My first fight was unremarkable in that I did not fight, but was choked, because it was seventh grade and I had a crush on D’s girlfriend and he did not like this. Additionally, he was living a mean streak at that little point in his life. I was tricked into going down to the woods to hang out, “Come on, Donald, everyone’s going”—and I was ambushed. What he did was, he choked me. And kept choking. Why choking? I don’t know. But it was terrifying and undeserved. He kept yelling at me that N was his girlfriend. Not mine. He wanted to choke that truth into me. I agreed. Okay. N is not my girlfriend. I’ll stop following her around. I left crying. I have seen D since. I do not recall him ever apologizing.
Strangely, on the way home from that episode, a guy a year younger than me, M, got in my face on the street. He said I called him a faggot at the carnival the week before. We had these carnivals that came through town. They set up in the ball field. My house was only two blocks away. Exciting times. And I was at the carnival every night. So M said I called him a faggot. I said I didn’t. Truth is, I never talked to him my entire life. I had always seen him around. He was pretty cute. In fact, D, above, was very cute. So two good looking kids on the same day decided to pummel me. So as M was trying to pick this fight with me in the street, about me calling him a faggot at the carnival, he steadily pushed toward me, backing me into a parked car along the curb. I was pretty pissed off because I had already been mangled by D down in the woods less than thirty minutes ago. So there I was backed up against a car and I decided to just haul back and pop this M right in the face as hard as I could. I hit between his eye and his nose. It took him by total surprise. He was so much bigger and stronger than me. I knew he’d kill me if he started to beat me. So I had to end it quickly. He cried. I ran. I saw him a week later in school. He said that it wasn’t me that called him a faggot at the carnival. He didn’t say he was sorry. But he sort of did. I had this feeling that no one would ever mess with me again.
But I was wrong.
D was tall and lean, with rock and roll hair. M was crew cutted and muscular, a much scarier person to face. And then there was M.A. My third and very brutal fight.
I guess middle school is the age when boys just want to pummel each other. About a year or more after I did not call M a faggot and D had choked me into tears, I was walking along, shopping or what-have-you, in downtown Suffern, my town, at that time a fine town of middle class things like banks and a stationary store. I was acting a little tough because that’s what I did a little bit at that time of my life. Then this not-good-looking kid, A., a year younger than me, who wore stained T-shirts, kept his hair cut like it was the early 70s when it was the late 70s, smoked cigarettes right in front of adults, and got terrible grades, you know, a dirtbag, he decided to pick a fight with me. It was along the lines of, “Hey, you’re a faggot,” in the 70s meaning of it, meaning, you’re square and uncool, like how M. thought I used the word on him at the carnival. By this age, I was well established in middle school, liked, and almost a foot taller than this A., who was one of the shortest kids in his class. I did not understand how he did not understand how futile this attack on me would be.
In addition, A. was at one time best friends with someone who I used to be best friends with. There was really no reason to fight. But clearly, A. wanted to kick some ass and for some reason he thought I was kickable. So he’s calling me a faggot and telling me he’s going to kick my ass and I’m thinking, “You’re a mouse. Just stop this.” Then I thought, “He can’t be for real. He’s a pipsqueak. Oh my God, does he have a knife? Is he going to try to knife me? Did he save up for a knife and he just bought it and now he needs to try it out on my flesh?” But he did not pull out a knife. He did keep up with the aggression. It was bizarre. He was friends with friends and he knew my younger brother well, he was, basically, in the ally sphere of my life. This whole thing was ridiculous. So I said to him, “A., stop it. Right now.” I said it like his older baby sitter, like a wise person who was setting someone straight. I even had this older brother compassion for him. I wanted to say, “Don’t be silly.” I didn’t say that.
I could not, in my rational world, understand why the hell he was doing this. And then he started kicking me. I ran away, toward the bank. It had a long hedge about three feet tall in front of the solid concrete. Solid building with columns. Almost romantic. I was laughing at how silly A. was being. Like a Chihuahua coming after a beagle. But he persisted. And he came around the bushes and he started grabbing my hair and then I started grabbing his hair. Total girl fight. (Sorry, girls.) Okay, professional wrestling? Anyway, we are grabbing each other’s hair and because he is so short, all he can do is kick me. This was no longer funny and I was no longer interested in being some sort of understanding big brother. And he keeps kicking me in the shins. It hurt like hell. But because he’s my brother’s age and friends with so many of my brother’s friends, I can’t help but think of him in this brotherly way and I keep saying, “Stop, stop or I’m going to put an end to this that is going to be awful.” And he wouldn’t stop. He was determined to give me as much physical pain as he could. (What the hell happened to him that day at home? What was wrong with him? I don’t know.)
So then, I gathered my strength, with his head of hair in mine, and I gave him one last warning, “You gonna stop?” And he said no and kept kicking. A little dirty mutt, tobacco stained fingers, hair flying.
So I took his head and I smashed it into the bank wall. Just once. But very hard. I meant it. This had to end. It must have been very painful because he stopped. And he cried like a little boy. He couldn’t believe I did what I did. I left him holding his head on the lawn. He was so pathetic and I felt so bad for him. But I had to move on. He lived. It was unfair fighting.
That’s how I fight…never. Or completely unfair.
That was the last time someone tried to have a fight with me. I don’t think A. went around and told everyone, “Don’t pick a fight with Donald Cummings, he’ll smash your head into a bank wall.” But I do think that once you do smash someone’s head into a bank wall, people sort of sense it and they leave you alone.
A. became a huge stoner and I do not believe he finished high school. Whenever he saw me in the halls at school, he just glared. I used to smile back at him. I felt sorry for him. And I was confused because he was such a skanky little ruffian and he had this regal sister.
You see, strangely, his much older sister was a big Broadway sensation at the time in a revival of a very famous musical. She was the lead. Everyone went to see her. In fact, it was the first Broadway play I had ever seen. And she is still in Broadway musicals today. It made no sense that this woman, who was basically doing something very close to what I wanted to do, had this sad little stoner, dirty brother. And I thought that if A. knew how much I thought of his sister, how into her and the musical she was in I was, he never would have gone after me that day. Maybe. And I wondered why his sister, with her success and her grace, did not come back to Suffern to fix this kid up.
Maybe she escaped the family with her great singing voice and was glad to never return? Maybe A. was her half brother or something?
What was wrong with these people? I never found out.
That third fight was the end of all that ugly middle school boy stuff. The skull against cement sound, just thinking about it, it makes you wince. Whenever I see that bank, or one like it, I do wonder if there was something wrong with me for having done what I did. It was outsized, to crack his head into the wall, and I could have maybe figured out something less severe. But I did not want a protracted painful engagement. I was improv-ing. I was expedient.