I grew up a fighter. I was affected by some syndrome, the number one symptom was the chip on my shoulder. For me, attitude was a way of life, and rightly so, I’d have to defend my attitude to the point of physical conflict.
It manifested from my rivalries with my brothers and cousins. There was always some reason for bickering and boisterous our battles ended with fisticuffs usually. I was the oldest of my brothers, but when paired with my cousins, my age fell in the middle, and I in turn defined myself more as a middle child because my behavior was definitely affected by a middle child syndrome.
Taking it and dishing it at home was how I started but it wasn’t long before my fights were moved to the streets of Chicago. Growing up in Rogers Park and Englewood, I would have to. My first fight with a person not in my family happened in the 1st Grade. I fought Jose Pena. He was a friend of mine. He was my best friend.
Jose and I got along because we two of the more gregarious students in class. For that reason, girls in our class drifted toward us. There were two twins in my class, Jillian and Jennifer Small, and all the boys adored them. Jose and I were lucky to grab their attention, but could never decide on who would date Jillian, the prettier copy of the two. When Jillian gravitated toward me more, it officially made me the alpha dog, and forever made me and Jose my nemesis. I mean this in the good, Klostermanian way. We competed against each other in gym class, even when there should not have been any competition. We’d create abstract challenges, like who could walk the line better, when our
Gym teacher instructed us to lap the basketball court. Our third wing man, Tyrone Balderez. was in charge of picking the winner usually.
One day at school, one early spring morning, Jose and Tyrone are waiting in the courtyard. I approach and push Jose from behind, accidentally pushing his face into the wrought iron post surrounding the school yard. The impact may have stung, but he certainly didn’t bruise or bleed. He turned around with his eyes red from crying and pushed me back with 100 times more force, nearly sending me to the ground, before I planted my heel like a doorstop. I wondered why he had been crying, but the fighter in me didn’t allow me to be merciful or sympathetic as I pushed him back, this timid, trying to send him into the fence. Before the situation could escalate, the bell rang and the swarming group of intrigued kids dispersed and the fight seemed dead.
Rather than call it a draw and go to class, I challenged Jose to finish the squabble. Lets take it across the street I said. The park is off the school grounds, so we won’t get suspended I said. Don’t be a punk I said. Jose and a pack of kids followed me across the street to Kiwanis Park. I stopped in the middle of the park, where the concrete blacktop gave way to dirt and wood chips, and pressed my chest against, I whispering insults and threats as we danced in a circle before the duel.
It turns out my first fight wasn’t much of a fight at all. I’d never taken a punch at anybody really, but now, I was pummeling Jose into the ground. I pushed him back and rushed his face with a few punches that made him duck in cowardice. When he was low, I tackled him to the ground and knelt over him, throwing side armed punches into his stomach before slamming his head into the dirt. I blacked out at some point, and didn’t find clarity until Mr. Collins snatched me up by the collar, ending the fight as quickly as it started.
Mr. Collins was the guidance counselor. If he wanted to, he could have made things very hard for us. It turns out, the school officials did have some authority in the park after all. We didn’t get suspended. Everyone knew Jose and I were close as kin, so the punishment was lackadaisical.
As far as our friendship was concerned, things were never the same.