Growing up socially awkward and overweight I of course always had lots of friends. Teddy bears that all had names and personalities although I knew they secretly wanted to be with a less socially awkward and overweight boy. I heard them talking when I wasn’t in the room. They thought I couldn’t hear them but I could.
But I wasn’t introverted every hour of every day. There were times when I would come out of my shell long enough to do something horribly embarrassing and conventionally unacceptable and convince myself introverted was the best way.
And yet even less often I would do something extroverted and not embarrass myself horribly. One of those situations would involve basketball. Despite being a big boy I was a decent B-Baller. Having a goal in my backyard since I was 4 and watching basketball most of my adolescent life I knew pretty much all there was to know about it and enjoyed playing until I got too big to continue. The same overweight obstacle stopped my even bigger passion of bowling the same way.
It was basketball that got me into the most heated exchange with the school bully. No matter how small your school was you had a school bully and everyone knew who he was. You were sure he would grow up to work on cars in a greasy garage you wouldn’t trust your car in in the first place. We had the same bully for all 6 years of elementary school and he tried to continue in Junior High but he ran into that whole little fish in a big pond problem we all did at one point or another.
I mostly kept clear of him and he mostly just kept to throwing out fat jokes every chance he got. Everyone laughed. At that age no one takes the side of fat.
The day we found ourselves pitted against each other in a fierce game of Ball, however, I had the upper hand for once. It was a very important game and both sides were working hard to win. It was during the longest recess of the day and we had managed to get the full court so at that moment in time nothing else in the world could possibly matter. Show good at that game and even the overweight kid would be popular for a class or two before last bell when the game of school reset and you were just a fat guy again the next day.
I was in the zone and hitting lots of shots. By lots, probably four but that’s a lot on the professional small town elementary recess circuit. Somehow Bully McGee was behaving himself and playing a clean game of basketball. Everyone was just enjoying themselves.
In the PSTERC you call your own fouls. Make sure it’s a real foul and preferably can be corroborated by someone else. That’s what happened to me. There wasn’t a shot outside but I could use my size to my advantage and drive inside. I went up for a shot and…
The ball fell to the ground unceremoniously. I called foul and headed to grab the ball when I heard the person who fouled me speak up. It was Bully himself. McGee called out, “how was THAT a foul?”
“You hit my wrist.”
“You can hit the wrist, that’s not a foul.”
“Umm, yes it is bully.”
“No, it’s not.”
He got in my face. Despite the fact that I’d never been in a fight I didn’t back down. Being a goody-two-shoes would guarantee most people to weekly beatings but being fat had a few advantages and one was that no one really wanted to see if you could hit back with any force.
“It really is Bully. I know basketball rules really well,” The nerd, I mean I said. At this point other people, including kids from his team, started saying yes it was a foul and yes he did hit me on the wrist. They were trying to get me to the free throw line. You see on the recess circuit the clock never stops. Like non-American football when the whistle blows it’s over.
But Bully didn’t back down. In fact he got more in my face and tried to take the ball. I deftly moved it out of the way and he stared at me with even more intensity. And then, in an instant, he raised his fist and punched me just to the side of my left eye. Even at that time I wore glasses and he hit them square on the hinge, driving part of it into my face and cutting me.
I stared back at him and I DID want to punch him. This would be the only real chance for a fight I would have in my life though I didn’t know that at the time. I did know two things, though. One, I was so scared of my Nana who was raising me. If I thought getting hit by McGee here was bad it would pale in comparison to the wrath I would face were I to retaliate. The fury of the angry old lady would rain down upon me and I would not see sunlight for the next 3 months. This was back when we kids liked sunlight and enjoyed using our imaginations playing in the dirt.
One other fact I knew, however, was that the recess teacher was watching the whole thing. Just over to our side, slightly to his back in the corner of my eye I could see her staring.
Her name was Battleship Braden. She had huge… eyes that saw everything. And very big… tendency to get angry fast. Oh yeah, and her boobs were massive. I guess that’s why they called her battleship. I didn’t call her anything as, like most of the kids, I was afraid of her. She was the scary teacher by far and you didn’t mess up in front of her.
I stood there for a minute contemplating what all had just happened and all my options. I wondered even at that age how someone would let things escalate so fast but then I was about to become a teenager when everything escalates fast. I finally just looked over at Braden, holding onto the cut on my face. I didn’t have to say anything and neither did she, she just threw her thumb over her shoulder pointing indicating in the universal playground sign language that we should get ourselves to the principles office.
Bully got suspended and if I’d hit back I would have too. My nana showed up very fast and demanded Bully’s dad that he pay for the glasses. I remember him not caring too much about what happened but rather being upset that he had to come up to the school at all. It was the first time I realized that Bully probably didn’t have a great home life.
A few years later Bully actually became a semi-sort of friend of mine. In the end we were both rejects and he recalled back to that day. He told me he remembered being surprised and impressed that I didn’t burst out crying or just cowering and backing down. I guess I seemed even more pathetic than I really was, maybe the teddy bears were right all along.