here’s this fist. It’s a large and tight fist, its coordinates locked onto a spot just below my right eye. Unmolested, this meaty projectile is about to provoke a synaptic chain reaction that will decorate my face with bright and shiny pain. The ridge of my nose tingles in anticipation, as do the point of my right cheek and the lower crescent of my eye socket. Thankfully, this impending payload is still cocked. Once deployed, however, its arc should be both deliberate and insidious. Based on proximity and time, my only recourse will be to duck or run or toss up some feeble attempt at blocking.
Like most boys, I have daydreamed rescuing distressed damsels or even the fate of the civilized world. But the reality is that I’m probably a better lover than a fighter. And there’s a good chance I suck at both.
The fist is still there, looming ever larger. A collision is imminent. Pain will follow.
Some backstory may help. What I understood at the time of the fist was that Daniel Jordan hated me. However, I was not yet privy to how or why I had become the target of his ire.
I would later learn that he liked Michelle Bobbit and that Michelle Bobbit liked me. The timing of this eventual knowledge was not ideal. Had I known, I might have somehow finagled a taste of Michelle Bobbit’s mind-debilitating watermelon lip gloss before Daniel Jordan tried to enforce the death penalty.
They say your heartbeat pounds in your ears when under duress. I always thought they were being melodramatic.
Tears have pooled in Daniel Jordan’s eyes. This is every bit as surreal as the fact that I have been dragged into an actual fight with an actual bully. It feels like a cheesy after school movie, sans soundtrack and morals. The skin around my cheekbone starts to twitch. My world has shrunk, somehow both humid and freezing. And it smells of pencil lead and chalk dust, peanut butter and fear.
Many (many) moons ago, my parents sent me to this icky church camp where I gained a much greater appreciation for Moses. He was the guy that was forced into several awkward situations despite his obvious learning disability, only to be shown an actual land of milk and honey, and then refused entry. My promised land included large grassy fields, elaborate metal playthings, forests with trails and streams, and an entire squadron of really cute girls. But my counselor was bent on winning awards for learning the most memory verses and having the cleanest cabin. So while other children romped and screamed and gorged themselves on pizza and popcorn, my roommates and I adjourned to the woods to recite verses.
Reprieve appeared in the form of an elective self-defense seminar where I learned how to make a proper fist as well as how to deliver a blow without breaking my own fingers or snapping my puny wrist. In moments of abject boredom I would practice these techniques, never imagining they might actually be of use.
My comrades and I did, in fact, “win” those awards. Photographic evidence resides in a shoebox under a bed in the house I grew up in. It shows six forlorn campers and one rapturous counselor holding our second-place ribbons aloft.
Daniel seems both larger and smaller than normal. One of those dangerous tears has spilled, smearing his pink cheek. The knuckles of his right hand are poised, quivering, awaiting the command.
The crowd thickens, despite the fact that the final bell’s warning for all children to nestle into their desks. Should I indeed survive, this all needs to look self-defense, so I back myself against a block wall and scan the assembled faces for allies.
I risk a glance down the length of my arm. Then I curl the fingers of my right hand one at a time, forming the tightest possible ball. I check to see if Daniel is still there, still hating me. He is and he does. I inspect my wrist, making sure it’s perfectly straight to avoid splintering my still-growing bones.
Daniel blinks, then lifts his right foot ever so slightly, about to really step into it. Before I can form another conscious thought, my brain fires off a launch sequence of its own.
My left shoulder dips as my right rotates. I step into this new destiny, gathering force from my feet, up through my thighs and back and shoulders. A millisecond later, Daniel’s fist unhinges as well. Now it’s just a matter of which will land first.
The principal called my mother at work later that afternoon to report that her son was serving a one-day, in-school suspension. My mother said, and I quote, “I’m sorry, you dialed the wrong number.” Even she didn’t believe I had it in me.
My fist did indeed land first. And second. Daniel never got to hit back because God delivered this humble servant by dispatching an overly muscled gym teacher to tackle the tear-stained bully before he could gather his wits and murder me. We were sequestered and forced to write essays detailing the events that led up to the fight. Daniel was mean, but not dishonest. Our accounts matched and he was suspended for a week. His eye would still be yellow from bruising when he returned.
It took hours for the skin on my knuckles to stop tingling. The sensation was powerful, but even more nauseating.
As I sat in the principal’s office, I thought of Moses again. How he tangled with a bully and had to live in exile; forever parched, his lips neither cooled by milk nor warmed with honey. Then I thought of Michelle Bobbit, her soft-core hippie wardrobe, her crooked little smile. Did she really dig me? All afternoon I sat and mentally rehearsed that first kiss, basking in the imaginary flavor of artificial watermelon. It would eventually happen, but not with Michelle Bobbit. She was still dating Daniel when he went to prison.