Sparrow, Buzzy and I trudged across the Daley School playground. The space was a three acre patch of grass, dirt, and broken playground equipment liberally salted with glass bottles dashed to the ground by drunk teenagers in the dark nights after everyone else was asleep. We were technically teenagers too. But so new at it, all we could do was listen in awe of the wonders to come through the lies and exaggerations of the real teenagers who were already there. And though we thought we were, we were not tough yet. And we were not smart enough yet to be scared. Life at this point was new perspectives emerging out of odd desires and troubling images we could not quite yet get our minds around. We were well into making that transition from child to troublemaker.
Usual conversations passed between us as we strolled through our neighborhood school yard. Our feet moved in no special direction but never really stopped. It was as if our feet knew where they were going but had all the time in the world to get there. And we were happy to just go where ever they headed. Our only deadline, be home by dark.
The three of us were more intent on just sharing each others company than plotting evil deeds or chasing some great mystery. We might have talked of who had the last fight at the Bridge. Or the latest news any of us had on the trivial scandals in school. And all the while just wandering, putting worn sneakered feet down one in front of the other in that shoe scuffing irritating habit teenage boys use to wind up their parents.
Our aimless trek passed across the broken pavement of the basketball court. It had long been useless as a place for jump shots and lay ups. The backboards still stood, but the rims had been lost before our time. Over near Ashely Street an old man, a younger man, and a dog were passing through in the opposite direction. Sparrow stopped at one of the backboards. He was in the middle of a great tale of a baby sitting job his older sister had let get out of control. He began to swing around the pole in the ground holding up the wasted backboard. It began to shake and shimmy at it's cracked concrete base.
I turned to leave. Sparrow had finished his tale and well, we may not have had anywhere to go, but I just wanted to keep the feet moving. Behind I heard Sparrow yell, "What the Fuck man!" I turned and saw Buzzy on the ground with the younger man who had been passing by kicking him in the stomach and chest.
"I am tired of you fucking punks vandalizing this playground", he screamed. And whump! His foot caught Buzzy in the face this time snapping it back hard.
I was struck dumb. I remember this clearly. Standing there some twenty feet away from me was the biggest human I had ever seen lunatic mad in my life. The guy looked like the Hulk. Ban Lon shirt overfilled with muscle topped off with the classic bully buzz cut of a Marine Sargent. And in the meantime, the older man stood off in the distance calmly watching with his dog leash drooping to the neck of a dog busy digging in the dirt. Sparrow was still attached to the pole like he was glued there. His eyes looked like mine felt. All bulged out with fear and surprise.
It was surreal.
I began to holler. I began to scream. I let loose with every cuss worded expletive deleted my young mind could come up with. And then I went ape shit. I ran right at the huge jerk and tackled him. He was so big, he didn't go down. But he stopped kicking Buzzy and turned his attentions on me. It was not even a contest. I had no chance with my 120 pounds against someone over 200 pounds and a foot taller. But as I lay on the ground taking my lumps I never gave up. I spit at him. I scratched, I threw futile punches. And I laughed. A maniacal laugh, Buzzy and Sparrow told me later. Said it creeped them right out. But I don't remember much of it. The man beat the living shit out of me.
At some point, the older man with the dog came over and managed to get his son off of me. Again I don't really remember that part, but apparently I took some more thrashing when I began to verbally abuse the father for allowing his grown son to beat on children. Junior gave me a few more lumps and a couple of more kicks to make me shut up. I passed out.
At some point on the way home, I became aware again. The three of us were still shuffling, only now it was as fast as we could to get us home. When I seemed to come out of it, Buzzy and Sparrow stopped. I collected myself and enjoyed the first real rushes of pain through every part of my body. They filled me in on the fight.
Sparrow, who had come through this ordeal unscathed, said, "Man, I thought you were dead. Not just out but really dead. You didn't move for like fifteen minutes."
Buzzy looked at him in disgust and said, "Mike it was more like a minute or two. But you were definitely knocked cold."
"Who was that guy?" I asked. I was still the new kid. I had only been living there for a few months at that point.
Sparrow piped up, "Oh that's Freddy Hewitt. He's a whack job. Someone told me he was put away. Guess he's back. He's Jack Hewitt's older brother. Man, did he kick your ass."
