It was my 7th grade school year – small town America. A logging and farming community born of hard-worn men who said little yet communicated much, and steely-eyed women who did not suffer foolishness.
I was already “farm-strong” by then, though had not yet experienced the growth spurt that would follow a few years later. My face still held the remnants of baby-fat, but my fists were experienced, tested, and though I was a generally quiet sort, all too willing to show themselves when provoked.
I had already been bloodied in battle, and found the taste suited me, a lack of fear that left my mother constantly concerned for my future well-being.
From the outset of that 7th grade year I had an opposing force that arrived in the form of a student named Matt. He was a behemoth of a boy, an over-sized, curly-haired mutant with myopic eyes that hid behind a pair of comically thick-rimmed glasses that made him appear like a puffy owl with bad acne.
He was a full head taller than me, and likely a good fifty pounds heavier. And he enjoyed throwing that ample weight around, pushing, shoving, laughing…a near-constant cycle of boorish behavior.
We conflicted right off, he and I.
I despised how he used his size and girth to intimidate those weaker than him, and my eyes made clear my disapproval.
He would constantly challenge my unspoken rebuke, urging me to do something about it.
One day during recess I found him repeatedly tripping a boy who had a slight stutter. His name was Mike, a poor wisp of hand-me-down clothes and often unkempt hair. Matt would laugh, push, trip and then repeat the cycle while poor Mike attempted to scurry away.
I strode up behind the curly-haired freak and delivered a hard shove to his back and told him to knock it off. He turned and stared down at me and then shoved back with both hands, nearly knocking me off my feet. Matt’s laugh was both confident and contemptuous. He attempted to shove me again but I sidestepped his slow, awkward approach. My fists were clenched and I considered unleashing them, but across the school yard I saw one of the women called “yard duties” (a name I now chuckle at given the prison yard connotation) who appeared to be watching what Matt and I were up to.
Matt took that brief moment of my distraction to grab my left arm and swing me in a circle, delivering the side of my head into one of the steel poles that ran the entirety of the aluminum walkway roof that overlooked the playground area. My vision detonated in various colors of alternating light and dark and I staggered a few feet with rapidly blinking eyes, unable to see the ground right in front of me. It took several seconds for my vision to return, and when it did, there was Matt looming over me, smirking, and daring me to push him again with acrid breath that washed over my face.
I declined the offer, and over the course of the next two days, suffered continued bouts of blurred vision and headaches. I didn’t know the term then, but in hindsight, it is likely I had suffered some form of concussion.
My people are noted for especially hard heads, though, so life went on, as did my disdain for Matt and his bullying ways. There would be an eventual accounting for his repeated evil deeds, of that I was certain.
Some weeks later, that accounting finally arrived, unplanned, unspoken, and yet by its conclusion, without question understood completely by Matt.
It took place in the boys’ bathroom. I arrived there out of class via a hall pass to take a leak, and upon opening the door, there was Matt, the bottom of his ample belly resting against the sink as he stared at himself in the mirror. He turned and looked at me. There must have been something in my own stare that let him know of the storm about to be unleashed, because his eyes widened and his mouth fell partly open.
Without saying a word, I charged, slamming what little weight I had into him with a lowered right shoulder. Matt fell back against the wall and then tried to push me off with an odd grunt that reminded me of the noise my guinea pig used to sometimes make when it was excited. When the attempted shove was delivered, I used the much larger boy’s momentum against him, causing his body to fall forward in an off-balance lurch. My right fist delivered a quick uppercut which was immediately followed by a left hook to Matt’s right ear. Getting popped on the ear hurts. I knew that well, having suffered it myself.
Matt threw a slow right roundhouse that missed badly and then he cried out he didn’t want to fight. I ignored his plea. By then my adrenaline was up and when I reached that point, there was no turning back. Two quick left jabs later and Matt was backing up against the wall with his hands fluttering in front of his face. I took that moment to wail away at the mass of fat that was his jiggling gut – right hand, left hand, right hand, left.
He finally revisited some semblance of courage and with a great roar, grabbed me by the front of my shirt and pushed me back all the way across the bathroom until I slammed against the opposite wall. Though my shoulders would hurt later, I felt nothing at the time, a quality I’ve found is quite useful when engaged in combat. If you can’t feel pain, you don’t fear pain, and that can give one a considerable advantage.
I knew by then that despite his great size, Bully Matt feared pain.
I remember gritting my teeth as I looked up and saw the black abyss that was the opening of his nostrils and then striking upward with the bottom of my right palm and being rewarded with the meaty-wet smack of soft cartilage. Matt stepped back with both his hands covering his already badly bleeding nose as tears streamed down across his pimple-red, quivering cheeks.
He looked confused, horrified, and most rewarding of all, terrified that I wouldn’t stop.
I did stop, though, for to continue then would have made me the bully.
I still had not said a single word and that silence remained. Instead, I simply opened the door and returned to class. (only to discover minutes later I had forgotten to use the bathroom and thus, had to suffer some thirty minutes of having to hold it until class ended.)
Later that evening during dinner as I devoured a slice of white bread lathered in butter, I noticed my mom glancing at my scuffed-skin hands.
She didn’t ask why they were that way.
She already knew.
Mothers almost always know, don’t they?
D.W. Ulsterman is a bestselling, award-winning author and socio-political commentator.
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