Sunday, January 16, 2011

In which I punch a neighbor in the nose and she gives me a black eye

My dad was not a violent man. He was not quick to anger. I never saw him get in a fight or a major argument, although my brother surely tried his temper more than once. There was that time - but my brother ended up in the Corps at A&M and nothing more was said about it.

My dad was quite fond of political debate, though, and argued, via my daily messenger service between the two, with my seventh-grade Texas history teacher, Mr Wilson, he of the short-sleeved doubleknit polyester jumpsuits in many colors, about whether one votes for the party (Mr Wilson) or the man (my dad, a GDI).

Mr Wilson tried to convince us seventh graders that we should affiliate ourselves with a party for that was the path to political power, but the only power I wanted as a junior high student was the power to transform myself into a popular girl, an event as likely to come to pass as the sun falling from the sky. And yet I dreamed.

I needed something to pass the time in class, because it was sooo boring. I realize now that it was Mr Wilson's droning voice that made the battle of San Jacinto and Santa Ana making his escape in an enlisted man's uniform and how Texas retained the right to divide into five states seen dull rather than the actual content, for as anyone who has read a drop of Texas history knows, it is not dull at all. And now that I have read the grown-up versions of things, with the Tennessee ne'er do wells hightailing it to Texas, it is even more intriguing.

Along with Mr Wilson's political views, I also took home to my dad my whining that history was boring, an accusation that diminished Mr Wilson even further in my dad's eyes. My dad, who had been a Russian history major, was appalled that Mr Wilson was making history tedious. Texas history! Boring! Only the worst of the worst of teachers could make Texas history dull.

Yet even with all of that, my dad never found it necessary to hit Mr Wilson.

I, however, had found around then that a judicious punch in the nose is the appropriate solution in some cases. Sometimes, war is the answer and anyone who thinks it is not is perfectly happy to rest on the blood of soldiers without acknowledging the rightness of their cause. Do you really want to be an English colony still? Do you really want the South to be a separate, slave-holding nation?

I have not punched anyone for decades, but the times I did, I do not regret. It wasn't necessary to stop a genocide or to protect my property, but it did feel good. Yes. Punching someone in the nose can feel good. As long as you are not punched back. That's the key. Hit first and then get away.

The first time I punched someone in the nose, I got in my shot and it was over. In retrospect, I didn't need to hit this girl and I probably shouldn't have, but at the time, it seemed like a good idea.

My best friend Lisa and I were maybe ten. Our families had gone out for pizza. Lisa and I were through eating, so we went outside to run up and down the sidewalk. Holding hands. For that is what little girls do with their best friends: they hold hands. There is nothing sexual about it and even if there were, so what? So the heck what? She was my best friend. We held hands. So there.

Some older girls saw us and started name calling. They called us "fags," which was a word that meant nothing to me as the concept of homosexuality had not yet entered my life. I will bet they didn't know what it meant, either.

Back then, kids didn't have to learn about condoms and venereal disease and alternative lifestyles in fourth grade. We did learn about the biology of it, even in Catholic school, where we had the movie about the fallopian tubes and the vas deferens and menstruation, but there were no how-to diagrams, which left me baffled as to the mechanics of sex for a very long time, as the only live penis I had seen was my younger brother's and it was in a resting state, if you know what I mean, so how anything was supposed to get from Part A to Part B was a mystery. The idea that two Part As or two Part Bs might somehow get together was unimaginable.

Yet I knew just from the way they were saying "fag" that it was not a compliment.

Lisa and I stopped in front of the name callers.

"If you don't stop saying that, I'm going to punch you in the nose," I said. (Advice: if you are ever in a real fight where you are truly threatened, don't tell the person you are going to hit him. Just hit him -in the crotch - no point in playing fair with someone who means you harm - and run.)

The one girl bent over so her face was right in front of mine, then very slowly and deliberately said, "Fag."

So I punched her in the nose. And made her cry.

It felt good. But it was completely unnecessary. Better to walk away from that kind of situation than to hit someone. Still, I'll bet she thought twice before she name called again.

The next time I hit someone, it wasn't necessary, either. But it still felt good. That's the problem with hitting: it's so satisfying when done right.

We lived in a cul-du-sac in Lubbock. Nice neighbors all around us. G-mother and Alan next door, our adoptive grandparents with the candy drawer and the TV. We were not supposed to watch TV over there, despite G-mother's repeated invitations. My parents did not have a television not because we could not afford it. "Are you poor?" would be the horrified response to learning of our TV-less state, as nobody could imagine any possible reason for someone who could afford it not to have a TV.

We didn't have a TV because my parents didn't want us to waste time watching when there were soccer games to be played and books to be read. When we were visiting my grandparents, we got to watch Wild Kingdom and Walt Disney, but as soon as Sonny and Cher came on, the TV was either turned off or we were sent out of the room.

When I was in eighth grade, my parents bought a TV that only rarely was turned on. We were allowed to watch Happy Days, which my parents liked, especially my dad, as he had gone to college in Milwaukee. My mom and dad watched Mary Hartman Mary Hartman after we had gone to bed.

This TV deprivation led me to some bad decisions as a college student and as an adult, when I would watch complete trash, just because of my earlier deprivation. At the same time, I was not getting drunk every weekend (or at all) as a college student because if I ever wanted a taste of my dad's beer, he would let me have some. TV, not alcohol, was the forbidden fruit at my house.

The moral of this story is that you should let your kids have a little bit of everything so that they don't go crazy when they are on their own.

Back to our cul-de-sac. Next to G-mother and Alan was a family with three little girls. Then there was Renee's family. Renee was a teenager who wore halter tops, bell bottoms, and blue eyshadow and was an object of awe to us all. She smoked. She had a boyfriend. Who had a car.

And that's where the conflict was.

Renee's boyfriend liked to drive really fast in our little cul-de-sac. The cul-de-sac with the three little girls who played in their yard. With my sister, who was in third grade - not a big kid - who also played in the yard. And my brother and his friend Lynn, who played in the yard.

My dad asked Renee's boyfriend to slow down. There are kids here, he said. They play. The run into the street without looking. You could hurt someone.

The boyfriend did not slow down.

The next time Boyfriend was spinning his wheels in the cul-de-sac, my dad called the police. Who came, gave Boyfriend a talking to or a ticket or whatever.

Renee was not happy about this.

One day, I was out playing in the yard when Renee was out. She started talking smack about my dad and I said you better shut up or I'm going to punch you in the nose and she didn't so I hit her and she hit me back and gave me a black eye.

See? I broke my own rule. Hit, then run so you don't get hit back.

Although in a situation where the hitters are known to each other and one hits and the other does not get to retaliate, there is an hit undelivered just waiting to happen. If I had hit Renee and then run before she could hit me and restore the natural order of the universe, who knows what horror would have awaited? I would have had to check my bike for a bomb every morning before setting off for school. Maybe it was better that we hit each other and got it over with.

I have not been in a fight since. Not a punching one, that is. I have had simmering resentments with female co-workers that might have been better resolved with a quick slap or two rather than with smiles to the face and daggers to the back for months on end and yes, I am talking to you, SG, who tried to connect with me on LinkedIn last week. Did you think I would have forgotten how you tried to undermine me for so long? Well I didn't.

Renee and I did not fight again. My mother witnessed the whole thing and documented my black eye with her camera.

We're weird like that.

She took the photo after whispering to me fiercely, "I'm glad you hit her."

Which wasn't exactly the endorsement of passive resistance one would expect from a parent, but there you go. The warrior gene in my family came from my mom.

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