The Time I Fought Back

Old School Circus26 Comments

In 1987, I was 13 years old, and my family’s main method of transportation was a 1976 AMC Gremlin. It was red with blue doors and covered in rust, and as if these aesthetics weren’t enough to draw stares, it had a muffler that growled and coughed, assaulting the ears and noses of unlucky onlookers. We lived in a struggling steel town in the Ohio Valley, where the lines between rich and poor were shakily drawn. Those that had money didn’t really have a lot; they just had more than others. Even so, my equally self-conscious older sister and I strained to hide what our family lacked, and were miraculously succeeding until the Gremlin came into our lives. Once it did, anytime our family of eight pulled up to the curb, piling out one by one as if from a clown car, we had an audience. People stared. They whispered. They snickered. Along with our exhaust fumes, the noxious smell of ridicule accompanied us everywhere.

One particular morning, I’d had the misfortune of missing the school bus, thus sentencing myself to a ride of shame in the Gremlin. My stepfather drove me, and though I pleaded to be dropped off a block away, he let me off smack-dab in the front of St. Patrick’s Middle School. I dove out of the car as if from a burning building, and the Gremlin drove away, leaving a trail of smoke from my stepfather’s cigarette that paired nicely with the toxicity wafting from the muffler. Since my class’s home room windows faced the front of the school, I caught a glimpse of a few head-shaped shadows peering down on me. I swallowed the lump in my throat, threw back my shoulders, and held my head high as I walked into the Thunderdome.

Michael Delmonico, one of the most popular and obnoxious kids in my small class, was the first one to tease me. He was decent enough to wait until lunchtime.

“Your parents can’t afford anything better than that piece of crap?” he sneered, as I violently forked my mashed potatoes and shoveled them into my mouth. “I’m surprised that thing made it out of your driveway—you’re lucky you even got to school today!”

My blush crept up my neck and flared to my cheeks as a small crowd began to gather around the lunch table. Since I had already murdered my mashed potatoes, I focused on dismembering my meatloaf. Michael Delmonico, peeved at my homicidal and unwavering focus on my scrumptious lunch, suddenly ripped my tray away from me. Under it was my white lunch ticket, which I took great pains to hide every day. The white tickets were given to the kids whose parents couldn’t afford to pay what everybody else paid. I hurried to snatch mine up but Delmonico got to it first.

“She’s got a white lunch ticket,” he laughed, waving it around. “They only give these to the poor kids! Poor, poor Ashley,” he added, wiping away mock tears.

On the verge of real ones, I screeched my chair back and ran over to Father Frank, an often bored-looking monk who taught Science and barely monitored the cafeteria. I breathlessly and passionately reported to him that I had just fallen victim to Michael Delmonico’s ruthless bullying for no other reason than my parents’ abject poverty. (Maybe “abject” was a bit of a stretch, but I cared less about properly valuing my parents’ estate and more about getting Michael Delmonico thrown into detention).

“So? What do you want me to do about it?” he scoffed, looking at me like I was the conductor of the crazy train.

And that was the day I learned I couldn’t rely on adults in authority to protect me from the real gremlins in this world. That was the day I graduated from the Age of Tattle-Taling to the Age of You Want Something Done, You Gotta Do it Yourself. That was the day I picked Michael Delmonico up by the collar of his crisp, white, Catholic-school-uniform shirt that his mommy probably not only ironed but starched for him, and threw him up against the junk-laden vending machine full of deliciousness I could not afford. That was the day the boys started calling me Balboa, and that was also the day I decided there were worse people I could be than a girl who rode to school in a Gremlin. I could, after all, be Michael Delmonico.

The Time I Fought Back

26 Comments on “The Time I Fought Back”

  1. Shell

    I actually had goosebumps and was cheering at the end of this story. Did you really shove him up against the wall? I grew up with seven brothers and one sister. My younger sister was exactly like this and she had a reputation not to be messed with; something I have always envied!

    1. Ashley

      Yes I really did shove him and they really did call me Balboa. I was feared in my neighborhood too – my little siblings would say to kids who were messing with them: “I’ll be right back with my sister.” And then they’d scramble like little eggs, lol. You have to be pretty tough to scare little kids! 😉 Thanks for reading, my friend!

  2. Rachell S.

    All I can do is cheer! If only I had that much gumption back in the day I would have been an entirely different person! Yay Ashley! More stories, please!! Inspirational!

    1. Ashley

      What’s important is that you DID get gumption, and I know you did, because you’re a mom. 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement. New story coming today!

  3. TXmisteeEN

    I am sorry this happened to you but not sorry for the lesson you were forced to learn. Good on you, Ashley.

  4. Foxy Wine Pocket

    I love this story–it has a powerful message and is very well told. I hate that this happened, but I love how you turned it around. My favorite line: “Along with our exhaust fumes, the noxious smell of ridicule accompanied us everywhere.” I can relate to that so well. Ours was a beat-up army green station wagon–for all 8 of us.

    1. Ashley

      Wow, Kelly, is it any wonder with our interesting pasts, that we ended up writers? And humorous ones at that? Tough times show you what you’re made of and determine who you’re going to be and how you’re going to handle more. So glad to know you and can’t wait to meet you. Thanks for reading, friend!

