them strays

I punched a bully in the seventh grade. Twenty-two years later I remember it only occasionally, but when I do I can replay the whole thing in my head. My friends and I walked into the bathroom together during lunch, and this bigger kid from my math class was already in there. Not going to the bathroom or anything, just hanging out. He didn’t have lunch, I guess. One of our group said something to him and he responded by shoving me, the smallest, a few times. He had shoved me before earlier in the year, like numerous other bullies had since I had moved to that town, and I hadn’t done anything about it, so he didn’t expect me to punch him. But I did, though I never would have if I had had to make a conscious decision to do it. I was really surprised that it didn’t land that squarely; I had only ever punched my brother in the arm before that. The underside of my fist made contact with his cheek. Of all things, my thumb was what was sore afterwards. We wrestled for a few seconds, the sounds of our scuffle echoing off the cold tiles, and just as I thought I was starting to get the better of the bigger boy, he got a decent punch in and ran off.
That’s how I remember it happening anyway, but I know that that’s probably not what happened. Our memories don’t work the way we think they do, as evidenced by the four wildly divergent accounts of the fight, none of which made me look good, reported to the others seated at our table in the cafeteria while I remained in the bathroom to assess the stretched-out neck of my shirt. I didn’t cry, as one kid had said. Of course, there are no recordings to dispute or confirm my version of events. In fact, I’m probably the only person on earth who still remembers it. It’s only an approximation now, a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, faded and washed out in places where my own biases seeped in and refilled the blank spaces, then shoved aside by two decades of newer and mostly more pleasant memories. I know I eventually got better at fighting, but I don’t remember as much about any subsequent fistfights I was in, partially because alcohol was invariably involved. It’s weird what you remember. I distinctly recall a couple tiny moth-holes on this kid’s too-small blue sweatshirt, which I fearfully focused on while unable to muster eye contact as he was goading me on before, but even that specificity, so prominent to my mind, I wouldn’t swear by. There’s really only one detail of which I’m absolutely certain: that among the four other guys with whom I entered that bathroom, dressed though we were in the thin macho posturing of black t-shirts touting skateboard manufacturers and metal concerts, ripped jeans, and earrings, not a one stepped in to stick up for me.


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September 2012
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