As I’ve said many times, the most difficult part of my life has always been my move to Tulsa. The weeks and months following my arrival turned to years and years of angst and frustration. Suffice to say, I had a chip on my shoulder.
There were few things that reminded me of home. I didn’t care to explore the new place that I called home. I wanted it to be as temporary a move as possible. Whenever I felt the doom of my circumstances closing in around me, I escaped the feeling of desolation by playing basketball. The basketball felt like Excalibur in my hands, as I slayed the competition with finesse ; skills I’d picked up on the playgrounds and schoolyards in Chicago.
Many a boyhood fight starts in competitive sport. It doesn’t take much for one young lad to feel slighted by another when the rules are enforced with minor vigor. How serious can a pick up game of basketball be anyway? Well for me, every time I touched the ball, I was playing as if I wore my family crest back of my jersey. Though my dad was never in the stands, I imagined him coaching me up and coaching me down every rip. It was just the thought, but it was therapeutic, knowing he was really a thousand of miles away.
I did this every time I played sports. It was how I learned to balance the rage I had pent up with the need to abide by the rules of the game. If it weren’t for that sense of conscious, I’d been satisfied with injuring people on the field for sport. Or maybe I’d have just started my string of vandalism a lot earlier.
By the time I transferred from Union Public Schools to Hamilton Middle School in midtown Tulsa, I began to adjust to the fact that I wasn’t going back home. There were more Black kids at Hamilton, but that was only because of the Apache Manor Apartment complex that bussed in about 80% of them. Since my brothers were still not in the 6th grade, they went to a different elementary school. Within a week of starting school, I’d encountered my first bully. It was the first time I had to fight as a foreigner and it was very weird to know that everyone was against me.
I didn’t even want to fight. I know I say that so often, I’m starting to think that maybe I do want to fight and really I’m just looking for a reason not to. I didn’t want to fight. I was in the gym shooting jumpers from the blocks when a ball bounced toward me and I picked it up, because, well thats what you do when a ball bounces your way. When I looked up to toss it back there was a girl right in front of me waiting to catch the ball and some kid screaming to throw it at him, and of course, because I’m not a fag, I give it to the girl. I will always give my balls to girls. So this guy gets mad because he’s gotta wait 20 seconds for the girl to miss and threatens me. I laugh. Its a little too early in my career to be known as a troublemaker, so I walk away to avoid any disciplinary action. Squabble squashed, I expect the day to finish without issue. But things would just be getting started 15 minutes later when gym was over and school ended.
I was walking through the hall, not even thinking about this wanna be bully, this Percy or Perry or whatever, when he pushes me in the back. I did the whiplash, neckjerk thing and gained my balance before turning to confirm the identity of the pusher. There he was, with about 5 or 6 friends and onlookers, hype to see something happen from nothing. And whatever moral code or rule that kept me noble was broken. I’d had enough. Lets do it.
We walked across the street, standing in a lot adjacent to the school. The buses blocked the view from the schoolyard, but the kids on the buses plastered their faces to the glass windows to catch a glimpse of what was about to happen. In the right position, this fight could go on and no one would be able to see until the buses loaded up and pulled away. I knew they wouldn’t miss there bus for me, but I wasn’t going to stall or run. My house was a block away. Home field advantage at most. But out of sight and out of mind elsewise. There was no home now.
I don’t think I took the first swing. But I did cut his neck. It was an accident. As he attempted to do the push back and forth thing, I blocked his arms. I was ready for the move, so I moved a little too eagerly in defense, swimming through his arms and cutting his neck and face with my nails. His immediate reaction was to rush at me again, so I backed up a bit and kept him off balance as I attacked from the outside. I had to keep an eye on the crowd around me. He landed a punch or two before I tripped him and wrestled him down to the ground. He outweighed me but lacked stamina and it wasn’t hard to push my hip away and punch him in the face as I climbed back to my feet. I wanted to kick him in the throat but he got on his toes before I could wind up. I leveraged the hill and punched an uppercut into his stomach then swung a hook at his face. He threw a glancing shot and retreated back behind the crowd, signaling their exit to their bus waiting to depart a few feet behind us.
The next day, he told everybody that he beat me up. I didn’t have any scars on my face that’s all I’m saying I said. And with that, I was crowned the victor. With little damage done from any punches, the only sign that there was even a fight lay an inch long on the cheek of the opponent. I never wanted the victory, but sometimes you can’t forfeit.
Some kids do the tango thing. Some kids do the pushing thing. I’ve learned that the best way to dominate a fight is to cut your opponent with your initial attack. The threat of blood will cause most people to panic or over exert themselves in retaliation. Once you got them there, you got them anywhere.
The designation as the new kid dissipated soon after. The familiarity of the environment helped. Hamilton wasn’t urban, but with the proximity of Apache Manor, the schools black population was as close to Oglesby Elementary as any school could ever be. The white kids and mexican kids were no different. Their presence of so many other races invited comparisons to Gale Academy in Rogers Park. I adapted to Hamilton because they allowed me to fight. I admit it. There are times when you can prove you are better with your brain. There are times when you can prove you are better with your basketball skills. And then there are times when you must fight. You must brawl and break skin and knuckles and leave bruises on friends and enemies alike.