“Psst, did you hear? Joe and Rob are going to fight after school!”
“Where’s it going down?”
“I’ve heard next to the monkey bars at 3 o’clock.”
“That’s the bomb!”
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….
As I entered the classroom there was a slight murmur that almost instantly turned into the chirping of crickets. As I took my seat I could feel 12 pairs of eyes counting the hairs on the back of my head. Suddenly, my desk was bumped with an unmistakable opening salvo attack, premeditated and purposeful. I stared at the dirty brown haired kid that was moving his way towards the teachers desk. My eyes narrowed, trying to bore through his skull the fear of Greeks without a virgin sacrifice. I saw the smirk before I caught the facial features of Rob and my mind flashed a filmstrip of grabbing him by the ankles and turning him over, shaking out the lunch money from his pockets. Being careful as to not poke the sleeping dragon beyond retreat, Rob made the round-about way back to his seat making sure his smirk lead the whole way.
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.