When I was 13, I went to a two-story school. I can't say it was in the best condition, as we had a ceiling fans come crashing down with some regularity, a number of people broke their legs on giant sidewalk cracks, and the gym floor was so warped that a basketball might suddenly refuse to bounce if it hit one of the dead spots. To no one's surprise, the school was condemned and closed and a new one built the next year, after I'd packed up my locker and moved on to high school.
It was in this very school that I first uttered--under significant duress I might add--that most golden and dirtiest of dirty words..."fuck."
Like most girls, my fall from grace began with a boy. I can't remember his name, and I certainly can't remember what we were talking about, but I remember his face and I remember the moments leading up to the fall. He was blond, very blond. Not dirty blond like I was, oh no. He was pure and radiantly blond with striking blue eyes and a quick wit. He had a penchant for giving me a hard time, and I, of course, gave it right back.
On this particular day, hovering on the precipice of my linguistic deflowering, we were simply walking down the stairs, on our way to lunch, when our mutual sassing did me in.
I remember, vividly, the last stretch of the flight of stairs. The hallway and descending staircase were dark, the walls covered in wood paneling and dingy carpet. The final descent opened into the hallway below and the stairs ended just in front of a row of ragged metal lockers blessed here and there with odd stains, the occasional patch of rust, and worn stickers from the days when my mom attended school in the same building.
Coming down those stairs, it was as if I suddenly had a premonition. Unluckily for me, I had the premonition only a fraction of a second before I heard the pop. As I made my way down the stairs, snarky and smarting off to my companion all the way, I stepped just the slightest bit wrong. I couldn't tell you now, and I certainly couldn't tell you then, exactly how wrong happened. All I know is that in that breath of a second after my premonition, my foot touched the next step down, my ankle turned with a sickening crack, and I lost my footing.
I sucked in a chest full of air before I began to plummet. I tumbled down the last of the steps, maybe only four or five, and my head hit the lockers. While I only remembered the head smash in retrospect, I like to think it had much to do with my actions after said fall including, but not limited to,
- cold sweat
- cursing like a sailor
The young lad escorting me, as any polite young lad would do, laughed. Until he realized that I was pretty significantly hurt. Once I recovered my senses, I got on my knees in a vague and pretty pitiful attempt to stand. As I waved him away--too embarrassed to milk the attention for what it was worth--I saw my two best girlfriends come into the hallway. I also saw one of the most despicable pieces of pre-pubescent crap at my junior high weasel his way into my eye line. He placed his hand on his knees and held his freckled face only inches from mine and said,
"Awww, poor wittle baby! Did it hurt?"
As I looked up and toward my girlfriends, this mongrel of a boy, all bad hair and body odor and filthy clothes, continued to heckle me. If I'd been in a better frame of mind and less involved in trying not to vomit from the pain I might've kicked, or at least punched, him in the balls. However, I found myself unable to move, to right myself, and in a desperate attempt to assuage the nausea and embarrassment, I looked him squarely in the eye and said,
And this wasn't any old adolescent "fuck you." This was no screechy, half-hearted, testing-the-waters-of-dirty-words "fuck you." This was a guttural, through-half-raised-eyelids "fuck you" filled with fire and brimstone and hurt.
I'm good with pain. In fact, I've had large needles shoved through various body parts on several occasions. However, piercings didn't touch this pain. My "fuck you" pain was white hot and blinding, threatening to pull me under and snuff me out. When my girlfriends were able to get me to the school office and my grandmother was on her way to pick me up for a doctor's appointment, I sat in a chair with my foot propped up, and I writhed. I know I'd never writhed before that experience, nor have I writhed since, and to this day I wonder what kept me from passing out.
I wish I could say that there's some justice to this story. That the mongrel boy fell down the stairs soon after and broke both ankles. But he didn't. I, on the other hand, had several weeks of crutches and no less than eight weeks of a plastic--removable only at night--cast. And my ankle still swells often and to this very day.
The greater lesson in all of this, is, I suppose, not a great one. It's not a lesson that helped me save anyone later in life. It's not even a lesson that made me a more obedient child. In fact, I only managed to demystify the use of the word "fuck." If you've been reading here for more than five minutes or you've ever ventured into my archives, you will know that it's one of my favorite words (much to my mother's chagrin). You see, that day, weeping in the hallway, I didn't get struck by lightning. No great hand of God came out of the sky and squashed me for using the dirtiest of dirty words. But, in fact, I did find some modicum of power in language. The mongrel left me alone, I made it to the office, and I got a half-day off from school--not to mention eight weeks out of gym class. And in that moment--staring into the eyes of someone beastly--I stuck up for myself, spoke my mind, and managed to repel someone with words. I harnessed some cosmic power that had been swirling over my head, that I suspected was there but could never quite grasp, and I hurled it in a flaming fireball at someone who would laugh at me while I was down, and might never have let me forget it.