I once fancied myself to be a tough guy.
When I was very young, my friend and I found ourselves in an unfamiliar neighborhood.
We chanced to laugh at the antics of a little boy.
He was not amused by our laughter, and the next thing I knew, we were face to face with his larger, less endearing brother.
Notice how quickly I gave up my friend?
Basically, don't ever expect me to have your back, because it looks like I give up names faster than the Crips can ask for them.
Anyways, we got off with a threat, but at the end, I still tried to be tough:
There was nothing I could say.
My toughness carried over into school.
Like when I tried to rescue Jolean from being cheek kissed by Caleb the bearded first grader.
Caleb was your classic stay-in-elementary-school-to-avoid-the-draft kind of kid.
He was closing in on her.
I didn't think, I didn't hesitate; I just ran towards my destiny, my metal Gobots lunchbox clanking against my side.
All I remember was Caleb's hands, so impossibly strong for a six-year-old's, spinning me in endless circles and then letting me fly.
Through the haze of a near concussion, I could see Jolean laughing. Caleb gave my lunchbox a little kick, then he and Jolean scampered off for snack.
Not long after that, I decided to try my own hand at bullying.
At first, it was just reactionary bullying.
Like when Jerry called me fat.
Sure he was way smaller than me, but he was trying to punk me out.
All the kids knew it.
Being one of the biggest ones in the class, I had a reputation to uphold.
I chased Jerry down and threw my best move on him.
I didn't know very much about fighting, or wrestling, or cool moves.
My classmates stood over us, expecting things to get real crazy.
I didn't want to tell them that I had only one play in my book, and they were looking at it.
So I just held Jerry there on the ground for awhile.
After that, I was feeling pretty tough.
I decided to pick my first real bullying target.
One day, kids chased me around the playground, pinching my back fat and saying "chub chub chub chub".
I lost my appetite for bullying.
But I retained a private belief in my personal toughness.
Of course, this belief was maintained solely through selective evidence retention.
Discarded anti-toughness evidence:
1) I sobbed when I could not complete a rope's course.
It was like a foot off the ground.
I was in ninth grade.
2) For my one and only fistfight, I had to take my glasses off.
All I could see was a brownish blur that kept trying to punch me and called me an "art fag."
I thought his friend behind me, pinning my arms, was the gym coach, trying to break up the fight.
When it actually did get broken up, I turned to this friend and thanked him, STILL believing he had been trying to stop the fight.
I guess when I don't have glasses on, I am a firm believer in the intrinsic goodness of the human being.
3) When I took boxing lessons, I had trouble concentrating.
Instead of learning how to kick ass, I was completely distracted by the wart colony on my trainer's shoulders.
In the end, though, I believe I absorbed some of that exposure to toughness.
It manifests itself, from time to time, in my special education work.
Like the time I went to a Special Olympics basketball tournament.
Down a side hallway, I saw one team try to start a fight with another.
I quickly glanced around, ever ready to shirk responsibility, but I was the only adult present.
It was getting heated.
My brain scrambled for the scripted dialogue of crisis intervention.
What it retrieved was:
And that ridiculous sports movie cliche actually worked.