People say that hindsight is 20/20; it is only after looking back at an event that we fully understand what happened and why it happened. However, there are many events in our lives that, even when we go over them repeatedly in our heads, we never fully comprehend their full effect on the way we think and feel. At the same time, we feel that an indelible mark on our identities, and recognize that they would be in our minds forever. For me, this is no less true than the first time I was beaten up at school.
It was eighth grade; at the time, I was still just a scrawny, pale child of 13, with shaggy brown hair that I never cut and cargo pants I never changed out of, because jeans were just not cool enough. I had a terrible self image about myself as a child, but I was oblivious to it at the time – all of these rebellious quirks I possessed were a security blanket by which I avoided “fitting in,” because I wanted to stand out. All the same, I was actually highly sensitive to the way my classmates looked at me; I was made fun of and ridiculed constantly for being socially awkward, never wanting to participate in school events, and being reticent to make friends. I never replied to these taunts, just keeping my head down and letting them laugh. I had hoped that this would fend them off successfully, my lack of response boring them to the point where it would lose interest for them. However, this only egged them on further. I never knew to what extent they would go, until the last day of eighth grade.
I was at my locker, putting away my books from the previous period and dragging out my absurdly heavy biology textbook for the final class. I was then greeted by Bill, one of the larger kids in my class. He was also older, having been held back once already, and was therefore further along on the puberty chain than me. He was no football player (he already had a substantial paunch on his belly), but he was still a big guy, and he liked to throw his weight around to make himself feel like a man. I had fallen victim to his taunts before, and they cut just as deep every time they fell on my ears.
“Stupid kid,” he would say.
“You’ll break your back carrying all those books, nerd,” he would say.
“Come here and get your butt- kicking,” he would say.
While Bill would eventually experience karmic justice for his treatment of myself and others in the form of crushing failure, illegitimate children, welfare and even some jail time, he was the king of the students, throwing his considerable weight around and getting people to do his bidding. At this moment, he wanted his jester to entertain him.
“Hey, getting ready for rocket science class?” Bill would say behind my shoulder. His remarks were far from intelligent, but I could smell the bile behind them. Not only that, I could smell the beer on his breath, which he presumably stole from his alcoholic father and drank that morning. What a man Bill was.
I attempted to brush it off, thinking nothing of it. It’s just Bill being Bill, I would think to myself. Don’t let it get to you. It’s the last day of class, you can get through it. I struggled to put my biology textbook in my backpack, Bill sneering behind me, emitting an aura of body odor and Milwaukee’s Best. It was clear he was not going to let me past.
I have no idea what compelled me to do this, but I, for the first time ever, turned around and faced Bill, looking him straight in the eye. Bill attempted to maintain his composure, but there was a small flicker in his eye that told me my latest move surprised him. Nonetheless, he was committed to taunting me.
“What’s the matter? Too chicken to stand up for yourself on the last day of school?” Bill said. I still hadn’t said a word to him; I was still too astonished that I had stood up to him in the first place. My mind was frozen; I had no idea what I was doing at the moment, operating totally on some instinct that was foreign to me. I could feel my free hand balling up into a fist, the other clutching my textbook with all its might. A bead of sweat rolled down my brow, and I said something to Bill.
To this day, I don’t even remember what it was; I felt my lips move, air escape my lungs and vibrate my vocal chords, but the actual content eludes me even now. The only indicator as to what I said to Bill was his response, which was to punch me squarely in the jaw, sending me down to one knee. Every synapse was firing, and I felt as though I were watching my life unfold as a movie, without any sense of control or really being there. All of my senses felt far away, unreachable, and my body was running on autopilot. Any sense of reason and restraint was gone – I know this because, in a move very much unlike me, I swung my heavy biology textbook upwards, hitting Bill between his legs, sending him doubling over.
With this last act of defiance, I snapped back to reality and realized what I had done. Thankfully, Mr. Sullivan, my bio teacher, had stepped between us, as Bill was getting up to strike me once more. I still sat on my haunches, frozen, only then feeling the throbbing pain in my jaw pulse to life. They quickly separated us, and within minutes I was waiting for my father to pick me up and take me home.
I have no idea what truly happened to me that day. Maybe instinct took over and I was sick of all the taunting. I am not a violent person; to this day, that was the only time I have ever laid a hand on another person. However, even with hindsight, I am still not sure what caused that outburst. I may never know why it happened, just that it happened to me.