Before we go any farther we should talk about something. I know I’ve maybe alluded to this already but I just want make it clear now and then we can move on: I was the only black kid in my class, and one of a few in the entire school. I don’t want to dwell on this more than I have to, particularly in these early chapters. This fact, being black around whites, and being different in general, is something I had a very limited understanding of back then. The older I get, the more I realize it’s impact on my life and the way I view it. And also, the way the world views me.
I said something before about liking a different girl every year. My crush in my second grade class is when the memories begin to change from analog to digital. I remember her well, Jessica G was her name. Her complexion was the same color as her hair, butterscotch. Does her being tan represent some sort racially ambiguous fixation rooted in me due to my surroundings? Perhaps, because this description would become archetypal in my life. I never told her though. I never told anyone come to think of it. Having the world know was for some unknown reason my worst fear.
I had a best friend named Mitch K. Mitch was what you would’ve called a bad kid. His Dad was what some might call a redneck. They liked me and my Dad though. My dad coached our flag football team. It’s where we all met. My dad must have learned how to get along with rednecks growing up in creepy West Virginia. I must’ve learned how in St. C. It’s a skill that surprisingly comes in handy sometimes.
Even though my dad was the coach, I rarely got to play. In his defense, I wasn’t very good and he let me know any chance he got. I was a lineman and needless to say, you don’t do much as a 7 year old lineman. My dad told me everyone referred to them as ‘dumb line men’.
Retroactively assessing this situation, I must say I’m pissed. Here this guy comes talking shit about me not knowing how to play football, when it’s his fault! He was never around to teach me. What I’ve found is people will make you into something, then resent you for becoming it. This is why you have to create yourself.
On recess Mitch and I were racing and near the finish line stood Jessica G. If I could win it would be an opportunity to impress her. Our friend Brian G yelled go, and we were off! I ran as fast as I could, keeping my eyes on her the whole time. But in the end it wasn’t fast enough. I couldn’t keep up with Mitch who collided directly into Jessica. They both fell to the ground, she was crying hysterically. Mitch had been in trouble several times before and so had I. The teachers came and blamed me initially but ultimately had to concede it was Mitch, due to the eye-witness accounts. The next thing I knew the teachers were walking him off of the playground. Soon I found out his dad was taking him to another smaller school, in the hopes of curbing his behavioral issues. As for Jessica G, she now associated me as one of the bad kids, so that was the end of my crush. I was left with no crush and no best friend, no friends at all really, being I was the new kid in school.
Brian G. who yelled ‘go’ at the race, eventually became my new best friend. He was the best friend I’d ever had at that point. His older brother was in the same grade as my cousin Curtis, so we had that in common too. I had my first sleepover at his house and we would go on to wreak havoc on Mrs. Bizzari, our teacher, for the rest of the year. It was great.
Having a best friend and ‘older brother’ was vital for success in the game of grade school politics. A friend for companionship, and an older sibling for protection. In the early 90s bullying prevention wasn’t a thing like it is today. No one cared enough to try to stop it. It was like the wild west back then. We would settle our differences on the playground or after school. Sometimes one on one. Sometimes five on one. It made no difference.
Because fights were a regular thing, it wasn’t long until me and Brian got into one, over whose dad made the most money. It’s funny to think about this now because both of our fathers were broke. In any event, the fight ended our friendship. I still know Brian G and our relationship has never been the same since.
Right around this time cousin Curtis moved back to Virginia with his family. And I would be forced to navigate my way through this new terrain, of being the black kid at the white school, alone.
I was finally allowed to cross Main Street so I started walking home from school with some kids in my neighborhood. Fights would spontaneously combust. There were these two brothers, Charlie and Joe. We would beat them so bad that adults driving would pull over to see if they were okay. I was far from a bully though, getting beat up even more than I was doing the beating. Things were crazy then.
One time this kid Matt R called me a nigger and said he was getting diarrhea from looking at me. I politely asked the children standing in my way to excuse me, as I made my way over to punch him in the face repeatedly until Mrs. Krahel pulled me off. I was abruptly sent to the principal’s office.
Of all the fights I had been through up to this point, the biggest was just about to happen.
Walking home after school I found myself getting swung on, ferociously, by some kid I had never seen before. I looked up to see were my friends were. Not so much for help at first, but to make sure they weren’t seeing me getting hit. I didn’t want the embarrassment if I was about to get beat up. See no one back then was afraid of getting hurt. We were only afraid of losing. I kept getting hit with blows. The situation was deteriorating and had become such a spectacle my friends couldn’t help but notice. They came rushing down, presumably to save me, but when they realized who I was fighting with, they didn’t engage. The scene was too chaotic for me to process why. By now my assailant’s mother had taken him into her car and was driving away. My friends tried to stop me but I was too enraged. I yelled obscenities at the women and her son, laughing like a mad man and crying. I assumed she would just keep driving off but I was wrong. She stopped her car in the middle of traffic, right in front of the high school. She opens the door and gets out. I freeze. She’s calling me a nigger and a bunch of other things I’m sure I’ve mentally blocked out. A black high schooler named Corey overhears everything. He says, ”don’t be talking to a child like this, he’s just a kid!”. She calls him nigger too and finally gets back in the car and leaves. Corey maybe saved me. By now I turn around to my friends to ask why they didn’t help me. They all look like they’ve just seen the Tales from the Crypt keeper. One of them looks pitifully at me and says “that kid you got in a fight with was Nick C., him and his brothers are the toughest kids in school!” What I didn’t know then were the reasons why these brothers were so extraordinarily tough. They were raised by a psychotic street fighter father who taught them the craft since they were old enough to walk. No doubt he was abusive to them as well. These were my new mortal enemies.
I went home and told my dad what happened. My mom was at work. My father didn’t have a job because he had been ‘laid off’ which really just meant fired after getting into a fight himself. When my dad heard the story he was furious. He called the police and before I knew it we had a day in court approaching. The C brothers hated a lot of kids at school, with passions. They terrorized even more than they hated. But off all their foes, I had become their number one target. The older cousin and best friend would’ve been helpful here but what was even more valuable was the understanding that I would have to figure out life on my own. I figured out early that when it came down to it, I wouldn’t be able to count on anyone else.