I’ve never been in a fight.
The closest I ever came to fighting someone was in the first grade. Back then, I wore my long, black hair in a ponytail to school everyday. Monica, whose last name I have long since forgotten, sat next to me in class. She must have been particularly bored one day (I think we were learning subtraction when this incident occurred, so I can understand). When our teacher turned her back to write a few numbers on the white board, Monica reached over and tugged my ponytail.
“What the hell?” I hissed.
I had learned the word “hell” from watching an episode of Maury the other week — which featured a man who was upset with his wife for cheating on him with his son, who was also his cousin. I was trying to integrate “hell” into my vocabulary as much as possible.
Our teacher spun around at that moment, and Monica let go of my hair. She gave me a defiant side-eye glare, cracking her knuckles with sociopathic vigor. A few years ago, I heard that she had landed herself a stint in juvvie for some crime that involved a baseball bat and marshmallows. I can’t say that I was surprised.
I thought that Monica had finished taunting me, but the next time our teacher turned around, she leaned over and, before I realized what was going on, she grabbed my ponytail — pulling my hair so hard that I thought she could rip it out of my head. For the record, I don’t like this kind of hair-pulling.
The other kids noticed, but none of them intervened. Bystander effect, I suppose. I would’ve yelped to get our teacher’s attention, but I had a reputation to maintain. Instead, when Monica let go again, I angrily whispered, “Meet me on the playground, bitch.”
“Bitch” was another word I’d learned from Maury.
After lunch, we had recess. Usually, my friends and I spent the 30-minute periods playing Red Rover or chasing the third grade boys around the basketball courts. Even at six years old, I knew that older boys — though more cootie-laden that the scrawny scrubs in my own year — were more desirable.
However, that recess, I stood on the soccer field next to the playground and waited for Monica. My friends Ting Ting and Worthington flanked me on either side. They had agreed to back me up in case this situation got out of hand.
Monica arrived a few minutes after recess began, her posse trailing behind her.
“Hello, Stephanie,” she said, emphasizing each syllable in my name as she calmly unbuckled her Mary Janes and stepped out of them.
Ting Ting grabbed my arm. “I don’t know, man,” she whispered in my ear. “Maybe you shouldn’t go through with this.”
She didn’t understand that I needed to fight Monica. She’d pulled my hair. She’d insulted my personhood in front of all our classmates. I had to teach her a lesson, for my dignity’s sake.
“Monica,” I said, forgoing a formal greeting, “you are a booger.”
Monica’s eyes narrowed. She rolled up her sleeves, flexing her biceps slightly as she did so. “What did you just say to me?”
“You are a booger.”
“Say it again, Stephanie. Say. It. Again.” Monica puffed up her chest. This one meant business.
“Big. Fat. Booger.”
All of a sudden, Monica charged towards me, her friends racing after her as she closed the several yard distance between us. She reached out to shove me, but before she could, Ting Ting stepped in front of me.
“Get away, Ting Ting!” Monica shouted.
“Come at me, Monica! Come at me!” I shouted back, beating my chest from my safe haven behind Ting Ting and Worthington, who had joined in holding Monica back as much as possible. Her own friends stood off to the side, looking on dumbly as though they weren’t quite sure how to participate.
“Look, if you guys just back away now, we can forget about this,” Ting Ting suggested, ever the peacemaker.
Monica stopped pushing against her and Worthington for a moment, panting slightly, her cheeks flushed. “No,” she said. “You guys can back away first.”
“No,” Ting Ting retorted. “You.”
“No, you guys first.”
This back-and-forth exchange continued for a couple minutes before Monica grew frustrated and began pushing against my friends again, trying to break through them and throttle me. Meanwhile, I continued to scream at her — daring her repeatedly to “come at me.”
“I’m going to kick the poopy out of you,” Monica roared. “I’m going to kick the living poopy out of you.”
Now I was even angrier. I started to push up against my friends, who were holding me back as much as they were holding Monica off. If anyone was going to get the living poopy kicked out of them, it was going to be Monica.
I reached under Ting Ting’s arm. Right as I was about to grab Monica by the shirt and give her a piece of my mind, I felt someone grip me by the shoulder. I looked up. My stomach turned. Our teacher stared back at me with that thin-lipped, furrow-browed expression adults wear when they want you to know that you’re about to get it.
“Girls, what is going on here?” she said, though it was fairly clear.
No one dared to answer.
That afternoon, Monica and I stayed after school for detention, our punishment for almost getting into a fight during recess. Usually, first-graders didn’t receive detention, but I didn’t mind — this could really improve my street image. The proctor positioned Monica on the opposite side of the room from me, separating us so that we couldn’t get into more trouble.
Monica looked away for a moment, staring out the window at the carpool line. I took the opportunity to take the gum I was chewing out of my mouth (it was against school rules to chew gum, but I told you I was hardcore) and flick it in her direction. It caught in her hair.
Bow down, booger.