Saturday, June 11, 2011

Early Violence

I don't know how I got into this.  M. and I circle each other on the blacktop playground at Saint Andrew's.  I’m not a fighter.  If this situation were to ever come up again first I’d verbalize frantically.  Then run.  Were I only clever enough to have launched a sarcastic rejoinder, skewering M. with my own brand of cerebral brutality!  (Years later I'd nerdily learn that the word “sarcasm” comes from the Greek sarkasmos, after sarkazein: to tear flesh like dogs.  Take that!)  Here I am, ears buzzing, forced into acting at center stage, the world tilting violently toward me.   


His mom had soft red hair like my mom’s.  We traded baseball cards on his living room floor once, and leaned together under the basketball hoops.  Later, in high school, M. became a body-builder and a good-looking jock who carried around a show-off photo of his blonde girlfriend.  She wore a tiny pink bikini, amply-filled: the kind of existential, undeniable fact that soured so many of us on our cafeteria coke and pizza.  We circle, we spin, we charge.  The language sounds aggressive and confident.  What really happened was small, pathetic.  I didn’t want to fight; I don’t know if M. wanted to.  He was teased a lot before he bulked up; maybe fighting was as involuntary for him as waking. 


A giant Biblical movie, a history-of-the-world in Cinemascope glory pinched down to the size of our TV set.  My feet dangle over the edge of the couch.  Something cataclysmic occurs and I feel weirdly that this is the reason I'm sitting on the couch with my family.  There on the screen: a wide vista, a long plain split violently down the middle, a mile-long rend sending tremors for miles, hundreds of men, women, and children slip into the widening chasm, clinging desperately to the red earth intent on randomly sucking them inside.  Screams of anguish and I’m sitting breathlessly on the edge of the couch, wide-eyed.  I mutter Wow, cool, and my mom leans forward and slaps me hard on my thigh, hushing me, fixing me with a shame-inducing gaze.  My heart beats up red into my ears.


J. pulls me out toward the circle of onlookers, rubbing my shoulders, a bantam Burgess Meredith: Fake like you’ll hit him in the stomach then hit him in the face.  The words sound ridiculous, a nightmare on opening night when I've forgotten to learn my lines; eying M. out of the corner of my eye I feel like a badly miscast actor.  J.'s face near and enthusiastic: It’ll work!  Pushed back unwillingly, I gamely try his coacherly advice.  All I do is hurt my fist and feel stupid.  This fight was my first clue that insincerity breeds self-loathing.  Two phonies.  The cries buzz in our ears.  Our hearts fight their own quarrels in our tiny chests. We circle, our charging becoming less and less assertive as the minutes pass.  I'm sweating terribly, and feel miserable that in addition to having to fight I have to stupidly endure Social Studies with wet clothes and hair.  An early lesson in cliché: literally this fight was saved by the bell.  I don’t remember the rest of the day, or anything I might've said to anyone.  We landed few punches.  Our hearts weren't in it. 

"Abstract image of a face on a man's clenched fist" via Science Photo Library

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