Student Voice Editor
September, 1997. Home Away From Home Academy. Matawan, New Jersey. Pre-K. I am 4. I am also in the 25th percentile for height and weight due to a coffee habit. I am a target. Four year olds are savages. I am stubborn.
The playground has dark brown mulch, with giant chunks of wood, the malicious kind that waits to give children splinters. The paint on the structures that once looked like a pride parade now looks sun bleached and faded. The kids do not notice. The sky is the blue of late summer, and gushes possibility. The air is not yet cold enough for jackets. This is my favorite time of year.
The boy steps forward. He towers at 40.3 inches. He is 36 pounds of malice. He is the size of four point five Chihuahuas. I am small. I am unafraid. I prepare for a gentlemanly bout of fisticuffs. He is not gentlemanly. He uses nails. He attempts to gouge my left eye out of the socket. He has poor technique. I shove him off. He runs before the teacher comes around.
I am moved up from Pre-K to Kindergarten. I am too young for first grade, so I repeat Kindergarten. By the time I get to first grade, I am a know it all.
September, 1999. Conover Road Elementary School. Colts Neck, New Jersey. I am 6. I have a bad attitude. Six year olds are vain. I am bellicose.
It is a bright, windy day. The first day of first grade. My mother is so proud. I even ride the bus.
The teacher hands out a worksheet. It contains the alphabet. I refuse to do it. She does not notice. She comes back to check on me. I have not lifted my pencil. She comes close. She asks why. I say through gritted teeth, “I know how to read, I know how to write, and I am not doing your stupid worksheet.” I cross my arms. I am ready to fight. She backs off. I am a badass. I am above the law.
A phone call home is made. The teacher is crying. My mother tells her that I do, in fact, know how to read and write. My mom says she will try to address my attitude. My mother is not so proud.
September, 2000. Conover Road Elementary School. Colts Neck, New Jersey. I am 7. I have begun to grow. Seven year olds are bold. I am impatient.
It is another beautiful day. The sky is an uncaring shade of blue. Clouds are few. The playground is wood and metal. The mulch must be supplied by the same company as in Pre-K. I have learned to perform minor surgery to remove the splinters using a steak knife.
My classmate will not leave me alone. I begin to clap my hands, front and back. I issue my declarative, stay out of this space. She thinks I am bluffing. She calls. She walks into my fingertips, chest first. She cries out. She calls for a teacher. I am told there will be consequences for my actions.
I am sent to the principal. She asks if I have done anything wrong. I have not. She asks if I meant to hurt the girl. I did not. She asks why. I say I created space. She says that the girl could not breathe. Preposterous. Lies. Slander. She says get a teacher next time. She asks if I am sorry. I am not. She sentences me to lunch detention until I apologize. I see her for two more days. I give a dishonest apology through gritted teeth.
I got off relatively scot-free. Everybody forgot about it. Children are stupid. Do not try this at home.
September, 2002. Colts Neck High School game field. I am 9. I am now average size. Nine year olds are obsessed with rules. I am edgy.
The sun is hot. The ground is dry. I am playing Nose today. Coach has given me one directive: strike fear into the heart of their Center. I am Genghis Khan; I will scatter him; I will see him driven before me; I will reduce his cities to ashes; I will see his loved ones shrouded in tears; I will gather into my bosom his wives and daughters.
He has one job: get the ball to the Quarterback. He will be out of a job by the end of the day.
We line up. He has doubt. He does not love the game. He is here for something else. He is weak. I am hungry. He is mine. He snaps the ball and I am a piston. I hammer my fist into his diaphragm. I bullrush him back. The ball is run to the right, away from me. I sent my message, “You are in for a long day.”
He fumbles the ball four times in 48 minutes. I dive for them. I recover three. I almost break his ankles every time the ball hits the ground.
September, 2006. Cedar Drive Middle School practice field. Colts Neck, New Jersey. I am 13. Thirteen year olds are rebellious. I am hateful.
The grass sweats like everything else on the field. It is dark and cold. My breath mingles with the rest of the team and forms a small cloud over us. The lights are attached to large poles and powered by gasoline. It is loud. It is smelly.
A stunt is invented and used. I jump and he rolls. We switch sides. The ball is snapped. I cut through the line. I find the ball. Fucking reverse. It goes to Dinks. Fuck Dinks. He jukes. I follow. He cuts. I pursue. He makes one last dive. I plant. I twist. I grab. I hear a pop. I drag him to the dirt. I hear another pop. Agony.
