I was running laps around the adjacent soccer field and it was difficult from that distance to make sense of it all, but I could see as I approached that one of them carried a football. Oh, I thought, they came here to play a pickup game. Many of the boys began shedding their shirts. Shirts and skins: the classic jersey types of boyhood games. But, soon, more than half of them were shirtless, the teams uneven. Then two of the boys started fighting.
I convinced myself for a second that it was just for play, that it was just your typical boys-will-be-boys brand of roughhousing. But, no, they wailed on each other, speedy right and left hooks aimed directly at each other’s faces. No body shots, no combinations, no defense, just alternating punches toward the face. And they exchanged blows like this for a while, or for what seemed like a while. The initial contact probably lasted no longer than a few seconds, but it was enough time for me to think, and then to panic.
I was the only person in the vicinity, and I’m not sure they even knew I was there. Just the width of a parking lot stood between us, but they failed to notice me. The brutality of the beating had consumed them. Just minutes before they arrived, the park was peaceful. A father played with his little girl on the swing set and a family of four flew kites next to the pavilion. These boys, infatuated with the fight, now squashed that serenity between clenched fists.
I wondered what would happen if they saw me. Maybe they would want to fight me too. I had been running for the past half hour. Outnumbered and fatigued, I would have made an easy victim, even for boys. Another part of me wanted to yell out for them to stop, or to grab my phone and call someone for help, but maybe I judged them wrong and they were just here for their weekend fight club. When the punches slowed, the boys would stop and shake hands with a show of sportsmanship and then two more boys would step into the circle to take their turn at each other. But that was not the case. An undeniable anger compelled the fighters and a tense seriousness subdued their audience. They were here to settle a dispute and the fighting wouldn’t cease until one of the boys emerged as the obvious victor—the other, a weakling and a loser.
The boys I grew up with didn’t behave this way. We put our hearts before our fists and handled feuds with words, not violence. These boys here were animals, ones who chipped away at progress with blood underneath their fingernails. And pockets of people like them exist in this world, people of all ages who have regressed to the destructive behaviors of immature boys, who throw mud at maturity and take shits on respect. They can’t see beyond their blackened eyes to the broken bones and spirits of their brethren, and it’s during times like these that I’m not sure they ever will. They just continue to pound humanity into stagnation.
Soon I witnessed one of the boys in the fight close the distance on his opponent with a jab. He then locked his hands around the other boy’s neck and propelled his knee upward. The blow to the face dropped its recipient to the ground and its deliverer quickly mounted the back of his fallen foe. He proceeded to raise his fists high in the air before dropping them like hammers onto the side of the helpless boy’s head. The repetitive thuds of knuckles on skull carried across the cement of the parking lot. It occurred to me in that moment that they were imitating the practiced moves of professional fighters. But the fighters you see on television are not amateurs or boys who fight over petty, grade school disagreements; they are athletes and men who fight for sport and a paycheck. These boys before me wouldn’t leave the arena with glory or a fancy belt, only bruises, reflections on the skin of an even greater damage within.
Another lap around the field and the fighters had finished. Their cohorts dispersed into their respective trucks and diesel engines roared. Only two boys remained outside: the boy who had been beaten and one of his friends. The former thrashed to break free from the latter’s grasp, desiring an immediate chance at revenge over his victorious adversary, who now laughed in celebration with his posse. Pats on the back and high fives from one truck, dim faces and a c’mon, let’s get out of here from the other. But the boy refused to admit to his fatigue and to his fair defeat—because although the fight had been barbaric, it had been fair. He continued to flail in denial as his friend dragged him back into the truck and I turned away up the length of the field again.
Shortly, I heard the trucks speeding along the dirt and gravel pathway that paralleled the field on the other side of a chain-link fence. Over my shoulder, I watched them as they passed. The boy with the visor—I could now tell that he, too, was a boy, not an adult—glared at me from the backseat of the second truck, his fat arm resting on the open window frame. I could have sworn he showed me his middle finger, but it was difficult to tell through the cloud of dust they left in their wake, and so I just turned my head and kept running.
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