My history of Violence
Roland Teed was some kind of mixed breed, a veritable freak in our high school of whitebread plainness. Two years my senior, half Chinese, but broad shouldered with bowed legs and about my height, Roland was already an adult. When he stalked the halls of our school he was usually tailed by one or two nondescript guys who’d grin and flinch everytime Roland Teed said something. There was talk he practiced martial arts. Previously I had no occasion to think upon him or his friends.
It happened one day after lunch period. I was waiting in the hall for the bell to ring when Roland came up to me and punched me in jaw. Four times he landed with his oversized fist to my head. Four times I remember because it seemed like an odd(sic) number. Four times he hit me because I was counting. My head was spinning. My body froze, yet I did not stop him or strike back. He held up after four punches and I moved away, unsteady. Other students were watching for what would come next, but I felt woozy and tears were welling up in my eyes. As I climbed the stairs I finally yelled out,
“What the hell is going on? What the hell is this?” To no one in particular, and well out of Roland Teed's earshot.
The next day sitting in the same lunchroom with my boys, I had a “war story” to tell.
“Nah! He didn’t punch that hard.” Heh-heh-heh.
“They say he knows karate”
“He didn’t do any Hideo-Chai shit, yesterday!”
“ What the hell is his problem?”
“So whatcha gonna do Marsh, fight ‘em?”
“Shit, what for? I already took his best shot!”
“His four best shots, right?”
Roland Teed was sitting a few tables away with his usual crowd. Occasionally I would glance that way and everytime I did Roland would be looking elsewhere. It was a quick lunch.
I remember being suddenly indecisive and alone when I left the cafeteria that day. I was standing just outside the doorway contemplating which way to go when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and was met with a straight right hand to my lower lip, drawing blood. A quick second punch hit my jaw. This time I put up my hand.
“Alright! Alright! That’s it. No more. That’s it!” I screamed savagely.
And I wheeled around and strode purposefully away, -- towards the vice-principal’s office. I had had my fill of Mr. Roland Teed.
After some heated discussion, vice-principal Joe Gianetto convinced me to not call the police and to instead settle for Roland getting 5 days In School Suspension. This consequence and a promise if he threatened me or hit me again, criminal proceedings would proceed, finally satisfied me.
The next five school days went by quietly. But now I didn’t have much of a war story to tell the fellas. Nobody laughed when mention was made of the incidents. Friends don’t call other friends, coward. But behind my back they wondered what was going to happen when Roland was finished with his 5 days of ISS. Alone, I wrestled with the fear and the shame and the reasons why I didn’t fight back.
Soon gossip became theories. Somebody said that Larry C_____ had paid Roland five bucks to punch me because I was too chatty with this girl Teresa T____that Larry supposedly liked. Another guy had said that Teresa’s friend Beth C_____had wanted Roland to hit me after I had blown Beth off. I questioned both girls about it but nobody was talking.
Roland got out of ISS. At first he kept his distance. Then sometimes I’d hear him calling out my name with mock-derision. I’d see him smiling and yakking it up with his little crew, Larry C____ and Pat T____ (Teresa’s brother). At home I’d fantasize about another having another confrontation. One with shattered glass, knives and broken bodies that would attract the envious stares of my friends as they marveled over the force of my rage. With time it was forgotten.
Many years later I co-opted this story and put a macho spin on it that seemed in order. I’d tell the story to my work buddies in the bagel store adding this coda:
“You know why I didn’t fight back?” I’d bait them. My voice rising in intensity, my heart rate increasing.
“Cause I wouldn’t know when to stop. You know what I’m saying? I wouldn’t be satisfied with just getting into a fight. I wouldn’t have settled for anything fair. If I had let myself make that decision I would have done something I would have regretted later…” and on and on.
Persuading my listeners and myself that I was one bad mutha. Revisiting history to rewrite it more to my advantage, and closer to my fantasies. “I woulda killed Roland .” Was the unspoken, horrible subtext of my words. Ironically, it was my buddy Bob who seemed to be too readily impressed, as if he was sympathetic but unconvinced. He’d laugh harder than the other guys and give me a knowing look, bug-eyed as if to say- “yeah, Marsh- right.”
The revision of my story worked for a time, but then I started to realize (therapy, again) I was lying to myself. That in fact I was very afraid of Roland. The way I was scared of all violence, and not because I could conquer it by becoming the victimizer, but because I was a victim of violence and I hated it.