Puberty is such a strange time in life, whether you’re male or female. It’s even worse when you don’t have the maturity to deal with the changes, physical, social and emotional. Add to that no real guidance from parents, teachers or other adult figures about how to deal, and you have a recipe for disaster, even social suicide. That became the case for me thirty years ago, in a fight with a history, with my late ex-classmate, Brandie Weston.
But I planted the seeds for it almost a year and a half before, the second Saturday in May ’80, the very first time I met Brandie. My father Jimme had taken me and Darren to his “girlfriend’s” two-bedroom apartment on Mount Vernon’s South Side. His alleged girlfriend — drinking buddy, really — turned out to be Brandie’s mother. When Brandie walked through the apartment door an hour into the visit, I greeted her with the words, “Wow, she’s fat!,” as if I’d complimented her on her great beauty (for full story, see “First Impressions and Brandie” post from May ’10).
Irony, of course, has been one of the ways I’ve come to be sure that there is a God. Why else would I have ended up in Humanities and in the same classroom with Brandie in September ’81? I had no doubt that Brandie told her Pennington-Grimes friends about the incident as soon as she saw me in class on the first day of seventh grade. Every time I saw them, my shy “Hi’s” were greeted with grunts, names like “dumb ass” and “idiot,” or just plain ignored.
My cold war with Brandie became a fight only weeks into seventh grade. It wasn’t much of a fight, though. It was in Mrs. Sesay’s classroom, our 7S homeroom where we started the day, ended the day, and had our first-period English class. At the end of this day in October, Brandie was clearing out of room from the back, passing by my seat on the left side of the classroom toward the door.
“Dumb ass,” Brandie said out of nowhere, as usual.
“You’re stupid,” I said, not even bothering to look up as I put my plastic Mead, three-ring and five-subject notebook in my book bag.
Within a couple of seconds, I got pushed from behind. I turned, and Brandie threw a punch into my chest. I threw one back into her right arm as she recoiled from landing her first punch. We were fighting in the back of the classroom.
It was two semi-nerds in a fight of words, lots of shoves, and a flurry of half-hearted punches. It was an ugly display, like watching a Larry Holmes fight or Muhammad Ali in his last days before his retirement. In one corner, at five-foot-two and 120 pounds was me, in the other, at five-foot-seven and about 150 pounds was Brandie. I certainly didn’t want to fight a girl. Brandie seemed to think that she could pound me into the ground, hitting me on top of the head a few times.
At one point I punched Brandie in the chest, only to find that her chest felt spongy. It dawned on me that Brandie had breasts. I stopped pushing and punching her right then and there, somewhat in shock from the revelation.
“You’re a pervert!,” Brandie yelled while two of her friends pulled her away from me.
I didn’t know what “pervert” meant — not that I would’ve admitted such a thing, since I was the “smartest kid in the whole world.”
“Well, you’re an adverb!” I yelled in response. Someone I pulled that out of my brain to call Brandie in response.
Of all the words — adverb? That ended our fight in horrific laughter from Brandie and the classmates who witnessed it. It was another About A Boy moment. It was a weird moment, even for me. I was embarrassed, all but sure that my classmates thought that I was incredibly dumb.
My fight with Brandie had awakened some sleeping wolves, what I called the Italian Club long before we actually formed one for our Italian class. And these preteens had social adjustment issues that made me, Hebrew-Israelite and all, look like a model preteen by comparison — a story for another post. But, still, on the next to last Friday in October three decades ago, I made myself into the adverb greater, as in an asshole to a greater degree. Seriously.