Found some things I wrote years ago, trying to capture memories, I suppose. This one is interesting, because it shows that gangs aren’t just an inner-city thing….
The summer I turned twelve – the last one before starting junior high – my brother, sister, and I used to ride our bikes around the high school parking lot (ah, what a wonderful childhood, we rode our bikes everywhere). I believe we had done so for a few years, but all of a sudden, this summer, there was a group of neighborhood kids who “patrolled” the area and considered it their territory. They chased us out of there one day, scaring my brother (then eight years old) to tears. I don’t know whether my sister Gail and I would have left had he not been so upset, but we did, which must have fed into their “gang ego,” making them feel more powerful than they might have otherwise.
We were reluctant to go back, yet more reluctant to avoid a place we enjoyed, which also happened to be a shortcut to the tennis courts. Eventually, Gail and I made plans to play tennis with a neighbor who was a year older than I. We were explaining the gang situation to her, wondering whether we should circumvent the high school to avoid trouble. Susan asked us what the kids looked like and after we described them she told us she knew them and assured us there would be no trouble – she could handle it.
So off the three of us rode, down our street, down their street (they saw us), into the parking lot with the gang closing in behind us. We each went in a different direction and, lucky me, I was the one they followed. They circled my bike like a pack of coyotes, and grabbed the handlebars so I couldn’t move. Surrounded by at least a half-dozen kids, probably more, I remember thinking “this is not good.” I don’t remember the exact dialog, but it went something like this.
Kid1: We told you to stay away from here, didn’t we?
Kid2: Then why are you here?
Me: We were going to play tennis, and this is the way to the courts.
Kid2: You could go around (the school).
Me: We didn’t want to.
That probably wasn’t the greatest answer, I realize as I write this down.
Somewhere around here Gail came back. She was very upset and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t, really, either, but the last thing I wanted was for her to wind up in this mess, potentially getting hurt.
Me: Gail, just go home. Stay away.
Gail: I’m not going to leave you.
Kid: Tell her to leave.
Me: You can’t do anything, Gail, just go. Please!
I think she left at this point, figuring she’d get some help. Susan, who supposedly was friendly with these kids, was nowhere to be found. (I learned a little more about human nature than just gang mentality that day.)
Kid1: Do you think we should put her down the sewer?
Kids: Yeah, lets. Sure.
The sewer was this tiny thing that even a skinny twelve year out wouldn’t fit down. It was all I could do to keep from laughing at them, which I knew would be a bad idea. My mind was racing this whole time as I was furiously thinking of the best possible way to talk my way out of this situation, since I was out-powered physically. I figured that if I was agreeable and didn’t talk back to them I’d get out of there with the least amount of injuries.
Kid 1: You want us to put you down the sewer?
Kid 2: You don’t think we’d do it? We would.
Me: (I made some agreeable noise)
Kid 2: If you come back here again, we’ll stick you down there.
Me: I won’t come back.
Kid 1: You better not.
It went on like this, the conversation going around in circles as they threatened and I deferred until, eventually, they decided to let me go. I guess I handled the situation well, not talking back to them and not dissolving into tears or showing fear.
As I was walking away, feeling proud of myself for getting out of there unscathed, one girl hauled off and punched me in the arm. Hard! As I was blinking back the tears she said to me, “it’ll be worse than that if you come back here again.” As I left, my arm smarting from the punch, I thought, “well, a punch in the arm is better than getting beaten up.”
The funny thing is that two of these girls wound up in junior high with me the next year. They didn’t remember me but I sure remembered them and gave them wide berth when I could. Ironically, I wound up being friends with one of them – one whom I particularly remembered in a nightmare I had after the gang event. The other girl teased me mercilessly in 9th grade when we wound up in the same class (drat it), but grew up somewhere around 11th grade and was finally friendly to me.
Aren’t people messy? If we were judged on the stupid things we do as kids, we’d all be in trouble (not to minimize the gang thing, I think as grownups we have to watch out for kids doing stuff like this and step in). It was stuff like this I faced as a kid in a world of unkindness, though, that has made me into who I am today. Although I’d never want to go back and relive those days, I embrace the experiences that helped give me compassion for hurting people and especially hurting kids.