Content Warning: Swearing
Okay, so here’s the thing. Tonight, I’m going to stand up to that Billy Dirkins kid because he’s been bullying me all week. I’ve had enough and it is time to fight back. Dad’s been bugging me to take Tae Kwon Do lessons and now I wish I had. I’m going to wear my red sweatshirt in case it doesn’t go well. You know, because of all the blood, mom won’t have to worry about washing the stains out.
Billy Dirkins is a total jerk. In seventh grade my friend Doug got in a fight with Billy at the beginning of the school year when we didn’t know him because he went to a different elementary school. I guess Billy pushed everyone around at his old school but Doug was having none of that so he fought Billy. Doug’s got experience with fighting because he’s got an older brother and they fight all the time. So Doug and Billy decide to fight two blocks away from school which is serious because then there’s no teacher to stop it. They picked a spot on some old couple’s front lawn and went at it. Doug was beating up Billy pretty good and Billy kept getting up to fight more. One time Billy made for a pile of white rocks that decorated the edge of the lawn but Doug cut him off and kept the fight clean. So Doug won. And you didn’t have to be a boxing expert to know that.
Only, during the fight I may have said some things to Billy because I was on Doug’s side and Billy was a jerk. And I may have done a little twisty dance in front of him too, but that was just to show my support for Doug and it got a few laughs from the other kids.
Everything was pretty calm in the seventh grade after that, but then Doug moved to another city over the summer and now it’s eighth grade and I started hanging out with Dom and his friends. Dom’s a cool guy who knows how to make friends and not get into fights.
On the first day of school, Dom, me, and the other guys are walking around the quad at lunch and Billy, who doesn’t have any friends, starts hanging out with us. Kind of trailing in the back. And then for no reason Billy just punches me in the stomach. Real deep-like and I bend over. My stomach hurts but I don’t cry. I stand back up and the pain goes away so I just ignore him but Dom saw what Billy did and says, ‘whoa,’ and stares at me like what am I gonna do about it. And Dom grabs the other guys to watch because it looks like there is going to be a fight, but I just walk into the bathroom to catch my breath and then the bell rings and I go to class.
The next day at lunch, Billy punches me again and I tell him to knock it off and he asks what I’m gonna do about it and Dom and the guys are watching so I say, ‘Leave me alone or else.’ And Billy laughs and says, ‘Or else what?’ And I say, ‘You’ll see,’ and then the bell rings and we all go to class.
So on Wednesday and Thursday I don’t hang out with those guys at lunch and on Thursday I’m just standing there by the lockers talking to my friend Tom and all of a sudden a water balloon hits me in the back and I turn around and there’s this short, chubby kid standing there laughing so I call him a bad name and he acts all shocked and runs off.
Only he comes back with a taller, chubby kid who wants to know what I called him and I say I didn’t call him anything. I called the short kid a name because he threw a water balloon at me and the tall kid—I’m just gonna call him Thud—so Thud says he threw the water balloon so I must be calling him a bad name and he starts shoving me. My friend Tom kind of takes off, I don’t know where, and Thud keeps shoving me until Tom shows up with the teacher on yard duty that day. And that just happens to be the principal.
And the principal takes the two of us into his office and sits us down and says we shouldn’t fight and that the school doesn’t condone violence. But the principal’s got wrestling trophies on his desk and he’s wearing an Oakland Raiders pin on his shirt and on his bookshelf is a book by Jack Tatum who my cousin says was a badass for the Raiders because he liked to massacre the other team. I ask the principal about violence in football and wrestling and he says that’s different because those are sports. And he asks if the two of us want to join the wrestling team and hash out our problems on the mat and we say no and leave.
But Thud stares at me like this isn’t over. And I decide to skip out of school early and go home, which is okay because my last class is French and I don’t see the point of learning this language because I’m never going to France anyway. And I figure mom and dad will be okay with that because they’ve never been there either.
On Thursday night, I start thinking about what I’m gonna do. In all the good westerns my dad watches, the little guy fights back and wins because he has a noble cause. I may have messed that up when I made fun of Billy in the seventh grade. He’s actually got a good reason for wanting to pound on me. And I called Thud a bad name.
On Friday I ate lunch in the cafeteria at the table next to where the teachers sit and I skipped out on French class again so my stomach was feeling much better. Only on Saturday night the phone starts ringing after dinner and mom says it’s for me. And guess who’s on the line? Billy.
“Hey, I need a favor,” Billy says, kinda pushy-like, but kinda-like we’re friends.
“You want me to do your homework?” I ask. I heard that is an option in these types of situations.
“No. I get good grades.” Billy raises his voice. “You think I’m stupid?”
Crap. A smart bully. And now I’ve insulted him…again. I keep quiet.
“I could add an extra punch to your face for that.”
I really should have let him do all the talking but I was eager to offer a solution that got me out of those punches.
“You know your friend, Tom,” Billy says. “Where does he live?”
“Just tell me?”
I don’t understand why Billy wants to know, but I don’t think it would do any harm, so I tell him Tom’s address. It was kind of a relief to be helpful.
“Good,” Billy says. “Do you know where he keeps his bike?”
“In the garage. Why?” I should have kept quiet but I wasn’t thinking.
“Good.” Billy laughs. And then he lets me in on the joke. “Tom’s kind of a jerk, don’t you think? He acts all hot shit with that BMX bike of his but he doesn’t know how to do any tricks. You see how he acts like a pro, but he doesn’t do any tricks?”
“Just keep your mouth shut about this. You understand?” And Billy says it like his fist is raised at the phone on the other end of the line.
“Okay,” I respond. But now my voice is shaking.
“Good,” Billy laughs again and hangs up.
I pictured Billy already at Tom’s house sneaking into his garage and stealing his bike. I didn’t think someone our age could do that. Go into someone’s garage while they’re home and steal something important. It was like he was brave but in a bad way. Billy had become more than just a kid who fights. He was getting into big trouble.
And I felt bad for Tom because he didn’t do anything wrong and it was all my fault so I grabbed my red 49ers sweatshirt and told mom, who probably was listening in on the conversation while doing the dishes, that a bunch of guys were going over to Tom’s to watch a movie on TV.
Tom lives across the street and five houses down so I showed up in less than a minute. I waited by the side gate to his backyard, away from their porch light at the front. I worked out my plan. I’d tell Billy I wouldn’t let him take Tom’s bike and then I’d make some noise to attract attention and scare him off. It wasn’t a great plan. He’d still pound me next week at school.
The street was empty but every few seconds I thought I saw a dark figure in the distance creeping toward me. And then right behind me there was a scratching noise and I jumped five feet in the air. A black, round nose stuck through a hole in the neighbor’s fence. It was their Basset Hound sniffing around for intruders. I tickled his nose like I always do and he let out a huff and left. It took five minutes before my heart stopped beating in my ears, but even then, it never really slowed down.
Billy would have a problem with this dog since it doesn’t know him. That Basset Hound will howl and alert the neighbors. Then I realized Billy didn’t have to worry about the dog anymore because I had disarmed him. And now that I was here, Billy could force me to go get Tom’s bike. I was making it too easy for him. And worse, I’d be in on this whole scheme so I couldn’t turn Billy in later.
Then it hit me. If I was going to get in trouble for stealing Tom’s bike, there was no reason Billy had to keep it. I could steal it on my own. Hide it at my house and when Billy complained next week that the bike wasn’t there, I could act like I didn’t know anything. But I couldn’t tell Tom or he’d let it slip and then I’d really get pounded. I figured I could wait a week when Billy moved on to other things and then give Tom’s bike back.
That was the plan but I had to act fast because Billy was still coming and who knew how many other guys he’d bring with him.
I pulled on the chain to the gate and opened it swiftly. If you try to open things slowly, the creaking makes a lot of noise and I’m sure the neighbor’s dog would come back and howl. It worked and I slipped through.
The side of Tom’s house had ivy growing up against the fence, garbage cans lined up against the house, and his little sister’s tricycle, big wheel, and giant, plastic doll house blocking the cement path. I moved like a ninja around the toys but that wouldn’t work on the way out. Tom’s BMX bike is light for doing lots of cool jumps and spins but I couldn’t lift it and step over all this stuff. So I moved all the toys further back along the path, ducking below the window by their breakfast table. With the path clear, I tried the side door to the garage. Locked. But I remembered Tom’s dad kept a key in a potted plant. I found it and unlocked the door. Billy would not have been able to do this. Unless he brought someone who could pick locks.
