I had a pretty happy childhood.
There were the normal ups and downs. I worried about whether or not I had Keds in the 80s, whether or not my doubled and tripled up socks were cuffed properly over my pegged acid-washed jeans. I fretted over my inability to achieve any notable bang height in my quest to mimic Woody Woodpecker’s coif, a common infatuation amongst adolescent girls back then.
I also remember Sandra.
She was a girl. I’m pretty sure about that. I always considered myself a “Tom Boy”, a term that has really lost all meaning with this generation of liberated young girls engaging in all kinds of sports. But, Sandra. Sandra was more than a “Tom Boy”. Sandra was a swarthy beast.
She had been held back at least a couple of years. That means, in the 8th grade, she was fifteen to my then self-questioning thirteen.
Sandra had long, thick black hair that ratted up at the ends and settled in the small of her back. She had a mullet.
She had honest-to-goodness sideburns and a hairstyle that split down the middle with a feathered Farrah Fawcett look that curled forward where her sideburns started. She was the youngest and a girl behind five burly boys. Her brutishness had been forged, no doubt, through years of being picked on herself and having to fight her way out.
She was wide and her arms were solidly thick. She wore button up shirts and tight jeans. She rolled her shirtsleeves up so that they wrapped around the thickest part of her bicep.
One nondescript morning, I sat at my middle-of-the-road round table, in the cafetorium (that’s a cafeteria with a stage in it so that the room can also double as an auditorium). We always did that after we offloaded the buses, went into the crowded bathroom where we fought for counter space to re-check our poofy bangs and re-plaster them with economy-sized bottles of Aqua Net, and then waited for the first period bell. I had just finished increasing my petrified bang height by an inch when I sat down.
I heard Sandra walk from behind and address me for the first time in her deep voice.
I’d never interacted with her before. I wasn’t entirely sure why she was talking to me. My table was one of the many faceless tables in that junior high. We weren’t the popular table that always sat across the room. We weren’t the jocks. We weren’t the outcasts or the burn-outs. We were practically invisible.
I turned around and saw her hovering over my chair.
“You bumped into me back there.” She turned and pointed. ”That was rude.”
A crowd started to form behind her.
“I did? I don’t remember that.”
“You did. Over there.” She turned and pointed again, at the entryway where the busses had dropped us off. I knew I had not bumped into her. I would have remembered bumping into a wall of a person. Especially one as notoriously mean as this one.
“Now, you didn’t apologize for that. And that was rude. I’m going to have to kick your ass for that.”
A bigger crowd started to form.
I said, “I really don’t remember doing that. But, I truly am sorry if I did.”
And she smiled and responded, “It doesn’t matter. You were rude. And now I’m going to have to deal with you.”
Sandra removed her boyish denim jacket.
She was a few inches taller than me and many inches wider. I thought I was pretty tough. I was a fledgling athlete. But, I hadn’t been in many fights before, at least none as potentially catastrophic as this one promised to be.
I was pretty sure my face would make the cafetorium floor sparkle by the time she was done with me.
She started to adjust those tightly cuffed shirt sleeves on her meaty biceps to increase her range of motion as she stretched and bounced back and forth on the balls of her feet. Sandra was ready to rumble.
The crowd had fully formed. We were completely encircled.
My invisible table-mates sat quietly, careful not to make eye contact with my aggressor lest they incur the wrath, too. I think back and wonder how it was possible that I became trapped by all those blood-lusty spectators given the usual presence of cafetorium monitors who were nowhere to be found.
My heart beat a little faster as it sank in that this was just for Sandra’s amusement. I know I hadn’t bumped into her. She was smiling. Her entourage was smiling. She had probably told her friends that she was going to put on a show. They probably randomly picked me. It was probably another part of their silly game.
I had to think quickly. I knew I couldn’t take her head-to-head. She was a lot stronger than I was. I had no self-defense training. She’d been in a lot of fights, and not just with girls. She was famous for her attitude and general nastiness. I would have to use my brain.
I scanned the crowd. In the front row of giddy people, anxious for the bloodsport to begin, I saw something. A curly-haired, sadistically grinning girl named Melicia. She was about my height. She had really long hair. I don’t think it had ever been cut. It was curly and still nearly reached the backs of her knees. She was taking pleasure in my impending destruction.
She, with that long curly mane, would be my salvation.
Believe it or not, Melicia’s hair really looked a lot like this photo. Just a foot or so shorter. It WAS the Eighties, you know.
As Sandra taunted me about “just getting this beating over with, already”, I turned to Melicia and shouted, “WHAT ARE YOU LAUGHING AT?”
And, thank goodness, she bit.
She gave me the back and forth head shake full of attitude and said, “I’M LAUGHING AT YOU!”
Sandra stopped hopping from side to side like a prize fighter. She stepped back and looked at the two of us. She looked a little shocked, but still rather amused.
I retorted, “WHY DON’T YOU COME OVER HERE AND DO IT IN MY FACE?”
