I throw my head back as hard as I can, and it makes a satisfying whack against some part of Joey’s face. He yelps, lets go of my arms, which he’s been holding behind my back, and retreats. I pursue, and the fight continues. The two of us smack and smash, slug and sock at each other.
This is the culmination of an entire year’s worth of jeers and gibes. Waiting for our fifth-grade class to begin each morning, we’ve had some intense skirmishes. Several times we’ve thrown each other’s school books in the ditch surrounding the school yard, and once I wound up with that black ditch ick all over one of my nicer school dresses. But right now, it’s combat, and I’ve got to win.
Half an hour later and, we’re still at it: bash and batter, wallop and whop. One of my eyes is closing up, my arms are so heavy I can barely make a fist, and my shirt is ripped open so anybody can see that I’m not even ready for a training bra. I’m still getting hit, but I can’t even feel it.
And then I’m not getting hit anymore. Somehow, I’m wobbling home. Gotta get home.
Once in my house, I falter into the bathroom and lay in sudsy warm water for a good long while, long enough so Mama comes in and asks me why I’m taking a bath in the middle of the day.
“Had a fight with Joey,” I mumble, staring at her Ma Kettle toothbrush holder so she won’t see me sniveling.
“Really? Are you OK?”
I don’t think anything is broken, so I nod, but I’m shaking all over. Mama pries. Why did I get into a fight? “He calls me binoculars. He says I have cooties. I hate him.”
“Hate is a strong word,” she begins, but I cut her off. “I hate him,” I shout, my humiliation at losing the fight transformed into a malevolence I will not get over until high school.
Years after high school, Mama told me that as soon as she was sure I wasn’t injured, she hightailed it over to Joey’s apartment in the next building and confabbed with his mother. Turns out Joey, too, had limped home and gone to bed. I had been so sure he’d won the fight; he was positive I was the victor. And if I was ashamed, he was mortified. After all, no self-respecting 12-year-old boy loses a fistfight with a little girl.