I suppose it didn’t help that I happened to be comprised of two ingredients that tend to
lead to merciless beatings: a smart mouth and a feeble body. Of course “smart” mouth might not be the best description, for if it was so smart, it might have realized that it was what was continually responsible for the beatings. Sometimes I said things to defend other victims. Sometimes I said things to humiliate someone who I thought was a bad person. And sometimes I just said things that I thought were funny, but happened to piss off someone who happened to be listening. It was almost always my mouth, though.
Ebony and Ivory Live Together in Perfect Harmony
My earliest memory of words leading to pain is from 3rd grade. Our family had just moved back to the states from Germany, and we were temporarily living with my grandpa in Illinois. This was in 1983, and at that time the Illinois school system was bussing kids all over the place in order to racially integrate schools. I had a long bus ride to Taylor Elementary School and I was oblivious to problems of race at that time and really didn’t treat anybody differently. Being an army brat in Germany, it was a very integrated mix of people from different races and backgrounds. I remember playing with Joe Gonzales, perfecting our movie western fake punches and falls (swinging in a wild, wide arc with an accompanying sound of “PSH!” when punching; and spinning with arms out to the sides and falling dramatically when punched). I remember the 4-year old and 7-year old black brothers (biological brothers.. not “brothers”… never mind) in the building next door who snuck down to the basement and tried to get me to smoke with them. I remember John Murphy… nope, that kid was whiter than white. Anyway, I’m not saying that there wasn’t racism. Of course there was. I heard the “n-word” a lot in white circles, but I didn’t really know what it meant at that time. I wasn’t prepared for what true racial tension felt like when I went to Taylor.
O-Oh Here She Comes, Watch Out Boy She’ll Chew You Up
Fourth grade was pretty terrible. For the first half of 4th grade, still in Illinois, my family moved to a small place we still affectionately call “The Little Yellow House”. A big change from being bussed to Taylor, I was now walking to and from Center Elementary School every day. One day, while walking to school, one of the kids I recognized from Center joined me. Along the way, we came across a group of three other kids who were clearly a couple of years older than us. The kid I had been walking with seemed to know them and they got to talking. Now, I don’t remember what exactly they were saying, but I do remember that something they said prompted me to remark that they were stupid. My big mouth. The one who was clearly the leader of the trio stepped closer to me and started threatening me with many profane words. It took me a minute before I realized that this person was not a boy. She had a very deep voice, and she was as big as the two boys who were her companions, but this was a girl. A tomboy. She had dark brown hair that was chopped just shy of her shoulders and a gap between her two front top teeth. And she was mean. I escaped that initial encounter with just the threats, but one day soon after, that trio lie in wait for me when I was about halfway home from school. I don’t remember exactly how long the walk was
(everything is bigger and further at that age), but I do remember that at the halfway point, I was too far from school and too far from home to make it safely to either. That first time, they just pushed me around roughly, knocking me to the ground several times. I hadn’t really experienced anything like that before, so I don’t know if I really knew what to expect afterward. I think I thought that that was that. But no. They started waiting for me everyday at that spot and the roughness escalated. It became flat out beatings- punching, kicking, pinning me down… it was actually pretty terrible. Each beating further damaged my psyche. I mean, further “built character”. At some point, I told my mom about it and she got really upset. Unfortunately, an enlisted military career doesn’t allow for a life of luxury, and my folks could only afford an old beat up car that would never start. So driving me to and from school was out. She went to the school and reported it, and one day a teacher slowly drove along side me in the road while I walked home. Of course, the bullies didn’t show up that day, and the teacher couldn’t do that for me every day. So the beatings resumed soon thereafter. One winter day, during a particularly brutal beating, the kids took turns plunging my face down into the snow and holding my head under while I struggled to breathe. It’s hard to describe what happened then. After several times getting my face slammed down into the snow, I basically “hulked out”. I felt the freezing cold against my numbing face. I heard the laughter of the kids as I struggled to bring my face up. I felt the awful feeling of oxygen deprivation. And all of these sensations just swirled together at once in my mind and transformed me into a skinny little kid who snapped. I became someone I had never been before. Somehow I found the strength to pull my arms free and flail them about wildly so that I could bring my head up. Then I became like the cartoon Tasmanian devil, spinning and swinging my arms like a crazy boy. And during this sudden display of self-preservation, I remember what I repeatedly yelled to those three bigger kids as they retreated. And I know that it was these words.. the ferocious way I yelled them.. the terrible anger in my face, probably beet red from repeated smashings in the snow… I screamed, “I’LL KILL YOU ALL, I’LL KILL YOU ALL, I’LL KILL YOU ALL!!!!!”…. It’s still pretty crazy for me to think about. I know I must have looked insane, because the three bigger kids ran across the street with genuine fear on their faces. And they never messed with me again.
