It was my second day of 8th grade, and I was 13 years old by less than a month. Yet, in the final minutes of the school day, I would accomplish a feat that would solidify my reputation.
I lived 1.8 miles from school, which meant that I did not qualify for the school bus--the minimum distance being two miles. The nearest bus stop from home was half a mile. That was better than 1.8 miles, so I took the bus on days that I did not bring my tenor saxophone home (my mom usually picked me up when I brought the sax home)
So it's the end of my second day at Tyee Middle School in Bellevue, Washington, and I'm not bringing my sax home, so I get on the bus.
I seated myself next to beautiful Michelle. I probably didn't have a shot with her (and she probably rolled her eyes when I sat down), but I was sitting next to her nonetheless.
Everything was great. If she rolled her eyes, I didn't notice, and we had the beginnings of a perfectly delightful conversation.
That's when Woodsy showed up.
We called him Woodsy, but that wasn't his name. If it gives you any idea as to how big of a loser this kid was, I don't even remember his name--and I remember some pretty obscure stuff.
Woodsy was the fat kid who nobody liked. When I say the fat kid, I don't mean chubby. I mean grotesquely fat. 5' 9" and 300 pounds fat. When our gym class had the swimming unit, this kid was allowed to wear his t-shirt so that the rest of us wouldn't have to see his gigantic man-breasts. There is honestly no image that I can provide to help you really understand how enormous the kid was. He was taller than most and fatter than all.
And he walked right up to me and Michelle and ordered me to move.
"This is my seat," he said with the arrogant tone of a man who thinks that he's talking to a pipsqueak. I was about 5'6" and exactly 152 lbs--I know this because 155 lbs. was the maximum weight for my football league, and I had just weighed in.
I looked at him, and I looked at Michelle. I instantly knew that no good would come of this.
I'm a pretty clever man, and I was a pretty clever boy. So when he said, "You're in my seat," I replied with the cleverest thing that I could think of at the time.
Something like, "I don't see your name on it."
"Move it, or I'll make you," he threatened; and I could see that he truly meant it.
This kid had been teased for the majority of his life, and I was going to be the object of his vengeance. He had picked his victim carefully, for I was not one with a reputation for toughness (remember, I was in the band).
Once he'd told me that he'd make me move, everything slowed down. I was able to think clearly, but it seemed as though time was nonexistent. In the absence of space-time, I thought long and hard about my response. If I moved, I'd look like a wussy to Michelle. On top of that, it would surely be the talk of the school that I( had backed down to Woodsy.
I did not fancy the outcome of compliance, so I answered his threat defiantly with, "I'd like to see you try," and then something about his mother.
Like I said, time had come to a halt, so I remember everything with crystal clarity.
After I'd refused his command and insulted his mother, a look of pure rage came across Woodsy's face. He'd thought that for once someone else would be the victim of ridicule, but once again it was him. If a clock had been ticking in the background, each second would have counted ten in real time.
I knew that I was going to have to fight, but I was not prepared for what happened next. Instead of punching me--for which I was ready--he turned and sat on me. All 300+ lbs. of him came down on my lap.
I was not ready for this, but my adrenaline was pumping--and he was a bit off balance--so I threw him off of me and back into the bus aisle.
Remember how I said that time had nearly stopped? At this point it sped forward to make up for its lost seconds.
I jumped into the aisle to face him with my back against the back of the bus (I was about half-way between the front and the back of the bus).
He lunged forward with both hands outstretched, as if to choke me. I stepped back with my right foot and then leaned forward with my left and delivered a right hand punch to the top of his left eye socket.
He recoiled instantly, spewing forth a shower of spit and screeching in pain as his head snapped back.
I took a step back, waiting for him to recover. He shook his head like a bull and (like a bull) charged me. I back-peddled to the end of the bus, keeping him narrowly at bay with both of my arms outstretched.
I pushed back as he pushed forward, but I was stuck with my back pinned to the rear of the bus. I still remember the furious glare of his eye--the other one, the one I had hit, was swollen shut.
In only a few seconds, the bus driver was there, yelling for us to stop. Since I was not a bad kid, never before had I been in such serious trouble, I dropped my hands in submission.
Woodsy did not.