"I guess so", was all I said and I fell silent until we all separated at Buzzy's house.
I didn't make it home before dark. Sporting torn clothes and thrashed face added to the heat I received from my mom. She had become used to seeing boys with black eyes. Raise three sons and I guess that's what happens. Empathy is lost to what it is going to cost to replace that shirt, those pants. My dad hardly even acknowledged me as I went upstairs to clean up. I was just as happy. I was not wanting to suffer the 3rd degree.
About Ten o'clock the door bell rang. I didn't hear it, I was too busy listening to tunes on the mono record player and reading.
"Mike!" Dad was using his military voice. It cut through the music like a knife. I knew something was wrong. I scampered downstairs. It was then my mom really noticed my face when the front hall light hit it. She gasped. I guess a couple of hours of fluids had built up and I was no longer the son she remembered. She just rolled her eyes towards the living room. I still had no clue.
There were so many people in the living room, it was worse than standing room only. My dad looking real disgusted. Two cops looking official. Buzzy and his Dad looking uncomfortable. And Old man Hewitt with that whack job who had kicked my ass earlier standing next to him with his head down. And he was in handcuffs.
My dad started things off. His thirty one years as an Air Force officer kicked in and he assumed command of the situation. "You were in a fight this afternoon. Did you start it? Were you vandalizing?" His eyes bore right through me.
When Dad put on his military hat, I knew it was formal time. Respect the elder time. Tell the truth time. Don't beat around the bush. My ole man could smell bullshit a mile away. He had been through 3 sons also.
"Yes sir I was in a fight with him. I lost. But I was not vandalizing. None of us were."
The one cop looked like he was going to smile. I must have looked like I was going to pee myself. He stepped forward as if on cue.
"Buzzy and Mr Morin have decided to press charges if you go along. They say and another witness at the playground backs them up that you boys did nothing to instigate the altercation. Your father says it is up to you about pressing charges. "Son, are you okay? You look awful. You should maybe head to the hospital. Buzzy says you were knocked unconcious. Is that right?" I nodded.
At that point, Old man Hewitt spoke up. "Freddy really regrets what he did to you and that young man over there. Freddy has some problems and we have been trying to get them worked out. Putting him back in jail I don't think will help."
It was too much. Standing there like I had done something wrong and now this spineless old man is groveling while his loser pyscho son just stands there. I said, "Tell Freddy to apologize. I want to hear him say it."
And Freddy raised his head. Our eyes met. I knew in that instant this man was one dangerously crazed individual. He apologized, but I knew he didn't mean it. Everyone in that room knew he did not mean it. I looked over at my dad hoping for some guidance. Nothing. His face was blank but his eyes were focused on me.
I looked at the floor and mumbled, "Yeah sure. I wasn't going to do anything anyway."
My dad spoke up. "Before I pass on this, I want assurances. Freddy stays away from my son. Look at him for Christ Sakes, he is huge. What the Hell were you thinking sir?" And he got right in Old Man Hewitt's face. "You made no attempt to keep your adult son from possibly killing my 13 year old son. I want your word, not Freddy's that you will control him from now on."
Nothing from Hewitt. Just downcast eyes. I immediately felt sorry for the old man. He had no control of his out of control son. Finally in a quiet voice, "You have my assurances." Freddy looked at his father and glared.
One of the cops moved quickly to separate my father from Hewitt and Freddy. "Okay calm down everyone. Calm down. We are going to leave now. But we have made a report and I will be checking up on Freddy."
Suddenly everyone was gone but me and my parents. The quiet in the room was louder than the previous crowded scene. Dad just sat. Mom puttered with stuff on the coffee table. I sat in the blue overstuff looking at my hands.
"Why didn't you tell us about the fight?"
"Uh, I don't know. Didn't seem important I guess."
"Goddammit Mike!" My father was up off his chair. "That animal could have killed you. What were you thinking? Ever hear of retreat? Dumb ass kids!" And he stomped out.
Mom was still fiddling with this and that on the coffee table. She stopped and looked at me. "You know your father was scared for your safety don't you? When we heard about the beating you took, we were shocked. Why didn't you run?"
I looked up from my hands, "I don't know Mom. Guess I was trying to get him off Buzzy."
Mom looked at me for a moment. She shook her head and sighed, "Let's go upstairs and check out those bruises."
(1929 / 5310)