The Big Fight - 10/5/2012

I was tired of being picked on. I was a seventh grader, unhappy about being a fat kid, and reminded daily of it on the bus by a senior who wasn't so skinny himself. Every day was the same. He'd greet me with a name that still makes me feel thirteen and sad when I hear it and that I won't repeat now. My father was tired, too. Tired of me coming home every day crying about it. He said, "Do you want to do something about it?" I told him I did.  He said, "Tomorrow, if he calls you a name, I want you to pound him until they have to pull you off.  That will make him stop." Outwardly, I put on the bravado. Sure, Dad. I'll do it. My uncles, Jack and Dolan, were notorious fighting men, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps. Inside, I was scared to death.  I knew I would need Leigh's help. I needed some practice before the Big Fight.

We had some boxing equipment that had belonged to my Grandfather Gibson in an old trunk.  I found the musty-smelling gloves and ragged headgear and talked Leigh into sparring with me.  We'd had plenty of fights without any gear before and would have a few later on, but for this Leigh would have a disadvantage.  I made him wear the lefthanded glove, but I did let him use the headgear.  For further protection, Leigh stuffed pillows under his shirt. I pounded on my poor brother until we were both tired out in the bedroom we shared upstairs in that old farmhouse. Leigh was entirely game.  My little brother was 'training' me.  Dad had no idea that this was going on and I wonder now if he thought I'd actually go through with it.

The next morning, Leigh and I waited silently for the bus at the south end of the driveway.  I could see the red lights flashing as it picked up the Ryan girls a half-mile away at their grandparents' home.  Adrenaline rushed through me as the bus approached, my heart pounding in my head.  Leigh got on first and I was about two steps past the busdriver, our neighbor Patty Cole, when my tormentor gave his usual greeting.  He was sitting next to the window with his cousin, also a senior, beside him.  Luckily for me, no one was sitting in the seat directly in front of him.  I tossed my Dallas Cowboys bookbag and went to town.  I had an unfair advantage and I knew it.  There was no way he could win. If a senior beats up a seventh grader, there is no living it down.  If he loses to a seventh grader...well, like I said, it wasn't fair.  He was like a turtle on his back.  He couldn't move, and his cousin was too in shock to help.  I don't know how many times I hit him, but his nose was bleeding, his lip was bleeding, and his glasses were on the floor.  Nobody had to tear me off; I knew I'd done enough.  I made my way back to my seat two-thirds of the way back before he gathered himself and followed me.  "What the $%##@ is wrong with you?" he yelled.  I don't know how Patty had missed all the commotion up to this point, but she asked, "What is going on back there?"  She only saw the back of his head and not his bloody front.  I yelled back, "Tell him to leave me alone!" Comically, she told him to get back in his seat and pick on somebody his own size.  He told me, "It's not over.  You'll pay for this." I remember that bus being so quiet.  I think everyone was shell-shocked at the violence that had just occurred. 

Thank God for Kent Brooks.  He was a big farmboy a few grades ahead of me in school who lived about a half-mile south of our farm.  He got on the bus and sat across from me and could tell something was wrong.  "I need your help, Kent. They're going to kill me when I get off this bus."  Kent took a breath and agreed he'd look out for me.  When I got off the bus, the senior was waiting . He was a varsity wrestler and put his skills to good use.  He called me that name.  I took a big swing, he blocked it, and then took me down and started rolling me around in the snow.  He had the advantage this time.  All of a sudden, he flew off me.  Big Kent had tossed him aside and then put himself in front of me and warned the cousins to leave me alone.  Kent was so strong. Dad called him Bull Brooks.  The cousins swore at him but went on their way.

I found out that coming down from an adrenaline rush is an emotional thing.  I sat in my homeroom looking at my bloody knuckles not feeling like a big man at all. Amie Dominic, a pretty girl I definitely did NOT want to see me crying, asked, "What is wrong?"  I had felt like a lion less than an hour earlier and now felt like a helpless kitten.  I bolted from my seat and ran to the restroom where I washed my hands and let the tears go.  I'd done what Dad had told me to do, but now what?  How long would I have to look over my shoulder?  Luckily for me, I was never bothered by him again.  In fact, he shook my hand the next day and called me 'buddy.'   I think he was actually a nice guy who had no idea of the pain he put me through. I see him from time to time and he is as nice as can be. Those junior high years are just so tough that I ache for any kid going through them.  At the time, i wondered if there was ever going to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Kent Brooks later became a wonderful preacher and is now the head of Hospice of the North Country.  He assisted my dad in both capacities, making sure Dad's physical suffering was minimal, ministering to him in his final days, and delivering a beautiful eulogy.  I am eternally grateful to him as my father left this world with Peace in his heart.

Thirty years have passed, and I wonder, was my father right to send me into the fire like that? I don't know. Would I give my sons similar advice in this age of zero tolerance and school suspensions for such behavior?  I don't know.  I do know that life got better for me after that point and that Dad read the situation perfectly.  He told me it would end and it did.  Quickly.