An hour into my first day in kindergarten, Mom was called to school because I hit a male classmate with a little wooden chair. I remember that the chairs were painted in primary colors and that the one I used to smack him was blue, my favorite color. And I remember why. He called my friend Sonja "dumb and ugly." He might have gotten by with calling me names, but Sonja limped because one leg was shorter than the other and her eyes didn't track right. As soon as she started to cry, I picked up the chair.
I thought that was my only violent act -- violence against sisters doesn't count -- until a high school reunion a couple of years ago when Ron, with whom I'd attended grade school, asked if I remembered hitting him on the head with a glass milk bottle. "We were playing spin the bottle at a party in your basement when we were in third grade," he explained, "and you were supposed to kiss me but instead you hit me with the bottle."
I swear I have no recollection of the incident, although Mom remembered it when I asked her. "He grabbed his head and said, 'Owwww!'" she reported. "I was beginning to worry that you were some kind of bad seed!" It does make you wonder, doesn't it?
The fact is that there's something about underdogs that has always appealed to me " and invariably compelled me to rally to their cause. That clearly was the case with Sonja, but the incident with Ron is a puzzle to me. All I can figure is that the underdog I thought I was defending with a dairy weapon was me.
Now that I'm grown up -- while acquaintances will readily testify that I've honed my verbal skills in defense of those I think are being unfairly trod upon -- I shy away from physical confrontation of any sort. It was I who insisted my husband trade places with my sister at a Kansas University football game when our team was being soundly trounced by Wichita State while helicopters circled the stadium shooting scenes of the crowd for the TV movie, "The Day After."
Ray was sitting next to a Shockers fan who, in addition to cheering for his team, apparently thought he was assisting them by yelling insults at our players. When he hollered, "KU stinks!" Ray sniffed the air and said, "Something smells around here, but I don't think it's KU." Before the situation could get out of hand, I maneuvered Lesta next to the guy. And you know what? I might as well have left Ray there because if those helicopter cameramen had been on the ball they could have saved the special-effects guys a lot of trouble simply by filming the war that ensued in our row of the stadium.
Many years ago, my friend Martha was actually punched in anger by a female renter. A compassionate and well-liked nurse, Martha is the last person you'd expect to be the target of such an undeserved attack. She was so startled that she didn't cry or yell or hit back. She just calmly walked to her own nearby house and wrote out a little notice demonstrating that the best revenge is sometimes spelled E-V-I-C-T-I-O-N!
Recently, I had an act of quasi-violence directed at me in the form of a single finger attack. The perpetrator was a young man in a truck driving down the road in front of me. There's something about that sort of unprovoked finger attack that suggests violence, remote though it may be. To me, his impolite gesture said, "There's three more fingers and a thumb where this one comes from, and that makes a fist, and if I weren't in this truck and you weren't in that car, I would be happy to punch you." Then again, maybe he was just bragging about his IQ by showing me his score on the test.
Although I personally haven't exhibited any physically violent tendencies since I popped Ron with the milk bottle (remember that violence against sisters doesn't count), I'm pretty sure that -- after reading this -- several of the men with whom I serve on boards and committees are going to become pretty darn anxious if I pack a milk bottle to a meeting. And I think they'll get downright panicky if they see me sidle up to a chair.
That's right, fellas. Be afraid. Be VERY afraid!
-- Marsha Henry Goff is a free-lance writer in Lawrence. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.