I Want to Ride My Bicycle. I Want to Ride My Bike.
Halfway through 4th grade, we moved to Lawton, Oklahoma where Fort Sill is located. During this half year in 4th grade, we lived in two different places. We started off in a rather large apartment complex that housed civilians, as well as army families. There were two main events I’ll discuss from those apartments. The first one has to do with what was probably my favorite possession at the time. My badass, shiny red BMX bike. As I mentioned before, my folks didn’t have a lot of money, but during that last year in Germany, they surprised me with this bike that I had seen somewhere and was just fawning over. It was a red dirt bike with cool pads and hand brakes. My parents saved up over 100 Deutsche Marks for that bike and I loved it. During our time in the apartments, I befriended a boy named Jason. I honestly can’t remember what it was that bonded us, but we hung out a lot and I genuinely liked and trusted him. One day my red BMX bike was missing. After searching for it for quite a long while, it became apparent that someone had probably stolen it. I don’t remember too much about the search, but after some time, some of the neighborhood girls (three or four of them?) gave a detailed account of someone taking the bike. After some more time, what was left of my bike was discovered somewhere across the street. A bunch of the parts were missing and what was left was unridable. Eventually, it was discovered that the girls completely fabricated the story about the person who had taken the bike and I found out that Jason had taken it. I confronted him. We were near a common hangout area within the middle of the red brick apartment buildings. I’m pretty sure the girls had gathered at the area, but this detail is fuzzy. What I do remember is that I felt betrayed by my friend and I was initially sad and confused about it. I expressed this in whatever way a kid that age expresses that. Instead of being at all remorseful, Jason was pretty much a dick about the whole thing. I became angry and actually shoved him. I wasn’t really intimidated by him because we had been friends and he wasn’t that much bigger than me. It became a wrestling match. I don’t remember how long it lasted, but I do remember how it ended. At one point, I had Jason in a headlock with his head tucked under my arm facing behind me. I knew that the brick wall was behind me and I backed up hard into it, slamming his head into the brick. He fell immediately to the ground and started crying pretty hard. I remember struggling between the feelings of satisfaction over having won the fight and the feelings of guilt and regret over having hurt someone. Especially someone I had liked. Of all of the fights I’ve been in, it’s the only one I can remember technically winning (excepting some I’ve had with my
brother who is 3 1/2 years younger than me). Our friendship was over, of course. I do remember those girls screwing with me for awhile afterward, but nothing worse than I had endured from ol’ Joey Ramone back in Illinois. Jason and the girls were all black, but I never felt like this case had anything to do with race. I think it was just a case of bike envy gone awry. It was a bunch of low-income families and I had a fancy red bike. Nice things get taken in them parts, friendships be damned.
