We once had a conversation where I asked her how she got started with the martial art. She explained that at first she was just interested in learning some skills for self-defense. I asked if she felt like she had them. She replied, “I do. I mean, I haven’t tested it, but I think I could probably defend myself.”
“What would you do?” I prodded.
“I’d [something with kicking and belts]…and you know, call for help. What would you do?” she countered.
“I’ve actually thought about this,” I replied. “I’d tell the guy that someone I love had just died and that I had been horribly abused as a child and that he could never really hurt me.”
She laughed and when she realized I wasn’t joking, said, “Wait. While he’s attacking you?”
“Sure,” I continued. “I mean, I’d just let him know that he doesn’t have power over me…”
“So, basically if you were attacked, your method of counter attack is to guilt your attacker into leaving you alone?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “I mean, you’re supposed to let them see you as real people.”
“But you wouldn’t be real,” she insisted, “you’d be lying. I mean, nothing about your strategy seems like it would be very effective.”
I don’t know how this conversation ended but unfortunately it wasn’t with a Karate lesson.
Because this morning as I walked my two dogs, I came upon two school crossing guards. They smiled at us as we made our way toward them, and inevitably I smiled back. All of a sudden I heard someone go, “Who do you think you’re smiling at?”
I didn’t see him at first. It was a kid, probably 14 or 15 years old. He was shorter than me and wearing big Princess Leia earmuff headphones. The initial thought that flitted through my mind [in, apparently a British accent] was, “Why, these nice ladies crossing all the happy elementary school children! That’s at whom I’m smiling, young man!”
But even before I finished thinking it, the kid had punched me in the head – just behind my ear. My hat flew off into a bush. My teeth literally rattled – so now I get the meaning of that expression. Then the kid turns to the two kindly crossing guards who were staring at him with alarm and goes, “You want some of this too?” and did the tough-guy hands in, elbows out chest thrust.
The women were about sixty. I was wearing rainbow pants. I don’t think any of us wanted this or that.
He walked away as one of them said disapprovingly, “No, son, you just walk on.”
I waited a minute as the three of us sort of looked at each other, rendered mute by the strangeness of the incident. I put my hat back on and kept walking.
We were next to an elementary school and there were about 6 moms pushing strollers, 4 dads piggy backing children and about twenty school kids now separating me and Punchy.
I was going to turn at the next block because I didn’t want to trail behind him and his bad attitude. But before I reached the corner he spun around and threw his hands up over his head like I was coming after him, ready to throw down in my rainbow pants and goes really loudly over the throngs, “Want me to kill you? Because you don’t want to fuck with me!” and parents are looking around wondering which 6 year old, elderly person or puppy the guy was talking to.
Suddenly crippled by a vision of the kid flying back through the crowd and punching me and kicking me despite our audience, I turned briskly and kept walking up the street. I started to cry.
So now, crying, I’m walking home thinking about all the things I should have said to him, all the ways I could have explained that he could never hurt me because I’ve. Seen. Things. and how I understood that the only way he could feel seen was by punching and yelling out in a crowd. I thought about, as my sister later put it, finding his parents for a quick kudos to them. I thought about embracing him for all the people who should have but didn’t love him, or fuck that, martial art-ing him into a tree, a cop car, or even guilting him into believing that he’d just punched someone who’d recently been returned by pirate kidnappers. I thought about him – and what I should have done to him – all day.
After I ate breakfast with old friends, I walked out of the restaurant thinking, “I got punched today.” After buying a water, I thought, “I got punched today.” On the subway I looked around and wondered, “Who else got punched today? Who gets punched? Who punches a stranger [in rainbow pants]?”
I came home and half worked, half stewed, half zoned out. I am not physically injured. I am clear that I had nothing to do with this morning’s attack and that I am fine – if a little rattled, and frankly knowing Jiu Jitsu wouldn’t have helped me even if I had a black belt. Nothing would have. My head was the closest thing to a person’s fist in a moment he needed to freak out and punch something.
But I think, just for kicks [and belts] maybe I’ll check out the martial arts.