When I was 8 and in Grade 3 of primary school, a skinny, loud girl named Stacy hit me in the face and punched me in the stomach on our way home. I didn’t hit her back, and I have no idea why. I just went home and told my grandmother about the unprovoked attack. Grandma questioned me about Stacy. Her size, her grade level, and whether she had friends with her when she hit me. I answered, wondering how my grandma was going to right this obvious wrong.
That evening, Grandma spanked me. She spanked me for not protecting myself, and for letting that girl think it was okay to beat up on people. “Don’t you ever let yuself be treated like that again, Akilah! Yu hear me?!” I can hear her voice and see her big, soft afro bouncing around as she set about doing what made sense for her.
I might not have chosen the same response as her, but Grandma’s lesson resonates to this day. Somehow, her response pushed me to stand up for myself, and to recognize the absurdity of allowing myself to be taken advantage of without a fight.
The only other fight I got into (while in primary school, anyway) was with an older girl named Kerri-Ann. I remember that she had light-brown hair, a massive overbite—no doubt from the thumb she always had stuck in her mouth—and big broad hips that interrupted the pleating on the skirt of her dark green uniform. I was in Grade 4, and about 9 years old. She was in Grade 5. I think (though I don’t remember for sure) that I had beaten her in a race on Sports Day, prompting the confrontation.
She cornered me by the back fence of our small school, and since the field was full of children (it being Sports Day), we were sort of hidden in plain site as I began gathering my clothes to get ready to head back to class at the sound of Last Bell. I saw her coming, and I was absolutely afraid of her, mainly on account of her hips looking like the size of my grandma’s. But it occurred to me that any beating from broad hipped Kerri-Ann would pale in comparison to any response, physical or otherwise, from Grandma.
I guess my run-in with Kerri-Ann doesn’t count as an actual fight. She kicked me, I slapped her in the face, she got really close to my face, and I gritted my teeth in preparation for a rolling tussle, because I was definitely not going to let her hit me last, broad hips or not! That was my plan. But Kerri-Ann never returned my face-slap after we stared each other down. She yelled at me, cursing me, and talking about my glasses, which by the way, were some big ass, coke bottle, Sally Jessie Raphael-type specs, complete with the Sophia Petrillo chain to keep me from losing them. Yep. Pretty much like these. I know. I’m sorry too.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t make any conscious revelations that day, but looking back, that kick-slap-stare-down experience with Kerri-Ann taught me something about facing a fear, and about doing something about how I wanted to feel. I didn’t want to feel afraid of Kerri-Ann, or grandma’s belt, or skinny Stacy, and so I stood up for myself and faced what I feared. And when I did, Kerri-Ann backed down. I know that shifted some shit around in my young psyche!
I got into several other fights before I turned 10, most of them with my cousin Earl and my brother, Howard. There were a couple of fights in my teenage years, both with adult women, but that’s for another blog post. I promise I wasn’t trouble-maker though; I just remembered Grandma’s lesson and practiced being my most trusted ally. It took some sorting out, but I get it now. The fight in me doesn’t have to be physical, and it doesn’t have to be aimed at a person.
These days I fight for clarity, understanding, and space for my own voice to be heard. Most of those fights are with my limiting beliefs and me, and I have a strong suspicion that the more I stare them down, and the more I get to understand what they really are, the more Kerri-Ann-like they’ll become. Eventually my fears and limitations will just talk their shit and keep it moving. And that’s just fine be me. And by Grandma.