Life at the Beginning
A size nine shoe blasted into my chest at the figurative speed of Mach 10, launching me out of a crummy doorway.
“Yeahhhh bitch, how you like me now?” a voice said in the dark.
This wasn’t the first time I’d found myself lying down on blacktop. I won’t lie, I groaned a little. God I hate blacktop. Blacktop is never smooth, and it always has those tiny rocks that come out of it and seem to attack you whenever you trip and fall. You only found it in title 1 schools that couldn’t afford those amazing rubber platforms.
A soft “ewwww” escaped me before I could realize it. A shot of laughter rebounded from the doorway as I stayed flat on my back and closed my eyes. I know, inherently, if I try to get up or fight back that things will only get worse. My best odds were with the weak turtle defense. I scrunch up real hard, do my best to look pathetic, and try to block anything that may hurt vital areas. A set of footsteps came closer as the laughter slowed.
“Look at em guys, he’s already balling up. First sign of some action and you collapse. God you’re pathetic birdboy. No wonder you’re a fucking second. No balls to make it to first.” A strong kick hit me in the ribs. “Why don’t you just go kill yourself, you’d probably be better off” another kick. He paused for a moment, I’m guessing to make sure everyone was watching. “Why don’t we play a little target practice boys, see who can hit the jewels first”.
Fortunately, I was rescued at that moment, as a heavenly voice brought me salvation.
“Tommy De’Larue, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Although my ribs felt like they were on fire, I rolled over to look at my hero. She was only five foot four, but she seemed like a giant to me and my current situation. Blonde hair, a fiery spirit, and a willingness to always do the right thing. Misty glanced at me quickly to make sure I was alright, then placed her glare back onto the five around me.
“I said what the hell are you doing Tommy? she snapped out, hands on her hips and passing a glare at each of them. “How bout you Jorge? Dakota? You think it’s pretty cool to kick the shit out of a guy with all your buddies to back you up huh?”
Tommy spit out of the side of his mouth and took a step toward Misty. “What the fuck are you gonna do about it? Call the teachers? You know he’s trash, just another halfie. You’d be better off with a starter, not this piece of shit.”
“Yah, that makes sense.” She slapped a false smile onto her face and placed a finger into the dimple of her cheek. “First-string football players, of course, they’re amazing and all that” Her smile blew away in the wind. “Why don’t I just call the coach over to show how his first-stringers are treating their second-stringers? I’m sure nothing would happen to your vaulted position if it turned out you were beating up on Fern because, lately, he’s doing better than you on the field.”
“Fucking lie” Tommy yelled. “No halfie’s taking my spot, he’s shit just like his family. God damn poor boy tryna be better than us.”
He moved to take another kick when the bell rang out, signaling the end of break.
Tommy sighed and looked down on me, still laying on the hot blacktop. He grinned, “Stay of execution. You’re lucky you don’t play across from me. I’d fuckin murder yah”.
He and his goons walked off in a quick hurry. Being late means you don’t get to practice for the day. Misty made sure they weren’t coming back before she came over and helped me up.
“You alright babe? How bad is it?” She asked as she dusted some tiny blacktop rocks off my shirt. God I hate blacktop.
Even through my shame and pain, I picked my words carefully…..I don’t want her mad at me either. “I’m fine Misty, sorry you had to do that.”
She looked at me with concern, softly placing a hand on my upper arm. “You’re going to have to fight them one day Fern. You know that’s how this works. We’ve both seen the movies, the tv shows. If you ever stood up to them, they may just leave you alone.” She rubbed my arm a little with a slight smile, her way of letting me know she didn’t think any less of me. I wasn’t sure how she didn’t. I sure did. But Misty is an odd duck as my dad says.
I looked at her plainly and gave her what I knew was the most honest answer I could find, “There’s no guarantee that I’d win. Then….Then it may just be worse than before.”
“True” she said. “But I’m not telling you to fight back because there’s a one hundred percent chance you’d win. I’m telling you it may make you feel better about yourself. That’s all” With a shrug, she flashed another slight smile. “Come on, we gotta get to class”.
I nodded. I knew she was right, that I needed to fight back. I just wasn’t sure I’d have the guts when it came down to it. Football and fighting, while not physically dissimilar, had a completely different mindset from each other. I was an offensive lineman, meaning I liked to protect, not attack. Then again, Tommy was too, and he had no problems with attacking.
With a quick kiss, we went off to our separate classes with a promise to meet up after practice.
I spent most of practice blocking with one arm to protect my ribs, so the inevitable chew-outs from the coaches fell upon me time and again as the defense slipped through my gaps. Tommy and the goons snickered in the background all along and pantomimed holding their ribs as if in pain. Even running felt painful as my ribs were forced to expand and contract with my efforts.
I was about to walk off the field after our daily finish of up-downs, and the small tears that fell down my face, when Coach Mullins called me over.
“Hey Fern, how you doin?” He asked as he looked down at me from a huge height. Coach Mullins had played in the NFL for a few seasons, and even though it was twenty years ago, he still had a massive amount of muscle on him. He started to lean against one of the tackling bags as I walked up.
To match the mood, I tried to appear as uncomfortably nonchalant as he was, “Hey coach, what’s up”.
