It was toward the end of ninth grade for me. I had finally stepped out from the shadows that overwhelmed me as a bullied teenager at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and stepped into an identity of my own. Only a handful of people knew me in this school, which meant I had the ability to start fresh, and although it didn’t happen immediately, the incident on the bus catapulted me to new heights in the popularity department as well as in the “don’t fuck with me department,” and as I think about it now, I never really looked back from that day.
The bus was packed with soaking wet riders: businessmen from center city; some elderly Italian bingo players fresh from the steps of St. Edmond’s; a variety of subway riders who would make a mass exodus as the bus rolled up to Broad; and the less-than-stellarly behaved seventh-and eighth-graders from Vare. Our seemingly small GAMP crew on this day headed toward the back of the bus as always only to find that four of the five seats were occupied by one particularly arrogant Vare girl. She sat in one seat. Her soaking wet umbrella sat in the next. Her school bag in the next. And her lunch bag in the last. I turned to give my classmates a “she’s gotta be fucking kidding me” look only to see them already eye-screaming it at me. “Hey, would you mind moving your stuff so a few of us could sit?” I asked, politely, to which I received not an inkling of acknowledgement other than louder gum cracking. “Excuse me… hello? Can you move your stuff? It’s taking up four seats.” Again, no eye contact. No response. That is, until one of her BFFs made some smart ass remark from the row in front of her, causing her to laugh obnoxiously loud until she finally looked up at me and mouthed the word “stand.”
Now I realize that my next move in this chess match could potentially be frowned upon by you pansy-esque, not raised inner city types out there. I can already hear the “well then you deserved it” or the “but you touched her stuff; what did you expect?” responses, so let me preface by saying that yes, I understand that I did touch her shit and that I did, by all accounts, make the first move, happy now? Good, so let me get on with it, ‘cause it’s about to get ghetto up in heeya…
What came over me was something similar to what I think those who commit crimes of passion must feel. You almost black out from anger so your body moves before your brain has a chance to rationalize, though I thought I was calm about it. I simply lifted her backpack up off the seat and put it on the floor next to her while I sat down. But in her mind, and in the mind of her two friends who decided to join in on the beating, that was as good as me calling her out.
I felt the punch across my head first. I was sitting now and she was standing alongside her crew as they proceeded to slap, kick and punch me with fists, hands, feet and book bags. I had both arms across my head to block the blows as much as I could but I couldn’t block the kicks to my shins, and I couldn’t get up with it being three against one. With a break in the pummeling I realized I was sitting next to a long, skinny pole (you subway riders know the exact one I’m talking about) and that was when I made my move. With my right arm I grabbed the hair on the left side of her head and with my left arm on the other side of the pole I grabbed the hair to her right, then, and trust me when I tell you that this was a very proud moment for me as a fourteen-year-old, I stood and proceeded to smash her head into the pole over and over in a motion toward me until she starting bleeding from her face. Her friends tried to pull my hands off of her hair but they couldn’t - you wouldn't have been remove them with the jaws of fucking life, I was holding on so tightly, and just as I was about to receive a blow to my face from another member of the threesome I saw an umbrella handle come crashing down on her back. My not much taller than five feet friend Denine had come to my rescue and starting beating them both with her umbrella. My girl, Denine. I’ll never, ever forget that she did that. At this point, though, all hell had broken loose. The girl on me had hold of the left cheek of my face and was digging her nail into it until she drew blood, so I reached out, grabbed the “LaTonnya” jelly jar lid sized yellow gold earring in her left ear and yanked it out, splitting her lobe. It was a bloody, brutal battle that left me to this day with a scar on my face yet had me walking away from it with a trophy – the earring – which I wore on a chain around my neck to school the next day to the wonderful sound of applause in the hallway. It also helped me start my tenth grade year with a brand new attitude, and new reputation.
Eventually the bus driver stopped the bus, saw that I had been clearly outnumbered (he recognized me as a frequent rider who didn’t cause trouble), and forced the girls to get off. But he never called the cops. Never called the paramedics. It’s just not what was done in 1988. When it rolled up to my stop he said to me on my way down the steps, “you gonna be okay, right?” and I turned to him, nodded and cried as the doors closed between us. But I wasn’t crying because of my blood or my pain. I knew that something inside me had changed finally. I knew that I had done what I needed to do in order to get through the rest of my years at school, and after school, and in life. I was crying because I was, as sick as this will sound, proud of myself. I looked down at my bloodied right hand – down at “LaTonnya” – and I was goddamned fucking proud of myself. “Nobody is going to beat me anymore, ever again.”
The next three years of high school saw me suspended for fighting three times. By my senior year they had moved me to another class and given me a single warning at the beginning of the semester – you fight even one time, you don’t walk at graduation. Gradually word got out about that warning, which meant that the pussies grew balls overnight and that temptation was lurking at every turn. But I made it. I made it the entire year without so much as a verbal lashing because I wasn’t going to risk not walking at graduation. It would have broken my mother’s heart, and I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself for that.
Now, after graduation? THAT is a different story. My lord, the fights I’ve been in. This post is already excruciatingly long so I won’t bore you with any more details, but let’s just say that I’m extremely thankful that the city of Philadelphia is made up of who it’s made up of, because if I had been myself, in my twenties (and thirties) in any other city in this country, my ass would have been in jail a long, long time ago. Yes, I said thirties, but I'll save that juicy morsel for a future post. I have 258 days left, after all… I can’t give you everything all at once. Sheesh.
The bottom line, for me, is this: I am thirty-nine years old, but don’t let my age, the pouty lips, or the skinny arms fool you. If you fuck with me, or you kick my shit, or you threaten my man, or you (God forbid) lay a hand on my kids, I will KICK… your FUCKING… ASS. I will do it with a smile on my face and when I am done, I will write about it on this very blog because like I said above… NOBODY is going to beat me anymore, ever again.