this is a story i generally tell guys with whom i’m
romantically involved, because it is so bizarrely out of character with
just a twinge of warning. but in
case you never work up the courage to ask me out, i’ll share now.
one day during recess in third grade i was standing by an oak tree. my elementary school was a tiny Quaker establishment in a rough section of Philadelphia. practically a one-room schoolhouse, i remember it fondly as “the school that time forgot.” for the uninitiated, Quakers believe in tolerance, pacifism and that everyone has an "inner light." therefore, standing calmly under oak trees was totally legit.
i was probably collecting acorns when Kevin ran up to me. “you go to a tutor! you’re stupid!” he shouted. startled, i looked up at him.
Kevin was South Asian, adopted by a white woman. he had a rattail, which was probably not entirely his fault, but still. i remember him as smug and bratty, as though that hairstyle benefitted him somehow. it did not.
now, his comment was out of line for a couple of reasons. as a second grader bothering a third grader he disturbed the delicate elementary school playground ecosystem, grazing dangerously up the food chain, a reckless move even at our Quaker establishment.
secondly, dear Kevin had incomplete info. as a matter of fact, i went to 2 tutors—one for reading, the other for math.
in retrospect i should’ve replied, “could you be more specific?”
instead, i towed the Quaker line. “stop it or i’ll tell the teacher!”
“oh, you’ll tell the teacher!” he shouted back in that teasing voice anyone who’s been through childhood remembers. naturally, i wanted to shut him up more than anything. does that explain what happened next?
before i knew what was happening i ran over and punched him in the stomach. his midsection was small and almost hollow. as i pulled my arm back he immediately doubled over, and staggered backward, his mouth a giant, shocked “O.”
“don’t you dare tell the teacher,” i hissed, index finger extended.
[i must say, not too shabby for a first-timer. committing the crime AND covering her ass. ]
watching him run away i began mounting my defense in my head, wondering with growing anxiety about what kind of punishment i'd get. a time-out? a phone call to my mom? anger-management tutoring in addition to the other varieties?
but nothing happened. the kid never did dare tell a teacher. i don’t even recall seeing Kevin again. he was definitely still at the school—it was too small for anyone to leave unnoticed—but it’s like he was removed from my life—plucked up by his gross rattail and deposited elsewhere.
so while i’ve certainly suffered karmic retribution for the maneuver i remain formally unpunished to this day.
in the end, i’m the kid who punched another one in the stomach. at a Quaker school. and went on to win the William Penn award—the school’s highest honor—upon graduation. i guess america really is the land of opportunity.