I’ve written about this before, but not completely from the context of violence. Twenty-three years ago this Monday, I had a violent incident in my college dorm. It was never reported, thank goodness, since it really didn’t do damage to anyone per se. But it did involve striking two human beings out of anger, in response to a prank and violence on the part of two of my Lothrop Hall dorm mates at the University of Pittsburgh, “Mike” and “Aaron.”
I came back to Pitt after the holiday season in January ’88, determined not to make the same mistakes I’d made the semester before, since another 2.63 GPA performance would mean losing my academic scholarship. Whatever homesickness I felt for Mount Vernon and New York was crushed by the realities of home life at 616 and the sheer lack of friends in Mount Vernon in general. I knew I needed to channel the anger, bitterness, hurt and embarrassment I felt regarding my Crush #2 into my second semester at Pitt.
The answer as to how involved my dorm mates, half of whom were on Pitt’s basketball team (not the nicest sort), the other half the folks I usually hung around (geeks who would make most of my high school Humanities classmates look like socialites by comparison). The latter group had spent most of November and December binge drinking and occasionally taking me along for the ride. Aaron had begun to build a pyramid of Busch beer cans in their room, one nearly five feet tall by the time I returned from the holiday break. I needed to figure out how to co-exist with these dorm mates, as they had enabled my holiday blues and sheer lack of caring about my grades with their morbid, drinking ways.
The opportunity I needed happened a few days after I straightened out my Pitt bill. As usual, I left my door open and walked down the hall to the bathroom, took a leak, and went back to the room to call my mother. When I called, my mother kept saying “Hello . . . Hello . . . Who’s there?” She apparently couldn’t here me. After my third attempt, I checked my phone to see what was wrong. One of my idiot dorm mates had unscrewed the phone and taken the transmitter piece out, which was why my mother couldn’t hear me. I couldn’t even make a call to report what they did! I set out looking for Aaron and Mike in their room. When Mike saw me, he ran and immediately closed his door, almost breaking my hand and bruising my foot as I kept slamming my body into his door and put my foot between the door and the door jamb.
I thought about telling our RA, who was too busy screwing his girlfriend to notice that he had no control over our floor. So I took matters in my own hands. The next day, the stupid asses were next door in a mutual dorm mate’s room, bouncing balls off my wall and laughing like there was something funny about it. My anger turned into a rage I hadn’t felt since my fight with one of my classmates six years before. I
grabbed my dust mop and unscrewed the handle, walked next door, and proceeded to smash Aaron and Mike — both drunk — on top of their heads. “I don’t hear anyone laughing now!,” I yelled. “If I don’t get my phone piece back by this time tomorrow, there’s going to be a fight, and I don’t intend to lose! We can all get kicked out of school!”
I’d never seen three White guys so scared and quiet. I knew I had crossed a line, but so had they. To make sure they knew that I meant business, I smashed my dust mop handle against the wall as hard as I could and said, “That’s what’s gonna happen to your heads if I don’t get my phone piece back.” They sent another dorm mate — the only other person of color in our group — as an emissary with the transmitter by the end of the day.
I didn’t allow myself to feel bad about going psycho or, from their perspective, “Black” on my dorm mates. With only a couple of exceptions, I saw everyone on my floor as the enemy for a while. And for the next couple of weeks, whenever I left the room at night for the bathroom or for something else on my floor, I kept my door locked and took the dust mop handle with me. I wasn’t crazy. I was as sane as I’d been in a long, long time.
Could I have been expelled from the University of Pittsburgh for that incident? Possibly, but not likely. Was I crazy? Hardly. But in light of recent events in Arizona, it seems to me that we should be vigilant. Not only in reporting suspected lunatics, assassins and terrorists. But also in regulating ourselves, in ensuring that the only time we use violence is in our own defense and in defense of others. I saw myself as defending myself twenty-three years ago. I’m not so sure now.