Violence In the Hood
(Tokoni Posting Condensed 05/25/2009)

If you’ve been keeping up with my stories, you know by now things weren’t “normal” in my family. According to one shrink I saw, things weren’t “normal” in our neighborhood – or what we call “The Hood”.  We arrived when I was five; left at eleven – and that period of time, more than any other, represents the ‘brightest’ time of my childhood. In many ways, it WAS my childhood; the entire thing. Before then I had more of a toddler’s mind; after then – well, after then, things happened that just sorta put the finishing touches on an already cracked (warped?) mind, and broke my heart a half-dozen or so times. I ended up learning that nightmares CAN come true (four years later, when I was fourteen or so.)

But the Hood. Now that was a PLACE! Wild and crazy country young ‘uns doing wild and crazy things – not like today, where all the kids come home and sit either in front of their computers or the TV.  Since there were no ‘virtual worlds’ to play in we played in the REAL one. And our games were real, the fights were real, the play was real – there was nothing “virtual” about it. Instead it was visceral, gritty, sandy, hot or cold, wet, dry – physical sensations. When your opponent hit you – you felt it, you were rocked, you could feel blood trickling from your nose or lip – and taste its salty copper. When you got socked in the gut – you FELT it, the wind left your lungs, and you were left there gasping – and no ‘time out’, no “pause the game”. You had to get up quick and either continue or run away. And I only ran one time. (Another story.) None of that ‘virtual reality’. It was REAL reality.

I had a thing for fighting. No – I didn’t start them – but I couldn’t resist a good fight if I saw one. I’d see some kid getting pounded – it didn’t matter who it was – and I’d have to rush in and save them. I just couldn’t STAND to see another kid getting uselessly socked – once they’d start crying, my heart would go out to them, my hackles would rise – and before I knew it, I’d be in there tackling the victor. And I didn’t know when to say quit – either I was too stubborn, or just didn’t know how. And aside from one time, I never lost. (That was an amusing one, for some kid came out of nowhere while I was just walking up the road – and scrambling up me like a little monkey, brought me down with surprise – and tooth and nail as well.)

The other kids knew I was tough, and for the most part didn’t bother me. My best friend and I fought – it seemed like every other day! – but we never harbored a grudge, and I reckon we did it more for entertainment than anything. Now, I wasn’t a skilled fighter – I’d go windmilling in, head down, and storm my opponent – and no amount of pain would stop me. I ‘ate’ pain.  I was pretty much immune to it by then, especially when I was in a rage. Still am. (Which explains some of the self-inflicted cuts and scars on my arms.) And it didn’t matter how big or old you were (unless you were a grownup – they were inviolate, and could do as they pleased.) I’d take you down anyway – if by nothing else than by never stopping, never letting go, and never giving up.

My favorite trick was to get my opponent down on the ground face first – and then sit on their back and pound their kidneys. I wasn’t one to go for the face – no, teeth and bones can hurt your hands – however, a kid, belly-down, can’t fight back – and with my weight and constant pounding until they were crying and begging soon enough. They really had no choice. As soon as they’d start to cry – I was done. I’d had enough. I don’t know why it is that crying kids affected me just as badly back then as they do now – perhaps it was because I’d heard too much of it at home. And a kid screaming – well, that really bothers me. I always have to check to see what is going on. Every time. It really mucks with me inside and emotionally.

My brother – now there was a problem child (in my early opinion) if I ever saw one. The boy wouldn’t fight (except with me, because he knew I wouldn’t pound him) – but he’d pick a fight with just about anyone else. Again: didn’t matter what size or age – he’d say something, do something, piss them off just enough to take him down – and then just he’d lay there shrieking, not even trying to defend himself. Knowing I’d come and save him. Which I always did if I was around.

There were several fights I remember that went that way. One was the talk of the neighborhood for years – they still talk about it – how me and my best friend got into it when I was eight or nine.

My brother had done his usual thing – picking a fight – only this time it was with my best friend, and in our back yard, with the other kids standing around, including the teenager and his teenage friend. My best friend does what he usually does – he socks my brother a few times, knocks him down, gets on top of him, and proceeds to ‘go to town’. Me, I’m standing there watching – it’s okay with me – up until my brother starts crying. As far as I’m concerned, my friend should stop now. But he doesn’t. I go up to my best friend and roughly rocking his shoulder, tell him to let my brother up. My friend ignores me – he’s tired of my brother’s constant picking and snide remarks. (And I don’t blame him.) But after a few moments I’ve had enough. And this is the part that everyone remembers and talks about to this day.

