Coming of Age

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
A new kid on the block stands up to a couple of bullies.

Submitted: November 21, 2015

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Submitted: November 21, 2015

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COMING OF AGE

By

Rekeaux Nyte






 

I remember the very first time I had to fight. Although it was well over thirty years ago, it is as clear to me as if it were yesterday. That was the day I became a man; the day my whole life changed. Whether it was for the better, or worse, I don’t know…maybe I never will. What I do know is, that was the day I had inadvertently stepped through the threshold of maturity, leaving my cherished childhood behind forever.

The month started off on a sour note for me. My father got a huge promotion, and his job transferred us from sunny San Diego, California, across the country to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When we finally moved in on Wednesday, I discovered that this new smaller house (doll house is more like it) didn’t have TV; they didn’t even have an antenna set up, yet. A thunderstorm had knocked out reception all over town and it would be a few weeks before it could be repaired. Of course, I thought I was going to die. How was I supposed to survive without my daily dose of television? It was my medicine, the center of my universe.

The day in question started out just as the month had; on a bad note. My mother had to rush my little brother to the hospital because he fell down the steps and broke his arm. She had warned him several times that he shouldn’t be playing around the steps, but Jesse was only a little kid. At seven-years-old I guess he was too hardheaded to listen. Mother always use to tell us, “A hard head makes a soft behind!” and I guess this time she was right. However, I think this was one of those times when she wished she hadn’t been. Now since all that happened first thing in the morning, it meant that I had to find my way to school on my own.  

It was another dreary Philadelphia morning just as it had been for the past five days since we’d arrived. It was the middle of November. A cool, crisp breeze angrily blew the dead, dried, crumbly leaves from one side of the massive, empty street to the other. The giant, old oak trees strung along the cracked cemented, sidewalks were bare, hollow and spooky. Their branches contorted as though they were waiting for me to walk by so they could snatch me up and strangle the life out of me.

The tiny, drab, brick row homes that seemed to go on for miles, were a far cry from the military housing we lived in near the beach, while in San Diego. My father had taken us from warm, sunny beaches, palm trees and cable TV to a cold, Urban, concrete jungle, filled with bars on every door and window, and shabby alleyways in disparate need of clean-up crews. Graffiti decorated abandoned, half-burned down buildings and liquor stores were on every corner. No lawns or backyards that stretched as far as the eye could see. No sandy beaches, no sun, no orange trees.

It was my first day at Shaw Junior high school (my first day at junior high). When I walked into the classroom for the first time I felt that same old empty feeling. I wasn’t scared, or sad, or happy or anything…just empty. It was a feeling I had come to know very well. You see, since the school year had started about two months prior to my arrival, friendships and cliques among my new classmates had already been well established…and as usual, I was alone.

Before my mother rushed off to the hospital with my little brother, she made me promise that I’d try to find a friend. She was in such a panic that I had no choice but to promise. I figured I’d at least give it a try since I couldn’t watch TV, which was pretty much, the only thing I ever did. I was a loner who didn’t have any friends because my father’s company was some kind of distributor with the military, and they were always moving us around. Yes, we were always going from one big city or military base to the other. Being as shy as I was meant that friendship was a luxury I couldn’t afford.

The fact that I never made any friends wherever we went bothered my mother much more than it did me. Hell, I couldn’t have cared less. As long as you put a television in front of me I was as happy as a Lark in the park in the dark. I didn’t even care about all the hundreds of toys my parents would buy me, nor did I ever want to go outside and play. I just wanted to sit in front of the television.

Naturally this worried my mother, greatly. She was always nagging me about trying to find someone to play with or talk to. So remembering all this gave me sort of a drive to make her happy. After all the introductions, my new teacher, Miss walker (a strikingly beautiful, redhead with light, blue eyes, and a soft, sweet voice) assigned me a seat on the aisle closest to the door, in the third row. Then, after giving the assignment, which was to read quietly from our textbooks, she sat at her desk to finish grading papers.

