My first week at a new school in the sixth grade, I was a Christian kid who brought his Bible to school every day and would witness to kids at lunch. The only person I’d ever fought was my brother, who adolescence was busily blooming into a star athlete. We weren’t friends but would walk home the mile and half, me following his friends while I’d walk reading books.
My third week a kid I’d never met, an overgrown black kid on a BMX with his friend rode his bike up next to me and said hey bookworm, hey bookworm, you better watch where you’re going. I kept walking until he rode his bike in front of me, slapped the book down and said see? You gotta watch out.
My brother and his friend paused, watching.
I picked my book up, and kept walking. The BMX boy said is that it?
That all you gonna do?
I said I’m just trying to get home, leave me alone.
He said I’ll do what I feel like. His friend laughed.
He said what’s the matter, you don’t want to hit back? You don’t want to do nothing?
I said no, I was a Christian, it wasn’t what I was taught to do.
He said, let me teach you something.
He threw down his bike and pointed to the sky.
Is God up there Bible boy?
I looked up and he swung hard in my face.
My nose exploded as his friend laughed.
The BMX boy said, yeah NOW. What you gonna do NOW?
He threw me on the hill while cars were passing, started punching me in the ribs. I looked through the dirt, saw my brother watching me, seeing what I would do.
I kicked the bully back so hard I heard him wheeze then stood there, horns honking from cars passing us.
The bully said, whatcha gonna do now Bible Boy?
I looked at his outfit, saw the Starter Raiders jacket he was wearing, the ones everyone wore at school. I blew blood hard out my nose on my hands.
I said, I’m going to destroy your jacket. Come here. I wiped the blood on my face like war paint and said come here.
The bully backed away, cursing me.
I heard his friend call him Jimmy, saw them ride away and bled on my hands all the way home. My brother kept scowling at me in silence while the adrenaline made my bones rubber.
When we got home, I washed the blood off my face, went to grab an ice tray from the freezer, but my brother slapped it from my hands, the ice flying across the floor.
“What’s the matter with you?” he screamed. “Ain’t you ever been in a fight before?”
Only with you.
He grabbed me by my throat and slapped me in the face.
“You know why I fight you? Because you don’t hit back, you idiot. You just talk. All that turn a cheek bullshit. But you don’t let ANYONE hit you. Ever. Or I’ll hit you harder.”
I threw him off me, remembered I was a year older, that though he was bigger, still someone had to explain the blood dripping on the kitchen floor.
That was the first day I can remember wondering how to kill someone and get away with it.
That night I packed a brick from our backyard in my backpack.
The next day at school, I picked scabs out of my nose for six periods, circled the quad at lunch until I saw where Jimmy’s locker was. I asked to go to the bathroom in the final period, hit myself hard in the face until it bled then went to the nurse and asked to be let home early. I hid over a hill, watched Jimmy get his backpack and followed him home.
He lived fifteen minutes away from my house, in a house with a leaning porch next to a trailer park.
I watched him laugh on the way, high five his friend goodbye. I waited until dark, hiding behind the garbage cans out back, shadowed by an abandoned house. I took off my sock and wrapped up the brick, practiced a swing on the ground and watched the heavy dent it made in the dirt. I didn’t have anything planned, other than Jimmy walking out and me swinging the brick hard in his face, hard enough to smash his nose, then running home and telling my mom I went to the video arcade.
At around seven pm, a white truck pulled up and a middle aged man in painters’ pants with a lunchbox went inside. He had a six-pack in his other hand. I waited with the brick in my hand for an hour, had to pee in a garbage can. Then I heard screaming and could see a flash of Jimmy in the kitchen window, his father pointing a finger in his face. I saw the father slap him hard, saw Jimmy try to swing back, saw his father pummel Jimmy hard out of sight. A half hour later, Jimmy walked into the backyard, holding a paper towel to his nose. His nose was bleeding worse than mine had.
I walked home, taking only side streets. My mom grounded me for being out past sunset.
The next day the principal walked Jimmy up to me and said someone has some apologizing to do. Jimmy still had dried blood in his nose. The principal said a parent called me and said they saw a fight after school the other day, is that true?
I said no, I didn’t see anything.
Jimmy looked at me with squinted eyes.
I said Jimmy’s a friend of mine, he was just teaching me how to fight.
Jimmy didn’t understand, but he didn’t have to.
I turned my cheek on him, and walked away, the brick still heavy in my backpack.