I have never been perfect. In fact, I imagine that I caused my parents some bit of turmoil. They probably wrung their hands and pulled their hair, saying, Why must we suffer the troubles of this pernicious and ill-spirited and troublesome child? On the other hand, I know that they loved me even as difficult child.
When I graduated high school, I was the youngest in my class and only stood 5-feet, 6-inches, weighing in at a paltry 125 pounds. Needless to say, I was small—not the case anymore—and was picked on or bullied by larger kids until they learned better. It was a hard lesson for some of them.
But I reacted to this by pushing back against rules, by lashing out at authority. I do not believe I was the kid about whom you would have said, he was such a sweet boy. Nope. I had a mouth on me…and I used it.
My father worked four part-time jobs on top of being in the US Navy when we lived in North Chicago, and my mother worked for the VA hospital to put three of their four children in a private school—the fourth wasn’t old enough for school until we moved to Iceland. One of these jobs was as a short order cook at the Staff Lounge on base. I learned a lot of curse words and other various inappropriate stuff from the sailors that came in there for a bite to eat. I learned to play a mean game of pool for a 9-year-old. Sometimes the old salts would give me a quarter to watch my skills at Space Invaders or Playboy pinball.
One day, my father brought me up to the lounge and told me explicitly to stay away from the construction that was going on. As soon as his back was turned, I started climbing through the scaffolding and onto the roof. I crawled out of the storage room window and stood up, smacking my head on a vent coming out of the attic.
That stung, but I didn’t think much about it. I walked into the staff lounge and one of the construction crew says, “Hey, kid. You’re bleeding.” My response? “Take a hike.” Yeah, I had some problems. After the door shut behind me, I put my hand on my head. And as tough and ornery as I was, I almost fainted. Blood covered my hand. I ended up with three stitches.
I may have been a little disrespectful to my elders—that was sarcasm—but I really did not react well to bullies. My best friend Jason Lee and I were in the field across from my house catching grasshoppers when the neighborhood bully David came by. He wanted the grasshoppers. There was no way I was going to give him what I had worked so hard for. This bucket was FULL of grasshoppers. He knocked me down and grabbed the bucket anyway. I felt a little betrayed because Jason started walking with him back to his house.
My little mind raced through all the possible scenarios. There was no way I was going to let this stand. I followed at a safe distance, my eyes lowered to the ground like a properly frightened child. When he walked between the two cars under his carport, I launched like a tiger. I jumped up onto the trunk, sliding across it and slamming David into the other car.
He dropped the bucket—it was really a giant plastic peanut butter tub with holes cut in the lid so the grasshoppers could breathe. I grabbed it up and took off, sprinting for everything I could because I heard his feet pounding behind me.
I ran back home, and as I was coming up the drive, I saw my sister at the door. I just knew David had almost caught me, so I screamed for Ann to hold the it open. When I got close enough, I leapt into the house, sliding down the front hall. My sister shut and locked the glass door. Instead of just walking away though, she and I stood in the doorway and started making fun of the bully. I don’t remember what we said, but I do remember how red his face was when he started slamming the door.
Attracted to the pounding, my and my sister’s shrill laughter, and the screaming from outside, my mother came down the hall. All she saw was some large kid hitting the door and screaming at her children—who were both considerably smaller than David.
Her face may have been as red as the bully’s. She yelled at him, and he avoided looking at her because we were behind her giving him simplistic “sign language.” He proceeded to tell my mother that she needed to control her kids.
Uh oh. We knew David was in trouble. He ran as soon as she put her hand on the door knob. Perhaps he saw something in her eyes that told him he had made a mistake. I wasn’t afraid of bullies. But they did not want to deal with my mother. You’ve seen mama bears defending her cubs, right? That’ll give you a clue.