I took my seat and began to visually comb the classroom, searching for that lucky guy who would be my new ‘buddy’. Upon my inspection of my new classmates, I noticed something very interesting. There was a really cute young lady (Juanita Cortes) sitting at the back of the room lacing up her high top, Converses. She had one knee bent with her foot resting on the chair as she made several unsuccessful attempts to tie the sneaker. Since she was wearing a casual, denim dress that day, it was very easy to see her panties.

Well, up until then, I had never been interested in anything but watching television, but this was no TV, this was 3-D, baby (can you dig it?). It was a sight that I found very intriguing to say the least…the very least. At that time, I didn’t know how to be sneaky about it and look away a few times or pretend to be looking at the clock, or a hole in the wall, (those types of things you don’t learn until senior high). So, I sat there lost in my own private nirvana while staring at the wonderful eye-candy before me. That is, until the guy sitting next to her, Jeffrey Holton (whom I would find out later, had a big crush on Juanita) caught me staring.

“Miss Walker, he’s looking up Juanita’s dress!” Jeffrey yelled while pointing directly at me. This, of course, caused a light round of giggles and snickers from all the guys (jeers of disgust from the girls).

“I am not, you poppy-eyed, frog-faced, bastard!” I quickly retorted in my own defense, which caused everyone in the classroom to howl with laughter.

“You pig!” Juanita yelled across the room, burning with anger before announcing with malice,  “I’m gonna’ tell me big brother Carlos and he’s gonna’ kick your ass!”  

Then, as Miss Walker tried desperately to regain control of the class, Jeffrey and I began to argue with each other, which naturally ended with him challenging me to a fight after school, which of course I quickly accepted; I had no choice. I had never been in a fight in my life. The closest I had come was with my little brother over the television remote control. That didn’t count, because I wasn’t allowed to use my fist.

However, I couldn’t turn back, it would have meant an entire school year of being ridiculed and teased by Jeffrey, as well as being labeled a coward. The look of disappointment on Miss Walker’s face, as she looked down at me, was bad enough, but the thought of having to deal with, not only that fool Jeffrey, but Juanita’s brother too, gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. After only being in Junior high, in my new class for a mere five minutes, I was already on everyone’s ‘shit list’.

All morning, while going from class to class, I thought about all those times when my father (who was an Army boxing champ) would stand me in the corner holding a fighting stance. He was trying to teach me a fraction of what he had mastered in the Army years ago. It had always annoyed me because it would cut into my precious television time. This day, I was wishing with all my heart that I had paid attention.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Jeffrey had an older brother named, Calvin, who also went to that school. Now, although Calvin was three years older and six inches taller, he was a little slower, or what we now refer to as being, ‘mentally challenged’ (of course back then (when people wasn’t afraid of exercising their rights to freedom of speech) we simply said, ‘retarded’). At nearly every public school in Philadelphia, there were a small group of children who were just a little (or a lot) behind in their skills. They had their own classes and curriculum called, ‘Special Ed’.

If I remember correctly, some of the ‘Special Ed’ students were the worse bullies in school, because they were usually older, bigger and stronger than the other children. And because of their ‘conditions’ they were usually less likely to be held accountable for beating the shit out of you. In other words, if you got your ass kicked by a “Special Ed’ student, it was probably your fault (for being dumb enough not to run). As a result, the ‘Special Ed’ children, the ones who always rode on the little buses, were feared by all the other children.

The Holton brothers were known all around the area for being notorious bullies all throughout Elementary school. It didn’t help that their father was a big-time, highly decorated, lieutenant, with The Philadelphia, Police Department. I later learned that he used his badge to shield his sons as if it were a Samurai sword. In other words, they were the worse of the worse, naturally.

News about the fight spread through the school like a raging forest fire in the middle of July. In the lunchroom, I had the entire table all to myself because everyone was distancing themselves from me. I could hear them whispering and snickering as they pointed and stared. Never before then, or since then have I felt so terribly, all alone! It took every ounce of strength I had not to start crying. After about fifteen minutes of this, I carried my tray of virtually, untouched food to the trash. I made my way to the bathroom where I sat in one of the stalls until the bell rung ending the lunch period. After that, the rest of the day seemed to fly by with warped speed.

