My brother had a nasty tendency to pick fights, then count on me to save him. Despite being my older brother, he was thin and scrawny, and to make matters worse, he’d pick a fight – and wouldn’t fight back. Instead he’d just lay there, letting some other kid pound on him, screaming until I’d step in and take his opponent on. Lucky for him, I was a tough, scrappy kid with a fearless heart, one who didn’t know the word “quit” or “uncle” – or at least I’d refuse to say it, fighting until I’d won. No amount of pain seemed to get in the way of my determination, and when I’d get angry, I get determined. Pain would just anger me further, thus bolstering my determination. For some reason I’d become immune to pain in a fight; not caring anymore, just going at it, sucking up my opponent’s blows and delivering plenty of my own. And my brother – he would pick a fight with anyone, mostly through his smart mouth and smarmy answers. And he wasn’t above picking fights with kids – sometimes teenagers – who were almost twice my age and size. Not that I’d let that bother me; I’d just be more cautious, more vicious, and hitting them a lot harder. But I’d never beat up a kid just to beat him up; instead I preferred getting along peacefully, and even when I’d find myself in a fight as soon as the other kid would start crying it was my cue that he’d had enough and it was time to let him go home.

But while the teens in the ‘hood had learned to respect my fighting skills and leave me alone, the ones in North Carolina at Fort Bragg when I was nine didn’t know me. Which was fine by me – I wasn’t out to impress anyone with my fighting skills, preferring instead to just play with my peers. But my brother wasn’t going to let it stay that way – and I had my last big fight with a teenager courtesy of his aggravating one on the playground late one afternoon.

It started simply – and usually enough. My brother and I were at the playground, not far from the military quarters, and it was late afternoon early in the summer. It was late afternoon; most of the other kids had gone home, and we are just aimlessly tooling around, staying away from each other while wishing we had someone to play with. We had only been in this place a month or two, and didn’t have any friends, but my brother and I weren’t friends, either. We were more like two convicts reluctantly stuck in the same prison; neither one able to stand each other for long, but bound together by the ties of family and familiarity. My brother is casually licking at an ice cream cone, one he’d gotten from the ice cream truck that came around sometimes.

This teenage guy comes walking up – tall, lean, black haired and narrow faced, and my brother starts talking to him. He’s about fifteen or so, and I don’t pay much attention, but what is coming from my brother’s mouth catches my attention.

“He can beat you up,” my brother says, nodding at me. “He beats up teenagers.”

I inwardly cringe. I don’t want to fight anyone. But the teenager looks over at me with this look – one of scorn and disdain. I don’t like his look. It’s like he’s looking for someone to pick on, and my brother and I are alone.

“Your brother thinks you can beat me up,” he tells me. I size him up. He’s lean and wiry looking, a third taller than me. But I’m not going to lie.

“I’ve beat up older kids,” I grudgingly admit – and yeah, with a bit of pride.

“I don’t think you can beat me up,” he states it as a matter-of-fact. I shrug. I don’t care. I’m not looking for a fight – especially not a tough one.

“He can, you know,” my brother eggs him on. “I’ve seen him take on BIG kids and beat them. You ain’t nuthin’.”

The teenager eyes me speculatively, then turns to my brother.

“You’re lying,” he says, shoving my brother. My brother stumbled back a step, then the teenager came over to me and stands there defiantly, his hands on his hips.

“You think you can beat me up?” he demands.

I stop – I was on my way over to the monkey bars – and look at him again.

“I don’t know,” I say, nonchalantly. “Maybe.” Again, I am telling the truth. This kid is tall, strong, and I’m beginning to see he’s sort of mean, too.

That’s when he shoved me. He should of never shoved me. My temper was already starting to cook over what my brother was saying and doing – and now this guy is going to shove me.

So the fight was on.

I came in low, like I always did, and me and the teenager tangle. His reach doesn’t count since I’m already up against him – and we fight.

It was a long, drawn out fight. We tangled over the sand, then onto the monkey bars. That was the hardest, riskiest part – balancing on the bars, hanging on with one hand, and trying to strike with the other. We both got in some licks, but it was to my advantage, and I knew it. I could squeeze between the bars easier than the teenager, and I used it to my advantage. But he could dance around the outside of the cage of metal squares quicker than I, using his long arms and legs to cross over the empty spaces. We are going around and around like a pair of mismatched monkeys, trading licks – I can see his narrow face, the eyebrows pinched in concentration as he’d throw a fist at me, or try to kick down through the bars – and me, hot and sweaty, getting tired, trying to keep some distance between us. My heart really isn’t in the fight – I didn’t want it to begin with – and I am a bit confused, since I don’t know this kid, didn’t want to fight him, and really would much rather just be playing. But the guy won’t stop; he keeps on chasing me around, and we get in little tussles on the bars, wrestling, scratching, and trading punches. He gets a couple good licks in and I get mine, when I look down and what do I see?

There is my brother, standing on the ground, watching us – and licking an ice cream cone, as though he is at the circus or something. Not coming in to help me, not lifting a finger in my defense – and yet this is HIS fight, the one HE picked – and I’m having to deal with the consequences!

That just blew a fuse in my mind. I mean I went from ‘not really caring’ to ‘simply enraged’. And my rage was more at my brother – the one whom I’d rescued so many times from fights he’d caused, the one I’d beat up my best friend over – and the little SOB is standing there licking on an ice cream and watching us fight. The only thing I wanted to do was get down and kick my brother’s ass – but I couldn’t. I had to take care of this stupid bored teenager first.

I barely remember what happened then. I remember launching myself full bore into the teenager’s chest, driving him down through the bars, riding him like a cushion. I think he hit his head on a few bars on the way down; I know he ended up on the ground inside the cage, his arm hung across one of the bars. And he was groaning, not moving a whole lot. Maybe I’d knocked the wind out of him, riding him down like that. But I didn’t care. I immediately got up and went over to my brother, who was standing there agape, the ice cream melting and running down his cone.

“GD you,” I said (only I used the words, not the initials). “Why didn’t you come and help me? YOU picked the fight!” (This is just paraphrasing; I was so mad I wanted to just chew him up and spit him out.)

“I was eating ice cream!” he protested, as though that simple activity was all the excuse he needed.

I angrily stared at him for a moment. He licks his ice cream. And I guess it was then I decided: I wasn’t ever going to stand up for him again, let him suck me into another fight. Not for him. Not when he was just going to stand there eating his ice cream and watch me face some threat.

Never again, I sort of silently promised myself, more with angry feelings than words as I stalked off the playground.

And I never break my promises.

That was the last time I ever fought for him.