Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
The hatred I felt at that moment was bitter on my tongue, but it was soon replaced with a ripple of excitement as the shadows in our dangerous relationship suddenly shifted.
He was standing several feet below me on a huge mound of excavated dirt, where soon the Yellow Brick Elementary School would emerge. On the sidewalk, side-by-side, he stood about 6 inches taller and at 2 years older, probably outweighed my skinny frame by at least 50 pounds, likely more.
The dark green airman’s jacket he wore, the one with the big fur collar that was in vogue throughout Aspen High School that year, was a mite short for his long arms and his hands, even though he was only a freshman, already had the swollen, coarse fingers typical of someone much older who had worked hard all his life.
We talk about them a lot these days, bullies, social misfits who can make life hell for those they pick on. My first real encounter with such a person occurred in the third grade, although I can’t recall the exact circumstances, other than he liked to slug and threaten me when no one was looking. It’s a wider spread game today, I realize, with the advent of modern technology and it appears to be more psychological than physical, but the scars remain, either way.
The logistics of the old Red Brick School, which contained all 12 grades, didn’t bode well for the younger students, especially when there was a bully in the neighborhood. One day, an older kid shoved my head into the drinking fountain apparatus, smacking my teeth and cutting through my upper lip. Although no one seemed to connect the dots at the time, it eventually cost me a front tooth. We learned to warn each other of his lurking presence.
That same kid later developed a penchant for viciously slugging a couple of my buddies and me whenever he caught one of us alone, and among the three of us, we decided something needed to be done. We were in the seventh grade, he was a sophomore and every day without fail, just after math class, he’d swagger into the men’s room for an afternoon bladder drain.
On the appointed day, two of us hid in one of the stalls while the other hollered at him to come to the rear of the rest room. As he went by our stall, we jumped out behind him, effectively cornering the bad ass. We whipped him up pretty good, no visible marks, and although we didn’t exactly leave him standing in a puddle of his own tears, he left us alone after that.
Anyway, there we were, just the two of us, standing lopsided on a lonely, hard-packed pile of fertile black earth, one a belligerent personality in a green fly boy coat, and me. He looked smaller, standing downhill as he was, and something told me I might never get a chance like that again.
He looked away for a moment and I shouldered him square in the gut with all the strength my body contained, and down the mountain of barren soil we rolled, a feeling of satisfaction rising from deep within my being.
Killing this kid who had, during one dismal night, terrorized me and a friend with a knife and his father’s police revolver in a game of Russian roulette, did cross my mind and it wouldn’t have hurt my feelings. The bully got up, dusted himself off and said, “I can’t believe you did that.” And then, he tried to beat the hell out of me, but couldn’t, not really. I was laughing and swinging and cussing so hard, he finally walked away. And that was, forever, the end of it.
If there’s any justice in the world, and maybe there is, I reckon it could be said that I outlived all three of those threatening brow beaters, but that’s about it. I’ll never forget them.
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