When the three o’clock bell rang ending the school day, I slowly made my way down the crowded hallway towards the exit to the schoolyard. Thousands of thoughts were running through my mind like a runaway, southbound freight train. I thought about sneaking out the back door and running home. I thought about how mad I was at my parents for moving me here… mad at them for not giving me an older brother. I was even mad at Juanita for exposing herself. Didn’t her damn, parents teach her how to carry herself in public?

However, the more I thought about Juanita, the more my anger turned to admiration. I started thinking about how cute she looked when she was yelling at me, and how her pretty, brown eyes seemed to glisten and dance. I found myself longing to see her again, wanting to talk to her to see how she’s doing, and to tell her I was sorry. In fact, I very distinctly remember wanting to hear the sound of her voice and wanting to hold her in my arms. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me, or why I was feeling this way. This was surely uncharted territory for me, but before I could truly ponder the relevance of it all, I found myself at the side door leading to the schoolyard. It was too late to turn back now, for my destiny was waiting. So opening the door, I walked outside.

There was already a large crowd of people waiting, including Juanita and her crew. Many of them were students from the school. I was mildly shocked to see so many grown-ups, THE BASTARDS! There were even a lot of high school kids from West Philadelphia Senior high, which wasn’t too far away. My heart was pounding so hard that I thought it was going to jump out of my mouth. I’m serious! It was pounding so hard and fast that it was actually throwing me off balance. My whole body was shaking and my knees felt like they were going to give out at any moment. I heard one of the adults saying, “Awe, look at the Lil’ Nigga’ trying to walk like he’s cool!” Hell, I was trying to walk…PERIOD!

As I got closer to the crowd, I could see Jeffrey standing in the middle with about six of his friends, talking shit! When he saw me he quickly made his way over to where I was standing, followed closely, by the large, crowd of people.

“Hey, little bitch! You called me names today and now I’m gonna’ kick your narrow, ass!” he barked with great authority. I couldn’t think of any clever ‘comeback’ lines like, ‘Go ahead, punk! Make my day!’ So dropping my books to the ground, I merely held up my fist and started doing what I thought was the ‘Ali Shuffle’. It was later described to me as looking more like a very badly executed two-step, Polka. When I did, everyone in the crowd roared with laughter. Their laughter startled me and without thinking (purely by reflex) I unleashed a wicked right cross. I didn’t plan this. It was purely by accident, but when I did, my flying fist slammed right into Jeffrey’s nose, which cracked so loud that they probably heard it back in San Diego.

Jeffrey hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. For a few, brief moments, you could have heard a pin drop because everyone was astonished by what they’d just witnessed. Nonetheless, no one was more shocked than I. Jeffrey started screaming and crying that I had broken his nose. He was rolling around holding his bloody nose, which started flowing like a stream, all over the ground, his hands, and clothes.  

To this very day, I’m still amazed at how the damn fight was over long before it ever started. Now, a normal, intelligent person would have simply turned around and went home, but, of course, an intelligent person might not have as great a story to tell as this, right? In any case, when Jeffrey started crying, I started clowning. I was now doing the Ali Shuffle again, dancing around him while yelling and cursing at him, begging him to get up (daring him to get up). I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had seen Mohammed Ali doing it on ‘ABC’s Wide world of Sports’.

The crowd was eating it up! They were laughing and clapping their hands, cheering me on. I had never been the center of attention before, especially for that many people, so of course it was encouraging me to greater feats. I started talking about his mother; that was always a crowd-pleaser, and this day was no exception. The frenzied spectator’s cheers and howls of laughter grew to an ear-splitting pitch. Suddenly, from within the forest of bystanders, Jeffrey’s older brother Calvin grabbed me from behind. Wrapping his massive arms around me, he lifted me high in the air and effortlessly slammed me to the ground. He started kicking and stomping me while the crowd continued clapping, laughing and cheering.

