No matter how many times I remind myself to do otherwise, I find myself out of the house at the very same moment every school in Williamsburg and Greenpoint is letting out. Yesterday, I did it again.
Imagine you’re a guppy wading through a river with your young and a school of piranha are released from the stream directly to your north. Perhaps that’s not a big deal, you think, because directly to the south there’s another stream you can retreat to. Just as soon as you think of moving to that stream, it opens up and another school of piranha gushes out. You look west. Piranha are pouring in from the west as well, and those pirana have long fingernails and permed hair. East? That stream is releasing piranha and barracuda and automotive high school kids. And believe me, you do NOT want to mess with the automotive high school kids. They despise spawning, rich guppies. And I can’t say I blame them, some of these folks tend to all look the same and hold a fair share of self-awarded (and undeserved) entitlement.
So, you’re a guppy, a guppy who moved from one overpriced stream to annex another. You’re a transplanted guppy surrounded by piranha, barracudas, automotive high school kids and now a really bad analogy.
So, yeah, back to yesterday.
We’re at the park. Emory likes the swing and so we swing for a while. Eventually, we take a break and sit on a bench for a snack. He enjoys his mid-afternoon meal. I enjoy the sunshine. Suddenly, the park is engulfed by teenagers.
A few teenage boys walk by us discussing girls, iPods and bitches. A couple sits down across from us and starts to make out between puffs from a cigarette, their chapped lips form ovals and I am reminded of blowfish. The sudden ruckus causes Emory to lose all interest in his bottle.
Teenagers suddenly outnumber moms and babies. The conversation turns away from baby poop, playdates and sleepless nights to shit, fucks, and motherfuckers. I think, LA! LA! LA!, as curse words meet Emory’s ears.
A group of teenage girls run into the middle of the park from the north. They stop five feet from where Emory and I are sitting, a foot from the kissing fish. They carry a previous confrontation with them, one that probably took place earlier at a locker, in the bathroom, or in a hall.
There are two girls and a school of followers.
“COME ON, BITCH! I’M GONNA KICK YOUR ASS!” Says the shorter girl, the instigator.
“Why you not want to fight her, pussy? You gonna let her talk to you like that?” A voice calls out from somewhere within the group.
“I don’t care how she talks to me, I ain’t gonna fight her!” Says the tall, lanky, long haired girl.
She doesn’t want to fight. I watch her and write a story in my head about her parents. She’s a good kid. Her parents don’t want her in any trouble. She keeps walking away from the group. I feel sorry for her. I think that I want to tell her that I think I can speak for every spectator on that playground, she’s doing the right thing. But I stay silent. I freeze, actually.
“BITCH! FIGHT ME, PUSSY!”
The instigator tugs at her hair. The group moves in around her.
“I ain’t gonna fight you!” She screams.
The instigator swings, and hits the young girl on the side of the head. The girl still doesn’t budge. Her hair is disheveled.
“WHY YOU WALKIN’ AWAY, GIRL? FIGHT HER!” Another voice calls out from the group.
I think to myself, I hate the group mentality.
The moms watch from their swings. Two, three, four and then five mothers lift their cell phones to call the cops. No one thinks to interfere with the girls. They live in a world much different from our own even though we share sidewalks, pavement, city water, and grocery stores.
I don’t move because I don’t want to be seen. I figure that if I can keep still, they won’t notice me sitting there with Emory. I think of those animals on nature shows, the ones that try their and blend in no matter how different their background is from the color and texture of their skin.
More obscenities fly, words I haven’t ever heard before. Girls can be so mean to one another.
Finally, the instigator hits the girl hard enough for her to respond. She doesn’t cave into the taunts coming from the group; she’s actually angry. She swings her arm and smacks the instigator broadside across her head. Little teenage fists begin flying, ponytails are yanked from their Scrunchies. A full blown cat-fight erupts.
I cover Emory with my arms. He’s standing upright, his feet are on my knees. I look down at his face. He’s staring directly at the girls, watching their every move. It occurs to me that he’s actually trying to figure this out. That can’t be good for development, I decide. He may not be able to talk or walk on his own, but he’s very much absorbing the hostile confrontation.
We get up and slowly move away.
“You don’t want to see this, Pumpkin Pie.” I assure him.
We return to the fenced-in, swing area where the other moms are casually calling 911.
The girl runs off as the group continues to taunt. The instigator stands proud like an ugly cock, a raging bull.
Had this been a group of boys, would it have played out differently? I remember the plethora of unpleasant days that make up my teenage years and I think about ones yet to come for Emory. I realize that I’ll be as powerless then as I feel regarding the girl. The thought makes me shiver. I make a mental plea that he not experience such humiliation or succumb to the hideousness of the group.
I loathe the group.
“Poor girl, she only wanted to do the right thing.” A mother next to me says shaking her head. “Kids can be so cruel.”
I nod in agreement as I give Emory a push. He laughs gleefully from his swing.