Plot twist/spoiler: he hit me a lot harder than he thought he was going to. That I was paying him made it hurt a little worse.
This is a personal post. It might be upsetting to some people. Fair warning. As always, I’m setting aside perfectionism or worrying about getting the content or tone exactly as I want it. I can’t control how what I write might be interpreted.
Backing up a little in this story. I have a secret. I hate secrets. I wasn’t sure I’d go through with it.
Several weeks ago, I had a Bobby Dean moment. It was one in which I realized that the only way to diffuse the potential for violence was to step in and confront the person as if I were willing to be hurt or hurt him. I’m glad I did it. As much fear as I felt, I stepped toward him to signal I was willing to find out how far I’d go. Despite his size, he wasn’t certain. I’d already told him that people misjudge me. I don’t want to say that I’m proud that the latch for violence inside of me is dormant but still present. My confession is that a little sliver of me WANTED him to make the mistake of forcing me into action.
That’s not the secret, though.
My Dad violently taught me to fight by hitting me unexpectedly. He also hated that I was non-violent and passive. But one of the lessons he taught me is that it is always a mistake to delay the pain. You have to step in and strike as hard and dirty as you can. The first punch often determines the entire outcome of the altercation. Most people spend a bit of time talking or trying to lull the person they’re threatening. If you know you’re going to be hurt, it is always better to hit them with everything you have, quickly. (If you can’t walk/run away.) Though my Mom had great dental and health insurance through Southwestern Bell, I only went to the doctor if it were a case of imminent death or blood spurting. When I was 18, I had a massive cavity that almost crippled me with pain. When the dentist examined me, he said, “How’d you crack your jaw? It’s almost aligned perfectly again.” Although I had many mishaps in my youth, I knew the break probably happened when my family lived on Piazza Road in Tontitown. Dad came home drunk to our luxurious trailer. I’d lost a lot of weight at the end of my 9th-grade year running the roads there. Dad hated that I’d gotten into shape running several miles a day, lifting my brother’s weights in the downstairs storage space, as well as doing pull-ups until my arms were dead weights. I don’t recall his exact slurred words, but he said something like “I’ll teach you to be a man!” Despite being on my guard, or so I thought, he hit me with a savage right slight uppercut. My head snapped back and I fell, hitting my head on the stone fireplace at the end of the trailer. “What did I teach you? Always expect to get hit.” For weeks, I knew something was wrong with my neck and jaw. I kept running, though. And even though it hurt to play my French horn, I still made the All-State band that year. Only the band director Ms. Ellison knew at the time that something was wrong. I’m sure she knew the cause, too, though she never said anything out loud. In time, the pain disappeared. Until the dentist mentioned it, I hadn’t thought it was anything serious. I was lucky. Not only that time, but dozens of others.
My brother Mike, who was a big, well-trained ex-military meathead and later a policeman and detective, often got exasperated at me, especially when we were younger. I still have a tooth imprint on my left index finger, though. I hit a bully so hard that I thought I killed him. His tooth hit bone when I punched him. He underestimate the anger I had toward him. That anger was honed by my brother Mike screaming at me that if I didn’t confront the bully, HE was going to punch me silly. Growing up, Mike and I had infrequent conversations about why it was that a higher power didn’t protect us. We both knew that the world didn’t work that way, but we still fantasized about someone stepping in and either beating our Dad senseless – or killing him. There is no question that Dad would have deserved a brutal death a few times. He had violent demons, ones which combined with alcohol and anger, made him capable of incredible acts of inhumanity. How he survived as long as he did still astonishes me. I do know that before he died, he realized that he had done considerable evil to us; I’ll never know how much road he would have needed to directly admit it and change his life once and for all. My optimism tells me that he would have made amends. He died at 49.
Because of that recent near-miss with violence, I decided that as contradictory as it might seem, I had to learn to hit more effectively – and to be able to turn off the switch that controls aggression. Living where I do, I don’t worry per se about getting robbed or hit. Let’s be honest, though. It’s much more likely. It turns out that the biggest threat I’ve faced so far has been extremely close to me. That’s usually the case.