Instead, he reached out, snatched my glasses right off of my face, and crushed them between his hands.
I didn't even think about my next move. I just grabbed him by the collar, pulled him toward me and turned him around toward the back window. I remember looking at him, and I remember the surprised look on his face. Then I drew my right arm back and let loose with a furious jab that landed squarely on his nose. His head could not snap back this time because it hit the window, and I recall the popping sound as his nose broke. He squealed again, and this time blood flew from his mouth and peppered my face. He slowly slid down the back of the bus with his hands over his face and making the unmistakable sounds of a 13 year old in excruciating pain (half-way between a stuck pig and a sobbing toddler). Try to imagine how beat up the kid was. Four years later, a different guy backed down from a confrontation with me because a mutual friend of ours reminded him that I was a good fighter--and that was a direct reference to this fight.
The bus driver grabbed me by the shoulder and yanked me between her and Woodsy. I did not resist. I was shaking. I was scared. I'd never done anything like this before. She also grabbed Woodsy, and as she pushed me from behind, she pulled him down the aisle.
As I exited the bus, I saw my mother. She had come to pick me up with my sax. Instead, she'd spent the last minute terrified as kids told her that I was fighting. When she heard people yell, "Gross, blood!" like any mother she had feared that it was me. Instead, I passed her unscathed with just enough time to say, "He broke my glasses!" At that moment, she saw Woodsy being pulled from the bus, with his one eye swollen shut and his nose spewing blood. "Oh Jesus!" she said--and I have to admit that I was pretty proud of that. Take what you want from that admission, you Freudian creeps.
On the way to the main office, it occurred to me that I was in big trouble. I knew that I'd broken Woodsy's nose. There was no mistaking that sound--it was like a champagne bottle. I, on the other hand, was completely unhurt.
I still remember sitting in the Assistant Principle's office and explaining to Mr. Giadrone that I had never intended to fight and that I only hit the kid because he'd gone after me.
I was lucky. Since I'd never been in any real trouble before, I got away with only a one day in-school suspension. I managed this by being sufficiently contrite and convincing Mr. G that I actually hoped that Woodsy and I could become friends.
I still remember the look on Woodsy's face when I suggested that we might be cool. He had no friends at all, so this was like a birthday and Christmas present rolled in one. If he played his cards right, then he'd end up with a buddy.
Unfortunately for him, I had no intention of being friends. I'd only said it because I knew that it was what Mr. G wanted to hear.
Woodsy was absent for two days., and he spent his first day back in in-school suspension. I had already served my in-school suspension, and the outcome of the fight had bolstered my reputation to the point that one of my football friends, who went to another middle school, had even heard of the altercation. These were glory days for me.
So here I was, basking in glory during lunch recess, when Woodsy approached. He was wearing sunglasses, but anyone could still see the black and blue eye and the tape meant to straighten his broken nose. He'd looked like a loser before, but now he looked even worse.
I scarcely remembered suggesting that the two of us could be friends, and when I'd said it, I'd said it only to get out of trouble. However, to him it had been an answered prayer.
I stood there amongst several friends as he approached. I saw them look at me as he neared. Woodsy smiled, waved, and said, "Hi buddy!"
I knew how important it had been for me to beat the kid up, and I also knew that I could not be his "buddy" and retain the increased status that I had achieved by beating the holy hell out of him. And it was in this epiphany that I chose to do the one thing that I regretted from the whole thing.
I cocked my fist and glared at him. I told him to get his fat ass away from me or that I'd beat him again.
My friends laughed as Woodsy's smile sank. What I'd just said had hurt him more than my fists had three days ago. I'd convinced the kid that I was willing to be his friend, and for three days he had reveled in the idea of having at least one buddy. Instead, I tore that dream to shreds, and for what? To make me look cool to some other 13 year olds, none of whom do I even talk to today?
I don't regret cracking his left eye socket. He'd lunged forward as if to choke me.
I don't regret breaking his nose. When my guard was down, he swiped off and crushed my glasses.
But I do regret saying what I said three days after it had happened. When I'd hit him, it was honest to goodness self-defense. But when I said what I said, it was just mean.
Besides, in the end, Michelle never even went out with me.