  5. Pattie

    I swear, and I mean that damn literally, you & I shared parallel lives. So freaking glad that part is long gone and over with. Karma fixed most the bully’s, bastards, and bitches from my past. I hope that she hooked you up as well.

    P.S. We had a garbage can on wheels, too. The shame it caused was immeasurable at the time. Mostly I can laugh about it now.

    1. Ashley

      Pattie I knew we were kindred spirits! I’d be interested in reading about your past if and when you’re willing. Thanks for the solidarity on all the punks from the past and for your kind words!

    1. Ashley

      Thanks so much for reading, Michelle! Yes, I ended up fancying myself a bad-ass after that little episode…sometimes we need to feel tough to get through the hard times. That was a day it worked out in my favor but there were many others when I used this tactic that it didn’t. It all ended up making me stronger, though – you’re right! I appreciate your comments, and thank you so much for sharing this post!

    1. Ashley

      Thanks so much, Kim! It was a lesson taught early, so it’s hard to know when to shake the Balboa image sometimes, even as an adult. I’m still learning! Thanks SO much for reading – means the world. 🙂

  6. Sarah

    I sooo get the car embarrassment. My dad still “brags” to people that we had a car that didn’t have reverse so they had to park so that they could pull straight out.

  7. Drew Clarke

    I wish Michael could read this today because it is an exemplary verbal beat down. Anyone named after a type of steak must be a douche. You bitch slapped him with your lexicology. I too was the the victim of teasing- before dad moved up the corporate ladder and we moved to Hanover- because of my lack of stylish clothes, old shoes, bowl haircut with which my mother cursed me, and precious few “cool” toys. However, I was an angry youth and nipped the teasing shit in the bud by slamming the biggest bully’s head into a gym locker until the gym teachers pulled me off.
    I don’t know if you remember but senior year I drove a metallic gray 1980 Celica. It has sheep skin covered seats, tinted windows, and fuzzy, turquoise dice hanging from the rear view mirror. It was classic. That year, I drove Chris Norman, Chris White, Rob, and Greg Anderson to and from school. One day, Greg and I decide to skip the middle of the school day. When we returned, I pulled into the gym lot to park. Everybody was outside in their gym uniforms. I later discovered that a bomb threat had been called in. Anyway, every time I shut off the engine of that car, it would loudly backfire within five seconds of it being off. I turned off the engine, Greg and I just waited, and then BOOM the car backfired. People began screaming and some even hit the deck.

  8. Ashley

    Oh wow. I cannot tell you how much I loved this. I grew up with less than most and desperately wanted to fit in with the kids and their cute clothes from Mervyn’s and Robinson’s May. I cried when someone stepped on my brand new pair of Payless sneakers as I knew they had to last me all year. I wish I would have pushed that mo fo’ up against the vending machine of the cafeteria as you did. I did, however, learn a lot from my experiences as a child with less than most and I, subsequently, grew from it in many positive ways. I love this post so much. <3 <3

    1. Ashley

      I love knowing this about you. Traci Drama Queen’s Mama was right – she told me she thought we had a lot in common, and that we’d like each other. Thanks so much for reading, and your comment is a treasure – thanks for sharing your story with me!

  9. Drama Queen's Momma

    I grew up pretty poor too. I got made fun of for my crooked teeth because my parents couldn’t afford to get me braces. Some kids are real assholes. That kid had it coming.

    Remind me to never mess with Balboa….I have a real nice smile now. I don’t want anything to happen to these pearly whites…. bwhahaha!! <3

    1. Ashley

      Aww, so sorry to hear that, Traci! What jerks! My teeth are STILL crooked if that’s any consolation. So if anyone hit me now, it might straighten them, who knows? 😉 Thanks for reading and commenting, friend. 🙂

  10. Serendipity

    Yes!! Most excellent – both the tale & the way you told it.

    Don’t tell anyone, as I may just be getting #allthefeels, but I’ve got water in my eyes.
    It’s ok, I’m sure it’s just because I love it when the bully gets theirs.

  11. Karyn

    LOVE this story. This is the stuff dreams are made of – that moment when you just let that kid HAVE it. My bully was an older boy up the street who would push and hit me and say, “Why aren’t you crying? I’ll stop if you cry.” I refused to give him the satisfaction.

    1. Ashley

      Ewww, shuddering right now about your bully. He sounds like a nasty one – I’m so sorry. You sounded like a tough little Balboa yourself! Sadly, that’s not in everyone’s personality to stand up to or withstand the bully. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, lady. xoxo

  12. Ira

    I found myself thinking back to school, and how I tried to hide the fact that my clothes and shoes were bought at Kmart… While other kids were wearing Levis and Adidas shoes, I was wearing Rustlers and the cheapest shoes Mom could find.. there were 5 of us after all.
    I was bullied most of my school years because of the way I dressed, my shyness, and being short.
    I admire you for standing up for yourself. It took me until probably highschool, before I had enough, and stood up for myself and shook the bullies.

    1. Ashley

      I don’t know how I found the guts or just the unabashed sense of justice back then, but I did, and sometimes it was ill-advised, I can tell you! It got me knocked around, when I was older. I’m glad you stood up for yourself eventually – because some people never do! xoxo

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