I have been a part of one fight in my life. One where I actually threw a punch just as easily as I took one; a sucker hook to the side of my face that almost knocked my left eye out of orbit. My mother looked at me outside my bedroom the next morning, placed a hand on my chin, and observed the swelling black and blue tattooed around my eye.
“I’m not even going to ask,” she said, dropping her hand. “Put some ice on it.”
Friends and I were out in Huntington, jumping from bar to bar. The night had finally exhausted itself. The heat mixed in with the shots of whiskey. We decided to put a long-awaited period at the end of our comma-filled, drunken run-on sentence and talked about heading to Little Vincent’s for a couple slices to soak it all up. I stood outside the bar with one friend, waiting for the rest to pay their tabs and join us. The street’s filled with others also deciding on their next move. A group of four, two guys and two girls, walked up to the bouncer holding his hand out for IDs. The first girl, stumbling, cheerful, removed her credit card instead, and stamped it onto the bouncer’s chest, using the force of his immovable stance to hold herself up. Her head dipped to the floor while her free hand extended to the side. Her knees bent. She looked like she was about to break out into a move only Michael Jackson could pull off.
“That’s not your ID,” I spewed, teasing obnoxiously.
The girl, unfazed, held her pose. I waited for a “hee-hee!”
“What’d you say, asshole?” shouted one of the guys, pushing me towards the street, just in time for the rest of my hooligan friends to walk out of the bar. Shoves. Fists. Tackles. Broken windshields. The police. Fights are all the same. I started it. I normally prevent them.
I have prevented more than I can remember, which often feels more difficult than throwing an actual punch. In general, drunk people are irrational. I’ve been there plenty of times. Just scroll through my text messages and look at the ones sent later than 1 AM. I’ve gotten loud, wanted to throw down, after pounding back a ton. Started shit with a couple of my sister’s old boyfriends. Even my brother-in-law before he became my brother-in-law. All when I was drunk. So, I get it.
Which is why stopping a fight from happening is never as simple as being like “Yo, bro, let’s go outside.” They’ll look at you, suddenly snap out of their booze-induced rage, admit “you’re right,” and walk with you quickly out the club. That’s the ideal situation, the nonviolent civil disobedience of nightlife. Gandhi would two-step in his grave. But what typically happens is this:
“Yo, bro, let’s go outside,” you shout at your friend, over the bass of the speakers drowning out your voice. You stand in front of him. Your hands are firmly pressed on the blades of his shoulders as if the pressure could sober him up with an extra pinch. You notice the glaze in his eyes. He’s not looking at you; instead, over your shoulder, but you try again anyway. “Let’s go outside,” with an attempt to move him yourself. But the Jameson has cemented the dude’s feet into the beer-stained floor.
“What’d you say about my girl?” he’ll holler at the guy behind you that he’s trying to wrestle with.
“Why’d you bump into me?” he’ll scream, acting as if the Times-Square-during-Christmas type of atmosphere could have prevented otherwise.
“Say it to my face!” he’ll cry, pounding his chest with open palms, two feet away from the other person that has helped create the sandwich you’re now the filling for.
Most people, after the fight or the next morning, always think to themselves, why did he do that? There isn’t an explanation, at least one that doesn’t sell short with the words he, was, and drunk meeting in succession. Although, the booze really does come into play. You can be saying the most rational things to a drunk person. To them, it sounds like Sanskrit for all they know. So what’s the move here? Let it happen? Let them fight? Because a punch to the head will wake them up?
Another thing we always hear is, “it could have been avoided.” But, could it really have been avoided? This isn’t the large amount of cynicism that spars with my brain talking here. People are who they are. And when tested, in an environment overdosed with testosterone, in a world consumed by masculinity and notions of what actually defines it, how many can actually hold their out hand, and say “my bad”?
The night has again turned to morning. Xios has again unveiled its waking sun. Brightness rises from behind the port. Our view is blocked, though, by a building at the corner of the side street we stand on. One of my friends finds the nearest garbage can, about 15 feet down the street, to throw up in. Another friend and I wait for him, observing the parade of cabs lined up in front of us, waiting to take home those too drunk to drive. We both gaze out in his direction, when a couple walks past us on the sidewalk. The man turns abruptly, places his hand on his girlfriend’s shoulder, and shouts,
“Ti vlepeis, malaka?” He steps closer. “What are you looking at?”
My friend is throwing up, we tell him, calmly, pointing towards the garbage can.
“Ti vlepeis, malaka?” he repeats, inching even closer.
The drunken stranger targets my friend, inevitably squishing me in between. I push my friend back and plead with him to hail a cab. He’s not listening. The alcohol subliminally controls him. I implore the stranger to walk away, to understand that we weren’t checking out his girl. But it’s too late. The damage is done. The stranger shoves me to the side and attacks.
The next morning, my friend apologizes. I tell him that it should have been avoided, but after, I question how that would have been possible. There was no convincing him during the fight.
But before the next morning, we sat in the taxi, watching Xios unfold. My friend, heated and overwhelmed, asked if he looked “tough.” In that moment, he was being challenged. By the stranger. By himself. I brushed off his question, as I too was heated, upset. You have to be challenged before you learn to walk away. It’s something, like so much else, that needs to be realized on your own.
“Did I look tough?” he asks again, as we pass a small, rocky beach.
Not yet, I want to tell him. But you will, I want to say next.
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