Twelve years old
“Come on you fucking fag! You’re such a little fag pussy!”
I’d seen some of the kids in my school bully other kids before, but I’d never felt like I should butt in. If a kid didn’t have the balls to stand up for himself, then they deserved whatever they had coming to them.
But that morning I’d made the decision to leave home for good. Moms current boyfriend had used her as a punching bag yet again. But this time, when I’d stepped in front of her, not only did she push me aside, but she defended the fucker.
She said she deserved it.
She even went as far as apologizing.
I hated her for that. For becoming weak. For letting him lay his hands on her like that. I wanted to wail on John’s face so bad that I sat on the side of the school during recess clenching and unclenching my fists as I replayed that morning over and over again in my mind. I may not have been able to win in a fight against a grown man, but I was convinced I could have at least done some damage.
So when I heard those words shouted from across the playground it was like my anger had made the decision before I had a chance to really think about it. Before I knew it, I’d leapt across the sandbox and was on my way to a group of kids gathered in a circle on the far side of the yard next to the kickball field.
I towered over all the other kids in my grade and could easily see over their heads. In the center of the circle was a brute of a kid named Tyler, a dark-haired boy who always wore band logo t-shirts with the sleeves ripped off. He was holding this skinny kid by the collar of his shirt, punching him in the face over and over again with his closed fist. The littler kid grunted each time Tyler made contact. The boy’s ripped shirt rose up over his pale stomach revealing bruises in varying shades of purple and yellow. His ribs were so visible I could count them. Blood dripped from his nose and fell to the ground. I pushed aside two little girls who were cheering on the beating.
Kids can be fucking cruel.
Adults can be crueler.
I jumped in front of Tyler and cocked back my fist. With one punch to the bully’s pimpled jaw, I knocked him flat on his ass. The back of his head landed with a thunk against the pavement. Out cold.
I instantly felt better, although the need to inflict violence was always like a rat gnawing on my every thought and emotion, punching Tyler had temporarily dimmed the feeling from blaring spotlight to burning candle.
The skinny kid was on the ground holding his bloody nose. He moved his hands away from his face and looked up at me with the biggest most ridiculous smile, blood coating teeth that were too big for his mouth. Not what I expected from someone who’d just been beaten. “You didn’t have to save me. I was just letting him get some punches in before I rained down the pain.” His voice cracked on every other word of the lie. Tears ran out the sides of his eyes and down through the blood smeared across his lip. The circle of kids had broken up and gone back to their kickball game.
“I didn’t save you.” I said, stepping over him. I started walking away, but somewhere around the sandbox the kid had caught up with me.
“Of course you didn’t. I could totally have taken him. But shit man, that fucking prick has a stick up his ass,” the kid swore, throwing his hands up into the air as he jogged to try and keep up with my long strides.
“Oh yeah, and why is that?” I asked.
“Cause he wanted me to do his fucking math worksheet, and I’ll tell you something. I’m no one’s fucking bitch. So I told him to fuck off.” His voice was muffled since he was still trying to stop the blood dripping from his nose by pinching his nostrils together.
“All you said to him was ‘fuck no’ and he started beating on you?” I asked, although I didn’t find it hard to believe, aside from the bullshit with my mom and John it was mostly little things that had been making my fist ache for something to connect with.
The kid smirked.
“Well, there was that… and then there was how I told him how I thought it was cool that his dad didn’t mind that his son was the spitting image of his mama’s boss at the Price Mart.” He brushed the dirt off the scrapes on his elbows, then dusted the palm of his hands off on his wrinkled khakis. “Name’s Samuel Clearwater. What’s yours?”
I stopped and turned to him. He extended his hand to me and I uncrossed my arms and shook it. For a gangly kid who was the same age as I was, he dressed and spoke like a foul-mouthed grandfather, someone too old to give a shit about filtering his words. And what eleven year old shook hands?