing insults back and forth, goading the other to near blows right in school before delivering a quip that would level the playing field and calm the tensions.
At this point in time I was hoping word of the fight would have reached the teachers and I would be spared actually having to fight, retaining the heavyweight belt on a technicality. Unfortunately as the clock struck 3, there was no insinuation there would be any teacher intervention.
The fight got underway almost as soon as we crossed the threshold out onto the playground. The trash talking that usually precedes elementary school fights, the circling and insulting each others mothers, all came within the previous few days. A raucous crowd of kids surrounded us, yelling out for one of us to hit the other, a jumble of prepubescent youths clamoring for some action. Rob and I stared each other, two tigers stalking the other like a helpless antelope.
I threw a few jabs. Not one of them landing. Not even coming close to doing anything but displaying that I had the ability to quickly extend my arm and retract it.
I smiled, dropped my hands and contorted my face at Rob, begging him to hit me while hopping around looking like a monkey.
And then he swung. His fist crashed into my face like a drunk driver into a tree. Hard. Right in my eye.
I can’t remember any other time in my life where I literally lost control of all my motor functions and rational thoughts, but after getting hit I was blinded by the rush of every emotion a 4th grader has the ability to feel.
I swung at least 4 hay makers towards the space I thought Rob was occupying. None of them connected. If I was fighting oxygen or water vapor I would have been Ali in his prime. Instead I looked more like Paulie from the Rocky movies.
I stopped moving, stopped swinging my arms in their erratic attempts to connect with any part of Rob’s body. With my chest heaving, my emotions spilling over, I did the only thing that seemed proper. I started crying.
“Why did you hit me?!? You hit me right in my eye! Why’d you hit my eye? I wasn’t even ready and you hit me in the eye.”
It just ran out of my mouth with the same speed my tears were streaming out of my eyes. I quickly went from a trash talking schoolyard king to a blubbering kid who had a red swelling eye and the honor of giving the worst post fight recap in the history of sports.
I don’t even know why I was crying. The punch didn’t really hurt, I think the emotion of the moment had just welled up to the point of needing some way of escaping and since I was incapable of punching Rob, it just spilled out in the next logical way.
“Umm, sorry I guess. I didn’t mean to punch you so hard. Are you okay?”
Rob just kinda looked at me like a dog he had just rapped a little too hard on the nose with a rolled up newspaper; offering up a cookie as guilt ridden compensation.
“I hate you Rob. I’m going to tell my mom on you and you are going to be in so much trouble! I hate you! You punched me in the eye!”
One last time I had to make it known what Rob had done to my eye.
Looking back it comes as no surprise that my rule as class bully would come to an end, but I would have never thought it would end in such nondramatic fashion. I imagined a great battle of good against evil, a 5ft 9in behemoth that breathed fire and had facial hair besting me in an epic battle. I in no way envisioned I’d be taken down by one punch to the eye and go running home crying, trying to talk myself up in my head on the way that I had really won the fight and Rob had somehow cheated his way to victory.
At 3 o’clock by the monkey bars, Rob Raines brought my empire to it’s knees.