Thursday, January 12, 2012

In which I punch a neighbor in the nose and my mom is glad I did it

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.

He was quite fond of political debate, though, and argued, via my daily message service between them, with my seventh-grade Texas history teacher, Mr Wilson, he of the 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 with Farrah Fawcett hair, gauchos and a wraparound sweater, an event as likely to come to pass as the sun falling from the sky. And yet I dreamed.

I wondered why history was sooo boring, although Mr Wilson's drone as he talked about the battle of San Jacinto or about Santa Ana making his escape in an enlisted man's uniform or how Texas retained the right to divide into five states might have had more to do with the dreariness of it all than with the subject matter, which, now that I have read a lot of Texas history on my own, is not dull at all.

More than politics, the main complaint that my dad, a Russian history major, had with Mr Wilson, was that he (Mr Wilson) was making history seem boring. Texas history! Boring! Only the worst of the worst of teachers could make Texas history seem boring.

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

My dad did, however, teach me to fight. "Don't put your thumb inside your fist," he counseled. "You don't want to break it." He was a practical man. He showed by example that not punching other people is the better way to go, but he also understood that sometimes, a punch might be called for.

And indeed, I have found a judicious punch in the nose the appropriate solution in a few cases. Sometimes, war is the answer and anyone who thinks it is not is a hypocrite who is perfectly happy to rest on the blood of soldiers without acknowledging the necessity of their methods. Do you really want to still be an English colony? Do you really want the South to be a separate, slave-holding nation? Do you think Hitler should have been allowed to take over Europe and murder all the Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals?

I have not punched anyone for decades, but most of 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. It was not necessary. I didn't need to hit this girl and in retrospect, 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.

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 been introduced to me. I knew all about fallopian tubes and vas deferens, thanks to the Time Life sex education books my parents had bought when I was in second grade, but the actual mechanics of sex eluded me and the idea that there might be so many variations was not on the horizon. I didn't know what a fag was and I will bet they didn't know what it meant, either.

I was ten. Back then, kids didn't have to learn about condoms and venereal disease and alternative lifestyles in fourth grade.

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

We 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 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.

Yeah, it felt good. But yeah, 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, even though I didn't get away with it. 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, our adoptive grandparents with the candy drawer and the TV next door. We were not supposed to watch TV over there. The reason my parents did not have a television was not because we were poor, which is what everyone would ask when they found out. "Are you poor?" would be the horrified response, as nobody could imagine any possible reason for someone who could afford it not to have a TV.

Even though Primo maintains my family was poor because we ate out only about once a year and didn't go on flying vacations or to Disney World, which is crazy because in the mid-70s, only rich people did that sort of thing, we didn't have a TV because my parents didn't want us to waste time watching it 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. It was rarely 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 would watch Mary Hartman Mary Hartman after we had gone to bed.

We had it for one year, then we moved to Central America. No point in having a TV when you live in a place with nice weather year round and the ocean a few minutes away.

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 TV hardships. 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. (This was a long time ago when children actually played outside. I miss those days. There are kids in my neighborhood, but I almost never hear them because after school, they go to after school care instead of going home and playing outside.) With my sister, who was in third grade - not a big kid - who also played in the yard.

My dad asked Renee's boyfriend to slow down. "There are kids here," my dad said. "You need to be careful."

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.

I was out playing in the yard (because even seventh graders played in the yard back then) when Renee was out one day. We started talking and she started talking smack about my dad calling the cops on her boyfriend 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.

Of which my mother has a photo. That she took after whispering, "I'm glad you hit her."

I was, too.