When I was a kid, there was a family living a few blocks away that were known for their brutality. They were legendary. It was a brood of four boys? Six? A little sister perhaps? No one knew for sure. No one dared get close enough to find out. But these savages lived in this dingy house with vague parents who either endorsed or didn’t care about how violent their kids were. Word was that if any of these boys even saw you they would beat you up just because they could.
Maybe I’m weird, but I have never liked being beaten up. It has happened a few times, and I survived, but I can’t say it was a good experience. So I avoided them. I saw members of the Brood in the distance from time to time, like a baby rabbit sees a hawk flying across the sky. I hunkered down and changed directions.
Life went by.
One summer day, I was with a friend from the neighborhood named John. We were walking through the alley from my house to his with one of my older brothers and John’s younger brother. Suddenly, without warning, two of the Brood were upon us. It all happened so fast. And the oldest of the Brood pair locked eyes on me, clearly the wimpiest of the bunch. He wanted to take me down, and he told us that was exactly what he wanted to do. There were no pretensions. I was literally terrified.
What kind of world is this anyway?
My older brother happened to be just a little bigger than the oldest of the Brood. So the Elder Brood asked my brother if he was going to interfere. And my brother said something to the effect that he might have to do that if I was the target. So the Elder Brood pointed at my friend and said, “What about him?” And I could see my brother struggling with this. Weighing it. He wanted to stand up for John, but he couldn’t justify the cost. John wasn’t blood so he wasn’t sure if he was willing to shed blood. Finally, he said something to the effect of, “I’m not in charge of him.”
I watched my friend, who was several inches taller than me, grimace and set himself. The Elder Brood did not hesitate. He moved in for the kill. But my friend turned out to be a pretty good match for him. They went at it, shuffling around on the ground, punching and writhing, until Elder Brood had enough. He jumped up and began brushing himself off. He had gotten a bit more than he bargained for. Whatever savage urge motivated the Elder Brood stepped aside and warned him to pull out before it was too late because he was starting to lose the fight. He said to John, “You fight pretty good.” Then ran away with the oblivious face of a psychopath.
I have wondered since: why didn’t all four of us stand up to the two of them together? The answer: we were too civilized. We were not equipped for this kind of random violence.
But, sadly, we were learning.
John had a cut on his lip. He was covered in dust and dirt. He was doing his best not to cry. After all, what had he done to deserve any of that? Nothing. And it has always bothered me. I had to watch someone else take a beating meant for me. And he did it with bravery. He did it with dignity. It was truly heroic.
It was no small thing, and I'm still thankful.
Peace to you.
© LW Publishing 2010