Don’t ask me how, but I managed to grab his foot, which throwing him off balance caused him to fall on his ass. I jumped on top of him, not because I wanted to fight, merely because I wanted to get away from his feet. He was trying to punch me, but I wrapped my arms around his and was holding on for dear life. I figured if I held on long enough, someone, (perhaps a compassionate grown-up) would have the decency to stop us… not in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Jack!

The half-crazed, bloodthirsty crowd of adults, teenagers and children were now screaming with laughter, while jumping up and down and clapping their hands. Calvin was now squirming and wiggling, violently trying to free himself from my clutches. He was so damn strong that we were rolling all over the ground. In fact, we rolled right down a small, dirt hill leading to the school parking lot, and kept on rolling until a parked car stopped us from rolling into the heavy traffic.

The frenzied crowd followed closely as they continued laughing, screaming, and cheering. We slammed into that damn car so hard that my shoulder got jammed between the front tire and the cement curb. By now, I was totally exhausted, dazed and confused. My arms were also pinned against the car and still wrapped tightly around Calvin, who was now on top of me; he was also dazed and confused (and very ugly, up close).

I couldn’t move, and I knew if I didn’t do something fast, I would be beaten to a pulp while everyone stood there watching. So, launching one final attack, I opened my mouth and clamped my teeth deep into Calvin’s shoulder. He started screaming and crying for me to let him go while trying gallantly to free himself. But baby, I had that sucker a death-grip that would have made a Pit bull Terrier green with envy!

After what seemed like forever, I heard someone yelling, “That’s enough! That’s enough, now! Stop it! It’s over!”

Finally, a voice of reason! I didn’t have to be told twice. When Calvin was pulled up, off me, he fell to the ground while holding his bloody shoulder, still crying like a heart-broken, schoolgirl. I looked up to see who my savior was and much to my horror it was Juanita’s big brother Carlos. I knew right away he was her brother because that’s the type of day I was having, plus there was no mistaking that strong, family resemblance. Both displaying those same dancing eyes, the little, button nose and that same charming, Dr. Seuss’, ‘Cat in the Hat’ smile.

By that time, I was far too mentally and physically drained to give a shit. So I just lay there, waiting to get my face stomped in, again! However, I was astonished when he offered me his hand. Carlos then pulled me up and handed me my books while smiling at me. Now, I really hate to be that person who always uses worn-out cliches’.. but, you could have knocked me over with a feather when Calvin tried to attack me again, but Carlos grabbed him, yelled at him then chased him away.

The next day, I returned to school a conquering hero. It seemed the entire community was talking about how I single-handedly, took on both of the big, bad Holton brothers; and WON! Yeah, I got suspended for three days and my parents had to go to court because Jeffrey’s parents filed a lawsuit (which went nowhere). But that didn’t matter (not to me anyway) for I now had something I never had before…friends and a social life.

Everyone wanted to be near me and talk to me, and hear what I had to say. My new friends were especially impressed with my vast knowledge of TV trivia. In fact, if I was to dig deep enough, I would probably discover that one of those kids I started hanging with, in one way or another, came up with the idea for The ‘Trivial Pursuit’ game. Jeffrey and I eventually became the best of friends all through junior and senior high school (and well beyond). When last I heard from him, which was about five months ago, he, his wife, and three daughters were happily living in a small town near Toronto, Canada (where he was running for his second term as the town’s Constable).  

The icing on the cake came a week after ‘the big brawl’ when Juanita became my very, first girlfriend. We shared many wonderful hours alone together, studying ‘human anatomy’. This lasted the rest of the school year and all summer long. The following September her family moved to Hackensack, New Jersey…I never saw her or Carlos again.

Oh, yeah, I guess you’re wondering why Carlos helped me that day, right? Well, at that time he was dating Maria Gonzales, who happened to be my next-door neighbor…and my little brother’s babysitter. Now, in retrospect, maybe things didn’t ‘go down’ quite the way I remembered, but don’t you just love a great story with a happy ending?

 


© Copyright 2018 Rekeaux Nyte. All rights reserved.

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