Anyway, we all did this part together and then started cracking up together afterward,
even though none of us even knew what it meant. Well… I didn’t know, anyway. We started hanging out regularly and discovered other things that we had in common. One of those things was the love for a movie called The Warriors. And like the lyrics to that Van Halen song, it was probably a movie that we shouldn’t have had any business knowing about, as it was a pretty brutally violent movie about gangs. But we all knew it and loved it. Two of the fellas were brothers and I’m fairly certain their names were Steve and Doug. Steve was the older brother and was taller, but Doug was solidly built. Steve was pretty much the leader of the boys and he had the idea one day for us to start a gang. We all
thought it was a cool idea and so we started doing gang things. Like collecting weapons (sharp sticks, rocks, bottles and generally dangerous-looking things, like jagged metal or whatever); like wearing common clothing; and like coming up with rules. In the movie, a rival gang member famously taunted The Warriors by calling them out:
Yes, I am the warrior!
And victory is miiiine!!”
Our gang was cool (well, maybe except for that song), but it still needed rules. So we made up some and wrote them down. Somewhere along the way, Steve decided we needed a gang sign. Nope, not a sign to do with our hands. Like, a sign to hang up with our gang name on it, so people would know when they were entering our domain. He took it upon himself to make the sign. And then I saw it. He had misspelled Warriors. And not by a little. He had spelled it The Woryers (or something like that- there was definitely a Y in there). I pointed out his mistake. He, at first, argued with me about the spelling. When I eventually convinced him he was wrong about the spelling, he then told me it didn’t matter how it was spelled. I argued that having a big sign spelled incorrectly greatly diminished our credibility as a gang. He argued that the weapons were what made us credible. I said that the sign looked like it might sound like we were The Worriers… a decidedly unintimidating name for a gang. At some point, I said that the sign looked stupid. That word again. Stupid. Bullies really hate that word. Especially stupid ones. I was immediately banished from the gang. At first, I wasn’t too bothered by it. Thug life apparently wasn’t for me. But then I realized I had pissed off four boys who had a cache of weapons and no rivals to compete with, therefore nobody to unleash all of their gangliness upon. Except for the stupid, wimpy little boy who had recently insulted them. So I, a founding member of The Woryers, found myself being quite harassed by that very gang. I basically found myself in my own one man gang. And I would have called it The Worriers.
The boys were pretty rough with me. I remember getting rocks thrown at me. And I remember getting shoved into the brick walls at times. But one incident still clearly sticks with me to this day. The two brothers, Steve and Doug, came upon me one evening at a bend in the building. It was dusk, and I remember the artificial light from a building lamp casting a yellow tint over the boys as they walked slowly toward me, backing me up to the brick wall. I happened to be holding a Nerf football at that moment. It wasn’t one of those fresh, soft Nerf footballs; no, this one was very used with a history of multiple previous water-loggings. It was hard and crusty. I instinctively became Dan Marino, displaying a lightning fast release of the football, throwing it at the general direction of Steve’s head. They were only about 8-10 feet away from me and I scored a hit. It hit Steve on the left side of his head and he immediately cupped his hand over his left ear and started howling in pain. I started running for my life. Soon after, I heard the terrifying sound of the brothers’ running foot steps behind me. I was fast, but they eventually caught up to me. They roughed me up pretty good, but the only part of the beating I remember was the kick Doug gave me. While I was still standing,
he kicked me square in the gut so hard that I’m pretty sure the tread of his shoe can still be seen on some of my internal organs. I was gasping for air for a while after that one. I honestly don’t remember how long that whole thing went on, but thankfully, we moved away from those apartments after a short while. We moved into a little house on Cherry Road. But I apparently wasn’t done pissing people off and asking for trouble…
You’re the Best! Around! Nothing’s Gonna Ever Keep You Down!