I have paid someone for 1/2 sessions to teach me the mechanics of responding harshly to being threatened.
I messaged two people, asking them if they’d teach me the harsher side of self-defense, one that would enable me to channel a version of my Dad’s loathsome philosophy about fighting. Only one person replied – and he had misgivings about distilling his method to what I wanted to learn: not to diffuse, but to hurt. He relented when I explained that I am non-violent and had no intention of being the aggressor in any situation. I went on to tell him that circumstances in my surroundings necessitated that I be prepared if I couldn’t escape the threat of harm. He understood that he couldn’t hit me in the stomach, for obvious reasons, or throw me unexpectedly.
The first time I met him, he taught me the basics. Don’t go for the chest, as it never works. Don’t try to sweep the knees as a beginner. He liked that I understood that the first few seconds are critical in avoiding getting really hurt – and to try to get away if at all possible, but if not, hit hard to dissuade the attacker from choosing you as a target. It’s not about winning, because it’s not a competition. It’s about getting away, diffusing, and if that’s not possible, hurt the attacker as brutally as you can, immediately. (And get away as soon as possible.) Any altercation that drags on is almost always going to end badly for you. Run – or end it quickly.
A couple of days ago, he walked me through strategies to hit someone in the nose with the palm or side of my hand, strike the throat, hit in the stomach, or in the groin, in that order. He further instructed me, if you know you’re going to have to hit, hit immediately, and don’t pull back one iota of everything you’ve got. Break your hand if you need to: just hit violently. If you’re defending yourself, you need to ensure your safety without needlessly hurting the aggressor. As we repeated the same moves, he moved faster. Because he told me to keep moving, I went to the right just as he tried to hit me in the neck. He didn’t hit me with full force, but the side of my face felt like I’d been whacked with a stick. “Ha!” I said as I stepped back. “Picking on a post-surgery client like that!”
He laughed but also said, “Your attacker won’t care that you’ve been in the hospital, X. If they’re out to hurt you, it might entice them. You dropped a lot of weight. You’re in great shape for 54 but not having the weight means you have to be much faster when the time comes. If they get you on the ground, your options go to near-zero very fast.”
I thought about that for a few seconds, especially about the would-be aggressor not caring about my physical condition.
He added, “Your dad wasn’t wrong. If you’re surprised by an attack, use anything nearby as a weapon. Anything. Just use it with full force when you pick it up. Don’t hesitate. The other guy is the bad guy and you have every right to protect your safety and life.”
He spent a few minutes telling me that because my hands aren’t large, it would help me to improve my grip strength and to practice punching something relatively firm. I demonstrated that I’m quick – and doubly so if I need to run, no matter ridiculous I might look doing so.
I’m not violent. Fighting is ridiculous. There’s always someone stronger, faster, and probably armed. No one wins.
But if I get into another Bobby Dean situation, please remember that I want to be cremated. After I’m dead, for those who would do otherwise.
It’s a strange juxtaposition to go to a counseling session and then thirty minutes later to be discussing the physiology of hurting someone in self-defense.
I didn’t expect to ever go to counseling. I certainly didn’t expect to be living where I’d more likely need to channel my aggression effectively. Here I am, though.
The person I had to confront several weeks ago is one of those people who seem like they aren’t violent. I know better. I shut him down by convincing him that he needed to be wary of me. I trust my instincts: it’s obvious he’s hurt a lot of people in his life and doing so didn’t bother him like it would a good human being. There are a lot of “hims” in the world. He said a lot of vile things, ones which telegraphed that he has hurt several people, including women.
Learning these basics won’t make me over-confident. I’m a terrible fighter. The truth, though? I had a premonition that I will need the skill and ability to channel Bobby Dean at some point. And if I do, I hope the aggressor realizes that I, like so many other people, have a history of seeing (and feeling) how failing to defend oneself is a greater danger than being able to let the fire flow when it is necessary.
My brother Mike died a year and seventeen days ago. He would be laughing at me. “You JUST realized this?” he would say. “What have I been telling you your entire life, dipsh*t?”
I will probably need a neck tattoo to add a little menace to my appearance. The brooches I wear probably send the wrong message.