This afternoon, as the Son and I patiently waited to get on the bus, we witnessed two women almost come to blows over who got on first.
I know I should have taken advantage of the situation and turned it into a teaching moment (forget the fact that the Son turns 23 this year) but instead, the words that came out of my mouth were: I was in a fight once.
The year was 1970 something.
It was a time when Mary Jane platforms and bell bottoms were all the rage.
It was also a time when fighting after school was a way of life.
Every day, my sister and I would go to school fearing it would be “our turn.”
Like candidates coming of age in the Hunger Games, we would fearfully approach the playground, all the while praying no one would “call us out.”
Calling out: The act of being singled out to fight.
Tentatively, we would walk toward the monkey bars, careful not to make eye contact with any of the bullies, and climb the metal bars that also filled us with dread.
Nevertheless, the fear of being a “callee,” far exceeded the fear of breaking a limb.
Day after day, a fight would take place after school; the result of someone having been “called out.”
And day after day, we’d quickly walk past the sanguine crowd that gathered to witness the fight.
Like Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, two contenders would duke it out until a victor was crowned.
Participation didn’t involve bravery, skill, or cunning.
It simply involved the will and determination to be the last one standing.
Not an easy feat for a nine-year old, but these were the 70s, a time when these “clandestine” activities were ignored by the administration.
One afternoon, as I made my way to my sister’s classroom, I heard the whispering.
Seeing my sister’s face, I knew she had won the lottery of being called out.
“Who?” I asked her.
“Russell,” she whispered.
I couldn’t stifle my horrified gasp.
Russell was one of the meanest kids in school and his winning record was attributed to his considerable girth.
We slowly made our way to the playground, unable to escape the murmurs of “It’s her. Russell called her out.”
I thought of going to the Principal’s office to alert him of the carnage that would soon take place. But my sister wouldn’t allow it.
“If I don’t do this, I’ll have a target on my back until we finish elementary school.”
Sadly, I knew she spoke the truth.
Timidly approaching the playground, my sister was unprepared for Russell’s formidable pounce.
Like an overweight panther, he leaped out and circled her.
Preparing to come in for the kill, he cracked his knuckles.
His side kick, a scrawny boy with greasy hair named Tim Finch, egged the crowd on.
“Fight, fight, fight!”
As the crowd got larger, I became more nervous.
Russell, unperturbed by the noise, lunged again.
Artfully dodging his punch, my sister ran.
And that’s when I saw Tim Finch do something I’m sure he’s regretted to this day–he pulled my sister’s hair.
I saw her delicate features flinch in pain.
Throwing my book bag on the ground, I rolled up my sleeves.
I quickly approached the fight circle.
Russell and Tim were about to discover the power of team work.
Giving me a “thumbs up,” my sister threw her small body against Russell’s belly.
He quickly recovered and grabbed her head.
She kicked him in the shin.
I kneed Tim Finch in the stomach, and like a rabid monkey, jumped on Russell’s back.
Russell spun wildly, attempting to dislodge my arms which were tightly wound around his thick neck.
In the meantime, my sister took hold of his shirt collar and gave it a hard yank.
Within seconds, Russell’s shirt had ripped top to bottom, leaving him exposed to the crowd of instigators.
Silence filled the playground.
Russell, looking down at his bare torso, attempted to hold his shirt together.
Everyone started to laugh.
Running, he exited the playground, never once looking back.
Amidst the cheering, my sister and I picked up our backpacks and started for home.
We weren’t overjoyed.
We didn’t feel triumphant.
We didn’t feel like winners.
We were just two individuals who had exposed a mean kid for what he was–a bully.
Many decades have passed since the Russell incident, yet now and then, my sister and I will remeniss over what transpired that day and laugh.
Not at what happened to Russell, but at how we successfully pulled off a “David and Goliath.”
Yes, we could have walked away.
We could have tattled.
But at the time, faced with what we believed were life or death circumstances, we had exercised self preservation.
While it is not my intention to condone bullying or fighting, I am still a firm believer that there are times you have to do whatever it takes to survive.
Fighting over who gets on the bus first?
Not one of them.
Happy Thursday, friends!