November, 2006. Remington District football field. Baltimore, Maryland. The sky is grey. It is cold. We win the toss and defer. It is cold. My suspicions are confirmed. Poor equals poorly coached equals fast equals outside run equals boring day for me. I do my job. Mind the gap.
Let the Linebackers get the credit.
The boy across from me is big. He is slow. He turns to his friend, “This guy’s a biotch.” It is on in a manner similar to Donkey Kong. Fuck this guy. Fuck the gap. They are not running my way anyway.
It is cold. I am enraged. I play the man. I drive into him. I push him back. My fist connects to his diaphragm. My fist connects to his ribs. Ribs are designed to take compressive force perpendicular to the length of the body. Ribs are not designed to take shock force laterally. I palm his face mask toward God. I jam his shoulder pads into his trachea.
A good coach can adjust. A poor coach just leans on talent. They had a poor coach. Our team cannot lose without them running up the middle. I am in the middle. I am angry. Nobody is running up the middle. We handily win the game.
October, 2007. Colts Neck High School football field. Colts Neck, New Jersey. I am 14. Fourteen year olds are awkward. I am taut.
The sun is full of contempt. It is cool and bright. The grass is covered in late afternoon dew. Dirt clings to my fingers. It smells like blood and earth. I am playing tackle. I am playing weak side. Tackles do not make many tackles. I intend to change that.
The ball is snapped. I shoot the gap. Play action to the strong side. The quarterback is right handed. He is looking right. I am coming from the left. He does not see me. He winds back. I drive my shoulder into his kidney. He is surprised. I wrap his legs. It always hurts more when you do not expect it. I lift up. I push him back. I slam him down. I drive his cranium and shoulders into the mud. I am powerful. I am alive.
We win, in large part due to a stingy and aggressive defense. We are terrorists. We are legion. They have a porous offensive line. I have several parties at the Quarterbacks. It is always fun to inflict pain upon the pretty boys in the backfield, especially when they are wearing the wrong color.
October, 2008. Colts Neck High School Gym. Colts Neck, New Jersey. I am 15. Fifteen year olds are angsty. I am odious.
It is a rainy day. The gym is being used for some useless assembly, so we do not get to play. The air is hot and stale. My pen breaks. I take it apart. It is dripping. The boy looks at me. He says do not even think about it. I think about it. I grin. I flick a drop of ink towards him. He is a trouble maker. He is unimpressed. He gets up. He thinks he is big. He is not. He is made of skin and bone.
He throws a wild right hook. I block. I step in. I shove him. He stumbles back. I stare him down. I say stop. I do not want to fight. He backs down. He tells me I am lucky it did not get on his shirt. I smile.
I go to the bathroom and clean up the ink on my hand. I discover black ink on my favorite hoodie. He is no match for 180 pounds of muscle and bad intentions. In high school, like prison, intimidation and reputation are more important than actual violence. Besides, a fight that does not win you anything but extra practice is a waste of effort.
March, 2011. Colts Neck High School auditorium. Colts Neck, New Jersey. I am 18. Eighteen year olds can taste freedom. I am aggressive.
It is cold inside. The auditorium is kept cold so the lights do not explode and burn down the building. It is nice. I am dressed like what my director thinks Russians looked like in the early 20th century. I am playing Sasha in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Soldier. Anti-Semite. Lover of violence. Professional dick. I have seven lines. I was chosen for the part because I am intimidating. I am committed.
During the wedding, the constable leads us in an unofficial demonstration. I go for the gold candlesticks and toss them into the pit. Perchik is on me. He grabs me. I break his grapple. I spin. Muscle memory takes over. I squat. I drive my hips and arms into the throw. I launch him into to the lower stratosphere. I am become Sasha, Destroyer of Worlds. He flies at least ten feet. The audience gasps. I am a cocktail of chemicals. Norepinephrine. Epinephrine. Dopamine. Aggression. Concentration. Bliss. Fight time.
The director finds me after the play. She tells me that she was very scared, and not to push so hard next time. The actor who played Perchik said it was fucking awesome, perfect even. I decide not to push my luck. I try not to kill my fellow thespian. He survives the remaining three shows.
March, 2012. Downtown Chicago. Chicago, Illinois. I am almost 19. It is cold. It is windy. I am in the swankiest section of Chicago. I am staying at the original Hilton.
It is the third day of the trip. It is three in morning. I am in bed with two women. Seating is limited. They have been drinking. I am sober. I go to sleep. I announce my intentions. I close my eyes. I smash into sleep. I deliver spinning back fist to one of my companions. “Ow,” she says. I wake. “Sorry,” I say. She gets up. She sets up shop on the floor. I go back to sleep. I wake up. I go to the gym. Nothing has changed.