When I was in elementary school, I was teased and bullied because of the car my parents drove, and because we didn’t have much money. I tried telling the teachers about it, but putting my trust in the authorities was wasted time and effort since they didn’t seem to care. And I went to a CATHOLIC school, which you’d think would mean something. (Hello, God, are you there? I’m taking heat off a lot of uniformed assholes over here. Ok, I get it, God, you’re busy. But maybe one of your minions, like Father Frank or Sister Sarah could help me get this dipshidiot off my back? No? Well, what’re your freaking holy minions good for)?!
Anywho. I had to take matters into my own hands one day when I just couldn’t take it anymore. Brute force was the answer, I decided, so I threw the bully up against the school cafeteria snack machine, thus ending his reign of terror and earning myself the nickname “Balboa” for the remainder of elementary school. After that bit of success, I fancied myself something of a hard-ass, and it didn’t hurt that other kids did too. I wasn’t in actuality someone who’d ever been in a REAL physical altercation, and call me crazy, but I had no desire whatsoever to get in any kind of tousle that could end in me getting punched in the face (a.k.a., my money maker). That being said, I wasn’t afraid of puffing myself up like a feral cat whenever Trouble looked my way, and most of the time, that was enough to make Trouble back down and run the other direction.
This bravado ended up benefiting all of my younger siblings, since whenever some little punk from the neighborhood was messing with one of them, they’d come find me and I would march myself right down to the perpetrator’s front door. I didn’t care if the kid’s parents were there or not – I would get in that bully’s face, wag my finger, and tell him if he ever messed with my family again, I would tie his little nuts in a knot.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I didn’t BECOME a bully as a result. I was a defender of justice, a vigilante, if you will. If you weren’t someone who was poking the Big Dog or any of the Big Dog’s friends or family, the Big Dog would slobber all over you, anxious for your approval and love, and never dream of biting your face off. (Not sure how I became a big dog in this scenario. Can we forget I called myself a big dog? This conversation never happened).
So all of this was very well and good until I got to high school. There I was just another face in a huge crowd, and I decided the best way to build my popularity in this exotic new world was to keep a low profile. Start small, make a few friendships, be fruitful and multiply. Big-mouth, rough-around-the-edges Balboa had no part in this equation, so I packed her and all my elementary school swagger away in the past. One fateful day, though, I unwittingly caught the attention of a junior, Jeff Franklin, when I tripped over the door jamb in the cafeteria, causing him to practically run me over. We both laughed, and he gave me a backward glance as he walked by. It was then I noticed his football letterman jacket.
In the Ohio town I grew up in, football was everything. If a guy wanted to BE somebody, he played football, and even if he really sucked at football and never got to play, he was still going to be popular because he got to wear that blue and gold jersey. So Jeff was a good-looking, better-than-average football-playing junior, which put him at the height of popularity, and he in his godliness decided to start following around a decent-looking, unpopular freshman, with no club-memberships, cheerleading or sports aspirations whatsoever. His notice of me would have been extremely flattering, except for the unfortunate byproduct: the junior girls noticed me too.
It started in the Junior Hallway, with a shoulder-bump so hard it sent my books flying out of my arms. While I scrambled to pick them up, a beastly basketball player by the name of Gina Palmeri, along with her sidekick, Jennifer DeLuca, towered over me, demanding I apologize.
“For what? You bumped into me!” I exclaimed, incredulously, my shoulder aching and my face burning from the sudden attention from the gathering circle of juniors and seniors. Even a few freshman and sophomore faces peeked in through the gaps.
“I don’t THINK so,” sneered Gina. “You weren’t looking where you were going, skank. Now apologize to me.”
I looked around at all the kids staring at me expectantly, some of the older ones with smirks on their faces. Even Jeff Franklin, who watched the scene while leaning on his locker several feet away, looked amused. No one was going to help me, I realized. I had a critical decision to make. Was I going to resuscitate Balboa and sacrifice my popularity plan, or was I going to swallow my pride and let Balboa fade away into oblivion, along with my self-respect?
“NO. I. DON’T. THINK. SO,” I said, straightening to my full height, a good 3 inches taller than Gina. I stepped so close to her, I knew she could smell my breakfast on her face. “If anyone’s owed an apology around here, it’s ME. Now get out of my way, SASQUATCH, before I’m late to class.”
The crowd gasped collectively. Gina’s mouth dropped wide open, and her momentary confusion allowed me to break past her and skip off to class. Balboa was back, BITCHES.
Check out Part 2: The Demise of Balboa
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