As a teacher, I broke up my fair share of fist fights. They usually occurred during a passing period, near the end of the year, as the weather heated up and tempers tended to flair with impatience.
Half my friends thought me brave for intervening, while the other half thought I was simply crazy. I guess I had a sixth sense about what to say and do to get the warring teenagers to come to a halt.
I did, however, adhere by that unwritten teacher rule…NEVER, EVER interrupt a girl fight.
While the boys I broke up never attempted to throw a punch at me, I’d heard that girls were totally different. Their fights always began over some guy, and any female coming between them and their sense of gaining retribution or justice would be challenged. Biting, hair pulling, kicking, and punching? All fair game.
Fortunately, I never personally saw two girls at war. I only heard secondhand stories about their fights, either from students in my class who’d witnessed it or teachers in the faculty workroom.
I have to admit, though, that I actually was in a fist fight myself.
I was four. And it was over after I threw a single punch.
I remained an only child for almost six years, and so I played a lot with my cousin David, who was two years older. I was always pretty mature for my age (sometimes I think I was an old soul born into a tiny baby’s body), so we got along well. He and I loved to read comic books (although I leaned toward Superman and Batman, David was more into Fantastic Four, Spiderman, and The Hulk). David also shared his love of little green army men with me, so I was well-versed in battle at an early age.
Our favorite pastime involved throwing a heavy blanket or quilt over my aunt’s dining room table. A sheet wouldn’t do. It was too sheer. We needed to be trapped into a dark world – that of a space capsule. We’d drag pillows and blankets underneath the table, lie on our backs, and push the buttons on our imaginary console (the table’s underside), rocketing to the stars.
Then both our worlds changed. David went to school, and I was left behind. And like so many kids before him, he learned a lot about a lot of things when he went to school. And he wanted to share it with me.
Older children seem to delight in disillusioning younger ones, especially when it comes to fantasies and dreams. Sure enough, after Thanksgiving, talk broke out at school. David learned the unvarnished truth.
There was no Santa Claus.
I don’t know who told him or what was said, but David couldn’t wait to get home and share this important bit of earth-shattering news with me.
He blurted it out. I was stunned.
Then I did what any red-blooded, All-American girl would do – I pulled back my fisted hand and then punched him in the nose as hard as I could for speaking such an awful lie.
Blood spurted. My mom and aunt stepped in to quell the violence. I sulked. David sulked.
I experienced vindication a few weeks later when Santa arrived and left me some wonderful presents for having been such a good little girl all year.
And for believing in him.
I started school shortly afterward at age five and heard the same awful rumors. I kept my fists to myself (having been warned never to do that again by my horrified mother) – as well as my opinions. I had to believe because by this time I had a little six months old sister. I needed to believe enough for both of us.
By the next Christmas, a brother had been added to our family. Even I began to understand by this point the utter madness in believing that one man could make all those visits in a single night – but I kept quiet. I told myself it was for the sake of my brother and sister, but as long as I didn’t say a word, Santa kept coming. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how long he remained on the scene, bringing me gifts.
Now I use the pen, which truly is far mightier than the sword, so my puny fists have never struck a blow against another human being.
And every time I see a jolly man in a red suit, be it in the mall or ringing a bell on a street corner, I have to smile…because I really do still believe.