Friday, September 4, 2009

My first (almost) fight

It was fifth grade. I was playing quarterback at recess and my best friend, Chris, was running a deep pass pattern. He was wide open, but I overthrew him on the play and ended up hitting the school bully named Butch in the back with the football. As you might guess, Butch was not happy. Butch was in fifth grade, but had been held back at least twice. He smoked and was rumored to have stolen a car (probably not true, but it certainly added to his reputation).
Butch cornered me and my friend Chris and told us that he was going to fight us Friday after school at the local park (ironically named Pleasant Street Park). The strange thing about this challenge was that it was only Tuesday. I assumed Butch planned it that way so that he could enjoy the next several days watching Chris and I sweat like two men facing their final days on death row. However, it may have been that his fighting schedule was full for the week and the first opportunity he had to squeeze us into his busy schedule fell on Friday afternoon.
Nonetheless, the week crawled along as news of the big fight spread through our small school. Finally Friday arrived and I trudged through the day dreading the impending doom that faced me at 3:00. It was at recess that day that I realized Chris was absent. Rumor had it that he had come down with some mysterious form of the 24 hour flu and would probably be back on his feet the next day. My prognosis was much gloomier.
The bell rang and about half the school ran down to the park ahead of me. I wanted to believe they’d be there to scream their support for me, but more likely they were scrambling to get the “first come, first serve” front row seats to school yard slaughter. I tried to convince myself that if I was brave that I had a chance of winning. But the truth was, Butch was twice my size and if I was brave, I had a chance of surviving.
I arrived at the park to see a circle of children, forming a Roman Gladiator-like arena. I had two strategies; the first was to fight with the heart of Rocky Balboa, earning Butch's respect through my endurance until he called it a draw. The second strategy was to take a dive early to limit the damage. I was leaning toward the latter when I stepped inside the circle. Seeing Chris was absent, Butch asked, “Where’s your friend?” I explained the mysterious illness and Butch seemed to become suddenly sympathetic and said, “Since you had the courage to show up, I’ll let you off, but tell your friend I’ll find him.” I walked away as if I was never scared and tried to cover up the fact that my knees were visibly shaking.
My son is now at the age where pushing and shoving is a part of childhood play. As parents, it is important that we all teach our children the difference between boyhood rough-housing and threats of physical violence that can create an unhealthy and unsafe school culture. The feeling of safety is paramount to a successful learning environment and the trauma that often goes with violence can last a lifetime (just don’t tell Butch).

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