When I was in 7th grade, I had my first fight. Kids were always acting up at school. We grew up in families that were struggling. Maybe they didn’t have enough time for us, or didn’t care enough and so some of the kids were carrying around repressed rage.
There was this one girl always picking on someone. She was a small one, short with a tiny frame, long dark brown hair. She wore contacts to give the illusion of light blue eyes. She was fun to be around, but she had a big mouth on her. And she was ready to let you have it if you pissed her off.
She was always getting into a fight, especially in the cafeteria. It felt like a rite of passage to have an argument with her at some point throughout the school year. Girls and boys, didn’t matter. Although she would puff out her chest more if she was fighting a guy, just to prove how tough she was. Everyone would crowd around, hollering and yelling until the teachers broke it off, and then we’d go back to poking at our mystery meat congealing on the tray.
I considered her a friend. I went to her house once with another close friend of mine. She didn’t live in a good neighborhood. I was a little nervous about entering the projects because of what other people would say about them. I remember when I went inside her apartment, it was decorated really nice and neat. We’d seen the movie The Craft and decided to do our own seance. It was pretend fun. We didn’t expect anything out of it, but playing with the Ouija board and tucking our fingers under a pillow, chanting “Light as a feather, stiff as a board” made us feel cool.
At some point I started having issues with her. I forget what it was about. She might have just run out of people to pick on and set her eyes on me. I was a serious child. I wasn’t very rowdy, a little shy, but I was friendly enough to have friends. I preferred to read more than talk to people, it was my favorite pastime.
I remember the look on my English teachers face when she asked me if I liked to read often and I said yes. I admitted to taking my mother’s Oprah book club recommendations from the bookshelf and reading ferociously. At the time I was reading “She’s Come Undone” by Wally Lamb. The teacher was very surprised. I wasn’t sure I understood the context of everything I was reading, but I loved words and large intimidating books made me swoon. Maybe this made me “weirder” than the other kids, but it never bothered me.
The girl declared she wanted to beat me up. She accused me of being a “witch”. (Hmm girl.. well remember that time we were at your apartment ..). It was like something out of a bad teen movie. It didn’t help at the time but the class was reading “The Crucible”. I think the concept may have gone to her head, a male student pointed out. I wasn’t sure when this fight would happen, but I was assuming it would be real soon.
I came home and told my mom, because I wasn’t sure what else to do. My mother walked around with the burden of the world on her shoulders and wasn’t the affectionate type, but I was still curious about what she thought of the situation. She told me to fight. Anything else was out of the question. And to take it one step further, the next morning she dressed me the part. Denim overalls, t-shirt, timberland boots, and hair pulled back in a tight military bun. She told me to take off my jewelry, which I was grateful for. It was during a time when everyone’s name was on every piece of jewelry they owned and it was better if it was in gold, made you look like somebody fancy. I never liked the trend and the ring fit big on me (I had to wear a ring-guard which made it extra bulky on my tiny finger). But I wasn’t about to tell my mother, before she knocked me upside the head and accused me of being unappreciative. She wasn’t about to chance something breaking on me or getting lost during the fight.
I didn’t tell any of the teachers because there was a small hope that this fight wasn’t going to happen. My biggest fear was looking like a wuss in front of my mom. As I headed out of school, I told my friends that maybe everyone forgot about it. When I walked up the hill heading towards my block, it looked like half of the school was waiting around. Some of them started cheering when they saw me, while others were whispering “Is she one of the girls fighting?”
I felt like a fraud. This wasn’t me. But if I walked away, I knew I could never live it down.
The girl showed up a few minutes after I did. No one was surprised that she was fighting. She had fought one of my best friends too (the girl that accompanied me to her house) just the previous week. It was an isolated fight, only the three of us. My friend was an awkward fighter, but she had more weight on her than I did and could have used it to her advantage, but she didn’t. I think she just used her nails like a spastic kitty cat. So I figured if she lost, how would I prevail?
I wasn’t sure how the fight would start. Do you get into each other’s faces and start screaming random insults?
I saw another one of my friends standing by, right in front. She gave me a slight nod. I don’t remember who pushed who, but all of a sudden both of us were on the floor. I don’t believe I was consciously aware of how I was fighting, but the whole time I kept saying to myself “just don’t fight like a girl”. I allowed the rage to flow through me. Instinct set in and I felt as though I was outside of my body, unaware of how much time had passed.
Eventually we were pulled off of each other by adults and I realized my clothing looked scuffed up, but otherwise no obvious damage. As for the girl, her face was beet red and she had tears streaming out of her eyes. I stared at her in disbelief. This hysterical person standing right in front of me was a result of my own two hands.
I quickly grabbed my backpack and started heading home, as some of the students followed me, patting me on the back. They told me I kept slamming the girl’s head into the ground and hit her repeatedly. They gave me a play by play, like it was a professional match. The friend waiting on the sidelines had also grabbed the girl’s hair and scratched up her back, which may have twisted the luck in my favor while I was swinging and flaying my limbs, completely oblivious to the help.
I never had a plan. I had been bullied before in school and made me really depressed, but it never resulted in an actual fist fight. I realized that maybe I was carrying around that repressed rage too. I walked home with my head held a little higher when my mother looked at me and asked what happened and I told her.. I guess I won. She smirked. My mother had a talk with the girl’s mother (who didn’t seem surprised that her daughter was acting out again). She didn’t show up to school for two weeks.
I was relieved when my mother was already preparing to move the family to another area during this time and it would require me to change schools. Since every area was assigned to a school district, I didn’t have many options. My mother was going to put me into an all girls catholic school, which I didn’t mind. I was reviewing the packet of questions in preparation for some kind of entrance exam, but once my mother was told she would need to pay out of pocket, the dream was gone. My secondary option was another middle school in the area. My teachers weren’t too keen on me going there. They told my mother the school was known for “problem students” and I might not get much out of it. But we had no choice.
I was concerned. I thought maybe this was my payback. I beat one girl up and now I would get beat up on a regular basis. The classroom I was assigned to didn’t have a permanent teacher. Only substitutes, some lasting longer than others. It was far from Dangerous Minds. The students were disruptive, impressionable, but we were still young kids. The school was understaffed and classrooms were not properly structured.
We received a bomb threat sometime that year and were told to evacuate the premises. I was told it was a regular threat, but they had to take it seriously each time. Not sure of how true it was. I think I ended up wandering home, since the school was nearby. I didn’t want to chance getting blown up when I could easily walk home and hide under the covers. I remember playing around with a group of kids in the classroom and we found Jerry Springer’s show to be hilarious. So we acted it out, another girl and I pretending to bitch slap each other over a guy, laughing the whole time. The class was being monitored, but some classes didn’t have prepared lessons. I can’t remember much of anything I learned during that year, with the exception of discovering the definition of minute as in extremely small, rather than time. I was excited by this, learning new words, but I sure wasn’t going to tell anybody that.
I knew that fight had changed me. I came out of my shell. Any awkward kids wouldn’t last long walking through those halls and I wasn’t about to let myself become a target. But I also tried to fit in with some of the crowd because it seemed like the best way to be. I still had a lot to learn.
Walking through memory lane. I overheard some teens cussing on the train and talking about jumping someone that pissed them off. Sigh. Just got me thinking.
I don’t condone fighting. I can’t even imagine what kids must go through now with social media and cellphones. In the end, they are going to do what they think they need to do, what’s expected of them. That’s the sad truth.