This is a much shorter story about how I somehow managed to piss off a kid who was apparently a psychotic karate monster. I played with a couple of different kids while at the house on Cherry Road; one lived right next door, and the other was just across the (residential) street. I can’t remember their names, but I do remember playing wrestling. We were all fans of the WWF (what it was called back before the World Wildlife Fund bought the initials and the World Wrestling Federation became the WWE). We would get together in one another’s backyards and emulate our favorite wrestling stars. As usual, I was the smallest, so I would typically play the part of one of the quick, high-flyer types; attacking with drop kicks and jumping off of lawn furniture. The other boys were bigger and would play the parts of more powerful, slower guys that would pick me and body slam me, suplex me, and pile drive me. When I wrestled alone against my brother, I got to play the part of the big guy, so I actually got to play the part of all wrestlers! Anyway, I had gotten quite friendly with one of the boys (the one across the street), to the point where his dad was taking us out to dinners and movies and things. We got along pretty well, I thought. Well, one day he became really cold towards me. He wouldn’t tell me what he was upset about, but he was obviously angry. He stopped playing with me and every time I saw him he glared at me. This anger apparently festered. And this kid was apparently trained at the Cobra Kai dojo. I’ll never forget the day that I heard these loud sounds accompanied by the yell of the boy. I went out front to find out what the commotion was about, and I saw him standing just outside of his front door. He was dressed in a white karate outfit with his front door open and he was striking the door hard with straight punches. Over and over. With each strike, there was a loud wood-stricken sound, and he yelled out “YAA!” And the whole time he was doing this, he was looking directly at me with a ferocious snarl upon his face. The dude straight up loathed me, and I had no friggin’ clue why. Now, thankfully we moved before the kid ever had a chance to kick the shit out of me, but it always bothered me that I never discovered the actual reason why he began suddenly hating me. There was only one thing I could think of, and it didn’t seem to warrant that level of hatred; but then, who’s to say what might set off a 10-year old Johnny Lawrence. The only thing I could think of was that one day I had let the other friend over to my house to watch the Thriller video on VHS. My folks had it recorded and he hadn’t seen it in a long time and really wanted to. But my folks were not home at the time and I was under strict orders to not let anybody in while they
were gone. I wasn’t much of a rule breaker, so when I finally relented and let the kid in, (who was really pushing the issue and offered me five bucks to see it), I was super nervous the entire time. I mean, it’s a really long video, and I kept worrying that my folks would pull up in the driveway at any minute. The kid didn’t even pay me because I fast-forwarded through some parts, I was so nervous. Well, the kid across the street found out about the video and also wanted to watch it on another day. I remembered how freaked out I had been the first time, so I said no…. that’s the only thing I can think of that might have pissed him off so much. I showed it to the other kid, but not to him. And so he wanted to destroy me…. It’s not exactly the same as stealing Elizabeth Shue from you, but hey, whatever makes you homicidal!
And I live in a small town. Prob’ly die in a small town.
After Oklahoma, we moved to upstate New York. I spent the first half of 5th grade in Clifton Park, New York. I have many good memories from Clifton Park, but I can’t recall any fights or bullies. In 1986, we moved to a little village a ways southwest of Clifton Park called Morris. I spent the second half of 5th grade through the first half of 8th grade there at Morris Central School; the longest I had spent anywhere, to this point. Morris was a pretty major environmental departure from anywhere else I had lived. It was very small. It had one stop light. There was one school for all grades and the classes were about thirty students large.. I don’t mean that there were that many students in a classroom.. I mean the graduating class size each year was about thirty students. And many of these kids were bussed in from various homes from the surrounding woods. Including me. I lived up on Harris Hill Road and you darn near needed a telescope to see our nearest neighbors. I could probably write a book about my years in Morris, as I have many wonderful memories from there, and there were many interesting quirks about the people there; but this post is about fights and bullies, so I’ll try to stay focused on that. Because Morris was such a small village, I think that adults who move there were perhaps viewed skeptically (even if they’re
smiling big and welcoming you- you’re still an outsider for a long time). But when a new kid moves to Morris, the other kids see you as the shiny new thing and it’s pretty exciting! Having lived mostly in places where all the other kids were also continually moving, this was a new experience for me. I wasn’t used to so much attention or scrutiny. There were good and bad things about this. The good thing was that it kind of brought me out of my shell. I’ve always been a bit of a socially awkward person, and the positive attention toward me gave me some confidence. The bad thing about it was that it gave me some confidence. I talked too much and I thought I knew it all just because I had seen a lot of things these other kids hadn’t. I probably thought that I was impressing somebody, but I suspect I was just annoying folks before long.
