Twice this year I was reminded of a fight I had with Raymond Blackwell when we were in about the seventh grade. The first reminder was when I saw Raymond at our 50th-year high school reunion last June. Raymond didn’t mention the fight, but just seeing him reminded me how his fist came in what looked like slow motion and popped me in the mouth. The second reminder was last month when a speaker asked a group of about 200 people at the University of Texas, “How many of you have never been in a fight?” Interestingly, no one raised a hand, meaning everyone in the group had been in at least one fight at one time or another. My fight with Raymond Blackwell was the first thing that came to mind when our speaker asked that question.
When Raymond and I greeted one another in June, the first thing I said to him was, “Do you remember that fight we got into when we were in about the seventh grade and you hit me in the mouth?” Raymond smiled broadly, no doubt remembering how he got the best of me that day, but he never said anything more about the fight and changed the subject to what we had been doing in the last half century . He didn’t want to gloat, out of kindness to me I suppose.
But I remember the vivid details of the fight, like a video now playing in my head. I can see the whole thing again. Of course, this account is mine alone, and Raymond may remember it differently. But my recollection is pretty close to the truth.
We had just been dismissed from class to go to lunch, which was in the nearby cafeteria. A group of us were walking down the hall toward the door. I was walking between two friends, shoulder to shoulder. We caught up with Raymond who was walking alone, and slowly, as he watched someone near the wall doing or saying something. Not wanting to slow down for Raymond, I stepped on his heels two or three times to show my impatience, to prod him to pick up the pace.
Instead, Raymond wheeled around and his chunky right fist came at me out of nowhere in a frozen instant that I still clearly remember. He hit me squarely in the mouth and I had the proverbial feeling of “seeing stars.” In a flash we were flailing and grappling at each other as our friends pulled us apart. I never landed a good punch, and I regretted that.
When I say his fist was “chunky,” it was because he was very muscular. Raymond was shorter than I was, and I was much skinnier than he was. He was not fat, but built like a brick s—house, a term I think Raymond would take as a compliment if he ever reads this story. He packed quite a wallop.
In the next instant, our teacher walked up and escorted us to the Principal’s Office to see Mr. C. R. Avery. By the time we got to his office, I had a swollen and numb upper lip on the left side and that was embarrassing. He asked what happened and Raymond said I kept stepping on his heels while he walked down the hall to lunch, and that he turned around and hit me. In my defense, I said I stepped on his heels because he was “walking too slow” and wouldn’t get out of my way, and that a friend was on each side of me and I couldn’t go around Raymond.
Mr. Avery didn’t think much of my argument. He quickly sided with Raymond. I realize in hindsight that I had a lousy argument, that I was in the wrong. If I had been in Raymond’s position, I would have hit me in the mouth, too. Mr. Avery was right to get upset with me, but he only gave me a tongue-lashing. He had a reputation for dishing out corporal punishment with a hefty paddle, but I guess he decided I had done no physical damage to Raymond and I didn’t warrant that level of justice.
I didn’t make this confession to Raymond when I saw him at our reunion in June. As I said, when I mentioned our fight, he diplomatically changed the subject. I was actually happy to change the subject, to not wallow in my defeat and humiliation back in the seventh grade.
Raymond is a good guy. But he had a natural ability to carry an insolent look on his face back when we were in school together. I really would have enjoyed landing a good punch to his kisser. But after our fight, I never messed with him again. Not only did I get a little older in the seventh grade, I got a little wiser.
But adolescent boys can be crazy. I wasn’t the only one.
Now, dear reader, have you ever been in a fight?