The Fight I Wish I Finished
By Jonathan Wilson
When was the last time you saw real fisticuffs? Personally, I can’t remember the last time I saw a fight, but I can clearly remember one altercation in particular. It happened in the 4th grade.
I think about that fight a lot. Actually, I’m not even sure you could call it a fight. After the final bell of the last day at school, Sammy, one of my good friends, was slapped across the face so hard by another boy that he lost a tooth.
The strike occurred as we were standing on the steps just outside of the main building. It was a surreal moment. We had just been celebrating the beginning of our Summer freedom, and then “SMACK!” There was a pause in the action as we all looked at Sammy’s tooth skipping down the steps and then skidding across the sidewalk. Then Sammy looked to me, and then he and I looked up at the boy who had struck him. The boy, as if on cue, slapped Sammy again ~ even harder (if that were possible).
I remember two things about that fight. First: Sammy never lifted a hand to defend himself, and he never showed any emotion (anger, fear, or otherwise).
The second thing I remember (and can never forget) was my response. I did not come to his defense, but watched in shame as Sammy lowered his head, turned his back on his abuser, and his friend (me) simultaneously, and went back into the school building. As the door was closing, I heard him begin to cry. I didn’t want to miss my bus, so I forfeited my fraternal responsibilities, and quickly ran in the other direction. The ride home was the longest and worst bus ride of my life.
Some friend I was. Sammy had looked to me for help in a great time of need, and I remained frozen on the sidewalk a prisoner of fear manifest in the observation of the percolations of his lost tooth. Then I ran for the bus ~ when I should have stayed to console my friend. My home was only a few blocks from the school.
Worse yet, I never saw Sammy again after that day. A few days into the summer we moved to a different town (“better schools” ~ I was told). 38 years later, I wonder, “What do you do with the guilt you feel when there is no one to apologize to?” My defense (or lack thereof) of Sammy haunts me regularly.
As an aside, the reason for the fight? Sammy was an excellent student (and he led the class in grades that year). His abuser thought that making good grades was an offense to the race they shared, and he sought to deliver a just punishment.
As I write this article, I wonder how Sammy is doing. I hope his excellence in the classroom continued and transferred into a life of achievement in regard to family, faith, and occupation. I hope he has lived a full life; complete with friends who stand by him when the going gets tough.
As they say in the Army: When Under Fire, Keep Moving Forward. I endeavor to do so.
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