I pick my best friend up bodily – even though he’s the same size as me – lift him up in one clean sweep over my head like superman raising a barbell — then dash him to the ground. (I did mention I was a strong little SOB, didn’t I? See “Cat Scratch Fever” for more on that.) Then I jump on him, and the fight is on. (My brother, meanwhile, still whimpering, stands to the side to watch. Even though he’s the older one.) This fight was one of the toughest I’d ever been in – my friend is desperate, knows I’m pissed – REALLY pissed – and we spin and wrestle, knocking each other a bloody nose, lips – anything. And every time I can, I’m socking him in the stomach – short little strokes, but with everything I’ve got. My friend, on the other hand, is aiming for the face. Fine by me. I don’t care. We fight and tussle, getting more and more vicious by the second. My friend, meanwhile, is starting to resort to dirty tricks, which I don’t like. Eye-gouging, hair pulling – anything in desperation to win this one. But I don’t care. It just infuriates me more, and I tear into him like he’s a wet bag of tissue paper. Oh, I’m still fighting ‘fair’ – punches only – but he’s gone beyond that. He’s trying to rip my eyes out, scratching my face. And I – I’ve gone beyond the mere issue of rescuing my brother. I’m now dealing with someone who wants to hurt me. And I’m not going to allow that – even if he IS hurting me. So I hurt him – socking him over and over again. Badly.

The teenagers finally decide that we are going too far – both of us are bloody, and I am far beyond rage. So is my friend. So his big brother (the teenager next door) holds him back, the other teenager holds ME back – pinning our arms behind us and separating us by a few feet – and my best friend and I are snarling like rabid dogs as we struggle to launch ourselves at the other’s throat. Finally I figure out what I have to do. Twisting around in his grip, I attack the teenager who is holding me back. And I must have been pretty vicious about it, because when I wheel in his grip and begin socking him and kicking him like a beast gone wild, he lets me go. BIG mistake. I immediately turn and there’s my friend, his arms pinned back by his wide-eyed brother. Driving my fists forward, I get two tremendous blows into my best friend’s gut, and he doubles over before the other teenager tackles me and pins me to the ground, holding me down with everything he’s got.

And that’s where that fight ended. My friend – he’s beyond crying now, and is puking, throwing up over and over again – they take him to the water faucet and wash some of the blood off his face and try to wash the puke from his mouth – but he won’t stop puking and I’m still shaking with emotion. I hate what I’ve done, but justify it in that he wouldn’t stop beating up my brother – and I can’t take another kid crying. But this time I see what I’ve done: I’ve beat my best friend up BAD. And I mean bad.

How bad, you may ask?

Well, he was out of school for three days. I’d knocked his guts around so hard that he was sick, couldn’t even eat. And all the kids knew it – and after that even the teenagers left me alone. They knew: there’s something just not right about Mikie. And you don’t want to tangle with him.

We had more fights, of course – ‘friendly’ ones, if you want to call it that – and one where we fought after I returned from North Carolina just to see if I could still beat him. Bloody noses and split lips – but after that I was always careful, always tried to keep my rage under control (but not always successfully), and never hurt him like that again. I learned to take my anger out on THINGS, not people, for the most part, though there were a few times I slipped up. And to this day I have to watch myself, for I can fly into a BAD rage if I don’t. I won’t say the shrinks helped me control this rage – I did. In part by separating it off from me, assigning it to ‘someone’ else – and then I fight ‘them’ (or rather myself) rather than let ‘it’ out.

That’s one thing the shrinks did point out. Abuse survivors often have a sea of anger and rage within them – and when the wind gets to blowing and the waves get to churning – it can get as hard to control as a hurricane’s storm surge. And even the shrinks know it can be a dangerous thing – not to YOU so much as THEM. I don’t know how many times one shrink would ask me in her office: “Am I safe with you?”. She was, of course – but for her protection I could not do what she asked: tap into that sea of rage and find out what it was about. Because I KNOW what it was about. It was about being a powerless child being beaten; it was about being raised ‘wrong’, and the later emotional losses and heartbreaks — and having to silently swallow my grief and rage so often. It was both a strength and an asset sometimes – but as my Marine Corps commander pointed out: it made me too violent for war. He was afraid to turn me loose on the enemy – not because of what they might do to me – but rather, what I would do to them.

Go figure.  I’m still trying.