When I was in 7th grade, I was standing in the courtyard outside school in downtown Tampa with all the other kids waiting for school to open. My friends and I were bused in from the suburbs about 45 minutes into the inner city. The buses dropped us off early before the class started, so we all had to wait out there in a massive group. Hundreds of us.
I was standing there holding my school bag with books in it. I had a duffel bag style thing, not a backpack. A couple of kids were running around, chasing each other. Just being silly. One of them, a local kid, weaved through the crowd and accidentally kicked my bag. He didn’t see it and it hit his shin pretty hard.
He stopped on a dime, turned to face me, and closed-fist punched me in the jaw. Then he took off running and laughing again with his friends.
A year earlier, I was on the bus on the way home from school. 45 minute ride from Tampa back to the burbs. A tough kid, sort of a rocker kind of guy, was sitting next to me on the bus. I only kind of knew him. Same social circle, but we weren’t friends.
One of us sort of accidentally bumped the other with his elbow. And it was kind of a funny accident. Like the elbow to the ribs “haha that was a funny joke” thing that dorky dads do.
The other retaliated with the same elbow move and laughed. It was funny. It went back and forth like that, harder and harder.
Then instead of elbowing him, I raised my hand and sort of slapped his face. Kids would slap fight all the time. And I thought it would be funny. Because sometimes I’m an idiot.
He stood up and punched me in the face. He pushed me into the aisle. I fell onto my back. He stood over me and started kicking me in the ribs. Over and over. Then his finishing move was, he stomped my face. I was bloody and bruised.
I don’t remember how the fight broke up, but I remember the bus got to my street and I got off with my friends. There was no fight. Just one guy beating up another guy.
And when I got home I looked in the mirror to check out my bloody mouth. There was a crystal clear impression of the tread from his Vans sneakers across my cheekbone. You could even see the “Vans” lettering.
To this day, I’ve never punched someone in the face. Does that make me a pacifist? Or maybe a wimp. Is it unusual? It seems like every guy has been in a real fight at least once in their life.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I want to fight someone. Fighting certainly isn’t smart or right. But I do look back and kind of wish I stood up for myself more. Though I don’t know what good it would have done or what kind of person I would have become.
I guess I turned out okay.