Anyway, this was about the time that I learned how to utilize my sense of humor. I noticed that I could make people laugh at things I said or things I did. And it felt awesome. They say that good humor often comes from a place of pain or as compensation for short comings. And I guess this was true of me. It felt so good to make people laugh, that I found myself harming myself just to get that high. I would say that I was only average in the “wit” category, but I had pretty good timing, could make excellent goofy faces and voices, and was quite good at pratfalls and physical comedy. I found myself applying the things I had learned. The speed and quickness I learned at Taylor being chased by Bradley Dickensen and his friends came in handy in evading would-be abusers at Morris. The wrestling practice came in handy, as I remember a period when I allowed the bigger boys to take turns body slamming me for fun. I had learned from the movie Dragon Slayer that feeding the dragon an occasional virgin can keep the dragon from destroying the town- I guess the body slams were my version of that. Jerry, Casey, and Steve were some dragons that come to mind. I was the town in this analogy.. not the virgin. The body slams were the virgins. Ahem.. yeah. Digressing further, I remember times when we boys would get together to wrestle for real. This was an eye opener for me, because it revealed how wimpy I really was. The “wrestling ring” was a circle of the boys or a tent, and whenever I would be in line to face off against boys about my size (Andy or Shawn), I would think that I had a chance. But Andy had excellent balance and was good on his feet (he went on to be a stuntman), and while Shawn, the class sophisticate, was not especially athletic, he was deceptively strong. I always lost.
Anyway, the humor. The humor was an excellent tool for defusing some situations. I remember an incident where I somehow pissed off Steve. Probably my smart mouth, because Steve was a pretty cool dude. Whatever I said or did facilitated the experience of me being lifted up by Steve and slammed back against the lockers. He held me there for a few seconds, thereby demonstrating his strength (it was all very reminiscent of Dickensen in the bathroom just two years prior); and then he dropped me. I fell to a kneel at his feet and was looking down at his shoes. There were quite a few people observing this, and I was very aware of that when I quickly untied his shoe and made some silly comment in a silly voice. It made some of the observers laugh and Steve just chuckled and gave me a dismissive wave of his hand. It was a powerful moment. It was almost worth it to me to get a little roughed up if it provided an opportunity to make others laugh. A little nugget of giddiness to allay some of my insecurities about being wimpy and awkward. There were several incidents like this one. Each laugh I got empowered and emboldened me. It went to my head. It wasn’t until my last year there when I realized that I had become a bit of an asshole. I was still making people laugh, but instead of using it defensively, I had started attacking people with humor. And I often targeted the guys who I knew could kick my ass. I had developed a bit of a prejudice against boys who were big and acted tough, and there were those that I targeted that I thought I could make look stupid with my words. It was like I dared them to beat me because I figured out that if the big boy beat little ol’ me up, it made him look bad. Especially if I was verbally jabbing him with comments that made observers laugh. It was pretty twisted and, frankly, I deserved more beatings than I got. Allow me to share two stories from Morris in which my arrogance led to fights:
The Doggone Girl is Mine
Having survived that second half of 5th grade, I came into 6th grade feeling pretty good about my place at this school. To this point, I had lived in 23 different homes and gone to 8 different schools, so I was feeling pretty established here after a half year. At some point in 6th grade, my humor attracted a girl. Or maybe it was my discovery of Aqua Net hairspray. Either way, be it silliness or stiff, styled hair, I received a note that was secretly passed around to me while sitting in Mrs. Perkins’ class one day. It read something to the effect of “Will you go out with me?” or “Will you go steady with me?” or “Will you be my boyfriend?”, followed by two boxes with a “yes” by one and a “no” by the other. It was signed by Jennifer. I looked across the room and saw Jennifer smiling shyly back at me, likely confirming its authenticity. Three questions quickly raced through my mind. One: How could I possibly check “no” when a girl is smiling all cute and expectantly like that? Two: What do I even do if I become a “boyfriend”? And Three: How does my hair look?! I sincerely didn’t have the first clue about how to act around girls. My most intimate relationship to this point with a girl was with ol’ Joey Ramone girl in Illinois who used to
provide daily beatings with her sidekick thugs. This thought process was pretty quick, as I checked the “yes” box, fearing the look of disappointment or the consequence of icy disdain from Jennifer, should I have chosen “no”. And so with that, Jennifer officially became my first ever girlfriend. I didn’t realize at the time that this responsibility would come with so much drama. And it didn’t come from Jennifer.
