Jeremy Feist isn’t proud of himself for having beat someone up, but he is proud of refusing to be the victim of a bully.
I’m not a violent person, I swear. The closest I come is when I do a BDSM scene with my boyfriend, and even then, he’s the dom and I’m the sub. I make for an excellent pain sponge, but that’s it.
That being said, don’t mistake my unwillingness to fight as an inability to do so. When you grow up with three brothers with Irish blood (read: Beer) in their veins, you kind of need to figure out how to defend yourself so that your face doesn’t turn into a shapeless meat-form that resembles undercooked roast beef. That means that you need to figure out how to take a punch and how to deliver one right back. If someone cried, Mom or Dad would magically appear with an ice pack and a heaping helping of screamed guilt. And then it would start again the next day.
The training helped toughen me up a bit, which helped balance out my more fey and delicate attributes. Yes, I baked cookies and I couldn’t throw a football for shit, but I could also take a right hook to the jaw without breaking down and hold my own in a fight. It was a useful skill to have, albeit one I didn’t plan on using all that often, not that I was given many opportunities to do so.
This is the story of the one time I had to use it.
In grade school, I fell in with the weirdos and geeks, which really shouldn’t surprise you in any way. It was me, Warren, Rylee, Ryan R., and Marco F. We would all one day grow up to be writers, artists and pyrotechnicians, but at the time, we were just a bunch of kids who liked playing Gamecube and watching Marco F. find new and exciting ways to blow up anything we could find using fireworks he stole from his Dad.
One day, we were at Ryan’s house, busy sculpting dinosaurs out of plasticine so that Marco could stick a firecracker up its ass and blow it right back into extinction. We’d huddle around the tiny clay monster, standing mid-rampage in his driveway with the fuse of a cherrybomb sticking out of its ass, before a loud CRACK would turn it into clay shrapnel. We were prepping the next blast victim, a poorly-crafted stegosaurus who looked like thalidomide pinata, when Joey R. came up to us.
Oh Joey R. What a fucking choad that guy was. Joey went to another school, but due to his proximity to Ryan’s house, he would still zero in on me. What can I say? I was an easy target. Between my hand-me-down clothes and the sissier qualities imbued upon me by my latent gayness, I might as well have painted a target on my head while wearing a shirt that said “Ask me about my oh-so punchable face!” I had enough bruises, cuts and bumps from him to last me for a looooooong time. Actually, if you look closely at the left-side of my forehead, you can still see a very tiny scar he left me with.
That day, Joey decided to announce his arrival by smacking his stick against the road as he approached, flanked by his nameless toadies. I’m not sure if they even had names. If they were characters in a movie, they would have been billed as “bully kid #1″ and “bully kid #2″. They were classic 80′s movie bullies, right down to their preppy-haircuts and suburban-punk clothes, and they too came packing heat with their hockey sticks and a bag of paintballs.
“Hey gay faggots, what are you doing? Being gay?” he said, his taunting arsenal built entirely around various permutations of “faggot”.
“Shut up, Joey. We’re playing Dinosaur-Killing Meteors,” said Ryan, trying to brush off the trio of dicks.
“We’re playing gay Dinosaur-Killing fag Meteors!” mimicked back Joey, in a high-pitched tone.
“Go away Joey, no one here even likes you,” I said trying to move them along as quickly as I could.
“Whatever queer, you’re a gay fag anyway.”
This wasn’t the response I was looking for. “Go away, or else we’ll tell Ryan’s Mom on you,” I said. Yeah, I know. Real scary threat.
Having exhausted his supply of “fag” synonyms, Joey decided to move on to the next phase of his genius plan. Bully kid #1 handed Joey his bag of paintballs, and Joey preceded to grab a handful and slam them into the side of my head.
The force of the paintballs against my head must have knocked a part of my brain lose, or triggered something primal deep inside of my id, because in the instant between when my eyes instinctively closed for the blow, and when they finally opened again, I somehow managed to pry the hockey stick out of Joey’s hands, wrestle him to the ground, force the shaft of the stick against his throat, and deliver blow after blow to his head.
“JEREMY!” came a shrill, angry voice behind me. I turned around to see my mother, stepping out of her sedan and marching towards me. How the hell had I forgotten I had asked her to pick me up? Of course, the one time I would get into a fight with someone other than my brothers, she’d still find a way to track me down and scold me for fighting.
I got up off of the shaking, beaten hulk that was Joey and made my way over to my Mom’s car, where my first instinct was to look in her side mirror to make sure my hair was all right. Yes, even when I was in total shit and my knuckles were covered in the snot and blood of the bully whose ass I just kicked, my primary concern was whether or not my hair looked good. Joey and his lackies retreated back to his house, while Ryan and my friends sequestered themselves back into Ryan’s place.
“It’s not my fault, Mom! He was bullying me!” I said, trying to lessen the time I’d eventually have to do for this one.
“Just get in the car,” she said, whisking me back home away from the scene of my little crime.
Back home, my parents sat me down in the lecture chair for what I could only assume would be a long talking-to, followed by heaping helpings of guilt, shame and grounding. My Dad sighed, looked at my mother, then back to me. “You understand that what you did was wrong, right?”
“Yes,” I said, bracing myself for what was going to come next.
“Good,” said my mother. “Okay, you’re free to go.”
And that was it. “What?”
“Just take it and go,” said my Dad.
“Okay,” I said, running down to the basement to play Mario Party 4.
Yeah, go figure. My parents caught me in the act of completely beating the shit out of a kid, and all I got for it was a reassurance that my moral compass didn’t need to be recalibrated. How the hell did that happen?
Looking back on it now, I think part of the reason I was given a pass was because my parents recognized that there was a difference between my defending myself and Joey bullying me. Kids these days are being given two competing messages: That they will be victimized by bullies, and that fighting back is wrong.
Here’s the thing: Whenever Joey would punch me in the nose or kick my ass or beat me up, he was trying to tell me that I was powerless and that he was stronger than me. When I finally snapped and kicked Joey’s ass for a change, what I was saying was “no I’m not, now stop punching me you dick.” He tried countless times to get his message across and failed. I gave him my message once, and guess what? It went through. I stood up for myself, and do you know how many times he beat me up after I showed him I wasn’t a push-over?
Zero. Never again. I stood up to a bully, and he never tried to fuck with me again.
Let’s get this straight: I’m not proud of myself for beating someone up. Absolutely not. I am however very proud that I stood up for myself and, because of that, I never got beat up again. I’m not going to advocate mindless violence for the sake of making yourself feel bigger at someone else’s expense, but hell, if you’re only two options are “Punch this bully in the face once” or “accept that you’re a victim and internalize your pain until it implodes on you”, guess what? I will plant my fist so hard into a bully’s face, his kids’ heads will be concave.
It gets better. That being said, sometimes you’re gonna have to get your hands dirty to make it better.
Photo courtesy of Noel Feans