Never Say Quit

When I was a kid, one of the things I was taught is that you never say quit, you never cry uncle, and if you surrender, it’s just to come back and fight another day.  Nothing is ever good enough; therefore you should never stop trying, and society is going to judge you by the things you do.  And I never was one to hold a grudge, even as a kid.

A lot of folks are bewildered by that – how I can forgive someone who has wronged me, or why I can take a slight one day and shrug it off the next.  I have trouble explaining it other than to say I forgive.  I note of a person’s weaknesses and catalog their misbehaviors as something special about them.  Whether that person is a thief or a liar or given to exaggeration – I don’t mind.  It’s just human, which is something I am.  So instead of rejecting them or taking vengeance upon them, I just take steps to ensure whatever happened doesn’t happen again.  I don’t leave temptations laying about.  After all, if you find your friend is a thief, the best thing to do is make sure things are put up when they come around, and to keep an eye on them – not scream and yell and accuse, driving them away.  That’s the worst sort of thing you can do.  And if they are a liar, then take what they say with a huge grain of salt. No need to drop the friendship, in my opinion – just be aware of their failings, and remove the temptations.  You’d be surprised how loyal friends can become when you learn understanding and forgiving them like that.

But not holding a grudge has gotten me in trouble a time or two. Mostly it is with other people who don’t understand my strange way of thinking – and those who have held grudges against me. Picking back up where I left off – when I was a kid living for a brief amount of time in North Carolina – this story is about one of those times. I was nine years old.  And it’s about one of the worst fights I ever had.

It started simply enough. Some big kid, a bully around the military apartments (the same one mentioned in “Fight or Get Beaten”) – decided to pick a fight with me. No big problem; I’d taken on big kids before. But this one was different.

The kid outweighed me by about twenty pounds or so, maybe more, and was built like a side of beef. Like me, he could take pain and keep on fighting. And like me, he didn’t seem to know to call it quits.

Our fight started one sunny day during the latter half of the last summer I spent in NC. Like so many fights, I haven’t a clue what started it, nor what it was about; however, I gave as good as I got, and I got as good as I gave. We fought for hours, trading blows and wrestling in the dust, neither one willing to give in, give up, or go away. We fought until the other kids, tired of watching, wandered away – something unusual for kids, since they are drawn to fights like birds to corn – and then we fought some more. But it’s strange living on a military base – at about five thirty, all the kids go in, for that’s when the fathers come home and supper is served. It was almost like a rule, a regulation. And so when the sun had rolled from its zenith and was dropping towards the horizon, we both obeyed the demands of our lords and masters – our mothers – and brushing ourselves off, separated from each other’s violent embrace and walked away, casting sullen looks over our shoulders.

The next day started normally enough. I had no interest in fighting this kid; the fight was over, history, and nobody won – plus he was one tough cookie, albeit a bit chipped and frayed from the day before – just like me. And holding no grudge, I was just as happy as not when the other kids started a baseball match out in the green field between the apartments. He was on the other team; I was playing second base, and the game held my attention instead of this boy I’d fought the previous day. Little did I know I should have been watching him instead of the game.

It was when he’d gone to bat and made second base that I learned he was one of those who held a grudge. I guess not being able to whip my ass the day before had something to do with it – most of the kids he would attack would buckle down, crouching and crying while he rained blows on them, forcing them into mindless submission for no other reason than to beat them. And like any bully, he seemed to have a penchant for attacking kids who were smaller than him. I guess my standing up to him was like a sticker in his throat, for as he was behind me, dancing back and forth on the base – and I, my attention on the next batter to arise – he attacked me.

It was a total surprise; my own personal Pearl Harbor. Attacking me from behind with nary a warning nor a cry, he bore me down face first into the dirt and began having his way with me – pounding my back, and pinning me to the ground. Squirming, I managed to wriggle around and begin returning fist for fist – and the fight was on. And again it was like the previous day, with one small difference: I could not understand why this kid kept attacking me. As far as I was concern the fight was over; it had been finished the previous day; why he wanted to keep on going was beyond me. But in my wondering I was taking a licking, and because I was more upset and confused by this kid’s reaction, I wasn’t as mad as I should have been. Instead I started fighting a defensive fight, just barely keeping the large boy at bay. And as it had been the previous day, the fight went on for hours. At first the other kids gathered around – then after awhile they wandered away to go play their ballgame, leaving me and the boy scuffling in the dirt.

By four-thirty I was worn down; this kid just wouldn’t stop fighting and I wouldn’t say ‘quit’. I just didn’t know how. By five he had me on the ground, and with evil intent, was taking great joy in trying to see how many sticks he could cram into my nose and ears. I refused to cry ‘uncle’ to him. I’ll never forget that – the dirty tricks – and how angry I’d become. Angry at myself for being rendered helpless; angry at him for pushing those sticks into me. But I was wearied, pinned down, and could do nothing but thrash helplessly around. And then came the big moment which ended the fight once and for all.

As I’m laying there, twisting my head, nose and ears bleeding, the kid suddenly flies up and off me like he’s grown wings. At the same time he lets loose a fearful cry which I can still, now, forty some odd years later, hear ringing in my ears:


That cry has told me a lot over the years. While that kid might not of feared us other kids, there was one person in his life he truly feared: his father. Whether or not that is because he’d had the snot beaten out of him by his father, I don’t know – but it would explain why he was such a bully, taking out his fear and exercising his desire for control by trying to dominate the little kids he came across. I’ve found that is the case with many violent people: their parents were violent towards them, and they, as helpless kids, can not control the anger directed at them – so they take out their own anger by trying to control others, by abusing them, thus giving themselves a small sense of power, however fleeting it may be.

And so with that cry of fear, he flies from me – and I see my own father standing over me, holding the kid up by the loop of his pants and the back of his shirt. And I was so surprised! Never had my father rescued me from a fight – he had never needed to. But in this one case he was there, and setting the kid gently down on his feets, he ushered his stern words.

“Go home.”

The kid, turning, trotted away with a mixed look of meekness and relief. I truly think he thought he was in for an extreme ass-whoopin’. As for me, I look up from where I’m laying in the dust, and my father extends a hand towards me, helping me up.

“Good fight,” was all he said. Then throwing a hand across my shoulders he guides me, sore and stumbling, towards what we call home. “Let’s eat.”

That was one of the only times I really, really remember being glad – and amazed – that my father was there, and one of the very few times I remember him helping – actually helping – me without a demand or an obligation to give something in return.

Somehow I find that strange.