Shelly, Bro, and the Asshole
About 20 years ago I spent some time in the Savannah Georgia area, doing photography for the City Tourist Bureau. Near Tybee Island is where my family lived the years I was in high school. All those years ago, my first stop was to my old High School. I walked in and introduced myself to the Principal, not wanting anyone thinking I was stalking students. Then I spent some time walking the halls, ending up on South Campus sitting in the bleachers of the football field.
The stands were bigger than I remembered and there was a brand new scoreboard. But no matter, this place held more memories for me than anyplace in my youth. I sat in the bleachers until it was almost dark, thinking about Shelly, my big brother, and an asshole.
I met Shelly when I was in ninth grade. She was a junior, a cheerleader, and like me, she hung out at the football games and practices. The cheerleaders practiced at the same time the football team did. But I noticed that mostly what they did was watch the football players. Especially when they would take their practice jerseys off and do laps.
My brother Brian was a football player. A very good football player. Our team was expected to win at least our league that year, and a lot of why we were so good had to do with the performance of Brian at running back.
Shelly was a good friend of my brothers. They hadn't dated, but they hung out in the same circles, a circle I certainly couldn't get into. But since I was always there and she was always there, she would come up into the bleachers sometimes and we'd talk. I always admired that, I figured her cheerleader friends probably gave her a bunch of crap about hanging around with 'that Freshman kid'.
For my brother I was no more than his human tote bag. I was constantly carrying, at different times, his helmet, his pads, his water, his equipment bag, his books, whatever. There was no need for me to be working out lifting weights, I got plenty of that just hanging around being my big brother's slave. I didn't mind it. In fact, I pretty much worshiped the big bloke! I loved that he considered me at all, that I was even in his eyesight.
The way I got to be really good friends with Shelly has a lot to do with getting the crap kicked out of me. There was this guy Browers. That's his last name, all these years later I can't even remember his first name. You'd think I would've blocked all of him out of my head, but no, I actually think about him and the results of his assholiness a lot. So much changed that day.
This guy was constantly bugging me, slapping me, slamming into me or slamming me into something (lockers were a favorite). Whatever he could do to make my life miserable. And I was such an arrogant, contrary person, I never let his bullying go without striking back, or at least trying to. One day he saw me talking to Shelly outside the only class we had together, AP math. Later he said something to me, something kinda awful, about "talking to that little jew gal". I had just pulled my backpack off my shoulders and I swung it at him letting it go towards his face. Of course, he was easily able to dodge it and he spun around and kicked me in my side. Someone broke it up and it was over almost instantly, as the hallway was full of students and teachers.
Now, in this chair overlooking the water 1500 miles from my high school, with blankets piled high on top of me, I sit here dying and thinking back to Shelly and Brian. I realize I wasn't so incredibly mad at this guy because I was such good friends with Shelly, at that time she was just a friend, really just an acquaintance. I was mad because she was my brothers friend. What he said insulted my brother and I couldn't handle it.
The next day as we both left History class he hollered at me in the hallway, "Hey Brainiac". I stopped. He looked at my ribs as I was rubbing them, and smiled. Then he handed me the assignment we'd just been given and said "I'm expecting you to write a damn good essay for me and I want it by tomorrow morning".
I looked up at him and I said: "You must be hallucinating. And oh, my name is not Brainiac. In fact, Brainiac is not a real person. He's a fictional character in the Superman comic book series. I have one of those comic books, I'll bring it to you tomorrow, so at least I can give you SOMETHING".
I found it interesting that the next morning in history class he wasn't there. I had written his essay, but deep within it I had inserted a few paragraphs, about how "I did not write this essay, I had Daniel, friend of Shelly, brother of Brian, write it for me."
That afternoon in the bleachers I had just been talking with Shelly and she was heading back to her group of cheerleaders when Browers showed up with a couple of his hooligan buddies. He went right into me, "hey squirt, where's my history essay?".
I looked up at him and I smiled real big. But I didn't say anything for a few seconds, I knew that would really piss him off. Just as he opened his mouth to yell at me I interrupted, "I turned it in for you, in history class. Well, I sorta turned it in. I put it in the trash can. But it was in history class. Heck, I figured you got kicked out of school since you weren't in class. It's so not like you to miss class".
Surprisingly this didn't make him happy, but it played right into his hands. He didn't really care about his essay, he was there to give me shit again, his favorite pastime. Just before he slammed one of his big cowboy boots into me, I noticed Shelly was staring up at us with a really frightened look on her face. That's when the first boot hit me directly in my chest, knocking me backwards and I tripped over a couple steps in the bleachers. I landed on my back and looked up to see asshole number one glaring at me. I started rubbing my chest and starting talking, pretty much trying to commit suicide I guess.
"Those are really nice boots. Were you born in Texas? Because I really think you'd fit right in with all the horseshit there."
Then someone was behind me, holding my shoulders up and my arms down. As I noticed this and tried to look back to see who it was, I felt Hank (yeah, that was his name, Hank. Sounds like Texas, right?) slam his boot into the side of my body. Before I really felt the pain I remember thinking, 'well that rib is broken for sure'. I didn't have much time to appreciate how painful that was because the next kick was on the side of my head. It knocked me off the bench I was on and I felt like I was going to fall between the boards to the ground. As I was almost on the top of the bleachers luckily I was able to catch myself. My eyes were closed with the miserable pain but when I opened them all I saw was Hank, heading down for me.
I closed my eyes, not because I wanted to, but because they just closed. I felt the pain all over my body but I thought: I really need to open my eyes. When I did, the pain disappeared for a moment as I no longer could see Hank. Thanks, I thought, thanks for the break.
