THERE WAS ONE TIME
By Jamie Iredell
when this Mexican kid and I rolled around in the dirt where we played marbles in elementary school because he cheated or I did, I can’t remember. At one point he popped up out of the dirt fast and stood over me and the sole of his shoe was coming down fast at my face but my best friend, Patrick, pushed the kid away before he could stomp me. There was another time when Patrick and I, after watching Rocky, decided we’d “play fight” in the backyard and he clocked me pretty good and I cried, but it was an accident.
There are some times, though, that I remember what it was like to take and land a solid punch.
We were at this party that my mom’s employers threw. There weren’t very many kids, just me, my little brother and sister, and three other kids who were a couple years older than me. The people who were throwing the party had a lot of land, like more than five acres, and there was the house and a treehouse that–I shit you not–had plumbing and electricity. We hung out with these slightly older kids in the treehouse for a while then the older kids, a boy and two girls, disappeared. I followed them–my brother and sister in-tow–to an oak-shaded hill because they were the only other kids at this party and there wasn’t anything else to do. This boy turned to me and said something like, “Why are you following us?”
I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back, now I know that that kid was trying to make out with those two girls, and I was essentially cockblocking him without knowing what a cockblocker was. So this kid got pissed and told me to fuck off.
I’m a pretty sensitive dude, and I don’t always think all that clearly. I let my emotions get the better of me. All I wanted, at this stupid party that my mother dragged me and my siblings to, was to have fun. I didn’t understand what was going: that some future date-rapist was talking two girls into handjobbing him atop an oak-studded hill in the woods of north Monterey County. I just wanted someone besides my brother and sister to play with. But I have this thing–I still have it–where if you try to push me, I’m gonna push back.
My mother and father always said things like, “You should start jogging with mommy and daddy,” when I was, like, six. My siblings’ go-to insult was to call me a “fat-ass.” These things have made me perhaps too violent when it comes to my weight. And the bigger problem is that I know how to use it. I almost killed my brother once, years after the incident that I’m describing now, when we were adults, and drunk, and he decided to “wrestle” me. After I had him in a headlock and he kicked and flailed, but wouldn’t tap out, that I finally released him, and he gasped for breath, and his eye-whites had crimsoned with burst blood vessels, that I realized I’d almost strangled him, that his flailing was the failing of strangulation.
Anyway, what this kid did atop this hilltop back when I was ten years old or thereabouts, was call me a fatass. He said, “Why don’t you leave us alone, fatass?” And that was when I lost it. I don’t remember what I said, but whatever it was, it was fightin’ words. We squared off and, as these things are wont to go, it devolved into shoving each other around. Except that I remember that this boy lunged at me, I think in an attempt to tackle me to ground. But I tossed his body to my side and he sprawled there, in the dead oak leaves. It is, in some ways, difficult to describe the satisfaction of a well-landed punch. It’s akin to the perfect connection of ball-to-bat when playing baseball. Your fist, the bones of your knuckles, connect squarely with the hollow of your foe’s cheek, perhaps catching his temple or mandible. The sound, while audible, is not quite like the television or film putch you hear in sound effects. It’s dull and sickening, like the sound a meat slab makes when you tenderize it. But it feels good when you’re mad, to feel that feeling and hear that sound. I’ve felt and heard it numerous times, and it’s always been so satisfying, and always so sickening afterwards, when I reflect on what I’ve done.
I didn’t hurt him, I don’t think. Nothing came of it. The only person, from my perspective, who was really hurt by this incident, was me. I was upset, burning with shame. I hated it that this kid had said what he’d said to me, but I hated more what it had made me do. After my sister pulled me off this boy, I remember that I and my siblings wandered off that hillside and I sat in our family’s station wagon for twenty minutes or so, crying and thinking about how mad and sad I was. I was angry that I’d lost control, and angry that this kid had said what he’d said, and that I hadn’t hurt him more, and angry that I’d even decided to do anything, and angry that we’d followed those kids up that hill. All I wanted was to go home.
What I think about is, I think about the boy I hit as a man today writing something like this, and saying what his truth was: that he kicked my ass. And he wouldn’t be wrong about that. After all, it isn’t about who kicked who’s ass. I wish I knew that boy now. I bet we’d be friends. We’d laugh and say, Remember that time when you cockblocked me?, or, Remember that time when you called me a fatass? These are the things boys are made of. That and slugs and snails and puppy dog tails.
Eventually, after sitting in that car alone for a while, I calmed, and emerged. I don’t remember what happened after that, but what I think happened was that my mother was done making her appearance at her employers’ party, and she gathered us up, and we went home. The only people, I think, who know that this fight even happened are that boy and those girls and my brother and sister. We went to church on Sunday, the signal that a new week was beginning, and it was like nothing had ever happened at all, except when I thought about the fight and that kid calling me fatass, and then I’d feel a little guilty, but more than that I wanted revenge.
Jamie Iredell’s latest book is I Was a Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac.