Once a upon a time in junior high school, I was walking down the hall, minding my own business, on my way to my shiny yellow locker when suddenly three girls were in front of me. They blocked my passage. One of them said, “You’re new here and we don’t like you.” My heart started pounding so loud, I thought the gathering crowd could hear it. My throat got a raspy kind of dry and my lips curled from a desperate thirst. My palms were clammy. I said, “I’m sorry to hear that. Could you excuse me though, I’m just trying to get to my locker.” The girls stepped forward further crowding my personal space and refused to let me pass. Soon, I was cornered and felt very much like a trapped animal, backed up against that bright yellow locker I so longed just to get open, get my books and get on to my next class. I could feel my cheeks redden and sweat began to drip, drip, drip down my back. The throng around us grew and everyone just watched as these girls menaced me. They were bullies. They were testing me to see if they could control me. I felt confused and unfairly picked on. I didn’t know these girls. It was my third day of school in a new district. I didn’t really know anyone yet.
Things went from bad to worse as they continued to call me names, standing at an uncomfortably close distance. I could smell their sour breath as they railed at me. I remained quiet. I looked down. I tried not to engage. I just wanted to get out of there and I wasn’t sure how I could manage it. They had me against the wall and I could feel the cold steal of that yellow locker on my back. I didn’t care so much that other people were watching, except that it would have been nice if just one of them stepped in to help but no one did. I hadn’t thought much about how the crowd would respond to the way I reacted to these girls. I only wanted the harassment to stop and I just wanted to be safe. I bit my lip so that I would not start crying. I’m not really a crier but the stress of this most unwarranted attack was starting to get the better of me. I could feel myself shrinking. I hated that feeling more than I hated these girls who were publicly humiliating me.
I wondered how things could get worse or even how I would get myself out of this situation. I didn’t have to wait long. One of the girls spit at my feet and another one slapped me hard across the face with an open fist. I really didn’t see it coming and it stung as sharply as a bee sting and I’m allergic to bees. For just a split second, everything froze. Then, and I had to have this part retold to me by the myriad of observers because I could not remember it, I apparently dropped my books and started throwing punches. I only have a very vague memory of a lot of noise. Shouting mostly, I think it must have been the crowd.
Later in the principal’s office, I was informed that girl who hit me, her nose was broken. I was heartsick. I didn’t think I was a fighter. I’m not a fighter. My knuckles were raw and my head ached from getting my hair pulled…other than that, not a scratch on me. The principle asked me several questions about what had happened and I told him what I remembered, that I’d been unexpectedly cornered and then assailed. He handed down his punishment. Detention for a week for me and suspension for the girl who started the fight. She and her “mean girl” friends, apparently had a history of starting fights. I was not singled out for any other reason than being new to the school. The principle said he didn’t want to give me detention but he had to. I understood and took my punishment without complaint.
When I got home that night, my mother was beyond furious with me. My step father was proud. He asked me how many times I punched the other girl. I told him that I had no idea. He insisted that I give him a number. I told him five or six. He gave me six dollars….a dollar for every punch. I should have told him fifty! He told me if I had started the fight, then I would have been in trouble but he was proud of me for defending myself and told me, in time my mother would be too. I’m not sure she ever was and I was grounded for a month.
I often think about this story and others like it in my life. Just yesterday I was walking my dog. She was doing what dogs do on walks…sniffing and peeing on things. We were at the yard of a well known grumpy old man in our neighborhood. We were down by the curb, in the street, exactly where you’d expect someone to be who is walking their dog. She stopped to sniff a bush when the grumpy old man came out of his house yelling, “Get that filthy animal off my lawn.” I was shocked but, given this man’s reputation, not surprised. I said, ” Sorry…She’s just sniffing a bush. We’ll be on our way.” He said, “What are you stupid or something? I told you to get that beast the #@%# off my lawn.” Before I even realized it, I said “Calm down and don’t be such an #$%@&*$#.” The man was stunned. I don’t think he is used to anyone talking back to him, let alone a woman. I do live in the “Deep South” and this man is not only a grump, he is also a typical Southern “good ‘ld boy”, used to women being seen but not heard. He didn’t say another word and my dog and I went off to finish our walk.
That’s how I am though, I guess. I won’t start the fight but apparently if you come at me, I will finish it and I will give it my best shot to win. I’m a peaceful person until I am provoked but apparently, I am not a pacifist. Sometimes, I wish I could respond differently to mean people. My husband often turns the other check. He will smile and wave at people who are unnecessarily rude. He would have smiled at that grumpy old man and probably just waved at him had he been there. I’ve observed him enough to see that this is equally disarming as surprising a bully by fighting back. Sometimes, I wish I was more like that but I’m not. I never throw the first punch but it’s in my nature to defend myself…vigorously.
As I think about this quality as it relates to having chronic sarcoidosis, maybe it’s not a bad thing. Sarcoidosis invaded my life, much like those mean girls, out of the blue and for no good reason. It cornered me and it scared me, just like they did. It cusses at me, just like that grumpy old man. Sarcoidosis wants me to be miserable, just like bullies do. If I am miserable then the disease has the upper hand. I become weakened in misery. If I am miserable, I give my sarcoidosis ammunition to beat me. Sarcoidosis is a menace of a disease. It’s wildly unpredictable. You don’t know what is going to happen next when you’re in the throes of it. Sarcoidosis punched me first, but as I look at how I have responded since my diagnosis, I have been fighting back and I am giving it everything I’ve got. I might not win this war but I intend to put up a hell of a fight!
I never gave much thought to what I would do if I ever got sick, really sick. I’m not sure anyone does until it actually happens to them. I’ve learned that my fight instinct kicked in. Even though this instinct has not always served me well, has sometimes gotten me detention or disrupted my serenity on a walk with my dog, I now see this instinct in a whole new light. I am actually grateful for it because it is saving my life or at least prolonging it.