It turns out that one of my close friends, Jeremy, had been a previous “boyfriend” of Jennifer’s. And judging by the way he acted, it had not been his decision to cease being Jennifer’s boyfriend. My relationship with Jeremy became… strained? It was a pretty weird rivalry. We got into a couple of physical fights over it, but I could tell he didn’t really want to hurt me and that he still pretty much liked me as a friend. I was the skinniest kid in the class (as usual), but Jeremy wasn’t too much bigger than me, so it was a pretty even fight. One of our fights happened during a huge field trip. It was a Safety Patrol-sponsored field trip down to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and then to Washington D.C. We took a nice commuter bus and it was a very long bus ride. While on that bus, tensions rose between Jeremy and I. I remember him repeatedly punching me in the abdomen, but me just laughing about it, because his punches were so wimpy. Of course, he was purposefully punching me lightly so as to not hurt me. I know this because he was kind of smiling the whole time in a way that suggested that he was doing what he thought he was scripted to do in this circumstance, but that he didn’t really want to hurt me because he liked me. And I was laughing at him like a dick. It made him look weak, and so the next time it got a little more rough.
At this little village in Morris in the 1980’s, they required that you go to church lessons every week (at least for some period of time). So, once a week, we would go from school down the road to the church and receive our spiritual lesson. I want to say that it was a Methodist church, but I can’t remember for sure. On these church days, we were supposed to look nice. Well, it was just before one of these trips to the church that Jeremy and I got into a fight. This fight broke out on the lawn outside of Mrs. Perkins’ class, and it involved a great deal of grappling on the grass. We were tossing each other around and rolling around and giving and receiving cute little rabbit kicks and punches. I remember that the intensity of the fight alternated between looks of seriousness and bouts of laughter, as we seemed at least partially cognizant as to the absurdity of the whole thing. By the time the fight was done, we looked absolutely ridiculous. Okay, we looked absolutely ridiculous during the duration of the fight also, but following the fight, our hair was in complete disarray and we had grass stains ALL OVER our clothes and skin. We went right into that church looking that way, and I think that was the day that our friendship truly rekindled. It was such a silly thing to experience together, and I think we knew that we weren’t ever gonna stop liking each other. So I broke up with Jennifer. I can’t say that I recall ever having done anything that really qualified me to be her boyfriend, aside from checking a box and then maybe holding her hand a time or two; but Jennifer was not happy about it. It’s funny- I
remember Jeremy trying hard to get Jennifer back as his girlfriend after that. I remember he and I discussing this at a school dance later. He wanted to dedicate a song to her and I talked him into it. He chose the song Got My Mind Set on You by George Harrison… not one of George’s best works, but it was quite popular at the time. I remember Jeremy spinning and dancing to the song with a pretty embarrassed look on his face after they announced his dedication… funny, the memories that stick. I don’t remember if he ever won back Jennifer’s affection.
My next fight story from Morris is shorter, but left me with regret that would serve as a lifelong lesson.
Tommy, Can You Hear Me? Can You Feel Me Near You?
So I mentioned earlier that I started to use my sense of humor in malevolent ways. This is the instance of that that has stuck with me for years.
