I didn’t care much for sports in junior high. The first year of high school would be easier than these exposed junior high years outside the shadow of my big brother. I would enter ninth grade and join him at the high school during his senior year. He would stay away from me, but he was also there.
I didn’t care much for sports in junior high. Yet physical education was required, which meant running and some group sports such as softball. I was in line to bat. I could never hit the ball. I lived so far out from the city that logistically I couldn’t stay after school to play school or community little league sports. I also could not climb the rope in gym class, similar to Louis Litt on the show Suits. I had not learned to use these muscles. I hated the bus ride to the county line where my mom would pick me up. I felt tortured by these bus rides. I would often cry afterwards in the car ride home from the county line. My mother insisted that we go to school across the county line in order to have access to certain vocational and language classes that she thought would better prepare my brother and I respectively. I also believe she wanted us away from what she deemed to be a ‘rough crowd’.
One day I was in the line-up for batting at that softball.
Presently living in Brazil, I call soccer football. It’s funny when I — with some authority — explain to my mom that I mean soccer when I say football and how American football is, just that, American. American in the generalized sense that US Americans can mean when referring to our own pervasive culture.
I didn’t care much for sports in junior high. Tony C. and I were in line together and given that we didn’t get along it was a good opportunity for him to taunt me. We had already shoved each other in history class, which is why Mark H. had stood down over the past weeks I surmised. Perhaps he saw a glimmer in my eye that I would take him … if he pushed me far enough. Mark H. spit a floogy in my history book in that same class and I simply slammed the book shut. It dried there. That had not pushed me far enough. He questioned why I peed in the toilet instead of the urinal in front of the other guys during a break between classes. He walked up to me with his dick out after pissing in the urinal trying to have me look down. I did not. Again, he did not push me far enough.
While perhaps taught to fight by my father (along with my brother), I was also forbidden to fight at school by him as well. It is not what a christian boy should do. I was instructed — in biblical terms — to ‘turn the other cheek’.
Do you know … do you remember how rough this life is? This country life? Do you think the fear exhibited by protagonists in the Ang Lee film is exaggerated? Do you remember the severed and burned body of the ‘retarded guy’ who hung out at the barbershop who inherited something from someone. Was it $10,000 that he inherited? Do you remember what they did to him … his burned remains in five gallon buckets in a burned out truck? Do you remember? Do you know why my mother carries a cute little Derringer in a cute flowered pouch. Do you remember when Uncle Freddie called in the middle of the night to tell you they were breaking into your shop office (adjacent tin building to where you let us fight that day)? Do you remember that they stole guns they could have shot you with had you caught up with them? Watchdog, Freddie … R.I.P. But again mom moved us away from that to attend school in the next county.
Do you remember when Shane shot that other guy in the face with a shotgun when that other guy came on his property the night before. Do you remember when that other guy came back to school with a fake eye and traces of buckshot covering his face? Do you remember that my church friend relayed the football locker room rumor that I sucked dick back to me? That was all in the new county, if you remember. Do you remember the thugs, Neil and Jim who terrorized me on the bus? Do you remember how grown men held back years in high school can be so intimidating — inspiring dread — for over an hour on a bus ride protected only by a fearful old bus driver?
Turning the other cheek, I did.
Tony C. was taunting me but he was not touching me. Do you remember the whelps that you had me wear to school … the ones that would only be visible to my peers in the gym class changing room? Do you remember that I could take a lot without truly giving in. That if my ‘comportment’ grade in junior high was low and thus pulling down my overall average, that I would go to the principal Mr. Duke and offer to be paddled by him to bring up my overall average. There was no safe word to be used. Remember?
Do you remember that black radio that you smashed in the basement. My radio. Do you remember telling me I wouldn’t get to go to some event if I didn’t clean it up. Do you remember how long I waited to clean it up. Do you remember my pride?
Do you remember how you had to beat those horses to break those horses? Do you remember the power of a horse like Saddle Sam when locked down in the cross ties to be shorn or shoed? Do you remember how painful an unclipped horseshoe nail is — already driven through the hoof, emerging the other side dagger-like — when it catches you in the head when a strong horse pulls away his foot. Do you remember the weight of hay bales or that horse that fell on top of you and crushed your shoulder bones? Or Buck, the guilded, spotted Palimino who still believed he was a stallion … how he raced toward the gorge where he finally ‘bucked’ mama off into the woods? Do you remember making us herd those cows horseback on those steep mountains near Woodbury? To the point, once, that I hyperventilated? Do you remember your bullwhip? I do.
Tony C. did not touch me. But the other boys had already joined in to egg us on. I wondered if our turn to bat would intercede with what looked like a sure default to violence. I can take you Tony, but I’m not supposed to.
“One of you is a pussy, and the other is proud of it” someone urged.
There was an instance at Woodland Elementary — just before I switched counties — when that kid accidentally kneed me through the back of the school desk. I jumped, startled. It was exaggerated. My ass may have been sore from a whipping or maybe it was just a memory of being sore that made me jump.
There was a time when the pledgemaster in college pushed me. Rights are blurred in hazing exercises. I murmured rather low, ‘don’t do that again’.
I will take you Tony … but only if you touch me.
Do you remember the Hill Brothers?
“Tony, you’re up to bat.”
I do not make my father out — and by extension, my brother — as a villain or a hero. They are complex people and I love them. They taught me to fight and some other things. My father still teaches me about constitution. About choosing wisely and of the biological fantasies that comprise life. And that it stands to reason a low period — a losing season — is good for the soul … but only if it doesn’t snuff it out.