I couldn’t see inside the garage but I could smell the wood beams that supported the roof. I held my nose to stop a sneeze and a yellow line of light came on from underneath the door to their kitchen. Water started running and dishes clinked on the other side. I held my breath. In the middle of the garage floor was a stain of motor oil and one fresh drop. Their car was missing. Tom’s dad could come home any minute. I stepped around the oil stain to avoid leaving footprints.
Tom’s bike was leaned up against a stack of old newspapers. I lifted the back wheel so it wouldn’t make a clicking sound as I rolled it out. It was difficult to steer while holding on to the back and at the door, one of the pedals caught the frame and made a thump. The bike twisted in my arms and I fell on one knee but I didn’t let go of the bike. I froze. The water kept running. No footsteps. I got back up and rolled the bike to the gate, opened it and took off. I could have closed the side door and the gate and put all the toys back the way they were but what was the point? They’d know someone had stolen the bike whether the thief was tidy or not. And I wasn’t too worried about fingerprints since I’ve been over to Tom’s a lot and probably already had fingerprints everywhere anyway.
I pedaled the bike in the opposite direction from my house in case any neighbors were watching and recognized me riding Tom’s bike to my house. I took it around the block and on a straight stretch of road, I sat back and pedaled without my hands on the handlebars. I opened my arms wide and released a deep sigh.
Tom never let me ride his bike. He had made some expensive modifications to it and I was a clumsy rider with a crappy Schwin—banana seat and all. I pulled on the handlebars and popped a wheely. I tried it a few more times. It was so easy. I grabbed the front brake lever and the back end went up just a little bit. With a bike like this I could learn to do lots of tricks. I thought maybe I could spend the week trying it out before returning the bike to Tom.
The last stretch back to my house was tricky. I could see up ahead to Tom’s house and knowing at any moment Billy would show up, I moved off the road and walked the bike into my backyard. I set it behind the shed and put a tarp over it and hoped no one in my family would notice.
On Sunday we went to church and I stayed home the rest of the day watching football with dad.
And then came Monday.
So Billy comes up to me at lunch with clenched fists and asks what happened, like he thinks I gave him the wrong address, so I panic and tell him that there’s this kid Thud who was trying to fight me but Tom went and got the principal before any fighting could start and we both got in trouble and Thud got mad at Tom and went to steal his bike and must have done it before Billy arrived. And Billy wants to know who this Thud kid is so I describe him and Billy knows just who that guy is, which is amazing because I didn’t think I described him all that well so it must be a reputation thing.
Just then Tom walks up to Billy and shouts at him and asks where the hell his bike is and Billy says he didn’t take it and Tom gets even madder. And I realize Billy is trying to prove his innocence and if he punches Tom that would prove he’s guilty so he pleads with Tom, who doesn’t have a lot of meat on his bones, even worse than me, and I’m staring at a skinny kid yelling at a big kid and I think wow this noble cause stuff really works.
And because there’s this commotion, everyone comes over to see a small miracle of Tom yelling at Billy. And who’s in the crowd but Thud. And Billy sees him and points him out to Tom like Tom’s going to go after him but then Billy thinks he can prove his innocence and starts harassing Thud. Billy shoves Thud and asks where Tom’s bike is and why did he steal it and Thud denies it and shoves him back and then fists start flying and it’s a pretty even fight and blood is everywhere and both get black eyes and have to be pulled apart. Four teachers separated them and took them away and that’s the last anyone ever saw of them because they both got suspended and sent to a special school for boys with temperament problems.
So a few days later, when I was sure they weren’t coming back, I returned the bike to Tom. He was relieved and mad but he understood. He punched me in the arm as my punishment which didn’t hurt but he said if he wanted to hurt me, he could punch harder, which I doubt, but then again, he does have a noble cause so I left it alone.
And after that I stopped wearing red shirts. I didn’t have any bullies left and I wised up and didn’t attract any more with twisty dances. And red isn’t good for sneaking around in the dark when you want to do pranks like teepee other people’s houses. And that’s why I became an Oakland Raiders fan. Silver and Black, baby.