Morris had a surprisingly diverse group, considering the tiny size of the town; but, naturally it had its share of good ol’ country boys. Two of the boys in the class were quite similar in many ways. Ray and Tommy were both tall, strong, with dark hair parted on the side, and country to their cores. Ray was very calm. The strong, silent type. It took a lot to get him riled, but if you did, Ray made sure you understood not to make that mistake again. We were band buddies, as we played trumpet next to each other and shared lots of laughs. He’s the guy you want your daughter to marry. Tommy was physically very similar to Ray, but Tommy was a hothead. Tommy had a short fuse and it was easy to spark it. I don’t remember what it was about Tommy that made me single him out during this particular time, but I was pretty relentless. He didn’t possess my wit, and I remember successfully ridiculing him with verbal jabs one day. I was feeding off of the crowd, and I definitely got the vibe that Tommy was an easy target for ridicule. Again, I guess my prejudice of big, angry boys got the better of me, and I pushed him too far. I’ll never forget the fight that resulted from my assholery. I was still ripping on Tommy while onlookers laughed, when I eventually realized that I was slowly being backed up to the brick wall of the school by an increasingly angry Tommy. As my verbal barbs continued, he eventually shoved me back to the wall. Now.. I don’t know what on earth possessed me to do this (perhaps the pressure of onlookers and the lack of escape routes), but I somehow found the guts and the inclination to bring a wild right hook up to Tommy’s face. It was the first punch I had ever thrown at someone’s face in a real fight. My right fist connected and his face turned abruptly to his right… and then it slowly turned back toward me. All my puny fist served to do was to push Tommy’s crazy button. Tommy’s face turned bright red, his eyes grew wide, and he started breathing in big deep breaths- his cheeks puffing in and out with each furious respiration. It looked almost exactly like Hulk Hogan looked when somebody hit him with a meaningless strike that only served to make him more invincible. Tommy looked scary and I was in deep shit. Tommy replied to my right hook with one of his own. His punch actually spun me around 180 degrees into the brick wall. The next thing I knew, my head was being squeezed in a vice grip headlock,
and I was pretty sure it was going to pop. Soon, we both found ourselves being carried under each of Principal Hess’ arms to his office. I don’t remember what discipline came out of all of that, but I do remember what happened later. Soon after the fight (later that day, or within the next day or two), I found myself again poking a stick at the bear that was Tommy. We were in the boys’ locker room, and I was specifically targeting Tommy’s propensity for anger with my verbal assault. I guess I thought I couldn’t lose, as I would either elicit laughter from others with my acerbic wit, or I would elicit actionable anger on Tommy’s part, validating my words. Tommy, through a fit of anger and sadness, expressed that he was having trouble at home with his dad. I believe he said his dad was ill and Tommy was having a hard time with the whole ordeal. At this point, I was on too much of a roll to relent. I kept going until I realized that the other boys were looking at me like I was a complete jerk. Because I was. Tommy was an angry boy because Tommy was dealing with shit that a 6th grader shouldn’t have to deal with. I’ve never stopped feeling guilty for behaving that way, and I only wish that Tommy had gotten a few more punches in, because I deserved them.
I left Morris halfway through 8th grade, but I came back to visit during the summer of 1992, when I was 17. One of the things I remember the most about that return visit to Morris was seeing Tommy. I saw him at the county fair and he came right up to me, with his full mustache and big cowboy hat, looking every bit the part of the upstate country hick I had previously perceived him to be, and he gave me the biggest, most sincere smile and hug. He was genuinely very happy to see me. I’ll never forget the relief I felt that this guy, who had every reason to hold a grudge against me, was one of the nicest guys to me when I returned. He accepted the apology I never gave, and I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned from that. I had actually been the bully. I never again relentlessly teased another person just to get laughs. Thanks, Tommy. And I’m sorry.
I didn’t realize how long this would be, when I set out to do it- but I probably should have, considering how many fights/bullies I’ve had. I left New York halfway through 8th grade and headed back to Germany. I’ll describe my life as a punching bag through junior high and high school in the next post.