I was leaving the cafeteria with my friends when I was hit in the back of the head with a rock. It wasn’t a big rock, but it hit me at the base of my skull, stunning me. It took me a few seconds for the pain to register – to figure out what had happened.

When I turned abound, it became clear that the rock had been thrown from a good distance with quite a bit of skill by a fellow student named Dave. He’d been pursuing a fight with me for a week, and had, the day before, organized an ambush with two of his friends on the route we took after school. On that occasion he hadn’t succeeded, as we were on bikes and could out-pace them, but it had been close.

That had been scary, because it was on a quiet street, a half-mile from the school. This attempt seemed less problematic because we were clearly on school grounds, where lots of people were milling around after lunch. As it turned out, Dave liked an audience. Still a bit dazed, I stopped and waited for him to approach. There were four of us and three of them, and I assumed that this would deter him.

I’d attended rougher schools, and was accustomed to talking my way out of fighting, so as he got close, I asked, “What’s your problem?” His response was typical. “I heard you been talking about me.” This translates roughly to “I don’t like you.”

I considered my options for responding. I could have said, “Why yes, that’s true. It’s hard not to talk about someone that’s been shouting at you in the school hallways and staging attacks on you after school.” But I figured that any admission to the accusation would just give him an excuse to go berserk. Instead I said something that turned out to be much worse, “That’s not true — I don’t even know your name.” Obscurity is not the goal of an aspiring thug.

He kicked me. It was an amazingly fast kick, straight to my groin. The gathering crowd gasped, and I waited for the sickening pain that follows a direct kick to the balls. It didn’t come. Instead I got the sharp pain from the skin on my inner thigh having been scraped brutally by the denim of my jeans. I looked down and noticed that he was wearing big combat-like boots, and that the knobs on the sole had been sharpened. The soles of his boots looked like a row of black shark teeth.

He came at me again and again with the same kick. I managed to block him with my hands most of the time, but occasionally only managed to deflect the force of the kick away from his target by inches. There was a large crowd now, perhaps forty kids, many of whom offered idiotic suggestions like, “Kick him in the balls, Dave!”

I checked behind me and learned that my small entourage of four had been cut in half – two of my friends were nowhere to be seen. Only Patrick, my best friend, remained. His face was largely stoic, but it didn’t entirely conceal his growing concern. Dave must have been getting tired, because he changed strategy to throwing punches. This was an attack I was much more familiar with, so I was more successful at playing defense. Still, he grazed my face, and one of my teeth cut into my lip.

We’d been talking during this entire exchange, but my goal now was to win a verbal fight even if I couldn’t win the physical one. I asked, “So where do you think your anger comes from Dave?” “Have you seen a shrink about this?” and, “This is getting boring Dave — don’t you have something better to do?” He responded with the most typical and unimaginative taunt there is: “Are you a fag, or what?”

It seemed like we’d been at it for half and hour, but it had probably been less than two minutes. Nevertheless, I began to lose hope that any adults would intervene, and – out of habit – made my way along our usual route. This was a mistake, as that route included an alley across the street from the school. The throng of observers had now grown to sixty or seventy, and once we all got into the alley, they effectively blocked the way back to the school. The crowd was growing tired with the standoff, and started suggesting that he use his knife. I don’t remember if he pulled one out or not — the very idea convinced me that he did.

We were cut off from the school, in a small alley. The front my my jeans were torn. There was blood in my mouth, and I was sure I was going to get stabbed. I was starting to panic. I struck back, the only way I knew how, “Don’t you get tired of pursuing men, Dave? Don’t you like women?” This hushed the crowd. His face got red. His two friends, who were both bigger than he was, circled around to my back. I kept checking behind me, to gauge their locations and intent, but they didn’t get very close. He was clearly the leader, and they were waiting for his orders.

It was then that a truck pulled into the alley from the other side, and raced up to us. The principal and the biggest shop teacher on campus jumped out. The crowd dispersed, and Dave and his friends ran, leaving only me and Patrick standing in front of the truck. The principal was a kind man, but he wasn’t particularly reassuring or sympathetic. He escorted us to his office, where our two other friends were waiting. The principal peppered me with questions about the fight. He said he knew Dave, and that he’d be punished, but I never heard anything more about it.

As we left, he said, “Don’t hang around those guys — they’re assholes.”

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