I remember it like it was twenty years ago. The day of the big fight. Cedric King, the reigning school bully. Against Billy Lansdell. The new kid. The transfer student.
Our middle school went from 4th to 7th grade. I was never sure why. Cedric had been terrorizing the halls and playgrounds all year. He wasn't that tall. And his eyes were not exactly straight, so it was impossible to tell if he was speaking to you. But he was built like a middleweight boxer.
Once I tripped him in PE while we were playing football. Everyone had always been afraid to tackle him. And I was sneaky like that. I was twelve. He was fifteen. His forearms were as big around as my legs. He got up and pushed me down and the PE teacher sent him to the office.
We laughed about it in the lunch line that day. He wasn't a bad guy, I don't think. Just a typical school bully compensating for shortcomings and insecurities.
Billy Lansdell was a big hulking figure. He was country strong. And shy. And still to this day, the only seventh grader in school history who legally drove a car to school. When you're 12 or 13, that seems cool.
Billy had transferred from a nearby school early that year. He never bullied anyone, far as I know. And always seemed a bit uncomfortable with the role into which he'd been thrust. Looking back, I don't think Billy ever really wanted to fight. It was everyone else who wanted him to. That year, he became our hope. Someone to stand up against the school bully. We left him no choice.
School was abuzz all that Friday. From the moment Billy arrived on campus, this day had seemed inevitable. Like two superpowers headed for a showdown. The atomic clock was about to strike midnight. And my seventh grade mind couldn't comprehend the magnitude of what might happen.
The fight was to take place in the schoolyard by the flagpole. My normal after school routine was to rush down to the 4th grade hall, and intentionally run into Keisha Cantrell. She was in my class, but would always leave that way to walk to the board of education, where her dad worked.
I lived for that blonde-haired girl to smile and tell me hi. But not today. I rushed out the main entrance and came upon a mob of students following Billy towards the flagpole. From across the schoolyard, an equally large mass of kids were approaching behind Cedric. This was it.
The two immovable objects met in the center of the school yard. Kids were yelling, cheering. This wasn't like your typical boys room fight where someone would inevitably step in and try to stop it. No one was about to stop this.
From my position, I couldn't hear what was said. And then. It was over.
All I could see was the crowd parting and Cedric and Billy walking away. Side by side. Smiling. Not a punch was thrown. What a letdown.
I never pondered why they didn't fight that day. Maybe they were both a little scared. Maybe some member of the faculty showed up and stopped it. Maybe neither of them really wanted to fight. Either way, Billy had stood toe to toe with him. That was a small victory.
I didn't stick around to think about it. Grabbed up my Trapper Keeper and ran down the sidewalk. The fight that never happened was over so quick that I knew there was a good chance I could still run into Keisha.
I don't recall seeing Billy or Cedric the next year when we made the jump to 8th grade and high school. Sometimes you wonder what happens to people like that.
"The angry boy, a bit too insane. Icing over a secret pain. You know you don't belong..."