“You can’t hit a pregnant girl.”
I had never hit anyone, pregnant or not, and I wasn’t planning on starting now. The very idea that I was about to be in a fight didn’t even make any sense.
The only time I had been in a fight hadn’t made any sense at the time either. I was at the preppiest, richest junior high school in town, which in retrospect was possibly not my greatest idea ever.
I had started seventh grade at the poorest school, in the scariest part of town. I had to wake up super early so I could climb through the gap in the concrete wall, walk through the empty dirt lot to the corner, and catch the bus that would take me an hour across town. Desegregation efforts meant that the poor, mostly white kids in my neighborhood went to school in a poor, mostly non-white neighborhood that was not very close by. (The rich white kids went to a school they could walk to. The preppy one. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)
My favorite part of the day was the bus ride. We weren’t allowed to listen to pop music at home since it was devil music, but I had to ride the bus, right? I wasn’t doing anything wrong if I had to listen to what the bus driver was playing on the radio. Even if it was Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.
I wasn’t part of a gang, so mostly the kids at school left me alone. Rival gangs were always getting into fights. You’d see one set of boys running across the lawn, followed by another swarm of them. You might think they were having fun chasing each other around. Except for the knives.
But no one knew who I was. I was new. Mostly the kids had gone to elementary school together. They had weird fashion codes that signaled things I didn’t understand, like sometimes the girls would wear their jeans inside out. I knew enough to know that I would not fit in better by wearing what everyone else was wearing. I wore my jeans the normal way.
I was cornered once in the bathroom by these towering black girls. They told me to stop looking at them or whatever. So I did.
My neighbor was my age and her family was Korean. They were pretty sure that school was not for her. So they lied about their address and drove her to the preppy rich school across town, which seemed like a pretty good idea to me too.
I got my mom to lie about our address so I could change schools, and sometimes I could get a ride to school with the neighbor. But since I was in band, I often had to be at school early or stay late, and then I would take the city bus. That also took an hour, and the bus driver didn’t play Wham. But the kids there didn’t chase each other with knives at least.
The girls didn’t wear their jeans inside out either. They wore polo shirts and sweaters with dogs on them. I was so happy that I was no longer required to take home ec and could choose from several elective classes (elective classes?!) that I took wood shop. I was the only girl.
One day, in the locker room after gym, a girl jumped on top of me from out of nowhere and started hitting me. I was very surprised. You don’t have a lot of time to process rational thoughts at such a time, so my body just instinctively curled up into a ball and I put my hands in front of my face. I guess she eventually got bored that I wasn’t fighting back and gave up.
My brain still hadn’t caught up. A girl standing near me said, “why didn’t you hit her back?”
Hit her back? Intriguing idea. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me. Nothing occurred to me. Nothing except, “oh my god, why is she hitting me? what is happening? why is this happening? what is this?!”
Had I the presence of mind for extended thought I might have enjoyed the irony of all of the trouble I went through to switch from the scary school where the girls wore inside out jeans and I never got beat up to the calm school where the girls wore their collars up and jumped me for no reason in the locker room.
But I didn’t enjoy that irony until years later. Until now, actually. Apparently the “one day” to look back on a junior high school ambush and laugh is about thirty one years later.
So later, on that summer night in 1988 when I wasn’t supposed to hit the pregnant girl, my fighting experience was limited.
My friends pulled me outside. The pregnant girl in question thought I had been flirting with her boyfriend. I was not. I wasn’t even sure who her boyfriend was. Anyway, as far as I knew, I hadn’t flirted with anyone.
The girl was also the daughter of the chief of the local Indian nation. There weren’t many upsides to hitting her. If I could even figure out how to make hitting someone happen. Which to be clear, I could not have. So I left. My friends admired by valiant concession. In their defense, they were pretty drunk.