Bad Habit

[From Max] Fourth of July weekend arrived, and the Georgia heat was in full press.  I was in the middle of Airborne School, and I was eager for a break.  Temperatures pushed into the triple digits and the humidity was unbearable.  After a week on the Swing Landing trainer, I looked forward to relaxing and healing my bruises.

“For you bigger guys, this might be a little rough . . .”  Sergeant Airborne told me.

He pulled the release and I crashed to the ground with an audible whumph!  Sergeant First Class Airborne stood nearby, wincing.  The impact pulled the harness up into my groin.  No matter how I tightened or situated it, the contraption managed to squeeze one or the other testicle.

Only the Germans could have thought this was a brilliant form of warfare.  Only Americans would throw away enough money to build a genital torture devise that massive.

I stumbled out of my truck and dragged my balls into the house.  I promptly medicated them with an anti-inflammatory dose of whiskey, and collapsed on my bed.

Scotty came home after I did.  I threw the bottle his way and told him to get all full of the Jesus.  It didn’t take much convincing.  He cracked us a few chasers.  We threw our feet up and made last-minute plans for the weekend.

“What about Atlanta?” he asked me.

We were both freshly paid, with cash burning holes in our pockets.

“Why the fuck not?” I replied, and immediately booked a hotel.

It was after three in the morning.  The temperature had dropped, but I was still sweating from the humidity.  I was spun up on ephedrine, and I wasn’t ready to call it a night.  I try to live in denial, but the lights have to come on sometime.  Scotty and I wandered down Highland Ave toward the Majestic.

I stopped at the corner of Ponce de Leon.  A black Escalade rolled toward us as we stepped into the crosswalk.  The light was red.  I could see the glow of the brake lights, and thought nothing of it.  The light turned green and the truck kept rolling.  I jumped back over the centerline.

“What the fuck!?”  I shouted.

The truck missed us by a narrow margin.  Close enough for me to touch it.  I sprinted after it.  It was moving slowly enough that I managed to catch it, just barely, and slam my fist into the side.  The driver let off the gas and the brake lights glowed.  The truck halted in the middle of the street, a stone’s throw from where I stood.

“Yo, mothafucka!  Why you hittin’ my truck!?”

All four doors opened and a crew of black guys climbed out.  They looked like the starting five.  The driver and front seat passenger caught my attention immediately – the largest of the group.

My heart was already pounding from the sudden exertion of chasing a moving vehicle.  As the occupants piled into the street my threat response went into overdrive.  I felt a thump, like my heart had skipped a beat . . .

I never notice the rush come on.  I don’t feel it until my skin is already crawling.

The first thing I saw was their hands.  They waved their arms around.  They clumped together.  No one was pushing out, flanking.  No one was blading their body.  Conspicuous behavior reveals a weapon.  The first thing I thought was that none of them were carrying.

Somewhere far away I heard Scotty shouting.  Hurling insults.

Soldiers are trained to fight with a 3-to-1 advantage.  We were outnumbered.  My mind was clear:

Walk away . . .

I felt the hair on the back of my neck bristle, and I turned to see Scotty walking toward them.

“Hey!  Let’s get the fuck out of here!  These dudes ain’t gonna fight one-on-one . . . “

It hurt my pride even to say the words, but I was already moving toward Scotty.  I had my back half-turned as I made for the sidewalk at a brisk pace.  I heard a reply from over my shoulder.

“I’ll fight you one on one . . .”

Booming voice.  Big.  Front right passenger?  Tall.  Bigger than me.

Two things occurred to me at that moment:

1)      If I didn’t turn to face this bastard, he would let me walk.  He and his friends would forever know me as the loud-mouth white boy who walked away.  They would win.

2)      If I locked horns with him, his friends would immediately jump in.

I turned around.

He was a big son-of-a-bitch.  Scotty stands 6’1”, and this guy was taller by a shade and broader.  It was tough to tell through his clothes.

I rushed him.  It was a reaction, not a thought.  There are no rules in a street fight.  He barely put his hands up before I connected with his jaw.  I was punching up.  It didn’t seem to hurt him.

He returned fire immediately, a flailing shot, and hit me in the chest.  I crashed in to clinch him up.  His friends were on us by then, crowding around their boy.  He planted his hands on my chest and shoved forward.

I stumbled a few steps backward before falling.  I landed unceremoniously on my ass.

Homeboy froze up.  He stood there, watching me get up, and I rushed him again.  This time I threw all of my weight at him.  I jumped up and grabbed him by the neck.  I shifted my hips through and we crashed to the sidewalk.  His knees hit first.  I was technically on my feet, supporting my weight on him, but I wrenched his neck at an awful angle and twisted, pulling us flat.

I made a kind of animal noise.

He was on his face, unable to reach for me.  If he tried to push himself up, he must have been having an awful time of it.  I arched my weight into him.  I wasn’t trying to choke him.  I wanted to break his neck.

I don’t know if I remembered to breathe.  I remember glimpses of his friends crowding in around me.  I saw Scotty kick one in the knee and shove him onto the lawn.  They seemed to have forgotten about him, fixated entirely on stomping my guts out.

I held their friend flat, pinning him down with the awful pressure on his neck.  I felt something hit the back of my head.  Someone was punching me.  Another grabbed one of my feet.  I cocked both my legs and kicked him violently in the chest.

He fell back onto the church lawn.

Hands came at me from all angles, grabbing at my arms.  No one hit me.  They were focused on prying me off.  I began to flail, howling mad and desperate not to let go.  As long as I held on, they couldn’t hurt me.

They had to let go . . .

I wanted to smash that motherfucker’s face.  I wanted to make him ugly.  I held on as long as I could, but they were too many and they pried my hands free.  Someone pulled Homeboy away from me and I recoiled, expecting at any instant that someone would stomp me.

Scotty grabbed me and pulled me to my feet.  The fight had gone out of them.  They were running away.

“No!!!” I screamed.  “Where the fuck are you going!?!”

I started after them but Scotty grabbed me.  The crew climbed back in their truck, all slamming doors and squealing tires as they left.

I screamed, gripping the front of my shirt and tearing the buttons free.

I was in a blind fury.  I desperately needed to destroy something.  I lunged and hit the edge of a nearby garbage bin with both palms.  Those bins are made of concrete.  Some are re-barred into the sidewalk.  This one wasn’t.  I felt it budge.  I took a deep breath, sank my hips low and heaved, overturning the thing on its side.

Scotty shouted at me, trying to calm me down.

I turned and saw him standing there.  I could hear the edge in his voice.  He was excited.  Not angry.  Not angry at me.  He held his hands up, palms facing me.  Open palms.  He was trying to defuse me.

“Hey man . . . forget it!  Come on . . . Let’s get some breakfast . . . Let’s go to the Majestic and get breakfast.”

I took a few deep breaths, looking across the plaza parking lot at the diner.  Everything appeared oversaturated in the sallow streetlight and the glow of the neons.  My heart was pounding in my chest.

There was a crowd gathered outside of the diner, waiting for service.  The last place I wanted to be was cooped up in a building full of strangers.  I just needed to breathe.  Thoughts came like gunshots.  I felt suddenly cold, and my hands began to shake.  I was coming back to my senses.

“No,” I said.  “All those people are witnesses . . . “

I turned and headed back toward the hotel.  I felt very small and very stupid.  The red mist was gone.

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