Perhaps it’s my redneck upbringing, but fist fighting has always came natural to me. Most people will resort to physical violence only as a last resort. Today, I harbor that same inclination. I must admit, however, that there is a deep rooted primal instinct that I’ve learned to suppress over the years that occasionally rears its ugly head. The stresses of modern day life, parenthood of a teenager, and a job that forces me to deal with irrational egomaniacs makes me at times wish I could clear the room with a mattock handle.
Some of my first life lessons from my dad were about standing your ground. Dad would tell me to never start a fight, but never EVER walk away from one. Friends and other relatives weren’t nearly as diplomatic with their reasoning. The message from beyond the parental direction was more direct….. “Don’t take NO shit from NOBODY!”
The advice seemed to be adequate, but putting it to the test was a far more challenging undertaking. I was forced to finally take my part in the sixth grade on the playground. Pat Daugherty, who really wasn’t a bully, for some reason thought I was being too rough while playing touch football. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact I hit him with a full cross-body block with no pads in a TOUCH game. Pat came off the ground and without hesitation belted me across the mouth. Blood protruded down my chin and onto a yellow shirt my mother had insisted I wear. I probably should have thanked Pat for the stain that ruined the shirt from any future humiliation wear, but at the moment a thousand pieces of advice from my brief childhood were being processed in my 11-year-old mind. Those pressures were interspersed with brief, but sharp throngs of pain from my frayed lip. Amid all this, a crowd was gathering, as grade school kids are wont to do. The scent or sight of blood has the same effect on a band of sixth grade boys as it would on a school of sharks, they were thirsty for more.
I lay on the ground not realizing the gravity of the moment. In retrospect, that moment in the dirt with Pat standing over me, fists clinched, would set the stage for many years to come. My future hinged on the decision at that moment. I chose poorly.
As I attempted to stand, Pat kicked me like a football set for a field goal square in the face. Now I had a nose to match my blood soaked and muddied mouth. Perhaps there was brain damage added, because involuntary body functions took over and I started to well with tears from the pain. The first sign of moist eyes on the battlefield of childhood are the signal of the end—as the humiliation of 15 laughing onlookers forced the unleashing of the tidal wave. Yes I was down, I was crying, and I was beaten.
Word spread rapidly about the demise of my reputation and with each passing of the story, the legend of the big baby continued to grow. For years the reputation followed me with great ridicule. Whispers in the back of a classroom to outright public humiliation and shout downs became my cross to bear. During those years however, I developed a steel resolve. I realized what my dad had been gently telling me and what other family members had been more forthright about. If I was ever to shirk the reputation of being a big pussy, I must stand up and make it happen.
I was now in the 9th grade. I was a football player and could manhandle people on the field, but off the field I remained a fumbling lummox in the area of self-defense. The gridiron glory wasn’t enough to compensate for the off-the-field pacifism. The breaking point came one Friday morning in 1982 at the gymnasium end of the first floor hallway of Powell Valley High School. It was on that spot that I decided I would rather be John Wayne than Richard Simmons.
A jackass named Earl Bently was one of those who took great pleasure in poking fun at all of my inadequacies. Not that he wasn’t without a few of his own. He was a full-foot shorter than me, fat, and probably an inbred from the hills for all I knew. He would constantly bust my balls about everything from my looks to my accent. I hated him. He used me as a stepping stone to boost his rating with “the crowd” who often played off his insulting rants and made the pain worse. I stood numb as he busted on me with an unrelenting fury of painful darts—until the crowning moment when he dredged up the sixth grade Pat Daugherty tearjerker. The line was crossed and something snapped.
I grabbed Earl by the collar, lifted him from the floor, and began a full speed sprint toward the wall. Now a wall would have been a gentle backstop for Earl who was too shocked that I’d done anything at all to react. What awaited his abrupt halt at the end of this rush was the glass covering of a trophy case. This was 1982, the days before plexi-glass, and the windowed cabinet shattered into a thousand pieces with just under a dozen of them slicing through Earl’s back. He fell to the floor in a heap. I was dazed and confused, but three years of painful humiliation was regurgitating much like a mixture of bad Mexican and dark beer. All of my pain and suffering for three tortured years was pouring onto Earl’s face. I pounded him with my right fist while my left hand held a death grip on his throat. My knees pinned his shoulders to the floor as I straddled him and brought down more hell than any one human should be allowed to endure.
I have no idea how long this went on. There is a period of time that is blank. I remember pounding Earl’s face and the next thing I recall was being dragged down the hall by the Assistant Principal who was also a football coach. I remember the stunned look on the faces of classmates who had ghastly stares of amazement as if they couldn’t believe what they had just seen. Some were sympathetic to Earl who lay in a bloody heap amid the glass on the granite floor. Screw him! Screw all of you assholes! I thought to myself.
The Earl Bently incident cost me ten-days in the brig, but I was free. I had never felt such euphoria. A weight was lifted from my shoulders as I expunged the Pat Daugherty incident from my record forever. I can now look back on the Pat and Earl incidents as two key days in my life when radical turns were made in the road. I treasure both memories. The Earl incident was only the beginning of a journey toward the other extreme which was equally disturbing.###
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