And, little long-haired Melicia did.
She marched into the center of the circle that her body had helped form just moments earlier and jutted her underbite in my face. We were nose to nose now.
The deflective maneuver appeared to be successful.
The grinning person that had been standing behind Melicia dutifully stepped into her spot to plug the potential escape hole. He did it instinctively, like a trained Roman soldier in an ancient Phalynx formation after the warrior in front of him took a pike to the face in battle.
We stared at each other. And with near simultaneous precision, our hands went for the most logical target: the other’s long hair.
“Alright!” That was all I could think! “I’m now wrapped up with a girl I can take!”
Melicia and I danced back and forth for a minute or two. Neither of us actually ever got a punch off.
It’s hard to do that when you have a death grip on the end of your opponent’s hair with one hand, and you’re holding onto the roots of your own hair so they aren’t ripped out with the other one.
I imagine it looked a lot like a same-sex tango except both our heads were cocked back at grotesque angles following the direction of the yank. The only way to make it a more perfect teen drama fit for TV would have been for some kid to bust out his violin and start playing that song from Moulin Rouge while someone thrust a long-stemmed rose into each of our mouths.
Now envision this image but replace that dude with another unnaturally flexible lady doing the same pose, only facing the opposite direction. That was us. And, for the record, neither one of us was that flexible, either. But you become very bendy when your hair is being yanked to the floor.
The missing cafetorium monitors showed up and broke up the dance-melee.
Sandra had stood there and watched the whole thing.
The monitors hauled Melicia and me off to the Principal’s office.
She and I sat next to each other in In-School Suspension (ISS) for four days where we did our school work in silence.
Neither Melicia nor I were victorious in that fight if one were to do a punch-for-punch analysis. If the metrics were to be based on hair-pulling rigor, I think I might have pulled it out (no pun intended). If looking at it from a dance competition standpoint, we were probably highly synchronized and would have ranked decently in the Amateur Category.
But, in terms of personal survival and the pursuit of the right of basic human preservation.
I won, Baby.
The androgynous beast with a mullet didn’t take this girl down.
You might think that my hasty plan was kind of mean. You might think that it might even make me out to be a bully of sorts. But, I disagree.
When someone sees a kid about to be bullied, and they not only enable it by forming that entrapping ring around the certain victim, but they also laugh and cajole and encourage the taunter, they are not faultless. They are not guiltless. It’s not like I picked on the kid quietly eating his Ho-Ho in the corner while all this was going on.
I don’t necessarily advocate the approach I took for the kids being bullied today. And before anti-bully advocates want to flay me (with words) for advocating violence to avoid violence, even with possibly ill-conceived humor, I am not saying that any of it was right. I am only saying that it’s what happened. The morality of the decision was not a factor in that hasty survival plan.
But, the good news is that there are resources out there now for kids, and an awareness about bullying that has gained momentum so kids don’t have to resort to such low measures as picking a smaller fight to avoid a much more painful one. What is sad is that this new focus on bullying awareness has been forged through stories so unfortunate it is heartbreaking.
In closing, I just want to re-iterate that I don’t condone fighting to avoid fighting.
I will only offer that it never hurts to survey your surroundings when cornered.
Also, these days, a bald head can be considered rather stylish and statement-making. (It will definitely give you the upper hand).
And, it’s not a bad idea to invest in some self-defense classes.
Because, if your fight is going to look like a scene from Dancing With The Stars, it would be better to channel a Brazilian Capoeira fighter doing spinning kicks and side body flips, than a distorted couple jacking up the Argentinian Tango.
That is all.
So, if you or your kid ever have to face a Sandra. I wish you luck.
And, if you scan the crowd and can’t find a Melicia, then I wish you even more.
For folks in Laredo, there’s a new program in town specifically designed for children who are being bullied and it’s put on by the Laredo Martial Arts Center. The classes are free and you can get more information about the program or sign up here.
The center also offers free, no-commitment martial arts classes for kids to test out the program!
The Laredo Martial Arts Center will be doing a free 30 minute anti-bullying presentation at The Laredo Martial Arts Center on Saturday, September 17th at 10 AM. If you’re interested, call 956-744-0725 or email email@example.com
And you can see them this weekend at the Imaginarium’s Eat Well. Play Well Exhibit on Saturday, the 17th at 4 PM!
Bang Photo: www.crittersandcrayons.com
Mullet Photo: mobuck.com
Long Hair Photo: http://photopostcards.blogspot.com/2008/01/extra-long-hair.html
Tango Dancers: http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.tangotango.org.uk/tango%2520dip&imgrefurl=http://www.tangotango.org.uk/info&h=334&w=453&sz=60&tbnid=0GqochMDZh4MBM:&tbnh=88&tbnw=120&zoom=1&hl=en&usg=__T-wehJJD_P_WEAd7akOLZad0FGs=&sa=X&ei=CG9xTrXZIeeGsAL8ooS8CQ&ved=0CCEQ9QEwAg&dur=215