I come from a family that wasn’t afraid to punch someone in the face if they stepped out of line. Lest you think that we’re all a bunch of angry psychopaths, allow me to clarify. In our early years many punches were thrown at one another, along with professions of intense sibling hatred, but if someone outside of the clan threatened one of us, they picked a fight with all of us. Familial loyalty always trumped an argument if an outsider dared to threaten one of us with violence. Except for my sister…she just tended to dissolve into tears and duck.
When I was 10-years-old, my brother and I were removed from the school bus for fighting with the “Bad Kid” that lived up the road. The Bad Kid picked a fight with my brother. They were both five years older than me, but that didn’t stop me from offering my assistance. Having faithfully tuned in to The Bionic Woman each week, I felt fully empowered as I charged down the narrow aisle of the school bus and launched myself onto the Bad Kid’s back with all of the confidence and gusto of Jaimie Sommers. I was dervish of scratches and slaps but sadly lacked any of the bionics that would have aided my brother in actually disabling the Bad Kid. The only thing I accomplished was ripping Bad Kid’s glasses from his face. Next thing I knew, we were left standing on the side of the road in a cloud of dust while the bus pulled away.
Years later, my brother and I were visiting my father in Florida. I was a senior in high school and going through some pretty heavy stuff. I’d venture to say that year was one of my most troubled from an emotional standpoint. I was suffering from crippling depression, living with an evil stepfather and suffering from some serious abandonment issues as the result of my parent’s divorce. I was also dating ‘that’ boyfriend-the one and only boy I ever allowed to walk all over me.
I don’t recall much about that year’s trip to Florida, but what I recall about the night in a particular Florida parking lot is family legend. At times laughed at and, at times, a disturbing glimpse into my dark state of mind at that time.
It all began innocently enough with a family dinner at a restaurant near Fort Meyers beach. Having sufficiently gorged ourselves, we returned to the Cadillac in the parking lot while my brother stayed behind to pay the bill. My father, stepmother, stepsister and I waited in the car, illuminated by the building’s flood lights, and quietly remarked about how full we were when a man stumbled out from the bushes. He briefly paused, swaying dangerously close to the tipping over point and allowed his bleary eyes to adjust on the car. With concentrated effort he raised his middle finger at us and screamed, “You fuckin’ snowbirds!” Then with the exaggerated gait of a cartoon turtle, his neck preceding his body, he shuffled off toward the entrance of the bar, turning once more to reiterate that we were, in fact, a lousy bunch of “fucking snowbirds!”
It was at that moment that my brother chose to exit the restaurant. Through my passenger window, I saw his mouth say something to the effect of, “What’s your problem?” That’s all it took for the The Drunk to begin punching. Within seconds, fists were flying and, in some rage-induced loss of consciousness, I leaped from the Cadillac. As my brother, who was doing just fine on his own, fought with the suddenly lucid and strong drunk man, I stood behind him and threw my own flailing punches. I vaguely remember my brother attempting to push me out of the way but, mostly, I saw only that man.
Never before had I been so consumed by adrenalin and rage. I was swept away and into some dark place of violence. This drunk, angry man had plucked at the final string that was holding me together in that year. No one knew what was happening in the depths of my troubled mind. Depression and abandonment weren’t topics of discussion in schools or at home. Anger, hatred and resentment boiled to the surface and spilled from my petite body. I felt my fingers connect with his shirt then I plunged in deeper to gouge at his skin with my fingernails. He pulled his arm back in surprise.
First, he became my stepfather and then everyone who had ever let me down or purposely belittled me. Mostly, he became that blackened darkness that had begun it’s ugly swirling inside of my body and robbing me of my life. I punched him in the back as my brother tried to lead him away from me. I was angry that my punch wasn’t as hard as I expected it would be and momentarily thought of the dreams I’d had when I would swing to punch with all of my might, only to deliver a feather light touch on impact.
I remember hearing my father’s voice from afar…”Goddamn it, I just wanted to go home to watch T.J. Hooker.” Then I heard his familiar and authoritative State Trooper command to stop fighting. The Drunk whirled to throw a punch at my father who efficiently stopped the punch in mid-air then twisted The Drunk’s arm behind his back and threw him to the ground. I vaguely recall being awed by how easily my father had performed that maneuver to subdue The Drunk. I momentarily wondered how many times he had performed that move in his career as a police officer. The Drunk bounced off the bumper of a car and landed on the asphalt of the parking lot. That’s were I fell upon him, still riding the wave of my rage-induced lack of consciousness.
Slowly, I began to realize that the pointy-toed boot kicking the man in the ribs was mine, as was that voice that was screaming profanities that would make a sailor blush. “You leave my brother *#$(*#*G alone, you @($damn piece of $*(*&*%$# #***%*%*!” Each kick squarely connected with The Drunk’s body making a series of horrible solid thumping sounds.
Slowly, the veil of rage that had wrapped itself around me began to lift. My kicking slowed as the man on the ground lie there moaning. I looked up to see the horrified faces of my stepmother and stepsister looking at us from behind the windshield. I turned to see my father and brother standing side by side. My brother’s eyes were wide. My father looked only slightly shocked, then chuckled slightly before saying, “Get it in the car.”
I went to the door that I’d left hanging open and slid onto the seat, shaking and freaked out. As we pulled away, I looked at The Drunk in parking lot with blood gushing from a wound on his arm and began questioning my existence.