While we were in North Carolina (see “Escape From the Hood”), my mom finally taught my big brother how to fight in her own inimitable way – and as far as I was concerned, it was about time.

 

I remember well when this happened; it was all he deserved, though not as much pain and punishment as I sometimes wished on him. But it was cruel. We were behind the apartments when Bro, true to his nature, started making some snide remarks to a stocky kid just a little bit bigger than he was. Since I was standing there watching, I guess he figured he was ‘safe’ – that I’d come barreling in to save his butt as I had done so many times before. But this time was different. After watching him eat ice cream while I danced around on some monkey bars trying to avoid getting creamed by a teenager he’d pissed off, like I was some circus entertainer put there for his own entertainment, I’d decided I’d had enough; I wasn’t going to stand up for him anymore, nor was I going to let him suck me into fighting on his behalf — no matter how much he screamed or yelled, or who he picked a fight with.

 

The kids started throwing punches at him, and again, true to his past pattern of behavior, my brother just stood there like an idiot, screaming and crying and futilely holding his forearms up in front of his face in defense. He wouldn’t even try to throw a punch; he just stood there, screaming and wailing and occasionally glancing over at me. But I just watched him, cold and numb inside. I don’t know why I felt that way – just a cold nothing, but I guess it was my way of not feeling what I usually felt when I’d see him getting beat up – anger, sorrow, and pity. I had a nifty knack of ‘shifting’ my emotions, ‘switching’ into another state of calm numbness. It helped a LOT when my dad would come to beat me, though sometimes now I think because of that — because I didn’t cry easily — I got beaten much harder and longer than I would of otherwise. My dad got off on seeing our pain; he still has that mean sadistic trait. So perhaps in that my brother was smarter. He’d start crying right away.

 

So Bro just stands there and screams while this kid, pleased at his easy prey, pounds on him. Then my mom comes out. In her hand she has a thick leather belt. She, too, has had enough. She had heard about my tussle on the playground; she knows my brother is always running his mouth without anything to back it, and she knows that I’ve been standing up for him for years – fighting his fights, saving his butt, and coming home with nothing but bruises and scratches to show for it.

 

Going up behind my brother, she begins whacking him with the belt – HARD whacks, across the back and shoulders.

 

“FIGHT, damn you, FIGHT!” she yells – no, shrieks – as the kid who was beating on my brother backs off in frightened confusion. My brother just screams. The kid looks at my mom, then at my brother. My mom looks at the kid. I can just imagine how confused he must of been. I know I would of been terrified.

 

“Fight him, damnit,” she hisses, swinging the belt at my brother. “I’m not going to hit you. I’m going to hit HIM until he fights BACK.”

 

And the kid – hesitant now, begins to swing again. Encouraged by my mom’s lack of reaction (except to whip my brother some more), he starts to strike in earnst.

 

My brother, caught between my enraged mom and this punk kid, finally concedes. At first he tries to sink to the ground – but my mom beats him even harder.

 

“Get UP, damn you! FIGHT!” she yells.

 

I’m just watching, sort of upset, sort of not. I don’t dare step in, not now, not with my momma involved. That belt is just as likely to strike me for interfering as it is my brother for being stupid. And I guess something finally snapped in my brother – some kind of realization, or perhaps he’d been beaten animal. At any rate, he gets back up, crying and rushes at the boy, wildly throwing punches as my mom’s belt rapidly follows him. And to my surprise (as much as Bro’s, I think) — the kid finally breaks and runs away (probably more terrified by the weird, strange outcome of the fight than any actual pain.)

 

And that’s how my brother learned to fight for himself instead of relying on me to win his battles for him. For better or worse, that’s how it went.

 

And I never had to fight his battles anymore.

 

 

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