Despite the pain I lifted myself up slightly, so I could see a wider view. Before I saw anything, I felt a soft hand on my head and Shelly saying, "Dan are you okay"? It was at that time I saw my brother punching Hank, and a few of his football friends taking care of the other two.
Brian had Hank down on a bench, his left arm pressing on his chest, holding him down and repeatedly punching him with his right fist. I looked up at Billy, my brother's best friend, who was smiling at the action, and I yelled out rather meekly "Billy". My yell sounded to be like no more than a whisper, but Billy turned to me.
"Billy, stop him."
I was crying. And mostly it wasn't the pain, although that was certainly significant. It was mostly that my brother was there saving my ass. Why, who knew, he really cared for me. Wow. And of course, there was also this beautiful girl with her hands on my face and squeezing my hand, talking to me.
Billy got it. Not just that little brother was saying something, but he realized he couldn't let Hank get hit any longer. He pulled Brian off of him and that's the last thing I remember.
When I woke up I was laying in the backseat of a car. I didn't know it at the time, but this was Billy's car. When I opened my eyes what I saw was Shelly's face in the front passenger seat, looking back at me. Then I realized my head was on my brothers leg. And he was talking to me. "Don't worry Danny, I'm here, I got you." I lost consciousness then. Again.
That episode turned into newfound respect from my brother, his friends, and Shelly. Later, when I was in the hospital emergency room getting treated, Shelly was telling them how I had stood up to Hank, mouthing back at him as he was beating the crap out of me. She told me later that she kept screaming at Hank as he was kicking me, but finally realized the only thing she could do to stop it was run towards the field and get Brian's attention. She said he finally heard her yelling, saw her point up to the bleachers and he reacted. Shelly told me how my brother looked like Superman, vaulting the chain-link fence and flying up the stairs of the bleachers to where I was gushing red stuff. A couple of his friends saw him running up there and followed him a second behind.
My brother and Shelly ended up dating a little bit. But I guess it wasn't to be. And it kind of hurt their friendship, but not ours. Shelly and I were now solid friends, I was rarely sitting on the bleachers by myself, she was almost always sitting beside me and we talked about everything. At the games I always sat in the front row of the bleachers, right in front of where Shelly's cheerleading position was.
And something else, so very special, started with that first game after my hospital stay. Every single time Brian came running off the field, he looked up at me. He didn't make a big deal of it, just a tiny nod, maybe a smile, but it happened EVERY SINGLE TIME. No matter whether he'd just scored, or been hit for a loss.
I never saw Hank again, he didn't go back to our school. The police came that night to the hospital, where I guess Hank was also, and they interviewed me, Shelley, Brian and Billy. At one point Brian was losing it and he said "just check the bottom of that asshole's boots, I'm sure you'll find plenty of my brothers blood and skin all over them."
One of the police officers was a middle-age woman who you could tell took no gruff. She looked at Brian, looked at me, then looked back at Brian, and smiled. That was the last I ever heard about any investigation.
When I finally made it back to school, every day for weeks there were all kinds of rumors about what happened to Hank. I even heard once that he was dead, but I was assured by Brian that that wasn't true. I don't know for sure what his injuries were, I heard so many different stories. But I didn't and don't really care. If I never ever saw Hank again, which is what happened, that's all I cared about.
When I was laying around in the hospital bed I thought a lot about Brian. I guess it was pretty stupid of me to ever think that he didn't care for me. I realized when he had been asking me to do things like carry his football stuff and other chores, it was just a way to make sure he had me around. I started remembering all the times he would be heading out to get his car washed or to go the store and he would ask me if I wanted to go with him. We'll, more like, "hey squirt, come on."
My relationship with Brian was now completely different. He treated me more like an equal then a little brother. Not all the time, but mostly. We started a tradition of going out and getting burgers after each one of his football games. It was just the two of us every Friday night, and we sat there and went over everything that happened in the game. That year they ended up undefeated. We went to the playoffs. But in the last game of the season Brian hurt his ankle bad and couldn't play in the first playoff game. It was close but we lost.
And now Shelly was one of my best friends. I remember when we started emailing. She had gotten herself set up on email and showed me how to do it. Almost every day when I came home from school and checked the Mac my parents bought me and Brian, there was a message from her.
"Danny, did you see what Jessica was wearing today? Gosh, I used to call her a tramp but I don't think that's the appropriate word now. You know what I mean?".
I had to laugh at many of her emails. She seemed to consider me another of her girlfriends, so many of the emails were wildly inappropriate. I just laughed and blasted something stupid back.
Then, seemingly in such a short time, it was graduation day. I remember walking across the football field and looking at where we'd be sitting that afternoon. I thought about how many good friends were going to be sitting with me in the bleachers, some would be sitting on top of splotches of my blood.
Shelly was gone, now a Sophomere at Central Florida, where I would be next year. Brian was at Florida State and had become the starting running back in his Sophomere year. Even with them graduated I saw plenty of my two favorite people. During Football season, I would head to Orlando, pick up Shelly, and we'd motor on up to Tallahassee for the game. After the season Brian and I would meet in Orlando and the 3 of us would typically spend a holiday weekend together. After all this time Brian and Shelly had again become good friends. The 3 of us were a triangle I really enjoyed!
And so, graduation day. Gowns paid for and tried on, my friends and I had decided on which order we were going to the many parties. Shelly and Brian were on their way down. Shelly and I had been emailing back and forth for two days, talking about our time in high school. She's going to be my 'date' at the parties.
When I sat in the stands that graduation night in the football field, I was with my friends, pretty much the entire Senior class. And I couldn't help thinking how much better the last few years of high school had been because of the asshole who used to beat the crap out of me!!