We Sought Out Weakness With Our Fists
I was a little boy
bright blue shorts and bony knees
for the first time away from my mother —
a week at summer camp.
Every morning I wrote her long, detailed letters
hiding the fact that I was a severed heart, an anxious bird,
and in my head I ceaselessly counted the days until the week would end.
Monday. Tuesday. Four more nights. Now halfway there.
That boy singled me out on the first night
as if he heard my secret countdown
above the uncontrollable murmur of assembly.
His yellow tank top and thrift store shoes betrayed him
and he was old enough to know
that we saw him in trailer-width rooms,
learning to ride his bike on gravel driveways,
playing with the toys we had discarded.
And he saw me for what I was —
a boy who stood back from doorways, never made fists,
a choir boy, her lipstick perpetually on my cheek.
Wednesday. The day after the day after tomorrow. Thursday. One more day and last assembly.
In that final night we gathered in the gymnasium for a farewell dance where
he found me in the dark, slid up from behind and grabbed my collar,
and twisted my lanyard like a noose around my slender neck,
my stomach knotted like the nylon cord as he corked it tighter.
And he laughed at me:
a long loud rattling presentation
and his eyes scanned the room for those who would laugh along.
And as his pupils raced I balled my fingers into a tight fist,
my palms sweaty, my bitten crags of fingernails
buzzing against flesh
and I went for his mouth
a frustrated flailing of my right arm towards his lip
and my knuckles connected with the sinews of his jaw,
the sound louder than I expected,
the force of my swing passing through his teeth and gums and tongue
and into the twist of his neck and out into nothing, throwing my my feet off balance
his eyes jarred and shuttered out of instinct, and he reached for me
jaw hanging open
breath sucked tight behind his crooked teeth
cracked lips shiny with crimson spit
he clutched my shoulder to steady me
and his hands were fists familiar and practiced
forced three times into my stomach
just below my ribs,
the breath thrust from my lungs
and I fell to the gym floor gasping for air,
gasping for forgiveness from the counselors
who were now running towards him,
were wrapping their hands around the tension in his wrists.
We were spilling with possibility —
me down there genuflecting for breath, balling my fists,
and he up there being pulled away,
his heart like a knife
looking for something small and fearful and easy to cut open,
for real weakness to expose, for real blood to draw forth
and carry him into the arms of those other kids
whether out of fear, or respect, or honor.
I opened my throat
and let the stale gymnasium soak my lungs —
my knuckles still tingled with the memory of his jaw,
my frustration seeped steadily into pride.
Tomorrow, just tomorrow. Just wait until tomorrow.