All Squared Up
by Jessie Carty
You may not believe it from looking at all 4 foot 10 inches of me, but I’m a fighter. No, I don’t mean that in the “I’ve fought and survived cancer or child abuse etc etc” kind of fighter, although I’m not denying the possibility of those battles. I’m talking about physical fists out fighting.
It started early. My brother and I would wrestle when we were supposed to be sleeping. I tended to befriend boys more than girls. Maybe because, while I liked stuffed animals, I wasn’t much of a doll carrying, dress wearing kind of girl. I wanted to climb trees and dig holes in the yard. I hate to use the word tomboy because I am terrible at sports, but tomboy is still a pretty apt description of me.
There was a little boy named John on my bus whom I spent most of my time fighting with in grammar school. He lived down the street from me, and I suppose we liked each other on some 3rd grader level although I never took him up on the offer he gave all the girls—a chance to see his penis.
John and I took the fights seriously in regards to technique (John was a Hulk Hogan fan). We weren’t trying to actually hurt each other. It was a show of physicality, a way to touch without the edges of sex that we almost understood. Our school bus transported kids from ages 5 to 18; therefore, we had seen quite a few make out sessions, and we’d heard detailed dirty jokes before we could even write in cursive.
Besides my brother and John, I never really got into “starting trouble” kind of fights. Fighting was just for fun, not for anger. That is until 5th grade and a boy named Jeremy.
I don’t remember Jeremy’s last name. We rode the same bus to school. He was older than I. I’m not sure how much older, perhaps 6th grade, but I think he may have been held back at least once. Not withstanding age, he was definitely much bigger than I and not just because of his gender, but think about it: I never made it over 4 foot 10 as an adult, so how tall could I have been in 5th grade?
As we were offloading the bus for school one morning, Jeremy pushed me from behind. He was trying to start a fight. I didn’t bite. I told him to stop, but I didn’t report him; I simply got off the bus and went to class before he could try anything else.
It wasn’t the same day- I don’t think- but near enough for both of the events to stand out in my memory, that Jeremy and I finally had it out during recess.
I was playing four-square with mostly girls when one of the few boys playing declared I was out. Most of the boys were at the far end of the recess yard near the sandy lines that we called a baseball diamond. The four-square ball had been out of bounds, which is why I didn’t hit it, but this boy, who was serving, swore the ball had been in. I was forced to leave my square. The girls all backed me up. I should have just left the game, found something else to do, but I got back into line. Jeremy cut in front of me. I don’t know what he said to me. I don’t know what I said to him, but I do know he swung first.
Yes, the kid who was at least a year older than me and definitely had 20 or more pounds on me, who was also a boy, took the first swing. I had always been told to defend myself, even by my former Mennonite mother; therefore, I hit back. It wasn’t a long fight. There was no slow motion. We ended up on the ground until a teacher broke up the fight. We were sent to the principal’s office where we each went in individually to tell our side of the story. There were boys, many who were not even at the four-square game, who claimed I started the fight, but all the girls sided with me, even the ones I didn’t know well. It was amazing how quickly it came down to boys versus girls.
I knew the principal well. I had been in the same school since kindergarten. Mr. Tice, the principal, had even given me a ride home from school once when I was very young and my mother didn’t have a car. I think I threw up in his VW. I told him about the bus and the fight on the playground. I was usually a good kid who didn’t fight in school; I had good grades, unlike Jeremy.
Jeremy had to sit in the cafeteria during recess for two weeks. I sat in the principal’s office with the secretary and sometimes helped her file things.
Jeremy and I both came away from the fight with black eyes which I took a bit of pride in. I loved watching mine change colors as it healed, and every time I saw Jeremy’s black rimmed eye, I thought, “I did that.” It wasn’t hurting someone that felt like a triumph, but rather the fact that I had found some way to stand up for myself despite being a girl, despite my size. I don’t advocate fighting, but I can say Jeremy never taunted me again. I never threw a punch again.
I like to picture our black eyes as a matching set. Mine is on the right, his is on the left. The two bruises become a circle, like a yin/yang symbol, putting everything back into balance.