The Time I Got Beat Up A Little [Single White Nerd]
When I was about 12, some kids in my neighborhood beat me up a little. I’d been taking the same route to and from school for three years–subway, bus, walking. I’d gotten used to seeing the same faces every day, a comforting routine. These kids were new faces. And they beat me up a little.
I remember seeing them on the other side of the street as we waited for the light to turn. There were six of them, pushing each other, horsing around. I saw them see me. Their heads moved closer together, they pointed at me. My heart started beating a little faster. Despite the fact that my neighborhood wasn’t the greatest, I’d never had trouble before. This looked like trouble. I could have turned around or crossed the other way. But then the kids would know I was scared and would either pursue or, maybe worse, make fun of me. Besides, this was my neighborhood and I had just as much right to cross the street as they did.
So when the light changed, I crossed, moving towards them with as elaborately casual a gait as I could muster.
When we got within hailing distance of each other, I made eye contact with one of the kids and gave a little head nod. “What’s u–”
A fist slammed into my stomach and I lost my air. Someone pushed me back. An open palm smacked the side of my head. A flurry of punches hit my back and chest. The kids laughed, called me a little girl, jostled me back towards the sidewalk.
Then, just as quickly, it was over. A trickle of blood ran from my nose. I had the urge to run after the guys and unload a six pack of whup ass on them. In the space of a few seconds, with just some jeering and a few smacks, they’d taken my neighborhood from me.
As I started to walk home, visions of elaborate revenge spun in my head. I’d get them back. Hell, I’d enlist friends. We’d stock up on brass knuckles and bats and show those guys what it was to be afraid. Granted, I’d only seen a couple of their faces well enough to identify them and there were tons of kids in the neighborhood. But we could just intimidate anyone who looked like them. Because I’d been violated. I wanted to violate them right back, to reclaim my shattered sense of security.
Of course, none of that happened. It would have been ridiculous. And, really, I never told anyone about the incident. I knew that a few blocks away, beatings and worse happened on a daily basis. I’d somehow remained isolated for years from the seething unrest that had rocked the neighborhood. Now the isolation was over. I went on with my life, more vigilant, eyes open, and, for years, slightly afraid of what might be waiting around the corner.
Today is 9/11. My facebook page is littered with exhortations to never forget. Videos about people who were affected by the attacks ten years ago. I have several friends who were there on the day, friends who lost family and loved ones. I can’t imagine what that day was like for them and we should never forget those losses. We should never forget the heroism of those who stepped forward to help.
We should also never forget what it was to be innocent. What it was like to go through airport security with our shoes on and bottles of water in hand. To live in a country where rhetoric of division and fear resided predominantly on the margins.
I can’t help but feel that in the aftermath of the attacks, this country had the same natural reaction that I did to being beaten up in the streets. We wanted to get friends together, get back at the people who attacked us, and get revenge on those evil doers. Except, unlike me, the country did it. And tens of thousands of people–Americans, Iraqis, Afghans, countless others–have lost their lives in the process. We should never forget that, either.
The success of a terrorist attack–or, on a much smaller scale, a street beating–isn’t measured in how many lives are taken, how many punches you land. It’s measured by what happens afterwards. Did you succeed in taking away the target’s sense of safety and security? In changing the way they move through the world? In undermining their purpose and identity?
When I was about twelve, a bunch of bullies changed the lens through which I saw the world in the space of about 30 seconds. I’ll never forget that, but I have moved forward. I’d like to think that the country can, too.
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featured image credit: sugarsnaptastic