“Go ahead and take off your helmet Jones. Let me get a look at you.”
I undid the chin strap and slipped the persistent headache maker off, then scrubbed some sweat out of my eyes. I made sure to not lean too hard away from my hurt ribs, but I knew as he looked at me that he could tell I was hurting somewhere.
“You doin okay? I didn’t see the normal amount of hussle from you today, and that’s unusual. Lately you’ve really been crushing it in practice, but today you were missing blocks left and right.” He paused a moment and slowly said, “What’s going on with you Fern? Is everything okay at home?.”
“At home?” I asked, confused as to why he would mention that. Home…home…wait a second. Then a lightbulb clicked on and I recalled all those terrible domestic abuse videos the school makes you watch. “You think my parents are…what? Hurting me?”.
“You wouldn’t be the first son, not at all. I hate to say it’s not terrible uncommon. I’m not trying to pry too much, but the way you’re holding yourself there, and how you did today, shows me that something is definitely wrong. What’d you do, twist a shoulder? Maybe…fall down some stairs?”.
I had a chance here to tell him about Tommy, maybe push myself to a first-string position. First-stringers get noticed by scouts, and as a junior I’d have better odds of a scholarship if I did well enough. My grades were good enough and even a small scholarship would help a lot. But I knew that wasn’t who I was trying to be. Not in this life. I shook my head slowly at the man who was just trying to help me out.
“Coach, I’m fine. I got into a scuffle but it won’t happen again promise.” Thinking over what Misty and I had talked about, I couldn’t guarantee it, but really I just didn’t want Coach Mullins to think my parents were beating on me. Even still, the lie made my stomach cramp with the guilt of lying to someone who just wanted to help me. The truth was always better as my father says, but I doubt he’d think so in this instance.
Coach Mullins didn’t seem convinced. He looked me over again before sighing reluctantly and patting me on the shoulder, “Alright Jones, if that’s what you say happened, then that’s what happened. But no more fights, and you’re out of practice until I can get the trainer to look at you. Get out of here and knock out your homework.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you.”
I walked off, showered, and caught Misty just outside of the locker room. Luckily Tommy and the goons were gone for the day. I told her what the coach had said and she started snorting with laughter.
“Your parents? Beating on you? Hilarious. I mean not hilarious if it were true, but still some funny shit. I’ve never met parents who leaned so hard on their kid to get somewhere in life, and were so proud of them for just having a clean bowel movement. Good shit, literally and figuratively.” She laughed again just thinking about it.
I gave a weak grin and said, “Heh, yah. Good shit” as we wound away from our school.
We walked for a while before Misty slipped her hand into mine. I was walking a bit slowly as I didn’t want to jiggle my ribs and break down in front of her for a second time in the same day. She was kind enough to take the hand of my non-injured side and began talking non-sensically about how much people go to the bathroom. She finally landed on one of her new and favorite quotes.
“Everybody poops!” she said again to a round of giggles. “You poop, I poop, the President poops. We’re all walking poop machines. I wonder if supermodels poop less because they’re only eating a grape a day” She let go of my hand to grab her stomach, shaping a straight face out of her shirt, “Gottttts to haveee my burgerrrrrs”.
“You’re gross” I said with a fake look of disgust on my face. “Can’t we just move away from the pooping”
“Oh, so you’d rather have the twice-a-week pooping supermodels as a girlfriend instead of me” She mock cried and slapped the back of her hand to her head.”Gasp, forsoothe, sadness and morrow. My life for a true boyfriend. Whereupon in these lands will chivalry reign and save me from this uncouth villain.” She collapsed dramatically onto a mixture of cracked dirt and thin grass, slapping an empty coke bottle on her way down. “What world we live in with such pain and malady! Were I but born to greatness and honor.”
I couldn’t help but laugh as I laid next to her, staring at an off-blue sky mixed with soft clouds. I winced a bit as the laughter and movement brought back the reality of how my day had been. Sometimes a bit of hate can be cleared up with a soft laugh, and sometimes that hate leaves a memory.
I looked over at my daily savior, “You’re really not meant for this world you know. You’d have been better off in the 1600s with those romantic poets Mrs. James is always talking about. Look at Wordsworth! Coleridge the great! Sigh at the power of their feeeelings!.” I said, really drawing out the last word for effect.
Misty stopped her play acting and rolled to face me, “Mayhap gentle naive, but fear not, for I will bring the culture and promise of promiscuity to you through my lips.” Matching body to words, she grabbed the back of my neck and started to kiss me. We spent a good chunk of time making out in a trash-filled half-field, but that’s life sometimes. When the sun began its inevitable dip to better places, we dusted ourselves off and started walking to our apartment building.
I said a quick goodbye, really starting to feel the effects of the day, and went into the apartment I shared with my parents. I dodged them before they could ask about my day, and mistakenly collapsed on my bed. My ribs screamed at me until I eventually figured out that sitting up was the only true way to take the weight off them. I fell asleep thinking of where the sun travels, and what sights it’s seen.
I'm a high school English teacher in Texas. I also hold degrees in radiography and radio and television broadcasting. Though I obtained certain knowledge and skills from my prior degrees, I do not currently use them.